Josh Marshall

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A couple quick points. First, if you're following this Bush military <$NoAd$>service issue, you should be reading Kevin Drum's column. Kevin's all over the nitty-gritty details of the relevant documents. And while some of his points -- as he himself says -- remain speculative, he's on a trail that could turn this whole story upside-down.

In any case, be sure to visit his site.

Also, here's this morning's gaggle on the new limited, White House-selected records release ...

QUESTION: Scott, has the White House come up with any more documents or information to buttress the President's assertion that he fulfilled his obligations in the National Guard?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we have provided some additional information from the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver, Colorado. The records will be released shortly, and the records that we will be releasing include the annual retirement point summaries, which we previously made available during the 2000 campaign, and these payroll records documenting the dates on which he was paid for serving. The point summaries, as I have discussed with you all, document that he fulfilled his duties. These records clearly document the President fulfilling his duties, and we will be releasing those very shortly.

QUESTION: Are the payroll -- we haven't seen the payroll records before, but we've seen the point --

MR. McCLELLAN: Nor had we, yes. QUESTION: We have not? MR. McCLELLAN: No. QUESTION: But we have seen the point summaries before; is that what you're saying? MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. Well, we had made them available during the 2000 campaign to those who asked. QUESTION: So the payroll records include, like, where he was being paid and date and, like, the specifics -- MR. McCLELLAN: You will have them shortly and you'll be able to look at them; there are several pages of documents. I'm pulling them together. Yes, we will make them -- we will make them available. QUESTION: But they weren't -- it wasn't released -- MR. McCLELLAN: No, we did not have this. We were not aware that this information existed during the campaign, on the payroll records. QUESTION: Scott, those payroll records won't reflect whether he actually appeared for duty; is that right? I mean, they'll just show that he got paid, which there was an -- MR. McCLELLAN: You are paid for the days on which you serve in the National Guard -- QUESTION: But there was an -- MR. McCLELLAN: -- that's why I said these records clearly document that the President fulfilled his duties. QUESTION: Well, there was an opinion piece in the Post this morning in which the author said he didn't show up at all and he continued to get paid for several months. MR. McCLELLAN: I think the records clearly document otherwise. QUESTION: Can you tell us how you -- MR. McCLELLAN: And we also will include a statement from Mr. Lloyd, who's now retired from the Texas Air National Guard, who lays out some of the facts about the President's point summaries. QUESTION: Can you tell us how you came upon these documents, if they haven't been seen since -- the President said since 1994 people have been looking for this. MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, actually, we -- that's why I said it was new information that came to our attention. The Personnel Center in Denver, Colorado, it is my understanding, on their own went back and looked for these records. Now, during the 2000 campaign we had reached out to the Texas Air National Guard and it was our impression from the Texas Air National Guard that -- you know, they stated they didn't have them and it was also our impression from them that those records did not exist. QUESTION: -- on their own, or the Department of Defense requested them? MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, no, the -- QUESTION: Because the Department of Defense that they requested the records -- MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not familiar with what the Department of Defense has requested, but it is my understanding from -- we've talked with the Personnel Center, and the President has authorized the release of these records. We now have them. They did send them to us. But it is our understanding in talking with the Personnel Center in Denver that this issue -- that this was -- you know, as I talked about some of the outrageous accusations that were being made again this year, that had previously been made, they apparently on their own went back and looked for these records, when the issue was being raised again. QUESTION: The Department of Defense has said that they requested them. MR. McCLELLAN: You'd have to talk to the Department of Defense about it. QUESTION: Scott, how do you square the -- MR. McCLELLAN: But I think the Personnel Center may tell you that they went ahead and had gone back to look at these records. QUESTION: How do you square the records from the Texas Air National Guard with the idea that he was supposed to be attached to a unit in Alabama at the time? MR. McCLELLAN: No, he was still a member of the Texas Air National Guard. He was -- he received permission, or temporary permission to perform what is equivalent duty with the 187th Tactical Recon Group in Alabama, when he was there in the latter part of that year, the October-November time frame. QUESTION: Right, so he was actually -- MR. McCLELLAN: So he was still serving as a member of the Texas Air National Guard. QUESTION: So regardless of what state that he was performing his duty in, the records would still be issued by the Texas Air National Guard? MR. McCLELLAN: Well, these are records from the Personnel -- I mean, we're going to just make available exactly what they gave us from the Personnel Center in Denver, Colorado. QUESTION: But are these an indication that he served in Texas at that time, or in Alabama? MR. McCLELLAN: This documents that he was paid for the days on which he served. And you will have the dates -- QUESTION: But in which state -- MR. McCLELLAN: It will show the dates on which he was paid. QUESTION: But in which state? MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? QUESTION: Which state was he serving at the time? MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, we'll have the records here for you shortly, so you'll be able to look at those documents yourself. QUESTION: Are you asserting that these documents put the issue to rest? MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I previously said it was a shame that this was brought up in 1994, it was a shame that it was brought up in 2000, and it is a shame that it was brought up again. I think you'd have to go and ask those who made these outrageous accusations if they stand by them in the face of this documentation that demonstrates he served and fulfilled his duties. The President was proud of his service in the National Guard. He was honorably discharged because he fulfilled his duties. QUESTION: Exactly how did the documents get to you that you said you were not aware existed? And how about the letter from Mr. Lloyd? Is that something that he voluntarily sent in, or did the White House ask for it? MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we had a discussion -- we had a discussion with him, and he's previously been on record stating that -- stating some of these very facts, that the President met his -- met the requirements needed to fulfill his duties. So he's previously been stating that. But we had discussions -- I'll check the exact specifics on that. I think we may have reached out to him so that he could again say what he had said previously. QUESTION: Scott, if I could read you -- MR. McCLELLAN: But in terms of the personnel records, like I said, that was something that it came to our attention that the Personnel Center in Denver -- QUESTION: You did not request it, it came to you? MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when we reached -- I'm trying to -- let me double-check, but we found out that they had some additional records and contacted them and the President is the only one that can authorize a release of his records. And we received those records and the President has authorized the release of those records. As he said, he wants to make everything available. QUESTION: When did you receive the records? When? MR. McCLELLAN: Late yesterday. QUESTION: Scott, if I read you correctly, this is not going to answer the question of where he was serving at that time. MR. McCLELLAN: Well, during -- he received -- it was, like I said, in the October-November time period he was in Alabama. He was performing equivalent duty in Alabama. QUESTION: But you seemed to indicate, though, that these records will not indicate where he was. MR. McCLELLAN: But he was still a member of the Texas Air National Guard. QUESTION: Right, but you seemed to indicated -- MR. McCLELLAN: They'll indicate the dates on which he was paid for his service. QUESTION: But they won't indicate where -- MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't read anything into it until we release the records, which will be very shortly. Then you'll have them, then we can talk about them. QUESTION: But they will not stipulate where he was serving? MR. McCLELLAN: We can be clear on it when we release the records, John. That's what I'm trying to tell you. We're going to release the records. You'll see that he was paid for the dates on which he served -- QUESTION: Somehow I don't think those records are going to tell us where he was serving. MR. McCLELLAN: They will show that he was paid for his service. And you get paid for the days on which you serve. QUESTION: Right, but they won't say where he was. MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we're going to release the records shortly. Just hang on. QUESTION: Who in the White House has been handling it? Is it the Counsel's Office, or who -- MR. McCLELLAN: Dan Bartlett has been involved in this. QUESTION: He reviewed the documents last night? MR. McCLELLAN: He previously, during the 2000 campaign, tried to gather as much information as was available. QUESTION: And has he been the one who has been dealing with it now? In other words, if these came to the White House last night, Dan Bartlett was burning the midnight oil reading these last night? MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that he was burning the midnight oil. He received the information. QUESTION: Scott, when does "soon" mean? Does it mean -- MR. McCLELLAN: Very soon. QUESTION: Like in an hour? Or are we talking about -- MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if I can get off this podium, then I can get all that information together for you and we can release it. QUESTION: Can you tell us once again -- MR. McCLELLAN: Several documents to release. QUESTION: Can you tell us once again Lloyd's name and what his objective is? MR. McCLELLAN: I'll have that for you. You'll have his statement, it'll have his exact name, you'll have everything here shortly. QUESTION: Any explanation as to why he served the minimum hours required? MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, you have to look at the different time periods. And it showed that he fulfilled his duties, John. QUESTION: But, still, it's the minimum requirement. You can go to college, you can get a C, or you can go to college and get a 4.0. MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know which time period you're referring to. I mean, the President fulfilled his duties. He was proud of his service, John. He fulfilled his duties. And there are some that have made outrageous accusations. And I think you need to ask those individuals if they want to continue to stand by those outrageous accusations in the face of documentation that clearly demonstrates the President fulfilled his duties. QUESTION: Was he just busy doing other things, or -- MR. McCLELLAN: John, the President fulfilled his duties. And if you want to question other people who fulfilled their duties, that's your prerogative. I won't -- QUESTION: Do you know of any other documents that exist that are pertinent to this subject? MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? QUESTION: Are there any other known documents -- MR. McCLELLAN: This is what we know that is available. And that's why we're making it available to you. QUESTION: Is there anything else that you know that exists? MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said, this is what we know that is available that exists. QUESTION: I know you know it's available, but is -- MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't. No, I don't. QUESTION: In other words, you don't know if there's anything available from -- QUESTION: Anything else? QUESTION: -- that would have come from Alabama, that would be in the Personnel Center? MR. McCLELLAN: No. QUESTION: You don't know of anything else that's pertinent to the subject -- MR. McCLELLAN: No, I said yesterday that if there's additional information that we would keep you posted. And that's exactly what I'm doing here today. QUESTION: Scott, if there is additional information, will the President release it? Does he want it all out? MR. McCLELLAN: He said -- he answered that question on Saturday, when it aired on Sunday.

More to come ...

Late word from the White House is that they're releasing some pay stubs which will verify the president's attendance at Guard duty in Alabama.

We'll see what they say. But as Richard Cohen notes in his column today, it wasn't that hard at the time to play hooky and still get paid.

More to the point, this is still the White House selectively releasing records. As nearly as I can tell the president is still refusing to waive his Privacy Act rights and allow the government to release all his military service records to the press, without having them filtered through the White House.

We should have more information on this shortly. Check back soon.

This lede from an article in tomorrow's Washington Post tells you all you need to know about the president's promise on Sunday to release all his military service records ...

The Defense Department has requested that President Bush's payroll records from his service in the National Guard be sent to Washington from a DOD archive in Colorado, to ascertain whether they can be released to news organizations and public interest groups that have formally requested them in recent days, according to DOD officials.

This is exactly the point. Whatever privacy considerations are at issue here are ones the president can simply waive. Yet it seems pretty clear from that graf that he hasn't. Otherwise, it's not clear to <$Ad$>me what hold up there would be on releasing all those records to news organizations.

And another matter. The White House is already trying to wriggle out of the president's commitment to release all the records about his military service.

When asked about this on Monday, Scott McClellan said (itals added): "You know, we made everything we had available during the 2000 campaign." And then later he said "Well, everything we had we made available. And like I said, if there's more, we'll do our best to keep you updated on that."

Sorry. But that's not the question. Press secretaries are in the business of choosing words carefully -- especially at rough moments. And what McClellan is saying here is that the campaign released all the records it had on the president's service.

Now, needless to say, that places a rather high degree of trust in the White House and/or the Bush campaign that they'd willingly turn over any truly damning documents, if such exist -- especially when they're in charge of defining what's relevant. But even if we discount the possibility of dishonesty, what McClellan is saying is simply beside the point.

We're not interested in getting a full look at the Bush 2000 archive on the president's military service. We're interested in the United States government's archive on the president's military service.

And it seems the president still refuses to allow this. To make this happen what he would have to do would be to formally waive the rights he enjoys under the Privacy Act which prohibits the Pentagon and its various subdivisions from releasing certain classes of information about his service.

Tim Russert asked the president the question directly. The president answered it unequivocally: he said he would release everything. Now his press secretary is trying to nullify the president's promise with silly word games. If my friends in the White House press corps fall for this one it will almost be beyond belief.

I've been telling you since early January about the <$NoAd$>House special election coming up on February 17th to elect a new member of Congress from Kentucky's 6th District. The race pits former Attorney General Ben Chandler (D) against state Rep. Alice Forgy Kerr (R).

The Chandler campaign has been trying to frame this as a potential bellwether election. And it looks like it's turning out that way.

Stu Rothernberg had this to say on Monday in Roll Call...

Unless voters in Kentucky’s 6th district suddenly have a change of heart, the Republicans are headed for a rocky Feb. 17 special election in the Lexington-area House district. Former two-term state Attorney General Ben Chandler (D), not state Rep. Alice Forgy Kerr (R), has the advantage in the final days before the election.

But worse than the loss of a single House seat, a Republican defeat would suggest some problems for President Bush and his party.

This isn’t exactly what Republicans expected to happen when the seat became open, following Republican Ernie Fletcher’s election as governor in November.

GOP strategists planned to make the special election a referendum on a popular president and a contrast of ideologies in a conservative district. That way, they figured, they could elect Kerr to Congress even though the district has a Democratic registration advantage and is politically competitive.

If Chandler picks up that seat next Tuesday it'll be a major headache for the president. Every race has local dynamics -- and the relative qualities of the two candidates play an important role in an election for an open seat. But, in the current climate, a defeat for the president's candidate -- and that's what she is -- will be viewed as a sign of his broader political weakness -- perhaps not unlike Harris Wofford's bellwether Senate victory over Dick Thornburgh in 1991 signalled the cracks in the president's father's air of invulnerability.

There's little doubt now that Plame investigation is heating up. Tomorrow's Washington Post has a piece with a run-down about the who's been before the Plame grand jury and who's been interviewed by the FBI. The Times' piece says that "prosecutors have conducted meetings with presidential aides that lawyers in the case described as tense and sometimes combative."

If you think about it, it's sort of astonishing that this story has still received so relatively little attention given that -- as the Times notes -- multiple White House appointees have been told they are 'subjects' of a criminal inquiry.

(The Times actually uses the term 'employees.' But from the context it seems to me that the people being referred to are more properly styled 'appointees'.)

I suspect we're pretty close to one of the big papers having enough of the pieces in place (and well enough sourced -- probably more than well enough sourced, given their skittishness) to sketch out the true outlines of the investigation and just who the investigators believe the culprits are.

I hear mutterings that a certain someone has already gotten a 'target letter.' So I don't think it'll be long before we know the key details of what's going on.

But there's another small note in the Post's piece that may deserve greater attention.

The Post says ...

A parallel FBI investigation into the apparent forgery of documents suggesting that Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger is "at a critical stage," according to a senior law enforcement official who declined to elaborate. That probe, conducted by FBI counterintelligence agents, was launched last spring after U.N. officials pronounced the documents crude forgeries.

Now, most people have treated the forged documents affair as somehow separate from the swirl of political maneuverings taking place in the fall and winter of 2002. The fact that these crudely forged documents weren't more rapidly dismissed by the White House gets a lot of attention. But it's commonly assumed that the forgers themselves (and those who actually produced the documents during the run-up to war) were just hoaxsters out for money, outside players with no key political role in the larger drama.

I've been following this story for months. And I've always suspected that that assumption is incorrect. At the end of October last year I noted that a close look at the timeline of events in October 2002 points to the conclusion that the person who got those documents into the hands of Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba had some knowledge -- either direct or indirect -- of highly secret debates then going in between the Bush White House, the CIA and members of the Blair government in the UK.

This is a circumstantial argument, and one that is certainly not conclusive. But see the the October 31st post to see what I'm talking about. See this earlier post for another part of the puzzle.

My plate's been full for the last few months. And I haven't been able to track down as many leads as I'd like. But there are some pretty big clues sitting right there in plain sight. And if those FBI agents have put that puzzle together too ... well, let's just say keep an eye on that story. Maybe I can still beat them to the punch.

I seldom write posts that don't make their way, in <$Ad$>one form or another, onto the site. But occasionally I'll write a lengthy one, edit it, wrestle with it, then decide that something about it just doesn't work and discard it entirely. That happened last night in a long post I wrote trying to make sense of just why the President Bush's approval numbers dipped so suddenly with no clear trigger.

Part of the reason I ended up not liking the post was that in the course of writing a post describing how there was no clear single explanation I happened upon something that seemed like a clear and at least relatively simple explanation.

This AP article notes that President Bush's fall in the polls coincides very closely with David Kay's initial comments stating that there almost certainly were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Here are the key grafs ...

Bush's job approval rating dropped 10 points from Jan. 25 through Jan. 31, according to the National Annenberg Election Survey. The tracking poll takes a nightly sample and rolls together two or three nights' findings at a time to produce periodic reports.

Support for the war in Iraq also dipped in that period, from a majority saying the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, 53 percent, to 46 percent during the last few days of January saying it was worth going to war and 49 percent saying it was not.

The Annenberg study found Bush's approval dipped from 64 percent right after Bush's Jan. 20 State of the Union address to 54 percent in the late-January period. An AP-Ipsos poll found Bush's approval dipped 9 points during January to the high 40s, the same finding as several other polls released at about that time.

Falling ten points in a week is a precipitous drop -- and it seems to have been picked up in a number of polls, even if the rest of the surveys weren't able to pinpoint when it started quite as precisely as Annenberg.

To those who've been closely following the on-going weapons search and what's been happening on the ground in Iraq, Kay's announcement was only news at the level of theatrics -- the historical value of the official statement of what's been obvious for many months.

I don't think most people following this story figured it would have nearly so dramatic an effect as the Annenberg study indicates. I certainly didn't. Indeed, I focused on the parts of Kay's comments and testimony which struck me as attempting to exonerate the administration.

But this may be a case in which close attention to the news helped create a real blind spot. As we've noted here many times the White House has gone to great lengths to avoid publicly acknowledging the reality that we were totally wrong about the weapons.

The plan was always to say that the search continued and to dangle hints that anyone who doubted that Saddam had weapons might end up looking very foolish indeed when the weapons turned up. Even now high White House officials tell reporters off the record that they will continue to say that the search is still on-going so as to avoid putting these uncomfortable words in the president's mouth.

This is not only amazingly cynical (a free willingness to continue deceiving the public just as they did during the run-up to the war). It is, or was, it seems extremely effective.

By not coming clean and resting on the public's desire to trust the president, the White House was able to stave off the political impact of the collapse of the central argument for going to war. In that context, Kay's statements were a very big deal indeed, and the public reaction makes all the sense in the world.

For some time now, it's been conventional wisdom that most voters weren't overly troubled by the failure to find any weapons in the country, especially so long as other aspects of the war were going at least tolerably well. That assumption may have been very wrong.

On a replay this evening I watched the president's Meet the Press interview in its entirety. On balance I'd say he and his advisors made a mistake scheduling this interview.

It's not lost on me that I'm probably not the best one to evaluate his performance, given my critical stance toward his administration. But, with that caveat, what I saw was a president who was either unwilling or unable to address the essential points of his domestic and foreign policy record.

Most of his responses were disjointed collections of slogans and administration talking points, with a number of disingenuous or outright dishonest points tossed in.

Peggy Noonan had a column up this afternoon arguing that speeches are about philosophy and vision, while interviews are about policy and particulars. Bush is good at speeches, she says, not so good at interviews.

I have a different opinion.

I'm rewatching a segment right now where the president goes on about a highway spending bill. He seems to have the policy issue and the facts down fine.

The issue, I think, is that right now the president doesn't have a particularly good story to tell or a particularly good explanation for why almost nothing he's said would happen (budget, Iraq, etc.) has happened. That's a problem.

So when he goes on an hour-long interview he doesn't sound very good. And since he's not willing to confront the debacle of the weapons search, the fiscal mess, or what's happening on the ground in Iraq he comes off sounding evasive, incoherent and out of touch with what's happening on his watch.

I was able to see only the second half of the Russert interview <$Ad$>this morning, though I'll read the transcript this afternoon.

One comment for now on the Air National Guard question ...

Superficially, I think Bush came off okay, largely because Russert failed to press the president sufficiently on some deceptive responses.

The key issue was the release of his military records.

Several times during the exchange the president said that he had released his military records back in 2000.

That's not true. He's never released those records. And no one disputes that.

But Russert returned to the point and the final exchange went thus ...

MR. RUSSERT: Would you authorize the release of everything to settle this?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes, absolutely.

We did so in 2000, by the way.

Now, what to make of this?

The president gives a flat-out, unambiguous answer: he'll release all his military service records.

Then he tosses in that next line: "We did so in 2000, by the way."

As I noted above, this is false: he didn't release those records in 2000.

What I think the president was trying to do here was to give those watching the interview the impression that he's willing to completely open up his records. Yet at the same time he's tossing in this false statement so that when reporters follow up and ask where those records are, his aides will say that what he meant was that they'd release those records they released in 2000 --- which is to say, none of them.

As I say, on the surface, this seems like a clever dodge that may buy some time. But if my prediction above turns out to be accurate, it will amount to their wanting a pass on the president's flat commitment because he happened to follow it up with a patent falsehood. And when you think about that a few times you'll see it just doesn't quite add up.

The bottom line is that the president told Russert that he'd release all his service records. That's the press corps' hook. And in the relatively near future, as much as they may wriggle, his aides will either have to come forward with those records or go back on the commitment the president made in front of the whole country.

Well, the fix, as they say, is in.

Here's the executive order the president just signed authorizing his commission which he "established for the purpose of advising the President in the discharge of his constitutional authority under Article II of the Constitution to conduct foreign relations, protect national security, and command the Armed Forces of the United States, in order to ensure the most effective counter-proliferation capabilities of the United States and response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the ongoing threat of terrorist activity."

The commission doesn't appear to have any subpoena power, only the right to "full and complete access to information relevant to its mission as described in section 2 of this order."

If I read this right -- and needless to say I'm no lawyer, notwithstanding that summer in grad school I wasted prepping for the LSAT -- what's 'relevant' is at the discretion of the department heads of the various executive branch agencies.

And if you read the "mission" as defined in the order it seems narrowly framed as looking at pre-war CIA analyses (actually the whole Intelligence Community) and how they stack up against what Kay's guys found on the ground after the war.

Anything the White House did with those CIA analyses, any fisticuffs between the Veep's office and the CIA, anything stovepiped through Doug Feith's operation at the Pentagon, anything that made its way from Chalabi's mumbo-jumbocrats to the the president's speechwriters -- that's all beyond their brief.

Some folks had difficulty downloading the CIA letter to Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) about the Plame investigation which we posted on Wednesday. There was, it seems, a glitch in the PDF document which made it hard to open on some people's machines. We've now uploaded a fresh copy.