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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I wrote an article for Salon.com today which covers a good bit of the ground already covered in these virtual pages about the Gary Condit-Chandra Levy story -- particularly Condit's weird reluctance to issue any clear denials of most of the more damning allegations which have appeared in the press.

As I describe in the article, Condit's press secretary, Mike Lynch, and his lawyer, Joseph Cochette, were conspicuously unwilling to directly deny a Levy sleepover when I interviewed them (more details on this are in the piece). But already on Wednesday, Lynch at least seemed to be groping toward the new explanation that emerged on Thursday.

At one point when I was asking Lynch whether Levy had ever spent the night at Condit's apartment he said she wasn't there "that night." This immediately caught my attention because none of the press accounts had ever mentioned a specific night -- just that she had spent the night at his apartment. When I pointed this out, Lynch dropped that line of argument entirely and fell back on the standard restatements of Condit's denial of telling anyone about an overnight. (Again, I give a word for word run-down in the Salon article.)

When I spoke with Condit's lawyer, Cochette, on Wednesday he was unwilling to say anything more than what he had said in his letter to the Post. (See the article for the full quotation) But by Thursday morning he seemed to have picked up the specific night argument when he told Good Morning America:

"[She] absolutely did not" sleep over at Condit's, Cotchett said. "If she did, she had to spend it on a couch because Congressman Condit's wife was in Washington the entire week [before] she [went] missing."
Now, again, this is really just a textbook non-denial denial -- a vehement denial of a question that really wasn't the question. No one but Condit's folks ever brought up anything about a specific night in question.

I know from my own reporting that subtle attacks on the Levy family's credibility are starting to bubble up from the direction of the Condit camp. And even the stuff coming out of the Condit camp publicly is starting to get so cockamamy and weird that you start to wonder: what are we going to hear next, Condit announcing his search for the 'real killers'?

On a more serious note, let's take a look at Cotchett's statement on Good Morning America about the alleged Levy sleep over. Cotchett pointed out that a Levy overnight was implausible since Condit's wife was in town that week. According to this article in Friday's Washington Post, the actual days were April 28 to May 3, and Condit's wife only comes to DC two or three times a year.

I must confess to being a touch on edge because of how freely the Condit camp is throwing around talk of libel suits. But Condit's wife was in town for a fairly rare visit to DC at precisely the time when Levy was making repeated phone calls to Condit's answering service, and when she subsequently disappeared. Doesn't that raise some pretty obvious and pretty troubling questions?

Frankly, we're at a very touchy and difficult stage in this whole story. In their interview on MSNBC yesterday Levy's parents were pretty clearly turning on Condit, and at least entertaining the possibility that he might be involved in Chandra's disappearance. And the weirdness and stubbornness of Condit's non-denial denials are for the first time getting people in the media to seriously consider whether there may be some connection between the Condit-Levy relationship (of whatever sort) and her disappearance.

What makes this so touchy is that there is no real evidence at all pointing to any Condit connection to Levy's disappearance. Intriguing theories, no evidence. All there is is the increasingly strained, incredible, and bizarre nature of Condit's denials of an affair which cannot help but fuel speculation that there is something more than an affair to hide.

At this point though, it's worth remembering: as to any connection between Condit and Levy's disappearance, there are theories aplenty, but no real evidence.

There are several very big developments on the Chandra Levy-Gary Condit front. Stay tuned for more later today. If you can't wait for the whole TPM run-down you can check out this article at MSNBC and this one at ABCNews.com.

Needless to say I'd really prefer that the Tory party remained moribund for a generation to come. But for those who wish otherwise it's a very good sign that Michael Portillo (odds-on favorite to succeed William Hague) has decided to throw his hat in the ring. (And, no, put that fancy Spanish pronunciation back where you found it -- it's pronounced PORT-I-LOW.) Portillo very likely would have become Conservative party leader after John Major but for the humiliating happenstance that Portillo himself was voted out of office in the 1997 Labour landslide. At the time Portillo was Defense Secretary.

That night in 1997 I remember watching Portillo give what we'd call his concession speech. It was simply one of the classiest, most impressive performances under duress and pressure I've ever seen.

Portillo would also seem to have what the Tories need now to get up off their backs. He's a one-time Thatcherite, who moved to the center after losing his seat in the Commons in 1997. He's embraced what he sometimes (embarrassingly) calls 'compassionate conservatism', but in a way that actually appears to have some content (unlike some other people). Finally, at a time when the Tories are being pilloried for appearing intolerant, exclusionary and even isolationist (with regards to Europe), Portillo has credentials which instantly inoculate him: he's the son of a Spanish immigrant (the fact that his dad was an anti-Franco refugee is a nice touch) so it's hard to see him as anti-immigrant or anti-Europe. And he's also admitted to having had a series of homosexual relationships while in college -- which certainly takes some of the edge off the normal Tory starchiness.

And let's be frank: having sharp looks and an appealing manner is no small thing for a politician. Especially when your predecessor looked less like an opposition leader than a preening lemur.

Still considering throwing his hat in the ring to oppose Mr. Portillo (and apparently enjoying the support of Baroness Thatcher herself) is the current shadow Defense SecretaryIain Duncan Smith. That makes a certain amount of sense of course since what the Tories really need today is a youngish, uppity, balding, anti-Europe Thatcherite to restore the party's fortunes.

I don't expect Linc Chafee to switch parties any time soon. But he seems to have told Charlie Bakst, head political writer for the hometown paper, The Providence Journal, that he's still seriously considering it. And he's already operating as the de facto 52nd member of the Senate Democratic Majority. What do I mean by that? He told Bakst that if and when the Senate flipped back to Republican hands (like with a Torch indictment, say) he'd seriously consider switching parties and flipping it back. Take a peek at the article and see for yourself.

If you can read only one article on politics this month make it Jonathan Cohn's article in New Republic Online about Bill Clinton and the current state of the Democratic party. It is as blisteringly accurate as it is elegantly executed.

There is an important debate going on among Democrats today over this question: was welfare reform, fiscal discipline, and Clintonite triangulation a tactical effort to fend off the right and restore belief in tempered, but activist, government? Or was it simply a new approach to progressive governance which is good public policy on it own merits?

Cohn takes aim at another group who believe Clinton's two-terms in office did great damage to the Democrats, ceding all sorts of intellectual ground to the right, and accomplishing nothing worthwhile in the process.

(I know many of the people Cohn is talking about and frankly, they're one of the reasons I'm now freelancing -- but that's a story for another day.)

It's one thing to argue that faith in activist government has now been restored to the point where progressives can again afford to think (and spend) big; quite another to believe that there was really no problem with the progressive project that needed solving and that we'd be better off today if Bill Clinton had come back after the 1994 debacle and reproposed National Health Care Insurance and gobs more spending on everything under the sun.

It's hard to listen to these folks and not be reminded of some gaggle of nasally-voiced French intellectuals circa 1948, puffing cigarettes and sipping coffee in some Montmartre cafe, whining about America's many evils while remaining utterly oblivious to the fact that the US Army saved their collaborationist asses from national humiliation only a few years before.

Anyway, read the article. It's very good.

Gary Condit's newly-hired lawyer Joseph Cotchett is now sending out a series of threatening letters to the Washington Post and other publications which have questioned whether Condit was carrying on a romantic relationship with missing intern Chandra Levy.

The letter to the Post accuses the paper of "a frightening violation of the ethics and standards of American journalism" and goes on to level charges narrowly tailored to anticipate a libel suit. According to this article, more letters are set to be sent out to "another East Coast paper" (presumably, the New York Post?)on Wednesday and another to a local TV station in California next week. "Since so much as already been distorted regarding this case, all statements published regarding this matter will be reviewed by counsel from the perspective of potential defamation litigation," said Condit's Chief of Staff Mike Lynch.

Now, I don't want to sound like a broken record, but from everything I can tell this is lots of bluster and legal threats without the congressman willing to come forward and deny the actual allegation. According to the MSNBC article, Cotchett's letter says "the lawmaker has never stated to anyone that Levy spent the night at his apartment."

Needless to say, that's not the same as denying that she spent the night with him, let alone denying that she had an affair with him.

I'll be honest, it used to drive me nuts when wiseacres like Mike Isikoff or David Maraniss used to 'parse' my man Bill Clinton's statements for signs of lawyerly evasion or cleverly angled factual loopholes. But isn't it just really, really obvious that these tactics just confirm the very suspicions which Condit is trying to stamp out?

I mean, he apparently refuses to issue a statement denying that he had an affair with Levy, let alone be interviewed by a reporter. Instead he sends this lawyer out to toss around claptrap about a "frightening violation of the ethics and standards of American journalism."

Why?

Last week Congressman Gary Condit threatened to sue the Washington Post for a story alleging that Chandra Levy, the missing intern, had spent the night at his house. In furtherance of this threat, he retained an attorney, Joseph Cotchett, to pry a retraction from the Post. Or at least that's what Condit's people said Cotchett had been retained for. (For the complete Condit rundown click here.)

According to Fox News' David Shuster, Cotchett is an accomplished trial lawyer but "doesn't appear to have ever tried a case involving libel or defamation." (June 8th, 2001, Fox Special Report with Brit Hume)

Was this a two-fer by Condit? An attempt to simultaneously bury the fact that he had hired a defense lawyer and try to bully the Post at the same time? If so, I'll say this, the guy's got brass if nothing else.

Meanwhile, Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes of the Beltway Boys are vouching for Condit.

KONDRACKE:  Condit is denying flatly that any (UNINTELLIGIBLE) such thing occurred, and frankly, I would find it impossible to believe that Condit had anything to do with, with her disappearance. I mean, he is one of our favorite Democrats.

BARNES:  Yes, he is, no, I like him, I know him pretty well. It's hard for me to believe it too. (June 9th, 2001, Beltway Boys)

Go figure...

P.S. Late Update: From a brief review of his website, Joseph Cotchett doesn't seem to specialize in libel or defamation cases. But he also doesn't appear to specialize in criminal work. He's basically a plaintiffs' attorney specializing in suing large financial institutions on behalf of cheated investors. His website does say that he defended Consumers Union in a defamation suit last year.

So where does that leave us? Who knows? Maybe Condit had some bad investments?

This Washington Post article by Dana Milbank perceptively notes the similarities between the Bush administration's tax cut strategy and the tack they're taking on the president's upcoming visit to Europe: smile, talk, give nicknames, do what you wanted to do in the first place.

In the new beltway jargon this is known as reaching out: You announce ahead of time that you will listen to everyone's concerns but still do what you planned to do in the first place actually.

Of course, in real life we have another word for this: being patronized.

Here's another emerging pattern. Even when the Bush White House sees the need to conciliate some person or constituency the same tough-guy, ball-busting mentality just can't help but break through.

The White House is pretty clearly trying to backpedal on the global warming front and at least unruffle feathers among our European allies. But on FoxNews today, White House Chief of Staff Andy Card said the Europeans were basically full of it, trying to con us, on the Kyoto Treaty. "I think that they've been driven by emotion rather than by science," said Card said. He then went on to say that "I think it's a little bit of a game that they're playing" because the Europeans also haven't yet ratified the treaty.

Are these two tacks really compatible?

Even when the folks at Bush White House are trying to conciliate or soothe over differences they still can't help kicking a little ass, busting the other guy's chops, showing everyone who's boss.

Hasn't Card gotten in trouble for this tough guy routine before?

The New York Post, which has been carrying much of the Chandra Levy-Gary Condit story, ran this story yesterday reporting that the DC Police Department's special investigations unit, Jack Barrett, has been assigned to take over the case.

More significantly, the Post reports, the police are focusing on two separate theories. One theory involves an affair gone wrong with congressman Gary Condit which led Levy to commit suicide. The other involves a stalker.

Here's how the Post describes the first of the investigators' two theories:

The hazel-eyed, dark-haired 24-year-old did something "crazy" after an alleged relationship with Rep. Gary Condit, a California Democrat, went awry.
As I've noted here, the combination of mounting circumstantial evidence of an affair and Condit's non-denial denials, makes some sort of romantic involvement seem very likely.

(For an example of Condit's non-denial denials, take a close look at his 'denial' that Levy spent the night at his home; and his demand for an apology for the Washington Post story making the allegation. The statement includes no actual statements from Condit himself.)

The rush of phone messages to Condit in the two days before Levy's disappearance certainly squares well with the theory of her disappearance described above. As does much of what we know about the case.

This really deserves more attention.

Under the Presidential Records Act passed in 1978 a large body of official presidential papers (screened, of course, for national security purposes) are released twelve years after the president leaves office. In January 2001 about 68,000 documents from Ronald Reagan's presidency were slated to be released.

However, the White House Counsel's Office has just delayed the release of those documents for a second time. The first delay came in January and was set to last until June 21. They have now requested a second delay until the end of August to continue reviewing the documents.

The Counsel's office does have discretion under the law to force these delays. But they have an obvious conflict of interest.

Many of the Reagan administration officials whose memos and papers are set to be released now have senior jobs in the Bush administration: Larry Lindsey, Mitch Daniels, Gale Norton, and others. It's not clear what those documents reveal -- presumably nothing scandalous, just embarrassing. It seems pretty clear that the release of these documents is being delayed to avoid such scrutiny or embarrassment.

The White House has authority to delay the release of presidential records documents for important reasons like national security, not to prevent embarrassing revelations or bad media days for current Bush administration officials.

That's, by definition, an abuse of power. Not a big one, I grant you, but an abuse nonetheless.

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