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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

At least now we've settled the question of whether Ted Olson lied about his involvement with the Arkansas Project.

Haven't we?

Even his official surrogates now concede the point. Their new gambit is simply to diminish the importance of the underlying question.

"What if he [Olson] did have an involvement in the Arkansas Project? Is there something illegal about that?" Trent Lott said yesterday on Meet the Press.

Or how about Ken Starr, on This Week, who dismissed complaints about Olson's evasiveness as "flyspecking"? "This [the Arkansas Project controversy] is an awfully narrow part of a man who's 60 years old, [with] a very long career."

So let's just review where we are on the Olson nomination.

As information in this article and many others have made abundantly clear, Ted Olson lied when he told Pat Leahy that he was not involved in the Arkansas Project, and had in fact been instrumental in shutting it down. (That his defenders now concede the point amounts to what the lawyers call a stipulation.)

And this is actually the second time Olson has intentionally deceived a congressional committee. In the first instance, an independent counsel found that Olson's statements were technically true, and thus incapable of sustaining a perjury prosecution.

As I once wrote in a profile of Maureen Dowd, "there was always something odd and paradoxical about Dowd's endless array of anti-Clinton zingers: if Clintonism was defined by an abundance of talent, appetite, and ambition at the expense of any real purpose or direction, then Dowd was the ultimate Clintonite."

So too with Ted Olson. If 'Clintonian' is now shorthand for lawyerly evasion or lying to achieve a greater purpose, then Ted Olson was Clintonian long before they coined the term.

Trent Lott and company want to say: "So what if he's lying. Look at the underlying question. It doesn't matter."

To which I can only say: hey, that's our comeback to having our guy get caught fibbing. Get your own!

And besides, with Bill Clinton the question was whether he'd get indicted or removed from office -- very high standards to meet. Ted Olson's trying to get confirmed by Senate. He's got no similar presumptions in his favor.

And, finally, let's not forget about Ken Starr. Much of the justice of Ted Olson's current predicament is seeing him hoisted on his own petard, skewered by his own sharp knife -- on multiple levels. And so too with Mr. Starr.

The best defense for Starr's zealousness during the independent counsel investigation was that he was a sort of truth fanatic. The mere hint of evasion or deceptiveness under oath was just too much for him to handle. And it drove him on a crusade for revelation.

Clearly that's not true.

For Ted Olson, this may simply be 'live by the sword, die by the sword.' Play rough and your enemies hit back. Starr is a different matter. He's defending Olson with an argument more or less identical to that which Clinton's defenders used to defend him. Before you could say that Starr was just a prig, or an obsessive, or a hidebound moral absolutist. But no more. He's now revealed himself as the rankest sort of hypocrite.

And that's rather satisfying to see.

It almost makes up for the tax cut.

Almost.

"Able-bodied adults who have the ability to earn income have an obligation not to pass part of their own responsibility on to a broader population." That's Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's take on whether the federal government should have to guarantee Security Security and Medicare benefits to seniors, in an interview with the Financial Times which appeared on Friday.

Not only does O'Neill believe the government should no longer guarantee Social Security and Medicare. He also believes the corporate income tax and capital gains tax should be abolished, with the revenue shortfall apparently made up through higher income taxes for individuals.

Give O'Neill points for candor. But shouldn't these statements be generating a bit more attention.

A few days back I pointed out an article from the New York Daily News which seemed to follow the sop-to-Bush story line almost exactly -- finding countless anonymous members of the permanent White House staff who just can't stop counting their blessings that they're out of under the Clintons' thrall.

When I wrote that post I professed surprise that Thomas DeFrank, the Washington Bureau Chief of the Daily News would go in for this sort of stuff.

But perhaps I was a bit too charitable.

It turns out that DeFrank was also the author of one of the more melodramatic and Bush-bowing articles on the now-disproven White House vandalism story.

As in most of these articles, DeFrank included the obligatory mentions of how the White House was trying to keep a lid on the vandalism stories, even as they were of course also leaking them to the reporter in question:

Nevertheless, the White House relentlessly soft-pedaled the vandalism, refusing to release estimates of property damage and denying that a formal investigation was underway. Press secretary Ari Fleischer downplayed his statement that aides were cataloguing the damage.
In fact, DeFrank didn't just retail the standard vandalism anecdotes. He even had a few I hadn't heard before. Like the "telecommunications staffer with more than a quarter-century of service [who] was seen sobbing near his office one night last week" because of all the destruction.

(You just can't make this stuff up! Well, I mean, not unless your initials are AF or RB.)

Anyway, what I didn't know before was that DeFrank is also a bit of a Bush family pal and has been friends with the president for years. He cowrote Jim Baker's diplomatic memoir The Politics of Diplomacy. And perhaps most striking, while writing the first of these two pieces, DeFrank was also in the hunt for a job in the Bush administration. According to this article in the Weekly Standard, DeFrank was in the running for Defense Department Spokesman before eventually being passed over for Victoria Clarke.

Is DeFrank still looking for a White House job? If so, please let Talking Points know, because he'd totally be up for being a Washington Bureau Chief again. Especially a gig with so much editorial freedom!

My secret sources tell me that John McCain is the big target at this weekend's NRA annual convention in Kansas City, Missouri. The combination of McCain's support for campaign finance reform and his creeping support of moderate gun control just makes him too plump a target to pass up.

The charge against McCain apparently runs like this: McCain is a hypocrite because despite his support for campaign finance reform he is part of Americans for Gun Safety's multi-million dollar ad campaign in support of closing the gun show loophole. (AGS was founded in July by Monster.com executive Andrew J. McKelvey.)

The ads -- which you can read about and see here -- prominently feature McCain and Joe Lieberman, the cosponsors of AGS's favored version of the gun show loophole bill.

A friend of mine -- a dissident conservative -- once told me that soft money is the mother's milk of the modern conservatism.

Case in point.

In my earlier post about the final collapse of the White House vandalism ruse, I wrote that the real story was how the majors had buried the story of the GSA Report or not reported it at all.

Now the Post website has rectified that lapse by posting this story by Charles Babington in which he reports the GSA findings and writes:

Many news organizations, including The Washington Post, reported on the alleged vandalism shortly after President Bush took office in January. The Post and other outlets soon raised doubts about the claims, and also reported on Bush's statement that the allegations were false.
Honestly, that run-down comes up a bit short. The Post ran several stories pushing the phony vandalism stories and, if memory serves me right, a number of editorials similarly peddling the unfounded, and now disproven, misinformation.

The Post did run one quite good piece by John F. Harris on January 27th which chronicled the beginnings of the climb-down by the Bushies and the press ("White House Scales Back Prank Reports").

But to the best of my knowledge the Post has never commented on what seems like the real story here: how the Bush White House played the press with anonymous leaks and preyed upon their credulousness about any and all forms of Clintonite wrongdoing.

But the Post can at least look down on the Times -- which has yet to even mention the GSA story (at least online).

It's not like me to crow obnoxiously when I'm vindicated in some prediction or accusation -- okay, who am I kidding? of course it is. But this is an instance where I -- and, much more importantly, the Clinton White House -- have plenty of cause to feel sweet vindication.

As I've shamelessly mentioned on a number of occasions I was one of the first writers to question whether any of those White House vandalism stories were really true. I even got to go on Howie Kurtz's media show to get knocked around by Howie for saying so.

At the time, Bob Barr requested that the General Services Administration do an investigation to catalog all the damage that had been done.

Well, now the report's in. And, surprise, surprise, no vandalism.

"The condition of the real property was consistent with what we would expect to encounter when tenants vacate office space after an extended occupancy," according to the statement released by the GSA.

The inventory made no effort to get into whether a few funny signs may have been hung. But as we noted at the time, this is done by pretty much every departing White House staff. The only difference is that not every incoming group has a clever media manipulator like Karl Rove to spin the thing, and few have the benefit of such a credulous White House press corps whose knee-jerk assumptions can be so easily played upon. Lucky them!

The only question remaining is this? Why'd the majors bury this one? The Washington Post ran a tiny wire story on report on A13 and it's not even on their website, as of this posting.

I had to find original reporting on this from the Kansas City Star! Are they the new paper of record?

Howie, it's a big media story. Jump on it! You can skewer your own paper. It'll be big, trust me.

The news in Washington today was filled with the ominous search for the whereabouts a Chandra Levy, a 24 year old intern at the Bureau of Prisons. Levy was last seen on April 30th as she was preparing to return home to California after completing here internship.

Yet the investigation into Levy's disappearance took a real turn for the bizarre when it started to pull in Levy's hometown congressman Gary Condit.

The coverage in the Washington Post has touched upon this aspect of the case rather gingerly. But this article in Condit's hometown newspaper, the Modesto Bee, strongly implies - without quite saying it - that Levy might have been involved in a romantic relationship with Condit (who is married and has two children) and discusses some of the evidence that is fueling the speculation.

According to this article in the New York Daily News, Condit told the DC police that Levy had spent time at his condo in DC's Woodley Park neighborhood. As the Daily News article put it:

Condit, 53, who is married with two children, told cops he and Levy were friends — and then "refused to elaborate," News4 quoted police sources as saying.
That doesn't sound so good, does it?

So what's going on here? No idea. But Condit's press secretary can't have had a good day.

The Tom Edsall article in today's Washington Post contains all you need to know about the state of play of the Ted Olson question -- especially Orrin Hatch's statement, relayed through a senior aide, that "It comes down to what the definition of the Arkansas Project is."

We could spend a few moments mocking this "depends what the definition of is is" sort of line. But let's keep our eye on the ball.

Olson and his defenders, it seems, don't really deny much of anything that has been alleged. They're just playing on a very restrictive definition of the 'Arkansas Project' and the word 'involvement.' To most observers, the 'Arkansas Project' was the American Spectator's organized effort, funded by moneys from the Scaife foundations, to dig up dirt and possible scandals on Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Now we're told, however, that the term 'Arkansas Project' only applied to one portion of the American Spectator's organized effort, funded by moneys from the Scaife foundations, to dig up dirt and possible scandals on Bill and Hillary Clinton. The 'Arkansas Project' was only a very tightly delineated enterprise which didn't involve most of the people involved in what we all thought was Arkansas Project activity.

Still with me?

So when Olson himself was hired by the magazine in 1994 "specifically to determine the potential criminal exposure of the Clintons in light of the magazine's reporting" this didn't mean he was involved in the Arkansas Project. This was just "legal research" in Olson's words, "not for the purpose of conducting or assisting in the conduct of investigations of the Clintons." And by no means part of the 'Arkansas Project.'

The Olsonites are telling us that their man is not lying because the question wasn't posed precisely enough. Pat Leahy should have asked: "Were you involved in, or aware of, the Arkansas Project, or any similar activities conducted by the American Spectator magazine which might seem to us rubes on the outside to be part of the Arkansas Project, but which you and the employees of the Spectator know not to have been part of the 'Arkansas Project' because the term 'Arkansas Project' only applied to one portion of the magazine's effort to dig up scandals on the former president?"

Or to put the point more baldly, Olson's off the hook not because he knew little or nothing about the Arkansas Project, but because he knew quite a lot.

Do we really have to put up with this crap? It's up to Pat Leahy.

I've always been proud -- perhaps overly so -- that I was one of the first political journalists to openly question whether there was anything to all those stories about White House vandalism in the final days of the Clinton era -- first here and there on TPM and then later in Slate.

But the genre of uncritical and fatuous 'report the Bush spin as delivered' coverage lives on.

Here's just the latest example written by, of all people, Thomas DeFrank, the Washington Bureau Chief of the New York Daily News.

DeFrank's piece follows the standard plot points of the sop-to-Bush genre, contrasting the Bush style (obliging, middle American with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) with the Clinton style (grasping, domineering with phallic Christmas tree ornaments).

You apparently can't walk around the White House these days without being importuned by some member of the permanent staff who says things like: "The Bushes' humble, conservative style really resonates with my middle class values. A lot more than those Clintons, whose limousine liberalism nominally catered to working families like my own, while subtly mocking my work ethic and efforts to succeed by my own efforts! And did I mention not being able to invest a small portion of my Social Security funds in the stock market?"

And every DC reporter seems to have an obliging friend on the new White House staff who is always trying to tell the help not to bother with some particularly demeaning chore, only to be told, "No, no, no. It is okay. Really. Please! I did that for Mr. Clinton's sleazy Asian cronies many, many times!"

Where do I sign up to get Karl Rove's assistants to write my copy for me too?

Hmmmmmm.

Now back to working on the much-awaited Talking Points redesign and, before that, the even-more -awaited TPM line on John Edwards.

Yesterday afternoon I pointed out that, in his letter to Tim Noah, Wlady Pleszczynski never actually denied that Ted Olson had been involved in the Arkansas Project.

He denied this, that, and the other. But not the actual point at issue.

Well, now Pleszczynski has written to Talking Points to do just that. But these sorts of brouhahas inevitably descend to parsing. So, instead of characterizing it, let me just show you exactly what he said and you can draw your own conclusions:

Josh: So when did you stop beating your wife/ significant other /or whatever? That's the category your complaint falls under. But if it makes your evening, let me categorically say that Ted Olson was not a part of the Arkansas Project. Every word of Olson's statements regarding the project has been more than truthful.

Best regards,

Wlady Pleszczynski

More soon.

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