Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

This lede from an article in tomorrow's Washington Post tells you all you need to know about the president's promise on Sunday to release all his military service records ...

The Defense Department has requested that President Bush's payroll records from his service in the National Guard be sent to Washington from a DOD archive in Colorado, to ascertain whether they can be released to news organizations and public interest groups that have formally requested them in recent days, according to DOD officials.

This is exactly the point. Whatever privacy considerations are at issue here are ones the president can simply waive. Yet it seems pretty clear from that graf that he hasn't. Otherwise, it's not clear to <$Ad$>me what hold up there would be on releasing all those records to news organizations.

And another matter. The White House is already trying to wriggle out of the president's commitment to release all the records about his military service.

When asked about this on Monday, Scott McClellan said (itals added): "You know, we made everything we had available during the 2000 campaign." And then later he said "Well, everything we had we made available. And like I said, if there's more, we'll do our best to keep you updated on that."

Sorry. But that's not the question. Press secretaries are in the business of choosing words carefully -- especially at rough moments. And what McClellan is saying here is that the campaign released all the records it had on the president's service.

Now, needless to say, that places a rather high degree of trust in the White House and/or the Bush campaign that they'd willingly turn over any truly damning documents, if such exist -- especially when they're in charge of defining what's relevant. But even if we discount the possibility of dishonesty, what McClellan is saying is simply beside the point.

We're not interested in getting a full look at the Bush 2000 archive on the president's military service. We're interested in the United States government's archive on the president's military service.

And it seems the president still refuses to allow this. To make this happen what he would have to do would be to formally waive the rights he enjoys under the Privacy Act which prohibits the Pentagon and its various subdivisions from releasing certain classes of information about his service.

Tim Russert asked the president the question directly. The president answered it unequivocally: he said he would release everything. Now his press secretary is trying to nullify the president's promise with silly word games. If my friends in the White House press corps fall for this one it will almost be beyond belief.

I've been telling you since early January about the <$NoAd$>House special election coming up on February 17th to elect a new member of Congress from Kentucky's 6th District. The race pits former Attorney General Ben Chandler (D) against state Rep. Alice Forgy Kerr (R).

The Chandler campaign has been trying to frame this as a potential bellwether election. And it looks like it's turning out that way.

Stu Rothernberg had this to say on Monday in Roll Call...

Unless voters in Kentucky’s 6th district suddenly have a change of heart, the Republicans are headed for a rocky Feb. 17 special election in the Lexington-area House district. Former two-term state Attorney General Ben Chandler (D), not state Rep. Alice Forgy Kerr (R), has the advantage in the final days before the election.

But worse than the loss of a single House seat, a Republican defeat would suggest some problems for President Bush and his party.

This isn’t exactly what Republicans expected to happen when the seat became open, following Republican Ernie Fletcher’s election as governor in November.

GOP strategists planned to make the special election a referendum on a popular president and a contrast of ideologies in a conservative district. That way, they figured, they could elect Kerr to Congress even though the district has a Democratic registration advantage and is politically competitive.

If Chandler picks up that seat next Tuesday it'll be a major headache for the president. Every race has local dynamics -- and the relative qualities of the two candidates play an important role in an election for an open seat. But, in the current climate, a defeat for the president's candidate -- and that's what she is -- will be viewed as a sign of his broader political weakness -- perhaps not unlike Harris Wofford's bellwether Senate victory over Dick Thornburgh in 1991 signalled the cracks in the president's father's air of invulnerability.

There's little doubt now that Plame investigation is heating up. Tomorrow's Washington Post has a piece with a run-down about the who's been before the Plame grand jury and who's been interviewed by the FBI. The Times' piece says that "prosecutors have conducted meetings with presidential aides that lawyers in the case described as tense and sometimes combative."

If you think about it, it's sort of astonishing that this story has still received so relatively little attention given that -- as the Times notes -- multiple White House appointees have been told they are 'subjects' of a criminal inquiry.

(The Times actually uses the term 'employees.' But from the context it seems to me that the people being referred to are more properly styled 'appointees'.)

I suspect we're pretty close to one of the big papers having enough of the pieces in place (and well enough sourced -- probably more than well enough sourced, given their skittishness) to sketch out the true outlines of the investigation and just who the investigators believe the culprits are.

I hear mutterings that a certain someone has already gotten a 'target letter.' So I don't think it'll be long before we know the key details of what's going on.

But there's another small note in the Post's piece that may deserve greater attention.

The Post says ...

A parallel FBI investigation into the apparent forgery of documents suggesting that Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger is "at a critical stage," according to a senior law enforcement official who declined to elaborate. That probe, conducted by FBI counterintelligence agents, was launched last spring after U.N. officials pronounced the documents crude forgeries.

Now, most people have treated the forged documents affair as somehow separate from the swirl of political maneuverings taking place in the fall and winter of 2002. The fact that these crudely forged documents weren't more rapidly dismissed by the White House gets a lot of attention. But it's commonly assumed that the forgers themselves (and those who actually produced the documents during the run-up to war) were just hoaxsters out for money, outside players with no key political role in the larger drama.

I've been following this story for months. And I've always suspected that that assumption is incorrect. At the end of October last year I noted that a close look at the timeline of events in October 2002 points to the conclusion that the person who got those documents into the hands of Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba had some knowledge -- either direct or indirect -- of highly secret debates then going in between the Bush White House, the CIA and members of the Blair government in the UK.

This is a circumstantial argument, and one that is certainly not conclusive. But see the the October 31st post to see what I'm talking about. See this earlier post for another part of the puzzle.

My plate's been full for the last few months. And I haven't been able to track down as many leads as I'd like. But there are some pretty big clues sitting right there in plain sight. And if those FBI agents have put that puzzle together too ... well, let's just say keep an eye on that story. Maybe I can still beat them to the punch.

I seldom write posts that don't make their way, in <$Ad$>one form or another, onto the site. But occasionally I'll write a lengthy one, edit it, wrestle with it, then decide that something about it just doesn't work and discard it entirely. That happened last night in a long post I wrote trying to make sense of just why the President Bush's approval numbers dipped so suddenly with no clear trigger.

Part of the reason I ended up not liking the post was that in the course of writing a post describing how there was no clear single explanation I happened upon something that seemed like a clear and at least relatively simple explanation.

This AP article notes that President Bush's fall in the polls coincides very closely with David Kay's initial comments stating that there almost certainly were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Here are the key grafs ...

Bush's job approval rating dropped 10 points from Jan. 25 through Jan. 31, according to the National Annenberg Election Survey. The tracking poll takes a nightly sample and rolls together two or three nights' findings at a time to produce periodic reports.

Support for the war in Iraq also dipped in that period, from a majority saying the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, 53 percent, to 46 percent during the last few days of January saying it was worth going to war and 49 percent saying it was not.

The Annenberg study found Bush's approval dipped from 64 percent right after Bush's Jan. 20 State of the Union address to 54 percent in the late-January period. An AP-Ipsos poll found Bush's approval dipped 9 points during January to the high 40s, the same finding as several other polls released at about that time.

Falling ten points in a week is a precipitous drop -- and it seems to have been picked up in a number of polls, even if the rest of the surveys weren't able to pinpoint when it started quite as precisely as Annenberg.

To those who've been closely following the on-going weapons search and what's been happening on the ground in Iraq, Kay's announcement was only news at the level of theatrics -- the historical value of the official statement of what's been obvious for many months.

I don't think most people following this story figured it would have nearly so dramatic an effect as the Annenberg study indicates. I certainly didn't. Indeed, I focused on the parts of Kay's comments and testimony which struck me as attempting to exonerate the administration.

But this may be a case in which close attention to the news helped create a real blind spot. As we've noted here many times the White House has gone to great lengths to avoid publicly acknowledging the reality that we were totally wrong about the weapons.

The plan was always to say that the search continued and to dangle hints that anyone who doubted that Saddam had weapons might end up looking very foolish indeed when the weapons turned up. Even now high White House officials tell reporters off the record that they will continue to say that the search is still on-going so as to avoid putting these uncomfortable words in the president's mouth.

This is not only amazingly cynical (a free willingness to continue deceiving the public just as they did during the run-up to the war). It is, or was, it seems extremely effective.

By not coming clean and resting on the public's desire to trust the president, the White House was able to stave off the political impact of the collapse of the central argument for going to war. In that context, Kay's statements were a very big deal indeed, and the public reaction makes all the sense in the world.

For some time now, it's been conventional wisdom that most voters weren't overly troubled by the failure to find any weapons in the country, especially so long as other aspects of the war were going at least tolerably well. That assumption may have been very wrong.

On a replay this evening I watched the president's Meet the Press interview in its entirety. On balance I'd say he and his advisors made a mistake scheduling this interview.

It's not lost on me that I'm probably not the best one to evaluate his performance, given my critical stance toward his administration. But, with that caveat, what I saw was a president who was either unwilling or unable to address the essential points of his domestic and foreign policy record.

Most of his responses were disjointed collections of slogans and administration talking points, with a number of disingenuous or outright dishonest points tossed in.

Peggy Noonan had a column up this afternoon arguing that speeches are about philosophy and vision, while interviews are about policy and particulars. Bush is good at speeches, she says, not so good at interviews.

I have a different opinion.

I'm rewatching a segment right now where the president goes on about a highway spending bill. He seems to have the policy issue and the facts down fine.

The issue, I think, is that right now the president doesn't have a particularly good story to tell or a particularly good explanation for why almost nothing he's said would happen (budget, Iraq, etc.) has happened. That's a problem.

So when he goes on an hour-long interview he doesn't sound very good. And since he's not willing to confront the debacle of the weapons search, the fiscal mess, or what's happening on the ground in Iraq he comes off sounding evasive, incoherent and out of touch with what's happening on his watch.

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.