Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

A few more points on this matter of the Senate Judiciary committee staff memos.

The unredacted version of the report was accidentally released to the media. The Dems first suspected that it may have been done to taint some later trial. Then the Republicans got in a huff thinking it may have been done to somehow smear ancillary figures mentioned in the report.

Now Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle has been tasked with what The Hill rightly calls "the oddly postmodern task of investigating a Senate leak of a report on the investigation of a Senate leak."

In any case, this caught my attention. Democrats want to make a direct criminal referral to the Justice Department (though it seems it would actually be more like a 'sense of the committee' vote). The Republicans want to refer the matter to the Secret Service who will then decide whether to refer it to Justice.

I'm not an expert on the Secret Service's jurisdiction. But on its face this doesn't make a great deal of sense to me, again, just on jurisdictional grounds.

Whatever the merits of the matter, both sides are playing to interest. The Dems are trying to advance the case to a criminal investigation; the Republicans are trying to put barriers in the way of a criminal investigation.

Now, here's the point of my interest. The vote is tomorrow. One Republican has defected to the Democratic side -- former House impeachment manager and now Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). On the other hand, Arlen Specter, who is up for election this year and facing a primary challenge from the right, says he's not sure how he's going to vote.

What to call it? The Iraq war lie mutual embrace?

Let me explain.

I've been asked by many people recently how John Kerry will manage to explain his vote for the Iraq war resolution and subsequent criticism of the war itself. For myself I don't find the explanation or rather the position one of great difficulty since it so closely mirrors my own position.

I was a contingent supporter of this war. I believed we had to deal permanently with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, and that we had to be willing to threaten war and if need be go to war to do it.

That's why after the White House had made a sufficient hash of the international diplomatic situation and after the inspections made it clear that Saddam really didn't have any serious nuclear weapons program, that I withdrew my support for any invasion.

So, again, I don't find this rationale problematic because it is a) my rationale and b) I think a good rationale.

But Kerry's critics -- on both the right and the left -- say, well, fine but it was clear in late 2002 that President Bush was going to war no matter what. And those critics have a very good point. I don't think it quite obviates the first argument. And I wrestle with this myself. But it's a very good point.

The problem is that this is an argument the president and really his partisans really just can't make. Because what it amounts to is saying is that Kerry's position doesn't hold up because the president is a liar.

Right? Isn't that the idea?

The president's argument at the time was that he needed to be empowered by the congress to go to the UN with a credible threat of force and a united congress behind him. That was the best way to assure that Iraq would be disarmed and in fact the best way to avoid war.

The resolution was intended to give the president full authority to go to war if the our vital security needs -- namely, resolving the weapons issue -- could not be solved by means short of war.

Kerry's argument is only the president's argument read back to him.

People don't think it adds up because they think the president was lying -- that he had already decided to go to war no matter what -- and that Kerry must have known.

The president gave a speech today in Cleveland, Ohio<$NoAd$>. And I'm told he told the audience that while the decision to go to war against Iraq was a sign of his leadership, the ill-effects which the lead-up to the war had on the economy were the fault of excessively bellicose media coverage.

As we've been saying, campaign slogan: It's not my fault.

Late Update: Here's the passage below, with the key line toward the end in italics ...

This economy of ours had been through recession, had been through emergency, had been through corporate scandals, and then I made the necessary decision to deal with Saddam Hussein. September the 11th taught a lesson I will never forget, and our country must never forget. America must confront threats before they fully materialize. That's the lesson of that fateful day. (Applause.)

In Iraq, this administration looked at the intelligence and we saw a threat to the American people. The Congress looked at the same intelligence, and they saw a threat. The United Nations Security Council looked at the intelligence and it saw a threat. And then the United Nations Security Council, in 2002, gave Saddam Hussein a final chance to comply with U.N. resolutions and disarm. We all saw a threat and we put out, through resolutions, the demand that he disclose and disarm. And once again, he chose defiance. He made the choice. I had a choice, as well: either to trust the word of a madman, or to defend the American people. Faced with that choice, I will defend America every time. (Applause.)

And therefore, in 2002 and early 2003, the television screens across America had banners saying, "March to war" -- and, as business leaders, you understand that's not very conducive to investing capital. Marching to war is not a positive thought. But we overcame that challenge. Thanks to hardworking people and leaders, entrepreneurs, we overcame that challenge. And now we're marching to peace.

More to come.

Yet another John Kerry flipflop<$NoAd$> ...

No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote. We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council. And so, you bet. It's time for people to show their cards, to let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam.

George W. Bush
White House Press Conference
March 6th, 2003

After insisting for a week that it would force a vote in the Council, the White House has over the last few days waffled about its intentions Today, administration officials did not rule out the possibility that the three leaders would decide on Sunday to abandon the resolution altogether.

The New York Times
March 15th, 2003

The United States, Britain and Spain at the United Nations _ facing certain defeat in the Security Council _ announced they would withdraw their resolution setting a deadline for full Iraqi disarmament and authorizing war.

March 18th, 2003

So many John Kerry flipflops.

This has me wondering.

If you've been reading the news the last few days you may have noticed this odd and somewhat mysterious story of a US-registered cargo plane loaded with 64 "mercernaries" and various military equipment which was impounded Sunday night at Harare International Airport in Zimbabwe "after its owners had made a false declaration of its cargo and crew."

When asked about it on Monday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said "We have no indication this aircraft is connected to the U.S. government."

That seemed like a rather less than unequivocal response. And behind the scenes US government officials said they didn't believe the US government had any connection with this operation. But they wanted to make sure before saying anything definitive.

Now, if you look at the press accounts, what's caught people's attention is the US registry of the plane. Specifically, it's registered to a company called Dodson Aviation, which is based in Kansas.

Now, Dodson says they sold the plane to a "reputable" firm in South Africa about a week ago. "I think they were going to use it for charter flights," company director Robert Dodson told the Associated Press.

Now here's a little more detail.

Dodson Aviation of Kansas has a South African subsidiary, Dodson International Parts SA Ltd (According to their website, "Dodson International Parts SA (Pty) Ltd is the African division of United States based companies Dodson International Parts Inc. and Dodson Aviation. The company was established in 1998 and is based at Wonderboom Airport, Pretoria.") And it was from this subsidiary's hangar at an airport just north of Pretoria that the aforementioned mercenaries boarded the plane.

Now, here's where this gets a little murky.

I wanted to find out more about Dodson International Parts SA Ltd. What I found something out about was a company that sounded very similar: a South African company called Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts.

They're also in the airplane business.

Not exactly the same name. But remember, the South African company is the subsidiary of two American companies, Dodson Aviation and Dodson International. If these aren't the same company, or closely related companies, I'd figure they often get confused for one another.

In any case, here's what I found about Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts.

They come up in the December 2000 Report of the Panel of Experts to the United Nations on Sierra Leone, in the section of the report dealing with the arms trade.

Here's the section that caught my eye (italics added) ...

187. Fred Rindel a retired officer of the South African Defence Force and former Defence Attaché to the United States, has played a key role in the training of a Liberian anti-terrorist unit, consisting of Liberian soldiers and groups of foreigners, including citizens of Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Niger and The Gambia.

188. The panel interviewed Mr Rindel extensively. Rindel was contracted as a security consultant by President Charles Taylor in September 1998, and training started in November 1998. The contract included consultancy services and strategic advice to convert Charles Taylor's former rebel militia into a professional unit. The Anti-Terrorist Unit is used in Liberia to protect government buildings, the Executive Mansion and the international airport, and to provide VIP Security and the protection of foreign embassies. The numbers trained were approximately 1200. Because of negative media attention, Rindel cancelled his contract in Liberia in August 2000.

189. In 1998, ECOMOG identified a plane, registration number N71RD, owned by a South African company, Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts, as having carried weapons to Robertsfield in September of that year. The plane is a Gulfstream 14-seater business jet that cannot be used for arms transport, but there are other relevant connections. Fred Rindel was the owner of Dodson. The company was closed on 31 December 1998, but during the period under investigation, the plane was leased to, and operated by, Greater Holdings (Liberia) Ltd., a company with gold and diamond concessions in Liberia. The plane was used for the transport of the Greater Holdings' staff to and from Liberia.

Mr. Rindel's name came up earlier in 2000 in testimony at the UN Security Council by then-UN Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke in a discussion of Sierra Leone (italics added) ...

In regard to arms trafficking to Sierra Leone, Mr. Chairman, we remain concerned and I would like to add a few more items to the record. The principal Africa countries involved in arms trafficking to the RUF - though they deny it - include Burkina Faso, Liberia and Libya.

In 1999, planes landed in Ouagadougou, allegedly coming from the Ukraine, with several tons of small arms and ammunition. This incident, which the Ukrainians say has stopped, is one that we believe should be brought to the attention of your committee.

In regard to trafficking, arms brokers have played a vital role in keeping the RUF supplied with weapons and other military materiel. A well-known arms and diamond dealer in Sierra Leone, Zief Morganstein, in July 1999 arranged for a Continental Aviation-based charter out of Dakar to fly a shipment of small arms from Bulgaria to Sierra Leone. Last year the RUF received 68 tons of weapons from Bulgaria, which Morganstein may have helped arrange. There have been other connections between former government officials from South Africa during its Apartheid regime who now operate as private individuals, including Fred Rindel, the South African Defense Attache in Washington, who now works as a security consultant in Liberia and trains Liberian troops and RUF insurgents. There are other charges about other businessmen who are reportedly helping the Sierra Leone government coming from various countries around the world.

Now, I've scanned the news coverage of this and I haven't seen any mention of this seeming connection. So perhaps these are two utterly unrelated companies?

As of Tuesday the situation in Zimbabwe seems to be calming down, though now there are apparently fears in Equatorial Guinea that these mercenaries were somehow intended to assist a coup in that country. (No, I can't keep up either.) "Some 15 mercenaries have been arrested here," the country's Information Minister Agustin Nse Nfumu told Reuters. "It was connected with that plane in Zimbabwe. They were the advance party of that group."

Equatorial Guinea is next door to Gabon. And Joe Wilson used to be the US Ambassador there back in the day. So maybe he can make some sense of this. I can't. But I'd be very interested to talk to the investigators who put together that UN report and see if there's any connection between Dodson International Parts SA Ltd and Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts.

Another John Kerry flipflop ...<$NoAd$>

Senators Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Thursday proposed the creation of a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security with the authority and resources to carry out its mission effectively, while still being accountable to the public.

Sen. Committee on Governmental Affairs
Press Release
October 11th, 2001

Q But if we're talking about consolidating all of these agencies, why not create a department of homeland security, as may lawmakers have suggested? And rather than take Customs, Border, whatever, and put it all under DOJ, why not bring it all under the auspices, under one umbrella of homeland security?

MR. FLEISCHER: The reason for that, John, is if you take a look at how the federal government is set up across the myriad of agencies or more than a dozen agencies, many of which have components that deal with homeland security in one form or another, I'm not aware of a single proposal on Capitol Hill that would take every single one of those agencies out from their current missions and put them under homeland security. So even if you took half of them out and put them under a Cabinet-level office of homeland security, the White House would still need, in the president's estimation, an adviser on how to coordinate all the myriad of activities the federal government's involved in. So, creating a cabinet office doesn't solve the problem. You still will have agencies within the federal government that have to be coordinated. So the answer is that creating a Cabinet post doesn't solve anything. The White House needs a coordinator to work with the agencies wherever they are.

Q So why, then, is the Lieberman bill a bad idea, in your estimation?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Lieberman bill. I don't -- (inaudible) -- specifics. Do you want to define the Lieberman bill?

Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing
March 19th, 2002

Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa, and Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., Thursday called for a new structure within the executive branch to help fight the war against terrorism within United States borders. The proposal, building upon a bill introduced by Lieberman and Specter last year, would create a National Department for Homeland Defense to focus federal attention and resources on securing our borders and protecting the critical infrastructure.

Sen. Committee on Governmental Affairs
Press Release
April 11th, 2002

The Cabinet post idea has political appeal. For instance, a major sponsor is freshman Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., who sees it as enhancing his credentials on terrorism-related issues in a tough re-election fight with the expected GOP primary winner, Rep. Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the House subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security. Yet creating the 16th Cabinet department would represent an expansion of big government, a concept that the president makes a point of opposing.

Marianne Means
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
May 14, 2002

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said today he would advise President Bush to veto any legislation creating a congressionally authorized Office of Homeland Security if Congress approves a bill this year. "I'd probably recommend he veto it," Ridge told a National Journal Group editorial board meeting.

May 30, 2002

So tonight, I ask the Congress to join me in creating a single, permanent department with an overriding and urgent mission: securing the homeland of America and protecting the American people.

George W. Bush
Address to the Nation
June 6th, 2002

Hundreds of lawmakers attending the White House barbecue Wednesday night had no idea what was unfolding. The only two believed to have been briefed, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), were told during the picnic. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), author of legislation much like the White House's proposal, got a call from Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge Wednesday night asking about details of his bill -- but Ridge didn't give a hint of what was coming in the morning.

Washington Post
June 7th, 2002

I asked the Congress to work with me to come up with a new Department of Homeland Security to make sure that not only can this administration function better but future administrations will be able to deal with the true threats we face as we get into the 21st century, a Homeland Security Department which takes over the 100 different agencies and brings them under one umbrella so that there's a single priority and a new culture, all aimed at dealing with the threats ... The House responded, but the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people. I will not accept a Department of Homeland Security that does not allow this President and future Presidents to better keep the American people secure.

George W. Bush
Trenton, New Jersey
September 23rd, 2002

Like there's not more where that came from?

"Full cooperation" is a many-colored <$NoAd$>thing.

From this morning's gaggle...

Q: Does the President want to really get to the bottom of the cause of 9/11? If he does, why would he limit his interview with the commission to one hour and for other officials, and, stonewall on documents?

McCLELLAN: I'm glad you brought this up. This administration has provided unprecedented cooperation to a legislative body in the 9/11 Commission. We have worked closely with the commission in a spirit of cooperation. And you only have to go back -- and I would appreciate it if you would report some of the facts of the type of access we have provided to the commission. We have provided the commission access to every bit of information that they have requested, including our most sensitive national security documents. And the commission chairman has stated such --

Q: Well, the commission certainly is not satisfied.

McCLELLAN: -- and as far as the President, the President looks forward to meeting with the chairman and vice chairman and answering all the questions that they want to raise.

Q: Why don't you just open the books and get to the truth? The American people deserve it.

McCLELLAN: Did you not hear what I just said, Helen? Have you not looked at the facts? I think you need to quit reading some of the coverage and look at the facts.

Q: You just said, “all the questions they want to raise.” That means he’s no longer going to limit it to an hour?

McCLELLAN: Well, that’s what it’s scheduled for now. But, look, he’s going to answer all the questions they want to raise. Keep in mind that the commission --

Q: If they’re still asking at one hour, he’ll still answer them?

McCLELLAN: Keep in mind that the commission has already had access to all the information they requested, as I just pointed out, including our most sensitive national security documents. That’s what I’m talking about when I’m talking about unprecedented cooperation. And the commission has also -- yes, let me finish --

Q: The issue is whether he’s limiting it to an hour --

McCLELLAN: Let me finish, Mark.

Q: -- and I’m asking a very simple question. If they’re still asking questions at one hour --

McCLELLAN: I think it’s important to point out the fact. Mark, let me finish. Mark, can I answer? Let me finish. It’s important that we point out these facts when we talk about this issue, because the facts have not been pointed out. The facts have not been pointed out. But the President -- I mean, the commission will be meeting with the President, after having talked for hours on hour with White House and senior administration officials. We’ve provided more than 2 million pages of documents; we’ve provided more than 60 compact disks of radar, flight and other information; more than 800 audio cassette tapes of interviews and other materials; more than 100 briefings, including at the head-of-agency level; more than 560 interviews. Dr. Rice met with the commission recently, and even though only five members of the commission showed up, she sat down and visited with them for some four hours.

Q: I appreciate that. You reported all that when you first told it to us. I’m asking --

McCLELLAN: No, I don’t think it was widely reported.

Q: Forgive me, I take responsibility for what I report, and I reported it.

McCLELLAN: I understand you -- I understand. But I take responsibility of talking to everybody here.

Q: Okay. All the questions that they have, he’s going to answer. If they’re still asking at one hour, is he still going to answer?

McCLELLAN: I just said that the President will answer all the questions that they want to raise. I think that’s important to point out. I mean, it’s important to point out the unprecedented cooperation we have provided to this legislative body. We have worked very closely with the commission.

Q: -- when?

McCLELLAN: Still working on the exact time for that, working with the commission.

Q: Should we expect it soon?

McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, soon. They have to -- they’re going to complete their report by the end of July now, so --

Q: Let me just ask this again. You’re going to -- you’re committing the President to answer every question raised by the panel in that interview with him?

McCLELLAN: The President looks forward to answering all the questions that they want to bring up.

Q: Which might mean that it would last longer than an hour.

McCLELLAN: Look, he looks forward to the meeting. Let’s let the meeting take place. Obviously, keep in mind everything that the commission has already had access to, everybody the commission has always talked to, and now they’re coming to the President to ask some questions of the President -- or the chairman and vice chairman will.

Q: I just want to clarify that you said that the --

McCLELLAN: No, no, I understand.

Q: -- President will respond to all of the questions the panel wants to raise.

McCLELLAN: Absolutely, of course. Of course.

Q: Personally?

McCLELLAN: Of course. And keep in mind that what we’re talking about here is a seven-eight month period. Not eight years. Now, these threats didn’t happen overnight. These threats have been building for some time. But this President has taken action to do everything we can to make sure something like September 11th never happens again. He is strongly committed to making sure that this administration works closely -- continues to work closely and cooperatively with the commission to make sure that if there’s anything else that they can bring to our attention to help us prevent attacks like that from happening every again, then we have that information.

Q: Scott, purely from a PR point of view, how do you respond to a criticism launched by Senator Kerry yesterday who said, “The President finds time to go to a rodeo, but he doesn’t have more than an hour for the 9/11 Commission?” -- wouldn’t you acknowledge that, however well you think the administration, the President, and however unprecedented you think the cooperation is, isn’t he vulnerable to some criticism --

McCLELLAN: Suggest -- look at the facts. I mean, I’ll just point out the facts. Not suggesting; I’m pointing out the facts.

Q: We would never suggest you do anything else, Scott. But my point is, don’t you think that there might be some kind of PR problem for the President when his chief challenger can say, you’ve got time to got to a rodeo, and you don’t have time for the 9/11 Commission?

McCLELLAN: That’s why it’s important for everybody to report all the facts and the type of cooperation we have provided to the commission, and the type of access we have provided to the commission. It is unprecedented. But in terms of those remarks, it appears that he does not want to let the facts get in the way of his campaign. The facts are very clear. This administration has provided unprecedented cooperation to the 9/11 Commission, and provided access to every single bit of information that they have requested.

Q: Not unprecedented, I’m sorry. From Watergate on --

McCLELLAN: Go look at the chairman’s recent comments, Helen. I mean, I’ll be glad to go back through those.

Q: The only reason I won’t accept the word “unprecedented” is because, as I pointed out to you once before, President Ford actually testified in open session before the House Judiciary Committee --

McCLELLAN: Provided access to our nation’s most sensitive national security documents?

Q: Well, it depends on what aspect of --

McCLELLAN: Provide more than 2 million pages of documents? Provided access to hundreds of administration officials?

Q: So, but answer my question. When the President of the United States goes up to Capitol Hill, sits down in public session before an entire, full committee, and says, give me your best shot, how does the President sitting down for one hour --

McCLELLAN: Look at the facts of what we’ve done. Well, no, but keep in mind, you’re looking --

Q: We’re talking about the President’s time.

McCLELLAN: No, no, no, you’re missing the point, that the commission has already had access to everything that they’ve requested, including our most sensitive documents. They’ve already sat down and visited with White House officials and senor administration officials. And now they’ll have an opportunity to come to the President, and ask any question that they want to. The President is glad to answer their questions.

Q: So your view is that all the cooperation you’ve given -- the White House has given up to now makes it so that really an hour of the President’s time should be sufficient for them to get what they need out of him?

McCLELLAN: The President is going to make sure, as we have, that they have all the information that they need to do their job.

Q: Scott, just to make sure we’re on the same page --

Q: Scott, I think what’s puzzling everybody is why don’t you just say, instead of saying he’s staying for an hour, why not just say he’s going to sit there until the questions are answered?

McCLELLAN: I said he's going to answer all their questions.

Q: In one hour.

Q: Where is this one hour --

McCLELLAN: I'm not negotiating here from this podium with the commission.

Q: Nobody has asked -- Scott --

Q: -- one hour, is that what you’re saying?

Q: We're asking you to explain why there is this limit of an hour. Why not simply say -- forget the hour; the President is going to stay as long as he’s needed?

McCLELLAN: I think there are a lot of things that I pointed out. Go back to what the commission has already done, and then they will be sitting down with the President to visit with the President. And obviously, we're talking about -- we're talking about a seven-to-eight-month period here that they're going over. They're already going to have much of the information they need. Now they'll be coming to the President to ask some questions of him.

Q: Scott, since it now seems like the time --

McCLELLAN: Putting you next, Mike.

Q: Scott, since now seems like the time is negotiable, the President will now answer for as long --

McCLELLAN: I didn't say that. (Laughter.) Obviously, you work with the commission and you come to an agreement on the format and the setting for it. But I'm just stating a fact -- the President will answer all the questions they want to raise.

Q: I’m sorry, we all think you said it, so you said it. Okay? Is that a deal?

McCLELLAN: Putting words in my mouth? Just report what I said, is what I would appreciate.

Q: What you said doesn't make any sense, Scott. I mean, you're saying he'll answer all the questions --

McCLELLAN: Hold on. Norah has the floor.

Q: All right. Go ahead, Norah.

McCLELLAN: It's not free-for-all Tuesday.

Q: Now that the time limit has changed with the President, is also under negotiation the number of members who will be able to meet with the President? Because you've said -- you just said the commission has already had access to everything they have requested. But, in fact, the full commission is requesting to meet with the President, all the members, not just the chairman and the vice chairman.

McCLELLAN: Look, he will sit down -- he looks forward to sitting down with the chairman and the vice chairman. I pointed out to you that Dr. Rice made herself available to meet with all the commission; only five members showed up. There was another National Security Council official where only, I think, four showed up. There has not been one single commission member who has participated in every interview. I mean, they depend on others to provide them information. And so you have to look back at past practice and keep that in context, as well.

I encourage you all to go out and report all these facts and the American people have a clear understanding of the type of cooperation that this administration has provided to the commission, because it is unprecedented, it is very much in a spirit of cooperation, it is very much in a spirit of making sure that the commission has all the information they need to do their job and do so in a timely manner.

Obviously, when you're talking about legislative, executive branch, there are principles involved on certain matters. But we have bent over backwards to make sure they have all the information they need to do their job.

Q: Just to cross a “t” on Norah’s question, you referred to answering all the questions the panel has, answering all the questions the commission has. I thought that that meant more than the chairman and the vice chairman --

McCLELLAN: The meeting will be with the chairman and vice chairman. That's what ---

Q: Will it be for one hour or will it last --- (laughter).

McCLELLAN: We've been through this. I mean, I'm not looking at -- keep in mind -- I think it's important to report the facts of all the access that they've already had to information, which has been full access; all the access they've had to White House officials and administration officials; all the material that has been provided to them. And now they're coming to the President of the United States. Obviously, the President's most solemn obligation is the protection of the American people, and this President is acting to do everything we can to make sure something like September 11th doesn't ever happen again, by taking the fight to the enemy. And we're talking about -- we're also talking about a seven-eight month period, not an eight-year period. But these threats did not happen overnight, but this President is confronting them to make --

Q: Why does he complain all the time, then --

McCLELLAN: -- because he never forgets September 11th.

Q: Will the President apply a different standard and a different response to the intelligence commission that he appointed when he comes to talk with them?

McCLELLAN: What do you mean?

Q: Well, are these the same rules and arrangements by which he would testify ---

McCLELLAN: You're talking about an executive appointed independent commission -- Q: Right. Are these the exact same ---

McCLELLAN: --- and that's --- obviously, that’s just getting underway. And we're going to work -- the President has directed the administration to cooperate fully with that independent commission. And that's what we will. But you're jumping ahead of yourself at this point.

Q: That’s right, you're setting a precedent.

McCLELLAN: You're jumping ahead of yourself at this point. That commission is just getting underway.

Q: I’m jumping ahead of you, because you're setting a precedent with the President's --

McCLELLAN: The President has directed the administration to cooperate fully with the independent commission.

All right, one last one.

Q: Okay, so he will only testify for one hour -- that's a "yes"?

McCLELLAN: Well, that's what has previously been discussed with the commission. But I'm saying the President, of course, is going to answer all the questions they want to raise. I think that you all should make that distinction.

Q: It's scheduled for an hour; it might go longer.

Q: It might go longer?

McCLELLAN: Again, from this podium I'm telling you that the President, of course, will answer all the questions that they want to raise.

Spokeman's a tough job when you don't have a lot of good stuff to spoke.