Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Jean Schmidt-Piece O' Work Watch, Installment #1.

Jean Schmidt's excuse for disparaging Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) as a coward on the House floor is apparently that she didn't know he was a Marine.

I'm not sure I knew that Murtha was a Marine. In fact, though I certainly knew who Murtha is, I'm not sure I'd ever given it a lot of thought. But since Washington had been plastered with a day or so's worth of wall-to-wall coverage which mainly boiled down to "Murtha, Marine, Wants out of Iraq" she's obviously a pretty big fibber or a pretty big fool.

Actually, scratch that -- probably both since she was probably fibbing but still also a fool for coming up with such a moronic excuse.

Add to this the fact that the night before Schmidt had a starring role in the official House GOP game of Whack-a-Murtha, the trancript of which is here. So Schmidt is dug in so deep on this one her head is barely peering up over the ground.

But there's more, as you know doubt knew there would be.

According to tomorrow's Times ...

a spokeswoman for the colonel, Danny R. Bubp, said Ms. Schmidt had misconstrued their conversation.

While Mr. Bubp, a Republican member of the Ohio House of Representatives, opposes a quick withdrawal for forces, "he did not mention Congressman Murtha by name nor did he mean to disparage Congressman Murtha," said Karen Tabor, his spokeswoman. "He feels as though the words that Congresswoman Schmidt chose did not represent their conversation."

Now, as the old saw goes, no honor among 'wingnuts (okay, so I'm paraphrasing). And as Max Blumenthal shows in this piece, Bubp's quite a piece of work himself. So he's probably full of it too. Still, even if he's full of it, it's sort of nice to see him selling her out.

And just to finish off, here's the last graf of that Times piece ...

Asked to respond on Monday, the congresswoman's office said only, "Mrs. Schmidt's statement was never meant to disparage Congressman Murtha."

Here's what she said ...

Yesterday I stood at Arlington National Cemetery attending the funeral of a young marine in my district. He believed in what we were doing is the right thing and had the courage to lay his life on the line to do it. A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio Representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body – that we will see this through.

Do her constituents really want to keep her in the job?

Today must have been a very bad day for a handful of members of Congress, numerous current and former Hill staffers and others as yet unnamed.

That's because today Michael Scanlon, Jack Abramoff's partner in much of the Indian gambling-congressional cash-n-carry hijinks you've been hearing about, pled guilty to bribe a congressman and other public officials. He agreed to pay back $19 million to Indian tribes he and Abramoff defrauded. He was also sentenced to 51 to 63 months in federal prison.

However, that sentence was immediately suspended. And it will be reduced if Scanlon continues to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

The first thing to note is the political and legal fate of Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH). A few days ago a fellow blogger sent me a post in which he incorrectly stated that Ney was not running for reelection. I pointed out the error -- he'd confused him with retiring Ohio Rep. Mike Oxley (R). But I told him not to feel bad since he was right. Ney is retiring too; he just doesn't know it yet.

Which brings us back to Scanlon's plea. In their charge against Scanlon, federal prosecutors assert that Scanlon and Abramoff offered and Ney accepted numerous bribes for various official acts. (He's referenced as 'Legislator #1'; but it's Ney.) By pleading guilty, Scanlon of course agrees that that is true. And he will testify to that effect.

That just can't sit well with constituents.

And he's not the only one.

This graf from the article in the Post tells the tale ...

Investigators are looking at half a dozen members of Congress, current and former senior Hill aides, a former deputy secretary of the interior, and Abramoff's former lobbying colleagues, according to sources familiar with the probe who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Because of his central role in much of Abramoff's business, Scanlon could be a key witness in any trials that arise from the case.

This is just the beginning.

Late Update: My characterization of Scanlon's sentencing was based on this report in Roll Call. But I'm now told this is not precisely accurate. He apparently faces that much prison time. But the judge has delayed sentencing pending Scanlon's cooperation, etc. The Post's account seems to square with that account, saying Scanlon "faces a maximum five years in prison." Same difference basically. They're holding five years over his head to insure full cooperation. But just wanted to clear that up.

This is one of those media questions for which there is no real way to provide a concrete answer. But it is at least worth asking: How many of the stories coming out now under the very broad heading of botched or manipulated intelligence could have been reported and written at more or less any time over the last two years? I suspect the answer is, the great majority of them.

They're getting written now because the president's poor poll numbers make him a readier target.

I know I'm not saying anything most of you don't know. And better late than never, of course. But all working reporters and editors should consider what that says about the profession.

Are you beginning a career in journalism? A reporter looking for an exciting new challenge? TPM Media is hiring.

The ACLU takes up the case of the 'Denver Three', the non-Bush-true Denver residents ejected from last year's Social Security Bamboozlepalooze event in their city.

I've always felt deeply passionate about and fascinated by Israeli politics. And now, through my marriage, I have an immediate familial connection to it. But it's a topic I don't talk too much about on the site. Because I'm in that editorially dangerous position on having just enough knowledge to say things that are really foolish.

So let me just again draw your attention to the tectonic plates moving in Israeli politics today -- ones that seem likely to have deep repercussions throughout the region and even in the world.

Ariel Sharon has now officially resigned from the Likud party and set in motion the steps which should lead to new elections in March.

Sharon was a key founder of Likud. And many Israeli editorialists are noting the irony -- if that's what it is -- that Sharon may be doing to Likud what he has already begun to do with the settlements, dismantling or destroying what he took the key role in creating. There is already talk that the rump Likud may be forced to form a new bloc with other rightist parties.

Sharon will now form a new centrist party ("National Responsibility") and seek to win what -- in the dynamics of Israel's fractured politics --counts as a mandate and freedom of maneuver to move ahead with his brand of peace-making free of the Likud's hardline pro-settler base.

The question I have been most interested to hear answered was whether Shimon Peres would join the new party, a possibility widely hinted at over the weekend and encouraged by Peres's recent loss of the leadership of the Labor party. But according to the latest word this won't happen. Peres won't leave Labor. Peres aside, will Labor's new direction under Amir Peretz allow Sharon to peel off other Labor party members for his new party?

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has yet to announce whether he'll follow Sharon out of Likud or, more likely, stay in the party and attempt to become its new leader.

The latest word I've been able to find is that the first meeting of Sharon's new party, which took place this morning, had twelve ex-Likud members present. But all the reporting seems fluid. When I first read this article in Ha'aretz about a half hour ago it said there were eleven. Sharon needs 14 to lay claim to some of Likud's state funding.

Everything in the party structure of Israeli politics seems up for grabs.

Reuters: Ariel Sharon to leave Likud.

If this story bears out, I wonder how it might intersect with the recent shake-up in Labor. Or could it even be the trigger.

Tucked into that LA Times article about 'Curveball' is yet more evidence that we are still yet to have a serious and comprehensive investigation of the handling of WMD intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

There are many bits of evidence. But this one is worth noting.

From the LAT (emphasis added) ...

Curveball was the chief source of inaccurate prewar U.S. accusations that Baghdad had biological weapons, a commission appointed by Bush reported this year. The commission did not interview Curveball, who still insists his story was true, or the German officials who handled his case.

The German account emerges as the White House is lashing out at domestic critics, particularly Senate Democrats, over allegations the administration manipulated intelligence to go to war. Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney called such claims reprehensible and pernicious.


An investigation by The Times based on interviews since May with about 30 current and former intelligence officials in the U.S., Germany, England, Iraq and the United Nations, as well as other experts, shows that U.S. bungling in the Curveball case was worse than official reports have disclosed.

The White House, for example, ignored evidence gathered by United Nations weapons inspectors shortly before the war that disproved Curveball's account. Bush and his aides issued increasingly dire warnings about Iraq's biological weapons before the war even though intelligence from Curveball had not changed in two years.

So the Silbermann-Robb Commission hasn't spoken to Curveball or the German intelligence officials who handled his case and provided the conduit of information to US intelligence agencies. Almost certainly, the Senate intel committee investigation hasn't either. But the LA Times has managed to speak with a slew of current and former intelligence officials who have provided information not included in those official reports.

Now, gaining direct access to the sources of even an allied intelligence agency is quite dicey and frequently not possible. Even more so in a highly politicized investigative context as opposed to in the process of intelligence gathering and analysis. So there's no reason to fault these investigations for not getting a hold of Curveball himself; nor do I think there would have been any particular purpose served in doing so.

But the Times article suggests that many people in the stream of information passing back and forth between German and US intelligence and the White House were not spoken to either. And those people provided information which puts the whole matter in a rather more sinister light -- not just botched intelligence work and analysis but deliberate distortions of what evidence we had before the war and refusals to come clean about highly relevant contradictory information.

This speaks again to a point we and many others have made repeatedly: the highly circumscribed nature of these two investigations. The very structure and scope of these inquiries were designed to leave much of the story untold -- quite apart from the numerous intentionally misleading passages we've noted in the Senate intel report from last year.