Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

As The Carpetbagger Report notes, the anti-Wage Cut bill in the House is picking up steam. It's got 15 more cosponsors, for a total of 186. As it was yesterday, every one is a Democrat.

I've also heard that the LoBiondo letter is going to come out tomorrow. That's the letter circulating among moderate House Republicans (basically the standard northeasterners, as near as I can figure) calling on the president to undo the Wage Cut.

Apparently, though, they're refusing to sign on to H.R. 3763 because it's too tied to the Dems.

There's a lot of discussion and detail in Thursday's Post story about the Frist stock sale. But this passage at the end sticks out like a sore thumb ...

According to Thomson Financial, a reporting service, seven senior HCA executives sold 574,882 shares worth $19,942,610 between May 17 and June 10. A company spokesman, Jeff Prescott, said the executives are entitled "like other stockholders [to] make personal decisions . . . about when to sell." He said the executives complied with "blackout restrictions" imposed by the SEC to prevent dealing within a certain period prior to restatements of earnings.

An SEC spokesman said it is the commission's policy not to comment on investigations, and would neither confirm nor deny that it is probing insider trading at HCA.

The passage is left sort of <$NoAd$> hanging there, without context or further explanation. In fact, that last graf is the end of the article. Is Frist in some real trouble over this? And if he is, who can explain how a guy with such vaunting ambitions for higher office would do something so foolish and, it would appear, easy to detect?

More on blind trusts from TPM Reader PW ...

Speaking from experience, someone who puts assets in a blind trust but still sees their own tax returns will generally have a decent-to-exact idea of what original assets are in the trust, because sales generate accountings of gross proceeds and bases (even if the stock names are blocked out). Unless you were completely out of touch with your holdings, that's enough to know what's still in the trust and what's gone. It's not unusual for the trustee and the beneficiary to talk in general terms about investment strategies, and occasionally in more specific terms. Any "instruction" about what to sell and what to hold, of course, would violate at least the spirit and possibly the letter of the trust.

(The trustee -- who is it for frist? -- is between a rock and a hard place here, because once they have good reason to believe that a transaction will serve the beneficiary's financial interests, they have a fiduciary duty to execute it; it's not clear that there's an exception for insider information there.)

(The question of who the trustee is might be important for other reasons -- if it's a family member or close associate, the relevant flow of information might have been in the other direction, and it would be very significant to see which other members of the clan also sold in the same period. By claiming to have given instructions, Frist might be covering for the trustee.)

More <$NoAd$> soon.

TPM Reader JS points us to this definition of 'blind trust' at investopedia.com ...

A trust in which the executors have full discretion over the assets, and the trust beneficiaries have no knowledge of the holdings of the trust ... Blind trusts are generally used when a trustor wishes to keep the beneficiary unaware of the specific assets in the trust, such as to avoid conflict of interest between the beneficiary and the investments.

Guess that mean some unnamed Senate Majority Leader didn't really have a blind trust?

With this now-bubbling issue of Sen. Frist's blind trust and the quite timely sale of his shares in the family company, I've got to say that maybe I didn't understand what a 'blind trust' was.

The press accounts make it sound like he put in a call to the trustee of the trust much like other folks might put in a call to their broker.

I thought the whole point of a blind trust was that you retain ownership of the assets but give up both the knowledge of what the funds happen to be invested in (at least going forward from the creation of the trust) and the power to control the investments. Sounds like neither applied to Sen. Frist. So how was it a blind trust?

In all the Abramoff business I'm surprised there has not been more mention of Susan Ralston. In Jack Abramoff's heyday at Preston Gates and then later at Greenberg-Traurig, Ralston was Abramoff's executive assistant, the one who helped dole out the skyboxes, basically administratively ran his whole shop as near as I can figure.

Then when Karl Rove came to town, she took pretty much the same job with him, becoming his gatekeeper at the White House. She was of course one of many Team Abramoff players who got seconded into the administration. Given the close relationship between Abramoff and Grover Norquist, it's probably not surprising that she also had an arrangement with Norquist in which he gave her direction on who to let through to Rove.

I've been a little unclear on whether Ralston still works for Rove. And today when I called the White House I was told that she's no longer his 'executive assistant'. When I asked what her title was I was told only that she now worked for him "in a different capacity."

We're hearing a lot now about David Safavian, another White House appointee who just got arrested on multiple charges of obstruction of justice. But I'm surprised we haven't heard more about the Ralston connection to Rove and Norquist since she must have known about pretty much everything Abramoff did in his high-rolling years prior to mid-2001.

Just as an example, recently I've been working through a sheaf of emails exchanged betwixt and between various members of Team Abramoff back in the days while Ralston was still working for Abramoff.

In this one from April 20th 2000 (just added to the TPM Document Collection), for instance, Ralston writes to a colleague explaining the guidelines and rules for how Abramoff's various skybox tickets will be distributed.

In this one, from three months later, Abramoff writes to Ralston (just added to the TPM Document Collection). He explains that Adam Kidan, with whom he was then in the process of buying the now-defunct SunCruz casino boat line, wanted to get SunCruz to buy into the skybox operation. He asks for details about just which Indian tribes paid for which allotments of skyboxes and how much -- information Ralston duly provides.

It seems like Ralston was right in the thick of all this. And she's been a top Rove aide for years, seemingly continuing to be involved in various of Abramoff's and Norquist's projects.

Thoughts? We're discussing it here.

Late Update: As of two months ago, National Journal gave Ralston's title as "Special Assistant to the President & Assistant to the Senior Advisor."

From the National Hurricane Center, 2 AM ...


A TPM Reader checks in ...

You may want to point out that Gerhard Schroeder is using the Bush-Cheney 2000 playbook in Germany. He knows the fracture point in that coalition is between the CDU and the CSU and he’s playing a Rovian game all the way. He got on national TV at the same table as Merkel and said to her face that he was the only one who could form a government. Even the hosts were shocked. To say that his type of talk makes conservative Bavarians squirm is an understatement. Look for Stoiber to chuck Merkel soon, especially if the SPD wins in Dresden’s election. Irony of ironies.

Interesting observation.


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