Brouhahas like the Marc Rich pardon often become so lavish and baroque that they generate sub-brouhahas that innocent and well-meaning opinion journalists like Talking Points get sucked into.
I'm now in a tete-a-tete with Mickey Kaus over just such a sub-brouhaha about Bill Clinton's NYT Op-Ed piece in which the former President wrote "the case for the pardons was reviewed and advocated not only by my former White House counsel Jack Quinn but also by three distinguished Republican attorneys."
The lawyers in question jumped up to deny Clinton's statement and my friend Mickey, with an assist from the New York Times, accused Clinton of an "astonishing lie." Then I jumped into the fray and whacked Mickey and now Mickey has made his second jump into the fray and whacked me back, charging among other things, that what I said just doesn't hold up and that, in any case, I never got around to talking about two of the lawyers in question - something I'd promised to do.
I don't want to rehearse the whole episode again. So if you're interested you can see what I wrote here and what he wrote here.
So what's my defense? Honestly, I think Mickey is talking around what I said. If you read my original post I think it's rather clear that I left the door open to the possibility that the president's statement may have been in error. ("We'll talk later about the accuracy of the former president's statement. But can repeating an undisputed statement in the public record be an 'astonishing lie'?")
My point from the start was that Mickey and others had committed what the clinicians refer to as a CACOS (Classic Anti-Clinton Over-Statement).
Since the beginning of the Marc Rich pardon saga it's been widely believed and discussed that Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff Lewis Libby was an attorney for Rich in the pardon matter until he started working in the White House. With a simple Nexis search I found two clear references to this and another in a copy of the New Yorker which I found in a slightly mangled state under my nightstand.
In his post, Mickey picks apart the New Yorker reference and says it's not as clear as I said it was. But Mickey ignores the other reference I found which is far more clear and direct. That would be when Tom Brokaw said "Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, also once represented Rich and also tried to arrange a pardon for him during that time."
Now perhaps Brokaw got it wrong (though I think he got it exactly right.) But let's go back to what I said. The question here is what's an error and what's an "astonishing lie." Repeating what everyone else also thinks to be true may involve you in a misstatement; and it may be sloppy or unwise. But to call it an "astonishing lie" seems ridiculous to me.
Now Mickey also points out that Clinton said this was one of the reasons for giving the pardon. And he did that before Tom Brokaw said anything. So maybe this is another lie. He's saying that it was a reason for the pardon as opposed to an after-the-fact justification?
But let's look at the facts. Lewis Libby was an attorney of record for Marc Rich in his efforts to get a pardon and remained so until just recently when he entered government service. If Libby is a remotely competent lawyer I assume he reviewed the pardon application and if he's an ethical one I assume he advocated his client's position. Libby's defense seems to be that he did not personally put in a call to Bill Clinton to push for the pardon. But this sounds a bit like what the anti-Clinton folks call 'parsing', doesn't it?
(In short, with regards to Libby, I think there's far more truth in Clinton's statment than Libby's response. And I'm quite comfortable diagnosing Kaus's original post as a CACOS.)
Now, let's go to the stronger part of Mickey's argument: that I never got around to discussing the other two lawyers, Brad Reynolds and Len Garment - which I had promised to do way back when in what now apparently counts as the Pleistocene Age back on February 18th.
This isn't a bad point. I have let four days go by without following up. And from what I know Reynolds and Garment are in a different category from Libby. Though both were intimately involved in constructing the arguments contained in Rich's application for a pardon, neither, it seems, has recently been in Rich's employee. So the accurate statement would have been "these two prominent Republican attorneys devised the argument that convinced me to pardon this scofflaw Marc Rich." Did Jack Quinn tell Clinton they'd been involved more recently? I don't know. (And if I did, I couldn't say anyway.)
Again, some statements are wrong, some are misstatements, some are "astonishing lies." I feel pretty comfortable in how I originally categorized this one, though I'll let you be the judge.
But let's not move off this matter quite so quickly. Len Garment has at least been a pretty stand-up guy about this. He says he didn't have anything to do with the current lobbying for a pardon. But he thinks it was the right thing to do. But what about these other Republican lawyers running for the hills, saying they never heard of this guy Marc Rich? I think Lewis Libby obviously used Ari Fleischer to lie for him. And Brad Reynolds? Well, he's just getting an easy pass from his buds in the press. Big surprise.
P.S. Oh, sorry. I forget to recite the pro-Clinton anti-Marc Rich oath â¦. I, Josh Marshall, disagree with the Marc Rich pardon but â¦
P.P.S. So what's deal with Kaus? A good guy? A friend? Totally.
P.P.P.S. Is this just a case when you're being diplomatic on the web because you don't want to make an enemy? No, No way. He rocks and he's been very good to me. A veritable Yoda to my Skywalker.