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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

We thought all hell was breaking loose yesterday. We were wrong. That’s happening today. The idea that a sitting President is threatening to sue a former top staffer over an NDA and (putative) defamation is so comically ridiculous as to defy rationality and mark a new summit of nonsense even in the nonsense pile of the Trump presidency. Taking the matter on the merits, it is hard to imagine the number of first amendment-based fences Trump and his lawyer (the same lawyer who Hulk Hogan and Peter Thiel used to destroy Gawker. Really.) have to jump to sustain this. In any case, close to a certainty, there will be no lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Matt Drudge is shooting off a series of tweets that appear to be either a prediction or a suggestion or perhaps even a report that the owners of Breitbart News will fire Steve Bannon. On this a minor digression … Since Breitbart the website has become a strange amalgam of right-wing chop shop with a Stalinist sensibility purveying fake news with an antic edge, there’s been a backdrop of criticism on the right that the Bannon-era Breitbart represents a betrayal of the late Andrew Breitbart who died in 2012.

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Yesterday, the founders of Fusion GPS, published an oped in The New York Times. Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch mainly defended their work against ludicrous Republican accusations about the so-called Steele Dossier. The key passage on this front is his claim – which I have no doubt is accurate – that far from triggering the Russia probe, the Steele Dossier only confirmed the “credible allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia [which] were pouring in from independent sources during the campaign.”

But there is a not terribly subtle but so far little discussed different message in the column. In every way possible Simpson and Fritsch say: we have a ton more. They refer to their 21 hours of testimony about their work before Congress. They note that it was a “yearlong effort to decipher Mr. Trump’s complex business past, of which the Steele dossier is but one chapter.” They tell Congress to “share what our company told [congressional] investigators.” They encourage Congress to “look into bank records of Deutsche Bank and others that were funding Mr. Trump’s businesses.” They say they “found widespread evidence that Mr. Trump … had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering.” They claimed (quite plausibly) also to be “deeply familiar with the political operative Paul Manafort’s coziness with Moscow and his financial ties to Russian oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin.”

The message is pretty clear. ‘We found a lot more besides what’s found in the Steele Dossier. But you don’t seem very interested in all this other stuff.’ (It’s enough to make you think that taking repeated whacks at people who are sitting on a big heap of evidence about the President’s work with the Russian criminal underworld and money laundering may not have been the wisest idea.) These are not surprising allegations. We know them in their outlines – the role of Deutsche Bank, money laundering relationships with Russian oligarchs around Putin. But it seems (and it is not surprising) that Fusion GPS has or can direct investigators to much more.

The House GOP certainly won’t be interested. Democrats will be very interested. They’ll likely start demanding their GOP colleagues start looking into these other matters as well. They almost certainly won’t get anywhere. But what Simpson and Fritsch describe here in hints and allusions sounds like the roadmap for any investigative committees run by Democrats starting in 2019.

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One of the things we will be focusing on on the Russia front in 2018 is not simply breaking a lot of news but on narrating the bigger picture. It can be a difficult story to make sense of because it has so many tentacles. There are so many disparate and far-flung parts to keep track of and make sense of. One of the top themes of Glenn Simpson’s and Peter Fritsch’s must-read oped published yesterday in The New York Times is that the focus on conspiracy during the 2016 campaign cycle has almost totally eclipsed examination of Donald Trump’s longstanding involvement with the Russian criminal underworld and money laundering which laid the basis of what happened in 2016. (That has always seemed to be Trump’s greatest fear.) We’ll come back to that.

So where are we now in this story? A series of revelations in the final weeks of 2017 placed us at what we should think not as the beginning or the end but the end of the beginning. We are still only at the front end of this investigation. We still know only the outlines of what happened and how. But we are past any serious question about whether there was collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. There was. It’s no longer a matter of probability, even high probability. We know it from either undisputed facts or sworn statements from Trump associates now cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

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This is a dangerous development but likely inevitable as Trumpism seeps into the government. The acting director of ICE is calling for the arrest of public officials in ‘sanctuary’ cities and states. Homan isn’t a Trump appointee. He’s career immigration service.

Steve Bannon is talking about going into Utah to battle Mitt Romney, if Romney chooses to run to succeed Orrin Hatch. Clearly, Utah is a very, very conservative state. But it’s shown itself to be considerably more resistant to Trumpism than other highly conservative states. Even McMullin didn’t win there. But he made a strong showing. The Mormon Church has too, again, relative to other generally conservative religious denominations. Obviously, Bannon would need a candidate. And a lot would depend on that. But I’m skeptical that Bannon’s style of louche and grimy race conservatism plays well in Utah, especially against someone like Romney.

President Trump’s ridiculous tweet this morning – taking credit for a record low number of civil aviation fatalities this year – made me think about the remarkable record over the last two decades.

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