Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Picking up on my argument from last night about how campaign era figures like Bannon, Flynn et al. (likely Russia scandal compromised figures, mind you) are being nudged to the side in favor of figures like McMaster, McGahn, Mattis, etc, (national security bureaucrats and party regulars) here's a related point.

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There's no subtle insight required to note that Steven Bannon's removal from the National Security Council's principals' committee may be a significant development. White House officials claim Bannon's role had primarily been to monitor the activities of former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. Bannon himself said in a statement: “Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration. I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized.” These explanations barely rise to the level of preposterous and seem to employ big words to make up whatever gap remains. But this dramatic step comes in the midst of other developments which we cannot know are explicitly connected but together look like a qualitative sea-change in the evolution of this still quite new administration.

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We seem to be on a clear path toward a showdown not only over the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch but over the abolition of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. Aside from the pros and cons of Gorsuch's nomination and the strategic wisdom of the Democrats' decision to mount a filibuster, it is worth noting something that is being ignored: In practice, Republicans abolished the Supreme Court filibuster in 2005.

This may be seem odd since you not have heard about this. But it's true.

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Yesterday evening I pointed out that a little discussed sentence in Eli Lake's 'un-masking' story was key to understanding what actually happened in this 'un-masking' mystery. With a bit of informed speculation I suggested that what likely happened is that Mike Flynn protege Ezra Cohen-Watnick was freelancing and started his own 'review' of surveillance intercepts of the Trump transition, took his findings to the White House Counsel's office only to get told to stop since lawyers would have seen the dangerous (to the White House) business he was up to. Shut down by the Counsel's office, he decided to do an end-run around his bosses and go to Devin Nunes.

This story out from the AP seems to confirm this is pretty much exactly what happened.

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Interesting exchange a few minutes ago with Intelligence Committee member, Rep. Joaquin Castro, talking about eventual results of the Trump/Russia probe ...

REP JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): I guess I would say this, that my impression is after all of this is said and done that some people end up in jail.

WOLF BLITZER: Really? And how high does that go and in your suspicion? That's all we can call it right now.

CASTRO: Well, that's yet to be determined.

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Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice's interview with Andrea Mitchell is still on-going. But the gist of the interview confirms what national security experts are saying, which is that what Rice is alleged to have done is entirely normal. But I would say the buried lede in this interview is that during the transition period the Intelligence Community was sending top national security intelligence consumers an increasing volume of reports of surveillance of foreign persons in which top Trump advisors kept coming up, either as the subjects of discussion or actually talking to the people in question. It's quite unlikely that courtesy calls or general discussions of policy priorities would be included in those reports.

Let's say this is not helpful news for the Trump team.

One of the abiding mysteries of the Trump saga is just who those five initial foreign policy advisers were, the ones he announced at an editorial meeting with The Washington Post on March 21st, 2016. It was an odd group: five guys, half with sordid pasts and others no one had ever heard of. One of them actually had Model UN work listed as one of his job qualifications! They weren't sending their best!

This was at the point when Trump had no foreign policy advisers and he'd recently said he got his ideas on the topic from watching generals on the cable networks. Because of all this, it's always been plausible that the whole question of how these guys were picked is radically over-determined: maybe the list was just five guys someone grabbed off their rolodex in a panic in time for the Post editorial board meeting. Who knows?

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One more point about the 'un-masking' story, picking up on my piece from last night. You'll remember that early on, Chairman Nunes told Speaker Ryan and others that his source was a "whistleblower-type person." This always struck most people as rather ridiculous, and rightly so: People at the White House leaking pro-White House information really don't qualify as "whistleblowers." But again, I would suggest that this bit of weirdness fits perfectly with the scenario I set out last night.

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My read on Eli Lake's story about Susan Rice 'unmasking' Trump transition officials is that it's a rather elaborate attempt to make a scandal out of something that isn't scandalous at all. Given what we know just about Mike Flynn's activities in November and December of 2016 alone, Rice's alleged actions don't seem that surprising at all. National security experts seem to agree.

But here's something in the story that got my attention.

Read this paragraph, the third graf down in the story.

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We're seeing a slow but now steady stream of stories suggesting that Trumpcare may not be dead after all. They're working on it in the background, making progress, getting ready for even more winning.

Put me down as quite skeptical.

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