Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

It's not as outlandish or as hilarious as many of tales of Duke Cunningham's boffo corruption. But this article from Copley News Service describes what was likely one of the key necessary conditions of the Duke story: congressional 'earmarks', the practice which allows a member of Congress to stipulate that a given executive department fund a particular project or even give the business to a specific firm.

While the practice existed prior to the Republican takeover of Congress, the number of earmarks has more than tripled over the last decade of Republican control. And it's obvious why the ease of inserting earmarks is an open invitation to corruption.

The key is to understand the role earmarks have played in the political economy of the Republican majority. In anything remotely like fiscal policy, the GOP leadership has never been remotely conservative. The aim has been to harness the resources of the state to undergird Republican control -- in this case, by making more and more federal money available as patronage funds that leadership-compliant members of congress can use to reward donors and key constituencies. It's the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill fiasco writ small. And you can't understand the bigger story of what's happening to federal government today without appreciating this point.

Sen. Burns (R-MT) accused of being on the take, pleads he's just a coward.

From The Missoulian ...

U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., changed his stance on a 2001 bill after receiving a $5,000 donation from a lobbyist's client who opposed the legislation, records show.

The client hired Jack Abramoff as a lobbyist to defeat the kind of bill Burns voted against. Prior to receiving the payment, Burns did not oppose an identical bill that unanimously passed the Senate in 2000, Senate documents show.

Burns, who is up for re-election next year, told the Missoulian State Bureau on Friday that the campaign contribution had nothing to do with his vote, but said it happened so long ago, he couldn't remember why he opposed the 2001 measure. Burns said he may have initially not opposed the legislation's unanimous passage because it was politically more expedient not to stand in the way of a popular bill.

“Any time you put a hold on a bill, you expend political capital,” Burns said.

Actually, it gets better.

The story turns on legislation which would have cracked down on the sweat shop owners Abramoff represented in the Marianas Islands.

In 2000, records show, the U.S. Senate took up a bill that would have broadened federal oversight of immigration and labor rules on the islands. The bill came before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on which Burns served. The bill passed out of committee, records show.

However, because of the way the vote was recorded, it's impossible to tell how any individual senators, including Burns, voted.

On the floor, the bill faced no resistance, passing by unanimous consent. The Senate did not actually vote on the bill. Rather, senators agreed to pass it unanimously without taking a vote. Any one senator, including Burns, could have opposed the unanimous passage.

Burns said Friday that because there was not an actual vote on the bill, it's impossible to say that he definitely supported the measure.

“Not always can it be assumed that a piece of legislation that passes on unanimous consent can you definitely say, ‘That's a yes vote,' ” said Burns.

Toward the end of the piece there's this great Burns' moment. Asked why he called for the roll call vote that tanked the legislation ...

“I haven't a clue why,” he said. “You're talking four or five years ago.”

Certainly more to come from this joker.

A week ago we mentioned that the FBI was starting to back off their blanket exoneration of the Italian government for any role in the Niger forgeries affair. Now Saturday's LA Times reports that the Bureau has decided to 'reopen' the inquiry into the forged documents.

That sounds like a good idea since there are so many signs that the original investigation was all but non-existent.

I've been behind in getting to my 4th installment of reporting on the Niger story. But I'll be getting to that in the next few days. And that will include what we learned that confirmed the role of officers of Italian intelligence (SISMI) in disseminating the forgeries.

Ahhh, this is good stuff.

Israelis to Bush administration 'transformation of the Middle East' wingnuts: Please chill!

Just out from JTA ...

Israel told the United States it fears the outcome of regime change in Syria.

At a strategic-dialogue meeting this week among senior officials, Israel laid out for the United States three scenarios if Bashar Assad is toppled: chaos, an Islamist regime or another strongman from Assad’s minority Alawite sect. Israel fears all those options, saying Assad provides a measure of stability.

U.S. officials told their Israeli counterparts that toppling Assad could be “transformative” and dismissed concerns about an Islamist regime taking his place. Israel and the United States favor pressure on Syria to force it to stop hosting Palestinian terrorist groups and supporting Hezbollah, a Lebanese terrorist organization.

I guess since we've never overthrown a secular Arab strongman only to have the whole thing blow up in our face, it's just hard to know whether the Israelis' concerns might be well grounded.

I just wanted to let everyone know that a very interesting debate has broken out over at TPMCafe about Wal Mart, or more specifically whether the thicket of progressive campaigns against or about Wal Mart add up. Click here, start from the top and work your way down.

This article in tomorrow's Times is about the increasing and seemingly overwhelming pressure on Jack Abramoff to crack, flip and cooperate with federal investigators building corruption cases against members of Congress and, likely, executive branch officials.

There's so much coming down right now on so many fronts in these various corruption cases that it makes me wish we already had our new site -- TPMmuckraker.com -- up and ready to go. One of the things about running a site like TPM -- and I'm sure this would be the same for other politically-oriented blogs with similarly-sized audiences -- is that the site becomes a sort of collection point for a great mass of information.

Some of that is stuff I get from conventional reporting, just working the phone. Other stuff is unique to running a blog -- links to articles in regional press outlets with information running below the radar of the national press, hot tips from readers, documents (public and non-public) which shed new light on the stories of the day, all sorts of stuff -- some of the most important of which is simply ready access to the insights of different readers, insights that can break open new veins of information lying hidden in plain sight in reams of text.

What you want to do is churn through all that information, chop it up, look at it, analyze it, organize and explain the key points and then put it back before your readers. The problem is there's too much for one person to do. Not seeking sympathy, mind you. Far from it. I enjoy what I do. And I make a decent living at it, which is about all you can ask. But with more people the site could do a lot more. And that's basically what we're going to do with this new site. In doing so, hopefully, we'll be able to bring you a lot more timely and complete coverage of what's happening with our politics today.

Anyway, I wish we had it up already. But we'll get it to you as soon as we can, consistent with making it a site and a product that is as good as we can make it.

Before leaving this thought, let me mention one point about these seemingly disparate scandal stories and criminal investigations: don't discount the possibility that a number of them may end up connecting up and being intertwined when charges get filed and trials begin.

Take the Tobin (phone-jamming) trial getting ready to start next Tuesday in Concord, New Hampshire. (I'm going to try to get up there to cover the trial in person next week, though some mundane logistics may prevent me from doing so.) Federal investigators are looking at the possibility that the funds for the phone-jamming may have come from money from clients of Jack Abramoff who were instructed to make key contributions to the New Hampshire Republican party in the final days of the 2002 campaign. The Cunningham case also seems likely to spread beyond the unfortunate Dukester.

There's more here than meets the eye.

Let's sigh and pretend we're surprised ...

Justice Department lawyers concluded that the landmark Texas congressional redistricting plan spearheaded by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) violated the Voting Rights Act, according to a previously undisclosed memo obtained by The Washington Post. But senior officials overruled them and approved the plan.

Read the rest in tomorrow's Post.

Yet more fun facts about those international men of bamboozlement at The Lincoln Group. You'll want to see this one.

You'll notice that below I linked to an AP story about Geoffrey Fieger having his offices raided in Michigan. I noted that he's apparently a Democratic candidate for AG in Michigan. (You'll probably better remember Fieger as Jack Kevorkian's attorney.)

I've been trying to bend over backwards to highlight or link examples of alleged Democratic corruption, since I've been hitting so hard on so many instances of GOP shenanigans.

But TPM Reader JW from Michigan writes in this: "I assume that I don't need to tell you this, but ... Fieger has merely formed an exploratory committee to evaluate the possibility of a run for Attorney General. The Democratic Party certainly hasn't embraced him (and I don't expect it to)."

This is what it comes down to I guess. We have to find registered Democrats who are considering running for statewide office to get anyone to line up against the other party, most of whose leaders are under one sort of investigation or another, if not already getting finger-printed and booked.

Really, let it all come out. Let's see more WSJ editorials about the dog catcher from Alameda who ran a protection racket for ice cream trucks on his beat. The truth about the DC Republican party today is too obvious to cover up or ignore, even if we have a lot of reporters who are afraid to look at the elephant in the room.