July 11, 2004

The TPM Defense: "Splainin" or Spinning?

Josh Marshall: "I'll dispense with the literary prologue and get right to the point."

The point?

Don't like the story? Well, trash the journalist who wrote it.

Here's Marshall:

Susan Schmidt is known, happily among DC Republicans and not so happily among DC Democrats, as what you might call the "Mikey" (a la Life Cereal fame) of the DC press corps, especially when the cereal is coming from Republican staffers.

Wow, that's pretty inside baseball and I'm just a lawyer over here in far-away London.

But I will say one thing.

TPM's trash the messenger approach sounds straight out of "Big Time" Dick Cheney's playbook, huh?

Classy. (Btw, don't miss Josh's, er, slightly different tone about a prior WaPo story dealing with l'affaire Plame...)

And, let's remember--it's the Washington Times that's the conservative paper in town, folks.

Note too, of course, this whole Plame/Wilson story is pretty sensitive given all the legal going-ons and such.

You think WaPo Exec Editor Leonard Downie Jr. might have vetted Schmidt's piece for accuracy?

Of course he did.

But he's doubtless noshing on all the G.O.P. 'cereal' too....probably just "run(ning) with what [he] got from the majority committee staffer who gave [him] the spin."

But let's get to the substance of Marshall's post, shall we?

First, Josh writes:

The claim with regards to the back-and-forth was always that the CIA struggled to get the uranium references out of the October 2002 Cincinnati speech and then failed to do so -- though why presicely is less clear -- when the same folks at the White House tried again to get it into the 2003 State of the Union address.

Josh quotes some language from the SSCI report on Niger to try to support his claim; but he doesn't quote this part on p. 49 (warning: PDF)

In a written response to questions from Committee Staff, the White House said that on September 11, 2002, National Security Council Staff (NSC) contacted the CIA to clear language for possible use by the President. The language cleared by the CIA said: "Iraq has made several to buy high strength aluminum tubes used in centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. And we also know this: within the past few years, Iraq has resumed efforts to obtain large quantities of a type of uranium oxide known as yellowcake, which is an essential ingredient of this process. The regime was caught trying to buy 500 metric tons of this material. It takes about 10 tons to produce enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

So what, you say. No mention of Africa, right?


P. 51, another statement cleared by the C.I.A., and I quote:

"...we also have intelligence that Iraq has sought large amounts of uranium and uranium oxide, known as yellowcake, from Africa."

Josh, why didn't you point us to this language in the report too?

After all, the crux of the issue is simply whether Bush's infamous 16 words in the SOTU were a purposeful lie or not (aside, of course, from whether Iraq was actually trying to get uranium from Niger or not--an issue Marshall doesn't appear to care too much about--so consumed is he on trying to land a 'gotcha' scoop on the forgery story):

Here they are again: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Hell, Bush didn't even have to say it was the British govt.

He could have said it was his own (courtesy of Langley).


On January 28th, 2003 the President noted in his State of the Union that "...the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." At the time the President delivered the State of the Union address, no one in the IC [intelligence community] had asked anyone in the White House to remove the sentence from the speech. CIA nuclear analysts and the Director of WINPAC told committee staff that at the time of the State of the Union, they still believed that Iraq was probably seeking uranium from Africa, and they continued to hold that belief until the IAEA reported that the documents were forgeries.

Now the forgeries are a whole other issue, and I'll have more on that another time (including the 'fruit of the poisonous tree' ("FOPT") argument Marshall is, er, marshalling for going forward use...).

But, for today, I think you'll agree, the bipartisan SSCI report flat out debunks the Bush lied meme.

I mean, doesn't it?

Now, on the whole matter of whether Plame recommended hubbie for the Niger mission.

Let's visit the TPM archives for a golden oldie with Joe Wilson.

Joe Wilson:

For those who would assert that somehow she was involved in this, it just defies logic. At the time, she was the mother of two-year-old twins. Therefore, sort of sending her husband off on an eight-day trip leaves her with full responsbility for taking care of two screaming two-year-olds without help, and anybody who is parent would understand what that means. Anybody who is a mother would understand it even far better. Secondly, I mean, the notion somehow that this was some nepotism, that I was being sent on an eight-day, all-expense-paid--no salary, mind you--trip to the Sahara desert. This is not Nassau we were talking about. This is not the Bahamas. It wasn't Maui. This was the Sahara desert. And then, the only other thing I can think of is the assertion that she wanted me out of the way for eight days because she, you know, had a lover or something, which is, you don't take lovers when you have two year old kids at home. So there's no logic in it.

I won't embarrass Joe Wilson by dissecting how hugely lame the above is.

It's very, very obvious just how breathtakingly pas a la hauteur it all is.

It would be risible, if it weren't so sad, really.

Note too, of course, that Wilson never quite gets around to flat-out categorically saying "no"--my wife wasn't involved in putting me up for the Niger mission (at least in this TPM interview).

Note instead all the obfuscatory bolded language--"no logic in it", "it just defies logic" etc.

A good investigative reporter, therefore, might have pressed him harder on this point --especially given all the diversionary absurdities about the kiddies, lack of extra-marital high-jinks, and that we're talking the Sahara and not Harbor Island.

But regardless, how do all of Wilson's protestations square with the SSCI report?

Not well.

Not well at all, I'm afraid.

The CPD reports that officer told Committee staff that the former Ambassador's wife "offered up his name" and a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from the former Ambassador's wife says: "my husband has good relations with both the PM and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could shed light on this kind of activity.

Don't miss this part either:

The former Ambassador's wife told Commitee Staff that when CPD decided it would like to send the former Ambassdor to Niger, she approached her husband on behalf of the CIA and told him "there's this crazy report" on a purported deal for Niger to sell uranium to Iraq.

You know, defending Joe Wilson's credibility right now is kinda like defending Ahmad Chalabi's.

It's a losing hand.

It's not just that the odds are stacked in favor of the dealer--it's that one can't even put together a full hand because Wilson's credibility is eroding at such lightning speed.

Put differently (all together now): you gotta know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em; know when to walk away....know when to run....

Note: Josh addresses the whole legal 'outing' issue too (see Jonah Goldberg and Pej on that.)

I'll have more on all this soon; ie. the FOTP issue...

UPDATE: Don't miss this veritable Plameapolooza over at Tom Maguire's space.

Posted by Gregory Djerejian at July 11, 2004 11:48 PM
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