Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Some interesting whistling past the graveyard on Wilsongate by Cliff May in NRO.

May says of Wilson's investigation in Niger ...

Equally, important and also overlooked: Mr. Wilson had no apparent background or skill as an investigator. As Mr. Wilson himself acknowledged, his so-called investigation was nothing more than "eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people" at the U.S. embassy in Niger. Based on those conversations, he concluded that "it was highly doubtful that any [sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq] had ever taken place."

Compare this to the fairly extensive description of his visit to Niger (I think the most extensive published) that Wilson gave when TPM interviewed him two weeks back (that discussion comes about half-way through the interview.).

So May's point is that the attempts to discredit Wilson -- what got the White House into this mess -- didn't go far enough.

May also argues that the whole disclosure isn't such a big deal since it was somehow widely known that Valerie Plame was CIA. To this I would only say, Cliff, pursuing this line of inquiry/argument could lead to some really awkward surprises. Just heads up.

Another point. May hits again on the theme that Wilson is some sort of Bush-Bashing fanatic who can't be trusted. To this I would only ask, if Wilson is such a left-wing freak, why does the president's father think so highly of him?

One more point. One of May's points is that part of the problem was that the CIA sent out someone to Niger who wasn't sufficiently loyal to the president. This gets said a lot privately among hawks who are close to the White House.

The argument -- which I've had repeatedly told to me -- is that the real mistake in this whole mess was sending someone out to Niger who wasn't politically and ideologically loyal to the president. Wasn't one of our guys, etc. That attitude, of course, tells you a lot about how these fellows got into this mess in the first place.

Coming later this week, the TPM interview with Wesley Clark.

Gagglepalooza from this morning. Some cards get put on the table ...

QUESTION: Scott, what does the President think about Justice investigating this alleged leak of the identity of a CIA operative? And what instructions is the President giving the White House aides about cooperating with it?

McCLELLAN: One, the President believes if someone leaked classified information, particularly of this nature, that it is a serious matter and it should be looked into and pursued to the fullest extent possible. The Department of Justice would be the appropriate agency to do so.

What was the second part of your question, Mark?

QUESTION: What instructions is Mr. Bush giving to top aides about cooperating with the investigation?

McCLELLAN: Well, of course, in any matter like this, we would cooperate with the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: But the Department of Justice is --

McCLELLAN: There has been no information brought to us or that has come to our attention, beyond the media reports, to suggest that there was White House involvement.

QUESTION: Scott, The Washington Post is reporting that the President is not going to ask his top aides about it, who did the leak. Is that true? And, if not, why not?

McCLELLAN: Well, what did I just say? I think I just answered that question. I said that there has been nothing that has been brought to our attention, beyond what we've seen in the media reports, to suggest that there was White House involvement.

QUESTION: Is anyone going to, at least, you know, ask around? Say, what's the deal with --

McCLELLAN: And, secondly, the Department of Justice is the appropriate agency to look into matters like this.

QUESTION: If anybody did this, will they be fired?

McCLELLAN: Mark, if -- one, no one was authorized to do this. That is simply not the way this White House operates. And if someone leaked classified information, it is a very serious matter and it should be pursued to the fullest. You're jumping to a lot of assumptions now about the White House. We --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

McCLELLAN: No, I mean, I think that's obvious -- it's obvious, that if someone leaked classified information of this nature, yes.

QUESTION: Scott, what about the questions over the credibility of the administration investigating itself -- i.e., Justice doing the investigation rather than, as some Democrats have called for, an outside investigation?

McCLELLAN: We believe the Department of Justice is the appropriate agency to look into matters like this, as they would in any other matter of this nature.

QUESTION: So you're rejecting the call --

QUESTION: Why is it not a conflict for a political appointee, the Attorney General, to be investigating --

McCLELLAN: Well, one, you're assuming certain things are happening. The Department of Justice, I believe, will tell you that there are procedures that they follow. You need to ask them, one, those questions: are they; who's involved. So you need to ask them those questions.

QUESTION: You're suggesting -- you're suggesting that somehow a political appointee, such as the Attorney General, will be --

McCLELLAN: Well, you're assuming that he is involved in some sort of probe or looking into this.

QUESTION: Are you saying that he was the --

McCLELLAN: Ask the Department of Justice. I don't know who would be involved and whether or not they -- where this stands, in terms of the Department of Justice looking into this. You're assuming certain things.

QUESTION: Let's try to quantify what kind of investigation is going on. Has --

McCLELLAN: If there is one.

QUESTION: Has the Department of Justice --

McCLELLAN: I mean, I saw the news reports where it said that the first step for the Department of Justice would be to look to see whether or not it warrants further looking into.

QUESTION: Has the Department of Justice contacted the Counsel's Office here, or anyone else in the White House --


QUESTION: -- to start asking questions?


QUESTION: No contact at all?


QUESTION: Zero? You checked today?

McCLELLAN: Yes. I mean, well, as of about an hour ago. So, no. But, obviously, we will cooperate in any way if there are requests.

QUESTION: Does the President want to know whether or not there was a leak?

McCLELLAN: The President -- I said at the beginning -- believes that leaking classified information is a serious matter and that it should be pursued to the fullest, and the Department of Justice is the appropriate agency to do so. There is a lot of speculation in the media reports --

QUESTION: -- inquiries?

McCLELLAN: -- let's let the appropriate agency look into it.

QUESTION: What about an independent counsel? There are some senators who are ready to call for that.

McCLELLAN: Yes, I think I answered that; someone asked that a minute ago. We believe the Department of Justice is the appropriate agency to look into this matter.

QUESTION: -- just flatly reject the idea --

McCLELLAN: I think the Department of Justice is the appropriate agency.

QUESTION: Ambassador Wilson has said that he has information that Karl Rove condoned this leaking, and I've seen your comment that that's absolutely false --

McCLELLAN: It is ridiculous. It's ridiculous.

QUESTION: What do you --

McCLELLAN: And keep in mind, I imagine that only a limited number of people would even have access to classified information of this nature.

QUESTION: So he doesn't have information?

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

McCLELLAN: Yes, go ahead. And, Helen, you may always follow up. Go ahead.

QUESTION: What, then, do you think the -- given that you say Rove condoning this is ridiculous, what do you think Ambassador Wilson's motivation is for leveling such a scurrilous charge?

McCLELLAN: I can't speculate about why he would say such a thing. I mean, I saw some comments this morning, where he said he had no knowledge to that effect. But I can't speculate why he would say that.

QUESTION: Did Rove say, "ridiculous"?

McCLELLAN: I did, for him.

QUESTION: Did you speak with him about it?

McCLELLAN: Yes, I've spoken to him.

QUESTION: But he told you, "ridiculous"?

McCLELLAN: No, I said -- I told some of your colleagues that it was ridiculous. And, remember, I said this back -- what, July and September this issue came up, and said essentially what I've said now.

QUESTION: Can you characterize your conversation with him about this?

McCLELLAN: I talk to him all the time, so --

QUESTION: About this?

McCLELLAN: No, about a lot of issues.

QUESTION: But can you characterize your conversation about this subject with him?

McCLELLAN: I don't think there's anything to characterize. I mean, I think that what I said speaks clearly, that the accusations just simply are not true.

QUESTION: Scott, the President came into office promising public integrity would be restored to this office and accountability. Isn't that true, he expects that from all members of his staff?

McCLELLAN: Yes, the President expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct.

QUESTION: All right. If that's the case, then why does he even need an independent investigation? Why doesn't he simply call those who are responsible to come forward --

McCLELLAN: Do you have something to bring to our attention? I mean, let me make clear, if anyone has information about this leak of classified information, they need to report it to the Department of Justice -- anyone.

QUESTION: Why doesn't he simply ask those -- if, indeed, this is true -- to come forward and --

McCLELLAN: Ask who?

QUESTION: The President of the United States --

McCLELLAN: Ask who?

QUESTION: The limited number of people --

QUESTION: -- he can direct, he can send a memo out --

McCLELLAN: That's the Department of Justice, I just said, is the appropriate agency.

QUESTION: Why doesn't he ask them to come forward and hand in their resignations?

McCLELLAN: But who? I said that it's a serious matter, and anyone should be pursued to the fullest extent of the law.

QUESTION: -- why doesn't he use everything in his power to smoke them out?

McCLELLAN: The Department of Justice is looking into this. I've made it very clear the President believes the leaking of classified information of this nature is a very serious matter, and it should be pursued to the fullest.

QUESTION: By them. And he has no -- his hands are tied? He can't simply ask his staff --

McCLELLAN: Well, do you have any information to bring to our attention, Paula? Do you have any information to bring to our attention? If you have any information, that should be reported to the Department of Justice, and they need to pursue this to the fullest.

QUESTION: And he can't do anything on his own?

McCLELLAN: I think I've made it very clear what I -- we don't have any information beyond what we've seen in media reports that has come to our attention to suggest White House involvement. If I chased every anonymous source in the media, I'd spend all my time doing that.

QUESTION: Can you explain why the President wouldn't want to have an independent counsel? Because if you -- if you say --

McCLELLAN: I think I explained that we believe the Department of Justice is the appropriate agency to look into this.

QUESTION: So the point that I don't understand is --

McCLELLAN: The Justice Department is charged with looking into matters of this nature.

QUESTION: I appreciate this, but --

McCLELLAN: I think the CIA has spoken to that, that if they receive information, then they give it to the Department of Justice to look into. That's the --

QUESTION: But surely the President would want the White House to be cleared by an independent judge?

McCLELLAN: Well, you're making assumptions of certain things. Like I said there's --

QUESTION: -- not assumptions, the allegations --

McCLELLAN: -- nothing that's been brought to our attention or come to our attention to suggest White House involvement beyond what I've seen in the media reports.

QUESTION: Has the President either asked Karl Rove to assure him that he had nothing to do with this; or did Karl Rove go to the President to assure him that he --

McCLELLAN: I don't think he needs that. I think I've -- and I've spoken clearly to this publicly that -- but it's -- yes, I've just said it's -- there's no truth to it.

QUESTION: But I mean --

McCLELLAN: So I think it doesn't --

QUESTION: But is the President getting his information from you? Or did the President and Karl Rove talk, and were there assurances given that Rove was not involved?

McCLELLAN: I've already provided those assurances to you publicly.

QUESTION: Yes, but I'm just wondering if there was a conversation between Karl Rove and the President, or if he just talked to you, and you're here at this --

McCLELLAN: He wasn't involved. The President knows he wasn't involved.

QUESTION: How does he know that?

QUESTION: How does he know that?

McCLELLAN: The President knows.

QUESTION: What, is he clairvoyant? How does he know?

QUESTION: You spoke specifically -- you spoke to Rove specifically about this matter, correct?

McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: You spoke to Rove specifically about this matter? You asked him whether or not he was the leaker, or --

McCLELLAN: I don't know what the relevance of getting into every private conversation, John -- is, John. I've made it very clear that it's simply not true.

QUESTION: Based on what?

QUESTION: Based on what?

QUESTION: What are you basing -- what are you --

McCLELLAN: Someone asked me if I had spoken with him, and I said, yes.

QUESTION: And you spoke with him about this issue?

QUESTION: Did you ask him, directly?

McCLELLAN: I have spoken with him, yes.

QUESTION: But the President hasn't spoken with him directly about this issue? You have and the President hasn't?

McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Keith.

QUESTION: Well, that was the question.

McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: You spoke directly with Rove about this?

McCLELLAN: I have spoken -- I speak to him all the time, on a lot of things.

QUESTION: He categorically denied to you --

McCLELLAN: I just told you, it's simply not true.

QUESTION: Yes, but you refuse to say whether or not it was Rove who told you it's untrue.

McCLELLAN: No, no, I spoke to Rove. I spoke to him about -- no, I spoke to him about these accusations, I've spoken to him.

QUESTION: And Rove told you that they were not true --

McCLELLAN: That's why I would be telling --

QUESTION: -- or is it just you --

McCLELLAN: That's why I would be telling you what I did.

QUESTION: -- or is it just you who is telling us?

McCLELLAN: No, I have spoken to him and been assured. And that's why I reported to you and reported to the media that it is simply not true. I like to check my sources, just like you do.

QUESTION: Scott, when you say "limited number of people," could you give us a ballpark? A dozen, a hundred? How many people have access to --

McCLELLAN: I don't know. Maybe you should direct those questions to the CIA or the Department of Justice. But I think common sense kind of tells you that if there's a covert CIA agent, then a limited number of people should have access to that information.

QUESTION: Was it a view within the White House that, in fact, Wilson was a non-objective source on this investigation? Was this something you all had discussed, that he might be compromised because of this?

McCLELLAN: Because of?

QUESTION: Because of his wife's position?

McCLELLAN: That he might be?

QUESTION: Did you all think that Wilson was a compromised source to investigate? Is that something you discussed?

McCLELLAN: We've seen the media reports. We've seen the media reports, we addressed that issue in the context of when it came up. And so, I mean, I'll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Do you know of any people on her staff or in the liaisons abroad that might have been injured by any of the revelations? I mean the identification of the --

McCLELLAN: No, I think you need to direct questions about her position or her status to the CIA. I don't --

QUESTION: But do you know of any damage that was done --

McCLELLAN: I've seen media reports where the CIA hasn't confirmed or denied whether or not she was a covert agent.

QUESTION: Scott, just to confirm, the President would rather the Department of Justice launch an investigation of this White House or the broader administration, rather that than him, you know, sort of broadly saying, anybody who works for me who was involved in this, you better 'fess up now, because we don't want to go down the road with the FBI. He'd rather the FBI do it, rather than him give the directive, himself?

McCLELLAN: I think I've made it very clear publicly that if anyone has information relating to this they need to report it to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice is the one charged with looking into matters of this nature. It's a serious matter, and it should be looked into. And the Department of Justice should do that. Now you're jumping ahead with a lot of speculation about where it may be or what they may do. You need to direct those questions to the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: But is the White House not conducting any sort of internal investigation?

McCLELLAN: No, the Department of Justice is the agency charged with looking into this.

QUESTION: We've seen in the past when there's an investigation like this in Washington that oftentimes parties involved, even if they're innocent, will go and hire outside counsel. Do you know whether anyone within the White House --

McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of anything.

QUESTION: -- has hired outside counsel, including Mr. Rove?


QUESTION: No one has, or you --

McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of anybody.

QUESTION: Has anyone called Bob Novak?

QUESTION: Did Director Tenet inform the President before you --

McCLELLAN: Keep in mind, what we know is what we've seen in the media reports.

QUESTION: Sorry. Did Director Tenet inform the President, or the White House, before he informed the Department of Justice that he was requesting this investigation?

McCLELLAN: No, I don't believe so. I mean, I haven't asked, but I don't believe so.

QUESTION: So the first the White House learned of it was --

McCLELLAN: I mean, you're asking me -- that's a wide-open question. I'd have to go back and try to check and I'd be asking a lot of people.

QUESTION: Did the President receive the letter from Porter Goss and Jane Harman; does he welcome it and is he going to act on it?

McCLELLAN: I don't know that he's received the letter. I'd have to check on that one, Wendell. And what was the second part of it? I mean, I think the letter was --

QUESTION: Does he welcome their findings and is he going to act on them?

McCLELLAN: Was the letter addressed to Tenet, I believe? Or -- yes, the letter was addressed to George Tenet.

QUESTION: But, presumably, a copy was sent here. Does he welcome the findings and does he intend to act on them?

McCLELLAN: The findings? I mean, they said that they were still -- if you look at what they said in the letter, they said this was some preliminary assessment. The CIA put out a statement saying they stand -- "the intelligence community stands fully behind its findings and judgments as stated in the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs." Let's also keep in mind --

QUESTION: So the President has no concern, then, about the preliminary findings of the two -- the ranking members of the House Intelligence Committee?

McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Consequently, the President has no concern --

McCLELLAN: No, the CIA has made it clear that they stand fully behind it and that was -- we look to that National Intelligence Estimate because that's the judgment of the intelligence community.

QUESTION: And so Mr. Bush is not troubled by the findings then, the preliminary findings of the --

McCLELLAN: I think you need to speak to the different leaders, because they had different interpretations of exactly what it said.

QUESTION: Why did they have different interpretations?

McCLELLAN: Chairman Goss had different views on what exactly it said --

QUESTION: But he gave them the same material --

McCLELLAN: And, you know, look at the whole letter. And the CIA said that -- they went on to say that: David Kaye has for two-and-a-half months been attempting to unravel Iraq's WMD programs. His effort, which has only just begun, will be important in that process of continuing self-evaluation.

But the CIA made it very clear in their statement that they stand fully behind the judgments.

QUESTION: Scott, what does the President think should be done to any officials who might have leaked this? Would he -- how would he want them dealt with?

McCLELLAN: They should be pursued to the fullest extent by the Department of Justice. That's what he believes.

QUESTION: Would he want them working on his staff?

McCLELLAN: I think I answered that question earlier, I said, no. The President expects his administration, everyone in his administration to adhere to the higher standards of conduct. And that would not be.

QUESTION: Scott, the allegation is being made that by virtue --

McCLELLAN: But you're speculating about a lot of things at this point.

QUESTION: The allegation is being made that by virtue of her position, Joe Wilson's wife was able to send him on a plum trip to Niger to investigate these allegations of Ira

QUESTION: buying uranium. Does the White House consider an unpaid 10 day trip to Niger a boondoggle?

McCLELLAN: John, I think that this issue was addressed back in July when Mr. Wilson was speaking about it.

QUESTION: But would you characterize a 10 day trip --

McCLELLAN: No, I would characterize it the way we characterized it back in July.

QUESTION: Scott, would the President cooperate with a congressional investigation into this Wilson matter?

McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, I'm not aware of any --

QUESTION: Does he think that --

McCLELLAN: I'm not -- I think I've said that he believes the Department of Justice is the appropriate agency to look into it. They are the ones charged with it.

More to come certainly ...

The Washington Post continues to own Wilsongate, though Monday's article by Mike Allen has smaller morsels rather than another one of Sunday's bombshells. Let me try to quickly note the ones that jumped out at me.

1. The descriptions of sources is now vaguer. Top White House officials have become White House officials. Senior administration officials are now administration officials. There are several possible explanations for the change.

2. The White House has no intention of taking any action to deal with this unless and until they are compelled to by a criminal investigation. The key quotes: "But the aides said Bush has no plans to ask his staff members whether they played a role in revealing the name of an undercover officer ... Asked about the possibility of an internal White House investigation, McClellan said, "I'm not aware of any information that has come to our attention beyond the anonymous media sources to suggest there's anything to White House involvement."

In other words, their public line is that they have no reason to believe anybody at the White House was involved -- evidence to the contrary turned up by the CIA apparently notwithstanding. They want to see if they can brazen it out.

3. "CIA officials approached the Justice Department about a possible investigation within a week of the column's publication. Tenet's letter was delivered more recently. The department is determining whether a formal investigation is warranted, officials said. The officials said they did not know how long that would take." One has to be pretty careful about the meaning of words in such cases. What's an 'approach'? Maybe just an informal heads-up that they were looking into something. But maybe the CIA has been pushing on this for more than two months. Perhaps the CIA has thought there should be an investigation for some time and -- after getting no satisfaction -- finally decided to throw it in Justice's lap officially. And perhaps ring up the Washington Post.

Blast from the past?

Sources close to the former president [George H.W. Bush] say Rove was fired from the 1992 Bush presidential campaign after he planted a negative story with columnist Robert Novak about dissatisfaction with campaign fundraising chief and Bush loyalist Robert Mosbacher Jr. It was smoked out, and he was summarily ousted.

"Why Are These Men Laughing?" Ron Suskind
January 2003

Can we see those phone logs?

Can't we just put The Weekly Standard on the case?

Last week, and I quote, "At the request of THE DAILY STANDARD, White House staffers went through the logs to check whether [Wesley] Clark had ever called White House political adviser Karl Rove."

Can we try that again?

I don't mean to pick on any particular 'top White House official'. But the Standard's put Rove's name in the mix. And his phone logs seem readily searchable. So, just at random, let's try him.

How many calls to Bob Novak, say in the second week of July.

Presumably it can't be too difficult, take too long, or involve any issues of privilege since White House staffers did a similar search on behalf of a junior staffer at the Standard only a week ago.

Believe me, Matthew, you get that search done and you'll have a real story on your hands.

Worth reading in its entirety: Condi Rice's comments on Wilsongate from this morning's Fox News Sunday ...

HUME: Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was asked to inquire in Africa about what Saddam Hussein might have been doing there in terms of acquiring nuclear materials, ended up with his wife's name in the paper as a CIA person. There are now suggestions that the name and her identity and her CIA work had been revealed by the White House. What do you know about that?

RICE: I know nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate.

My understanding is that, in matters like this, as a matter of routine, a question like this is referred to the Justice Department for appropriate action, and that's what's going to be done.

SNOW: Well, when the story came out — his wife's name is in the paper — was it known in the White House that she was a CIA employee?

RICE: I'm not going to go into this, Tony, because the problem here is this has been referred to the Justice Department. I think that's the appropriate place...

SNOW: Well, but it is revealing, or it's important to figure out what the White House reaction was at the time. For years and years and years, for instance, the administrations chased Phillip Agee all around the globe because he had revealed the name of a CIA officer. This is a grave offense, if you have CIA officers.

Was there, at least within the White House, a gasp when somebody said, "Uh oh"? And if so, did the White House take any action, back then in June, when the story appeared?

RICE: Well, it was well known that the president of the United States does not expect the White House to get involved in such things. We will see...

HUME: You mean the revelation of names?

RICE: Anything of this kind. But let's just see what the Justice Department does. It's with the appropriate channels now, and we'll see what the Justice Department — how the Justice Department disposes of it.

SNOW: But there was nobody at the White House at the time who was saying, "Oh, we've got a problem here"?

RICE: Tony, I don't remember any such conversation. But I will say this: The Justice Department gets these things as a matter of routine. They will determine the facts. They will determine what happened, they will determine if anything happened. And they'll take appropriate action.

SNOW: Do you think the White House should release phone logs, if necessary, to figure out who talked to whom?

RICE: Tony, as a matter of course, when the Justice Department is looking into something, of course the White House cooperates.

It's so bad she's making Brit and Tony seem fair and balanced ...

Don't let Daddy find out!

We need more human intelligence. That means we need more protection for the methods we use to gather intelligence and more protection for our sources, particularly our human sources, people that are risking their lives for their country. Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors.

George H.W. Bush
April 16th, 1999
Dedication Speech
George Bush Center for Intelligence

Oy ...

If the White House is still taking a wait-and-see attitude to how the Wilsongate scandal develops, maybe it's because they think they may get more vague and sloppy press coverage like this.

These are the first two grafs from the story running now on CNN ...

The Justice Department is trying to pinpoint the source of a news leak that identified the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson as a CIA officer, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Sunday.

Administration officials told CNN last week that the CIA had asked the department for a legal opinion as to whether there should be an official investigation into the naming of an undercover CIA employee, allegedly by someone working in the Bush administration.

Someone working in the Bush administration ... I guess it must have been a deputy assistant underlackey at Commerce, right?

Note to the Post publicity department: should you comp these guys?

Here is another question we're going to get to in the Wilson/Plame scandal.

Let's say, hypothetically, that the "two top White House officials" who blew Valerie Plame's cover were in the political and/or communications operations at the White House. That's what is widely suspected. But, for the moment, let's assume that is the case.

If so, how did they find out that Joe Wilson's wife was a CIA employee working under non-official cover (in common parlance, undercover)?

It seems like someone with access to that information must have told them. And you'd figure that that someone would be someone with some sort of national security brief --- not a flack or a political strategist, certainly.

Now, that wouldn't mean that the national security person would have provided this information knowing what was going to be done with it. But you would want to know why such information would be given to someone in the White House political operation, and what the national security person thought the info would be used for.

All hypothetical at the moment. But you can see where it leads ...