Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Today a group of 11 former intelligence officers delivered a letter to the Republican and Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate on the Plame case. See it here.

If Murray Waas's sources are right, Karl Rove is in a ton of trouble, even if he did nothing more than we know already. According to his sources, Rove didn't 'fess up about the conversation with Matt Cooper when he was first interviewed by the FBI in 2003.

Yes, yes, yes, I know. In a couple hours we'll know who the president's Supreme Court nominee is. Dobson will come charging down from his hillock. SpongeBob will run for the hills. And all hell will likely break loose.

But don't miss the piece in today's Wall Street Journal (available to non-subscribers) which adds a bit of new information. That classified State Dept. memo, which was probably the ultimate source of the Plame leak, "made clear that information identifying an agent and her role in her husband's intelligence-gathering mission was sensitive and shouldn't be shared."

We don't know enough details yet to know precisely how that piece fits into the puzzle. But it likely makes a defense based on ignorance much more difficult for someone.

As I just wrote over at TPMCafe, the one thing I've read about Edith Clement on abortion rights is a reference to her writing that Roe is settled law. If that's even close to an accurate representation of her views, that would mean war between the White House and the religious right. Something here doesn't fit. We're discussing in this thread at TPMCafe.

Late Update: Late idle speculation seems now to point away from Clement and toward Judge Edith Jones. No matter how baseless the speculation, you know where to go to discuss it!

Over the last few days I've done several <$NoAd$>posts on how that classified State Department memo in the Plame case made its way through the State Department and then to then-Secy. Powell on the president's trip to Africa. Last night I got an email from a longtime reader who is a retired US ambassador, a career foreign service officer and Asia specialist ...

Josh, in your posting on talking points, you asked about the briefing books for Presidential trips. For your background info:

The State Department is responsible for preparing the briefing books for the President. The NSC often boils the big briefing books (very thick, usually one or two volumes) down into more concise memos and talking points for the President.

The Secretary of State has additional briefing books that consist of memos for any meetings that are his/her own and separate from the President.

In addition, the Secretary's staff often puts together an informal collection of materials for the Secretary to read while on the plane.

As you noted, on July 6 Rich Armitage asked Carl Ford to send a copy of the June INR memo to Powell. I read that the original memo in June was from INR to Marc Grossman. The way State works, someone on the 7th floor could have made a copy of the June memo for Armitage, or Grossman could have brought it to Armitage's attention. That's how he learned about it, and when he read Joe's op-ed on that July Sunday, he immediately remembered about it and called Ford and said to send Powell a copy.

The question is, did that memo end up in the President's briefing book, the Secretary's briefing book, or the Secretary's pile of reading material?

It doesn't really matter. When you're on Air Force One, you are in a confined space. If someone -- anyone -- read that memo, they could have walked 10 feet and shared it with anyone else. All the bureaucratic boundaries of Washington break down when you're in one of those situations. You're all together. Bloomberg said that Ari Fleischer was seen reading it. Plus according to other accounts, he started telling reporters on board that they should ask about how it was that Wilson got to go on the trip. Plus we know that Ari made phone calls from the plane -- they could have been to Rove, Libby, Novak, or whoever, to alert them to what he had just read. When Rove says "I never read anything/saw any memo," he could very well be right. But someone should have asked him, "did you hear about the memo? Did someone describe its contents to you?"

There is another way that Rove could have heard about Valerie Plame, and that is via Scooter Libby. I haven't seen anyone suggest this route, but we all know that Scooter and Cheney were deep into the intelligence. They went out to the Agency to meet with the analysts (and allegedly harrassed them). I am sure that Scooter participated in meetings in the White House/EOB where CIA analysts on WMD and Iraq were present. As we know, Valerie was one such analyst. Is it not possible that Scooter had met her on one or more occasions before Joe Wilson started going public? Since she's a looker, he certainly would have remembered her face and name. And then, once Joe writes his op-ed, Scooter realizes the connection between Valerie and Joe, or he asks around and quickly finds out. He then informs Rove. This is all speculation on my part. Joe would know whether Valerie had met Scooter before.

The third possibility is Bolton or his staff. (Remember that his chief of staff was from the CIA.) Again, Bolton was deeply into the intelligence on Iraq and WMD. When INR sent the memo to Grossman in June, Bolton's office no doubt got a copy of it, given the way the Department works. Given the neo-con circle in the Administration, it would not have taken long for Bolton to tip off Libby to the Wilson-Plame-CIA connection.

(ed.note: Later he added the following.)
As I reread my email, my guess is that the INR memo to Powell would have been put in his reading folder and not in the president's briefing book -- that's because the briefing books are usually printed up one week in advance, so if the memo was sent on July 6 or whatever, and they were flying to africa the next day or so, it would have been too late to put it in the official briefing book.

Is it peculiarly tragic or perhaps not-so-peculiarly tragic that Christopher Hitchens ends up an apologist for, among others, Karl Rove, latter-day practitioner of the peculiarly Southern version of smash-and-trash politics honed by his mentor Lee Atwater and other such worthies? I'm not sure if Tom Watson or Orestes Brownson is the best precursor for the arc. But let me focus in on one of his points in his piece today in Slate carrying water as noted above.

Here he claims among other things that Iraq really was interested in getting its hands on Nigerien uranium.

That's based on? Well, the British Butler Report of course, notwithstanding the fact that the Butler Report doesn't exactly say that or the fact that the Butler Report itself can be shown without great difficulty to be intentionally misleading about the British reliance on those same forgeries to come up with their claim about an Iraq-Niger connection.

He even throws in the spoon-fed bit of disinformation that appeared in the Financial Times back in June 2004. This was the story about the shadowy gang of central African uranium smugglers who'd conspired to sell uranium to more or less every rogue state in the world.

But why mess with preliminaries? The Iraq Survey Group more or less owned Iraq for more than a year, had access to all the evidence leading up the war, all the evidence in Iraq, all the scientists arrested by the US military, everything we've learned since the war. And, as Ivo Daalder pointed out a few days back, the ISG concluded that Saddam's regime had not sought uranium either at home or abroad since 1991, period.

What else is there to say?

This point is admittedly very deep in the weeds. But if you're playing the Rove/Plame/Niger sleuth game like many of the rest of us, it's a significant point.

Much now turns, you'll remember, on this classified State Department memo, which seems likely to have been the source of the information about Joe Wilson and his wife that was circulating between reporters and White House staffers in early July 2003.

A couple days ago the Times reported that "the memorandum was dated June 10, 2003." That squares with what we know about the administration's concerns (or 'interest' if you're the gullible type) dating more than a month before his Times oped.

Today, however, Bloomberg reports that it was "prepared by the State Department on July 7, 2003."

Big difference.

Now, I guess you could say that a document needn't be prepared at the time it was dated. But had the memo been backdated a month I assume we'd have heard about this already, since that would be pretty big news in itself.

Bloomberg follows up with these grafs ...

On the same day the memo was prepared, White House phone logs show Novak placed a call to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, according to lawyers familiar with the case and a witness who has testified before the grand jury. Those people say it is not clear whether Fleischer returned the call, and Fleischer has refused to comment.

The Novak call may loom large in the investigation because Fleischer was among a group of administration officials who left Washington later that day on a presidential trip to Africa. On the flight to Africa, Fleischer was seen perusing the State Department memo on Wilson and his wife, according to a former administration official who was also on the trip.

At first I assumed that the discrepancy was simply the result of an editorial error from the Times or Bloomberg. But as you can see, both articles hang a significant theory of the case on the date. So it seems unlikely that June has simply been transposed for July, or vice versa.

The answer comes down deep in the Bloomberg article ...

The July 7 memo was largely a reproduction of an earlier State Department report prepared around June 12. Another key question that Fitzgerald is interested in, according to the grand jury witness and the lawyers familiar with the case, is whether Rove or Libby learned of this earlier report and, if so, shared its content with reporters.

Now, presumably, this second version of the memo is what is referenced in this portion of the article in the Times ...

When Mr. Wilson's Op-Ed article appeared on July 6, 2003, a Sunday, Richard L. Armitage, then deputy secretary of state, called Carl W. Ford Jr., the assistant secretary for intelligence and research, at home, a former State Department official said. Mr. Armitage asked Mr. Ford to send a copy of the memorandum to Mr. Powell, who was preparing to leave for Africa with Mr. Bush, the former official said. Mr. Ford sent it to the White House for transmission to Mr. Powell.

I suppose this is where I venture some theory as to what it all means. But I'm not sure what it does mean. Let me add a few more details though and ask a couple questions.

The Bloomberg article says that Novak put in a call to Ari Fleischer on the same day (July 7th) the second memo was prepared at the State Department, and that Fleischer did see the second memo.

My question is about the point in the Times graf above about Carl Ford. And it's not a rhetorical question. Does an assistant secretary of State send a document to the White House if he's trying to send it to the Secretary? Even if the Secretary is about to leave on a foreign trip with the president? Perhaps that's how it would be done. I don't know.

Secondly, where at State did the first memo originate? Bloomberg seems clear that the second memo was prepared at INR, State's in-house intel bureau. But they're less clear on whether the first one came from there.

It's certainly possible that the difference between these two memos is little more than the difference between xeroxing it or slapping another date at the top. But as long as we're all blind men feeling one part of the elephant, let's try to cover as much of the animal as possible.

Gaggle follow-up to-do list.

A few points that might do with clarifying. Under the president's new policy, is an indictment sufficient for dismissal, or conviction necessary? Assuming conviction is necessary, can staff continue to serve while the case is taken up on appeal?

Late Update: We're discussing possible interpretations of the president's new rule here.

A friend raises the interesting point about whether there's a grandfather clause on the president's new no-felons-employed here rule. If you committed a crime during Iran-Contra, can you work in this administration? Or does the rule -- presumably -- only apply to felonies commited in the course of employment.