Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Yesterday evening, I started making a new timeline of events in the summer of 2003, the time that all this stuff was happening with Rove, Plame, et al. And I came across this short Post piece by Pincus, Dewar and Slevin from June 15th, 2003, that I had either not seen originally or had long forgotten.

Let me reprint it in toto ...

A key component of President Bush's claim that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program -- its alleged attempt to buy uranium in Niger -- was disputed by a CIA-directed mission to the central African nation in early 2002, according to senior administration officials and a former government official. But the CIA did not pass on the detailed results of its investigation to the White House or other government agencies, the officials said.

The CIA's failure to share what it knew was one of a number of steps in the Bush administration that helped keep the uranium story alive until the eve of the war.

A senior intelligence official said the CIA's action was the result of "extremely sloppy" handling of a central piece of evidence in the administration's case against then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

A senior CIA analyst said the case "is indicative of larger problems" involving the handling of intelligence about Iraq's alleged weapons programs and its links to al Qaeda, which the administration cited as justification for war. "Information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded and information that was [consistent] was not seriously scrutinized," the analyst said.

The controversy has expanded with the failure so far of U.S. teams in Iraq to uncover proscribed weapons.

Pay close attention to this. Because it raises several key points that have now been washed over and encrusted by two years of spin on both sides.

The key point that Joe Wilson got wrong, or seems to have gotten wrong, in his Times OpEd and subsequent statements is one that neither side has ever made that much of, because it doesn't fit neatly into either side's political narrative.

Here's the point.

In Wilson's original column, he wrote ...

Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission. The documents should include the ambassador's report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.

In other statements, I believe he used a formulation that was something like, if you're senior enough to make the query, you're senior enough to get the report back, etc.

So Wilson didn't say he'd seen the report back to the vice president or that he knew for a fact that one had been sent. He said that he'd been in government long enough to know that this was standard procedure and that he was confident that it had been. And if it had this amounted to an indictment of the administration.

Only it hadn't, or that's what the people in the White House say. And unlike the question of whether his wife recommended him for the job, this actually is a relevant fact in understanding the story.

So the question is, why?

The explanation confected by the authors of the SSCI report was the rather contradictory one that either Wilson's trip generated no substantive information or that it in fact tended to confirm suspicions of an illict uranium traffic between the two countries. No one who's looked at the evidence involved believes that. Nor is that cover story compatible with the CIA's subsequent and repeated attempts to prevent the White House from using the Niger story.

Here in Pincus's reporting -- before the evidentiary and political battle lines were drawn -- is the answer: "Information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded."

It never made it back to Cheney's office because it wasn't what Cheney's office wanted to hear. They were looking for evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program, not ambiguous data and certainly not evidence that contradicted the claim.

In this key respect, <$NoAd$> the dismissal of the information is displaced from the VP's office to the CIA. And the reason is that they already understood what was wanted and what wasn't.

I think it's still an open question whether it made it back up the chain or not. But this remains the key question. Why did all the disproving evidence not get reflected in public statements? And why, if there was no disproving evidence -- as the harpies of the right want us to believe -- was the CIA constantly trying to get the White House to stop using it?

It's amazing how much can happen when you're out of town for a day.

From Friday's stories in the Times, Post and AP, it seems that Karl Rove was a source for both of the stories which revealed Valerie Plame's identity. On one he was the confirming source (Novak); on the other the original source (Cooper). The source for yesterday's round of stories -- Rove's lawyer or someone in a similar capacity -- says that Rove first learned the information about Wilson's wife not from access to other administration officials but from another journalist. Regrettably, he can't remember who the other reporter was or when he or she told him the information.

Oddly enough, I'm told, this version of events from the Rove camp apparently absolves him of any wrongdoing in the whole affair.

There's a point that's probably worth raising with our scofflaw Republican friends. All of their arguments now amount to excuses, like those of a small child caught stealing cookies: Joe Wilson's a liar. Plame's covert status wasn't protected well by the CIA. It was just a short phone call. Rove really wanted to speak about welfare reform. Wilson said Cheney sent him to Africa. Plame sent Wilson to Africa. Rove leaked Plame's identity in the interests of good journalism. Wilson went on too many TV shows. On and on and on.

The salient point is not that each of these claims is false. The point is that they're irrelevant. It's the mid-life version of 'He hit me first!' or 'He called me a name!' or other such foolery.

No presidential advisor should ever disclose the identity of a covert agent at the CIA. That doesn't require elaboration.

If it's done knowingly, it's a felony. Joe Wilson could be the biggest hack in the world. Plame could have cooked the whole trip idea up to damage the president -- as some GOP loopsters are now claiming -- and it wouldn't matter.

Rove (and, though we're not supposed to say it yet, several of his colleagues) did something obviously wrong and reckless. And they probably broke several laws by the time it was all done.

Pretty much every Republican in Washington today works for Karl Rove. So they can't deal with that fact. But fact it is.

And nothing was done amiss? If Rove et al. didn't do anything wrong, why have they spent two years lying about what they did? No law was broken? Then what is Fitzgerald looking at? Why is a grand jury investigating Rove? A prosecutor like Fitzgerald, a Republican appointee, wouldn't be throwing journalists in jail unless he thought he was investigating a serious crime.

What's their answer to that? They have none. Rove runs the Washington Republican party, owns it. So it's anything but hold him accountable.

I haven't been able to get a copy of the exact text yet. But the Republican counter-amendment on the floor is truly amazing. It would strip of his or her security access any senator who repeated a statement by an FBI agent which was subsequently used as "propaganda" by America's enemies. In other words, the law is targeted at Sen. Durbin, making it against the law to say what he said a month ago.

De-democratization ...

(ed.note: If anyone can send me a copy of the text, I'd appreciate it.)

Late Update: Here is the text of the so-called 'Frist Amendment': "Any federal officeholder who makes reference to a classified Federal Bureau of Investigation report on the floor of the United States Senate, or any federal officeholder that makes a statement based on a FBI agent's comments which is used as propaganda by terrorist organizations thereby putting our servicemen and women at risk, shall not be permitted access to such information or to hold a security clearance for access to such information."

Sen. Roberts (R) just said that Fitzgerald's investigation had "a lot of leaks." Is he kidding?

From another TPM Reader ...

Harry Reid just introduced an amendment to the homeland security appropriations that would prevent anyone who discloses the identity of a covert CIA operative from having a security clearance. There will be 90 minutes of debate, and then a vote.

It's on C-SPAN2.

Late Update: You've got to watch this. They've got Sen. Coleman (R-WH) as Rove's designate water-carrier ... Now other Republican senators are standing up with cries of fealty. Duce! Duce! Think of Sen. Geary's impromptu speech at Michael's hearing in Godfather II.