Josh Marshall

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But of course ... more from the Neil Bush Files. This time a quick 800 grand on a sweetheart stock deal. And, yes, there is more to come on the Chen-Neil Bush 'summit' and how it came about.

The People's Republic of China: Strategic Competitor, Strategic Partner, or Family Business Partner? An issue for 2004.

More on this soon too ....

Mike, Mike, Mike ... just when you were doing so well!

Mike Allen, who wrote several of the best articles about the Plame case, has a new article in the Post today about the Plame story. Actually, the piece contains some really good stuff. But first the egregious lede.

The point of Allen's article is that the perps in the Plame case may not have committed a crime because they may not have known that Plame was undercover. They may only have known she was CIA.

And who's the expert who pushes this angle?

Victoria Toensing.

(If you already know who Toensing is, I'll give you a few moments to laugh uncontrollably. Then rejoin us when you're done.)

Allen calls Toensing a "legal expert" and "the chief counsel of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence when Congress passed the law protecting the identities of undercover agents."

But that's a rather incomplete description, now isn't it?

Toensing, of course, is not only a pricey DC defense lawyer. She's also a professional Republican, one tightly connected to the DC GOP power structure, and someone you could find at pretty much any point in the late nineties as an anti-Clinton "legal expert" on every chat show under the sun.

Using Toensing as the legal expert on this question is like bringing Bruce Lindsey in as your commentator to discuss Lewinsky.

Now for the substance of what Toensing said.

Toensing says this may not have been a crime because the perps may not have known Plame was undercover.

But this isn't really a reason why this wasn't a crime. It's more properly termed the logical defense at trial or perhaps in a plea negotiation. It may well be impossible to prove the perps' knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt. But it's very hard to believe, for a number of reasons, they didn't know exactly what she did.

Here's just one of the many reasons why.

Allen writes ...

The July column by Robert D. Novak that touched off the investigation did not specify that Valerie Plame was working undercover, but said she was "an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction." That raises the possibility that the senior administration officials he quoted did not know Plame's status.

This rather misses the point.

In the intelligence community, the word 'operative' is a term of art. And it means someone who is undercover. It doesn't refer to an analyst. And as I showed in this post from October 9th a review of all of Novak's columns in the Nexis database shows that he always use the term in this way.

When this mess first hit the fan, Novak tried to claim that he had just made a mistake. And his friends in the press generally gave him the benefit of the doubt. But for someone like Novak that explanation hardly passes the laugh test. And if Novak knew, that means his sources knew.

And one other point.

Back on October 9th and 10th I told you that Scott McClellan's denials that Rove, Libby and Abrams were the perps wasn't nearly as air-tight as they seemed, that it was basically a non-denial denial. But no one seemed to catch on.

Now they're coming clean. Again, from Mike Allen's piece in the Post ...

When White House press secretary Scott McClellan was being barraged with questions about the case this fall, he said repeatedly that he knew of no Bush aides who had "leaked classified information." McClellan would not answer questions about the ethics or propriety of encouraging reporters to write about Plame.

"The subject of this investigation is whether someone leaked classified information," McClellan said. Another time, he said, "The issue here is whether or not someone leaked classified information." McClellan left open the possibility that White House aides had discussed Plame with the media. "You all talk about what's in the news, I talk about what's in the news, people always talk about what's in the news," he said.

A senior administration official said Bush's aides did not intend to mount a legalistic defense, but two GOP legal sources who have discussed the case with the White House said the careful, consistent wording of McClellan's statements was no accident.

"If they could have made a broader denial, they would have," said a lawyer who is close to the White House. "But they seem to be confident they didn't step over the legal line."

So let's stop the charade. They're guilty as sin. It's now crystal clear that from the very beginning the folks at the White House have known who did it. And pretty clearly the president didn't see anything wrong with it, or didn't care, because he didn't try to do anything about it.

A few more quick thoughts on John Ashcroft's recusal in the Plame investigation.

First, I've heard a bit more about Patrick Fitzgerald, the man Deputy Attorney General James Comey appointed to serve as a special prosecutor in the Plame case. And, thus far, everything I've heard leads me to believe he'll lead an independent investigation.

One can never know in advance of course what motives or predispositions a person might have. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating(hackneyed phrase? yes. but clear and to the point). But one can look at clues from past performance. And those clues point in the right direction.

And then, another issue. Why did this happen? And why now?

A few possibilities suggest themselves.

One might surmise that Ashcroft, after some time to think it over, decided that it was the wiser course to recuse himself and appoint a special prosecutor.

You could surmise that. But then you'd be pretty stupid. So let's pass on that possibility.

Let's consider two other possibilities, both of which assume this was triggered by on-going developments in the investigation.

One possibility is that the investigation has come up with more and more evidence and that has made it increasingly likely that there will be an indictment or at least some extensive grand jury proceedings. Because of that, it's now no longer tenable for Ashcroft to remain in charge of the investigation, since it's now clear that some serious wrong-doing occurred.

This seemed to be what Comey was getting at when he said: "It's fair to say that an accumulation of facts throughout the course of the investigation over the last several months has led us to this point."

But there's another possibility: that is, that this decision isn't the result of the general progress of the investigation or the accumulation of evidence, but something specific. Or more to the point, a specific person. And that something has just taken place.

Obviously these are general scenarios, which may, in reality, overlap quite a bit. But what strikes me about this announcement today was its timing. And the timing leads me to think the third scenario is the most likely.

Here's why.

The other news developments from the administration on the Plame case have come at what you might call press-appropriate times. As in, late on Friday afternoons. Stuff like that -- the times guaranteed to get you as little press notice as possible.

This was early afternoon on a Tuesday, albeit, yes, the day before New Year's Eve. If this was just a matter of a slow accumulation of evidence, tomorrow afternoon would have been just as good, and would have gotten the story buried. Same goes for Friday.

Now a third point.

It's always been more or less an open secret who the perps are in this case. And they're very high-level folks -- people with deep influence of the formulation and implementation of policy. And the wrong-doing here is directly related to the execution of policy. So if a crime was committed, and if an indictment is forthcoming, it will bring under scrutiny a whole complex range of wrong-doing (though not necessarily criminal wrongdoing) relating to administration war policy and intelligence manipulation and other stuff we can go into at a later date.

The Washington Post this evening has an article quoting "Republican legal sources who have discussed the case with the White House and the Justice Department" who say that this will give the administration cover and 'depoliticize' the case.

Not likely.

If the real perps are indicted, the political implications will be obvious and undeniable. And the fall-out will be rapid.

I was having lunch with a friend today, and mid-way through our meal I noticed a TV near the bar running CNN with the tell-tale 'Breaking News' logo.

I looked over and saw that it was some Justice Department news conference and figured it couldn't be something too interesting.

Getting back to my office this afternoon I see it was a bit of a bigger deal than I thought.

As you've probably already seen, Attorney General John Ashcroft has decided to recuse himself from the Plame leak investigation, which will be taken over by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the current United States Attorney in Chicago.

It is gratifying to see that the investigative machinery at Justice and the FBI is a touch more on the ball than the collective wisdom of the Washington press corps, which was that the legal and substantive political issues raised by this incident were satisfactorily resolved by Plame's appearance in a photo in Vanity Fair. But we can discuss this town's corruption another time ...

One point of detail.

At the Washington Post website, the caption under a photo of Fitzgerald seems to identify him as a Republican. But reports from the time of his appointment as US Attorney have him identifying himself as an independent and denying any partisan affiliation.

This from a May 13th 2001 AP report ...

The son of Irish immigrants and a graduate of the Harvard Law School, Patrick Fitzgerald said he is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.

"I'm an independent," he told reporters.

Sen. Fitzgerald said a professional prosecutor with a streak of professional independence was just what he wanted.

The senator said that at the outset of his search he consulted outgoing FBI director Louis Freeh.

"I asked Mr. Freeh who in his opinion were the best prosecutors in the country and one of the first names he mentioned was Pat Fitzgerald," the senator said.

Patrick Fitzgerald graduated from Harvard's law school one year ahead of Sen. Fitzgerald's wife, Nina. But aides to the senator said the two apparently had never met while at Harvard.

In New York, Fitzgerald has the reputation of a tough, no-nonsense prosecutor who doesn't relish bantering with reporters. He is trusted by U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White and was by her side when law enforcement officials gathered the night in July 1996 when TWA Flight 800 burst into flames over Long Island and 230 aboard were killed.

I've only had a chance to do a cursory look at Fitzgerald. So these judgments are tentative. But, from what I've seen, he appears to be someone without any strong partisan profile and a career prosecutor with experience both in public corruption cases and intelligence and counter-terrorism.

More on this shortly ...

I'd quibble with a few points. But over at there's a very insightful brief history of the several decade struggle between Realists and neocons in the Republican party. Good stuff. Take a look.

Howard Dean said yesterday that <$Ad$>DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe should rein in the fusillade of attacks coming Dean's way from other candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.

For the moment, I don't have any particular comment on that. They can attack. He can say they shouldn't attack. He can ask McAuliffe to make them stop. Whatever ...

But then Dean goes on to imply (once again) that his supporters won't support another Democratic nominee.

"I don't know where they're going to go, but they're certainly not going to vote for a conventional Washington politician," the Times quotes Dean as saying.

The Times goes on to say ...

Though Dr. Dean has repeatedly said he would back whichever Democrat wins the nomination, he said Sunday that support was "not transferable anymore" and that endorsements, including his own, "don't guarantee anything."

"Right now those guys think we're the front-runner, so they're saying all this stuff, `He can't win'," Dr. Dean said. "How are they going to win?

I don't care if Dean says he'll endorse whoever wins. He's playing the defection card. And that crosses the line.

I don't doubt that it would be hard to reconcile some Dean supporters to another Democratic nominee. But that's not the point. By saying it, he's leveraging it, and encouraging it.

The price of admission to the Democratic primary race is a pledge of committed support to whomever wins the nomination, period. (The sense of entitlement to other Democrats' support comes after you win the nomination, not before.) If Dean can't sign on that dotted-line, he has no business asking for the party's nomination.

Let me make reference to a column by Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which appeared yesterday in The Washington Post. The argument is pretty straightforward: Foxman says that the reception given to the 'Geneva Accords' is what one might expect if Israel were not a functioning democracy, as though it needed a government in exile.

I don't agree with that. But, okay, fair enough. A reasonable argument.

But look at this graf toward the end of the column ...

I would suggest that there is a tendency in some circles to psychologically delegitimize the Sharon government without stating it so bluntly. Reflexive and distorted reactions to Sharon, whether calling him a Nazi or unrepentant hard-liner or war criminal or racist or drinker of Muslim children's blood, all have an impact. Such outrageous reactions, repeated time and again in the media, in Islamic conferences, in some parts of Europe and in international organizations, have their cumulative effect. The result is to treat a proposal by nonofficials, legitimate as it may be, in a way that would never occur with any other democratic government.

At this point in the column, all Foxman has discussed are the Geneva Accords and, to a lesser extent, a <$Ad$>number of high-ranking current and former members of Israel's defense and intelligence services who have spoken out against Israel's current policies in the occupied territories.

Some circles? Without stating it so bluntly? There's some projection going on here.

Look at the range of attacks Foxman ascribes to Sharon's critics: "calling him a Nazi or unrepentant hard-liner or war criminal or racist or drinker of Muslim children's blood."

One is a reasonable description (hardly a slur) which the Lukidniks themselves I don't think would even quibble with: hardliner.

But look at the others. One is a version of the blood libel: the reference to drinking the blood of Muslim children. Or Nazi? Or racist?

I don't deny these things have been said. But they're not exactly part of the mainstream public discourse in Israel or the US or frankly anything that has been said or thought by the people involved with the 'Geneva Accord'.'

No, Foxman is not saying that directly. But there's something mendacious and morally unseemly about what Foxman is saying.

He's placing those who oppose Sharon's policies, even adamantly oppose them, into the realm of crazies, extremists and anti-Semites. He's quite deliberately classifying them all together. That's the point.

By putting in 'Islamic conferences' and 'some parts of Europe', Foxman provides himself with catch-alls which in some theoretical sense make his statements plausible. But read in the context of his column, those groups make no sense as the folks Foxman is really talking about. I would assume that anyone who accuses Sharon of drinking the blood of Muslim children has already decided to be rather blunt, right? The point is that Foxman is trying to put all the tough critics in the camp of the blood libelers.

The column is meant to stifle debate and squelch criticism. It's a subtle slander. And there's a sense of entitlement, which is the subtext of the prose I quoted above, which should not be there.

I finally finished this empire essay which I’ve several times mentioned I’d been working on. I found it much more taxing and draining than I’d imagined. And it’s made me question and rethink a number of my assumptions about America’s place in the world today, her relative power, and the underlying domestic changes that are shaping the way she acts today on the world stage.

Is it really reasonable to expect that the values which undergird liberal democracy in America will be effectively spread abroad by the most illiberal people in America? It's a good question. Think about it.

I’ll get into various of these points in subsequent posts. But let me just start by recommending again this book by George Soros The Bubble of American Supremacy. In some ways this is an uneven book -- or perhaps better to say, unadorned. And I don’t subscribe to all his points of analysis or conclusions. But his basic diagnosis of the errors of our current policies – both strategic and moral – are insightful, wise, and important.

(This strikes me very much as the sort of book one might write if one were a multibillionaire who were old enough and accomplished enough to lack any particular literary ambitions, but just had some very specific, important points one wanted to get in front of a large audience. Soros is indifferent to dressing his points up; he just makes them, which is a good way to approach writing.)

All of this allows Soros to step outside the well-worn grooves that our contemporary foreign policy discussions tend to slide along.

This is an unfortunate passage. <$NoAd$>It comes from David Brooks' column in tomorrow's Times ...

But ours is the one revolution that worked, and it did precisely because our founders were epistemologically modest too, and didn't pretend to know what is the good life, only that people should be free to figure it out for themselves.

Because of that legacy, we stink at social engineering. Our government couldn't even come up with a plan for postwar Iraq — thank goodness, too, because any "plan" hatched by technocrats in Washington would have been unfit for Iraqi reality.

I don't know where to start.

The failure to do proper planning for post-war Iraq, it turns out, wasn't a matter of hidebound ideologues who ignored and attacked expertise and experience. It was the happy result of America's tradition of non-ideological pragmatism.

This is screw-up laundering with a spritz of history tossed on.

Amidst these horrible images out of Iran, I could not help but notice that the magnitude of this earthquake (6.5 on the Richter Scale) was exactly the same as the one last week in California. And of course the difference in the human cost is almost beyond comparison.

The geological make-up of the land under a major quake can play an important role in the devastation it creates. But you have to assume that almost all the difference in this case owes to buildings which are made or not made to withstand quakes.

Here's a list of major quakes in Iran over the last thirty years -- half a dozen of which claimed more than one thousand lives.