Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Fresh from the Department of Nice Try ...

Leaks of classified information are bad things, and we've had too many lately in Washington. We've had leaks from the executive branch and leaks from the legislative branch. I want to know who the leakers are.

George W. Bush
September 30th, 2003

Such a mystery, such a mystery ...

The Gonzales letter, released early Tuesday ...

The following notice was sent to all White House employees:

PLEASE READ: Important Message From Counsel's Office

We were informed last evening by the Department of Justice that it has opened an investigation into possible unauthorized disclosures concerning the identity of an undercover CIA employee.


The Department advised us that it will be sending a letter today instructing us to preserve all materials that might be relevant to its investigation. Its letter will provide more specific instructions on the materials in which it is interested, and we will communicate those instructions directly to you. In the meantime, you must preserve all materials that might in any way be related to the Department's investigation. Any questions concerning this request should be directed to Associate Counsels Ted Ullyot or Raul Yanes in the Counsel to the President's office. The President has directed full cooperation with this investigation.

Alberto R. Gonzales

Counsel to the President

For the White House's defenders in the press, it looks like that 'she wasn't undercover' line is no longer operative ...

Another big problem with Novak's comments on Crossfire today.

Today he said ...

Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. In July I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador Wilson's report when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction.

But then there's this passage in a July 22nd article in Newsday ...

Novak, in an interview, said his sources had come to him with the information. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

I'd say the story's changed.

Bob Novak is is now saying that his source says that Valerie Plame was an "analyst" and not an "operative" at the CIA. TPM World Exclusive!  You heard it hear first!  Must Credit.Joe Wilson remembers their conversation in July a bit differently.

According to what Wilson told TPM early Monday evening, when Novak first contacted him in July, he told him that he had a CIA source that told him that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a "CIA operative."

Would Wilson confirm it?

Wilson declined to discuss the matter, as Novak's original article made clear.

When Novak's article appeared, it sourced the story to "two senior administration officials."

Wilson says he called Novak back and asked why the article said 'two senior administration officials', whereas during their phone call he had sourced it to someone at the CIA

According to Wilson, Novak said "I misspoke the first time."

One thing this means is that, according to Wilson, Novak knew Plame was an "operative" rather than an "analyst" at the time he placed his first call to Wilson.

Oh that's classic. Again in NRO, Mark Levin says it's really Joe Wilson's fault. After all, he brought all this attention on himself, says Levin. He should have known that someone in the administration would blow his wife's cover to get even.

("Listen woman! If you didn't nag me so much, I wouldn't have to hit you!" Sounds sorta the same.)

In any case, Levin's piece along with Cliff May's noted earlier shows the dimensions of this story -- there's no spinning it. This mumbo-jumbo is the best they can come up with.

As the lawyers say, when the facts are on your side, bang the facts. When the law's on your side, bang the law. When you've got neither, bang the table.

When you don't even got a table, it would seem, you bang yourself.

A couple more issues to watch.

According to this morning's Washington Post, the president's "aides said Bush has no plans to ask his staff members whether they played a role in revealing the name of an undercover officer who is married to former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV."

Today Scott McClellan said Karl Rove "wasn't involved. The president knows he wasn't involved."

That sounds like the president has asked one of his staff members, i.e., Karl Rove.

Let's say this is true -- that Rove wasn't involved. And frankly I'd be surprised if the White House would be so stupid as to say this if it weren't at least true in some narrow, technical sense. But, again, let's assume McClellan did not flatly lie in the president's name this morning.

If that's so, it sounds like the president requested and got a denial from Rove. But McClellan didn't offer a blanket denial for anyone else. It seems like the president -- or someone acting on his behalf -- got a denial from Rove but didn't get one from others, or knew not even to ask.

What's clear from McClellan's statement is that a lot is already known in the White House -- probably everything -- and they're trying to keep a lid on it.

Point two.

We've heard a lot about how blowing Plame's cover was probably illegal and certainly dishonorable. But let's walk through what the implications are.

Plame's beat, if we can use that word, was weapons of mass destruction. And, of course, WMD is the big issue. It's why Iraq, why Joe Wilson, why Niger, why CIA referrals. That's what's at the bottom of all this stuff. Keeping WMD out of the wrong hands is, or was, Plame's job.

If that's her job you can figure that over the years she's been involved in various operations aimed at tracking proliferation, worked with various human sources, all sorts of stuff like that.

Now Plame's name has been splashed across papers all over the world. And the folks that leaked her name made sure that they used her maiden name, Plame -- the one she did most of her work under -- rather than Wilson, the name which I'm told she now goes by.

So now her name's out. You couldn't unlock everything just knowing her name -- covers are used and so forth. But once you know Plame is CIA, and what she looks like and so forth, you unravel most if not everything. And now every bad-actor and bad-acting government knows that anything that Plame was involved with, any operation, any company she was supposed to be working for, any people she worked closely with, are probably also CIA or at least work with CIA. WMD bad-guys now know to steer clear of them.

Let's say there's some operation Plame hasn't been involved with for a decade -- but it's still on-going. People will remember she used to be in on that operation and thus it's tagged as an Agency operation and it's useless. Everyone will know to steer clear.

Now, I have no knowledge of any operations Plame was involved in or covers she used. These are hypotheticals. But it gives you a sense of the sort of work she was involved in and the potential collateral damage of exposing her cover. And consider what her work was: protecting Americans from weapons of mass destruction. Chew on that irony.

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 ...