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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Yesterday afternoon I pointed out that, in his letter to Tim Noah, Wlady Pleszczynski never actually denied that Ted Olson had been involved in the Arkansas Project.

He denied this, that, and the other. But not the actual point at issue.

Well, now Pleszczynski has written to Talking Points to do just that. But these sorts of brouhahas inevitably descend to parsing. So, instead of characterizing it, let me just show you exactly what he said and you can draw your own conclusions:

Josh: So when did you stop beating your wife/ significant other /or whatever? That's the category your complaint falls under. But if it makes your evening, let me categorically say that Ted Olson was not a part of the Arkansas Project. Every word of Olson's statements regarding the project has been more than truthful.

Best regards,

Wlady Pleszczynski

More soon.

Just when I think I'm out, they p-u-l-l me back in.

Let's go back to Ted Olson.

Today Tim Noah (aka Chatterbox) runs a letter from Wlady Pleszczynski, of the American Spectator, rebutting Tim's earlier article acusing Ted Olson of lying about his involvement in the Arkansas Project. ("Your Olson item would be McCarthyite nonsense if you knew what you were talking about ...")

But wait! I don't think even Tim mentions, in his follow-on response, the most striking thing about the letter in question. Pleszczynski never says that Olson wasn't involved in the Project. Or in other words, he never even denies Tim's original charge or premise.

Pleszczynski says David Brock wasn't part of the Arkansas Project. He says David's unreliable. He disputes just what the Project was. Where it's monies went.

He disputes everything except the actual point which is in dispute: whether Olson was involved in the Project and whether he lied about.

That's a classic non-denial denial.

I've had a hard time telling if this Robert Blake murder mystery is a real story or just a treatment for the next Elmore Leonard novel. I mean, doesn't it read that way? Barely reformed grifter marries has-been actor. Weird, twisted relationship. She ends up dead. And so on.

Of course, I'd figure we'd have Mickey Rourke as the border-line psycho, sometimes hit-man who Blake hired to do the hit. And I'd cast Steve Buscemi as the night watchman who was behind the restaurant and saw the whole thing go down and is now trying to shake down Blake for the big money. And maybe Blake had just landed a big comeback role, and some big money too, and he figured he couldn't bring her along on his ride back to the top. And that's how the whole caper got started.

Anyway, that's how I'd flesh out the story. But enough flights of fancy. Let's get down to some real news. This story at ABCNews.com leads with a friend of Blake's who says the actor "could not have done it because Blake once turned down a previous offer to have his wife killed."

Yikes!

Not exactly the most convincing defense, is it?

At various points over the last few months I've often mocked our president for his apparent ability and willingness to pitch his tax cut as the solution to almost every conceivable problem the nation faces, or even doesn't face.

Robust Growth? Tax cut. No Growth? Tax cut. Market downturn? Tax cut. Low Productivity? Tax cut. Invasion of Feral Elves? Tax cut.

But the president's actual rhetoric is now outdistancing my mockery. Now he says the tax cut is the best solution to the 'energy crisis.'

That, of course, would be the 'energy crisis' his administration has whipped up to bolster the case for increased oil drilling and weakened environmental protections.

But if you look at these latest, declining public approval numbers from the CNN/USA Today poll you can't help wondering if the president's numerous puffed up 'crises' are coming back to haunt him. (His numbers have fallen nine points since last month to 53%.)

According to the CNN poll, the number of Americans who believe the energy situation is "very serious" has gone from 31% to 58% just since March. And if you look through the rest of the numbers, the president's dipping approval numbers seem tied to growing pessimism on the economy and energy fronts more generally.

Don't get me wrong: Energy prices are high. And the economy is wobbly. But what precisely has changed in the country's energy situation in the last two months which would justify a near-doubling of the number of Americans who think our plight is "very serious?" What beside the dramatic shift in the public debate -- pushed largely by the White House -- toward discussion of an energy crisis?

In it's first three months alarmism has been the defining trait of this administration. And what we're seeing may be some poetic justice. And another example that restoration regimes tend more often to be imprisoned by the mistakes of their predecessors than edified by them.

We'll get back to that latter point soon.

Today the Washington Post's In The Loop column reports that Janet Hale is set to be appointed assistant secretary of health and human services for management and budget.

Janet Hale, associate administrator for finance for the House, and a top aide in the Office of Management and Budget in Bush I, is to be assistant secretary of health and human services for management and budget.
Isn't that bio a tad incomplete? Isn't this the same Janet Hale who was, if not knee-deep, at least ankle-deep in the HUD scandals of the 1980s? The same Janet Hale who called the initial Inspector General's report about the impending HUD scandal "premature, unjustified and unfair" and resisted pressure to tighten controls over HUD programs?

This is the person to manage HHS's finances?

P.S. Special shout-out to Talking Points special correspondent KSB for the heads up.

This column defending Ted Olson in today's Wall Street Journal Editorial Page is people's evidence #1 that Olson really is in a lot of trouble. And it's also a classic example of attempted editorial sleight of hand.

The editorial argues that people who attack the Arkansas Project are really just attacking the First Amendment since there is nothing wrong -- and certainly nothing illegal -- with private parties investigating a president and publishing evidence of his law-breaking or bad acts.

That's certainly true.

Now there's quite another matter of whether this was legal for tax-exempt organizations to be involved in; or whether those involved in the Project may have violated other laws in the process of their work, or whether Ken Starr's Independent Counsel's Office might have been improperly connected with it. But let's set all those matters aside and assume that the Arkansas Project was only what it undeniably was: a vicious and unsavory exercise of political hardball in its hardest form.

Look closely at the Journal Editorial: don't they completely avoid and try to confuse the point? The question -- tied to Olson's hubris -- is why he lied about his involvement in the Project. The editorial barely touches on this and simply goes on about how innocuous the Project was. Lying about it is what's got him in trouble. The editorial not only barely tries to defend him on this ground. It actually mounts a transparently contradictory defense. Saying that there wouldn't be anything to lie about in the first place.

(Bartley, Fund, et.al: guys, it's the cover-up that gets you, right? Haven't you guys been telling us that for ages?)

Live by the vicious and unsavory exercise of political hardball, die by the vicious and unsavory exercise of political hardball.

Next up, why Olson felt he needed to lie about the Arkansas Project; why he might have thought he could get away with it; and when he was accused of lying to Congress before.

Let's delve a little further into this Ted Olson matter and the accusations against him reported in this article in today's Washington Post.

David Brock's word probably isn't enough to sink Olson.

Don't get me wrong: I've got tons of respect for David; and I don't doubt him for a moment. But he's just one person. And he's also very much an interested party in this whole matter of the Spectator and the Arkansas Project and so forth. And he can be portrayed as someone with an ax to grind.

So who else might be able to back up David's version of events?

If I were, say ... a staff investigator for the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee I'd be looking to Ronald Burr, the co-founder and long-time publisher of the American Spectator who was fired over his efforts to do a proper accounting and/or audit of the moneys which the various Scaife foundations were funnelling through the magazine to be used in the Arkansas Project.

Burr was very roughly handled in the whole affair. And he would certainly know plenty about the questions at hand. But to date he's been prevented from speaking on the record about any of this because of a non-disclosure agreement he signed after being fired by the Spectator. (His severance package was a pricey $350,000 -- well, pricey for the magazine world, at least. Trust me.)

I understand that there are a number of people who can contradict Olson's denials of involvement with the Arkansas Project. But, just as he was during the impeachment saga, it's probably only that non-disclosure agreement which is preventing Burr from talking.

Now, I don't know the fine points of the intersection between private contractual agreements and Senate subpoenas (see note here on TPM's aborted legal career). But I have to assume that a private contract is trumped by a congressional investigation, just as a private confidentiality agreement is trumped by a subpoena in a criminal trial.

So why not give Burr a call?

P.S. Any of TPM's readers at the American Spectator want to add their two cents?

When I first started writing Talking Points (six months ago, frighteningly enough) I was pretty free with writing what I was hearing -- largely because only my friends were reading. But now that Talking Points is read by millions of readers across the country every day (well, okay, thousands of readers). So I've got to be a little more careful, a little more responsible.

Anyway, there's a lot buzzing about a story that may be running in the next issue of the Enquirer or Vanity Fair. But, honestly, I don't know if there's anything to it.

Still it's generating lots of buzz. And if you're interested in finding out a bit more, read this opinion column in today's Tallahassee Democrat.

Wow! How much did Tom Edsall enjoy writing this story? As you'll see in the post below, today's Washington Post has a story by Edsall which makes the case that Olson lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee when he told them he wasn't involved in the so-called Arkansas Project.

This new story from early this afternoon reports that the Committee has now postponed today's scheduled vote on Olson's nomination so that it can investigate Olson's alleged deceptions.

Even Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Edsall writes, "said a Washington Post story published this morning raising 'legitimate' questions that need to be answered before the Olson nomination can be voted on."

The translation of this, of course, would be:

Orrin G. Hatch said my story from this morning's Post kicked Olson's &#%, and that even he (Hatch) wasn't willing to carry water for Olson, unless and until Olson could create some sort of smokescreen to divert attention from the charges, or -- excluding that -- find some way to discredit David Brock.
And now we return you to your normal TPM programming.

I've had a number of people write in and comment about this article I wrote yesterday in Slate. The article was about why Democrats seem so much more feckless and frail in the art of scandal-mongering than Republicans.

Many of the comments center on the fact that Democrats are a coalition party and are thus never quite as unifiable as the Republicans. That's true, to an extent.

Others make the point that Democrats simply aren't as mean as Republicans, or, perhaps stated a little differently, that Dems spend much more of their time questioning the rightness of their own actions and thus can never get up the same sort of ferocious head of steam that Republicans do. There's a lot self-serving in that viewpoint -- but there's some truth to it too.

The most interesting comment or critique though is this: most people don't want to hear this sort of endless badgering and complaining. And one of the things that kept Bill Clinton in office is that the great majority of people really didn't like his rabid, foaming-at -mouth opponents.

That's very true. And yet, as this piece by John Harris makes clear, the endless drumbeat of scandal-mongering against Bill Clinton really did take its toll.

The answer, I think, is that to the extent Republicans were successful they succeeded by having ideological attack-dogs do their dirty work for them, while keeping themselves above the fray. One of the reasons Newt Gingrich went down the tubes was that he often failed to keep this distance. He couldn't help himself. Others in the Republican party, though, manage this dance much more dexterously. Like George W. Bush, for instance.

One of the great comedies of Bush's campaign message was his promise to 'change the tone' in Washington when it was undeniably his own party, and his own supporters, who had created the tone of partisan back-biting in Washington. Yet Bush himself didn't have his hands dirty; so he could plausibly make the claim.

So it's true enough that people didn't like the Republican scandal-mongering of the last 9 years. But then again, for the moment at least, who's got the Oval Office, the Speaker's gavel, and control of the Senate?

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