Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Caught red-handed. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch has placed one of his committee staffers on administrative leave for what the media reports are agreeing to call, with some delicacy, "improperly obtaining data from the secure computer networks of two Democratic senators."

(Reminds me of my pals who used to get kicks by improperly obtaining Snickers bars from the local drug store when we were in grade school.)

Keep in mind, Democratic Senators raised questions about how an unsent memo from the Democratic staff on the Intel Committee ended up in the hands of radio chatmeister Sean Hannity three weeks ago.

Now that it seems the Judiciary Committee memo was in fact stolen, the Democrats' demands that the other incident be investigated sounds a lot more compelling. Was that one 'improperly obtained' too?

Following is a selection of Hatch's press conference late Tuesday ...

Because of the serious nature of the concerns raised, I also initiated a preliminary inquiry to determine whether anyone on the majority full committee staff had information pertaining to this matter. That inquiry is almost completed. At my direction, two experienced federal prosecutors assigned to the committee conducted interviews of approximately 50 persons. I emphasized to them that their inquiry was to be full and impartial, letting the chips fall where they may, and that all information would be turned over to the sergeant at arms. It is with deep regret that I must report today that the interviews conducted to date have revealed that at least one current member of Judiciary Committee majority staff had improperly accessed some of the documents referenced in the media reports and which have been posted on the Internet. While this individual denies responsibility for releasing the documents to the press, it is now clear that some of the committee files, as Senators Durbin, Leahy and Kennedy feared, were compromised, and worse, by a member of the Senate Judiciary majority staff. In addition, preliminary interviews suggest that a former majority committee staff member may also have been involved. I was shocked to learn this may have occurred. I am mortified that this improper, unethical and simply unacceptable breach of confidential files may have occurred on my watch. Each senator has an expectation of receiving confidential, candid advice from his or her staff members. There is no excuse that can justify these improper actions. I have placed one individual on administrative leave with pay, pending the outcome of the full investigation being conducted by the Senate Sergeant at Arms William Pickle. It is my understanding that this individual is cooperating and providing information to the investigators. HATCH: I continue to urge each and every member of the Judiciary Committee, majority staff, to provide whatever information that will prove helpful in getting to the truth of this matter. Once this individual provided the information to the staff conducting the inquiry, I contacted the Senate sergeant at arms and Capitol Police in order to take immediate steps to seize that person's computer and safeguard any retrievable data. The sergeant at arms has been kept informed of each step we've taken. And we will continue to give whatever information we obtain immediately to Mr. Pickle and his investigators. To summarize, the data have been preserved. An independent forensic investigation is under way. One individual has expressed knowledge which indicates the security of the committee's computer system was compromised. That individual has been placed on an administrative leave with pay. The sergeant at arms investigation is under way, and we will continue to cooperate with that investigation in every way. And everybody on my staff has been directed to do so. I will be conferring with Senator Leahy -- I tried to call him before coming over here, but was unable to connect. But I will be conferring with Senator Leahy to take all appropriate measures to ensure the committee's computer system is secure and that its integrity, including development of training materials for all staff consistent with Senate rules and ethical standards, will be maintained. In closing, I am making available today copies of relevant correspondence. I will take a few questions, but as you can understand, due to the nature of this matter, I will not be able to comment on many further details. I think I've commented on all that really I can. So I'll take a few questions if you have any. Yes sir? QUESTION: Have any charges been made? Or is there any charges filed against this individual? HATCH: Well, accusations have been made, but no charges have been filed against anybody, to my knowledge. QUESTION: (Off-Mike) HATCH: I can't comment on that, because I don't know that a crime has been committed, nor do I know that there's any criminal law that has been breached. But I do feel that the ethics of this body have been breached. QUESTION: The person put on administrative leave and the former staff who may also have had knowledge of the incident, are they Republicans or Democrats? HATCH: I honestly don't know, but they're working for majority staff, or they did -- the one is on administrative leave, the other was a former staffer on our side. QUESTION: What are their names? HATCH: That, we're not going to -- that's not my prerogative to give. QUESTION: Generally speaking, can you explain how it was possible that they were able to gain access to those files? Did they have to do something that -- did they have to hack into the system or... HATCH: I honestly don't know. And that's one of the questions that the sergeant at arms and the independent forensic experts will have to answer. I have some comments on that, made by the one person. But I think the best thing I can say is I honestly don't know the answer. QUESTION: Current members, this year, of your staff? HATCH: Yes. On current administrative leave with pay. QUESTION: Are any other staffers of the United States Senate or Congress involved, as far as you can tell? HATCH: Not that I know of at this point, but that's, again, something that the sergeant at arms is going to have to look at. We've interviewed 50 staffers. And virtually all that I think should be interviewed, although there may be some others. So we're not quite complete with the inquiry that we're making. QUESTION: Are you looking at just who got the information from Democrats, or are you also looking at who then dispersed it to the media? HATCH: Well, we first want to find out if anybody on our staff had anything to do with this, and, like I say, I'm mortified to say that at least one member that I know of has compromised the computer system -- not the system, but has had access to these materials. I really can't comment much beyond that, other than the sergeant at arms is going to have to follow up. And I understand this staffer is cooperating with the sergeant at arms.

More to come, I'm sure ...

In my new column in The Hill: my thoughts on the RNC's new Bush-preemption TV spot -- and why the Dems should see it as the hanging curveball that it is.

Wuh-ho-ho … Wait a second, w-a-i-t a second ...

Remember James (aka Yousef) Yee, the Chinese-American convert to Islam who served as a Muslim chaplain for detainees at Guantanamo Bay?

Last time we heard about him he was at the center of an espionage scandal, in which he was accused of aiding, or passing messages for, or in some way assisting his co-religionists in military custody at Camp X-Ray.

Well, apparently not.

Now we hear that he has been charged with adultery and having pornographic material in his possession; the espionage accusations are apparently yesterday’s news. And the Army is letting him go back to serving as a military chaplain at Fort Benning, with the only bar being that he can’t have contact with any of the dudes at Guantanamo.

Now, I’m not naïve enough to doubt that even the faithful can have cheating hearts or fall prey to the allure of saucy pictures. But does this add up exactly? I mean, is Yee an Islamic extremist or a philandering pornmeister? Which is it?

On the surface at least this sounds a lot like those first changes turned out to be bogus and that the military investigators were looking for some other charges to hit him with to prevent too humiliating a climb-down.

It’s true of course that charges are sometimes never brought in espionage cases because sufficient evidence doesn’t exist to sustain a conviction or the evidence can’t be used --- even in military trial --- for fear of further compromising national security. But if the Army still had any serious suspicion that Yee was an al Qaida mole I find it pretty hard to believe that they’d let him continue to serve as a chaplain anywhere.

I doubt we've heard the last of this story.

Yet another laugh-test failure ...

Nick Smith, the Republican congressman from Michigan's 7th district, says House GOP leaders threatened to support candidates running against his son if he didn't vote for the Medicare bill that just raced through the Congress.

(Smith's son, Brad, is running to replace his dad, who is retiring at the end of this term.)

Au contraire! says John Freehery, a spokesman for Speaker Denny Hastert. "What the speaker said," according to Freehery, "was that a vote on this would help him and help his son because it would be a popular vote."

Yeah ...

With so much happening in America and Iraq, I had only dimly noticed the crisis brewing and then finally coming to a seemingly happy conclusion in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. On Sunday night longtime Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze -- whose dominance in the country/republic stretched far back into the Soviet era -- resigned amid massive, but peaceful, popular protests. This article in Tuesday's Washington Post describes the way the Georgian opposition very consciously modeled its effort on the recent revolution in Serbia.

Interesting. In an earlier<$Ad$> post I said that I didn't put that much stock in polls by SurveyUSA because they don't use people to conduct their polls, but an automated response system.

A lot of people in the public opinion and poll business share my skepticism. But an academic public opinion researcher, Joel David Bloom, did a study of their results and found them about as reliable as the rest. Here's the key graf ...

Looking at SurveyUSA, they too stuck with Carnahan in Missouri, and had both Carolinas much tighter than they actually were. But they were right in Colorado, and had the margins closer elsewhere. Interestingly, they were not in as many close states as Zogby, so the fact that 85% of their polls had the correct winner should not be taken too far. Unlike Zogby, or nonpartisan pollsters in general, SurveyUSA did show a net pro-Democratic bias of around 2 points, but by every other measure they performed as well as or better than other nonpartisan firms. Thus, as much as academic survey researchers may have wished to see SurveyUSA under-perform the field, they clearly did not, and may have actually done better than average.

I remain skeptical. But those are interesting numbers.

An update on Khidhir Hamza.

A reader who is close to Hamza writes in to suggest that Hamza's lack of visibility of late <$Ad$>is due to concerns for his security rather any effort to duck questions from the media.

This seems reasonable to me. Clearly, all Iraqis who are working with the Americans are under threat. And I imagine that the threat is all the more severe for someone so prominently connected with the push for regime change.

So, point taken.

However, that doesn't change the very real need for some explanation from Hamza for why his pre-war claims about Iraq's nuclear program are so difficult to reconcile with the evidence we've found (or rather not found) on the ground in Iraq since April.

A slew of readers have written in to note that -- contrary to my post below -- there is a new poll out fron Iowa. And it has Howard Dean back out in front of Dick Gephardt by 5%.

As I noted earlier, the Des Moines Register poll showing Gephardt jumping ahead of Dean left me wanting more data to confirm that this wasn't simply an outlier. That poll seemed to showing a cresting of Dean's support in the state. And I haven't seen other signs of that.

However, the new poll by SurveysUSA doesn't change my opinion. Why? Because it is based on a methodology (no human poll-taker, just an automated phone system) I find suspect and the Des Moines Register survey has a long track-record and is highly respected.

So, it's another data-point. And it's more recent. But I'm still waiting for more data. Particularly, for another poll from the Des Moines Register.

Meanwhile, aside from Dean, the two Democratic candidates who seem to have some new life in them are Clark and, to my great surprise, Dick Gephardt.

When Gephardt threw his hat in the ring last November I mocked him rather mercilessly. But the biggest news I've seen of late was the early November Des Moines Register poll which showed Gephardt opening up a 7 point lead over Dean.

Since that poll ran, I've been waiting for a follow-up to see whether that sounding was an outlier or whether Gephardt really has turned a corner on Dean in Iowa. (Dean's campaign clearly sees Gephardt's momentum, as evidenced by their decision to run a round of anti-Gephardt ads in the state.) But I'm still waiting to see more poll data.

A few things are worth saying about these two candidates in Iowa. Iowa should be a Gephardt state. So, to an extent, his strength there only shows that his candidacy is holding on. On the other hand, as the frontrunner and with the kind of campaign he's running -- one geared to grassroots support -- Dean needs to win there too. Wearing the frontrunner crown changes all the expectations. A Gephardt win in Iowa would be a very big deal on a number of counts.

On Clark, a few weeks back I said that Clark had no campaign, no message, not no nuthin', but close. Now, he finally seems to have one. He's running ads, showing up on the shows -- the fundraising is decent. He gave a solid foreign policy speech and, in general, his operation is putting together a clear and consistent message.

How consistent this remains and how much traction he gains remains to be seen.

Wow. That's not a good sign -- if you're John Kerry, that is. A new Boston Herald poll has Howard Dean beating Kerry 33% to 24% in Massachusetts. That comes on the heels of a Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll which had Dean beating Kerry 27% to 24%.

The only small silver lining for the Massachusetts senator is that I suspect it's been this way for some time. It's just that no one has done a public poll in the state on the Dem primary race in months.