Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

We've got a new feature we're debuting this morning at TPMCafe, our TPMCafe Book Club. I hope you'll stop by and check it out.

Our first guest is Thomas Frank who will be discussing his latest book What's the Matter with Kansas.

(As you can see in the post just below, one of the biggest problems with Kansas is Sen. Pat Roberts (R). But that's another matter.)

This morning he introduces the book. That will be followed by an excerpt, an exchange with three of our regular TPMCafe contributors, and later in the week Frank will answer your questions.

So click here to stop by, comment, pick up a copy of the book and let us know what you think about our new feature.

What a sad state we've come to.

I've told you many times how Sen. Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is a shame to the office, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the White House political operation if there ever was one.

The July 2004 report on Iraqi WMD should be enough to make the point.

But now there's more.

Note that there are no congressional investigations into the origin of the Niger forgeries, the outing of Valerie Plame, and countless other scandals and mysteries large and small. (Remember, after the 2004 election, Roberts announced that there's now not enough time for the investigation into possible political manipulation of Iraqi WMD intel, which he promised prior to the election.)

But now there will be congressional hearings into whether the CIA does a good enough job at protecting the 'cover' of its agents in its Directorate of Operations.

It's necessary to unpack this one to see just what a lickspittle the Senator from Kansas really is.

For two years now defenders of the White House have been arguing that Valerie Wilson (nee Plame) wasn't 'outed' or damaged in any way because she wasn't really covert in the first place. The arguments have been various: she was a glorified secretary, she hadn't kept her status a secret, she hadn't been abroad recently enough, she worked at Agency headquarters, etc. etc. etc.

There's always been a ready answer to the toadies peddling these excuses. No one on the outside really knows the details of Plame's service. By definition, her superiors at the CIA do. And they wouldn't have made a criminal referral if the law didn't even apply to the person in question.

In other words, either this whole debate about her status is rendered moot by the original CIA referral to DOJ, or you must believe that the referral was knowingly fraudulent.

Those who are so Bush-true as to hypothesize that the CIA made a knowingly fraudulent referral would have to contend with the fact that the Bush Justice Department and then later Patrick Fitzgerald both concluded that the referral was a valid one.

The only other possibility -- one which I've referred to jokingly in the past -- is to argue that she wasn't covert enough. That is to say, maybe she was covert to the CIA. But she really wasn't covert up to the standards of say, Bill Safire or Tucker Carlson or Bill O'Reilly.

And this, understand, is the premise of the new Roberts' hearings. Was she really covert enough? And does the CIA really know how to define 'covert'. Asked about a bankrobber caught red-handed outside the bank, Sen. Roberts response would be to say, "But how much real claim did the bank have to that money? Did they really earn it? And what did they do to protect it?"

Now, there's a separate debate about whether the CIA, over the decades, became so bureaucratic that it came to rely too much on operatives whose cover was insufficiently deep. So, for instance, working non-proliferation with too many American 'energy industry consultants' like Plame rather than assets embedded deep within the A.Q. Khan nuke network. Presumably, the latter are rather more difficult to place than the former group. But this charge may well be a valid one. Given the nature of the question, it is difficult for those of us outside the intelligence community or without high level clearance to evaluate.

But one probably needn't advance all the way through elementary school to grasp that that policy debate is separate from a criminal investigation into whether someone broke the rules as they exist today.

The only reason Chairman Roberts now wants hearings into this question is that it might generate more fodder for excuse-making for those who will climb any mountain and ford any stream to avoid holding any of the president's lieutenants to account.

Sen. Roberts has turned the Intel Committee into an arm of Karl Rove's political operation. In the truest sense of the word, Sen. Roberts is a hack, a shame to his office.

Share your thoughts? We're discussing this in this thread at TPMCafe.

On CNN today, Sen. Roberts (R) said Valerie Plame couldn't be covert since she was working at CIA headquarters at the time her identity was exposed. Ex-CIAer Larry Johnson says otherwise.

That's odd.

Today's Times says that John Bolton did not disclose having given testimony before the Plame grand jury in the forms he had to fill out for his confirmation hearings. They took that to mean he hadn't been called.

But on Hardball yesterday David Shuster said Bolton did testify.

Who's right and who's wrong? Or are both right, and Bolton simply failed to disclose it?

We're discussing this here.

Ever wonder why George Tenet's July 11, 2003 mea culpa about the Niger uranium snafu seemed so protective of the White House?

Maybe that was because it was written by Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

Unless I'm mistaken this is one of several interesting (if not that surprising) tidbits in the Friday Times article on the Plame investigation. Says the Times ...

"Karl Rove and I. Lewis Libby Jr., were helping to prepare what became the administration's primary response to criticism that a flawed phrase about the nuclear materials in Africa had been included in Mr. Bush's State of the Union address six months earlier. They had exchanged e-mail correspondence and drafts of a proposed statement by George Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, to explain how the disputed wording had gotten into the address. Mr. Rove, the president's political strategist, and Mr. Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, coordinated their efforts with Stephen Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, who was in turn consulting with Mr. Tenet."

This tells us a few things.

One, the seamless (or perhaps 'seamy', take your pick) integration of the political and national security staffs at the White House in organizing the push back against Joe <$NoAd$> Wilson and the controversy he'd ignited about the White House's use of phoney intelligence about an Iraqi nuclear weapons program.

Read the whole article and you'll see that these two were working together on this with a number of top White House officials.

Two, these were the two men who we know had conversations with reporters about Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame. And it would seem that in the days leading up to the leak they were involved in active and detailed collaboration and/or dialog with Director Tenet about the Niger matter and the origins of Wilson's trip.

Another piece of the puzzle is suggested by a new article out from Bloomberg, which says that Rove's and Libby's testimony before the grand jury conflicts with testimony from the reporters whom they spoke to. Specifically, Libby reportedly told the grand jury that he heard of Plame's identity from Tim Russert. But Russert told the grand jury that that's not so.

Now, I know we've got a few balls in the air already. But let me note one other point.

A few days ago a former high-level administration official who was on Air Force One going to Africa with the president (and think for a moment how many now-former administration officials were on that flight in a position to vouch for this fact) told Bloomberg News that he saw Ari Fleischer "perusing the State Department memo on Wilson and his wife."

So Perhaps Libby and Rove found out about Plame from Fleischer, who would have been calling back to the White House. Or perhaps they got it from their research and authorship of the Tenet mea culpa. It seems quite conceiveable that they got it from both directions. Remember, Libby would have had no shortage of access to former CIA officers and CIA personnel on loan to the administration who could have given him more backstory on Plame. The two channels might even help explain the two versions of her name that were in circulation.

In any case, there was no shortage of channels through which they might have gotten the information. But each, it seems, in his grand jury testimony, has claimed he learned the information from journalists -- even though the journalists disagree.

Over at TNR, Noam Scheiber mulls one of the big questions. Who's slimier, Duke or Tom DeLay?

A TPM Reader suggests an idea ...

Is it worth asking readers to report in as to whether or not their Congress member or Senator has commented on the outing of a CIA operative? I think it is important to not let these reps hide in the weeds as their spiritual leader is roasting.

I spoke with my rep's office (Judy Biggert IL-13, who by the way has not responded to my numerous requests re: Tom Delay. 9 months & counting), and they couldn't direct me to any statements on her website.

So maybe no one's asked the question? I'm going to call local papers and see if anyone has asked.

Good idea. What has your rep or senator <$NoAd$> said?

John Bolton, Frank Gaffney and other Black Helicopter Republicans. Prepare to laugh, then click here.

Gaffney says Bolton needs to be confirmed immediately to help fend off UN attempts to institute world government and prevent new taxes imposed on Americans by the UN.

As you know, here at TPM we've been reporting on the 2002 New Hampshire phone-jamming case for going on three years. There have now been a couple of guilty pleas. The former executive director of the state GOP is in prison. And, as we were the first to report, Jim Tobin, the former Northeast political director of the NRSC who orchestrated the scam, is now awaiting trial.

Now, in 2002 the NRSC (the National Republican Senatorial Committee) was run by Sen. Frist. Tobin worked for Frist. And Tobin is now under indictment for criminal conspiracy and election tampering for what he did while working as Frist's regional political director for the Northeast.

Not surprisingly, Republicans have tried to distance themselves from Tobin's action, implying that, if guilty, Tobin's scheme was no more than one man's rogue operation. Frist has basically managed to avoid answering any questions about it for two years.

But now comes word that Tobin's legal bills may be being paid by the RNC.

Today's Manchester Union Leader -- not exactly a liberal sheet -- reports that recently filed court documents show that one of Tobin's attorneys was representing him "in his capacity as an employee of the Republican National Committee."

Tobin's attorneys come from Williams & Connolly (a high profile DC firm that represents many in both parties). And the latest RNC disclosure filings show half a million dollars paid to W&C for "legal services."

The money to W&C means little in itself. They probably do various stuff for the RNC.

But most telling, the RNC refused to answer the Union Leader's questions about whether they were paying for Tobin's defense.

Remember, Tobin is under indictment for tampering with a federal election. Two of his alleged co-conspirators have already pled guilty and received jail sentences. Why would the RNC be footing the bill for his defense? And if they're not, why won't they say so?

Thoughts? We've got a discussion thread going on this over at TPMCafe.