Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Following up on the post below about Rocco Martino, a number of readers have asked about the piece that appeared Sunday about Martino and the Niger business in the Telegraph.

The Telegraph piece contains some information that is accurate. But the article also relies heavily on intelligence and law enforcment sources who are using disinformation to cover for Italian intelligence.

The thrust of the piece is false.

In recent days there have been a run of stories about the byzantine, or rather sovietological, new twists and turns in the Plame investigation. And whenever this story pops up into the news, there’s a rush of speculation about that other investigation.

That, of course, would be the investigation into just who forged the notorious Niger-uranium documents that purported to show that Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger --- the underlying issue that led to the Plame investigation in the first place.

It’s even been suggested in the press that the two investigations might have been consolidated into one.

The truth, though, the dirty little secret, is that there’s never been any real investigation into where those documents came from. Don't look for status updates on it because it doesn't exist.

Yes, back in March 2003, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), vice-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence asked the FBI to investigate the matter. And it was on the basis of this supposed investigation that the Committee decided not to investigate anything about the forged documents before they showed up at the US Embassy in Rome in October 2002. (See page 57 of the Committee report.) But again, despite claims to the contrary, the FBI hasn’t made any serious effort to find out who was behind the scam.

I say this for several reasons, which I’ll be discussing over the next few days -- some are based directly on my reporting on the case and others from inferences I've drawn from what I've observed. But let me start with one.

One of the obvious places to start such an investigation would be with Elisabetta Burba, the Italian journalist who got copies of the documents and later turned them over to the American Embassy in Rome. And the obvious question would be, Who gave you the documents?

FBI agents did do a cursory interview with Burba not long after Rockefeller asked for an investigation. And they made a pro-forma request for her to contact her source to see if some arrangement could be devised under which they could speak to him.

But after that, they didn’t follow up with her for months to find out what the answer was. And when they did finally follow up with her, it was mainly because one agent was passing the matter on to someone else.

To this day they’ve never made contact with the guy who tried to sell Burba the documents.

Now, on the surface you might say, ‘Well, maybe she’s just refused to name her source. And maybe she’s the only one who knows who the guys is. So what can they do?’

But that excuse falls apart pretty quickly.

Here’s why.

My colleagues and I have known the guy’s name since late spring. And at least three European intelligence agencies knew who he was well before we found out. In fact, twice this summer we brought him to New York for interviews. Both time he travelled under his own name, Rocco Martino.

The first time was in June; the second time was in August. And it’s the second time that’s more telling.

By the time we brought Martino to New York in early August, he had already been identified by name in the Italian and the British press as the man who tried to sell Burba the forged documents. And when we whisked him out of the country he was under very active and conspicuous surveillance by Italian authorities in Rome (a point we'll return to later). He flew to New York under his own name and stayed for several days.

A colleague of mine and I actually had a friendly bet about whether we'd have any problems getting Rocco through Customs in New York the second time or whether FBI agents would be there waiting to talk with him since the word was out about who he was, what he'd done, and that he was coming to the US.

I told my friend that I doubted they were looking for him. And if they were, the last thing they'd want would be for it to be reported in the press that they'd questioned Rocco or taken him into custody. He was a hot potato. Everything we'd learned reporting on Niger uranium case told us that this was a story the US government did not want to get to the bottom of.

Needless to say, nothing happened.

Now, perhaps if the case weren’t that high a priority or if there were some jurisdictional issues, it might be understandable if the FBI made no effort to contact him in Rome. But if they were on top of this case or interested in getting to the bottom of it, you’d think they’d try to speak with him if he arrived in New York right after his name was plastered across a bunch of European newspapers --- including one, the Financial Times, which you can pick up at any decent newsstand in the United States. (The Italians were keeping a close eye on him. And through leaks to the press in Italy, they let it be known that Rocco had again gone to the US.)

But he came, spent several drama-filled or tragicomic days, and then left. And no one from the FBI or any other American law enforcement or intelligence agency made any attempt to contact him in any way. Nor have they done so since.

Now, there are other reasons why this information about Martino would have been easy for the Bureau to get a hold of. But once it was publicly known who he was and that he was traveling to the US under his own name, it seems pretty clear that they really just weren’t too interested in talking with him.

Defining GOP deviance down.

Back in the good old days, when right-wing candidates wanted to tell voters that the libruls were going to take away their crucifixes or legislate compulsory race-mixing or make gay sex instruction a mandatory part of the high school phys.ed. curriculum, they'd push it under the radar with push-polls from some shark like Tom Synhorst.

No more pussyfooting around, though.

According to this Associated Press story, the RNC is sending mailings to West Virginia voters that claim that the Dems will ban the bible and legalize gay marriage if they get elected -- presumably they'll both be included in one omnibus bill (that's a little parliamentary humor there.)

I keep hearing from the direction of the Bush campaign that one of their big fears is that some Democratic 527 will put together an ad based on Kitty Kelley's Bush abortion claims and run it in West Virginia. Given the voters Bush-Cheney '04 is banking on in the state, they know that could be very damaging.

When you see stuff like this, from the RNC no less, it's hard to see why they shouldn't.

Over the last few days, I've written out two or three lengthy posts about the odd disparity in the polls, only to decide after reading them over that they didn't work for some reason and then scrapping them.

There is also a spread in survey data -- surveys never match up precisely. But here we don't have a spread so much as two sets of polls showing two markedly different pictures of the race. One shows the race dead even or with a small Bush lead; another shows the president running a commanding margin of roughly ten points.

In the last few days the pattern has repeated itself with Gallup and CBS/NYT showing roughly a ten point race and Harris and Pew showing it roughly dead even.

This sort of clustering can't be explained by margins of error -- not after it shows up so repeatedly. It can only be explained by different organizations using quite distinct polling models. Recently, Ruy Teixeira has been arguing, pretty convincingly I think, that Gallup numbers are skewed because they include a substantially higher percentage of Republicans than have shown up to vote in the last several presidential elections.

As Ruy notes this evening, the Gallup data show independents favoring Kerry by 7 points, while the overall numbers have him down by 8 points (these are Gallups registered voters numbers.) That's hard to figure since in recent history self-identified Democrats always outnumber self-identified Republicans.

(See this post here for a more detailed explanation of Ruy's argument. In fact, for all questions like these on the innards of polls I recommend Ruy's blog.)

So, as I say, I think Ruy's pretty convincing on Gallup.

But it's not just Gallup. It's also CBS/NYT and, if their last poll is any measure, ABC/WaPo as well.

I assume that these other surveys are using models similar to Gallup's -- and I'd like to see analyses of the internals of these other polls to show if that's the case. Still, I'm not willing to dismiss all these big Bush lead polls too easily.

What Dems should take from this is that there are a slew of polling organizations that say this race is basically a tie and buck up their morale accordingly. On the broader question of what's going on here, count me as still puzzled and, needless to say, it's a debate I'd much rather be having on the other side of the 50 yard line.

Bush on Iraq: Who you gonna believe? Me, or your lyin' eyes?

We're helping the Iraqi people build a new democracy.

Pessimists can say what they want. But that's what they said about the occupation of Germany and Japan.

We're safer with Saddam in prison; America is safer. The critics are pessimists.

These aren't quotations. But phrases like these are the stock phrases of the president and the rest of his campaign. They filled the recent Republican convention in New York. Actually, on Thursday President Bush was speaking in exactly this vein: "Freedom is on the march."

But as yesterday's piece in the Times made clear, that's exactly the opposite of what the government -- or rather the people in the government paid to analyze these things --- actually believes. A new and still highly classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq says that the best case scenario for the country over the next eighteen months is drift, along more or less the lines that it's at right now. The worst case scenario is all-out civil war. The middle ground is spiralling extremism and fragmentation -- basically a continuation of the evolution, or rather devolution, we've seen over the last year.

There have been a raft of new findings over the last week or so which dramatize or confirm this finding. But the truth is we don't really need anyone to tell us this.

It's always possible to posit 'optimism' up until the point when the whole place actually erupts spontaneously into hellfire. But to any thinking individual it's clear and it's been clear for some time that our whole enterprise in Iraq is going extremely poorly, by pretty much every concievable measure.

And yet the president just says none of this is true. Things are going well. Yes, things are difficult, he says. But we're on the right track and things keep getting better. Dan Bartlett today said that Democrats are just showing their pessimism: "President Bush gets his briefings from commanders on the ground. He has reason for his optimism because of the enormous amount of progress we have made."

The president is simply in denial. Or he's willing to keep burning through the US Army and the Marine Corps to avoid admitting the failure of his policies or even the obvious fact that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating terribly.

Today another suicide bomber just exploded himself in Baghdad killing at least a dozen people. The country is continuing the slide into chaos and violence. President Bush says we're on the the right track. Freedom is on the march.

Words and excuses meet incompetence, chaos and death. That's what this election is about.

It's amazing how lack of evidence spawns speculation. I found any number of emails today in my in-box speculating on the connection between the 'fan mail' I posted on Wednesday and the lack of new posts since then.


Angry and unwilling to post ever again?

Please, people. Have you ever heard of Jews? We've been celebrating the New Year. Posts will resume presently.

Fan mail ...

For a long time. TPM <$NoAd$>was even my home page. I thought you an honest and truthful guy. Boy was I wrong.

So how much are the dipshits paying you? Naturally I don't expect an answer. Even if you did reply you'd kill the golden goose.

"The word is out and about now that the CBS Bush National Guard memos are not forgeries but rather recreations of actual documents authored by Lt. Col. Killian.

That theory gains credence from the fact that Killian's secretary has now said that though she believes these memos are not real that their contents reflect real documents that once existed in Killian's personal file -- ones she herself typed.

There's a word, though, for these sorts of recreations, if that's what they are: forgeries."

Those grafs fail so many tests of integrity and journalistic ethics that I can only conclude they come straight from the WH or the RNC, not that it matters which.

You truly had me fooled Josh. I expect to see fulsome praise of the Pres in upcoming days for his valiant TANG service so all of us Americans can be as proud of him as he is and you are.

Steven B.

Whenever I get interviewed about blogs I'm always asked whether I think blogs will replace the conventional media or whether they're in competition with it. The question always strikes me as ridiculous since most of what blogs do feeds off of newspaper coverage -- either criticizing coverage, expanding on coverage, running with stories that aren't getting much attention and so forth.

That's not to say blogs aren't important, only that they're in a synergistic or interdependent relationship with the conventional media. That means newspapers and even more the investigative journalism done by newspapers and magazines.

Along those lines, The Washington Monthly is doing a subscription/pledge/fundraising drive this week. As you know, the Monthly now hosts Kevin Drum's 'Political Animal' blog. So contributing will help support Kevin's blog, albeit perhaps indirectly.

(Disclosure: I'm a contributing writer for the Monthly.)

But the best reason to contribute and to subscribe to the Monthly is to support the sort of extremely labor- and expense-intensive reporting that the Monthly does best and on a monthly basis. The list of articles they've put out in the last couple years is just phenomenal -- on Bush's addiction to polling, on Bill Bennett's love of games of chance, on the Neocon plan for Iraq before the first shots were fired. The list goes on and on.

These are pieces that help us really understand what's going on in the country. They take hundreds of hours to put together. It's very hard for them ever to pay in commercial terms. And blogs will almost never fill that role. So stop by the Monthly website and hear their pitch.

Some other presidents, who never served in the Guard, who President Bush calls fellow National <$NoAd$>Guardsmen ...

Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th president ...

Ohio governor William Dennison appointed him as a major in the Twenty-Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Hayes eventually rose to the rank of major general during the war and was wounded several times. Because of his military service, Ohio Republicans decided that he was the perfect candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1864. Hayes resisted the nomination, purportedly stating, "an officer fit for duty who at this crisis would abandon his post to electioneer ... ought to be scalped." In spite of his opposition, Hayes still won the election. He resigned his military commission on June 9, 1865, to assume his position in Congress.

James A. Garfield, 20th president ...

He took command of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Gen. Don Carlos Buell assigned Garfield the task of driving the Confederate forces out of Eastern Kentucky in November, 1861. He was given the 18th Brigade for the campaign. In December, he departed Catlettsburg, Kentucky with the 40th and 42nd Ohio Infantries, the 14th and 22nd Kentucky Infantries, along with the 2nd (West) Virginia Cavalry and McLoughlin's Squadron of Cavalry. The march was uneventful until reaching Paintsville, Kentucky, where his cavalry engaged the Confederate cavalry at Jenny's Creek on Jan. 6th, 1862. The Confederate withdrew to the forks of Middle Creek, two miles from Prestonsburg, Kentucky on the road to Virginia. Garfield attacked on Jan. 9th. At the end of the day's fighting, the Confederates withdrew from the field. Garfield did not pursue them. He ordered a withdraw to Prestonsburg so he could resupply his men. His victory brought early recognition to him.

He was transferred in April to the west in time to participate in the Battle of Shiloh. He also fought at Chickamuaga, eventually reaching the rank of major general.

Benjamin Harrison, 23rd president ...

Harrison sat out the first part of the Civil War, but then was commissioned colonel and commanded the 70th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, which he created in 1862 at the request of Governor Oliver P. Morton. In Kentucky Harrison's raw recruits helped fight an invasion by Confederate General Braxton Bragg. Harrison's unit was later transferred to the army of General William Tecumseh Sherman, and in 1864, Harrison and his men fought in the bloody Atlanta campaign. At the Peach Tree Creek engagement he won praise for gallant conduct.

Harrison went home on furlough in 1864 to campaign against pro-Southern Democrats in Indiana. He was reelected supreme court reporter, and later rejoined his regiment in the Carolinas. He left the army with the rank of brigadier general.

If Kerry had said something similar, would we be hearing about it?