Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Just when you thought it was safe to go back down to the yacht basin, the Duke story returns!

I know they're hard to keep straight. But you'll remember that one of Duke's several cronies and sugar-daddies was Thomas T. Kontogiannis, the Long Island real estate developer convicted of a far-ranging kick-back, bid-rigging and bribery scheme centering on a public school district in Queens. In addition to the millions of dollars in fraudulent contracts, about 80-grand of his money also ended up finding its way into the campaign coffers of the Queens school superintendent when she unsuccessfully ran for Congress. But then, I digress.

Just to review, Kontogiannis gave Duke a) a loan at wholesale rates to buy a condo in Northern Virginia, b) a million dollar loan at the same rates to buy the new manse in Rancho Santa Fe that got Duke into all the trouble, and c) bought Duke's boat, the Kelly C, from him from at what seemed to be three or four times its market value.

Somehow or another the boat money ended up getting Duke out of paying back most of the million dollar loan. But the details escape me.

In any case, one mystery to the Kontogiannis angle has always been just what Kontogiannis got from Duke for all the free money. Remember, the standard merchandise Duke sold was the corruptly-obtained defense contract. And Kontogiannis' lines of business seemed limited to real estate and large-scale municipal corruption.

So it wasn't easy to see how these two entrepreneurs could end doing business together, though the massive skein of public corruption investigations and convictions hovering around Kontogiannis did always suggest that when there was a will there'd be a way.

Indeed, when the Post's Charles Babcock asked Kontogiannis earlier this month whether all his free goodies to Duke might constitute favors of an inappropriate sort, Kontogiannis had the Copolla-esque response: "Why would I do that? I don't need the man."

Well, it turns out Duke was in a position to do Kontogiannis a favor. He faxed a letter to the Queens DA basically suggesting that he back off and cut the K-man some slack.

Lest I be summarizing the matter too poetically, here's how Babcock describes it in his follow-up piece in tomorrow's Post ...

Cunningham wrote that it had come to his attention that the prosecutor had filed a case against Kontogiannis. The congressman wrote that there may be a political agenda against the school official by a disgruntled contractor and that Kontogiannis may have been victimized as a result. He asked Brown to contact him with any information he could provide on the case, and he thanked the prosecutor for considering his concern.

Cunningham noted in the letter, the sources added, that he had filed a congressional inquiry with Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), who was then chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and attached a note in which a committee lawyer acknowledged receiving the inquiry and said he was looking into it.

Sam Stratman, a spokesman for Hyde, said the note "was merely a matter of courtesy to acknowledge that the committee had received [Cunningham's] request." When the committee lawyer "learned that the New York case was a potential criminal matter," Stratman said, "any inquiry would have been inappropriate. No inquires were ever made of New York officials by the chairman or his staff."

Oh, what a tangled web ...

Late-Breaking Pat Roberts Egregious Hackery Update!

Sen. Pat Roberts (R) prevented the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from making any inquiry into the origins of the Niger forgeries. His reason was that there was an on-going FBI investigation and he didn't want to interfere in any way with that investigation.

(See the footnote on page 57 of the SSCI report or this earlier post.)

As we've noted here repeatedly, at least as of late last year the FBI investigation was really a phantom investigation, with little actual work being done to solve the mystery -- something Sen. Roberts almost certainly knew.

So it would seem that any overlap between a criminal investigation and a congressional inquiry is a big no-no to Roberts.

And yet now we hear that he plans to investigate Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation itself.

What this man won't do when Karl Rove calls.

Good catch by Kos.

Sen. Roberts doesn't have time to investigate the manipulation of prewar intelligence, the Niger forgeries or the Plame disclosure.

But he does have time to investigate how the CIA uses 'cover' in its clandestine operations. And as part of his new exercise in water-carrying he will also investigate Patrick Fitzgerald's criminal probe.

Note the specifics: I didn't say he'll be investigating what Fitzgerald's investigating; he's apparently found time to investigate the Fitzgerald probe itself. Roberts' spokesperson Sarah Little told Reuters that his "committee would also review the probe of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who has been investigating the Plame case for nearly two years."

Can any Senate Democrat not see now that Sen. Roberts only use for his committee is as a tool to defend the political interests of the White House? And will anybody deny that the decision to investigate Fitzgerald comes down on the orders of the White House?

ThinkProgress has a spot-on post today about Al Gonzales' excuse for giving Andy Card a twelve hour heads-up on the DOJ order to preserve White House documents relating to the Plame leak. Gonzales says that then-AG John Ashcroft or his subordinates said it was okay.

If that's true, then the proper response is certainly to tell Ashcroft that there's plenty of room in the Plame-obstruction cauldron, so jump right in. I mean, really. Rove worked on and off for Ashcroft for two decades. And he was a key player in getting Ashcroft off the unemployment line (after losing his senate seat to the then-recently-deceased Mel Carnahan) and into a new job (Attorney General).

Indeed, he eventually had to recuse himself from the case -- which is how the to-all-appearances aggressive and independent Patrick Fitzgerald ended up getting the appointment.

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.