Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Just a quick note on the Condit front. The story that's only starting to get a touch of play in the reporting is how much orchestration is taking place on the part of the public relations operatives working for the Levy family.

One hesitates to use the loaded word 'orchestration' since these people are desperately trying to find out what happened to their daughter; and the chances of finding a happy answer seem bleak. Still it's a point worth noting since it speaks to a broader issue of how the media functions today, and specifically how this story is being advanced.

Reporters I've spoken to who are covering the Levy camp (if I can use that word) say that the Levy supporters (would it be too cheeky to call them Levites?) are quite open about their strategy, which is to day-after-day drib and drab out more information on Condit-Levy relationship, both to squeeze Condit and keep pressure on the police. Yesterday's revelations from Chandra's aunt are of course part of this effort. These days even feeding frenzies and personal tragedy apparently can't do without professional management.

I'm not saying this is good or bad necessarily; just that much of it is very, very thought out in advance, and planned for greatest impact and effect.

Of course, Condit too now has an anti-feeding frenzy consultant on hire. But her job seems a touch more challenging than theirs.

And by the way, for you real Talking Points loyalists out there, I'll be on CNN's Reliable Sources (Sat. 6:30 PM; Sun 11:30 AM) this weekend making what (if I remember correctly) were some fairly vacuous media criticism type comments about you know what.

You hear a lot these days about how the Bush administration is starting to heed the polls and buff up its image on the environment and Big Oil lackey fronts. But developments like these reassure me that the Bushies are going to stick determinedly to principle. This from today's Wall Street Journal 'Washington Wire' ...

Climate-change treaty foe Philip Cooney is the new chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which helps formulate the U.S. position on global warming. At the American Petroleum Institute, he helped develop the oil lobby's opposition to the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse-gas emissions.
Which reminds me, I've still got to get in my application for this year's oil studies fellowship over at the 'Institute.'

I never, never, never want to hear you tell me that Talking Points doesn't give you an utterly unique take on the news of the day!

Needless to say, things are sort of heating up today on the Condit-Levy front. You've got Mrs. Condit's interview with authorities in suburban Virginia. Then you've got the DC police chief saying that the police consider it unlikely Levy committed suicide. They believe she was either the victim of foul play or simply went into hiding. And if you have a brain, of course, that sounds a lot like they think it was foul play.

Condit's attorney Abbe Lowell issued this statement to the press and announced that henceforth Marina Ein will be handling press matters for the Condits, presumably to give a break to the hapless Mike Lynch, Condit's press secretary who probably didn't know quite what he was getting into when he signed on to handle media for the obscure California congressman.

Now, sitting here at my desk writing out a draft of my soon-to- be-published article on foreign lobbyists, I couldn't help but wonder: Marina Ein? Marina Ein? Where do I know that name from?

Oh, right! She's the one who signed on back in the Spring of 2000 to do media relations work for General Wiranto of Indonesia at the time when he was coming under intense scrutiny for his role in alleged crimes against humanity in East Timor in 1999.

According to Ein's April 4, 2000 Foreign Agents Registration filing (reg.# 5369), she:

agreed to provide media outreach services -- including editorial services -- to General Wiranto. We are providing these services for a monthly retainer of $20,000 for an open-ended period .... We will draft editorial material for use in a "by-lined" or op-ed piece(s) and work to secure interviews and other speaking opportunities. We will seek such opportunities in print and electronic formats.
I guess the real question is, who will Ein have a harder time defending, Wiranto or Condit? And does Condit have to pay her 20Gs a month too?

P.S. Late Update: One TPM secret informant tells me Ein also used to do PR work for The New Republic. But I'll bet you third world strong man-types pay better than center-left opinion mags. Trust me, I should know.

The shrewdest analysts of the Balkan tragedy have always seen Slobodan Milosevic as a cynic, a pragmatist, a deft tactician, if a rather bad strategist.

So it makes sense that Milosevic should be taking this rejectionist stand toward the Hague tribunal. After all, it's not like there's anyone he can roll on; and not like anyway he's going to beat the rap. So why not go out with a flourish? And maybe inflict a little pain on his enemies along the way.

Milosevic now seems intent on putting the international community on trial with him, and attempting to make them appear complicit in his crimes. According to this BBC report, he plans particularly to target the British, especially two Tory Foreign Ministers from the early and middle nineties.

In any real sense, of course, this claim is utterly bogus. But it's not an entirely idle threat.

At various points over the last dozen years, the West saw Milosevic as useful, or at least someone they had to deal with. Most famously, at the Dayton peace talks, he was treated as something of a peace maker, and to a degree he actually delivered -- knocking the heads of Bosnian Serb chieftains and forcing them to get on board.

For the Europeans and the Brits there is even more awkwardness. After his retirement, for instance, Douglas Hurd, Tory Foreign Secretary in the early-mid 1990s, got involved with all manner of debt restructuring and telecom work for Milosevic's government. This of course was during one of Milosevic's 'good-guy' phases.

Again, the point is not that NATO governments share any real complicity in Milosevic's crimes; nor did various prime ministers and foreign ministers -- faced with few good options -- lack good reasons for dealing with Milosevic, and even in some sense propping him up.

But Milosevic can throw light on the West's back-and-forth positioning over the course of the 1990s -- sometimes denouncing him as an arch-war criminal, at other times giving him a good cleaning and dressing him up as a potential peace partner. He could embarrass Western leaders by highlighting their often erratic and cowardly stance toward the Balkan tragedy for much of the decade, their own crimes of omission, and their own connections to him.

A quick thought. Anne Marie Smith says that on "approximately May 5 or 6" Gary Condit called her and said he was "in trouble" and might have to "disappear for a while." According to the Levys, they first called the DC police on May 5th. They again called on the 6th and reported her as a missing person. Only then -- concerned that the police were not giving the matter sufficient attention -- did they call Condit. That was on the evening of May 6th.

Clearly, the question is which of these conversations occurred first. If conversation (A) occurred prior to conversation (B) -- that is to say, if Condit told Smith he was "in trouble" before he found out from Levy's parents that she was missing -- that would be rather damning, no?

With phone records, this should all be rather easy to nail down. As police presumably are trying to do.

Here is a worthwhile article on the bizarre afterlife of the one major Clinton-era Independent Counsel investigation still chugging along. Appropriately enough, it's David M. Barrett's investigation of Henry Cisneros -- which was just given yet another extension to continue its work. Needless to say, Cisneros himself is no longer even at issue. Not only was he investigated, he was investigated, indicted for lying to the FBI about how much money he gave to his one-time mistress, prosecuted, copped a plea and paid a fine, and for good measure got pardoned by Bill Clinton.

(As long as we're at it, Cisneros' crime -- that of low-balling the amount of money you paid to your former mistress when the FBI asked you about it during your background check for becoming a cabinet secretary -- is a pretty good example of the sort of bogus crime I referred to earlier.)

In any case, of all the Clinton-era IC appointments, Barrett and his subsequent investigation always had the strongest hint of political payback about it. Rather than a career prosecutor, Barret is best described as a career GOP activist, DC lawyer, lobbyist, rain-maker, and influence peddler -- a common species in the Washington ecosystem. Most particularly, Barrett was knee-deep in the multifarious doings of the notoriously corrupt Reagan-era HUD department. As the Washington Post gently put it a couple years ago "Barrett was part of an interconnected group of lobbyists, consultants, and current and former HUD officials who benefited from high-level access to HUD at a time when corruption in the department was rampant."

So the three judge panel which appoints ICs thought Barrett, an oily crony from HUD's corrupt days, would be a judicious pick to head up an investigation of the reforming HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros. Now Barrett has gotten yet another extension to continue investigating whether various government officials tried to criminally obstruct his probe.

Barrett's endless investigation, though, was always less grand conspiracy or perversion of justice than some pale echo of Arendt's banality of evil. There's less Vast Right Wing Conspiracy here than marquee time-serving, a third-tier DC influence peddler, perpetually on-the-make, unwilling to give up his roving commission to kick up trouble for fun and profit.

Alright, here's the July 4th Talking Points quiz ... Ready?

Read the following copy and tell me if it's really our 43rd president answering a couple questions during an impromptu visit to the Jefferson Memorial or just the words in the bubble in today's Doonesbury cartoon strip ...

Questioner: What does the 4th mean to you, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's an unimaginable honor to be the President during the 4th of July of this country. It means what these words say, for starters. The great inalienable rights of our country. We're blessed with such values in America. And I -- it's -- I'm a proud man to be the nation based upon such wonderful values.

I can't tell you what it's like to be in Europe, for example, to be talking about the greatness of America. But the true greatness of America are the people. And it's another reason we're here, is to be able to say hello to some of our fellow Americans who are here to celebrate.

It's good to see everybody. John, when are you getting married?

Questioner: Three weeks, sir.

Still stumped? Maybe this link will help.

Of late, for a number of reasons, I've tried to make these virtual pages a Condit/Chandra free zone. But let me add one note regarding today's developments.

A flight attendant, who alleges an affair with Condit, says he asked her to swear out a false affidavit denying an affair, etc. To rebut the charges, Condit released the following statement:

I have repeatedly urged anyone who has any information that could help police find Chandra Levy to come forward, tell all they know, and be as forthcoming as possible. I have not asked anyone to refrain from discussing this matter with authorities, nor have I suggested anyone mislead the authorities.
Like many others in this case, this really isn't the denial it purports to be. A straightforward look at the syntax tells you that the antecedent of "this matter" is Chandra Levy's disappearance; Condit is thus denying telling anyone to withhold information they may know about the whereabouts of Chandra Levy, not anything having to do with some alleged affair he may have had with the other woman. With regards the flight attendant's allegation, this statement is, as the lawyers would say, non-responsive.

Having said this, though, let's make very sure this alleged other relationship does have some conceiveable tie-in with the Chandra Levy case. The rationale for looking into Condit's relationship with Levy is its proximity to her disappearance. We certainly don't know they are connected. But that proximity, I've always thought, at least requires Condit to be forthcoming about anything which could shed light on her disappearance.

But the Chandra relationship doesn't give reporters a roving commission to open the books on all the pitiful back pages of Condit's life.

One might say that the possibility of a crime -- tied to the affidavit -- makes this new relationship a public matter -- just as Chandra's disappearance makes the relationship with her a public matter.

But this doesn't wash to me.

What makes the Chandra relationship different is that something very serious and tragic seems to have happened to her. It may or may not be a crime. But something happened to her. But when we talk about a crime, to my lights at least, we mean a real crime, not the sort of bogus crime that only lawyers recognize as a crime -- like lying about, or trying to get others to lie about who you've had sex with.

In the abstract, I agree that perjury and obstruction are serious offenses. But in these cases, they are also weapons with which you can put someone in a very tight position, where you bend them over the barrel of public opinion and then pull in the law for a squeeze play. The crime isn't the justification for rummaging through someone's private life. It's something wrenched out of them once you've already got into their personal affairs and you're using the info to squeeze them.

Come to think of it, something like this happened with another guy I know a few years ago.

In any case, the point is that the circumstances of Levy's disappearance really did change the rules in the case of media questioning of that relationship -- legitimately so. But it's not a reason to tie Condit to a pole and play Lord of the Flies with this man's pitiful private affairs.

If Condit really did call this other woman at the beginning of May and tell her he was "going to have to disappear for a while" that's a pretty big deal. And it would bear directly on some sort of connection to Levy's disappearance. I'm just saying this is a slippery slope.

P.S. Mickey Kaus responds to the above and says I was tying myself "in gratuitous knots." Perhaps so. It's part of the weblog philosophy that you don't pull down posts once they're up. But suffice it to say that what's always struck me about this case, and the media's curious early reaction to it, is this: In the Clinton case, the media used largely bogus 'crimes' as an excuse to get at sex. In the Condit case, the media used the excuse of sex to ignore what was potentially a crime of the highest order. The contrast, I have always thought, speaks volumes. Anyway, that's my story and I'm stickin' with it. (Update July 4th, 2001, 1:38 AM)

President Bush's poll numbers do keep slipping. Today's CNN-USA Today poll has him at 52%. But Democrats would be foolish to get too excited by this drift downward. After all, until the crazy years of the late 1990s ratings over 50% were considered pretty good.

"If he had these kinds of numbers in October of a re-election year he'd be on his way to a smashing victory," Ari Fleischer told USA Today.

Comments like that make you hope Fleischer has a very prominent role in Bush 2004. A president can certainly win reelection with 50% approval. But if he's got a brain he'd go into election day shaking in his boots.

A better way to look at the president's difficulties is to consider just how well, relatively speaking, this first 5 months have gone. Just from the perspective of a moderate to conservative Republican you could scarcely imagine a better record Bush has put together. He's put through a big tax cut with compromises only at the margins. He's stood by tough nominees, and without exceptions gotten them through. He's had clear sailing abroad. And there is really no big domestic screw up or embarrassment you can point to coming out of the White House.

In short, you could hardly ask for better.

And still the numbers are falling.

The implication is that the product -- even packaged deftly and pushed expertly -- just isn't one that voters want to buy.

Early Clintonian incompetence at least made plausible the idea that the problem was in the delivery, that better packaging could seal the deal.

Despite all the not-unreasonable speculation that the California energy crisis would spike Governor Gray Davis' political career this new poll says otherwise. Even Richard Riordan, the quirky liberal-to -moderate former Mayor of Los Angeles, who Republicans are begging to get into the race, only manages to pull 35% of voters versus Davis' 49%. The key here, of course, is that California seems to be turning the corner in its struggle to get its electricity house in order. And thus there is good reason to think Davis will grow stronger, not weaker, than these current poll readings suggest.