Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Does the Bush administration care more about preventing nuclear proliferation or letting John Bolton play payback games with IAEA Chief Mohamed ElBaradei?

Wait, don't answer that question.

The Post reports tomorrow that Bush administration officials have been busily poring over transcripts of intercepts of ElBaradei's phone conversations with Iranian diplomats in search of ammunition to try to unseat him from his post at the IAEA.

Unfortunately for them, they don't seem to have come up with anything. Also revealing is the fact that they have apparently had little luck finding another lackey to throw his hat into the ring to replace the embattled ElBaradei.

Before going any further, let's stipulate that this isn't the first administration to listen in on diplomats' and foreign leaders' phone calls. Nor, to my lights at least, is there any inherent problem in doing so, so long as the ability isn't abused. This is, after all, part of what we're talking about when we talk about having an intelligence service.

But unless I'm missing something this administration seems to get caught doing it more than probably any administration in recent memory, or perhaps ever. Or at least it ends up on the front pages of the papers. And that's really not a good thing. Especially when it exposes (admittedly, as though they needed much exposing) high-ranking officials using US signals intelligence capabilities to pursue dingbat vendettas or to give Bolton a bit more ammunition in his battles with Colin Powell.

Let's broaden this out a bit, shall we?

Perhaps we were too hasty in criticizing the president for only giving cabinet nominations to people who have already served as his butler, or footman or personal tutor. Because when he goes outside his personal circle the process seems almost comically inept, hasty and reckless.

I guess for the next day or so we've got to keep pretending that it was this nanny issue that cost Kerik the post. And the Post has a story out tomorrow with the first reports that Kerik lied to them about the nanny thing. But then there's this passage ...

In the vetting process, which was conducted by the office of White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, Kerik also never mentioned that a New Jersey judge had issued a warrant for his arrest in 1998 over a civil dispute over unpaid bills, the sources said. The existence of the dispute was first reported by Newsweek Friday night.

It is unclear why White House lawyers could not uncover a warrant that Newsweek discovered after a few days of research, although some are blaming Bush's insistence on speed and secrecy for failing to catch this and other potential red flags in Kerik's background.

"[T]his and other potential red flags."

That's <$Ad$> sort of a charitable way of putting it, isn't it?

As nearly as I can tell, almost every major assignment Kerik has had turns out to have been hazed over with clouds of scandal. At the posting in Saudi Arabia he is, it seems credibly, accused of pursuing his boss's private agenda and spying on the boss's many paramours on his behalf.

Then on Kerik watch, Riker's Island turned into a latter-day GOP Tammany Hall, with punishment meted out to employees who didn't do off-duty work for Republicans. At the NYPD there were reportedly other problems. And then you've got the Baghdad bug-out after that.

And then you've got the 9/11-based security rainmaking with Rudy, though perhaps that's considered an advantage since he could work better at DHS with former employers.

Perhaps Kerik is just misunderstood or has a lot of ungenerous accusers. Or I'm just putting it all in the worst light. But was this really the best pick for Homeland Security, given that the president has made it the central issue of his presidency?

Late Update: In this article in the Times, David Sanger makes explicit the analogy to Linda Chavez's abortive nomination to the Department of Labor, which we mentioned earlier. But if the Bush White House really wants to stick with the story that this nanny business was really all that sunk Kerik, doesn't that mean that all the other cases of scandal and evidence of his using police power to pursue personal and political agendas just didn't matter to them?

Newsday: "The short, disastrous nomination of Bernard Kerik ended with a whimper and may have ended Rudolph Giuliani's Teflon period -- a three-year stretch when his status as "America's Mayor" largely obscured his own shortcomings and the foibles of close associates."

The headline is "Flameout burns Rudy politically."

And how ...

The one clear casualty of the Cash-n-Kerik debacle is Rudy Giuliani. How much has his star been dimmed in Republican circles over this? Or at least in Bush circles. Or is there a difference anymore?

In all the flurry of stories about Bernard Kerik<$NoAd$>, I must confess that I missed this one in Wednesday's Post about his time in Saudi Arabia. This had been one of the many apparent feathers in Kerik's cap.

But according to the Post article ...

Since he was nominated last week to be homeland security secretary, however, nine former employees of the hospital have said that Kerik and his colleagues were carrying out the private agenda of the hospital's administrator, Nizar Feteih, and that the surveillance was intended to control people's private affairs. Feteih became embroiled in a scandal that centered in part on his use of the institution's security staff to track the private lives of several women with whom he was romantically involved, and men who came in contact with them, the ex-employees said.

Not only is this a rather unfortunate record, if true, but it jibes with other parts of his history -- running Riker's island as a Republican fief, the undying and unlimited fealty to Rudy, the rainmaking, whatever mumbo-jumbo happened in Iraq.

Newsweek's Mark Hosenball suggests that his investigation may have been what scotched the Kerik nomination. And he may be right. According to this story on the Newsweek website, early this evening Newsweek reporters faxed the White House documents detailing an arrest warrant that was issued for Kerik in 1998, stemming from a dispute over unpaid bills for a condo he owned in New Jersey.

It was only the tip of the iceberg.

I was away from the computer and any news for the evening and here I come back to find out that Bernard Kerik has withdrawn his name from consideration for head of DHS allegedly for a nanny problem. (AP quotes the White House saying simply that it was for "personal reasons.")

Frankly, I doubt that was all there was. As we've discussed on this site, only a president with majorities as compliant as George W. Bush has right now would have even considered nominating Kerik. On top of the mysterious departure from Baghdad and the Rudy and Co. rainmaking, there's the fact that he left the Riker's Island prison as something very near to a latter-day version of Tammany Hall. And that was hardly the end of it. Eventually, the pay-off to Rudy aspect of the nod would have come up too.

This is the Bush way of handling these sorts of things: if it's going to be bloody, dispatch him early. Don't even let it get to the hearings stage -- just like Linda Chavez.

I'll be very curious to hear the follow-on reporting about what really happened. What was the problem that did him in? When did the White House send the message? How did they do it?

Maybe not a horse-head in the bed-sheets, but there must be some story to tell.

Here is the extremely broad-ranging <$NoAd$>list of participants for the Social Security (abolition) panel at the president's "Securing Our Economic Future" conference.

Richard D. Parsons, Chairman and CEO, Time Warner Inc.; Co-Chair, President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security (New York, NY)

Liz Ann Sonders, Chief Investment Strategist, Charles Schwab and Co. (New York, NY)

William Roper, Dean, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC)

James Glassman, Senior U.S. Economist, JP Morgan Chase (New York, NY)

Tim Penny, Professor, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota; Member, President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security; former U.S. Representative (Waseca, MN)

Sandy Jaques, National Advisory Council Member, Women for a Sound Social Security Choice (West Des Moines, IA)

Everyone from Wall Street economists who support ending Social Security, to think-tankers and activists who support it too.

[ed.note: I tried to find a link for everyone. But neither google nor Nexis gave me any results for "Sandy Jaques" or her organization "Women for a Sound Social Security Choice." So presumably it's another phoney-baloney astroturf outfit that's so new their site isn't even listed on google yet. I'd figure Mr. Synhorst would be more on his game for the big moment.]

Late Update: A reader sent in this press release about the mysterious Ms. Jaques from October 6th of this year. That was apparently before she cooked up 'Women for a Sound ... etc.' She seems to come out of Citizens for a Sound Economy.

From this page, it sounds like Jacques is a classic astroturf operative.

Could this be one of the things that got ol' Clark Kent Ervin out of favor at the White House?

You may have heard of the case Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, who was born in 1970 and immigrated to Canada in 1987. In September 2002, during a stopover in New York while returning to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia, he was taken into custody by US Immigration officials who claimed he had ties to al Qaida.

Arar was subsequently deported to Syria. And, when he returned to Canada over a year later, he claimed to have been tortured while in Syrian custody.

In December 2003 Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan wrote the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security -- that would be our Mr. Ervin -- asking him to conduct a review into the circumstances under which INS deported Arar to Syria despite that fact that he was carrying a Canadian passport at the time of his detention.

But, according to a letter Ervin sent Conyers on July 14th, 2004, he wasn't getting a lot of cooperation on his review.

(Before proceeding, it's important to note that whether or not Arar is a bad guy is an entirely separate question from whether the statutorily-empowered Department IG can review what happened.)

Ervin began his letter by explaining various delays in the review because of his inability to see classified documents and because of various claims of privilege by DHS lawyers.

Then, in the final three grafs, Ervin describes how he had been prevented from interviewing past and present government officials involved in the case as well as being denied access to additional government documents because DHS lawyers were asserting various legal privileges, such as attorney-client privilege, among others.

Ervin found the assertions of privilege to be bogus (my words, not his) but had had "no success", to use his words, in his efforts to get the access he felt he needed. Click here to see the passage from Ervin's letter.

After reading the letter, my question is less why the guy got canned than how he ever got hired by these guys in the first place.

I hear Sen. Collins ain't crazy about Ervin either, though the reasons I've heard for her disapproval seem debatable.

What is this world coming to when you have to quit your job at Hustler just because your stepdad gets nominated as AG?