Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

From the press pool …

News: President Trump attempted to make a surprise, unscheduled visit to the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea this morning, but was foiled by a bad weather call and his helicopter, along with your pool, had to turn back and return to Seoul.

I’ve changed my mind on this. The news of the last week makes me think that President Trump is compromised and knows he can’t cross Russia or Vladimir Putin without risking an flood of damaging revelations revelations from 2016. Here’s my take (sub req).

Put this down as a reporters’ hunch, educated speculation. The information we’ve seen in the last week makes me think that President Trump is still, in effect, being blackmailed by Russia. President Trump may be instinctively sympathetic to Putin because of his authoritarian tendencies and his role as avatar of the global ‘nationalist’ right. But I don’t think he could cross him even if he hated him with a passion.

I know that sounds like a wild claim or allegation. It is. Let me explain specifically what I mean. I don’t know that anyone has made any specific threat. I don’t think anyone needs to. I think President Trump knows that he’s sitting on a powder keg of information showing that key members of his inner circle conspired with Russian operatives to trade election assistance for promises of future policy help.

In a sense this is no different from what many of us have long suspected. Trump and his confederates either made deals with Russians or crossed lines with them during the campaign. Once they had, they were compromised. They could be blackmailed with the threat of revelations of their earlier bad acts. I wasn’t sure they’d actually crossed the line. There was a good chance that Trump’s extreme concern about the Russia investigation could rest solely on his knowledge that his business history couldn’t withstand scrutiny.

I don’t think that any more.

Looking at the email threads revealed in the Papadopoulos court documents and the emails read into the record in the Carter congressional testimony it becomes clear that these guys’ contacts and discussions with Russian operatives were widely aired within Trump’s inner circle and significantly directed by them. Getting dirt on Hillary Clinton came up numerous times. So did the need to undo the sanctions which have become a prime focus of Russian foreign policy. Just the same applies to the Trump Tower meeting which was now clearly just one of numerous contacts and probes in the period between Trump becoming the odds-on nominee and the release of the DNC emails. The bases of the bargain are all right there with both sides eager for it. There was certainly an understanding and, even if there hadn’t been, more than enough to be politically fatal (in the light of subsequent events) if the full details were ever known.

Yesterday Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer from the Trump Tower meeting, let drop that Don Jr. had said that sanctions relief was possible in the midst of the conversation about dirt on Clinton. I strongly suspect that Trump did say this. It fits and it sounds like him. I also have zero doubt that Veselnitskaya would happily make it up if it weren’t true. In practice, it doesn’t matter. Russians have enough on Trump and his inner circle and Trump has so little credibility on this issue that they can do him great harm whenever they choose. It’s simple. Think of everything we’ve learned over the last year. All of it, by definition, was known on the Russian side from the beginning and could have been divulged at any time. Do we really think that’s all there is?

The President almost certainly knows this. So we shouldn’t be surprised that he is acting accordingly.

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I was in meetings most of this morning. I’m only now catching up on the reporting on Carter Page’s testimony before Congress. But I did read the first half of his testimony transcript last night. And I wanted to share a few initial impressions.

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Over the last four days President Trump has made a series of statements demanding his Justice Department ‘investigate’ Hillary Clinton and other Democratic enemies. These demands aren’t entirely new. But by their specificity, repetition and speed they represent a new departure in demands for extra-legal action and rule. We should note that Trump is increasingly acting like a dictator or would be strong man. The only difference is that the machinery of government, seemingly up to at least some of his high level appointees, seems to be largely ignoring him. This is much better than the alternative. But it is still a bad, dangerous development.

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That notorious Russian lawyer who met with Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort in Trump Tower in June 2016 is talking again. Natalia Veselnitskaya gave a two and a half hour interview yesterday in Moscow in which she claimed that Don Jr. had told her that key sanctions against Russia might be lifted in what seems to have been a tacit exchange for help in the election.

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If you’re following the Trump/Russia story, don’t miss this one. I’m pretty confident Investigations Desk reporter Tierney Sneed is on to something here. In our story out tonight she notes that the Papadopoulos timeline Mueller lays out stops abruptly on July 22nd, the day the first Wikileaks DNC email hit. That can’t be a coincidence. It’s too central a part of the story. Check out our story. She walks us through different possibilities of what it might mean.

This seems like a key paragraph in David Ignatius’s column on what appears to be unfolding in Saudi Arabia.

MBS is emboldened by strong support from President Trump and his inner circle, who see him as a kindred disrupter of the status quo — at once a wealthy tycoon and a populist insurgent. It was probably no accident that last month, Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, made a personal visit to Riyadh. The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy.

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