Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The Clintons on Reagan<$NoAd$> ...

Statement of Former President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary and I will always remember President Ronald Reagan for the way he personified the indomitable optimism of the American people, and for keeping America at the forefront of the fight for freedom for people everywhere. It is fitting that a piece of the Berlin Wall adorns the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington.

President Reagan demonstrated his strength and resolve after leaving office when he shared his struggle with Alzheimer's Disease with the world. We will always remember his tremendous capacity to inspire and comfort us in times of tragedy, as he did after the loss of the space shuttle Challenger. Now he, too, has "slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God," and we can rest assured that, as joyous a place as Heaven is, his wit and sunny disposition are making it an even brighter place to be.

Hillary and I send our prayers to Nancy, their children and their many friends and family, as well as our gratitude for the life of a true American original.

And there he goes, like a candle, long only barely burning, finally being snuffed out. A revered, popular president hasn't died in America for more than thirty years -- Harry Truman's death in 1972 is probably the last such similar event. In this case Alzheimers created a liminal decade in which he was often spoken of as though he were part of the past, even though he still lived. A month ago, Nancy Reagan, describing his condition, said "Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him." Here's biographer Lou Cannon's extensive obituary of Ronald Reagan, just out from the Washington Post.

Here at TPM we've repeatedly noted the tendency for Republicans (and also non-Republicans) to argue that non-white voters somehow aren't quite real voters. The point is often framed as noting how up-the-creek Democrats would be without black voters.

Thus we have a comment like Bill Schneider posed to Judy Woodruff a couple years ago on CNN ...

Judy, how dependent are Democrats on the African-American vote?

Without black voters, the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections would have been virtually tied, just like the 2000 election. Oh no, more Florida recounts!

What would have happened if no blacks had voted in 2000? Six states would have shifted from Al Gore to George W. Bush: Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Oregon. Bush would have won by 187 electoral votes, instead of five. A Florida recount? Not necessary.

Right now, there are 50 Democrats in the Senate. How many would be there without African-American voters? We checked the state exit polls for the 1996, 1998, and 2000 elections. If no blacks had voted, many Southern Democrats would not have made it to the Senate. Both Max Cleland and Zell Miller needed black votes to win in Georgia. So did Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Bill Nelson in Florida, John Edwards in North Carolina, and Ernest Hollings in South Carolina.

Black votes were also crucial for Jon Corzine in New Jersey, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, and Jean Carnahan in Missouri. Washington state and Nevada don't have many black voters, but they were still crucial to the victories of Harry Reid in Nevada and Maria Cantwell in Washington.

Nebraska and Wisconsin don't have many black voters either, but Ben Nelson would have lost Nebraska without them and Russ Feingold would have lost Wisconsin, too, in both cases by less than half-a- percent. Bottom line? Without the African-American vote, the number of Democrats in the Senate would be reduced from 50 to 37.

A hopeless minority. And Jim Jeffords' defection from the GOP would not have meant a thing -- Judy.

There are other examples. But you get the <$Ad$>idea.

True, of course. But what's the point exactly? Presumably any political party would put at something of a disadvantage if one of their major constituencies was suddenly struck from the rolls.

We heard a lot of this during Tim Johnson's successful reelection campaign back in 2002 in South Dakota. And now it's being proffered as an excuse to explain Stephanie Herseth's narrow victory in the state earlier this week.

As Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), former head of the Republican House campaign committee (NRCC), told The Hill, "If you take out the Indian reservation, we would have won."

As I said when we last discussed this, I don't like making too much of this. I think the people who say such things haven't quite thought the point out. But their underlying assumption pretty clearly seems to be that blacks or Indians or whoever aren't quite real voters, and that Democrats who can't quite get the job done with ordinary white voters have to resort to them as a sort of electoral padding.

Delicious ....

From the Times ...

Chalabi also accused Tenet of providing ``erroneous information about weapons of mass destruction to President Bush, which caused the government much embarrassment at the United Nations and his own country.''


Mike Allen has some good follow-up on the president and his decision to bring on a personal lawyer in the Plame matter. Allen quotes the president as saying, "This is a criminal matter. It's a serious matter. I met with an attorney to determine whether or not I need his advice, and if I deem I need his advice I'll probably hire him."

This follows the White House line from last night. The president 'consulted' Jim Sharp to advise him on whether or not he needs Sharp's advice. And based on that advice, if the president decides he does need Sharp's advice, he'll probably retain him so he can get the advice.

What about Tenet? All the chatter -- not to mention simple logic -- says he was fired. The Times gets it right when they say that the way this was announced was "almost bizarre."

Actually, here concision should be the handmaiden of precision. Drop the "almost". It was bizarre.

Thus the Times ...

Mr. Bush announced the resignation in a way that was almost bizarre. He had just addressed reporters and photographers in a fairly innocuous Rose Garden session with Australia's prime minister, John Howard. Then the session was adjourned, as Mr. Bush apparently prepared to depart for nearby Andrews Air Force Base and his flight to Europe, where he is to take part in ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the Normady invasion and meet European leaders — some of whom have been sharply critical of the campaign in Iraq.

But minutes later, Mr. Bush reappeared on the sun-drenched White House lawn, stunning listeners with the news of Mr. Tenet's resignation, which the president said would be effective in mid-July. Until then, Mr. Bush said, the C.I.A.'s deputy director, John McLaughlin, will be acting director.

The president praised Mr. Tenet's qualities as a public servant, saying: "He's strong. He's resolute. He's served his nation as the director for seven years. He has been a strong and able leader at the agency. He's been a, he's been a strong leader in the war on terror, and I will miss him."

Then Mr. Bush walked away, declining to take questions or offer any insight into what Mr. Tenet's personal reasons might be.

The more interesting <$Ad$>question is whether we get to hear from Tenet before he grabs the one-way for Guantanamo.

Word has been out for some time that the Senate Intelligence Committee report on intelligence failures is terrible for Tenet. So that could be a cause of his resignation.

For my part, Tenet strikes me as a sort of tragic figure. Under his tenure the CIA got many things wrong about Iraq -- though largely by making estimates in the direction his critics, who now want him sacked, embraced. (A person who's intimately knowledgeable about this intel stuff recently told me that their sense was that the CIA would have gotten a lot of the basic intel stuff wrong without any help from Chalabi.) Then, on top of these errors, the White House added further gross exaggerations, which in many instances Tenet tried to knock down.

Now he's the fall-guy for it all, in all likelihood made to take the fall by the true bad-actors.

Having said all that, beside the possibility that the White House's favored Iraqi exile was an Iranian agent, that the spy chief just got canned, that the OSD is wired to polygraphs, and that the president has had to retain outside counsel in the investigation into which members of his staff burned one of the country's own spies, I'd say the place is being run like a pretty well-oiled machine.

A couple thoughts on the charges against Chalabi.

Chalabi's advocates are arguing that the case against him simply makes no sense. If Chalabi had told this Iranian in Baghdad that we'd cracked one of their codes, why would he turn around and use that code to inform his masters in Tehran?

My answer? Good question. I have no idea.

Reports suggest that the Iranian agent didn't believe Chalabi. And perhaps this is the explanation. Sloppiness could be another. In my mind, however, the key is we -- i.e., we on the outside -- are dealing with extremely fragmentary and limited information.

Most of the details we simply don't know.

Since that's the case we're just not in much of a position to outlogic the counter-espionage people who've decided to take this seriously. And notwithstanding all the stuff we've heard about incompetence in our intelligence community, these folks aren't fools. If the story so obviously made no sense that any chat show oaf could tear it apart, I don't think they'd be taking it as seriously as they are.

The other argument, of course, from the Chalabites is that Chalabi's enemies at the CIA have seized on obviously bogus or questionable intelligence to neutralize him because of their long-standing hostility to him. Basically, they argue, this is just his enemies using an excuse to destroy him.

In my mind, two facts argue against this hypothesis. The first is that people on the inside -- people who know the relevant facts -- and who are either indifferent to or friendly to Chalabi seem to be taking this very seriously. If it was so obviously trumped up, I doubt they would do so.

The second point goes more to the root of the claim. Every charge we've ever heard about Chalabi -- going back almost a decade now -- has been answered by his friends with claims that the CIA or the State Department simply has it out for him because they don't believe he can be controlled and that they're against the 'democracy' that Chalabi represents.

They on the other hand maintained that they just thought Chalabi was a liar and a crook and that we shouldn't have anything to do with him.

At this point, who has the better part of that argument? The Chalabites or the CIA/State? Right. Pretty much answers itself, doesn't it?

One other point, the word I've heard from several Chalabi-friendly sources with good contacts on the inside doesn't throw doubt on the charges against Chalabi so much as it suggests that someone at the CIA or elsewhere in the Intelligence Community might be responsible for the leak to Chalabi. I think that's inherently implausible. But I think that tells us a lot about how seriously we should take claims that Chalabi is being set up.

Tenet resigning for 'personal reasons'. More on that soon. And more thoughts on the alternative theories explaining the evidence against Chalabi.

A couple of months ago I suggested that "rather than continue to give [Chalabi] taxpayer dollars, perhaps we might better spend our time considering how to take him into custody while we're still the sovereign authority in Iraq and have it within our power."

I wasn't kidding then. So how about it? If Chalabi is really responsible for espionage against the United States shouldn't we be thinking about getting a hold of him while we still can?

This new article in the Times suggests that the current investigation may later turn to Chalabi himself but that the "decision on that could be left to the new Iraqi government."

This is all rather hypothetical, I grant you. But why not act while we're still the sovereign authority in the country?

In any case, off to other things. The Times article is mainly about polygraph testing now being done on civilian employees at the Pentagon to see who spilled the beans to Chalabi.

A few points stand out to me about the piece.

First, we have Chalabi's lawyers sending a letter to DOJ protesting his innocence and demanding investigations into whomever is leaking these accusations against him. We also have more of his grandstanding claims that he "is very happy to come to the United States to appear before Congress or be interviewed by legitimate investigative agents in this matter." The idea here must be that Chalabi is like MacArthur being recalled from the field or something or that he gets to choose which branches of American law enforcement or the intelligence community are 'legitimate'. But to the best of my knowledge that's not a privilege we generally extend to foreign crooks or spies.

Let's also note in passing that one of the two attorneys who wrote the letter on Chalabi's behalf is Collette C. Goodman, an attorney at Shea & Gardner, Jim Woolsey's old firm which has been a registered foreign lobbyist/agent for the INC for years. It's a relationship that might bear some renewed scrutiny.

Finally, there's this passage in the Times article ...

The F.B.I. is looking at officials who both knew of the code-breaking operation and had dealings with Mr. Chalabi, either in Washington or Baghdad, the government officials said. Information about code-breaking work is considered among the most confidential material in the government and is handled under tight security and with very limited access.

But a wider circle of officials could have inferred from intelligence reports about Iran that the United States had access to the internal communications of Iran's spy service, intelligence officials said. That may make it difficult to identify the source of any leak.

This is something I've been giving a lot of thought to. But let me add another possible wrinkle to the story.

It says here that this could have been inferred from "intelligence reports". And that's probably right. But what we know about the shop Doug Feith et al. set up at the Pentagon is that they wanted to be sure they weren't relying on the CIA's or anyone else's analyses and reports. They wanted to look at the raw material itself. Now, there's raw and there's raw. And presumably such highly sensitive sources and methods info like this code stuff still wouldn't have been promiscuously discussed. But one can imagine that that raw intel might have included lots of highly valuable decoded communications from Iranian intelligence. And any of those folks, even if they weren't told directly, could have easily ascertained that we had broken the Iranians' code.

Finally, this article in the Post -- and some other news sources -- raises a new line of defense for Chalabi: namely, that Chalabi may be the victim of an Iranian disinformation campaign.

As one administration official told the Post: "As a secular Shia and a democrat, he's a threat to Iran, which wants to see an Islamic government in Iraq. Maybe these two Iranians were trying to set Chalabi up, knowing that the Americans would react viscerally if they suspected he had compromised codes."

This new line of reasoning is either disingenuous or truly sad, and perhaps both.

I'm not at all convinced that Chalabi was a spy per se. From all we know about the guy I think it far more likely that he was just playing both sides and only truly working for himself. As our star waned in Iraq and Iran's waxed, he probably did more and more to curry their favor. And that may have led to sharing some of our prized information with them. I also don't completely discount the possibility that much of Chalabi's current problems are the result of a bureaucratic war being fought against his supporters in the administration. People can, after all, be both framed and guilty. Finally, perhaps the Iranians sent this some disinformation back to us simply to sow confusion in our ranks, notwithstanding who it might hurt in Iraq.

But the idea that they see Chalabi as a threat because he's likely to light the region afire with democracy is a sad misreading of which way the wind has been blowing of late. Set aside whether Chalabi compromised this piece of highly classified information. He has quite openly been courting Islamist groups in the country, setting up his Sharia caucus, hobnobbing with Iraqi Hezbollah, strengthening his ties to the Iranians and pro-Iranianian groups. (Of course, time has to be set aside for kidnapping and extortion and stealing SUVs. But, you know, I'm talking about the political front here.) And I don't know much of anyone who now doubts that Chalabi's intelligence chief was actually an Iranian agent.

So the idea that the Iranians see Chalabi as a threat that needs to be neutralized doesn't seem that likely -- though it does match up with a fantasy some folks seem to have a very hard time shaking.