Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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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.

Now for a bit more on the Plame matter.

We've known for some time that the CIA nudged the Department of Justice to look into the Plame matter for some time before an investigation was finally launched in late September of last year.

Now we have a few more details.

On September 30th of last year Rep. John Conyers, Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the CIA requesting a description of what contacts the Agency had had with Justice about the Plame matter prior to the commencement of the investigation.

Then last Friday, January 30th, the CIA responded in a letter we've just added to the TPM Document Collection.

According to the letter the CIA first contacted Justice by phone on July 24th, 2003. They followed up on July 30th, 2003 with a letter advising them of a possible violation of criminal law and informing them that they had opened their own investigation.

The folks at the CIA seem not to have gotten an altogether satisfactory response to the July 30th letter because they again sent the letter, by fax, on September 5th, 2003.

Then on September 16, 2003 they contacted Justice yet again to inform them that they (i.e., CIA) had completed their investigation. They provided a memo summarizing their findings and requested that the FBI begin a criminal investigation of the matter.

Finally on September 29th, Justice notified the CIA that they had in fact begun an investigation.

Why did it take so long? Why did the CIA have to press so hard?

See the letter for yourself.

Much more on this to come.

We're trying to make our way through all the various versions of the Bush-Air National Guard story and come to some conclusions about which theories and explanations are credible and which are not.

We'll report back when we find out more. But for the moment, here's some more information to add to the mix.

Phil Carter is a former Army officer, who's spent some time in the Guard. And he has a blog. Today Phil has a detailed post explaining what a number of readers told me yesterday: namely, that even if President Bush's attendence records have gotten lost, torn up, or even spontaneously combusted, his service during the time in question should be verifiable through one or more other records.

Those include payment records, IRS records documenting withholdings from those payments, and retirement 'points' earned for attendence.

One or more of these records should allow the president to clear this matter up.

Phil has more details. Definitely take a look.

Plenty of Joe-mentum, just all in the wrong direction.

A few other thoughts.

I've been mulling for several days why President Bush suddenly seems so wobbly both in the polls and also with those who have heretofore remained steadfastly loyal. I discuss what I came up with in my new column in Wednesday's edition of The Hill. A quick hint: Immigration reform, Mars mission, prescription drug shenanigans -- they've taken a toll.

Also take a look at Jonathan Alter's new piece on Kerry's onslaught on the military service issue. I've gotten a number of emails over the last few days from Republicans asking, with a genuine disbelief and incomprehension, how it is that the questions about President Bush's military service record are coming up now after they were 'dealt with' in 2000.

As Spencer Ackerman discusses ably in this piece in the new New Republic, they weren't really dealt with at all. Or rather, the national media never really got to the bottom of what happened. Certainly they didn't devote even a fraction of the attention to it that was lavished on Bill Clinton's awkward history with the selective service in 1992 and 1996.

But there is something different here. And the difference is that the Democrats have decided to go on the offensive -- and this is a version of preemption that Dems may, and should, warm to. After Clark had some stumbles with the issue, Kerry has been hitting it for a couple weeks. And the recent round of coverage on it would never have emerged had Terry McAullife not forced it into the news cycle over the weekend.

Perhaps it takes a vet like Kerry to fix on the importance of maintaining the initiative at all times. Now, let's see if he remembers about unity of command.

And one more point about the president's military service. I'm told that pay records -- for which the records are apparently much better kept -- might be able to settle the matter of what President Bush was doing during his sojourn in Alabama. We'll get into that more later.

A few thoughts on the Bush AWOL issue.

Ed Gillespie, RNC Chairman, accused DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe of leveling a "demonstrably false and malicious charge that would be slanderous under any ordinary circumstance" when he accused the president of going AWOL while he was serving in the Air National Guard in the early 1970s. The charges made McAuliffe into the "John Wilkes Booth of character assassination" in Gillespie's words.

Now, interestingly, today's Washington Post says that administration officials are telling reporters that "former senator Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat who is president of the New School University, [is] the sort of nonpartisan statesman they are seeking" for the new Iraqi WMD commission.

But those officials may need to rethink their praise for the other Senator Kerrey since back in November 2000 he told the Boston Globe that then-candidate Bush "need[ed] to explain where he was when he was supposed to be fulfilling his military obligation. If he is elected president, how will he be able to deal as commander in chief with someone who goes AWOL, when he did the same thing?"

Presumably, Gillespie will confer with his colleagues at the White House and work that one out.

Does that mean that Kerrey is out for the commission? Or maybe that McAuliffe is now eligible? Who knows?

In any case, back to the president's record from back in the day.

In an excellent sum-up piece in The New Republic this week Spencer Ackerman summarizes the key period of delinquency ...

Less than two years after finishing his initial pilot's training, Bush was offered a job in Alabama with the 1972 Senate campaign of former U.S. Postmaster General Winton Blount. Bush asked Guard officials in May of that year if he could fulfill his continuing duty obligations by serving with a mail squadron based in Montgomery, but they turned him down, noting the unit's lax drilling schedule. Bush left Texas anyway--with his Guard responsibilities unresolved--joining the campaign in Alabama that month. In August, he failed to take his annual flight physical, which meant losing his flight status. A month later, he requested and received permission to perform his fall Guard duty with the 187th Tactical Recon Group in Montgomery before returning to Houston's Ellington Air Force Base after the election. But he apparently never showed up: The Globe investigation found that Ellington had no record of Bush performing service in Alabama. In fact, the 187th's commander--Bush's commander--William Turnipseed told the paper, "Had he reported in, I would have had some recall, and I do not. I had been in Texas, done my flight training there. If we had had a first lieutenant from Texas, I would have remembered." His memory was corroborated by Bush's discharge papers, which showed neither any service in Alabama nor any training by Lieutenant Bush at all after May 1972.

Bush was supposed to return to Houston after Blount's losing race. But, by May 1973, his commanding officers in Texas noticed that they could not write his annual performance evaluation for the simple reason that Bush wasn't there. "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of this report"--May 1, 1972, to April 30, 1973--his evaluation reads. This was a serious charge: Delinquent guardsmen could be inducted into the Army ...

Now, over the course of the day I've gotten a number of letters from current and former members of the Guard in various states who've told me that this was the standard policy. One tells me that he himself processed one deliquent guardsman on to active duty and on to Vietnam.

Now, these are just e-mails over the transom. In themselves, they don't settle the issue. But clearly many guys who were lucky enough to get a slot in the Guard, but screwed up once they were there, found themselves shipped off to Vietnam. (That appears to have been the prescribed punishment -- though we're trying to track down if there were any relevant emendations -- for those who "failed to serve satisfactorily" in the Guard under Executive Order 10984 of 1961.)

A lot of those guys must be out there -- at least the ones who weren't killed during their service. A lot of the commanding officers who blew the whistle on them must be out there too. It would be interesting to do some reporting and find some guys who didn't get cut any slack and got shipped off. Seems like a national news organization could shed some light on that question with a little reporting.

When I look at the federal investigation being launched into the Janet Jackson boob incident, I realize what I like about this administration: they believe in accountability.

And speaking of accountability, the signs from the president's 'independent' inquiry aren't looking too good either.

According to this article on the front page of today's Post (I've started reading the paper paper again) the president seems inclined to take full advantage of his self-appointed power to appoint all the members of the commission (safe Dems, Republican ringers and militant Iraq hawks). And while there's no mention that the panel will be given any brief to look at White House's use of intelligence data, it will be instructed to look at CIA's intelligence shortcomings on Iran, North Korea, Libya and India -- perhaps they'll take another look at that whole Pearl Harbor thing too.

When we actually eyeball the executive order I fully expect we'll see it contains instructions to get to the bottom of why Joe Wilson has been making so many press appearances.

This commission may not quite fail the laugh test. But, boy, is it lousy with giggles. When do some of the press bigs call out this Potemkin Panel for the joke that it seems likely to be?

If these exit poll numbers from politicalwire.com hold up, John Kerry is set to have some smashing victories tonight. But John Edwards may have some life left in him after all.