Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Two can play that game.

Just out from the Austin American-Statesman: "Earle challenges Republican judge. DA wants DeLay judge Schraub out and new judge to name replacement. More to come."

Newsweek: "President Bush last week appointed nine campaign contributors, including three longtime fund-raisers, to his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a 16-member panel of individuals from the private sector who advise the president on the quality and effectiveness of U.S. intelligence efforts."

Raleigh News & Observer, Oct. 29th: "President Bush's approval rating in North Carolina continues to decline, according to a poll released Friday by Elon University. The poll found that 41 percent of those questioned approve of Bush's handling of the job of president. That is down from 45 percent in a poll Elon did in April and 52 percent from a poll the university did in March."

Steve Hadley Niger Uranium Mumbojumbo update.

At his press briefing today, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley was asked about his meeting on September 9th 2002 with Italian intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari. And his answers were close to non-responsive if you look closely at what he said. Note that, like Scott McClellan earlier in the day, he seemed to go out of his way to deny allegations that no one is actually making -- namely, that he himself received the forged dossier on that day (emphasis added) ...

Q On September 9th, 2002, you met in Washington with Nicolo Pollari, the head of the Italian Intelligence Agency, SISMI. According to the Italian daily, La Republica, Mr. Pollari came to the meeting to discuss an alleged attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium from Niger. Is that claim false?

MR. HADLEY: We'd looked at this issue. We had both looked at our documentary record -- I have -- we have talked -- I've searched my own recollection; we have also talked to other people on the NSC staff at the time who might have a recollection of that meeting. I can tell you what that canvassing has unearthed. There was a meeting in Washington on that date. I did attend a meeting with him. It was, so far as we can tell from our records, about less than 15 minutes. It was a courtesy call. Nobody participating in that meeting or asked about that meeting has any recollection of a discussion of natural uranium, or any recollection of any documents being passed. And that's also my recollection. I have very little recollection of the meeting, but I have no recollection there was any of that discussion, or that there was any passing of documents. Nor does anybody else who may have participated in that meeting. That's where we are.

Q Can you say what you did discuss with Mr. Pollari?

MR. HADLEY: I told you I have very little recollection of the meeting, and it was in the order of a courtesy call, getting to know a person who is going to be a colleague going forward. And you can tell that from the relative briefness of the meeting. And I think what the Italian authorities have said is very consistent with what I just said.

Now, I know I'm giving these comments pretty tight scrutiny. But consider these points.

First, no one ever said that Hadley got the documents during that meeting. It is a matter of public record that they appeared in Rome a month later and made their way back to Washington via the State Department.

Second, it is also a matter of public record that the Niger/Uranium story was a matter of intense interest and discussion at the White House at precisely that time. Remember, Hadley and colleagues at the NSC were trying to get the claim inserted into the president's upcoming speech in Cincinnati.

Hadley also knew -- then and now -- that the foreign intelligence service reports which had started the suspicion about the Niger/Iraq claims had come from Italy -- from Pollari's own agency, SISMI.

Given all that, it strains credulity to believe that we have to make do with 'searchings of recollections' or the like. Given the time and the topic, if this came up it would have been a big deal. People would remember. It would have been noted in minutes, etc.

It's certainly accepted practice for a president's national security advisor not to discuss what he or she discusses in meetings with foreign intelligence chiefs. Those sorts of exchanges are seldom fair game for public comment. But Hadley is talking. And maybe nothing to do with Niger or Iraq came up at all. But his answers sound supiciously vague.

It is well worth pushing for a clearer, less dodgy answer.

Wow. I saw this mentioned on Atrios's site, but without the link. But now it's up on the CBS News website: Bush at 35%.

By one measure you have to concede that the joke is really on the 65% of us who think he blows. Because no matter how unpopular he is, he's still president.

But once you get down below, say, 40% you've really, really gotta earn every new lost point on the way down.

More concretely, I'm interested to see where the president is in individual states. Ohio? Missouri?

Wasn't Frist the one who broke tradition and campaigned against his opposite, then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle, in his home state of South Dakota? I mean, free country and all. And many of these traditions are meant to be broken. But Mr. Comity and Sweetness and Nice, he ain't.

ThinkProgress has posted a copy of this morning's White House gaggle. And it contains this passage about the Berlusconi/Niger story ...

Q After his meeting with the President on Monday, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was asked whether the Italian government had provided the United States with intelligence on alleged Iraqi purchases of uranium, or from Niger. Berlusconi replied, “Bush, himself, confirmed to me that the U.S.A. did not have any information from Italian agencies.” Does the White House stand by that statement?

MR. McCLELLAN: Stand by what — say the statement again.

Q Berlusconi replied — he replied in Italian, this is a translation, “Bush, himself, confirmed to me that the U.S.A. did not have any information from Italian agencies.”

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I addressed that question yesterday. I responded to that. You’ve got to go back and look at exactly what I said.

Q So your answer is, “yes”?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry? I addressed that question yesterday. I responded to it.

Q So the answer is, “yes”?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, if you’re talking about — because there have been some Italian reports about a meeting that took place here at the White House, and I pointed out yesterday that there were no documents provided relating to Niger and uranium at that meeting, much less –

Q Not just –

MR. McCLELLAN: — much less was it even discussed.

Q — no, not just at the meeting –

MR. McCLELLAN: And in terms of going back to the issue of Niger and uranium, I mean, we briefed on that and we talked about the basis for the statement in the remarks. And it was based on the National Intelligence Estimates and the British intelligence.

This is sort of maddening since the same thing happened yesterday. Reporters ask whether the president is really claiming that the US didn't get any of its Iraq/Niger intelligence from Italy -- a claim that is certainly false. Then McClellan chooses to answer a completely different question. McClellan answers by referring to their vague response to reports that then-Deputy National Security Advisor Steve Hadley discussed the Niger-uranium story with Italian intel chief Nicolo Pollari at a meeting in Washington in September 2002.

That September meeting is another part of the puzzle. But these are two completely different questions. But this funny business has allowed McClellan to duck answering the question for two days running.