Josh Marshall

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The New York Post, which has been carrying much of the Chandra Levy-Gary Condit story, ran this story yesterday reporting that the DC Police Department's special investigations unit, Jack Barrett, has been assigned to take over the case.

More significantly, the Post reports, the police are focusing on two separate theories. One theory involves an affair gone wrong with congressman Gary Condit which led Levy to commit suicide. The other involves a stalker.

Here's how the Post describes the first of the investigators' two theories:

The hazel-eyed, dark-haired 24-year-old did something "crazy" after an alleged relationship with Rep. Gary Condit, a California Democrat, went awry.
As I've noted here, the combination of mounting circumstantial evidence of an affair and Condit's non-denial denials, makes some sort of romantic involvement seem very likely.

(For an example of Condit's non-denial denials, take a close look at his 'denial' that Levy spent the night at his home; and his demand for an apology for the Washington Post story making the allegation. The statement includes no actual statements from Condit himself.)

The rush of phone messages to Condit in the two days before Levy's disappearance certainly squares well with the theory of her disappearance described above. As does much of what we know about the case.

This really deserves more attention.

Under the Presidential Records Act passed in 1978 a large body of official presidential papers (screened, of course, for national security purposes) are released twelve years after the president leaves office. In January 2001 about 68,000 documents from Ronald Reagan's presidency were slated to be released.

However, the White House Counsel's Office has just delayed the release of those documents for a second time. The first delay came in January and was set to last until June 21. They have now requested a second delay until the end of August to continue reviewing the documents.

The Counsel's office does have discretion under the law to force these delays. But they have an obvious conflict of interest.

Many of the Reagan administration officials whose memos and papers are set to be released now have senior jobs in the Bush administration: Larry Lindsey, Mitch Daniels, Gale Norton, and others. It's not clear what those documents reveal -- presumably nothing scandalous, just embarrassing. It seems pretty clear that the release of these documents is being delayed to avoid such scrutiny or embarrassment.

The White House has authority to delay the release of presidential records documents for important reasons like national security, not to prevent embarrassing revelations or bad media days for current Bush administration officials.

That's, by definition, an abuse of power. Not a big one, I grant you, but an abuse nonetheless.

Up until now, Congressman Gary Condit seemed to be getting pretty much of a pass from folks in his district regarding his alleged connection with missing intern Chandra Levy. But that seems to be changing. Condit's hometown paper, The Modesto Bee, ran an editorial today telling Condit to, in essence, come clean.

You tell me why we've never seen these 'two' men in the same room at same time before.

Hey, I just ask the questions.

Yesterday the Wasington Post ran a story alleging that Gary Condit had told Washington DC police that Chandra Levy (the intern who's been missing for more than a month now) had in fact spent the night at his apartment. That appeared to be the other shoe dropping, putting to rest any notion that Condit was just pals with Levy.

Condit then struck back with a blistering attack on the article, a denial that he had ever said such a thing, and a veiled threat to sue the Post for libel.

But let's look a little more closely at this. Condit has never appeared before reporters to answer questions about Levy's disappearance. Never. He has never denied a relationship with Levy -- only had press flacks issue denials on his behalf. And even the new scorching press release his people put out yesterday contained no quotes from Condit.

Now as a pretty consistent defender of Bill Clinton I'm hesitant to jump too fulsomely onto the lynch Condit bandwagon over these intern allegations. But that is the problem: there really isn't much of a lynch Condit bandwagon. And I'm a little unclear why not. Published reports point pretty clearly to the conclusion that Condit was having a secret, extra-marital affair with Levy. And the investigation into Levy's disappearance (and I really say this with all sincere due respect to her family and friends) looks very much like a murder investigation.

I don't like the idea of someone being hounded by anonymously sourced allegations in the press. But, as a public official, how exactly is it that Condit can get away with not even issuing a real denial. That is to say, not a denial from his press secretary (who presumably has no actual knowledge of the facts) but a quote from him. Or, better yet, an actual appearance to answer at least a few questions.

My own take on this, and one that seems to be shared by reporters following the story, is that Condit was having an affair with Levy. Then, very unluckily for him, she disappeared. One has to assume through some sort of foulplay. In the first few days, before it became clear what exactly had happened with Levy, Condit denied any affair, which is pretty much what you'd expect. But at that point Condit had boxed himself in and couldn't wriggle his way out even after Levy's disappearance began to look much more ominous and the stakes became much higher.

Plenty of people in the local media and on Capitol Hill whom I've spoken to don't have much problem believing that Condit was having an affair with Levy. But none whom I've spoken to can even comprehend that he would be involved in her disappearance.

But today's story in the New York Post gives one of the first bits of information that honestly makes me wonder. According to the Post article, on the two days before her disappearance (April 29th and 30th), Levy left a flurry of messages on one of Condit's answering machines -- what the Post calls "a special answering service that bypassed his congressional office."

That could certainly be innocent. But it doesn't look very good, does it?

As someone who knows a newly-minted defense attorney rather well, there certainly could be an innocent explanation for all this. But aren't we well beyond the point where a vague non-denial denial from the press secretary is going to cut it?

I mean, at least my guy was man enough to come out and lie!

Tragically, or perhaps just bummerly, the Talking Points Memo entries for June 1st through June 7th have been irretrievably lost due to a late night server error. [LATE UPDATE: The entries in question have now been restored.] But be that as it may, an entry from last week posed the question of why Tony Blair had succeeded so brilliantly with so-called Third-Way politics in the United Kingdom while Al Gore is off living on a farm somewhere in Tennessee.

There are many possible answers to this question: Some say Gore blew it by departing from the New Democrat gospel. Some say he ran a lousy campaign. Some point out that it couldn't have helped having the party's incumbent president having sex with an intern half his age in the Oval Office. Some note, more prosaically, that the Brits are just more collectivist than we Americans and that, in any case, three consecutive terms for one party is just difficult to manage.

Each of these explanations contains an important measure of truth, I think. But none touches the deeper, more significant difference in the two nations' political cultures or adequately explains the different levels of success enjoyed by the two parties. That is, the persistent centrality of 'social issues' in American politics and their relative absence from politics in the UK.

I sketch this argument out more fully in this column in today's New York Post.

Speak loud and nasty and carry ... well, something a lot smaller than a big stick.

Trent Lott came out talking tough with his scathing memo promising "war" against the new Democratic majority, and threatening a series of filibusters if Democrats didn't give them 'assurances' about judicial nominations. And then ... well, he flaked. No filibusters after all.

Do you notice a pattern here? I mean, I don't want to go off message or anything. But hasn't Lott just gotten his lunch eaten / head handed to him by Tom Daschle for the like the tenth time in a row?

My dear friend Mickey Kaus says on his site today that Antonio Villaraigosa may have lost the LA Mayor's race yesterday because of a letter that he wrote to Bill Clinton in support of a pardon for Carlos Vignali, the drug mini-kingpin who Bill Clinton did pardon in January.

"Do you doubt," Mickey writes, "that if Clinton hadn't commuted Vignali's sentence, Villaraigosa would today be mayor-elect of L.A.? In this sense, Villaraigosa isn't the victim of racism. He's the latest (last?) victim of Bill Clinton."

I'm inclined to think that every pol is responsible for his or her own actions. But this seems to me like an example of how normally shrewd and insightful folks often somehow lose possession of their reason when talking about Bill Clinton. If Villaraigosa wrote a letter (which unbeknownst to him actually included false information) encouraging Bill Clinton to issue an ill-considered pardon then it sounds to me like, if anything, Bill Clinton is the victim of Villaraigosa, not vice versa.

Or am I missing something?

For those of you who are only familiar with Zell Miller as the Democrat who endorsed the Bush tax cut, his OpEd in Monday's Times is well worth reading.

As I learned when writing this article on Miller a couple months ago (the title is "Zellout," but authors seldom pick the titles of their pieces, and I definitely wouldn't have chosen that one), Miller is a fascinating, often very annoying, captivating, and in many ways admirable pol.

Miller looks at the fact that Al Gore got completely shut out in the South last year and says that the Dems will never elect a president until they reconnect with Southerners politically, regain their trust, etc. Miller says he thinks that there should be, and one day will be, "universal access to health care" (which if you read closely is not the same as universal health care) but that before they can do that Dems have to pay down what he calls a 'trust deficit' -- in essence show that Dems are trustworthy custodians of the public moneys before voters will trust them to enact various progressive reforms.

He also has some interesting, and I think valid, things to say about how in the South the gun control issue functions as a proxy for values and cultural and inter-regional condescension.

There's a lot of good and valid information in his piece. But here's the problem, summed up in the following paragraph:

Al Gore became only the third Democrat since the Civil War to lose not only every state in the old Confederacy, but two border states as well. George McGovern and Walter Mondale were the others. But they had an excuse: They were crushed in national landslides. They didn't just lose the South. They lost from sea to shining sea.
For Miller, the fact that Gore did so well in so many other parts of the country makes his rout in the South more blameworthy, problematic, etc. What he doesn't seem to appreciate is that these two developments are intertwined. Democratic dominance of the Northeast and West Coast is just the other side of the coin of Democratic debility in the South. Gun control, social liberalism, and cautious but activist government aren't just some bizarre outriders that can be tossed aside to pick up a few states in Dixie. They're key to the Dems revival in other parts of the country.

Miller makes the point that Democrats have to prove their trustworthiness in managing the public fisc with tax cuts and fiscal discipline before voters will trust them again to use government for activist means. This was a common argument by New Democrats and other party reformers in the 80s and early 90s. And there was much truth in it. Yet to voters in many parts of the country that case has already been made.

Miller is right that Democrats will have a difficult time winning the presidency so long as Republicans can easily lock down every state in the South. And this is a serious question for Democratic strategists. Where he's wrong is to ignore the broader regional and cultural polarization of our national politics, the connections between Democratic dominance in their new core regions, and their difficulties in the South.

Those who make Miller's sort of argument run the risk of sounding like those Republican naifs and rubes who used to say, 'hey, if we could just get the red necks AND the blacks, then we'd be cookin' with gas, then the Dems would never have a chance!'

Well, yeah. But that's not how politics works.

Many Southern Democrats are accustomed to thinking that they're in possession of a sought-after jewel which Dems in the rest of the country must cater to and kneel down before to get a chance at holding. But this is an outdated view which made much more sense when the Dems were only at parity in places like the Industrial Midwest, the West Coast, and the Northeast. Democrats do have a Southern problem -- which we'll be talking more about in relation to John Edwards -- but Miller doesn't have a national solution.

When I turned aside the academic life for this writing racket I think I had visions of Edmund Wilson and Walter Lippmann. Analyzing these pictures of alleged White House vandalism makes me a feel a bit more like a low-rent Johnnie Cochran. Anyway, I guess you've got to sleep in the bed you've made. So let's have at it.

The White House has now released at least two pictures to substantiate their accusations of White House vandalism. And apparently they've agreed to give their "list" to the GAO for another investigation of the whole thing.

I can't say that I know precisely what they're going to find. But what I do think is pretty clear is that this vandalism story is quickly becoming a real tar baby for Ari Fleischer. And I have to think he must be starting to realize that.

Could the White House really have the goods to put this story to rest? Maybe. But if they did, the thing to do would be to silence the critics with a knock-out blow. And even if you believe all they've alleged in their "list" it's still a far cry from the vandalism that was originally alleged.

More important, getting into a back and forth with their critics about piddly stuff like whether ten slashed phone cords were slashed by resentful twenty-somethings in the Old Executive Office Building or accidentally by movers just makes them look stupid and petty.

I mean, listen: can you really say that "in an attempt to deprive the incoming White House of office supplies the previous administration threw out vast quantities of paper, pens and pencils and three-ring binders, which we recovered" and not consign yourself to Dante's seldom-discussed tenth ring of hell -- that reserved for pitiful morons?

As nearly as I can tell, this photo released by the White House shows a disheveled office with some boxes of folders and binders knocked over on the ground. Certainly not tip top shape. And I hope every office in the place didn't look like that. But is this it? This is the smoking gun?

My understanding is that both these photos are from the White House Counsel's Office in the Old Executive Office Building. So what's surprising is that we haven't seen the following conclusion already drawn: we know from sworn congressional testimony that the folks in the Counsel's Office were working early into the wee hours of the morning of President Clinton's last day in office working over those pardon applications.

Now, the substance of what they were working isn't on the top of my list of things to talk about. But what seems logical to assume is that the staffers in the Counsel's Office worked into the morning and had little time to put things away and throw things out before they left around noon on inauguration day. Not that they 'trashed' the place about of mindless permissive liberal rage.

It would have been the better part of wisdom for Fleischer to say that he never repeated the wildest allegations of vandalism (which would have been very misleading but not technically untrue), that rumor and emotion got the better of some people in those early days, and that it's just over and be done with it. His new round of threats have just dug him deeper.