Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

As I’ve noted in earlier posts, many people think that where we’re heading on Wilson/Plame is that the White House will eventually say that whoever did the leaking didn’t know Valerie Plame was undercover. By some readings, that would get the culprits out of legal jeopardy since the relevant law requires intent. If they didn’t know she was undercover, then it wouldn’t be a crime. Outside the legal context it would move the whole incident out of the realm of execrable bad-act and into that of sloppy mistake.

Novak has anticipated this line, saying that he didn’t know Plame was undercover. And he’s implied that his sources didn’t know either.


But I think there are at least a few clues pointing to the conclusion that Novak and his sources knew precisely what her status was. Again, not proof, but clues.

Let me walk you through them.

First, in his original column Novak referred to Plame as an “operative.” In recent interviews Novak has tried to pass this off as an oversight, explaining that he meant it in the colloquial sense in which one might refer to a political hack, an operative, etc.

Last week he told Tim Russert …

The one thing I regret I wrote, I used the word "operative," and I think Mr. Broder will agree that I use the word too much. I use it about hat politicians. I use it about people on the Hill. And if somebody did a Nexus search of my columns, they'd find an overuse of "operative." I did not mean it. I don't know what she did. But the indication given to me by this senior official and another senior official I checked with was not that she was deep undercover.

Frankly, no one buys this. As we’ve seen in the last couple weeks there are various phrasings which get used to describe CIA employees whom we would, in colloquial language, call ‘undercover agents.’ But ‘operative’ is pretty much always used to distinguish people from ‘analysts.’ It’s hard to believe that someone like Novak, who’s been doing this for almost half a century, would make such a silly mistake. Really hard to believe.

Then there’s something Joe Wilson mentioned when I interviewed him in mid-September. “If I recall the article correctly,” he said, “[Novak] flatly asserts my wife is a CIA operative. And then he quotes senior administration officials as saying that she was somehow responsible for sending me out there.” I’d noticed that too. Novak wrote:

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report.

It’s been treated as a given that the two ‘senior administration officials’ were Novak’s source both for Plame’s being at the Agency and for her alleged role in choosing Wilson for the Niger mission. In fact, Novak has basically said so in repeated interviews.

If that’s true, why is her status as an Agency operative stated as an un-sourced assertion? Why is the sourcing noted only for the claim that she suggested sending her husband to Niger? I’d want to source both points. Agreed: I’m reading tealeaves here. But one pretty plausible explanation for this circuitous sourcing is that Novak realized that he didn’t want the line to read: “Two senior administration officials told me Valerie Plame is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.”

Then there’s one more thing.

A week after Novak wrote his column, Newsday reporters Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce wrote the first newspaper article about Novak’s disclosure. The whole point of the Phelps/Royce piece was that the article had disclosed the identity of a clandestine employee of the CIA. The authors interviewed Novak for the article. Yet the article gives not a clue that Novak ever disputed this point or mentioned that there was any confusion about Plame’s status. His response, according to the article, was: “I didn't dig it out, it was given to me. They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it.”

Novak only started telling people there was any confusion about Plame's status after the Justice Department got involved and things began to heat up dramatically.

Taken together, I think these clues point pretty directly to the conclusion --- which frankly is pretty obvious on the face of it --- that Novak knew Plame’s status, and thus that his sources knew Plame’s status. If that’s true, then the ‘honest mistake’ excuse goes right down the drain.

Following up on last night’s post, I’ve now heard more information that makes me think that the denials from Libby and Abrams --- filtered through McClellan --- are really just placeholders, disposable non-denial denials.

The Libby-Abrams line --- that neither was “involved in leaking classified information” --- is, I suspect, technically true in some sense that has not yet been made clear. Or, rather, I suspect that the players involved have come up with some theory under which they feel they can say this is true.

It’s certainly possible of course that this is just a flat denial. And there’s no need for parsing. But it’s awfully hard to figure why the ‘denial’ is being couched in this very precise fashion which doesn’t even address the substance of the question --- i.e., did they disclose to a reporter that Plame was CIA?

The White House press corps gets two chances a day to put this question to Scott McClellan. To ask him to really answer the question. Why not press this point?

Somehow I think if CNN did this Fox would be giving them grief ...

The second-in-command at the information ministry [under Saddam], who spent his days reading the reports the minders wrote about visiting foreign journalists, has been employed by Fox News.

From an article in today's Guardian.

Scott McClellan flummoxed a lot of people when he announced that Scooter Libby and Eliot Abrams were not involved in disclosing Valerie Plame’s name. I say flummoxed because there was a lot of chatter, and good bit of circumstantial evidence pointing in Libby’s direction, and at least some pointing in Abrams’. But once McClellan issued flat denials on their behalf it really made people wonder.

But, as you’ll remember, I’ve been making quite a point of late of the administration’s extremely disciplined use of the phrase “leaks of classified information” when referring to anything about Plame. They never mention Plame’s name --- which is perhaps understandable. But they don’t even make any mention of exposing a CIA operative. It's always "leaks of classified information" this and "leaks of classified information" that.

That makes me wonder just how air-tight McClellan’s statement is. What he said was that “They [i.e., Libby and Abrams] were not involved in leaking classified information, nor did they condone it.”

Now presumably Plame’s identity was classified information. But why frame this denial in such a precise, lawyerly and frankly off-point fashion? Why not just say they told no one about Plame’s identity. Or even just, they did not disclose the identity of any agent from the Directorate of Operations?

Something’s up here ...

Why isn't this getting more attention?

A few days ago I <$Ad$>heard from several readers that anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who is a close advisor to President Bush and Karl Rove, compared the Estate Tax to Nazi persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust. Not kinda sorta. He really did.

When NPR host Terry Gross did a double-take and asked him if he really meant to equate the two, Norquist responded he didn't say they were the same but that ...

the morality that says it's okay to do something to a group because they're a small percentage of the population is the morality that says that the Holocaust is okay because they didn't target everybody. "It's just a small percentage, what are you worried about? It's not you. It's not you. It's them." And arguing that it's okay to loot some group because it's them, or kill some group because it's them -- and because it's a small number -- has no place in a democratic society that treats people equally.

That sounds to me like he is equating the two, or at least the 'morality' behind them.

That's outrageous.

See yesterday's New Dem Daily for more.

A very good <$NoAd$>run-down on the context and repercussions of the Plame disclosure from a former undercover CIA case officer, Jim Marcinkowski.

The following is from last night's Paula Zahn show on CNN ...

ZAHN: Mr. Marcinkowski, help us understand what this means to an agent in the field, particularly a covert one. Do they now view their government as a threat?

MARCINKOWSKI: Certainly, the act itself has been an unprecedented act. This is not the leak, as usual from Washington, of classified information. And that should not be condoned. However, this is the leak of an identification of an intelligence agent of the United States. So the fact that it's unprecedented sends a ripple effect throughout the intelligence community and drastically affects national security throughout -- throughout the world, and the United States in particular.

As an operations officer on scene in a country, the effects of this are that anyone who knows you or did know you now will look at your mosaic. They will look at the people you've come in contact with. They will suspect those people, be they official contacts or innocent contacts. They will suspect those persons of being intelligence agents. They could be subject to interrogation, imprisonment and even death, depending on the regime that you may be operating under.

There's also ramifications for CIA morale. I'm not naive enough to say this is having a huge impact, but certainly, it contributes to a decline in morale when you know that your own government can identify you as a clandestine operator. Certainly, there's going to be a reluctance on the part of foreign nationals that may want to help the United States in these trying times. They're going to be reluctant to serve and help us with information, based on the fact that their identification may be revealed by the government.

Obviously, in this particular case, there's further problems with looking at the ambassador's wife. Obviously, now all intelligence services across the world will be looking at ambassadors' wives and suspecting them. They may subject them now to surveillance and added security measures.

The continued revelations by Bob Novak of purported front companies also subjects the traveling businessman to added...

One thing that is palpable in this whole situation is the disgust -- even more off-the-record than on -- toward this disclosure from the ex-CIA fraternity. Not surprising, I guess. But notable for its intensity -- which of course grows from a deeper antagonism.

I've spoken to a number <$NoAd$>of lawyers over the last 24 hours about what would be standard and appropriate practice for the White House in turning over documents to the Justice Department investigators, particularly the degree to which the counsel's office gets to review the documents for issues of privilege and/or relevance.

This from this morning's gaggle ...

Q Democrats are raising questions about the fact that the Counsel is going to be screening the material before, for relevance, as you said, before turning it over. They say that the past practice, in fact, is that the Counsel's Office didn't do that, that that's up to the prosecutors to decide what's relevant and what's not.

McCLELLAN: Yes, it's --

Q Past practice is simply send it all over for --

McCLELLAN: Well, one, I disagree at the way you characterize it and the premise of what you're saying. It is standard practice for the Counsel's Office to be the point of contact to get the information to the Department of Justice that they requested. And that's exactly what -- keep in mind, we are here to assist the Department of Justice get to the bottom of this, because no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than we do. And the sooner the better, as far as we're concerned. And that's why we -- the Counsel's Office will be moving as quickly as they can to get the information to the Justice Department that they requested.

Q Well, they don't dispute that the Counsel's Office is typically the point of contact -- what they say is, though, is that in the past, the Counsel's Office's doesn't filter for relevancy, the Counsel's Office's has sent everything over to Justice that's responsive to -- that fits --

McCLELLAN: That's right, exactly, that's responsive to the request.

Q Well, they say that --

McCLELLAN: And I said -- and, remember, I said yesterday they're welcome to look at other materials if they want. I mean, the President made it very clear that we will be cooperating fully.

More to come on this ...

As you may have noticed, we've redesigned the site. On the surface it looks almost identical. But on the back-end, it's completely different. It's now entirely automated, which makes it much easier to update and add new features to, and so forth. One of several new features is the printer-friendly function right there next to the permalinks.

At the moment, it's taking me a bit of time to get used to the new interface, which is of course different from the one I've been using for the last three years. I'm not sure if it'll affect the way I write or not; but I'll let you be the judge.

In any case, if something doesn't look right on the site, please drop us a line, letting us know what the problem is and what browser you're using.

So Donnie Fowler is out as sorta kinda campaign manager of the Clark campaign.

I'd been getting hints and allegations of this for several days from various fronts. The first round of coverage last night had it that this was a dispute between the Internet-savvy draft Clark types and the professionals from the Clinton-Gore scene. This morning there's more of a focus on Fowler getting demoted to a "lesser role but still an important role" and deciding instead to quit.

Really, I'm not sure quite what to make of these various interpretations of what happened. It's not like Fowler is some sort of grass-roots activist. His CV, even his ancestry, is very much from Clinton/Gore-land. On the other hand, he saw first hand in Gore 2000 what can happen to a top-heavy, insidery operation.

My sense is that there are just no clear lines of authority in that operation. That leads not only to chaotic management but also to everyone having a different sense of what 'the problem' is.

Based on things I hear from various folks who are in the mix, I think that it's much less clear-cut than this Internet types versus the insiders line we're hearing.

What surprises me and, to an extent, impresses me is that Clark has managed to do as well as he has, even with this sort of chaotic management at the home office.

The thing about campaigns is that they end up telling us something about the candidate. Getting a campaign up to speed in a few weeks is no simple task. If Clark is someone who will make a good president, he'll get this situation in hand.

The big picture here is that there's a vacuum of authority in the campaign operation. Because of that, all the various currents in the Dem party -- out-of-power Clinton-Gore types, new-fangled Internet types, etc. -- are trying to fill that vacuum. Bottom line: Clark has to assert himself over his campaign back office.

Am I wrong to think his heart's not really in this one?

Comments today from President Bush ...

I mean this town is a -- is a town full of people who like to leak information. And I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official. Now, this is a large administration, and there's a lot of senior officials. I don't have any idea. I'd like to. I want to know the truth. That's why I've instructed this staff of mine to cooperate fully with the investigators -- full disclosure, everything we know the investigators will find out. I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is -- partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers. But we'll find out.

Rather short of dead or alive ...