Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The noose tightens.

Our topic again <$NoAd$> is that classified State Department memo, the one that contained a brief mention of Valerie Plame's relationship to Joe Wilson and which may have been the conduit through which White House officials learned about the connection.

A couple days ago the Journal published an article that revealed that the memo made clear that the information contained in it was sensitive and should not be divulged.

In tomorrow's Post, Walter Pincus provides the specifics.

A classified State Department memorandum central to a federal leak investigation contained information about CIA officer Valerie Plame in a paragraph marked "(S)" for secret, a clear indication that any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified, according to current and former government officials.


The paragraph identifying her as the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV was clearly marked to show that it contained classified material at the "secret" level, two sources said. The CIA classifies as "secret" the names of officers whose identities are covert, according to former senior agency officials.

Anyone reading that paragraph should have been aware that it contained secret information, though that designation was not specifically attached to Plame's name and did not describe her status as covert, the sources said.

What does that mean? First of all, I think this is pretty much what we'd expect in such a memo that contained that sort of information. What this does is knock out one more basis for a defense based on ignorance. Whoever saw this memo knew that the information was not to be revealed.

I found this entry in the Reader Blogs section at TPMCafe. It suggests that Condi Rice might have been in the mix on the tar Joe Wilson with info about his wife plan too. What the reader comes up with is at best suggestive -- working from briefing transcripts. And it certainly doesn't prove anything. But I think he may be on to something. Take a look and let us know what you think.

When I first started thinking about and planning TPMCafe, one of the things I wanted to do was to be able to set up limited duration blogs to cover particular events -- sort of like we did with our Bankruptcy Bill blog. Now, in time for all the fun, we've just launched our Supreme Court Watch blog. The posts will also be cross-posted to the site's front page since this will be a regular topic of conversation with our regulars over the coming weeks. So you'll be able to read it there too.

We'll be adding a few more names to the list over the coming days. But we launched overnight with Professors Jack Balkin and Robert Gordon of Yale and Professor Peter Rubin of Georgetown. Rubin is also a founder of the American Constitution Society, whose staff we've worked with in assembling our group. Take a moment to check out their site and their organization blog. ACS, as we discussed a couple months ago, has set out to become a progressive counterweight to the highly influential Federalist Society on the right.

Robert Gordon put up his first post yesterday evening, giving an overview of the Roberts nomination here. We're also going to be adding a Supreme Court selection discussion table later this afternoon.

Today a group of 11 former intelligence officers delivered a letter to the Republican and Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate on the Plame case. See it here.

If Murray Waas's sources are right, Karl Rove is in a ton of trouble, even if he did nothing more than we know already. According to his sources, Rove didn't 'fess up about the conversation with Matt Cooper when he was first interviewed by the FBI in 2003.

Yes, yes, yes, I know. In a couple hours we'll know who the president's Supreme Court nominee is. Dobson will come charging down from his hillock. SpongeBob will run for the hills. And all hell will likely break loose.

But don't miss the piece in today's Wall Street Journal (available to non-subscribers) which adds a bit of new information. That classified State Dept. memo, which was probably the ultimate source of the Plame leak, "made clear that information identifying an agent and her role in her husband's intelligence-gathering mission was sensitive and shouldn't be shared."

We don't know enough details yet to know precisely how that piece fits into the puzzle. But it likely makes a defense based on ignorance much more difficult for someone.

As I just wrote over at TPMCafe, the one thing I've read about Edith Clement on abortion rights is a reference to her writing that Roe is settled law. If that's even close to an accurate representation of her views, that would mean war between the White House and the religious right. Something here doesn't fit. We're discussing in this thread at TPMCafe.

Late Update: Late idle speculation seems now to point away from Clement and toward Judge Edith Jones. No matter how baseless the speculation, you know where to go to discuss it!

Over the last few days I've done several <$NoAd$>posts on how that classified State Department memo in the Plame case made its way through the State Department and then to then-Secy. Powell on the president's trip to Africa. Last night I got an email from a longtime reader who is a retired US ambassador, a career foreign service officer and Asia specialist ...

Josh, in your posting on talking points, you asked about the briefing books for Presidential trips. For your background info:

The State Department is responsible for preparing the briefing books for the President. The NSC often boils the big briefing books (very thick, usually one or two volumes) down into more concise memos and talking points for the President.

The Secretary of State has additional briefing books that consist of memos for any meetings that are his/her own and separate from the President.

In addition, the Secretary's staff often puts together an informal collection of materials for the Secretary to read while on the plane.

As you noted, on July 6 Rich Armitage asked Carl Ford to send a copy of the June INR memo to Powell. I read that the original memo in June was from INR to Marc Grossman. The way State works, someone on the 7th floor could have made a copy of the June memo for Armitage, or Grossman could have brought it to Armitage's attention. That's how he learned about it, and when he read Joe's op-ed on that July Sunday, he immediately remembered about it and called Ford and said to send Powell a copy.

The question is, did that memo end up in the President's briefing book, the Secretary's briefing book, or the Secretary's pile of reading material?

It doesn't really matter. When you're on Air Force One, you are in a confined space. If someone -- anyone -- read that memo, they could have walked 10 feet and shared it with anyone else. All the bureaucratic boundaries of Washington break down when you're in one of those situations. You're all together. Bloomberg said that Ari Fleischer was seen reading it. Plus according to other accounts, he started telling reporters on board that they should ask about how it was that Wilson got to go on the trip. Plus we know that Ari made phone calls from the plane -- they could have been to Rove, Libby, Novak, or whoever, to alert them to what he had just read. When Rove says "I never read anything/saw any memo," he could very well be right. But someone should have asked him, "did you hear about the memo? Did someone describe its contents to you?"

There is another way that Rove could have heard about Valerie Plame, and that is via Scooter Libby. I haven't seen anyone suggest this route, but we all know that Scooter and Cheney were deep into the intelligence. They went out to the Agency to meet with the analysts (and allegedly harrassed them). I am sure that Scooter participated in meetings in the White House/EOB where CIA analysts on WMD and Iraq were present. As we know, Valerie was one such analyst. Is it not possible that Scooter had met her on one or more occasions before Joe Wilson started going public? Since she's a looker, he certainly would have remembered her face and name. And then, once Joe writes his op-ed, Scooter realizes the connection between Valerie and Joe, or he asks around and quickly finds out. He then informs Rove. This is all speculation on my part. Joe would know whether Valerie had met Scooter before.

The third possibility is Bolton or his staff. (Remember that his chief of staff was from the CIA.) Again, Bolton was deeply into the intelligence on Iraq and WMD. When INR sent the memo to Grossman in June, Bolton's office no doubt got a copy of it, given the way the Department works. Given the neo-con circle in the Administration, it would not have taken long for Bolton to tip off Libby to the Wilson-Plame-CIA connection.

(ed.note: Later he added the following.)
As I reread my email, my guess is that the INR memo to Powell would have been put in his reading folder and not in the president's briefing book -- that's because the briefing books are usually printed up one week in advance, so if the memo was sent on July 6 or whatever, and they were flying to africa the next day or so, it would have been too late to put it in the official briefing book.

Is it peculiarly tragic or perhaps not-so-peculiarly tragic that Christopher Hitchens ends up an apologist for, among others, Karl Rove, latter-day practitioner of the peculiarly Southern version of smash-and-trash politics honed by his mentor Lee Atwater and other such worthies? I'm not sure if Tom Watson or Orestes Brownson is the best precursor for the arc. But let me focus in on one of his points in his piece today in Slate carrying water as noted above.

Here he claims among other things that Iraq really was interested in getting its hands on Nigerien uranium.

That's based on? Well, the British Butler Report of course, notwithstanding the fact that the Butler Report doesn't exactly say that or the fact that the Butler Report itself can be shown without great difficulty to be intentionally misleading about the British reliance on those same forgeries to come up with their claim about an Iraq-Niger connection.

He even throws in the spoon-fed bit of disinformation that appeared in the Financial Times back in June 2004. This was the story about the shadowy gang of central African uranium smugglers who'd conspired to sell uranium to more or less every rogue state in the world.

But why mess with preliminaries? The Iraq Survey Group more or less owned Iraq for more than a year, had access to all the evidence leading up the war, all the evidence in Iraq, all the scientists arrested by the US military, everything we've learned since the war. And, as Ivo Daalder pointed out a few days back, the ISG concluded that Saddam's regime had not sought uranium either at home or abroad since 1991, period.

What else is there to say?