Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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I was able to see only the second half of the Russert interview <$Ad$>this morning, though I'll read the transcript this afternoon.

One comment for now on the Air National Guard question ...

Superficially, I think Bush came off okay, largely because Russert failed to press the president sufficiently on some deceptive responses.

The key issue was the release of his military records.

Several times during the exchange the president said that he had released his military records back in 2000.

That's not true. He's never released those records. And no one disputes that.

But Russert returned to the point and the final exchange went thus ...

MR. RUSSERT: Would you authorize the release of everything to settle this?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes, absolutely.

We did so in 2000, by the way.

Now, what to make of this?

The president gives a flat-out, unambiguous answer: he'll release all his military service records.

Then he tosses in that next line: "We did so in 2000, by the way."

As I noted above, this is false: he didn't release those records in 2000.

What I think the president was trying to do here was to give those watching the interview the impression that he's willing to completely open up his records. Yet at the same time he's tossing in this false statement so that when reporters follow up and ask where those records are, his aides will say that what he meant was that they'd release those records they released in 2000 --- which is to say, none of them.

As I say, on the surface, this seems like a clever dodge that may buy some time. But if my prediction above turns out to be accurate, it will amount to their wanting a pass on the president's flat commitment because he happened to follow it up with a patent falsehood. And when you think about that a few times you'll see it just doesn't quite add up.

The bottom line is that the president told Russert that he'd release all his service records. That's the press corps' hook. And in the relatively near future, as much as they may wriggle, his aides will either have to come forward with those records or go back on the commitment the president made in front of the whole country.

Well, the fix, as they say, is in.

Here's the executive order the president just signed authorizing his commission which he "established for the purpose of advising the President in the discharge of his constitutional authority under Article II of the Constitution to conduct foreign relations, protect national security, and command the Armed Forces of the United States, in order to ensure the most effective counter-proliferation capabilities of the United States and response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the ongoing threat of terrorist activity."

The commission doesn't appear to have any subpoena power, only the right to "full and complete access to information relevant to its mission as described in section 2 of this order."

If I read this right -- and needless to say I'm no lawyer, notwithstanding that summer in grad school I wasted prepping for the LSAT -- what's 'relevant' is at the discretion of the department heads of the various executive branch agencies.

And if you read the "mission" as defined in the order it seems narrowly framed as looking at pre-war CIA analyses (actually the whole Intelligence Community) and how they stack up against what Kay's guys found on the ground after the war.

Anything the White House did with those CIA analyses, any fisticuffs between the Veep's office and the CIA, anything stovepiped through Doug Feith's operation at the Pentagon, anything that made its way from Chalabi's mumbo-jumbocrats to the the president's speechwriters -- that's all beyond their brief.

Some folks had difficulty downloading the CIA letter to Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) about the Plame investigation which we posted on Wednesday. There was, it seems, a glitch in the PDF document which made it hard to open on some people's machines. We've now uploaded a fresh copy.

Okay, some mixed thoughts on the Iraq <$NoAd$>Commission roster.

On the one hand, the president has some reputable Dems down on the list. But Democrats who had much of any experience of Washington in the 1990s aren't going to be overly impressed with its being headed up by Judge Laurence H. Silberman, who was one of the key operators in the right-wing onslaught against Bill Clinton.

Start with this article by Jonathan Broder in Salon in 1998, from which we excerpt the two lead grafs ...

The roster of combatants in the brawl between Kenneth Starr and President Clinton has now expanded to include a conservative federal judge and friend of Starr who has stunned even battle-weary Washington insiders with his intemperate attack on Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno.

As part of the federal appellate panel that refused to hear the administration's arguments to prevent Secret Service agents from testifying last week, U.S. Judge Laurence H. Silberman wrote a scathing opinion that accused Reno of acting not on behalf of the U.S. government, but in the personal interests of President Clinton. Then, using language seldom seen in the federal judiciary, Silberman questioned whether Clinton himself, by allowing his aides to attack Starr, was "declaring war on the United States."

And then proceed from there to this interview with David Brock, who discusses Silberman's involvement -- while a sitting federal judge -- in much of Brock's anti-Clinton shenanigans from the early and mid-1990s. Again, a brief excerpt ...

Yes he was a sitting judge. For example, they reviewed in draft the galleys of that book. And so it certainly went beyond a reporter-source relationship. And coming out of that, Judge Silberman became a mentor to me and was someone who I relied on, as well as Ricky, for political advice while I was at the American Spectator pursuing a lot of the anti-Clinton stories. When Ricky Silberman left the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she founded, or was one of the co-founders, of the Independent Women's Forum -- it was actually her idea. And it was actually Ricky Silberman's idea to approach Ken Starr to file that friend-of-the-court brief in the Paula Jones case. And Ricky knew the Jones case was simply payback for the Anita Hill affair. She thought, wouldn't it be delicious that Clinton would now be accused of sexual improprieties in the same way that Clarence Thomas had been? Judge Silberman played an absolutely key role at a critical juncture.

More on the roster to follow.

"President Bush," reads the lede of this new AP story, "asked Congress to eliminate an $8.2 million research program on how to decontaminate buildings attacked by toxins — the same day a poison-laced letter shuttered Senate offices."


And just when the president was on such a roll.

A tough time kicking the 9/11 habit?

We join this morning's gaggle already in <$NoAd$>session ...

QUESTION: Director Tenet also said that part of the problem he was having was they had gaps in the intelligence, they had gaps in what they knew about Iraq, and for that reason he feared surprises. MR. McCLELLAN: That he feared what?

QUESTION: He feared surprises from Iraq. In other words, the unpredictability of the intel, itself, created that threat. Did the President share that view, as well? MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think that Dr. Kay and Director Tenet and others have pointed out the need for the Iraqi Survey Group to complete its work, that there is a lot of work still to do. We are learning more, but it's important that they do as thorough a job as possible, and gather as many facts as possible so that they can draw as complete a picture as possible. Then we can -- and the President has made it very clear -- then we can have as complete a picture as possible so that we can compare what we are learning on the ground with what we knew before the war. But we already know that what we have learned on the ground since the war only reconfirms what we knew before the war, that Iraq was a gathering threat and that the decision that the President of the United States made was the right decision.

QUESTION: -- prove that? What do you mean?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think Dr. Kay has pointed out in his testimony, Helen, that it was possibly more dangerous than we thought. QUESTION: All these countries that do have nuclear weapons, they're not a threat at all? But the intent, and you're a mind-reader as to what was going to happen? It wouldn't hold up in court. MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, I know that you do not feel that we are safer because we removed Saddam Hussein from power. I think most people believe the world is safer and better because we removed Saddam Hussein from power. QUESTION: A lot of people are dead, thousands. MR. McCLELLAN: And the President remembers those who lost their lives on September 11th. That taught us that we are living in a different -- QUESTION: They had nothing to do with September 11th, the Iraqis. MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I beg to differ. September 11th taught us that we are living in a dangerous new world. September 11th -- QUESTION: So you attack somebody who is innocent? MR. McCLELLAN: September 11th taught us that we must confront gathering threats before it's too late. September 11th changed the equation. And this President -- and this President's highest responsibility is protecting the American people. And he will not wait and rely on the good intentions of Saddam Hussein, given his history, to confront that threat. Saddam Hussein had the choice, and Saddam Hussein continued to defy the international community.

[The following comes later in the Q&A]

QUESTION: I guess what I'm asking here is how long has the United States known of the nuclear weapons fire sale being run out of Pakistan and -- MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, like I said, there's a lot of -- there are a number of success stories in the intelligence community that often go unseen or unreported or are not reported until quite some time after the fact. You heard from Director Tenet -- QUESTION: Well, tell us. MR. McCLELLAN: -- you heard from Director Tenet, in terms of what he said on Pakistan. And you've seen, by the actions of the government of Pakistan, that they are committed to stopping proliferation.

QUESTION: It just raises a question. The United States went to war against a leader that we said had these weapons, turned out not to. We're confronting North Korea over what we think are their weapons. Libya is an issue. And, yet, on Pakistan, it sounds as if we've known for a while that they were running this black market on nuclear weapons and haven't done anything. MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I don't think it raises the question you are asking. I think it shows that we're confronting threats around the world in a number of different ways. And weapons of mass destruction and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a high priority for this administration. That's one reason why the President is going to be announcing this commission, to do a broad assessment of our intelligence capabilities related to weapons of mass destruction. But Iraq, remember -- we pointed out -- was unique, given Saddam Hussein's history and given the events of September 11th.

The tragedy of addiction ...

A few follow-up points on yesterday's UPI story on possible Plame-related indictments in Dick Cheney's office.

The first thing to notice is that, as near as I can tell, the story has not been picked up by any other news organization. Moreover, from the rough read one gets from Google News, the UPI Story only seems to have run on the website of only one news organization.

Several other news organizations have been and continue to sit on this story -- though why, for good reasons or not good reasons, I'm not sure.

Yesterday I talked with an emissary from neoconland who pushed back heavily on the story, at least as regards John Hannah. No mention of Libby. But Hannah, this person insisted, is simply not a target of the investigation.

Let me add another point. There are lots of people I know (of many political persuasions) who aren't surprised Libby would be involved in this and won't be shedding a tear if he gets brought down by it. But they feel the opposite on both counts about Hannah.

None of this means Hannah is or isn't in the clear. I'm just trying to give you a feel for the reaction to the mention of his name as a potential target of this investigation.

Another topic to keep an eye on: just why did John Ashcroft get out of the way of this investigation when he did? There's a story there.

Sistani dodged a bullet today. And so did we.

According to this late report from Reuters: "Iraq's most powerful Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has survived an assassination bid when gunmen opened fire on his entourage in the sacred streets of Najaf."

The key players and factions are jockeying for position, awaiting our departure.

There's been plenty of chatter over recent days that some indictments were coming down the pike in the Plame matter. <$NoAd$> Now UPI's Richard Sale seems to have the goods.

This from a story just out ...

Federal law enforcement officials said that they have developed hard evidence of possible criminal misconduct by two employees of Vice President Dick Cheney's office related to the unlawful exposure of a CIA officer's identity last year.

The investigation, which is continuing, could lead to indictments, a Justice Department official said.

According to these sources, John Hannah and Cheney's chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby were the two Cheney employees.

"We believe that Hannah was the major player in this," one federal law enforcement officer said.

Calls to the vice president's office were not returned. Hannah and Libby did not return calls.

The strategy of the FBI is to make clear to Hannah "that he faces a real possibility of doing jail time," as a way to pressure him to name superiors, one federal law enforcement official said.

This is, to put it mildly, awfully big news if it bears out.

We're sitting on some other key developments in the case which we're hoping to post late this afternoon or this evening.

I'm tied up for most of the rest of the afternoon taking care of some editorial responsibilities. But take a good look at Kevin Drum's discussion of the "torn document" upon which hangs President Bush's case on the Air National Guard matter. Believe me, you'll want to see this.