Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

This is an awfully weird story.

Yesterday Britain's Daily Mirror ran a story claiming that a top secret British government document records a conversation in Washington between President Bush and Tony Blair in April 2004 in which President Bush discussed bombing the headquarters of Al Jazeera headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

The literal account of the conversation, says the Daily Mirror, has Bush suggesting an attack and Blair talking him out of it by noting the international backlash that would certainly ensure. The paper goes on to quote one anonymous source suggesting that Bush was joking, letting off steam, etc., and another saying that Bush was actually serious.

The added wrinkle to the story is that there does seem to be such a top secret document. We know that because two British civil servants have been charged under the UK Official Secrets act for leaking it. They were charged just last week.

In Wednesday's paper the Post follows up and reports a brush off quote the White House gave the AP. Said Scott McClellan, "We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response."

The Post also has this passage ...

In Washington, a senior diplomat said the Bush remark as recounted in the newspaper "sounds like one of the president's one-liners that is meant as a joke." But, the diplomat said, "it was foolish for someone to write it down, and now it will be a story for days."

The Times also picks up the story, but does less with it. Tomorrow's Guardian says that the UK government is now threatening to prosecute editors who reveal details of the memo. And the AP points out, among other things, that the British tabloids not infrequently get things wrong and that the Daily Mirror's last editor was forced to resign last year after the paper published what turne out to be faked pictures of alleged prisoner abuse by Britihs soldiers.

I'm really not quite sure what to make of this. Reading over the stories in the Daily Mirror, the Post, the BBC and other news outlets, there doesn't seem much question that there is a memo/transcript and that it does have Mr. Bush discussing bombing Al Jazeera HQ. What's unclear is whether he was serious or not. That of course makes all the difference in the world. And there's just no way to judge without seeing just what it said.

With my very limited sense of how George W. Bush operates in private, I think it does sound the like the sort of thing the president might joke about or say merely for effect, though I wouldn't say that shows him in such a great light either.

The only thing that strikes me as odd is that a diplomatic aide would memorialize this exchange between if it were merely a joking aside. Did the aide either think Bush was serious or perhaps found the discussion so disturbing that he chose to note it down?

The one thing that I think you can say with some surety is that this is yet one more example of the president's rapidly diminishing power, credibility and prestige. Six months, not to mention a year ago, I think there's little reason to believe a paper like the Post would have touched such a story and touch it in a way that entertains the possibility that President Bush actually had to be talked down by Tony Blair from bombing a news network whose editorial line he found too critical.

Read Matt Yglesias's take on what the new Murray Waas article tells us about the origins of the Plame Affair.

TPM Reader JS asks ...

Have you noticed the lack of commemoration of the assassination of JFK on November 22, 1963? I find no reference to that sad, and seminal, event. Am I the only person who reads the blogs and has a personal memory of that day?

Certainly hadn't occurred to me. But now that he mentions it, yes, it did used to be a date for which there was always some build up and moments of commemoration. But now nothing. Is it just some critical mass in the passage of years? Forty-two years and it's just definitively part of the past? Or is it some political or cultural inflection point the country's passed through post-9/11? Maybe it's none of these and JS and I are noticing a difference that's not there.


The Post's Tuesday piece about Cheney says, among other things ...

Cheney repeated assertions -- disputed by some senators -- that members of Congress had access to the same intelligence that was provided to Bush about the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction under the rule of Saddam Hussein.

Disputed by 'some senators'?

Please. Try disputed by the Post itself little more than a week ago.

How much of a difference there was or how relevant that difference may be to the underlying debate -- those may be a up for discussion. But the claim that members of Congress had access to the same intelligence the president did is just demonstrably false.

Why create a he said/she said, when the facts on the table are not in dispute?

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.