Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Sometimes you just can't trust a Republican senator with a <$NoAd$>microphone ...

Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, at a recent GOP event, told diners that state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, his likely opponent in the November election, looks like one of Saddam Hussein's sons.

Yesterday, his campaign said it was a joke and apologized.

"We're sorry if this joke, which got a lot of laughs, offended anyone," Bunning campaign manager David Young said.

Read more here ...

We’ve been eager to hit the half-a-million monthly TPM readers benchmark. And in March we finally did.

Stats for March: Unique visitors: 560,957; Total visits 2,577,021; Total pageviews 3,540,296. As always, a sincere thanks to everyone who made those numbers possible.

A few other points to discuss.

According to The Hill, Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee may try to subpoena Doug Badger, President Bush’s White House healthcare adviser, if he doesn't show up to testify on Capitol Hill. They want to ask him about possible White House involvement in fudging the numbers of the recent Medicare prescription drug bill.

(The story is also covered here by Knight Ridder.)

Normally, Committee Republicans can shut something like this down on a party-line vote. But a mix of political pressure and genuine Republican disgruntlement over being lied to may prevent that.

The White House is refusing to make Badger available. Why? One guess ... Separation of powers.

One would imagine that Badger's testimony would be allowable under the White House's recently-discovered 'scandal exception' to the normally high bar on testimony from White House aides. But apparently that theory is no longer operative. Or perhaps it's one of those precedent-less arguments which only apply to Condi Rice. One way or another it's apparently down the memory-hole -- which is starting to get rather full, in case you haven't noticed.

(A Note to White House gaggleers: This is a spoon feed, folks. Just last week the White House argued that the separation-of-powers bar on testimony applied to questions of policy not appearances tied to scandal or congressional investigations into wrongdoing. This clearly falls right into that category. It's wrapped in a bow. Why not ask?)

And speaking of White House shenanigans ...

Yesterday, Rep. Henry Waxman wrote a letter to White House Counsel Al Gonzales asking whether he had placed calls to "selected" members of the 9/11 Commission during Richard Clarke's testimony last week, as reported today by the Washington Post. Presumably this was to feed them White House talking points to be used when they got to question Clarke. We've just posted the letter to the TPM Document Collection.

Longtime readers know we used to keep the TPM Document Collection section of the website very up-to-date -- confidential documents, video of nasty attacks ads, public records that should be more public, etc. But with all the rush of events over the last several months, we haven't been able to update it often enough. And the existing design isn't up to snuff.

In any case, with some expanded resources we're going to redebut the Document Collection with a new design and other added features. One of the things we're going to do is more marking up of the various electronic documents we post -- highlighting key passages, interlinear notes, stuff like that.

And here's where I'd like to enlist your assistance. To do this I'm probably going to need to get one of these Tablet PCs to allow me to handwrite on electronic documents, mark them up, and so forth. Now, about seventy or eighty thousand people visit this website each day. So I figure there must be more than a few people out there who have a sense of which are well-designed and which aren't. So any input would be greatly appreciated.

And one other thing.

In case you missed it, make sure you read Steve Clemons' oped in the New York Times yesterday on part of the collateral damage from the war on terror -- namely, the steep decline in educational, scientific and cultural exchange visas issued since 9/11. Steve is going to be opening up his own blog in the near future. And if he ever gets the lead out and puts the thing online we'll be linking forthwith since it's sure to be a must-read.

Sometimes a poetic truth captures only ... well, only the poetic truth. And then sometimes a poetic truth turns out to be the real thing.

We've been describing for some days now the backdrop -- well-known then but somehow forgotten -- to Richard Clarke's accusations against the Bush administration. Namely, the fact that the Bush administration came to office with a fundamentally flawed conception of the threats facing the United States.

Transnational terrorist groups were almost off the radar. The real near-term threats were rogue states which could hit the US with WMD-bearing ICBMs -- longer-term the threat was China. And thus the centerpiece of our new national security strategy -- and the target of the biggest funding -- would be national missile defense.

Now in a front page piece in Thursday's Washington Post we learn that on September 11th, 2001 Condi Rice was scheduled to deliver a major foreign policy address on missile defense as the centerpiece of a new strategy to combat "the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday."

Then reality intruded.

As the Post explains, the speech contained little real discussion of terrorism. The only mentions were swipes at the Clinton administration's supposed over-emphasis on transnational terrorism at the expense of more important priorities like missile defense.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but let's say it: It was as obvious four years ago as it is today that the most potent threats to America are asymmetric threats, particularly forms of attack that cannot easily be tied back to particular states which we can punish with our conventional military superiority.

In plainer speech, the biggest threats we face today are ones that don't come with a return address.

An ICBM, which has a launch point that can be determined down to the yard and requires a vast apparatus to get off the ground, really doesn't fit into that category.

In any case, this is just another example that they simply failed to understand where the real threat was coming from.

That in itself is forgivable. The problem is that they tried to shoehorn 9/11 into their existing paradigm rather than rethink that flawed analysis.

Reading the lede of this piece from Reuters, I had to wonder whether I might actually be reading a spoof from The Onion ...

An emotional former President George H.W. Bush on Tuesday defended his son's Iraq war and lashed out at White House critics.

It is "deeply offensive and contemptible" to hear "elites and intellectuals on the campaign trail" dismiss progress in Iraq since last year's overthrow of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the elder Bush said in a speech to the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association annual convention.

Defies parody ...

I am a little surprised that the White House's new insistence on a joint private meeting with President Bush and Vice President Cheney hasn't elicited more notice.

In its Wednesday editorial the Times writes ...

Yesterday, Mr. Bush's lawyer told the commission that Ms. Rice would testify. And after months of unacceptable delay, the lawyer said Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney would also talk to the entire commission in private, not under oath. But the panel had to pay a price: it agreed, at the administration's insistence, that after Ms. Rice testifies, it will not call her back or ask any other White House official to testify in public.

So the Times doesn't even mention the jointness issue or any problems it could raise.

Now, amidst all the stonewalling and foot-dragging and character assassination I guess this matter won't <$Ad$>get top-billing. But just what is behind this demand -- to which the Commission has apparently agreed?

All the other arguments adduced for ducking the Commission investigators have had at least some conceivable constitutional basis, however weak: testimony in private, testimony not under oath, privilege for White House aides, etc.

(One might note that there will be no recording kept of this meeting -- just one sore-wristed Commission staffer allowed to take written notes of what is said by the ten Commission members, the president and vice president.)

In any case, clearly there cannot be any matter of constitutional precedent or principle involved in needing the president and vice president speak to the Commission together.

So, again, what's the deal?

Only three scenarios or explanations make sense to me.

The first -- and most generous -- explanation is that this is simply another way to further dilute the Commission's ability to ask questions.

If, say, the meeting lasts three hours, that's three hours to ask questions of both of them rather than three hours to ask questions of each -- as might be the case in separate meetings.

That wouldn't be any great coup for the White House. But it would be one more impediment to throw in front of the Commission's work, which would probably be a source of some joy for the White House.

From here the possible explanations go down hill -- in every respect -- pretty quickly.

Explanation number two would be that this is a fairly elementary -- and, one imagines, pretty effective -- way to keep the two of them from giving contradictory answers to the Commission's questions. It helps them keep their stories straight.

(It's a basic part of any criminal investigation -- which, of course, this isn't -- to interview everyone separately, precisely so that people can't jigger their stories into consistency on the fly.)

The third explanation is that the White House does not trust the president to be alone with the Commission members for any great length of time without getting himself into trouble, either by contradicting what his staff says, or getting some key point wrong, or letting some key fact slip. And Cheney's there to make sure nothing goes wrong.

These last two possibilities do, I grant you, paint the president and his White House in a rather dark light. But I would be curious if anyone can come up with another explanation for this odd demand.

I've long thought that political observers were greatly overstating the challenge Tom Daschle faced this November from Republican John Thune.

My reasoning: Thune couldn't beat a substantially weaker candidate, incumbent Sen. Tim Johnson, in the Republican annus mirabilis of 2002. So how exactly is he going to beat the far stronger Tom Daschle in what is shaping up to be a much better Democratic year?

This might change that, though.

Tim Giago, a Native American journalist who publishes something called the Lakota Journal has announced that he plans to enter the senate race as an Independent. South Dakota Democrats rely on and generally get overwhelming support from the state's Native American community. So this could certainly mix things up.

I still think Daschle takes this race pretty comfortably. But this bears watching.

What if Condi Rice, when she testifies, makes statements in flat contradiction of earlier statements by Richard Clarke? Nothing, it would seem, since the Commission appears to have agreed not to "request additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice." That would seem to rule out testimony (at least public testimony) from various aides who might be in a position to say which of the two is being truthful, should such a contradiction arise.

And then there's this, also from Al Gonzales' letter to the Commission ...

I would also like to take this occasion to offer an accommodation on another issue on which we have not yet reached an agreement - commission access to the president and vice president. I am authorized to advise you that the president and vice president have agreed to one joint private session with all 10 commissioners, with one commission staff member present to take notes of the session.

Is that an 'accommodation'?

Why is this is <$Ad$>a joint session? Why can't the president and the vice-president meet with the Commission members separately? Is there some, as yet unexplored, constitutional issue of the president and vice-president needing to appear jointly?

I hesitate to assay some jesting constitutional theory (the two jointly elected constitutional office-holders must appear jointly because they were elected jointly?) for fear that it might end up in Gonzales' next letter.

One can speculate about several reasons -- one in particular -- for making this stipulation. And, in addition to having no conceivable constitutional basis, none of them are flattering.

This from Reuters<$NoAd$> ...

The White House said on Tuesday that the 9-11 commission agreed to terms that would allow national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to give sworn public testimony on the Sept. 11 attacks, and President Bush and Vice President Cheney to meet in private with the full panel.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters the commission had agreed to state in writing that neither appearance would set a precedent under the constitutional separation of executive and legislative powers.

Isn't this more face-saving than precedent-blocking? To the extent that this precedent issue is even a real issue, what consequence does something in writing from the commission possibly have? Setting aside the logical problems with viewing this as a separation of powers issue (namely the fact that the commission is not an arm of congress) jurists decide what's a precedent, not some slip of paper a cornered White House extracts from people it appointed.

Tuesday's Washington Post runs an editorial recommending that the White House allow Condi Rice to testify publicly before the 9/11 Commission.

But the members of the editorial board can only just barely bring themselves to say it. Their desire to give the president (and the underlying policy at issue here) every possible benefit of the doubt wars visibly with their recognition that Rice's continued refusal is no longer tenable.

In that vein ...

Richard A. Clarke's book criticizing the administration, while stimulating an important public debate, brings this concern [keeping advice of presidential aides confidential] into sharp relief. If career national security officials write tell-all accounts while the presidents they serve not only remain in office but are facing reelection, decision-making is bound to suffer. Presidents are more likely to surround themselves with political loyalists, depriving themselves of diverse ideas and valuable experience. Staff members are more likely to censor themselves for fear of later exposure.

In other words, we're only in this terrible mess of having to cross this woeful threshold because this showboater Clarke wrote <$Ad$>this book. Friggin' backstabber!

Toward the issue of substance underlying all of this the editorial displays an odd indifference. And the authors are at pains to proclaim their belief that there are no questions Rice would have any difficulty answering or confronting -- a classic case of premature exculpation.

Says the Post: "[W]e see no reason to credit Democratic insinuations that Ms. Rice has something to hide, given that she spent four hours answering the commission's questions in closed session and has offered to answer more."

As for the danger of presidents surrounding themselves "with political loyalists, depriving themselves of diverse ideas and valuable experience", that horse has sort of already left the barn, hasn't it? Or has no one been paying attention?

It's been clear for some time that one of the key shortcomings of this administration is the presence of so many loyalists and ideologues who can usually be counted on to shout "Onward! Onward! Onward!" as the ship of state sails off the edge of the world.

More prosaically one might start with this Knight Ridder article from Sunday, the first sentence of which reads: "Accounts from insiders in the Bush White House describe a tightly controlled, top-down organization that pushes a predetermined agenda, shuns dissenting views and discourages open debate."

What's notable about this is that many of the premises of the Post editorial are belied by excellent reporting which has appeared in their own pages in recent days.

I confess that I don't read newspaper editorials (as opposed to signed columns and opeds) that closely or frequently. But if this and other recent examples I've seen are any indictation, the disconnect between the Post's editorials and the factual information being generated on their own news pages seems to be approaching Wall Street Journal-like proportions.

Declassifying the transcripts is not compatible with national security. But taking the transcripts, cutting the individual words into scraps and pasting them back together into incriminating sentences might be okay.

How far different is this ...

U.S. officials told NBC News that the full record of Clarke’s testimony two years ago would not be declassified. They said that at the request of the White House, however, the CIA was going through the transcript to see what could be declassified, with an eye toward pointing out contradictions.

That's the last graf from a late story from NBC.

You know something's wrong -- when an <$Ad$>administration is truly out of control -- when they discuss their dirty tricks on background.

Look at what this is: using the CIA and the classification process for an explicitly and exclusively partisan purpose, at the direct behest of the White House. Call me old-fashioned but back in the good-old-days this used to be done with a bit more indirection, subterfuge and cover, no?

It's one thing to declassify the whole thing. Perhaps there's some rationale for that -- though why Clarke's testimony and no one else's should be released seems questionable.

But the whole thing won't be released -- which would be the only way to really judge what he said -- only portions which can be selected to highlight apparent contradictions.

We're moving on to dangerous enough ground when the White House starts using the nation's intelligence agencies for explicitly domestic political purposes. But you know we're really in trouble when they don't even try to hide it.