Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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TPM Reader HR comments on the post below ...

The thing about Harry Reid you didn't mention was- he represents Nevada. Thus both he and John Ensign are largely off the hook, and either Abramoff is an idiot for forking out to guys who are never going to back competition to Las Vegas in the first place, or Abramoff is a pretty sharp con man for figuring that for $5000 per head- pocket change for him- he could tell his clients that he'd also influenced those two votes, and charge them for it. Your pick.

William Jefferson, on the other hand, from all that I can gather needs to go down now.

Sounds about right to me.

More details about Brownie's new disaster preparedness consulting firm.

Earlier today I suggested that from what Michael D. Brown told the Rocky Mountain News, "it seems that Brown's actual angle may be providing not generic emergency response consulting services but rather consulting services to incompetents who've been saddled with emergency preparedness responsibility and fear becoming national laughing stocks when they turn mid-size disasters in to full-on catastrophes through gross mismanagement."

And the new report out from the AP seems to confirm it ...

Brown said officials need to "take inventory" of what's going on in a disaster to be able to answer questions to avoid appearing unaware of how serious a situation is.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, critics complained about Brown's lack of formal emergency management experience and e-mails that later surfaced showed him as out of touch with the extent of the devastation.

This guy's really a Bush man through and through, ain't he?

It's important to keep close tabs on everything going on in your disaster so as to avoid the true catastrophe of having the press think you're not on top of things.

It's good to see that getting knocked around last Fall helped get his priorities straight.

Joe DiGenova, on the case.

Friday's Times has an article looking at the nature of the bribery charges Michael Scanlon pled guilty to and noting that some of the bribes were not that much different from what happens every day in Washington when campaign contributions are given in (de facto or tacit) exchange for support on various issues.

The author Carl Hulse then quotes Joe DiGenova saying, "The department has rarely charged campaign contribution cases. It would be a surprise that a contribution that has been lawfully reported" would lead to a criminal charge."

He identifies DiGenova as a "a defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor."

Not sufficient. A lot more information is required here. Joe DiGenova (as well as his wife and law partner Victoria Toensing) is a part of the DC Republican establishment who is routinely put forward when legal opinions are needed which exculpate Republicans or inculpate Democrats.

There's no other way to put it. Look at their public statements in the various Clinton 'scandals', the Fitzgerald investigation and now this case. In their voluminous public pronouncements they are both, in the clearest sense of the word, advocates. And their 'client' is the Republican party establishment in Washington, DC. That's fine, as far as it goes. But they should be identified as such, albeit perhaps in gentler terms, when they provide quotes in papers like the Times.

And to the underlying issue, is this use of the bribery statute novel?

And is it unfair?

The issue takes on a clearer partisan saliency because of this graf down in the piece ...

Representative Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican who has acknowledged being Representative No. 1, dismisses any suggestion that he was persuaded to do Mr. Scanlon's bidding because of campaign aid or perks like meals, entertainment or overseas travel.

"Whenever Representative Ney took official action," a statement from his office said, "actions similar to those taken by elected representatives every day as part of the normal, appropriate government process, he did so based on his best understanding of what was right and not based on any improper influence."

But the scrutiny of Mr. Ney has caught the attention of anxious lawmakers who have lobbying relationships of their own. It has also spurred advocacy groups. The campaign finance watchdog Democracy 21, for instance, is calling for inquiries by the House and Senate ethics committees into whether three dozen other members of Congress received contributions in exchange for intervening on behalf of a client of Mr. Abramoff.

The Associated Press reported this month that various lawmakers of both parties had asked the Interior Department to reject a casino application from a tribe that was a rival to one of Mr. Abramoff's clients. The lawmakers later received campaign aid from the tribe and Mr. Abramoff. Among the beneficiaries was the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who received a $5,000 contribution to his political action committee shortly after sending a letter to the department in 2002.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, said Mr. Abramoff and the donation had had nothing to do with the position of the senator, who Mr. Manley noted was an author of Indian gaming laws and an opponent of new Indian casinos. "There was absolutely no connection between the letter and the contributions," he said.

So is Harry Reid singed by this too?

Maybe, though I doubt in any significant way. I've looked at this whole story pretty closely. And while Abramoff's racket was overwhelmingly with Republicans, some Democrats were in the mix too, usually on the margins and never very tightly. But some are there, particularly in some of the states where the Indian gambling issues were located.

In the case of Ney and Reid, the comparison is ludicrous if you look at the case at all seriously.

Abramoff owned Bob Ney. He took him on trips, gave him endless free meals on his tab, gave him contributions galore. And in exchange Ney pulled strings for Jack's clients, tried to get bills passed, helped muscle Gus Boulis to sell his Casino boat line to Abramoff and all sorts of other things. Boulis, you'll remember, is the guy who later got whacked after the deal went sour. And the money paid to the men who are now under indictment for Boulis's murder came out of Abramoff's company.

So, let's just say Abramoff and Ney were tight.

DiGenova notwithstanding, the lawyers at the Public Integrity Section at DOJ (just now coming under the gun from DiGenova and his pals) are doing a pretty decent job finding cases where even the normal rules of the road in Washington were trashed so egregiously and overwhelmingly as to cross over into criminal conduct.

But let's return again to this issue of whether some Democrats might get singed by the Abramoff bonfire. Frankly, so be it. Republicans are about to reap the whirlwind because the operation that Jack Abramoff and Co. were running in Washington went way beyond what the already corrupted and corrupting rules of the road in Washington allow or anyone in the town has witnessed at any time in recent history. And as I've written before, pay offs to dirty reps. like Bob Ney were only one relatively small part of the racket.

But if Democrats are going to run on reform, they need to be for reform. And if they're going to fan the flames of this bonfire they'll need to let it burn its course.

Ha'aretz: "In a blow to Ariel Sharon, Ben-Gurion University President and noted economist Avishai Braverman Thursday spurned the prime minister's offer to become a part of the new Kadima party, and announced that he would instead join forces with Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz."

Failing up and failing west.

Michael D. "Brownie" Brown announces plans to relocate to Colorado and become a government emergency preparedness consultant.

Says Brown, when asked how he plans to pull this off: "You have to do it with candor. To do it otherwise gives you no credibility. I think people are curious: 'My gosh, what was it like? The media just really beat you up. You made mistakes. I don't want to be in that situation. How do I avoid that?'"

So it gets better, Brown is not only selling emergency preparedness expertise, he's opening a secondary racket in 'candor'.

Actually, from the quote it seems that Brown's actual angle may be providing not generic emergency response consulting services but rather consulting services to incompetents who've been saddled with emergency preparedness responsibility and fear becoming national laughing stocks when they turn mid-size disasters in to full-on catastrophes through gross mismanagement.

This actually may be a solid and underserved niche Brown could cater to, though my understanding is that in such a learning process someone like Brown is generally referred to not as a 'consultant' but rather as 'specimen'.

However that may be, this might also suggest more evidence for a government management consultancy bell curve -- GMCBC, also sometimes referred to as the 'Kerik Principle', KP -- in which the most lucrative work is available for the truly able and the abjectly incompetent, leaving the great majority of hard-working, though middling operatives unable to find big-ticket post-government work.

Any takers?

This isn't a Thanksgiving Day question exactly, but a question on Thanksgiving Day nonetheless.

What do we know exactly about Abu Musab Zarqawi?

According to various news accounts he is the chief jihadist/insurgent in Iraq. He is the head of the Iraqi 'branch' of al Qaida, the local subsidiary. Responsibility for numerous bombings and atrocities has been ascribed to him; or, in other cases, he, his supporters, or those speaking for him seem happy to take responsibility themselves.

But it is hard not to see this information in the light of the fairly constant tendency through the War on Terror to build up varous Terrorist Masterminds, who become the focus of most or all news reportage, then trail off into nothing. Not infrequently, they have an uncanny resemblance to characters out of 1984. And with Zarqawi particularly there is a welter of contradictory and often difficult-to-credit information about him that invites further suspicion.

Remember, we first heard of Zarqawi because his alleged 2002 trip to a Baghdad hospital to have his leg amputated was the sign of Saddam's dalliance with al Qaida figures. Only now he seems to have two legs. So, assuming he's not some sort of amphibian who can regenerate limbs, that story doesn't pan out.

With some regularity he is apparently killed, but then turns out not to be dead. Often, if you read between the lines, it's not clear that we know enough about Zarqawi to be able to identify him even if we had a relatively intact body to examine. In a similarly odd fashion, second-in-commands seem to be caught with some regularity, only to be replaced by other long-time second-in-commands.

Now, I haven't followed the Zarqawi story that closely. I've just observed it over time as many of you have. So probably or perhaps some of this information has been nailed down more securely than I've suggested. And if so, please let me know -- the questions I'm asking here are not purely rhetorical.

But let's recognize that Zarqawi's enemies and his supporters -- probably, the man himself above all -- have a common interest in building up his reputation and his centrality. The Bush administration has consistently tried to portray al Qaida as a distinct, coherent and hierarchical organization, even in the face of evidence that, since the Afghan War, it has fragmented (or metastasized) into something more like a movement than an organization. This is particularly the case in Iraq where the administration has sought to bundle various sorts of terrorist and paramilitary violence into the al Qaida basket. So building up Zarqawi into the Iraq's al Qaida boss must be tempting.

You needn't posit intentional deception. In a case as chaotic and bloody as Iraq, the mind naturally looks for hidden organization and hierarchy, definable culpability, particularly if you're the one on the line for stopping the violence.

Now, clearly, Iraq has become a charnel house. And there has been a relatively constant stream of terrorist attacks around the world -- Bali, London, Madrid, Amman, Riyadh, the list goes on and on. The perpetrators all seem at least inspired by bin Laden or bin Ladenism and many of the ringleaders were trained in Afghanistan before the war.

But I'm curious-bordering-on-suspicious about just what we know about Zarqawi, how much specific information we have about who he is and what attacks he may be responsible for.

This article which appeared last year in Newsday contains one of the few detailed skeptical accounts of his role ...

Whenever a car bombing, beheading or other spectacular act of violence takes place in Iraq these days, American officials are quick to blame Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. If he hasn't already taken responsibility himself.

But according to an Arab intelligence assessment, al-Zarqawi is not capable of carrying out the level of attacks in Iraq that he has claimed and that American officials have blamed on him.

Al-Zarqawi's own militant group has fewer than 100 members inside Iraq, although al-Zarqawi has close ties to a Kurdish Islamist group with at least several hundred members, according to two reports produced by an Arab intelligence service.

Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam has provided dozens of recruits for suicide bombings since the United States-led invasion of Iraq, the reports say. And while US forces relentlessly pound the Sunni insurgent strongholds of Fallujah and Samarra, claiming to hit al-Zarqawi safe houses, the elusive militant could be hiding in the northern city of Mosul.

The Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi, 37, has used the media effectively to inflate his role in the Iraqi insurgency. In recent months, he and his supporters have claimed responsibility for scores of suicide bombings, attacks on US and Iraqi forces, kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners, and coordinated uprisings in several Iraqi cities.

Al-Zarqawi is thought likely responsible for the beheadings of American contractor Nicholas Berg and several other foreigners. But the sheer level of other attacks that he has claimed is not consistent with the number of supporters he has inside Iraq and his ability to move around the country, according to the analysis. The reports say former members of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime are responsible - directly or by paying others - for many of the attacks, especially sophisticated roadside bombings and ambushes of US troops.

The assessment contradicts many of the Bush administration's statements about al-Zarqawi and his terrorist network.

So what I'd ask is this. I'm interested in seeing articles -- from reputable news organizations -- which give specific information about Zarqawi and what reliable information we have connecting him to these various attacks.

Are we getting the straight story? Or are we falling victim to the ironically overlapping needs of Bush administration officials and Zarqawi himself to over-inflate his role and give us all a highly distorted impression of just what is going on in Iraq?

Salt Lake Tribune: "When lobbyist David Safavian signed on as chief of staff to Utah Rep. Chris Cannon in 2001, he left the door open to return to his old lobby firm and its lucrative stable of clients. Safavian did not sever his ties with his lobbying firm, Janus-Merritt Strategies. Instead, he took a "leave of absence" to work for Cannon." Cannon's press guy now says: 'It was our understanding that when David Safavian left the firm he severed all ties.'"

David Safavian, you'll remember, was the first person to be indicted in the Abramoff investigation.

Late Update: For more detailed info about Safavian's leave of absence racket, check out this post.

We're almost two-thirds of the way to our goal of 3,000 contributors for our TPM Muckraking Fund Fundraiser. So we wanted to make one more push before everyone leaves for the holiday. The funds are going to hiring two staff reporter-bloggers for our new site TPMmuckraker.com which will be devoted to unearthing, explaining and publicizing the web of public corruption scandals breaking out across Washington today. Along the way we'll try to keep in the TPM punch and edge many of you who've written in have said you want in the new site.

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