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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

There's a headline the White House must just love. Right now on MSNBC front page: "Subtle Shift: Bush appears to narrow criteria for firing in CIA leak case."

'Bush Breaks Pledge' would have been pithier. But I guess it's progress.

Late Update: Fox News tries to help out, calls it a 'reiteration'.

Is Robert 'GB' Luskin, Karl Rove's attorney, possibly the worst lawyer in Washington?

I had to leave for the day today just as the key morning shows were getting started. But I caught a bit of the Russert/Cooper interview, in which Russert pressed Cooper on whether he'd really gotten a clear release from Rove or whether he'd somehow let himself off easy in agreeing to testify.

In making that point Russert referred to this passage in an article in yesterday's Post ...

Luskin has said that he merely reaffirmed the blanket waiver by Rove, who is the president's deputy chief of staff, and that the assurance would have been available at any time. He said that Cooper's description of last-minute theatrics "does not look so good" and that "it just looks to me like there was less a desire to protect a source."


For all I know, Luskin may <$Ad$> be right in his appraisal of Cooper's actions and motives. (I said a couple days ago that Luskin's inept public lawyering may have given Cooper the out he was looking for.) But how precisely does this help his client?

Luskin's point here is that Cooper burned his source to avoid jail.

But accusing him now of burning his source simply telegraphs what we suggested a few days ago -- that he and his client wanted Cooper to keep his mouth shut notwithstanding Luskin's voluble public claims that they were happy to have him talk.

Before Cooper sang, holding him to his commitment may have made sense. But since he has, Luskin might at least reap whatever benefit there might be of claiming he had nothing to hide or asked Cooper to come forward. But Luskin, having goofed into giving Cooper an out, now seems intent on letting everybody know that Rove did so unwillingly.

Perfect.

Just when everyone seemed about to get bogged down in the rain forest of minutiae, batting down lies like flies, here come two articles with an aerial view of the case, putting all into perspective.

First is Frank Rich's Sunday New York Times OpEd. As Rich says, this isn't about Valerie Plame or Joe Wilson or even Karl Rove. It's not about exposing a CIA agent. That's merely the tear in the fabric, the third-rate burglary, if you will. This is about a president who knowingly took his country to war on the basis of lies and the war on the homefront against anyone and everyone who's tried to peel back the lies and expose the truth.

Second is an oddly parallel story in the Washington Post by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen. Here's the macro view of the Wilson story, both before his name became a household word and long into the criminal investigation itself. As we've long suspected, Dick Cheney's office became concerned about Joe Wilson a couple months before he went public on July 6th, 2003. From there forward you can see the coordinated campaign to destroy him as a critic, with the release of information about his wife's identity just one part of the effort. Read the Post piece and it puts the whole matter into some clarifying perspective. (Also see this Oct. 12, 2003 article, which covers some of the same ground in greater detail.)

Later of course this must come to folks like Sen. Roberts (R) and others who covered up and bamboozled on the president's behalf, those the president and his inner circle suborned.

Let's review some interesting connections.

Today's article about the Plame case in the New York Times focused on this classified State Department memo. This is the memo which stated that Valerie Plame (identified as 'Valerie Wilson' in the memo) had recommended or arranged for Joe Wilson to make the fact-finding trip to Niger. And Fitzgerald's office appears to believe that that memo was the ultimate source of the information that eventually made its way into print in Robert Novak's column.

But remember, the CIA believes that that memo contains not just incorrect but fraudulent information. TPM Reader DK very helpfully reminded me of this passage from an article in the Post from December 2003 ...

But sources said the CIA believes that people in the administration continue to release classified information to damage the figures at the center of the controversy, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV and his wife, Valerie Plame, who was exposed as a CIA officer by unidentified senior administration officials for a July 14 column by Robert D. Novak.

Wilson, a prominent critic of the administration over Iraq, has said that was done to retaliate against him for continuing to publicize his conclusion, after a 2002 mission for the CIA, that there was little evidence Iraq had sought uranium in Africa to develop nuclear weapons.

Sources said the CIA is angry about the circulation of a still-classified document to conservative news outlets suggesting Plame had a role in arranging her husband's trip to Africa for the CIA. The document, written by a State Department official who works for its Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), describes a meeting at the CIA where the Niger trip by Wilson was discussed, said a senior administration official who has seen it.

CIA officials have challenged the accuracy of the INR document, the official said, because the agency officer identified as talking about Plame's alleged role in arranging Wilson's trip could not have attended the meeting.

"It has been circulated around," one official said. CIA and State Department officials have refused to discuss the document.

On Oct. 28, Talon News, a news company tied to a group called GOP USA, posted on the Internet an interview with Wilson in which the Talon News questioner asks: "An internal government memo prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports. Do you dispute that?"


The questioner, of course, was Jeff Gannon.

So a few <$NoAd$> questions.

Who requested that the memo be written? Who actually wrote it? Why does it contain the inaccuracies the CIA claims it does? Who were the administration officials who continued to circulate the classified document to conservative news outlets even after Plame's identity was initially revealed? And how did it get into the hands of Jeff Gannon?

Yesterday evening, I started making a new timeline of events in the summer of 2003, the time that all this stuff was happening with Rove, Plame, et al. And I came across this short Post piece by Pincus, Dewar and Slevin from June 15th, 2003, that I had either not seen originally or had long forgotten.

Let me reprint it in toto ...

A key component of President Bush's claim that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program -- its alleged attempt to buy uranium in Niger -- was disputed by a CIA-directed mission to the central African nation in early 2002, according to senior administration officials and a former government official. But the CIA did not pass on the detailed results of its investigation to the White House or other government agencies, the officials said.

The CIA's failure to share what it knew was one of a number of steps in the Bush administration that helped keep the uranium story alive until the eve of the war.

A senior intelligence official said the CIA's action was the result of "extremely sloppy" handling of a central piece of evidence in the administration's case against then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

A senior CIA analyst said the case "is indicative of larger problems" involving the handling of intelligence about Iraq's alleged weapons programs and its links to al Qaeda, which the administration cited as justification for war. "Information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded and information that was [consistent] was not seriously scrutinized," the analyst said.

The controversy has expanded with the failure so far of U.S. teams in Iraq to uncover proscribed weapons.


Pay close attention to this. Because it raises several key points that have now been washed over and encrusted by two years of spin on both sides.

The key point that Joe Wilson got wrong, or seems to have gotten wrong, in his Times OpEd and subsequent statements is one that neither side has ever made that much of, because it doesn't fit neatly into either side's political narrative.

Here's the point.

In Wilson's original column, he wrote ...

Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission. The documents should include the ambassador's report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.


In other statements, I believe he used a formulation that was something like, if you're senior enough to make the query, you're senior enough to get the report back, etc.

So Wilson didn't say he'd seen the report back to the vice president or that he knew for a fact that one had been sent. He said that he'd been in government long enough to know that this was standard procedure and that he was confident that it had been. And if it had this amounted to an indictment of the administration.

Only it hadn't, or that's what the people in the White House say. And unlike the question of whether his wife recommended him for the job, this actually is a relevant fact in understanding the story.

So the question is, why?

The explanation confected by the authors of the SSCI report was the rather contradictory one that either Wilson's trip generated no substantive information or that it in fact tended to confirm suspicions of an illict uranium traffic between the two countries. No one who's looked at the evidence involved believes that. Nor is that cover story compatible with the CIA's subsequent and repeated attempts to prevent the White House from using the Niger story.

Here in Pincus's reporting -- before the evidentiary and political battle lines were drawn -- is the answer: "Information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded."

It never made it back to Cheney's office because it wasn't what Cheney's office wanted to hear. They were looking for evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program, not ambiguous data and certainly not evidence that contradicted the claim.

In this key respect, <$NoAd$> the dismissal of the information is displaced from the VP's office to the CIA. And the reason is that they already understood what was wanted and what wasn't.

I think it's still an open question whether it made it back up the chain or not. But this remains the key question. Why did all the disproving evidence not get reflected in public statements? And why, if there was no disproving evidence -- as the harpies of the right want us to believe -- was the CIA constantly trying to get the White House to stop using it?

It's amazing how much can happen when you're out of town for a day.

From Friday's stories in the Times, Post and AP, it seems that Karl Rove was a source for both of the stories which revealed Valerie Plame's identity. On one he was the confirming source (Novak); on the other the original source (Cooper). The source for yesterday's round of stories -- Rove's lawyer or someone in a similar capacity -- says that Rove first learned the information about Wilson's wife not from access to other administration officials but from another journalist. Regrettably, he can't remember who the other reporter was or when he or she told him the information.

Oddly enough, I'm told, this version of events from the Rove camp apparently absolves him of any wrongdoing in the whole affair.

There's a point that's probably worth raising with our scofflaw Republican friends. All of their arguments now amount to excuses, like those of a small child caught stealing cookies: Joe Wilson's a liar. Plame's covert status wasn't protected well by the CIA. It was just a short phone call. Rove really wanted to speak about welfare reform. Wilson said Cheney sent him to Africa. Plame sent Wilson to Africa. Rove leaked Plame's identity in the interests of good journalism. Wilson went on too many TV shows. On and on and on.

The salient point is not that each of these claims is false. The point is that they're irrelevant. It's the mid-life version of 'He hit me first!' or 'He called me a name!' or other such foolery.

No presidential advisor should ever disclose the identity of a covert agent at the CIA. That doesn't require elaboration.

If it's done knowingly, it's a felony. Joe Wilson could be the biggest hack in the world. Plame could have cooked the whole trip idea up to damage the president -- as some GOP loopsters are now claiming -- and it wouldn't matter.

Rove (and, though we're not supposed to say it yet, several of his colleagues) did something obviously wrong and reckless. And they probably broke several laws by the time it was all done.

Pretty much every Republican in Washington today works for Karl Rove. So they can't deal with that fact. But fact it is.

And nothing was done amiss? If Rove et al. didn't do anything wrong, why have they spent two years lying about what they did? No law was broken? Then what is Fitzgerald looking at? Why is a grand jury investigating Rove? A prosecutor like Fitzgerald, a Republican appointee, wouldn't be throwing journalists in jail unless he thought he was investigating a serious crime.

What's their answer to that? They have none. Rove runs the Washington Republican party, owns it. So it's anything but hold him accountable.

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