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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Gary Condit's newly-hired lawyer Joseph Cotchett is now sending out a series of threatening letters to the Washington Post and other publications which have questioned whether Condit was carrying on a romantic relationship with missing intern Chandra Levy.

The letter to the Post accuses the paper of "a frightening violation of the ethics and standards of American journalism" and goes on to level charges narrowly tailored to anticipate a libel suit. According to this article, more letters are set to be sent out to "another East Coast paper" (presumably, the New York Post?)on Wednesday and another to a local TV station in California next week. "Since so much as already been distorted regarding this case, all statements published regarding this matter will be reviewed by counsel from the perspective of potential defamation litigation," said Condit's Chief of Staff Mike Lynch.

Now, I don't want to sound like a broken record, but from everything I can tell this is lots of bluster and legal threats without the congressman willing to come forward and deny the actual allegation. According to the MSNBC article, Cotchett's letter says "the lawmaker has never stated to anyone that Levy spent the night at his apartment."

Needless to say, that's not the same as denying that she spent the night with him, let alone denying that she had an affair with him.

I'll be honest, it used to drive me nuts when wiseacres like Mike Isikoff or David Maraniss used to 'parse' my man Bill Clinton's statements for signs of lawyerly evasion or cleverly angled factual loopholes. But isn't it just really, really obvious that these tactics just confirm the very suspicions which Condit is trying to stamp out?

I mean, he apparently refuses to issue a statement denying that he had an affair with Levy, let alone be interviewed by a reporter. Instead he sends this lawyer out to toss around claptrap about a "frightening violation of the ethics and standards of American journalism."

Why?

Last week Congressman Gary Condit threatened to sue the Washington Post for a story alleging that Chandra Levy, the missing intern, had spent the night at his house. In furtherance of this threat, he retained an attorney, Joseph Cotchett, to pry a retraction from the Post. Or at least that's what Condit's people said Cotchett had been retained for. (For the complete Condit rundown click here.)

According to Fox News' David Shuster, Cotchett is an accomplished trial lawyer but "doesn't appear to have ever tried a case involving libel or defamation." (June 8th, 2001, Fox Special Report with Brit Hume)

Was this a two-fer by Condit? An attempt to simultaneously bury the fact that he had hired a defense lawyer and try to bully the Post at the same time? If so, I'll say this, the guy's got brass if nothing else.

Meanwhile, Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes of the Beltway Boys are vouching for Condit.

KONDRACKE:  Condit is denying flatly that any (UNINTELLIGIBLE) such thing occurred, and frankly, I would find it impossible to believe that Condit had anything to do with, with her disappearance. I mean, he is one of our favorite Democrats.

BARNES:  Yes, he is, no, I like him, I know him pretty well. It's hard for me to believe it too. (June 9th, 2001, Beltway Boys)

Go figure...

P.S. Late Update: From a brief review of his website, Joseph Cotchett doesn't seem to specialize in libel or defamation cases. But he also doesn't appear to specialize in criminal work. He's basically a plaintiffs' attorney specializing in suing large financial institutions on behalf of cheated investors. His website does say that he defended Consumers Union in a defamation suit last year.

So where does that leave us? Who knows? Maybe Condit had some bad investments?

This Washington Post article by Dana Milbank perceptively notes the similarities between the Bush administration's tax cut strategy and the tack they're taking on the president's upcoming visit to Europe: smile, talk, give nicknames, do what you wanted to do in the first place.

In the new beltway jargon this is known as reaching out: You announce ahead of time that you will listen to everyone's concerns but still do what you planned to do in the first place actually.

Of course, in real life we have another word for this: being patronized.

Here's another emerging pattern. Even when the Bush White House sees the need to conciliate some person or constituency the same tough-guy, ball-busting mentality just can't help but break through.

The White House is pretty clearly trying to backpedal on the global warming front and at least unruffle feathers among our European allies. But on FoxNews today, White House Chief of Staff Andy Card said the Europeans were basically full of it, trying to con us, on the Kyoto Treaty. "I think that they've been driven by emotion rather than by science," said Card said. He then went on to say that "I think it's a little bit of a game that they're playing" because the Europeans also haven't yet ratified the treaty.

Are these two tacks really compatible?

Even when the folks at Bush White House are trying to conciliate or soothe over differences they still can't help kicking a little ass, busting the other guy's chops, showing everyone who's boss.

Hasn't Card gotten in trouble for this tough guy routine before?

The New York Post, which has been carrying much of the Chandra Levy-Gary Condit story, ran this story yesterday reporting that the DC Police Department's special investigations unit, Jack Barrett, has been assigned to take over the case.

More significantly, the Post reports, the police are focusing on two separate theories. One theory involves an affair gone wrong with congressman Gary Condit which led Levy to commit suicide. The other involves a stalker.

Here's how the Post describes the first of the investigators' two theories:

The hazel-eyed, dark-haired 24-year-old did something "crazy" after an alleged relationship with Rep. Gary Condit, a California Democrat, went awry.
As I've noted here, the combination of mounting circumstantial evidence of an affair and Condit's non-denial denials, makes some sort of romantic involvement seem very likely.

(For an example of Condit's non-denial denials, take a close look at his 'denial' that Levy spent the night at his home; and his demand for an apology for the Washington Post story making the allegation. The statement includes no actual statements from Condit himself.)

The rush of phone messages to Condit in the two days before Levy's disappearance certainly squares well with the theory of her disappearance described above. As does much of what we know about the case.

This really deserves more attention.

Under the Presidential Records Act passed in 1978 a large body of official presidential papers (screened, of course, for national security purposes) are released twelve years after the president leaves office. In January 2001 about 68,000 documents from Ronald Reagan's presidency were slated to be released.

However, the White House Counsel's Office has just delayed the release of those documents for a second time. The first delay came in January and was set to last until June 21. They have now requested a second delay until the end of August to continue reviewing the documents.

The Counsel's office does have discretion under the law to force these delays. But they have an obvious conflict of interest.

Many of the Reagan administration officials whose memos and papers are set to be released now have senior jobs in the Bush administration: Larry Lindsey, Mitch Daniels, Gale Norton, and others. It's not clear what those documents reveal -- presumably nothing scandalous, just embarrassing. It seems pretty clear that the release of these documents is being delayed to avoid such scrutiny or embarrassment.

The White House has authority to delay the release of presidential records documents for important reasons like national security, not to prevent embarrassing revelations or bad media days for current Bush administration officials.

That's, by definition, an abuse of power. Not a big one, I grant you, but an abuse nonetheless.

Up until now, Congressman Gary Condit seemed to be getting pretty much of a pass from folks in his district regarding his alleged connection with missing intern Chandra Levy. But that seems to be changing. Condit's hometown paper, The Modesto Bee, ran an editorial today telling Condit to, in essence, come clean.

You tell me why we've never seen these 'two' men in the same room at same time before.

Hey, I just ask the questions.

Yesterday the Wasington Post ran a story alleging that Gary Condit had told Washington DC police that Chandra Levy (the intern who's been missing for more than a month now) had in fact spent the night at his apartment. That appeared to be the other shoe dropping, putting to rest any notion that Condit was just pals with Levy.

Condit then struck back with a blistering attack on the article, a denial that he had ever said such a thing, and a veiled threat to sue the Post for libel.

But let's look a little more closely at this. Condit has never appeared before reporters to answer questions about Levy's disappearance. Never. He has never denied a relationship with Levy -- only had press flacks issue denials on his behalf. And even the new scorching press release his people put out yesterday contained no quotes from Condit.

Now as a pretty consistent defender of Bill Clinton I'm hesitant to jump too fulsomely onto the lynch Condit bandwagon over these intern allegations. But that is the problem: there really isn't much of a lynch Condit bandwagon. And I'm a little unclear why not. Published reports point pretty clearly to the conclusion that Condit was having a secret, extra-marital affair with Levy. And the investigation into Levy's disappearance (and I really say this with all sincere due respect to her family and friends) looks very much like a murder investigation.

I don't like the idea of someone being hounded by anonymously sourced allegations in the press. But, as a public official, how exactly is it that Condit can get away with not even issuing a real denial. That is to say, not a denial from his press secretary (who presumably has no actual knowledge of the facts) but a quote from him. Or, better yet, an actual appearance to answer at least a few questions.

My own take on this, and one that seems to be shared by reporters following the story, is that Condit was having an affair with Levy. Then, very unluckily for him, she disappeared. One has to assume through some sort of foulplay. In the first few days, before it became clear what exactly had happened with Levy, Condit denied any affair, which is pretty much what you'd expect. But at that point Condit had boxed himself in and couldn't wriggle his way out even after Levy's disappearance began to look much more ominous and the stakes became much higher.

Plenty of people in the local media and on Capitol Hill whom I've spoken to don't have much problem believing that Condit was having an affair with Levy. But none whom I've spoken to can even comprehend that he would be involved in her disappearance.

But today's story in the New York Post gives one of the first bits of information that honestly makes me wonder. According to the Post article, on the two days before her disappearance (April 29th and 30th), Levy left a flurry of messages on one of Condit's answering machines -- what the Post calls "a special answering service that bypassed his congressional office."

That could certainly be innocent. But it doesn't look very good, does it?

As someone who knows a newly-minted defense attorney rather well, there certainly could be an innocent explanation for all this. But aren't we well beyond the point where a vague non-denial denial from the press secretary is going to cut it?

I mean, at least my guy was man enough to come out and lie!

Tragically, or perhaps just bummerly, the Talking Points Memo entries for June 1st through June 7th have been irretrievably lost due to a late night server error. [LATE UPDATE: The entries in question have now been restored.] But be that as it may, an entry from last week posed the question of why Tony Blair had succeeded so brilliantly with so-called Third-Way politics in the United Kingdom while Al Gore is off living on a farm somewhere in Tennessee.

There are many possible answers to this question: Some say Gore blew it by departing from the New Democrat gospel. Some say he ran a lousy campaign. Some point out that it couldn't have helped having the party's incumbent president having sex with an intern half his age in the Oval Office. Some note, more prosaically, that the Brits are just more collectivist than we Americans and that, in any case, three consecutive terms for one party is just difficult to manage.

Each of these explanations contains an important measure of truth, I think. But none touches the deeper, more significant difference in the two nations' political cultures or adequately explains the different levels of success enjoyed by the two parties. That is, the persistent centrality of 'social issues' in American politics and their relative absence from politics in the UK.

I sketch this argument out more fully in this column in today's New York Post.

Speak loud and nasty and carry ... well, something a lot smaller than a big stick.

Trent Lott came out talking tough with his scathing memo promising "war" against the new Democratic majority, and threatening a series of filibusters if Democrats didn't give them 'assurances' about judicial nominations. And then ... well, he flaked. No filibusters after all.

Do you notice a pattern here? I mean, I don't want to go off message or anything. But hasn't Lott just gotten his lunch eaten / head handed to him by Tom Daschle for the like the tenth time in a row?

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