Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of

Articles by Josh

I saw an article headline today arguing we should abolish the presidential pardon. Too much power in the hands of one person. For what it’s worth, I think the pardon power serves an important purpose (though it is an archaic one) and that we should see more pardons, really a lot more. But the point of the article, which is based on President Trump’s wanton and partial abuse of this power, focused my attention on a different point.

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From TPM Reader JL

Recent post on whether trump really needed to bend to pressure from senators was fascinating. At first I struggled with your description of maxing out wish lists. But then I thought about trump as Mafia don (always a useful frame) and it clicked. The whole concept of a Mafia organization is that being on the inside is great; the power and money and ego gratification are exciting. The don wants everyone to be happy and feel stroked. Except of course you have sold your soul and the day eventually comes when the piper must be paid…. still not sure I fully buy everything in the post but you may be onto something.

As I told JL, I’ve struggled to get my head around it myself. And I’m not sure I’ve fully done so. But I think I’m at least on to something. Trump’s approach to coalitional politics is very different from anything we’ve seen in modern presidential history.

With Iran’s admission that it accidentally shot down a civilian airliner the night of its retaliatory strikes against the US military bases in Iraq it is worth remembering that Russia has still not made a similar admission about the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shot down over Ukraine in 2014. The facts are not identical. In that case Russia provided Buk surface-to-air missiles to “separatists” operating in eastern Ukraine who seem to have thought they were shooting down a Ukrainian military jet.

Here we get into the inherent and intentional murkiness about which of these “separatists” aided by Russia were people who could legitimately be called “separatists” versus Russian military or Russian veterans operating with plausible deniability in Russia’s shadow invasion of eastern Ukraine. Whatever the precise details, the upshot is the same: As part of an intentional policy of using vaguely deniable proxies, Russia gave highly lethal weaponry (you need serious military hardware to shoot an airliner at cruising altitude out of the sky) to people operating with little command and control or oversight. The result was unthinkable tragedy. Not only has Russia never admitted responsibility it has continued to support and propagate various conspiracy theories and “false narratives” about what happened.

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According to Bloomberg News, “U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials are assessing whether Russia is trying to undermine Joe Biden in its ongoing disinformation efforts with the former vice president still the front-runner in the race to challenge President Donald Trump.”

The fact of this or the fact of what they appear to be investigating is hardly surprising. Indeed, we can’t be surprised by something we already know.

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One reader very reasonably asks: Is it really credible that Trump had to authorize this attack or risk being removed from office at his impeachment trial? That hardly seems credible. Indeed, to the extent that there’s a spectrum of Trump loyalty among Republican senators, the most loyal tend to line up with those most eager for aggressive military action against Iran. But I think this somewhat mistakes the nature of Trump’s presidency and how he has approached politics – pretty consistently – for years.

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A telling passage buried deep down in a Wall Street Journal article about why President Trump authorized the Soleimani killing …

Mr. Trump, after the strike, told associates he was under pressure to deal with Gen. Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate, associates said.

Over time I suspect we’ll learn a lot more about this.

It now seems very clear that that Ukrainian airliner that crashed after takeoff from Tehran was accidentally shot down by the Iranian military, almost certainly on some kind of hair trigger alert awaiting possible US retaliation after the volley of missiles which were retaliation for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.

This was pretty clear on the basis of logic and probability. Even as aerophobe, I know that airliner crashes are extremely, extremely rare. In those rare instances, they seldom fall out of the sky on fire as this one did. The fact that this happened basically at the exact moment when the Iranians would have been awaiting US retaliation from the air in response to their missile attack makes the probabilities pretty clear.

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We’re back to this question of when Nancy Pelosi is going to send the articles of impeachment, now going on a month old, to the Senate. One relatively prominent member of the Democratic caucus, Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA), actually went off message and then had to walk back his remarks this morning. So is it time? Is it time for Speaker Pelosi to go ahead and get on with it?

I can’t see any reason to rush this. Really none at all.

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TPM Reader BF disagrees with JB about who was pushing who on Trump’s decision to kill Qasem Solemaini …

No, no, no. JB is wrong here. This isn’t about Pompeo or some other lone actor talking Trump into something. And it isn’t about Trump surprising everyone by choosing a throw-away option.

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I’ve written a few times that opacity, extortion and confusion are the hallmarks of Trumpism. I’ve spent the last couple months trying to draw these ideas together for a larger project. Part of this story centers on the ways American politics and specifically America’s relations abroad have been subsumed under fuzzy or opaque ties with a series of foreign powers — specifically ones where power is personalized in either strongman or familial rule, where political power is bundled together with wealth.

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