Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

As I said earlier today we're going to try to put our research energies for the rest of this week into compiling a detailed list of White House deceptions and lies in the lead up to war, along with a White House mendacity taxonomy distinguishing all the different flavors or deception, mistatement, exaggeration and generalized bamboozlement.

We've already got in almost 150 tips from readers for our list. And clearly cataloging all this mumbojumbo and dishonesty is going to be a time-consuming task. But while we're at it I just can't help passing on some gems.

Dick Cheney ever try to tell people Saddam might be behind 9/11?

Hmm, let's see ....

Russert: Do you still believe there's no evidence that Iraq was involved in September 11?

Cheney: Well, what we now have that's developed since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report that--it's been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack. Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don't know at this point, but that's clearly an avenue that we want to pursue.

That's from Meet the Press on December 9th, 2001. And remember, this was a claim that was floated and then rapidly discredited by, among other things, evidence that Atta was in the US at the time of the alleged meeting in Prague. The Czechs themselves eventually gave up on it.

A year later, Cheney was back at it again on Russert's show, for a chat on September 8th, 2002 ...

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I want to be very careful about how I say this. I'm not here today to make a specific allegation that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11. I can't say that. On the other hand, since we did that interview, new information has come to light. And we spent time looking at that relationship between Iraq, on the one hand, and the al-Qaeda organization on the other. And there has been reporting that suggests that there have been a number of contacts over the years. We've seen in connection with the hijackers, of course, Mohamed Atta, who was the lead hijacker, did apparently travel to Prague on a number of occasions. And on at least one occasion, we have reporting that places him in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World Trade Center. The debates about, you know, was he there or wasn't he there, again, it's the intelligence business.

Mr. RUSSERT: What does the CIA say about that? Is it credible?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: It's credible. But, you know, I think a way to put it would be it's unconfirmed at this point. We've got...

Then in an interview with the Rocky Mountain News on January 9th, 2004 ...

On the separate issue, on the 9/11 question, we've never had confirmation one way or another. We did have reporting that was public, that came out shortly after the 9/11 attack, provided by the Czech government, suggesting there had been a meeting in Prague between Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker, and a man named al-Ani (Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani), who was an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague, at the embassy there, in April of '01, prior to the 9/11 attacks. It has never been -- we've never been able to collect any more information on that. That was the one that possibly tied the two together to 9/11.

Cheney just couldn't help spreading the Atta-in-Prague canard every chance he got and floating what were at best intentionally misleading claims about not being able to confirm one way or another whether Saddam was behind 9/11. Except, that is, when he denied saying anything about an Atta meeting in Prague. Or well ... let's go to Gloria Borger interviewing the veep in June 17th, 2004 ...

BORGER: Well, let's get to Mohamed Atta for a minute because you mentioned him as well. You have said in the past that it was, quote, "pretty well confirmed."

Vice Pres. CHENEY: No, I never said that.


Vice Pres. CHENEY: I never said that.

BORGER: I think that is...

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Absolutely not. What I said was the Czech intelligence service reported after 9/11 that Atta had been in Prague on April 9 of 2001, where he allegedly met with an Iraqi intelligence official. We have never been able to confirm that nor have we been able to knock it down, we just don't know.

BORGER: Well, this report says it didn't happen.

Vice Pres. CHENEY: No, this report says they haven't found any evidence.

BORGER: That it happened.

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Right.

BORGER: But you haven't found the evidence that it happened either, have you?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: No. All we have is that one report from the Czechs. We just don't know.

Did Dick Cheney ever say anything misleading about Saddam and al Qaida and 9/11, anything he knew wasn't true? Face it. It's not even close. Really, it's an indictment of the state of our public discourse that it's even much of a debate at this late moment. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Like I said a couple days ago, let's unpack all the transcripts. Get it all out there. What everybody and anybody said. These guys are just as guilty as sin.

Meanwhile, in other news (WaPo): "A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress."

I need to get one of my economist friends to walk me through the declining marginal value of Bush scandals/lie revelations under current circumstances.

Late Update: TPM Reader PJ cuts to the essentials: "The significant thing here is that Cheney remained silent while his cronies in the oil industry lied to Congress. He knew they were lying, and said nothing."

So the news is out from the Post now -- both in a statement from Bob Woodward and in an article from the Post.

The details still seem sketchy and I suspect we're going to find out a lot more in the next few days. But it now seems that Woodward -- who has long been publicly critical of the Fitzgerald investigation -- has been part of it from the beginning. Literally, the beginning.

From the Post account it appears that Woodward was told of Valerie Plame's identity before any other journalist by an as-yet-unnamed senior administration official who is not Karl Rove or Scooter Libby.

More problematically for Woodward, he didn't tell his own Post editors about any of this until last month and then only after the unnamed senior administration official came forward to Fitzgerald and told him about it. That apparently led Fitzgerald to subpoena Woodward

Woodward claims that he told Post reporter Walter Pincus about it at the time. But Pincus says he has no recollection of such a conversation.

From the Post article ...

Woodward's statement said he testified: "I told Walter Pincus, a reporter at The Post, without naming my source, that I understood Wilson's wife worked at the CIA as a WMD analyst."

Pincus said he does not recall Woodward telling him that. In an interview, Pincus said he cannot imagine he would have forgotten such a conversation around the same time he was writing about Wilson.

"Are you kidding?" Pincus said. "I certainly would have remembered that."

Pincus said Woodward may be confused about the timing and the exact nature of the conversation. He said he remembers Woodward making a vague mention to him in October 2003. That month, Pincus had written a story explaining how an administration source had contacted him about Wilson. He recalled Woodward telling him that Pincus was not the only person who had been contacted.

There's quite a bit here -- both as a media story and in the potential implications for the leak probe (Libby's lawyers are already using this as a cudgel against Fitzgerald's case, arguing that there are clearly key facts Fitzgerald did not know). And I'll need some time to digest them. At a minimum, though, Woodward seems to have some explaining to do, at least for the fact that he became an aggressive commentator on the leak story without ever disclosing his own role in it, not even to his editors.

Keep your browsers open a little longer this evening. Big news brewing.

You can see right now the sort of ferocity and the hurricane of bamboozlement this White House is capable of unleashing when faced with a pretty much impossible to challenge case that they misled the American people in making the case for the Iraq war.

Much the same with public corruption and all the interwoven scandals only now bubbling to the surface in Washington and through the various tentacles of the DC political machine -- Abramoff, Safavian, DeLay, Reed, Norquist, Scanlon, Ney, Burns, Pombo, Tobin, the Duke, Tomlinson, the yet to be discovered cronies at FEMA and DHS. The same wave after wave of bamboozlement and misdirection is in store as these stories unfold.

So, yes, this is another bid for our fundraiser. But let me take just a quick moment to explain again what we're trying to do. We want to create a site, a blog devoted to a meticulously factual chronicling, explaining and aggressively reporting on the web of corruption in today's Washington. Basically, more focused, more frequently updated, and making more connections than any well-balanced person could possibly want. In all seriousness, these are really complicated stories (not usually ethically complicated, but factually so). And the forest is always threatening to get lost for the trees. We want to set up a special TPM site devoted to keeping these stories in focus. And we want to hire one and hopefully two full-time people -- reporter-bloggers -- to help keep us and all our readers up to speed on the story.

That's what this is for, basically for salaries for these two yet-to-be-hired (yet to be found, for that matter) people. We don't and never will charge for access to any of our sites. So if you think this is a site you're likely to read often and get something out of, we're asking if you can chip in some funds for the not insubstantial costs of launching the new site and getting it on its feet.

That's our pitch. It'll be an experiment in blog-journalism. And we'll do our best to make it fun in addition to worthwhile. So if you'd like to join us and make a contribution, click right here. As of 4:16 PM we're up to 768 contributors. And we're going to do our best to get to 1000 by the end of the evening.

Desperate Santorum makes play for post-Enlightenment Era voter bloc ...

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said Saturday that he doesn't believe that intelligent design belongs in the science classroom.

Santorum's comments to The Times are a shift from his position of several years ago, when he wrote in a Washington Times editorial that intelligent design is a "legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in the classroom."

But on Saturday, the Republican said that, "Science leads you where it leads you."

Actually, to insulate themselves from charges of liberal bias aren't journalists supposed to refer to this as "what some Democrats refer to as 'science'"?

Just asking.

Okay, the White House has now finally engaged the debate over the exaggerations, misleading claims and falsehoods by which it led the nation to war. So we need the facts on the table. And this is an effort that is perfectly suited to refereed collective online research.

So here's what I propose.

What is needed is a list of specifics. Specific dates, specific statements and specific explanations of context, intent and consequence.

I would propose a few broad categories and we'll likely add to these or refine them as we go. First, instance, the 'smoking gun' and 'mushroom cloud' line wasn't a lie because it didn't assert any factual claim. I'd call it a "reckless exaggeration", given the facts we knew at the time.

Or how about the repeated claims that Saddam "supported terrorists". When asked to provide evidence for this, White House spokespeople will often point to the fact that Saddam offered financial support to the families of dead suicide bombers from the West Bank and Gaza. In other cases, they'll note that has-been uber-secular-terrorist Abu Nidal was living in Baghdad before the war. In both cases, you can say this counts as 'supporting terrorists'. But the point of these statements was to convey the impression that Saddam had and was supporting the terrorists we're fighting now, Islamist terrorists and specifically al Qaida. So I'd categorize claims like these as "intentionally misleading statements".

Then we get to statements like the one Dick Cheney made when he claimed that we'd neither been able to confirm or discredit claims that Mohammad Atta met with Iraqi intelligence agents in Prague not long before the attacks. I think we can say this was a straight up "lie". Several US intelligence agencies had looked into this. And each had come back either not believing the claim or with specific and solid evidence to refute it. So Cheney was just lying. And of course there was an even larger meta-lie here or intentional deception since Cheney was trying to send the message that there was reason to believe Iraq played a role in the 9/11 attacks.

In any case, we'll likely need to refine these categories and perhaps expand them. But the key is precision and a systematic effort to distinguish among and categorize the various degrees and techniques of Bush White House mendacity and bamboozlement.

What we need from you is to send in examples. For the sake of simplicity and focus we'll restrict the possible speakers to the president, the vice-president, cabinet secretaries, the president's press secretary and the national security advisor. We'll write them up on the site and then collect and organize them on a separate page for easy reference.

Send your emails to the regular comment email address linked up on the upper right hand side of the site. Use the subject line "Road to War". Then give us a specific quote you think qualifies as some breed of exaggeration, misleading statement or lie. We'll need the specific quote, a date, the speaker, and a link or citation to verify it.

It should not be difficult to compile a long, long list.

TPM Reader SS adds a piece to the puzzle ...

Another point that seems to be missed is that you can only call the 2002 vote a "vote for war" if you assumed that Bush was lying about how he was going to use the authorization (to pressure Saddam to get him to disarm) and that he had already decide to take out Saddam. That is obviously a fair assumption now but could senator have fairly assumed that in 2002? Is Bush saying that senator should have assumed he was lying when they voted?

I think this may be one of those cases where, like I noted last evening, neither side wants to engage because neither looks great. I think the answer is, yes in many cases, it was already getting pretty clear that the president was lying even then, though the full measure of his bad faith hadn't yet revealed itself. On the other hand, I think many senators don't want to cut a president off at the knees when he is trying to use a show of force to achieve a good end. It's a tradition that makes a good deal of sense if you're not dealing with a president like George W. Bush.

A short note from TPM Reader KS ...

I would have defended my position for war by saying that prez needed authority to wage a war so he could push Saddam into agreeing for more inspections and controls. How come dems never say such a thing?

My thoughts on this in an upcoming post.

A note from TPM Reader MS ...

While it may be clear to many of us how the Bush admins arguments for the war differ from the position of Democrats who were willing to give the president the authority, these nuance distinctions are lost to most of the public. What I think most people can grasp and Bush cannot wiggle out of is the timing. If we keep pointing out that regardless of the severity or seriousness of the threat Saddam may have posed, we had a process in place to determine these issues, and it was the RUSH TO WAR that distinguishes the administration position from everyone else. Both domestic and international leaders agreed that we had a right and even an obligation to determine whether Saddam was a threat, and if so, what to do about it, but this process was PREEMPTED by the decision to invade before knowing all the important facts. Let's hold them accountable for that premature decision and forget arguing about who thought what in 1999 or 2002. We could have reached a consensus with the international community and our own intelligence agencies if we had allowed the facts to come out from the inspections, and more complete intelligence that would have come from that process.

Thus the accusation is that they pre-empted that process specifically to avoid the possibility that the consensus would have been not to invade. They were determined to invade and that's what led to the intelligence manipulations. That's what we need to focus on. The decision had already been made regardless of the intelligence. Once people realize that the invasion was already planned and the NIE or PDB had nothing to do with that decision, the issue will be framed in a way they can't respond to except to deny it.

This isn't the only point, but it's one of the key ones.