Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Wah, wah, wah.

from the Associated Press ...

Republicans have accused Democratic U.S. House candidate Stephanie Herseth of maintaining a secret Web page to receive campaign donations raised from ads on liberal groups' Internet sites.

But a Herseth campaign official scoffed at the charge, saying the Web page is not secret and can be found easily with a standard search of the Internet.

The truth and they think it's hell ...

How low will they go? Now Clarke's a <$NoAd$>racist (from last night's Crossfire ...

ROBERT NOVAK: Congressman, do you believe, you're a sophisticated guy, do you believe watching these hearings that Dick Clarke has a problem with this African-American woman Condoleezza Rice?

RAHM EMANUEL: Say that again?

ROBERT NOVAK: Do you believe that Dick Clarke has a problem with this African-American woman Condoleezza Rice?

RAHM EMANUEL: No, no. Bob, give me a break. No. No.

And then from Ann Coulter ...

Isn't that just like a liberal? The chair-warmer describes Bush as a cowboy and Rumsfeld as his gunslinger -- but the black chick is a dummy. Maybe even as dumb as Clarence Thomas. Perhaps someday liberals could map out the relative intelligence of various black government officials for us.

The abuse this White House has suffered from career civil servants ...

More dirty scoundrels who won't give Condi Rice and the <$NoAd$>president their due ...

[Outgoing Deputy National Security Advisor Lieutenant General Donald L. Kerrick], who stayed through the first four months of the Bush administration, said, "candidly speaking, I didn't detect" a strong focus on terrorism. "That's not being derogatory. It's just a fact. I didn't detect any activity but what Dick Clarke and the CSG [the Counterterrorism Strategy Group he chaired] were doing." General Hugh Shelton, whose term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff began under Clinton and ended under Bush, concurred. In his view, the Bush administration moved terrorism "farther to the back burner."

America Unbound, p. 76
Ivo Daalder & James Lindsay

Who knew how far the Clarke cabal stretched?

Last night MSNBC is reported that, according to a senior White House official, Richard Clarke's testimony on the 9/11 "terrorist attacks was considered so damaging that national security adviser Condoleezza Rice planned to ask the panel for a private interview to answer his allegations."

Again, the request is for a private interview. But if you read down into the piece it seems the hang-up may be that Rice or the White House don't want the testimony to be under oath.

The article says that "panel has consistently required anyone rebutting sworn testimony to be similarly under oath." Since Rice is now under fire and the Commission has more leverage, they may hold the line.

Now, what's going on here exactly?

Every White House tries to keep what we might call a penumbra of protection around White House aides. I noted yesterday that two of Rice's predecessors, Brzezinski in 1980 and Berger in 1997, have submitted to testify. But clearly it doesn't happen often.

Yet, having said that, it is very hard for me to grasp the constitutional issue implicated in Rice's taking an oath to tell the truth when she speaks to the Commission.

A constitutional issue involved in a presidential aide speaking to a fact-finding commission? Not a determinative one, I think. But yes, an issue.

Whether the testimony is public? Maybe.

But whether or not the testimony is sworn? I don't get that. This seems especially the case when she wants to appear specifically to rebut other sworn testimony. How can you claim the need to preserve the confidentiality of the president's communications with his top aides, then break that confidence to refute someone's criticism, and then say you won't make the charges under oath?

As far as I can see this is not compelled testimony. So presumably Rice can simply decline to answer questions she thinks tread too closely on her confidential advice to the president, right? Certainly there could be some invocation of executive privilege?

Obviously, not having the testimony sworn gives her ... well, more leeway.

But I'm not sure what the grounds there are to justify it -- especially as she is now eager to speak with the Commission again to challenge Richard Clarke, who, as we know, had to make all his claims under oath. Once again, she wants to lacerate her opponents, but never on a ground that makes for even close to a fair fight.

Watch out! A shoe just dropped!

The Times just posted a story for tomorrow's paper about Condi Rice's efforts at damage control on the Richard Clarke matter.

Here are the first three grafs ...

The White House may have sent a phalanx of top officials to Capitol Hill this week to be grilled by the Sept. 11 panel, but the one official who did not appear publicly has turned out to be the official the panel wanted most: Condoleezza Rice.

As she prepares to leave her job at the end of the year, Ms. Rice, the president's national security adviser, now finds herself at the center of a political storm, furiously defending both the White House and her own reputation.

But her effort to blunt the criticism by spending the week on television and in news media briefings may have had the opposite effect. She has infuriated some members of the panel, who wonder why she has time for CNN but not for them. On Thursday they questioned again whether she should be subpoenaed to testify if she does not appear in public to answer questions about the Bush administration's handling of Al Qaeda before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Wait. Let's back up<$Ad$> a second.

As she prepares to leave her job?

Am I like totally out of the loop on what's happening in this town? Or have we not heard before that Condi Rice has decided to resign as National Security Advisor at the end of President Bush's first term?

Are the authors of this piece just trying to signal the possibility that the president could lose the election and thus her tenure as National Security Advisor would end? If that's it, the phrasing certainly leaves some room for confusion.

I guess it's possible that this is a reference to Rice's hopes to succeed Colin Powell since Powell, according to many press reports, has signalled he won't stay for a second Bush term.

But to the best of my knowledge this is the first time we've heard this about Rice -- certainly in so declarative and unambiguous a fashion.

Even with Powell, the statements are usually couched in some fuzzifying language since he's issued a few non-denial denials when asked if it's true that he's leaving. This, on the other hand, seems crystal clear.

It seems odd to me that we'd have such a prominent placement of a clause so clearly signalling Rice's departure, especially at a moment when she's more embattled than she's been since she came into office.

Late Update: Laura Rozen notes that on January 7th in the Times, Bumiller said Rice "insists [2004] will be her last year of service in the White House."

It's worth glancing at this whole article in which the Times' Elizabeth Bumiller provides an account of Condi Rice's explanation of the apparent contradicition between Dick Cheney's claim that Clarke "wasn't in the loop" on pre-9/11 terrorism planning and Rice's claim that Clarke "was in every meeting that was held on terrorism."

In this case Cheney's story is matter and Rice's is anti-matter. So perhaps that explains why things have gotten kind of explosive over the last couple days.

Anyone who has ever been young -- which, I suppose, includes everyone -- remembers some shameless whippersnapper who had an older brother, or older sister, or some other sort of protector. And from under the wing or shadow of that protector they'd hurl all manner of taunts and insults and boasts at all the other little kids, confident that none of them could fight back or do anything about it.

Which brings us to Condoleeza Rice.

Here's Richard Clarke, at the center of the storm, up there on Capitol Hill getting grilled over his story. And from the peanut gallery, there's Condi Rice, heading over to the microphones at the White House every chance she gets to attack Clarke when no one can ask her any serious follow ups.

A couple hours after Clarke testified Rice headed over to the mikes and called his charges "scurrilous."

"This story has so many twists and turns, he needs to get his story straight," she said.

Rice truly has the best of all worlds. She hangs back at the White House shooting spit balls at Clarke and the rest of them. But she doesn't have to back anything up because she doesn't have to testify under oath or get questioned.

Needless to say, Rice rather undermines her arguments about the constitutional importance of maintaining the privacy of her advice to the president since she's sharing all sorts of information on the Post op-ed page and more or less every TV show in the universe.

When she went down to the White House press room to make the statements above, she also read from a previously classifed email Clarke had written to her just after 9/11. Needless to say, it was declassifed so she could try to use it to damage Clarke. Or to put it another way, it was declassified for narrowly political purposes -- taking advantage of the fact that the NSC, which Rice runs, is in charge of that process of declassification.

Evidently there are very few classes of confidential information Rice is not willing to publicize. She just doesn't want to get questioned.

Now, perhaps you'll say, following the White House line, that she'd love to testify but a constitutional principle is at stake and she has, as she puts it, a "responsibility to maintain what is a longstanding separation -- constitutional separation between the executive and the legislative branch."

Now, there is a constitutional issue involved. But Rice is trying to get people to think that members of the White House staff never testify. And that's not even close to true. In my hand I have a 2002 Congressional Research Service study that lists a whole slew of presidential aides and advisors who've testified in the past.

Indeed, it lists two of Rice's predecessors as National Security Advisor who've given public testimony: Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1980 and Sandy Berger in 1997.

Interestingly, the CRS study lists five examples of cases where presidential aides refused to testify. It's not clear whether this list is supposed to be exhaustive. And in most cases presidential aides are simply not even asked to testify at all, for reasons of comity between the branches if nothing else. But of the five listed four are from the Nixon administration. And each of those were before the Watergate investigation really got under way. A whole slew of Nixon aides had to head up to the Hill in 1974 after things started to go south for them -- so perhaps we haven't heard the final word on this matter.

In any case, there's a high bar for testimony from a National Security Advisor. But it's happened before. And more than once. If they wanted her to testify, she could testify. What they want is for her to be able to lacerate her critics, discuss whichever parts of her advice to the president would be helpful to her politically at the moment, and freely declassify documents which she or the White House believes will hurt her enemies.

She's a veritable information geyser, a one-woman-FOIA. She just won't answer questions under oath.

The cudgel the Republicans on the 9/11 Commission <$NoAd$>tried to use against Richard Clarke today was the background briefing which the White House released to Fox News.

Here's former Reagan Navy Secretary John Lehmann (itals added)...

I never got Jim Thompson to stand before 50 photographers reading your book. And I certainly never got 60 Minutes to coordinate the showing of its interview with you with 15 network news broadcasts, the selling of the movie rights, and your appearance here today. So I would say, Bravo. (LAUGHTER) Until I started reading those press reports, and I said this can't be the same Dick Clarke that testified before us, because all of the promotional material and all of the spin in the networks was that this is a rounding, devastating attack -- this book -- on President Bush. That's not what I heard in the interviews. And I hope you're going to tell me, as you apologized to the families for all of us who were involved in national security, that this tremendous difference -- and not just in nuance, but in the stories you choose to tell -- is really the result of your editors and your promoters, rather than your studied judgment, because it is so different from the whole thrust of your testimony to us. And similarly, when you add to it the inconsistency between what your promoters are putting out and what you yourself said as late as August '05, you've got a real credibility problem. And because of my real genuine long-term admiration for you, I hope you'll resolve that credibility problem, because I'd hate to see you become totally shoved to one side during a presidential campaign as an active partisan selling a book.

Here's how Fox News described Lehmann's comment ...

"You've got a real credibility problem," John Lehman, former Navy secretary under President Reagan, told Clarke, calling the witness "an active partisan selling a book."

Clarke responded: "I don't think it's a question of morality at all, I think it's a question of politics."

Now, get a load of this Clarke guy! Okay, wait, don't get a load of him yet. Lehmann's broadside was harsh enough. Did Fox accurately portray what Lehmann said? I'll let you decide.

Okay, now ... get a load of this Clarke guy! Lehmann accuses him of all this terrible stuff. And this character Clarke comes back with, "Hey buddy, morality, shmorality. It's all politics to me!"

Hmmm. Actually, that wasn't his response. That was his response to a completely different exchange, which came later ...

THOMPSON: Mr. Clarke, in this background briefing, as Senator Kerrey has now described it, for the press in August of 2002, you intended to mislead the press, did you not?

CLARKE: No. I think there is a very fine line that anyone who's been in the White House, in any administration, can tell you about. And that is when you are special assistant to the president and you're asked to explain something that is potentially embarrassing to the administration, because the administration didn't do enough or didn't do it in a timely manner and is taking political heat for it, as was the case there, you have a choice. Actually, I think you have three choices. You can resign rather than do it. I chose not to do that. Second choice is...

THOMPSON: Why was that, Mr. Clarke? You finally resigned because you were frustrated.

CLARKE: I was, at that time, at the request of the president, preparing a national strategy to defend America's cyberspace, something which I thought then and think now is vitally important. I thought that completing that strategy was a lot more important than whether or not I had to provide emphasis in one place or other while discussing the facts on this particular news story. The second choice one has, Governor, is whether or not to say things that are untruthful. And no one in the Bush White House asked me to say things that were untruthful, and I would not have said them. In any event, the third choice that one has is to put the best face you can for the administration on the facts as they were, and that is what I did. I think that is what most people in the White House in any administration do when they're asked to explain something that is embarrassing to the administration.

THOMPSON: But you will admit that what you said in August of 2002 is inconsistent with what you say in your book?

CLARKE: No, I don't think it's inconsistent at all. I think, as I said in your last round of questioning, Governor, that it's really a matter here of emphasis and tone. I mean, what you're suggesting, perhaps, is that as special assistant to the president of the United States when asked to give a press backgrounder I should spend my time in that press backgrounder criticizing him. I think that's somewhat of an unrealistic thing to expect.

THOMPSON: Well, what it suggests to me is that there is one standard of candor and morality for White House special assistants and another standard of candor and morality for the rest of America. I don't get that.

CLARKE: I don't think it's a question of morality at all. I think it's a question of politics.


THOMPSON: I'm not a Washington insider. I've never been a special assistant in the White House. I'm from the Midwest. So I think I'll leave it there.

We'll touch on the substance of the matter later. In general I think Fred Kaplan had it just right in the title of his piece this afternoon: "Richard Clarke KOs the Bushies."