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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

For all we've learned over recent days about retired General Michael Flynn and his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, it's overshadowed by much more that we do not know. Indeed, based on the current evidence we don't know whether Flynn's actions were just wildly inappropriate (undermining the current president's actions with a foreign adversary weeks before taking office) or part of a larger, darker design. Whether Flynn lied to the FBI (we don't know) or lied to his colleagues is an interesting legal and possibly political question. But again, they are relatively straightforward matters which only become truly significant in terms of the bigger picture, if there is one. The truth is Michael Flynn does not matter. We have before us a question that has stood before us, centerstage, for something like a year, brazen and shameless and yet too baffling and incredible to believe: Donald Trump's bizarre and unexplained relationship with Russia and its strongman Vladimir Putin.

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Another shoe seems to have dropped. The New York Times just reported that in the short window of time between President Trump's inauguration on January 20th and Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warning to the White House on January 26th, the FBI interviewed National Security Advisor Michael Flynn about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on December 29th, 2016.

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Governments lie, about things big and small. We know this. They lie especially when they are in the midst of being engulfed in a major scandal. This is usually clear at the time. But it can also be very hard to prove. What was most conspicuous about Sean Spicer's afternoon press conference was not that so many of his claims were likely false but that the White House seemed like it hadn't even taken the time yet to get its story together.

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Here are the big points I can see from Spicer's remarks.

1. Spicer denied that Flynn or any other campaign officials were in touch with Russian government officials during the campaign. That is flatly contradicted in multiple press reports.

2. Spicer insists that President Trump instinctively knew that what Gen. Flynn did was not wrong and his White House Counsel confirmed this for him.

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1:35 PM: Spicer just awkwardly denied, if I'm understanding this right, that Flynn or anyone else had conversations with Russian officials during the election. This has been reported as a fact in the Times, the Post and in other media outlets.

1:31 PM: Here's a key passage from what Spicer said: "When the President heard the information presented by White House counsel, he instinctively thought that general Flynn did not do anything wrong and the White House Counsel's review corroborated that."

1:25 PM: Note that in Sean Spicer's initial discussion of the Flynn matter, he clearly did not say that Flynn had misled the President. The consistent refrain is that he misled Vice President Pence "and others." He also went to great lengths to say there was nothing substantively or legally wrong with what Flynn what Flynn did. The issue is entirely one of communication between Michael Flynn and the Vice President "and others." Spicer said the President lost confidence because of Flynn's lack of truthfulness with Pence. It is no accident that there is no mention of Flynn misleading the President.

With all the storm and drama over Flynn, remember: the legislative momentum on the Hill has ground to almost a standstill, despite the fact that a new president historically gets his most consequential legislation passed during his first year, even first months in office.

Why doesn't Mike Flynn's resignation letter say he misled the President?

Also worth noting: Flynn is the third member of the Trump campaign/administration to resign over issues related to Russia: Manafort and Page.

An important point to note. Ret. Gen. Michael Flynn just resigned amidst a counter-intelligence investigation into, among other things, his communications with the Russian Ambassador to the United States. But only three or four hours before Flynn resigned, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence), Devin Nunes, said there was no problem and it was just the President's enemies ("the swamp" in his words) making trouble. "It just seems like there's a lot of nothing here," Nunes told Bloomberg's Steven Dennis.

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I had wanted to end my work evening on the post I published just after 8 PM. Let me conclude on this note. Tonight's revelations (by which I mean those which preceded Michael Flynn's resignation) make it even more clear that there is much more going on out of view than we realize.

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The Times has now published an article which covers similar ground to the one I noted below from the Post. But it adds this additional piece of information: "In addition, the Army has been investigating whether Mr. Flynn received money from the Russian government during a trip he took to Moscow in 2015, according to two defense officials."

This sounds very bad. And it may be very bad. But there's some important context here. Flynn has stated publicly that he was paid for his appearance at the RT banquet in Moscow in December 2015.

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