Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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"SISMI was involved in this; there is no doubt."

That's what "a U.S. intelligence official who's closely followed the matter" told Knight-Ridder newspapers' Jonathan Landay for this article out this evening about the Niger forgeries.

Italian intelligence officials and parliamentarians put on a dog and pony show yesterday in Rome claiming that the Italian intelligence agency SISMI had no connection to the forgeries and did not pass on any of the bogus information contained in them to any other countries, including the United States.

But that's simply not true. Landay confirms what we first reported more than a year ago: that in late 2001 and early 2002 Italian intelligence sent reports to the US alleging that Niger was selling yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Those reports were based on the notorious forged documents, in some cases they were text transcriptions of the documents.

What does that mean? That the whole Niger-Iraq uranium fairy tale started with bogus intelligence from Italy.

The Italian governmnet is spinning like crazy on this one. But the real story seems ready to bubble out.

WaPo: "President Bush has ordered White House staff to attend mandatory briefings beginning next week on ethical behavior and the handling of classified material after the indictment last week of a senior administration official in the CIA leak probe."

Add your own joke, stir, etc.

Yesterday, we brought you the news that in a closed-door Italian parliamentary hearing into whether Italian intelligence officials were involved in the Niger forgeries hoax, intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari brandished a letter from FBI Director Robert Mueller, which provided him and the Italian government with a full and complete exoneration of any role in the affair.

Today the FBI publicly confirmed the story. The FBI closed its investigation in July and concluded that the production and dissemination of the forgeries were not part of an attempt to influence US foreign policy but only a money-making scheme.

FBI spokesperson John Miller told the AP that the investigation "confirmed the documents to be fraudulent and concluded they were more likely part of a criminal scheme for financial gain."

The AP writes that "Miller did not say what led the FBI to its conclusion or identify the perpetrators of the hoax."

At least until late in 2004 the FBI had never interviewed the man who tried to sell the documents, Rocco Martino -- despite the fact that he came to the United States twice in the summer of 2004.

The FBI now says it concluded its investigation in July of this year. So did the FBI interview Martino before making its determination?

Also, did the FBI interview the two other people Martino identified as playing a central role in moving the documents into the circulation? Those would be the female Italian national who works in the Niger Embassy in Rome and SISMI Col. Antonio Nucera?

(ed.note: It is worth noting that the very definitive headline running with the AP story actually does not match the quote from the FBI spokesman, who seems merely to say that it seems likely the scheme was a money-making scheme rather than an effort to influence foreign policy.)

According to the AP, when war-trickster Ahmad Chalabi comes to DC next week he'll get a face to face meeting with Secretary of State Condi Rice and "probably other senior Bush administration officials." Apparently, he's also angling to get a meeting with Dick Cheney.

Shouldn't this guy be a tad more radioactive?

Can he find time to sit down with investigators probing manipulation of pre-war intelligence?

Turn of the screw? Or just plain screwed?

This just out from Rep. Ney's office ...

I wanted to tell you directly that this week the Department of Justice asked the Congressman's office to provide documents related to the government's investigation of Jack Abramoff. Consistent with the Rules of the House of Representatives, the Congressman has informed the Speaker of this request and this request will be handled consistent with House Rules.

The Congressman has not been notified that he is the target of an investigation and we do not believe that there would be any grounds to do so. There have been a litany of unfounded allegations made against the Congressman by the Washington media in recent months and he looks forward to addressing them as thoroughly and expeditiously as possible with the appropriate entities looking into the Abramoff matter.

Congressman Ney has made the following statement regarding this matter: "As I have said repeatedly, we will cooperate fully with any inquiry. I voluntarily provided information to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee last year and I have offered to make myself available to meet with the House Ethics Committee. I believe, however, that although the government's investigation of Mr. Abramoff has been well-publicized through other sources, it is inappropriate for my office to comment in any detail about an ongoing investigation."

Can you say 'subpoenaed'? Apparently Ney's press secretary can't.

Here's what The Hill and Roll Call (sub.req.) have to say about Ney getting subpoenaed.

Yesterday morning we noted that Ahmad Chalabi is being feted next week at the American Enterprise Institute. Set aside the fact that little more than a year ago he was implicated in sharing US intelligence with Iran. What we know pretty much conclusively now is that Chalabi connived at gaming the US into war by cooking up all manner of bogus intelligence and unsubstantiated claims about WMD and terrorism. It is almost a cliche at this point -- Chalabi, the Iraqi emigre behind most of the outlandish bogus intel.

One extreme view would have it that Chalabi is an Iraqi patriot and, as such, any lying and cheating and stealing in America is just a means to the end of getting the previous regime overthrown. As it happens, I think the guy is more just a gamer and an opportunist. But be that as it may, what sort of American organization would be hosting and celebrating such a man after all we know today, after all the bad acts we know he has committed against this country.

The organization is, of course, AEI. And how can it be that their feting of him, as they are to do next week, does not amount to a big 'who cares' or 'ends justify the means' or 'we knew what he was up to all along anyway' about all the phoney baloney he pulled in the lead up to the war?

Will any politician, Republican or Democrat, stand up and speak out against this outrage? Does anyone plan to protest?

A note from TPM Reader SL ...

All the focus seems to be on how bad second terms have been for 2-term presidents. But unless I'm mistaken, the underlying events to the scandals invariably took place in the first term (Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush II). Question: is there a correlation between not being reelected and being the kind of guy who doesn't do or countenance that sort of bad behavior in the first term. 2 test cases: Carter and Bush I. Bush I would probably have had problems in the second term because he wouldn't have pardoned Weinberger et al if he hadn't been on the way out. That leaves Carter, and I suppose he a particularly morally scrupulous guy. Otherwise, it's all of a piece.

Also, it's not that the cover up is worse than the crime, or even that the cover up is what's punished and not the underlying crime. It's that the cover up keeps the investigators away from the underlying crime so it can't be prosecuted. For example, North's paper shredding; Libby's sand in Fitzgerald's eyes.

I think this is exactly right, certainly it applies to Watergate. But there's another dynamic. And that is how much these cover-ups aim not simply to avoid detection permanently, which is of course the ultimate goal, but to push exposure out past reelection. That's Watergate certainly. In a very different set of circumstances that is what Clinton's lawyers were trying to do with the Jones suit -- at least push it out past the '96 election. And I think we'll find more and more that is what happened here.

Finally, some good reporting on the Niger-Uranium-Italy story.

There are a slew of nice nuggets in this piece in the Times.

But this one may take the cake. This passage describes what happened at that closed-door parliamentary hearing in Rome today ...

Committee members said they were shown documents defending General Pollari, including a copy of a classified letter from Robert S. Muller III, the director of the F.B.I., dated July 20, which praised Italy's cooperation with the bureau.

In Washington, an official at the bureau confirmed the substance of the letter, whose contents were first reported Tuesday in the leftist newspaper L'Unità. The letter stated that Italy's cooperation proved the bureau's theory that the false documents were produced and disseminated by one or more people for personal profit, and ruled out the possibility that the Italian service had intended to influence American policy, the newspaper said.

As a result, the letter said, according to both the F.B.I. official and L'Unità, the bureau had closed its investigation into the origin of the documents.

The F.B.I. official declined to be identified by name.

So back in July, Director Mueller sent a letter to the Italian government providing them with a complete and definitive exoneration of any involvement with the forgeries. A year ago Newsweek reported that the US hadn't received permission from the Italian government to interview Martino -- that despite the fact that Martino travelled to the US twice in the summer of 2004.

Did the FBI interview Martino before making a conclusive judgment about the forgeries, who created them and why?

Curiouser and curiouser and curiouser and ...

Remember how early today an Italian parliamentarian said that in January 2003 the Italian government had warned the US that the Niger docs were forgeries. Well, just out from AP ...

Commission member Sen. Massimo Brutti told reporters after the closed-door session that that the commission was told that the Italian secret services warned the United States in January 2003 that the dossier was fake.

But later, the senator called The Associated Press to retract that statement. He said that the commission was not told that the Italians had warned the Americans.

Brutti said he was confused by the barrage of reporters' questions when the lawmakers emerged from the briefing. He said when he had the opportunity later to check his briefing notes, he realized he had misspoke.

Brutti said what he meant to say was that the commission was told that a SISMI official, contacted by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, about the dossier, told the U.N. agency that "those documents didn't come from Sismi, they weren't produced nor supplied by Sismi."

"Our (intelligence services) were not involved," Brutti said the briefing was told. The Italian news agency ANSA quoted Brutti as saying that the commission was told that the U.N. agency queried Sismi about the dossier in January 2003.

And from Reuters ...

Sen. Massimo Brutti initially told reporters that Sismi had warned the United States about the bogus documents around the same time as U.S. President George W. Bush gave his 2003 State of the Union address, making the case for war.

"At around that time, they (Sismi) said that the dossier did not correspond to the truth," Brutti said. He later backtracked, telling Reuters that since Sismi never had the documents, it could not comment on their merit.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Let me suggest a few other questions to be posed in response to the new story the Italian government rolled out today to explain their involvement with the Niger uranium hoax.

The current story, detailed in this updated report from the Associated Press is that Rocco Martino forged the documents, that no one at SISMI (Italian military intelligence) was involved in any way and that at some point in January 2003, the Italians warned the United States that the documents were forged.

For the sake of discussion, let's stipulate to those facts.

So these questions.

1. If Martino forged the documents with no involvement by SISMI personnel, how did SISMI end up distributing transcriptions of the forgeries to the United States and other countries?

2. The Italian government now says they warned the Americans that the documents were forgeries in January 2003. But what exactly did they warn them about? According to the current story, the documents that the Americans had went from Martino to Elisabetta Burba to the US Embassy in Rome to the State Department. When exactly did the Italian government come into the picture in that chain of custody and how did they know we had the documents?

What Italian intelligence had done is give us reports in 2001 and early 2002 that were summaries and transcriptions of the documents. Was it their own earlier reports that they told us were based on forgeries? And if so, when did they learn that the information they gave us was based on forgeries?

3. If it is certain that Martino is the forger, and that he was acting on his own account, why has no action ever been taken against him?