Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I notice that in Elizabeth Bumiller's story on President Bush's 'can't win the war on terror' remark she suggests that he may merely have misspoken: "It was unclear if Mr. Bush had meant to make the remark to Mr. Lauer, or if he misspoke. But White House officials said the president was not signaling a change in policy, and they sought to explain his statement by saying he was emphasizing the long-term nature of the struggle."

I'm having a difficult time figuring out what prompted his remark. But the idea that he misspoke seems pretty improbable since the statement was followed by a detailed elaboration of what he meant.

Two days ago Knight Ridder's Warren Strobel wrote: "An FBI probe into the handling of highly classified material by Pentagon civilians is broader than previously reported, and goes well beyond allegations that a single mid-level analyst gave a top-secret Iran policy document to Israel, three sources familiar with the investigation said Saturday."

Strobel, you'll remember, was one of the few reporters to have written in advance about the problems with the administration's evidence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and ties with terrorist groups. Until recently, press critics and ombudsmen -- writing mea culpas for their own organizations' work -- have been pointing to Strobel's reporting in 2002 as an example of the sort of skepticism they should have given to many of the administration's claims.

In any case, if you have not already, read Strobel's article. Then also read this article from tomorrow's Washington Post.

It's a follow-up on the Franklin story focusing on the fact that in the last few days the FBI has interviewed several senior Pentagon officials, including Doug Feith and Peter Rodman, as part of their probe. (The Times, meanwhile, says the meeting with Feith was to brief him on the investigation rather than to interview him for it -- though they seem to have gotten that information from a Pentagon source, rather than someone at the FBI, which makes it less reliable.)

The Post piece is an odd article -- not a bad one but an odd one since various parts of the piece seem to point such different directions. Some passages imply that investigators are simply jotting their 'i's and crossing their 't's before wrapping the whole thing up; others suggest the probe is much broader, reaching far beyond Franklin.

The key seems to be -- and this has been reported in other articles -- that Franklin has been "cooperating with investigators for several weeks", as the Post puts it. There's only utility in getting someone like Franklin's cooperation if there are other people in the mix. I trust Strobel's reporting on this one: something bigger than just Larry Franklin is involved here.

Another point worth mentioning: The piece in Tuesday's Times seems to rely much more heavily on DOD sources than the Post, which seems to be working more equally from DOD and law enforcement sources. Needless to say, too great a reliance on DOD sources in this case is inherently problematic since there seems to be a good chance that this investigation covers a lot of ground in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Another sign of the tilt in the Times reporting in this graf toward the end of the piece ...

Mr. Franklin worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency for most of his government career until he transferred to the Pentagon policy office in the summer of 2001 to deal with Iranian issues. In his current job, he is one of two Iran desk officers who work in the policy office's Northern Gulf directorate. Mr. Franklin is one of about 1,500 employees who work under Mr. Feith in the policy office.

Narrowly speaking, this is factual. But it's pure spin. To say that Franklin is simply one of 1500 people working under Feith, i.e., just one cog in a vast bureaucracy, is quite misleading. He's an important person in Feith's operation -- which isn't surprising really since he's an analyst on a topic -- Iran -- at the center of Feith's concerns. And Iran policy is already a dicey matter since this is the same shop that used to be the main locus of Chalabism in the governmnet. And of course Chalabi later ended up to have been feeding US intelligence to the Iranians.

Feith's operation has been at the center of a number of bizarre intelligence snafus and embarrassments -- at least two of which have now spawned criminal investigations. One of the more memorable ones was being in charge of post-war planning for Iraq, which didn't pan out that well. Feith's office is also closely tied to Vice President Cheney's office, which is the focus of the Plame investigation.

At some point you'd figure it might draw some actual investigative scrutiny.

Sen. Kit Bond gave a short speech this afternoon which differed substantially from the 'prepared remarks' sent out to journalists in advance. If I'm not mistaken one of his ad-libs was a charge that former Kerry foreign policy advisor had gotten caught "putting the president's PDBs into his BVDs."

A class act, that Kit Bond.

I'm a little embarrassed since Bond is the Senator from the state of my birth. But setting his smarminess aside, the accuracy of his riff on Berger is actually apropos of the rest of his remarks.

Bond's remarks were focused on claiming that President Bush had been vindicated in the '16 words' he used in his 2003 State of the Union speech about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger.

I can't quote his words specifically because they included so many ad-libs from the prepared text. But the substance of it was that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had discredited the charges against the White House on this point and found that the president's statement was "well-founded."

Though Bond is on the Intelligence Committee, I doubt he had much involvement in the Committee's work or the Report. But if he did, he certainly knows that the Report intentionally left out a number of facts that came out of the committee's investigation, which -- had they been revealed -- would have placed the Niger matter in a very different light. Many of them center around a particular country that goes almost unmentioned in the Senate Report.

A lot more should be coming out about that Report in the next couple weeks and on the Niger matter. Make a note of Bond's remarks for future reference.

The Bush retreat?

"We have a clear vision on how to win the war on terror and bring peace to the world."
-- George W. Bush
July 30th 2004.

"I don’t think you can win [the war on terror]. But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are — less acceptable in parts of the world.”
-- George W. Bush
Aug. 29th, 2004.

We've had such reverses in one month?

[ed.note: thanks to sleuthing from this site for the first quote.]

An update on Republican charges that Democratic 527s are accusing President Bush of "poisoning pregnant women."

I ran into Bush campaign chairman Gov. Marc Racicot this morning after I picked up my convention credentials. So I asked him what 527 ads he was referring to as accusing President Bush of "poisoning pregnant women."

Racicot told me that he believed he was referring to ads on mercury run by the Sierra Club. You can see the scripts of those ads and RNC analysis of them here -- scroll down to the Sierra Club ads from April. You be the judge of whether that's an accurate characterization of what they say.

On top of that, the ads don't even seem to have been funded by a 527. A Sierra Club spokesperson this afternoon told me that those ads were funded by Sierra's regular 501c3.

Gov. Racicot is going to be interviewed by every TV show under the sun in the next four days. Ya think maybe someone could ask him about this?

A nice find by Andrew Sullivan on President Bush's Freudian slip about the Swift Boat Ads ...

I loved Bush's comment yesterday about the smear-ad: "I can understand why Senator Kerry is upset with us. I wasn't so pleased with the ads that were run about me. And my call is get rid of them all, now." "Us"?? I thought Bush had nothing to do with it.
Nice catch...

Convention Assignment Desk ...

Which reporter up here will <$NoAd$>press House Speaker Denny Hastert on whether he'll be slandering any other US citizens this week, as he did when he suggested, on the basis of no evidence, that financier George Soros is a front for drug cartels?

Check out this passage from Lloyd Grove's column today in the Daily News ...

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert - having already enraged some New Yorkers with his remarks about local office-holders' "unseemly scramble" for federal money after 9/11 - yesterday opened a second front. On "Fox News Sunday," the Illinois Republican insinuated that billionaire financier George Soros, who's funding an independent media campaign to dislodge President Bush, is getting his big bucks from shady sources. "You know, I don't know where George Soros gets his money. I don't know where - if it comes overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from," Hastert mused. An astonished Chris Wallace asked: "Excuse me?" The Speaker went on: "Well, that's what he's been for a number years - George Soros has been for legalizing drugs in this country. So, I mean, he's got a lot of ancillary interests out there." Wallace: "You think he may be getting money from the drug cartel?" Hastert: "I'm saying I don't know where groups - could be people who support this type of thing. I'm saying we don't know."

No depths they won't sink to.

Isn't the press going to bludgeon John Kerry over this remark this morning?

When asked whether we can "win" the "war on terror" Senator Kerry said: "Can we win? I don’t think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are — less acceptable in parts of the world.”

Oh, sorry. That was President Bush who said that.

So forget what I said about press bludgeoning ...

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.