Josh Marshall

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Articles by Josh

A new poll out from Pew: Kerry 48%, Bush 44% among registered voters. There's an extensive discussion of the internals from the poll here.

Two weeks ago, I shared with you the<$Ad$> possibility that the long-brewing controversy over those pilfered Democratic Judiciary Committee staff memos could lead to an investigation of the White House Counsel's office. (The earlier post covers all the details of how this could come to pass.)

Now, last week four Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee (Durbin, Leahy, Kennedy and Schumer) wrote White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales with a series of detailed and pointed questions all of which focused on whether the White House had any knowledge of the pilfering or involvement in it and whether they had made use of those pilfered memos in any way.

One of the questions dealt with whether any outside groups had been the conduits for passing pilfered files to the Counsel's office ...

Did you or anyone who has served in your office or at the White House receive from C. Boyden Gray, Sean Rushton, Kay Daly, the Committee for Justice, the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary or any other intermediary any of the computer files of Democratic Senators or their staffs or information derived from those files?

Now, last week I called the Committee for Justice and asked Executive Director Sean Rushton whether he or anyone else at the Committee had known about the accessing of the Democratic staff memos prior to last November when the first published reports surfaced. He answered with a flat "no".

I also asked whether any of the memos had come into the Committee's possession prior to last November. And he again answered with a flat "no".

But yesterday Gonzales responded to the Democratic Senators' letter and he was far more equivocal when he spoke for the Counsel's Office and the White House staff. If it's not a classic example of a non-denial denial, it's definitely the well-chosen phrasing of someone who's far from ready to deny that his office was involved in the theft of these files.

The Boston Globe this morning reported Gonzales' response thusly ...

Gonzales, replying yesterday in a letter to Leahy, said he was aware of no "credible allegation" of White House involvement in the incident, so no investigation has been made. He said he "respectfully, but categorically, reject the statement in your letter" that administration actions contributed to the atmosphere around the files controversy.

But I think that doesn't do justice to the full measure of equivocation and obfuscation.

Here are the two paragraphs from Gonzales' letter in which he responds to the Senators' detailed questions about possible White House involvement ...

As I explained, I am not aware of any credible allegation of White House involvement in this matter. Consequently, there has been no White House investigation or effort to determine whether anyone at the White House was aware of or involved in these activities.

As I also advised you, I have no personal knowledge that any such computer files or the documents they may have contained were provided to our office or to others at the White House. So far as I know, moreover, neither my staff nor others at the White House were aware of activity by the Judiciary Committee staff or other Senate employees such as they alleged in public reports on this matter.

I have no personal knowledge ... so far as i know ... rather less than unequivocal, isn't it?

Maybe this gets added to the list of investigations hanging over the White House's collective head.

If you look at the TV ads the president just unveiled today, you quickly see a main -- probably the main -- theme of his reelection campaign: it's not my fault.

Yes, there are all sort of bad things going on. The economy's been rough. The deficit is deepening. Job growth is barely registering. There's all sorts of chaos on the international stage. But it's not my fault. When I got here there was a recession already, which I didn't have anything to do with. That was Clinton's fault. And the same with all the corporate scandals. And then Osama bin Laden got involved and that wasn't my fault either. And that Iraq thing didn't completely work out. But that's the CIA's fault. So if there's anything that's bad now it's not because of anything I did. It's because of 9/11. And if it's not because of 9/11 then it was already broken when I got here. So don't blame me.

Now, I think that does pretty much sum up what the president and the White House are telling the public. But it's important to draw back and recognize that up until this point that argument has largely worked. Now, however, I think people are beginning to question the argument.

By most objective measures, economic and international indicators of national well-being have been fair to bad for most of George Bush's term of office. But for much of that time we were in either the immediate aftermath of 9/11, building up to war, or in the aftermath of war.

If you were to plop down in late 1943, for instance, you could point to all sorts of negative signs -- rising deficits, crises abroad, etc. But Franklin Roosevelt would have said, quite plausibly, that we'd been attacked at Pearl Harbor, we were fighting a two front war across two oceans, and that things might well get worse before they got better.

Now, I don't think that's a remotely reasonably analogy. But it is the argument the Bush White House has been making for some two years. And it's had a lot of success with it. Everything that's bad has been framed as fall-out from 9/11 or our response to 9/11.

What we're seeing now is that these two things -- 9/11 and the current state of the country -- are coming unhinged in the public mind. If they stay unhinged, President Bush looks less like a 'war president' than a president who just won't take responsibility for anything that happens on his watch.

Thus the new ads, the message of which might fairly be summed up as "It's midnight in America. But if the Democrats were in, the sun might never come up!"

Is it possible that Larry King has the worst election panel in the history of the universe?

I mean, imagine having the benefit of the variety of perspectives and ideological viewpoints represented by Larry, Bob Dole and Bob Woodward -- each repeating the mind-numbingly obvious with that extra little something.

Anyway, enough of that.

I flipped on the TV this evening around 9 PM and caught the bulk of John Kerry's speech, in effect, accepting the Democratic nomination.

I thought it was a very solid speech, principally because he took on issues like the gay marriage amendment head-on -- not on the president's terms, but on his own. The president is desperate, he argued, and because he can't run clearly on the economy or foreign policy he's opting to muck up the nation's founding political document for narrow and momentary political purposes.

Certainly, that message won't resonate with confirmed Bush supporters. But I believe it will resonate even with many who strongly oppose gay marriage. That's because it plays to what should, and I believe will, be a central theme of this election: that the Bush administration has been a for-the-moment and for-itself operation, burning through the resources of tomorrow and the hard-acquired inheritance of the past to service the political needs -- its political needs -- of the present.

One more thought about Kerry.

I've long been an admirer of John Kerry's. And let me explain one of the sources of that admiration, or one of the experiences that formed it.

In 1996 I was a graduate student in Rhode Island. And given the puny size of Rhode Island and the way the media markets work in the region, that basically meant I was in a Massachusetts media market for Kerry's reelection campaign that year against then-governor William Weld.

Now, Massachusetts is certainly a congenial state to run in for Democrats, especially in federal elections. But to understand the dynamics of that race it's crucial to understand that Kerry has never been an institution in Massachusetts politics and that Weld, at the time, was extraordinarily popular.

I don't have the exact stats in front of me. But he won reelection two years earlier, in 1994, by I believe something like 71% of the vote.

The Kerry-Weld race was supposed to be, and in many respects was, the fight of Kerry's political life. And going into it there was good reason to believe that Kerry would lose. But he kept in it and fought and fought and fought and eventually won the race. His persistence and tenacity were impressive.

By national standards, it was a pretty clean race. But it was extraordinarily hard-fought. And since then Kerry's always struck me as someone who was a fighter, someone who'd never give up, give in, let himself get hit without fighting back or flag in the home stretch.

That gives me some confidence about this race.

Another source of confidence I have stems from a briefing of sorts I heard last week summarizing the White House's outlook and strategy for the coming campaign. After hearing it, I came away thinking that they're in a serious state of denial about how this election is shaping up.

Just a thought on these horrific coordinated bombings today in Iraq.

Americans have become numbed over the last eight months or so by the sheer regularity of the carnage from the various suicide bombing attacks in Iraq.

The Ashura attacks today have been major news in the United States. But they haven't driven various other stories from the headlines. And I think it's easy to understate their significance.

Just consider one crude measure.

We don't know yet the exact death toll from these attacks. And it may be some time before we do. But the New York Times has an estimate tonight placing the number of dead at 170.

Iraq has a population of just under 25 million. The United States is home to a tad over 290 million. In other words, there are well over ten times as many Americans as Iraqis.

So, to get a feel for the impact of these attacks on the country, the number of people who lost loved ones, know others who did, and so forth, multiply that death toll by 11 or 12 times in order to get a feel for the number in American terms.

A good ballpark point of comparison is what it would be like to have around 2000 people killed in one day in this country. And, of course, that's not that different from the 3000 who were killed here on September 11th.

Out of the mouths of babes.

Or not so babes ...

If the Democratic policies had been pursued over the last two or three years, the kind of tax increases that both Kerry and Edwards have talked about, we would not have had the kind of job growth that we've had.

That was Dick Cheney today <$Ad$>on how much worse things would have been if the Democrats had been in instead of Bush.

Now, where to start on this?

First of all Cheney seems to be caught in some sort of weird mental causality loop since what Kerry and Edwards support is a repeal of the 2001 Bush tax cuts (or most of them). So if their policies had been pursued over the last three years that means that the cuts simply never would have happpened at all, not that there would have been big tax increases.

More to the point, did Cheney really intend to say that without the President's policies "we would not have had the kind of job growth (i.e., negative job growth) that we've had."

Will someone ever straighten this guy out?

Drats! So close, and yet so far.

I had some hope that we might break through half a million unique visitors on TPM in February. But we came up just short.

Unique visitors 496,527; unique visits 2,077,729; page views 2,832,707.

There's always next month.

(As always, a sincere thank you to all the site's readers.)

Friends, I'm just checking my emails here late on Monday afternoon and I've noticed a number of them asking whether I'm okay and if anything is amiss since there've been no new posts for the last three days.

In brief, nothing is amiss.

At the moment, I'm hurtling down the Northeast corridor on an Amtrak train bound for DC and will be getting back to TPM world headquaters mid-evening.

It took me about thirty-five years to get around to it, but this weekend I went skiing for the first time in my life. Why I'd never done it before I'm not precisely sure, since I grew up in a part of Southern California where there were skiable mountains no more than a fifteen minute drive from my house. Maybe it was a family thing or that we just didn't have much money. But I'd just never given the idea too much thought until my girlfriend suggested it about a month or so ago.

In any case, before getting even my ski boots on the snow I had half sketched out in my head all manner of self-mocking riffs about spending the weekend falling down in place trying to stand on my skis, with some frustrated, hapless ski instructor trying to explain to me how it was all done.

But, improbably enough, I ended up being halfway decent at it and managed -- on my last run on the second day -- to go down the entire mountain without falling one time.

Now, having grown up in Southern California, it's a little hard to call this thing we were on a 'mountain' and, sure, the trails I made my way down on were the ones marked green for feeble beginners. But those are secondary details we really don't need to go into or concern ourselves with.

In any case, once I learned to control my rate of descent -- something which I heartily recommend to the president, by the way -- I found myself really liking it.

More later this evening on the turning tide on Capitol Hill, the latest intel revelations, and more.

So I guess that little 'president can't force Hastert's hand' charade didn't work out, did it? The Speaker has now agreed to allow an extension of two months for the 9/11 Commission to complete its work.

A few of my Republican friends on the Hill claim that there's more to it than I think, that perhaps there's some reason Hastert has, separate from the White House, to oppose the extension.

I don't buy that for two reasons.

First, I think it's pretty close to objectively true that the White House has more political vulnerability on this than Republican members of the House. So I really don't see why Hastert would hold on even after the White House relented or what his other reason for holding on would be. (I'd like to now dispute his nominal reason for opposing an extension. But he's candid enough to admit that this is his reason -- politics. They didn't even take the time to think up a fig leaf rationale.) Using Ockham's Razor, you get pretty quickly to the conclusion that Hastert was doing this to help the White House, acting either on explicit instructions or a tacit understanding.

Second, even if we posit some unknown and close to inexplicable reason why Hastert would have been holding out on this, I just don't think anyone believes that Hastert (a fairly pliable Speaker, by historical standards) would buck an explicit demand or request from a president of his own party on such a charged and politically consequential issue.

As much as you try to nuance it, tease it apart, chew on it, and give everyone the benefit of the doubt, the whole episode comes up the same way: it was a charade.

See this morning's gaggle to see the discussion with Scott McClellan.

Now let's get to why the president can only spend one hour with the two co-chairs of the commission.

In this morning's back-and-forth, Scott McClellan advanced the argument that there is a separation of powers issue at stake here, since the commission was created by Congress.

That's sounds questionable to me on several counts.

But even if you grant that argument, can there really be a separation of powers issue at stake in restricting the questioning to one hour rather than, say, five or six hours? Similarly, is there a separation of powers issue in play in allowing only the chairs to be present rather than all the members of the commission? That sounds like an awfully hard argument to make.

Get ready to gag on the gaggle. This from this <$NoAd$>morning ...

QUESTION: Scott, is there any movement on working out an arrangement with the 9/11 Commission for the President to be questioned? And is it accurate that he wants to restrict questioning to just a single hour?

McCLELLAN: Well, I think the way I would describe it is that, one, -- a couple of things. One, the President looks forward to meeting with the chairman and vice chairman and providing the commission with the necessary information for it to complete its work. We have great confidence that the chairman and vice chairman can share that information with the entire commission.

I would point out to you that it is extraordinary for a sitting president and vice president to appear before a legislative body such as the 9/11 Commission. The President has agreed to do so because of his support for the important work that the commission is doing. And so he has agreed to a private meeting with the commission. They are looking at an hour, as you pointed out.

And I would point out that Chairman Keane, earlier this morning, went on to talk about the unprecedented cooperation of this administration to the work of the 9/11 Commission. And Chairman Keane said, and this is from an interview on CNN earlier this morning, "We have gotten a lot of cooperation from the President. This is one of the first Presidents to agree to an interview." And he went on to point out, even during the Kennedy administration, Lyndon Johnson wouldn't give them an interview. And then he said -- he went on to talk about the cooperation from day one, "when they helped us get our clearances expedited. They have been helpful. We have now seen the most secret documents in the possession of the United States government. There hasn't been a" -- he went on to say, "There hasn't been a single" -- oh wait -- "we have been able to take notes and they will inform our report. There hasn't been a single thing we have asked for that some members of the staff hasn't seen, not a single person who has refused to be interviewed."

So he went on to talk about the kind of unprecedented cooperation that this administration has provided because the President believes in the important work that this commission is doing.

QUESTION: What's your response to those who suspect that Speaker Hastert is secretly --

QUESTION: Why did they --

McCLELLAN: Helen, I just pointed out the chairman of the commission and his comments. Why isn't that being reported?

QUESTION: But there are other members --

McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Mark. Mark was finishing up.

QUESTION: What's your response to those who say Speaker Hastert is secretly doing the White House bidding in refusing to bring up a two-month extension for the commission?

McCLELLAN: Silly, silly idea. I mean, the President supports extension -- supports the extension that the commission has requested. We've made that view known publicly and privately.

QUESTION: Can I follow on that --

QUESTION: Can you answer Mark's question. Can you answer what Mark asked about the one-hour limit --

McCLELLAN: I said, no. I said -- I confirmed that.

QUESTION: And can I just clarify that ...

McCLELLAN: You were thinking about service, I know, when I mentioned that.

QUESTION: What the commission is asking for in that one hour is the entire commission, not just the chair and vice chair. Are you not agreeing to that --

McCLELLAN: The request came from the chairman and vice chairman, and the President looks forward to meeting privately with --

QUESTION: I know. But they followed up by saying that they want --

McCLELLAN: -- looks forward to meeting privately with the chairman and vice chairman to provide them with the necessary information.

QUESTION: Why not all of them? What's the problem?

McCLELLAN: Helen, we have great confidence that the chairman and vice chairman can share all that information with the rest of the commission.

QUESTION: Why do they have to share it? The others have ears.

McCLELLAN: They're going to have a public report. I talked about how this is extraordinary for a President to sit down with a legislative body such as the 9/11 Commission.

QUESTION: What's the President's problem, really, with meeting all of them?

QUESTION: It's a legislative body? I'm sorry.

McCLELLAN: There are lots of ways -- one, I have always said that there are lots of ways -- it's legislatively created, that's what I'm referring to. There are lots of ways to provide the commission with the information they need to do their work. And we have worked -- we have bent over backwards to provide unprecedented cooperation to the commission.

QUESTION: Not from what we hear.

McCLELLAN: And all you have to do is look back at what the commission chairman said earlier this morning.

QUESTION: Scott, may I follow on that?

McCLELLAN: You may.

QUESTION: First, where the idea of a precedent is concerned, President -- sitting President Gerald Ford went up to Capitol Hill and actually testified before the House Judiciary Committee, so there is a greater precedent than what you're referring to.

My question is, in every speech he gives, President Bush invokes --

McCLELLAN: Keep in mind there are separation of powers issues involved when you're talking about a legislatively created body.

QUESTION: I'm sure President Ford was aware of those. In every speech he gives, President Bush invokes the atrocities of 9/11 and he talks about how that event has impressed on him a determination to always honor the victims of those atrocities in his daily conduct of his office. And I wonder if you could explain with some serious Texan straight talk here, Scott, how it is honoring the victims of 9/11 to restrict the questioning of the President on this subject to one hour?

McCLELLAN: I hope you'll talk about the unprecedented cooperation that we're providing to the commission when you report this, James. Because if you look back at what we've done, it is unprecedented. We have provided more than 2 million pages of documents. We provided more than 60 compact discs of radar, flight and other information; more than 800 audio cassette tapes of interviews and other materials; more than 100 briefings, including at the head-of-agency level; more than 560 interviews. So this administration is cooperating closely and in an unprecedented way with the 9/11 Commission, because their work is very important.

QUESTION: That would have been a very pertinent answer had I asked you about the administration. But, in fact, I asked you about the President’s cooperation.

McCLELLAN: And the President is pleased to sit down with the chairman and vice chairman to provide them with the information they need to do their job. And we believe …

QUESTION: Why only one hour? Why only one hour?

McCLELLAN: -- we believe that he can provide them the necessary information in this private meeting.

QUESTION: In 60 minutes, that’s all it will take?

McCLELLAN: Well, the 9/11 Commission -- look back to what the chairman said earlier this morning. He talked about cooperation and the extraordinary commitment of the President to sit down with the commission.

QUESTION: Can you define legislative body? Why is this --

McCLELLAN: Legislatively created. Congress created the 9/11 Commission.

QUESTION: Scott, did the President ask Hastert, during his meetings this week, to extend the deadline?

McCLELLAN: I’m sorry? We’ve made our views known to Speaker Hastert, yes.

QUESTION: The President, personally, asked him?

McCLELLAN: And they did discuss it, as well. And Chief of Staff Card also spoke to him about our support for an extension.

QUESTION: What’s the response that you’ve been getting?

McCLELLAN: Well, we continue to urge Congress to extend it for two months.

QUESTION: So you’ve got a nowhere so far?

McCLELLAN: Well, you’ve heard Speaker Hastert's comments. You’ve heard other leaders comment on it, as well. And we continue to urge Congress to grant an extension.

QUESTION: The President -- we know Andy Card called Hastert, but the President, himself, as well?

McCLELLAN: They spoke about it earlier this week, as well. The Speaker was here a couple of times this week.

So, run on the 9/11 attacks; stonewall the 9/11 commission.

Is that the real Bush Doctrine?