Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Today Scott McClellan went on the offensive against Ben Barnes for describing the "shame" he feels over helping President Bush duck service in Vietnam.

"It is not surprising coming from a longtime partisan Democrat," he said. "The allegation was discredited by the commanding officer. This was fully covered and addressed five years ago. It is nothing new."

It turns out that Barnes is such a down-the-line partisan that he supported Texas's Republican State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn for reelection in 2002.

Strayhorn is Scott's mom.

A bit more on the Ben Barnes thing.

After the tape of Ben Barnes saying he was ashamed of helping President Bush duck Vietnam came out a couple days ago, Bush spokeswoman Claire Buchan said "It is no surprise that a partisan Democrat is making these statements."

It's a funny attitude considering how appreciative the Bush clan has always been for his being discreet about the issue. But Buchan's right, as far as it goes, Barnes is a "partisan Democrat." He is in the sense that he's a Democrat; he's an ex-pol who remains heavily involved in politics; and he's actually a major fundraiser for John Kerry.

He just happens to be a major fundraiser for Kerry who is also the guy who helped Bush bend the rules to get out of Vietnam, which is inconvenient -- to some degree for both sides.

You'll notice that President Bush just had this exchange with NBC's Matt Lauer ...

Lauer: Did John Kerry serve heroically in Vietnam, in your opinion?

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I think his service is heroic, yes. I think he's--and should be proud of it. And I think that we ought to move beyond the past. I mean, he's proud of his service, I'm proud of mine. And the real question is, who best to lead us forward.

Nice try. After that the president's people have been softening Kerry up for three or four weeks, now he wants to look to the future. That's a pretty nice little scam, isn't it? Lauer might have done better to ask the president why he's only saying that now a day before the convention, as opposed to in early August. (Actually, why didn't you ask that, Matt?) This is right out of the Bush family playbook: have your people savage your opponent and once the damage is done try to take the high road.

But it's too late. As Max Cleland said a few days ago, President Bush's "moment of truth came and went."

And as for the Barnes thing, I think we can be pretty confident we'll be seeing something a good deal more public in the next several days.

George W. Bush: "They just had an opening for a pilot and I was there at the right time."

Bob Novak would be a much better reporter if he weren't so dishonest. Until recently, I hadn't observed his reporting that closely. So I hadn't noticed it. But I don't think there's any way around that conclusion.

Let me illustrate with an example from last night.

Last night on Capital Gang this was Novak's 'outrage of the week' ...

NOVAK: Ben Barnes was one of my favorite Democrats more than 30 years ago. The boy wonder of Texas politics until he was defeated for governor at the age of 34 in 1972. He reappeared this week, when a Texas Bush basher distributed a 45-second video for the Kerry campaign by Barnes, claiming that he, as lieutenant governor of Texas got Bush into the Air National Guard.

But, Ben was not yet lieutenant governor when Bush joined the Guard. This sleazy politics is not the way for my old friend Ben Barnes to get back on the front page.

So, Novak's point is that Barnes <$Ad$>has gotten tripped up in an inconsistency in his story. And thus he's not credible.

The only problem is that Novak knows this is not true. He knows it's not true; but he's trying to fool his listeners into thinking that it is because many aren't familiar with the details of the story, as he is. Again, a dishonest reporter.

Allow me to explain.

The Barnes story isn't a new one. And the relevant dates of it and the office Barnes was serving in at the time have never been questioned. It happened during the time Barnes was Speaker of the House in Texas. In the past, he went to great lengths to avoid discussing. But after being forced to discuss it in a civil suit deposition in 1999, he made a brief public announcement. See this clip from the Houston Chronicle from September 28th 1999 ...

Austin lobbyist Ben Barnes said Monday that as speaker of the Texas House more than 30 years ago, he recommended George W. Bush for a pilot's position in the Texas Air National Guard at the request of a Bush family friend.

But Barnes, in a statement issued by his lawyer, said he was not contacted by a member of the Bush family and had "no knowledge" that either the future governor or his father, former President Bush, who was then a congressman from Houston, knew of his intervention.

In fact, not only has Barnes been consistent and his account not been questioned, even Bush himself and his campaign have accepted Barnes account. All they have insisted on -- though it is quite improbable -- is that they did not know at the time about his actions and were not involved in any way in requesting it.

The president even went so far as to thank Barnes in a personal note for being clear that he had no direct, personal knowledge that the Bush family had contacted the intermediary who contacted him. Consider this clip from a September 27th, 1999 Associated Press story ...

Barnes testified for several hours Monday in a deposition in the case. Afterwards, his lawyer issued a written statement saying Barnes had been contacted by the now-deceased Sidney Adger, a Houston oilman and friend of the elder Bush.

''Mr. Barnes was contacted by Sid Adger and asked to recommend George W. Bush for a pilot position with the Air National Guard. Barnes called Gen. (James) Rose (Texas Air Guard commander) and did so,'' the statement said.

''Neither Congressman Bush nor any other member of the Bush family asked Barnes' help. Barnes has no knowledge that Governor Bush or President Bush knew of Barnes' recommendation,'' the statement said.

Barnes also said he met in September 1998 with Donald L. Evans, a longtime friend and chief fund-raiser for Governor Bush. Barnes told Evans about Adger's request, and ''Governor Bush wrote Barnes a note thanking him for his candor in acknowledging that Barnes received no call from any member of the Bush family.''

In an interview with The Associated Press, Evans said he met with Barnes on his own initiative, without informing the governor in advance. At the time, he was Bush's gubernatorial campaign chairman and was concerned only about that contest, Evans said.

There's a rich backstory to why the subject came up in that civil suit. But as you can see Barnes went to some lengths not to make trouble for Bush; and they were, well ... thankful on many levels.

In the tape someone took of Barnes at a recent Kerry political event he clearly just misspoke. And it's not hard to understand why since Barnes in fact became Lt. Governor of the state a few months after the events in question. Remember, the guy wasn't giving an official statement. He was talking at a pro-Kerry gathering and didn't even know he was being taped. When I first posted the video a couple days ago, I spoke to several Texas politicos who pointed out to me -- what I hadn't noticed -- that Barnes had misspoken, that he meant when he was Speaker of the House.

Sometimes when someone 'misspeaks' there's something sinister about it. In other cases, it's obvious that the person just misspoke. This is clearly a case of the latter. And Novak knew that in advance.

Like I said, a dishonest reporter.

Here is the article on the Franklin investigation that I discussed earlier. This is a piece my colleagues and I at the Washington Monthly wrote. It discusses how the Franklin investigation relates to the Ghorbanifar back-channel run out of Doug Feith's office from 2001 to 2003.

I haven't yet been able to comment on the breaking news last night that the FBI is investigating whether an employee at the OSD, Larry Franklin, passed classified US government information to Israel. That is because my colleagues and I have a piece coming out on the subject which will, hopefully, be appearing later today in The Washington Monthly.

A few thoughts though about this story.

I'm told the evidence the FBI has on Franklin -- at least on the narrow facts of the case -- is quite strong and involves wire tap information, though why a career DIA analyst like Franklin would allow himself to get tripped up on a phone call mystifies me.

The main focus thus far has been on the highly sensitive and troubling allegation that an ally, Israel, was spying on the United States or the recipient of classified information from a US government official.

However, I strongly suspect that as this story develops the bigger deal will be less the alleged recipient of the information, Israel, than the country that is the subject of the information, Iran.

I don't mean to imply that it's an either/or. It can very much be both. But the reportage thus far has understated the degree to which this is an Iran story -- it grows out of the simmering and unresolved administration battle over policy toward Iran.

There's also a helpful compare and contrast with <$NoAd$>what Ben Barnes says on the tape noted below.

Jim Moore, the co-author of Bush's Brain, whom I also mention below, describes this exchange he had in the 1994 gubernatorial debate with Anne Richards. Moore was on the panel of journalists posing questions. This is from Moore's article in Salon back in July ...

The irony in all of this is that I am largely responsible for reducing access to those records. During the 1994 Texas gubernatorial race between Ann Richards and George W. Bush, I was a panelist on the only televised debate between the two candidates. The question I chose to ask Bush first was about the National Guard. I had lost friends in Vietnam, and many of them had tried to get into the Guard. We were all told that there was a waiting list of up to five years. The Guard was the best method for getting out of combat in Vietnam. You needed connections. George W. Bush had them.

"Mr. Bush," I said. "How did you get into the Guard so easily? One hundred thousand guys our age were on the waiting list, and you say you walked in and signed up to become a pilot. Did your congressman father exercise any influence on your behalf?"

"Not that I know of, Jim," the future president told me. "I certainly didn't ask for any. And I'm sure my father didn't either. They just had an opening for a pilot and I was there at the right time."

More soon ...

You'll want to link through to this one -- it's a video clip of Ben Barnes, the former Speaker of the House in Texas, the guy who got President Bush into the Texas Air National Guard.

I'm told the tape is from a recent Kerry rally <$NoAd$>and in it Barnes says the following ...

Let’s talk a minute about John Kerry and George Bush and I know them both. And I’m not name dropping to say I know ‘em both. I got a young man named George W. Bush in the National Guard when I was Lt. Gov. of Texas and I’m not necessarily proud of that. But I did it. And I got a lot of other people into the National Guard because I thought that was what people should do, when you're in office you helped a lot of rich people. And I walked through the Vietnam Memorial the other day and I looked at the names of the people that died in Vietnam and I became more ashamed of myself than I have ever been because it was the worst thing that I did was that I helped a lot of wealthy supporters and a lot of people who had family names of importance get into the National Guard and I’m very sorry about that and I’m very ashamed and I apologize to you as voters of Texas.

Now, I don't know what Ben Barnes looks like. And I do not independently know the provenance of the tape. But I've spoken to two sources who know Barnes. And they tell me that that is Barnes on the tape.

One of those two men is Jim Moore -- co-author of Bush's Brain. Moore told me this afternoon that the clip is from June 8th of this year, at a Kerry rally in Austin. Moore assures me that the tape is legitimate.

I placed a call to Barnes' office and left a message with one of his assistants; but the request for comment has not yet been returned.