Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Rachel Brand, the number three person at the Justice Department, is stepping down from her position. This news broke only a short time ago and initial reports at least suggest it is voluntary. She’s taking a job in the private sector. But this strikes me as potentially a very big deal and not in a good way. Not in terms of the integrity of the Russia probe.

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It’s remarkable the degree to which television commentators are embracing interpretations of Republican fiscal profligacy which are either oblivious, unschooled or simply dishonest. One line has it that Republicans are shedding their former obsession with spending and deficits. Another had it that Republicans are realizing that their ‘base’ doesn’t really care as much about deficits as they thought. They really agree with Trump, who doesn’t care about deficits. All of this is nonsense – not based on a theory or interpretation but simple history and experience. In a word, facts. Deficits go up, often dramatically, under Republican governance and usually go down under Democrats. This isn’t an interpretation. It’s a simple fact. Nor is it an artifact of history or coincidence. It is because Republicans don’t care about deficits.

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The President appears to be blaming Hope Hicks for the Rob Porter firestorm …

I wanted to flag a couple of key things that came earlier this week, both turning on the role of British ex-spy Christopher Steele and his so-called dossier. The first is a new ‘letter’, actually, in this case, a criminal referral, from Senators Grassley and Graham. It’s been around for a month and its existence was reported some time ago. But we only just got a public (albeit heavily redacted) copy. The second item is an article in The Washington Post which explains new details about Steele’s activities in late 2016. Both of them overlap on key events which took place at the end of October 2016 and which I want to discuss with you. But first, let me provide you with some background and summary of this Grassley/Graham letter (we’ll call it GG).

The best way to see the Grassley/Graham letter (GG) is that it is the thinking man’s Nunes Memo – a much more sophisticated and professional version of what is, I think, still basically bunk. As with the Nunes Memo, the aim of the GG Letter is to impugn and undermine Steele and by extension the whole Russia probe. But it takes a different tack. The argument is that Steele lied to the FBI and that because he lied he is not credible. This fatally undermines the Carter Page FISA warrant. In other words, we’re talking about a similar set of facts with a slightly different argument and slightly different targets.

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One of the oddities of the Nunes Memo drama is that it has focused on Carter Page, someone who seems to have had a legitimately tenuous connection to the Trump campaign and has enough dirty laundry to make almost anyone run for cover. As just one example, he was on Laura Ingraham’s show last night as some sort of martyr/conquering hero. Whether this is irony or foolery or a high stakes gambit to conceal more information I’m really not sure. But there’s a good chance Trump and his associates will rue the day they bear-hugged him as their showpiece victim of Deep State treachery.

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The biggest impact of the Nunes Memo – and the accompanying wave of propaganda – is that conventional news and commentary is incapable of handling willful lying in the public sphere. This is a pattern we’ve seen again and again. It’s one of the hallmarks of this political age. It’s worth saying it again: conventional media is not equipped to deal with willful lying in the public sphere.

Let’s consider the coverage of the Nunes Memo.

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Last week we introduced you to our first reporters’ Sum-Up, our weekly summaries of all the critical information you need to know on a major subject area as of that date from our lead reporter on that beat. Health policy is our first sum-up and here’s our second installment from Alice Ollstein.

These Sum-Ups will be published on a fixed weekly schedule, with an emphasis on concision and breadth. Our purpose is to provide you with one quick read to ensure you are up to date on every significant development in the given topic area. We plan to introduce new Sum-Ups on voting rights/democracy and the Russia probe in the coming week.

The Times is reporting that the President’s personal lawyers are recommending that he refuse to be interviewed or questioned by Robert Mueller’s investigators under any circumstances. Let’s be candid about what this means. The President is pleading the 5th while trying to avoid saying that’s what he’s doing. Let’s call it the de facto 5th. The constitutional law is clear cut. It’s not at all hypothetical. A sitting President has no blanket right to refuse to cooperate with a criminal investigation. Different dimensions of this question were litigated under Presidents Nixon and Clinton. The Courts were clear each time. The President has to comply with the law and with criminal investigations just like everyone else, though there may be certain areas of privilege. Presidents have been interviewed by special prosecutors, special counsels and independent counsels in numerous cases. The President is obviously guilty of obstruction of justice. He’s likely guilty of criminal conspiracy with a foreign power, though what if any statutes this would implicate is not clear to me. It makes perfect sense to refuse to talk. Perps do that all the time. It’s their right.

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