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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

In the previous post I explained that Trump national security advisor, J.D. Gordon, who monitored platform deliberations for President Trump at the 2016 convention now admits he did push to soften language on arming Ukraine. He says he did so at the direction of President Trump.

We know this from a Thursday report from CNN's Jim Acosta in which he said the following ...

I asked Gordon why that, why did you advocate for the language. He said this is the language that Donald Trump himself wanted and advocated for back in March at a meeting at the unfinished trump hotel here in Washington, D.C. J.D. Gordon says then candidate Trump said he didn't want to, quote, go to World War 3 over Ukraine. And so J.D. Gordon says at the Republican convention in Cleveland he advocated for language in that Republican party platform that reflected then candidate Trump's comments.

This got me highly interested: what was this meeting in March 2016?

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This is important if you care about the Trump Russia story. One of the first bits of news that attracted attention to this possible link was a Trump campaign effort to soften the GOP platform's plank on Russia and Ukraine at the GOP convention. The Trump foreign policy advisor who was monitoring the platform committee for the campaign earlier denied any such effort. Yesterday he conceded that he did press delegates to soften the language. And he now claims he did so because of what now-President Trump told him at a meeting at the Trump DC hotel last March. Allegra Kirkland has the details.

I've been writing about Donald Trump's mysterious connections to Russia for close to eight months. Over that time, I've occasionally heard from law enforcement or intelligence types who say, "You're on to something ... Keep going." To which I've wanted to reply, "Really?"

I say this half in jest but only half. I've always been highly skeptical of the more outlandish theories about Trump and Russia. Whether this is naïveté or the skepticism of experience I'm not sure. But whether we're investigators or reporters or just people trying to make sense of the world we live in, it is important that we try to find the simplest explanation that accounts for all the facts we know. Relatedly, we should look for explanations which require as few leaps of speculation or unattested and fantastical facts as possible. It's a life version of Occam's Razor.

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As you've likely inferred from my recent posts I've spent a lot of time in recent days and weeks piecing together different elements of the Trump/Russia story. I've brought other colleagues into the work and plan to expand that once we have people hired for the three new investigative positions I discussed last month. Today everyone is talking about the inexplicable news about Jeff Sessions. But there's another dimension of the Trump/Russia story which has only become clear to me recently but which provides a critical backstory for understanding the background of this scandal and news story.

Let's go back to the story of Felix Sater, the Russian-American immigrant, convicted felon and longtime Trump business associate we discussed last week.

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I don't have a clear sense of how big a deal last night's Jeff Sessions news will turn out to be. And I mean that both substantively - how much does it really matter? - and more generally - how will it be perceived, what effect will it have on the course of the broader story? As I wrote last night, this is much more about Sessions' need to conceal the meeting than the meeting itself.

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Interesting little scoop here from the Post. Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice last year with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak - once informally at a conference and a second time privately in Sessions' senate office in September 2016.

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Donald Trump, 2/28/17: "We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William "Ryan" Owens. Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero --- battling against terrorism and securing our Nation. I just spoke to General Mattis, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, 'Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.' Ryan's legacy is etched into eternity."

NBCNews, 3/1/17: "The Pentagon says Navy SEALs scooped up laptops, hard drives and cell phones in last month's Yemen raid, but multiple U.S. officials told NBC News that none of the intelligence gleaned from the operation so far has proven actionable or vital — contrary to what President Trump said in his speech to Congress Tuesday."

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I wanted to take a moment to put together some of the different pieces of the emerging story of Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's lawyer and right-hand-man for the last decade. For months we have seen reports that the communications and in some cases financial transactions of a small group of President Trump's associates are being scrutinized by federal law enforcement and intelligence for ties to and communications with Russian nationals and/or government officials during the 2016 campaign. Those reports usually focus on Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page. But Cohen comes up on this list, too. In mid-February, The New York Times reported that Cohen "is one of several Trump associates under scrutiny in an FBI counterintelligence examination of links with Russia, according to law enforcement officials."

While each of the first four men has consistently denied any wrongdoing, there is at least a logic to why they would come up in such a probe. Manafort and Page have long public histories of work in the former Soviet Union. Flynn is known for his support of a rapprochement with Russia, his communications with the Russian ambassador and more. Stone has his cagey statements about being in communication with Julian Assange during the election and he certainly seems to have been foreknowledge of the release of John Podesta's emails. Despite being mentioned rather extensively in the Trump "dossier"— claims that he vociferously denies and which remain unsubstantiated —Cohen has always seemed like the odd man out in that group, the last guy in the Trump world you'd expect to come up in the context of a counterintelligence investigation or or for having channels into the Russian government.

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Plenty of observers say that President Trump's first speech to Congress last night was a major reset, a game changer, maybe even the moment when he "became the President of the United States." I will stick to what I wrote last night, which is that it was essentially 'American carnage' with the volume turned down a couple notches. And a "Senior White House official" ( ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) tells Trump entourage whisperer Josh Green, that it was "nationalism with an indoor voice."

That is just right.

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