Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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And then there were three...

CBS reports the CIA referral to Justice over the Wilson/Plame story.

We'll be hearing about this on the shows tomorrow morning.

And of course the obligatory plug: I think we've got the most extensive and detailed interview on this with Ambassador Joe Wilson from September 16th, download it here in PDF.

And then there were two. Time's Timothy Burger picks up the Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame CIA referral story and takes it a few yards farther down field.

According to Burger, Justice has begun a "preliminary inquiry" to determine whether there should be a full-fledged FBI investigation.

My understanding of these things is that this is basically the minimum that they must do in taking cognizance of the CIA's referral and making a formal determination whether or not to act on it. So in a sense it doesn't tell us that much more than the MSNBC story did.

On the other hand, it's another clue that a formal bureaucratic process has been triggered: a step A, followed by step B, followed by step C, and so on.

People at Justice can shut that process down, of course -- either for legit reasons or illegitimate ones. But these are specific decisions in the hands of people who are, at least in theory, politically accountable. Ultimately, the decision is in the hands of John Ashcroft, unless he decides to recuse himself.

So if a FBI investigation isn't initiated, people will know who to ask and they'll be able to ask why he or his deputies decided not to follow up on the CIA's recommendation.

Howard Dean is already banging the drum. And let's just say I know of a few senators who aren't running for president who want to start banging that drum too.

Now, one other point. Both the NBC and the Time story have said that the White House denies the charge. That, I believe, is actually not true. At least not precisely. On September 16th, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan had this to say ...

Q On the Robert Novak-Joseph Wilson situation, Novak reported earlier this year -- quoting -- "anonymous government sources" telling him that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative. Now, this is apparently a federal offense, to burn the cover a CIA operative. Wilson now believes that the person who did this was Karl Rove. He's quoted from a speech last month as saying, "At the end of the day, it's of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs." Did Karl Rove tell that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard that. That's just totally ridiculous. But we've already addressed this issue. If I could find out who anonymous people were, I would. I just said, it's totally ridiculous.

Q But did Karl Rove do it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I said, it's totally ridiculous.

That's a classic non-denial denial. Probably because, as Tim Noah noted a few days ago, McClellan just doesn't know -- and if he's smart, he'll probably keep it that way. On the other hand, the fact that Rove didn't authorize McClellan to issue a categorical denial is awfully revealing ...

As I noted last night, NBC reported that the CIA has made a referral to the Justice Department recommending that there be a criminal investigation into whether White House aides broke federal laws by exposing the identity of undercover employee Valerie Plame in order to retaliate against her husband, Amb. Joe Wilson.

Now, normally when such a story breaks the wire services will jump right on it and the other major papers and networks will report it out through their own sources and run the story too.

But according to the Google News Site, not a single other news outfit has reported the story or picked it up some fifteen hours later. In the circa 2003 news cycle that's a good bit of time.

Now, let me be clear: I'm not saying there's a problem with the story. In fact, I have every reason to believe it's accurate. And MSNBC still has it posted prominently.

But news that the CIA has recommended an investigation of White House aides for criminal wrongdoing is a pretty big deal. So the fact that no one else has picked it up strikes me as odd.

You've gotta be kidding!

Here I am trying to get some Saturday R&R with a good book, when I hear this ...

(Like Michael Corleone: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!")

If you're a regular you've been reading TPM's recent posts about New Bridge Strategies, the new outfit set up by President Bush's right-hand-man Joe Allbaugh and a couple of GOP uber-insider Haley Barbour's lobbying partners to land sweet Iraqi reconstruction contracts.

Well, I'm wondering whether the attention may have been unwelcome because now the New Bridge website seems to be down the memory hole.

As of early Saturday the New Bridge website --- http://www.newbridgestrategies.com --- was nowhere to be found. Then a short time later it was replaced by the Barbour Griffith & Rogers website.

(That's not completely surprising since, as we noted yesterday, New Bridge and Barbour Griffith & Rogers share the same office space near the White House.)

Perhaps it's just a glitch or they're just working on it because it seems to be going back and forth, but I'm a tad suspicious.

They seem to be reconfiguring the site as we speak (so to speak) so if readers can let me know if it changes back again, I'd be much obliged.

LATE UPDATE: As of 3:57 PM New Bridge Strategies triumphantly returns! New Bridge 2.0! The comeback!

When last we spoke, I was telling you about Joe Allbaugh's new company New Bridge Strategies, currently shaking the Iraqi contracts money tree and building a bridge to the Gilded Age.

But cronyism, like charity, starts at home. So let's get to it.

A little more than a year ago, I told you about Edison schools, the brain child of entrepreneur Chris Whittle. The company's mission was to get contracts to run public schools on a for-profit basis and to do it better and more cheaply. The company was the toast of the Republican establishment and got tens of millions of dollars of start-up capital back in the go-go 90s.

The only hitch was that it ended up producing poor performance and for more money. Other than that it worked great.

When we last noted Edison in June 2002, Whittle was hollowing out the company to cover personal debts by having the company loan him about $9 million to buy stock in itself. That's not all that uncommon. The only problem was that Whittle had collateralized the loan with the stocks themselves. And by then Edison's stock, which had traded as high as $23 a share in the glory days of 2001, was chugging along at 85 cents a pop.

In other words, the $9 million was gone and so was the collateral. And this supposedly public company was making no effort to get its money back --- because it was controlled by Whittle. For more details on these innovative shenanigans, see TPM's June 27th, 2002 post on the matter.

In any case, in the last year Edison has bumbled along from failure to failure and the stock has spent most of the year trading a bit over a buck a share.

Things looked awfully bad until last week when Florida's state employee pension fund announced it was buying up all of Edison's stock and taking the company private --- for a cool $174 million. That's got to be the shrewdest investment the fund has made since it bought millions of shares of Enron just as the company entered its death spiral --- including 1.3 million shares just two weeks before the company declared bankruptcy.

As the St. Pete Times aptly noted yesterday, this gives "Florida the distinction of being essentially the sole owner of the nation's largest and perhaps most financially imperiled school management business."

The three member board of trustees of the fund is chaired by Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a big supporter of privatized schools and a big supporter of Edison.

So, you start a company to privatize education and take on the teachers unions. Your company fails miserably both in terms of the market and academic success. Then after you've hollowed the company out to cover your other bad debts friendly pols come along to bail you out with a couple hundred million from the teachers' (and other public employees') pension fund. I love symmetry.

Whammo! NBC has a late report that the CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the White House broke federal law by exposing the identity of one of its undercover employees, Valerie Plame, to retaliate against her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson.

Wilson of course is the former foreign service officer who made the trip to Niger to investigate those claims of uranium sales to Iraq.

The way this works is that the CIA does its own investigation to determine whether there is reason to believe laws were broken. But the CIA has no law enforcement powers itself. So it makes a referral to the Justice Department, which obviously does have law enforcement powers. If the folks at Justice concur in the Agency's determination that there is reason to believe that laws were broken, they then task the FBI with mounting a formal criminal investigation.

(Joe Wilson discussed some of these particulars and the issue of possible White House leaks about his wife in his September 16th interview with TPM, which is now available in .pdf format.)

On its face, this news tonight almost certainly means that the CIA's internal investigation concluded that laws were broken or that there was sufficient evidence of wrong-doing for a criminal investigation to be undertaken.

The decision on whether to task the FBI with investigating the White House is now in hands of John Ashcroft. Once that happens -- if that happens -- it's not a matter of blogs and chat shows, but subpoenas and depositions.


I should have known that a little digging into this Iraq contracting biz would bring me to uber-GOP-insider Haley Barbour. But I tend to be a touch naive about these things, as you can imagine.

Barbour of course is former chair of the RNC, former chair of President Bush's campaign advisory committee in DC in 2000, and former just about everything else in the DC Republican party, as well being one of the priciest and most wired Republican lobbyists in town.

At the moment, in his spare time, Barbour's running for governor of Mississippi. But his real digs are at his DC lobbying shop Barbour Griffith & Rogers, Inc.

Now, yesterday I told you how President Bush's right-hand-man Joe Allbaugh has just set up a new outfit -- New Bridge Strategies -- to help companies get the sweetest contracts in Iraq. New Bridge, as their site says, is "your bridge to success in Iraq."

But when you look more closely at New Bridge, of which Allbaugh is Chairman and Director, you start to see that New Bridge looks an awful lot like an outgrowth of Barbour Griffith and Rogers.

For one thing, the Vice President and Director of New Bridge is Ed Rogers --- the same Ed Rogers who is Barbour's partner in Barbour Griffith and Rogers.

Then there's the third partner, Lanny Griffith. He's Director at New Bridge and Chief Operating Officer at Barbour Griffith & Rogers.

Then there's former Ambassador Richard Burt. He's 'Director' at New Bridge and 'International Director' at Barbour Griffith & Rogers.

Needless to say, Allbaugh's wife Diane is 'of counsel' at Barbour Griffith & Rogers.

Isn't it weird how that happens when you apply for a second job and all the dudes from your first job work at the new place too? Anyway ...

Actually, you can see why it's so convenient to work at both of these two places since they both happen to be located on the 10th floor of 1275 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The memory always goes first.

A slew of readers have just written in to tell me that Chris Matthews just made a big production on Hardball tonight about who Wes Clark voted for in 2000, and then promised to get to the bottom of it by asking Clark the question straight-out if he came on his show again. (I'm at one of my cafe haunts so I didn't see it myself.)

Well, it shouldn't be too hard to get to the bottom of this one.

From Hardball, September 17th ...

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, who you did you vote for in 2000 for president?

CLARK: I voted for Al Gore.

Oh well.

Imagine that. Last night we told you about Joe Allbaugh, President Bush's longtime right-hand-man who just opened a company to get into the Iraq contract business. And last week we told you about how Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith's old law firm, Feith & Zell, has now opened a new division specializing in hooking up clients with the sweetest deals in Iraq. Feith & Zell is now Zell, Goldberg & Co, though they haven't yet gotten around to changing their website address, which is still www.fandz.com.

Well, there's more.

Let me introduce you to the Iraqi International Law Group, a new outfit ready to help you secure contracts for rebuilding Iraq. And let me also introduce you to the head of IILG, Salem Chalabi.

Name sound familiar? Related to Ahmed Chalabi? You bet: Salem's Ahmed's nephew.

Now, Salem just got his website up online. And he seems to have gotten some help because up until a couple days ago the site address was registered under the name of Marc Zell. Right, that Marc Zell, Feith's former law partner. And the help continues. According to Chalabi, Zell is working as the firm's "marketing consultant." In fact, at the bottom of the IILG website in the 'contact' section it lists the "Partner for International Marketing" as someone with the email address "mzell@iraqlawfirm.com". And I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that that's an email address for Marc Zell. Call me crazy.

In any case, I'd love to tell you that this latest twist is the product of my own sleuthing. But most of it comes from a very good article in Wednesday's Guardian, passed on to me by a helpful TPM reader (DW). (Well, actually I noticed the email address on the site, so I'll give myself a small pat on the back.)

The contracts are becoming a key lever of power in Washington and in Baghdad. There's much more of this to come.

Okay. I normally make something of a policy of not responding to jabs and cracks from other websites, because there's no end to it. But this one I simply can't resist. Wednesday evening I wrote that "the president's numbers seem to be in something close to free-fall. His approval ratings have fallen roughly 20 percentage points in four months ... the president's rapid descent is undeniable. And it's not clear he's hit bottom."

Au Contraire! says the Wall Street Journal online, referring to my quote above. The WSJ argues that my post represents "a triumph of hope over arithmetic."


The president's current rate of decline, they note, is "unsustainable" since it would lead to a mere 9% approval rating by May 2004. (They actually provide a chart.)

Continues the WSJ ...

Mathematically, then, Bush's "free fall" has to end at some point, with his ratings at least leveling off. And it seems likely that his "bottom" is a lot closer to the current 49% than to zero, for the simple reason that his own party remains united behind them.

Now, it's true that the finite number of people in the country able to offer support does represent something of a brake on one's ability to keep falling in the polls indefinitely. But somehow, if I were a Republican, I'm not sure I'd find the Journal's analysis that reassuring. My analysis may be a triumph of hope over mathematics. But I'd call theirs an unwitting triumph of mathematics over hope.

A lot closer to 49% than zero!

Is that the new motto? How the mighty have fallen.