Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

What the right wanteth, the right geteth. Or maybe not.

I should probably come up with a more elegant way to put it. But things just seem to have gotten pretty weird at the Senate Judiciary Committee this evening.

All the Democrats and two, three or perhaps even more of the Republicans on the committee favored asking the Justice Department to appoint a prosecutor or perhaps even a special counsel to investigate the case of the pilfered Democratic staff memos.

Several different iterations of a possible letter were moving along and being edited and so forth, all trying to come up with a document that all or most members of the committee could sign. But then things just seemed to break down, though I'm not completely clear why.

Senator Hatch, the committee chairman, with five Republicans present, called the committee to order while the Democrats were off caucusing. He then announced that no agreement would be possible and gaveled the session to a close. And that was it.

It all seems to have happened before the Dems even realized what was going on.

Hatch then told Bill Pickle, the sergeant-at-arms, to do what he thought was best -- as far as whether to refer the matter to DOJ.

This, of course, puts Pickle in an impossible position since he's not supposed to be a partisan and this issue was so contentious and charged that even the senators themselves could not agree amongst themselves what to do.

In any case, after all this brouhaha went down, six senators -- three Dems and three Republicans -- got together and agreed on a letter that was similar to the letter earlier agreed upon by all the Dems and at least two of the Republicans. (Follow that? Good.)

We've just posted the letter that was sent.

This Reuters article, which describes what happened, says that "six senators signed a similar though more softly worded request."

But reading it, it's actually difficult for me to see just how much more strongly it could have been written. As you can see, the letter asks Justice to investigate, suggests a special counsel should be appointed, and even suggests that Patrick Fitzgerald -- the guy now heading up the Plame investigation -- would be a good candidate for the job.

I don't see quite how much more you could ask for.

In any case, one more point to note: the three Republicans who signed are Lindsay Graham, Saxby Chambliss and Mike DeWine.

DeWine's definitely a moderate. But you can't really say the same for the other two -- at least not in conventional ideological terms. In fact, it's pretty difficult to find any rationale for their signing this letter other than their belief that it was the right thing to do -- which says a lot for both of them.

I think the Dems have right on their side too certainly. But in their case right coincides with interest. And that always makes it easier.

The 'moderate' former prosecutor Arlen Specter seems to have decided to take a breather on this one.

Fresh from the department of says-it-all. "The government's top expert on Medicare costs was warned that he would be fired if he told key lawmakers about a series of Bush administration cost estimates that could have torpedoed congressional passage of the White House-backed Medicare prescription-drug plan."

That's the lede from this article out tonight from Knight-Ridder.

Sound like a familiar MO?

Think about it.

Another stumble? Do not miss this new post up on Ryan Lizza's campaign blog over at The New Republic website. Ryan previews the new ad the president is rolling out this evening, one that warns about John Kerry's plan to "Weaken [the] Fight Against Terrorists" and features a helpfully ominous image of a swarthy-looking (pretty obviously Arab- or Arab-American-looking) man to drive home the point.

How soon we forget<$NoAd$> ...

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), said Kerry should apologize for a comment "outside the bounds of where people who want to hold the highest office in this country should be making."

Washington Post
March 11th, 2004

Bush, standing on a stage outside of Naperville North High School, pointed reporter Adam Clymer out to his running mate, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. Then Bush described Clymer using a common obscenity.

"There's Adam Clymer, major-league assh--e from the New York Times," Bush said.

"Oh, yeah, he is, big-time," Cheney responded.

Houston Chronicle
September 5th, 2000

A major-league Santorum ...

As of 2:55 PM CNN is running this breaking <$Ad$>headline: "Spanish interior minister says new line of Madrid blast investigation opened after police find van with detonators and Arabic-language tapes. Details soon."

Frankly, this makes a lot of sense. I don't know much more about the Basque separatist movement than one can glean over the years from the American press. But I have no recollection of the ETA mounting an operation which came even remotely close to accounting for this amount of loss of life and casualties.

My recollection is of bombings and other forms of terrorism on the scale of the old IRA. Horrific, certainly, but significantly different from September 11th sort of stuff.

And the multiple, simultaneous detonations is a hallmark of al Qaida, or Islamist groups operating under that broad umbrella.

All other campaign funny-business aside <$NoAd$> (on both sides of the aisle), there's been a pretty high bar in place on using congressional websites for explict political campaign uses and electioneering.

Along those lines, almost all the space on the House Committee on Resources website today is devoted to fronting these two grafs ....

Headline: "That black stuff is hurting us." Sen. John Kerry on oil (Greenwire)

Washington, DC - Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry is quoted in today’s edition of Greenwire as saying, “that black stuff is hurting us,” with regard to oil. Members of the House Committee on Resources found the Senator’s comment absurd.

“John Kerry is dead wrong,” Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA) said. “Oil doesn’t hurt Americans; John Kerry’s anti-energy policies hurt Americans. In fact, this is exactly the kind of rhetoric and bad policy that has led to the outsourcing of good American energy jobs. Last year alone, the United States outsourced more than $100 billion worth of American jobs, economic growth, and national security to foreign countries for our energy needs. Americans are left with a supply and demand imbalance that creates higher prices at the pump and longer waits on the unemployment line."

Read More

This is a taxpayer-funded website -- one for a House committee. This seems hands-down inappropriate, if not a breach of House rules.

The "read more" link is to this page, which contains straight-up GOP anti-Kerry bullet points. Perfectly legit as campaign material; but stuff that obviously has no place on this site.

For those of you interested in this weird mystery of the 'mercernary' plane in Zimbabwe, here's a good article from a South African newspaper, The Star, on what we know, what we still don't know, and how much of this remains unsubstantiated speculation.

One thing that does now seem clear is that the South African government is supporting the idea that this plane's mission was tied to an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea.

This article suggests that the South African government gave a crucial tip-off to the EG government which helped foil the effort.

Massequality, the group heading up the pro-gay marriage fight in Massachusetts, set themselves a goal of raising $100,000 by today for a campaign opposing a state constitutional amendment. They're close; but as of this morning they're still a bit short. And the issue of a state constitutional amendment comes up again today in the legislature.

See this earlier post for my thoughts on the issue, what the group's about, and how the issue is moving in Massachusetts.

An outlier or a trend? The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has Bush 47% to Kerry at 45%. And, that aside, can we survive eight months of this?

Editorial Note: This last quip seems to have been widely misconstrued. So I must not have been clear. My point isn't a reflection on the state of the polls, good or bad, but the intensity of the campaigning, eight months out.

One other point: The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll is a survey of "adults" rather than "registered voters" or "likely voters". So this may account for some of the variance from other recent samplings. We'll have to wait to see from the next round of numbers.

Okay, just what is going on in Zimbabwe?

Last night we discussed the mystery of this planeload of mercenaries taken prisoner in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Now the Zimbabwean government is getting on board with the government of Equatorial Guinea in claiming that the mercernaries were actually bound for Equatorial Guinea to assist in a coup there.

(Keep in mind the backdrop that vast oil reserves have recently been found in Equatorial Guinea.)

What's more, the Foreign Minister of Zimbabwe Stan Mudenge held a press conference today in which he claimed that one of the imprisoned conspirators had implicated the US, the UK and Spain in the plot.

As Zimbabwe's Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi later explained: Simon Mann, one of the detainees, has "been cooperating and has revealed that they were aided by the British secret service (MI6), the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Spanish secret service ... The western intelligence services persuaded the Equatorial Guinea service chiefs, that is the head of the police force and the commander of the army, not to put up any resistance, but to cooperate with the coup plotters."

Now, here's the problem. There's really, really, really good reason to doubt what we're hearing.

Zimbabwe is ruled by the corrupt and autocratic Robert Mugabe, who is almost a caricature of the post-colonial African kleptocrat. Not only is there little reason to take anything his government says at face value, he also has a history of playing on the colonial past and the possible neo-colonial present to whip up support for the rotten state of affairs he has created for his country.

And there's more. You can see the whole explanation that the Zimbabwean officials gave for this coup in this article.

But here's another part that caught me eye.

In Mohadi's words ...

"The group landed in Harare expecting to pick up arms and ammunition from Zimbabwe Defence Industries," a government-owned arms manufacturer, Mohadi said, adding that the plane had been expected to leave Harare Sunday night and land in Malabo Monday morning.

"On landing the group was to be joined by co-conspirators already in Malabo [the capital of Equatorial Guinea] to stage a coup to remove President Obiang from power.

"In the event of a successful execution of a coup d'etat, it was planned that the plane would fly to the Democratic Republic of Congo where the arms and ammunition brought from Zimbabwe were to be handed over to the Katangese rebels."

Now, I'm not clear enough on the geopolitical situation of either of these countries to be sure. But this guy seems to be describing a sort of airborne coup Love Boat.

Sort of like, hey, we're gonna pick up the arms in Zimbabwe and then fly on to Equatorial Guinea where we're gonna hook up with these coup dudes to overthrow the government there. And then once we've got that under control we're going to crank up the plane again and head off to deliver these arms to the rebels in Congo (DRC).

What am I missing here? I'd figure even the nastiest mercenaries and petro-thugs settle for one toppled government a plane trip, right?

Who knows? But it just sounds a little off to me.

On the other hand there are enough suspicious signs that I don't think we dismiss this entirely.

One of the principals of the Kansas company, Dodson Aviation, that supplied the plane told a local Kansas paper yesterday: "It's unbelievable. We basically sold the airplane, and the rest of it is just what we're finding out in the news."

But, as we noted late last night, it seems that a man tied to gun-running and African rent-a-mercenaries may have been an owner of Dodson's South African subsidiary. So I'm not sure that innocent, "golly gee, we just thought we were sellin' a plane" line really cuts it.

A Pentagon spokesman got a grilling on this yesterday from reporters too. And the statement he stood on was "It isn't one of our planes and not any of our people."

I think all that says is that the plane wasn't a US military plane and that the people weren't from the US military -- which of course tells us nothing.

I think what we need here is for a few reporters who have good sources and a good handle on African gun-running and natural resource politics to dig into this story and find out what's going on.

Late Update: There's a piece up on the New York Times website, datelined tomorrow, which discusses this story. Most of the article doesn't provide more than I've seen in the foreign press and what I've found on the wires.

With this exception: The South African government seems now to be lending some credence to the coup story ...

The South African foreign affairs minister, Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma, said her department was in no hurry to help either the 20 South Africans detained in Zimbabwe or the seven arrested in Equatorial Guinea.

She told South African reporters that "there was a link between the plane and Equatorial Guinea" and that one man arrested in Equatorial Guinea had "spilled the beans."

"They are not exactly innocent travelers finding themselves in a difficult situation," she said, adding, "We don't like the idea that South Africa has become a cesspool of mercenaries."

That lends at least some greater measure of credence to these claims. But we still need to know more.