Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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McClellan on Richard Clarke from yesterday's gaggle <$NoAd$> ...

QUESTION: And then, can I ask you to clarify, too, because one of the points you've made is he was here for nearly a decade; why did he raise these concerns -- why did he raise these concerns a year-and-a-half after he left? What, then, was the report that he put together that, then, was on the President's desk September 4th, the action plan in terms of doing --

McCLELLAN: Well, that was something the National Security Council put together. That was something -- it was a comprehensive strategy for eliminating al Qaeda, not rolling back al Qaeda. The President wanted a strategy that had teeth, that when we came in and we looked at -- looked at the threat posed by al Qaeda, we made it a top priority. But the President wanted to go beyond the actions of the past, which were maybe aimed at rolling back al Qaeda. He wanted a comprehensive strategy that had teeth. That's why we made al Qaeda a priority from very early on.

And then you also look at what we did after 9/11. We immediately took action to go into Afghanistan and remove the Taliban from power and to deny al Qaeda the safe haven that they had in that country to plan and plot against America and our friends and allies.

QUESTION: But you have left the impression that Clarke did little or nothing to deal with or propose solutions to dealing with al Qaeda while he was here.

McCLELLAN: No, no, no. Here in the United States. No, no. Dr. Rice actually asked him for ideas in the very first week of this administration that he had for going after al Qaeda. And some of those -- some of those we pursued --

QUESTION: Wasn't he the one who pushed in many ways and helped put together the report that landed on the President's desk September 4th?

McCLELLAN: He was involved in our counterterrorism efforts up until October 9th of 2001, when that position was separated, something that he actually suggested, as well.

QUESTION: Well, help clarify, because if he was involved with and helped author this report that had to deal with dealing with al Qaeda that landed on the President's desk a week before September 11th --

McCLELLAN: At the direction of --

QUESTION: -- how can you say he did nothing or raised no concerns?

McCLELLAN: At the direction of -- at the direction of the National Security Advisor. I'm talking about here in the United States. Remember that the fact is that he was not in many of the meetings where he would have some of the direct knowledge of what he asserts. He appears to be more wrapped up in the process about what title he had and what meetings he was able to participate in or not participate in. The world according to Dick Clarke is all about Dick Clarke. If he and his ideas are not at the center of all that is going on, then he thinks you cannot be taking terrorism seriously.

Well, let's look at the facts. Let's look at the action we took. This President took action immediately upon coming into office to develop a comprehensive strategy to eliminate al Qaeda. The first major foreign policy directive of this administration was a comprehensive -- to develop a comprehensive strategy to eliminate al Qaeda, not to roll back al Qaeda.

QUESTION: Understood, but explain how there's not a glaring contradiction. You say he did nothing, and yet there was a report that was on the President's desk a week before September 11th.

McCLELLAN: What did I say? Wait, wait. What did I say? I did not say --

QUESTION: You said he was more involved in process and which meetings he was in. I’m trying to understand --

McCLELLAN: He is more focused on -- he appears to be more focused on process and what title he had and what meetings he was in or not in.

QUESTION: What was the report on September 4th?

McCLELLAN: That was the comprehensive strategy to eliminate al Qaeda, at the direction of Dr. Rice and the National Security Council and the President of the United States, who made it clear early on. He said, I don't want to be swatting at flies, we need a comprehensive strategy to eliminate al Qaeda.

More soon.

The lead summary from this <$NoAd$>evening's uber-insider Nelson Report ...

Clarke Terrorism Charges...White House must head-off before it gets "outside the Beltway"

Summary: the 9/11 Commission has always been a high risk potential for the Bush Administration, hence the very careful limits put on official cooperation. Hearings this week, "bombshell" book by former WH staffer Richard Clarke, have high risk potential to change attitudes "outside The Beltway". Polls consistently show the public still puts "trust" in double digits for Bush over Kerry on terrorism war. So White House reacts quickly, and very very firmly, to anything resembling a credible criticism of Bush...see the deconstruction of ex-Treas. Sec. O'Neill, UN inspector Blix, and now Clarke. The White House's top terrorism expert going back to the Reagan Administration provides anecdotal and eye-witness testimony apparently corroborating many other sources that Iraq was THE fixation, at the expense of all else. VP Cheney's rebuttal that Clark "out of the loop" is confusing, if Clarke was given the terrorism oversight job by NSC chief Rice. This one will bear watching...the polls will tell the tale.

Taiwan elections...let's give it a rest for today, except to note that President Chen has endorsed the idea of an official recount, and the High Court has said it will think about it, and rule on all this as soon as possible. But that's not likely to be before Friday's anticipated certification of Chen's reelection, so KMT is still screaming.

As soon as the transcripts of today's testimony appear, watch for Tim Roemer's exchange with Paul Wolfowitz over Richard Clarke's claims. Wolfowitz would not clearly address the validity of claims which his spokesman yesterday was bold enough to call a 'fabrication'.

More soon. And later, the gaggles start flowing ...

Amazing. Jim Woolsey is on Lou Dobbs show, as I write. He continues to press the Iraq-al Qaida link, suggests only that it's not clear Saddam 'ordered' the 9/11 attacks (my recollection, I haven't seen the transcript yet), and goes on to accuse Clarke of being crazy or thoroughly lacking in credibility because he accuses Woolsey, Laurie Mylroie and others of saying what they have in fact been saying for years. A through-the-looking-glass performance.

Spin and push-back is a delicate art. Used indiscriminately it can show how weak your real case must be.

Case in point. This afternoon the White House released Richard Clarke's resignation letter from January 2003, arguing that boilerplate praise for the president contained in the letter shows that Clarke has flipflopped and is thus a hypocrite.

Here's the phrase that they're highlighting: "It has been an enormous privilege to serve you these last 24 months ... I will always remember the courage, determination, calm, and leadership you demonstrated on September 11th."

The best they can do.

Today President Bush said: "The facts are these: George Tenet briefed me on a regular basis about the terrorist threat to the United States of America, and had my administration had any information that terrorists were going to attack New York City on Sept. 11, we would have acted."

I would hope so. But isn't this setting the bar rather low?

I certainly doubt there was any intelligence with remotely that level of specificity.

But that statement does suggest the president's team is bracing for quite a lot of uncomfortable information to come out. Why else make such a statement that really does no more than state that which goes without saying: namely, that had the White House had detailed knowledge about where and when the attack would occur that they would have done something about it?

It's amazing how many partisan Democrats and disgruntled former employees working under cover as career civil servants, spies and military officers have betrayed this president. It just seems to happen again and again and again. I mean, just think of the list: Rand Beers, well-known partisan Democrat and hack, Richard Clarke, self-promoter, disgruntled former employee, and "self-regarding buffoon", Karen Kwiatkowski, conspiracy theorist and all-around freak, Valerie Plame, hack and nepotist, Joe Wilson, partisan hack, self-promoter and shameless green tea lover. When will the abuse end?

One line of adminstration attack against Richard Clarke is that he appears to be a friend of Rand Beers, John Kerry's chief foriegn policy advisor. They even teach (or taught, I'm not sure) a course together at the Kennedy School.

On the surface this sounds like decent evidence of Clarke's political ties and possible political motivations.

But pressing this line of attack mostly shows that President Bush is running to be president of the amnesiacs.

Here's why.

Who is Rand Beers exactly? He's a career government national security expert specializing in intelligence and counter-terrorism. He's a registered Democrat. But his profile is that of an apolitical civil servant -- enough so that he was asked to work for Reagan, Bush, Clinton and the current President Bush in various capacities.

In August 2002 Condi Rice hired him to be the special assistant to the president for combating terrorism at the NSC. In a sense that was the job that Clarke had before 9/11, although by that point the chairs had been shuffled around so much that no direct comparison is really possible.

In any case, he came in in August 2002 and he resigned about seven months later, a few days before the beginning of the war. Eight weeks after that he signed up to work for John Kerry. A good summary of Beers' story can be found here in this June 16th, 2003 article in the Washington Post.

When you look at it, Beers' and Clarke's stories sound quite similar.

And the pattern suggests two possible theories.

The first is that President Bush has the odd misfortune of repeatedly hiring Democratic party stooges for key counter-terrorism assignments who stab him in the back as soon as they leave his employ.

The second is that anyone the president hires in a key counter-terrorism role who is not either a hidebound ideologue or a Bush loyalist gets so disgusted with the mismanagement and/or dishonesty that they eventually quit and then devote themselves to driving the president from office.

Which sounds more likely?

More on just how feeble the White House anti-Clarke <$NoAd$>push-back is getting. This is Bush NSC spokesman Jim Wilkinson again on Wolf Blitzer last night ...

The terrorists weren't overseas, the terrorists were here in America. By June, the FBI says 16 of 19 terrorists in the 9/11 attacks were already here. I just don't see what this focus on process and titles and meetings. Let me also point something. If you look in this book you find interesting things such as reported in the "Washington Post" this morning. He's talking about how he sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden and bin Laden has a mystical mind control over U.S. officials. This is sort of "X-Files" stuff, and this is a man in charge of terrorism, Wolf, who is supposed to be focused on it and he was focused on meetings.

So now it seems the White House line is that Clarke is some sort of borderline personality or half-crazed crackpot. Here's the reference from the Washington Post ...

"Any leader whom one can imagine as president on September 11 would have declared a 'war on terrorism' and would have ended the Afghan sanctuary [for al Qaeda] by invading," Clarke writes. "What was unique about George Bush's reaction" was the additional choice to invade "not a country that had been engaging in anti-U.S. terrorism but one that had not been, Iraq." In so doing, he estranged allies, enraged potential friends in the Arab and Islamic worlds, and produced "more terrorists than we jail or shoot."

"It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting 'invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq,' " Clarke writes.

X-Files stuff ...

When you have a good case, you make it. When you don't, you just talk trash.

Or as the lawyers say, when you have the facts on your side, you bang the facts. When you've got the law on your side, you bang on the law. When you have neither, like Wilkinson, you just bang yourself.

More calls for Philip Zelikow to resign as Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission.