Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Drudge reports this as an excerpt from Arthur Sulzberger discussing the Judy Miller debacle from an appearance this evening on Charlie Rose ...


He really doesn't get it, does he?

Sure, Jayson Blair's transgressions were open-and-shut journalistic capital offenses. No question it was terrible and that his career was over. But, honestly, what were the real world consequences of his misdeeds? Pretty minimal.

And the Miller fiasco? Well, yes, more complicated. But the real world consequences? Immeasurably greater. And the paper's dragged out, compromised way of dealing with the whole mess? He really doesn't seem to grasp what happened.

Quote of the Day ...

Rep. David Dreier (R-CA): "We are not cutting Medicaid for those truly in need."

Apparently they're only cutting benefits for upper and middle-income Medicaid beneficiaries.

Today's an example of one of the reasons I'm eager to have a blog-reporter not just literally up on capitol hill but more generally following all the ins and outs of what's going on up there.

What we're seeing today are the cascading effects of the breakdown of Republican party discipline, beginning with the collapse of the president's popularity (especially the rather sudden recognition of that fact within Washington) and echoing out from there.

Moderate Republicans have toed the Bush line because they've believed he could protect them, as indeed he has. They don't believe that now. So a lot of them don't want to go into the election next year with ANWR drilling hanging over them.

They balk on the left and then in response the 'wingers on the other right refuse the compromises they've agreed to. Suddenly the whole thing starts to pull apart since there's no centripetal force, no organizing power to hold things together -- sort of like Hobbesian state creation run in reverse.

The recognition has sunk in: The president is unpopular and weak. And it's every Republican for him or herself.

And did I mention, pass the popcorn?

From a knowledgeable observer on the hill ...

Two important developments today point to the Bush administration’s collapse of support on Capitol Hill. The first involves the House dropping ANWR from their spending reconciliation bill because 22 moderate Republicans refused to support the measure on the floor if included (no telling yet whether it will pass even w/ ANWR dropped bc of food stamp and child support collection cuts). The next involves the postponement of the tax reconciliation mark up in the Senate Finance Committee, where Olympia Snowe (generally prone to caving after getting the call from Andy Card) refused to buckle and support extension of the capital gains and dividend tax cuts – a signature WH priority. Tax cuts used to be a cakewalk for the WH, now they cant even get them out of committee.

More to follow.

It just occurred to me that even if Democrats manage to totally blow this coming election cycle and don't make substantial pick-ups in November, we're still virtually guaranteed twelve months of watching Republicans furiously working to find ways to stab each other in the back.

So, really, even the fall-back is pretty decent.

Just a thought.

You've probably already seen this article in today's New York Times on Justice Department interest in an offer Jack Abramoff apparently made to President Omar Bongo of Gabon to set up a meeting with President Bush for the sum of $9 million.

This makes me curious again to know more about the foreign lobbying and foreign business dimensions of Abramoff's work.

For instance, documentary evidence made available to us shows that in the summer of 2004 (after the scandal phase of Abramoff's career was well underway), he was working with Marina Nevskaya and her company Naftasib to secure oil exploration and drilling concessions from The National Oil Company of Liberia.

Abramoff spokesman Andrew Blum had no comment when asked today about the Abramoff-Nevskaya-Liberia dealings.

Nevskaya and Naftasib, you may remember, are the ones that underwrote the DeLay/Abramoff 'fact-finding' trip to Moscow in 1997.

Anyone know more about this Liberian oil exploration angle to the Abramoff story? I'm all ears.

We've had a number of emails in from folks asking how they can contribute money to support the new site we're launching (described here yesterday). First, let me assure that we will go to great lengths to help facilitate your desire to contribute funds for our new project. But not quite yet.

As I mentioned yesterday, Sunday is the fifth anniversary of Talking Points Memo. (Here was the first post.) So next week is 5th Anniversary week here at TPM and we're going to be holding a fundraiser to support the expanded coverage we're planning of scandal-ridden Capitol Hill and the 2006 election cycle.

More on all of this shortly.

Just out from Roll Call (sub. req.) ...

With Jon Corzine (D) trading in his title of Senator for governor-elect of New Jersey, the formal jockeying to replace him accelerated Wednesday, as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus formally endorsed Rep. Bob Menendez (D) for the post.

Corzine will have the power to appoint his Senate successor once he is inaugurated as New Jersey’s chief executive on Jan. 17, but has been mum on his plans for succession during the duration of the gubernatorial campaign and in the hours since his election victory on Tuesday.

But New Jersey Representatives eager for Corzine’s appointment broke their silence Wednesday, with a vengeance.

“I’d like to say my own record of 31 years of service in New Jersey, my understanding of average New Jerseyans and my leadership in the House would make me a valuable addition to the U.S. Senate,” Menendez said in an interview.

Will be interesting to watch.

The Italian Connection, Part III

I discussed in installments one and two of this series my early reporting on the origins of the Niger forgeries and how we later learned the identity of, and made contact with, the man at the center of the drama: Rocco Martino. As I discussed in the earlier installments I was working with a team from 60 Minutes, sharing sources, each of us pursuing the Niger story for publication in our separate mediums.

I first met Martino at a restaurant in mid-town Manhattan in early June 2004. He’d come to New York to be interviewed for the upcoming segment on 60 Minutes and also, per our arrangement, to be interviewed by me. I should add that in this conversation and in the subsequent ones I will describe I always spoke to Martino through a translator, though there were occasional moments, and more over time, when it seemed he had some working command of English.

In the various press accounts that have appeared over recent months Martino is often described as ‘dapper’ or refined in appearance. And that is largely correct. In fact there was a genteel quality in his appearance and manner that belied the scrounging, always-desperate-for-money life which we learned he had led.

Martino was in his mid-sixties, thickly-built and robust for his age. In notes I took when I met with him for the final time two months later I described him as “all gray on the sides, salt & pepper on top, dark complected, thick mustache, mainly grey, S&P in middle, thick features, delta nose, bags chiseled under eyes.”

In its essential outline, Rocco’s story was a simple one. From the beginning, he insisted that he did not forge the documents. And he never claimed to have direct knowledge about who did. But the trail led back to SISMI – Italian military intelligence – through a former colleague named Antonio Nucera, a SISMI colonel working in the '8th division', which worked on counter-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction.

As Martino told me in a subsequent conversation, once he’d become far more candid, he had known Nucera for more than twenty-eight years. They’d first met not long before Martino had entered SISMI in 1976. And they’d remained in regular contact after he left the organization a decade later.

As Martino described it, their ongoing contact served two purposes. Nucera was Martino’s point of contact for the on-going work he did for SISMI for years after leaving the service. And Nucera was also the conduit through whom he kept SISMI abreast of his work for other clients – a key issue, since some were intelligence agencies of other countries.

SISMI is notorious for being riven by factionalism and deeply politicized. But Martino described Nucera as apolitical, a man who followed orders, not someone who would get involved in something like the documents caper on his own account or out of a personal ideological motivation. Whatever Nucera’s role, Martino believed he would have been acting on orders from above.

The chain of events leading to the documents began when Nucera approached Martino with a proposition. Nucera explained that SISMI had long had a woman working in the Nigerien Embassy in Rome, in spy jargon, a SISMI ‘asset’. Earlier she had been employed at another African Embassy in Rome, then too working for SISMI. Now, though, the agency was done with her.

But Martino, being in the business of buying and selling information, could perhaps take her on. She could provide information on immigration from Niger and Islamist groups in Western Africa. He would pay her, as SISMI had. And she would pass on to him, as she once had to SISMI, documents she copied or stole from the Embassy.

Martino met with the woman and ironed out just such an arrangement.

That was in March 2000.

The documents, which would later become notorious as the ‘forged dossier’, didn’t come to Martino in a single bundle. They came slowly over many months. First came the ‘codebook,’ then other documents included the dossier, some of which were genuine. The purported ‘accord’ came last, some time late in 2001.

In the next installment, how Martino initially withheld key information, new evidence that corroborated his story and SISMI's role, and how SISMI began campaigning against the planned story on the Niger papers even before it appeared.