Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Here’s the transcript of what amounted to a prayer from the Vice President this afternoon to the President. To President Trump. You really have to see and read the words to absorb it. It’s something out of 1930s Russia or perhaps North Korea. Transcript starts after the jump …

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I mentioned yesterday on Twitter that a “heist” is a better label for the GOP tax plan than “GOP tax scam” or whatever Democratic activists are calling it. The people mobilized against this legislation have done a great job. It doesn’t look like they’ll stop the bill. But they have clearly cemented in the public mind that the tax bill is a brazen giveaway to the richest Americans and corporations. So my point isn’t to criticize. But I think we need a better sense and description of what is happening.

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Let me share a few thoughts about this news that during the campaign candidate Trump was warned to be on the lookout for foreign governments, including Russia, trying to infiltrate his campaign. If he saw anything suspicious, he was warned he should bring it to the FBI.

We can note a few caveats to this news. Hillary Clinton was apparently given the same briefing. And this is apparently a standard friendly heads up the FBI’s counter-intelligence officers give new candidates as they begin to receive classified intelligence briefings after the national conventions. So we cannot, on the basis of this report, say that the FBI was already so worried about Russian infiltration of Trump’s campaign that it thought it was necessary to give him a warning.

But there are a couple things I think we can say.

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Matthew Petersen, the star of that cringeworthy video struggling (and mainly failing) to answer the most basic questions of trial procedure, has withdrawn his nomination to serve as a federal judge.

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On Friday, I noted that there is clearly a move afoot to fire Bob Mueller (Prime access). But it is less a conspiracy or planned course of action than a rising tide of fear and anger with different pro-Trump factions trying to delegitimize Mueller for its own sake and, if at all possible, goad President Trump into firing Mueller in a fit of impulse rage and fear – much as he did six months ago with James Comey. Paradoxically, Trump is himself part of the effort to ramp him into taking action. Chaos and fear are as much a part of it as planning. It’s more Lord of the Flies than Ocean’s Eleven. Still a key part of what is happening is not only that pro-Trump Republicans are trying to lay the groundwork for Mueller’s dismissal. They’re trying to goad Trump into taking the plunge. Because only the President can make this happen. Everything else is preparation and encouragement.

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Yesterday I read one of those articles I was semi-used to in the Bush era and now am very used to in the Trump era. Trump has a new “labor” advisor. His name is James Sherk. His big issue is federal workers are paid too much and have too many job benefits. They also don’t work enough, according to Sherk. Trump has empowered him to fix the problem by cutting salaries and benefits for federal workers. In other words, James Sherk seems like a really nice guy.

Federal workers, you’re welcome.

So I figure I’ll look James up on Linkedin and see what his background is. It was a good hunch.

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Behind the new faux controversy over Mueller getting Trump transition emails is a key and probably too little discussed aspect of the Russia story: Mueller’s team has some of the most accomplished and aggressive prosecutors and legal minds of their generation. They’re facing off against a team of has-beens, 3rd or 4th rate lawyers and in some cases simple incompetents. Why? Because Trump values sycophancy above competence and because none of the top lawyers were willing to work for him. 

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I think we’re seeing signs that the ground is being laid to fire Bob Mueller and end all investigations into President Trump and Russia. I’m not saying it will happen or that the effort will be successful. But the effort is clearly afoot. Here are the indications (Prime access) as I see them.

I don’t want to be hyperbolic. I not only believe generally but think we have seen evidence of the resilience of our system and core institutions over recent months. But we can see a number of developments, building over recent weeks and accelerating in recent days, aimed at ending the Russia investigations.

I noted a short time ago that there’s increasing evidence and concern that House Republicans are moving quickly to shut down the House-side probes. That is probably in response to demands from the President, though it doesn’t seem they need much persuading. House Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are pushing hard to fire FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Given that the FBI has a new Director and that McCabe was someone who might have been a logical candidate to become the new Director, it’s not surprising that he’d be replaced eventually with a new person. But these public demands from Trump defenders in the House look more like the purge of the FBI President Trump and his top defenders have been demanding.

Mike Flynn is now a cooperating witness for Bob Mueller. Mueller is expanding his investigation into President Trump’s banking history at Deutsche Bank, the data operation at Cambridge Analytica. We just learned yesterday about yet another email – this time directly to Trump’s personal assistant – from Rob Goldstone, offering to set up a meeting with Vladimir Putin. More and more is emerging and we have lots of indications that President Trump’s anger and desire to shut down the investigations is growing. The non-committal response to a question this morning about whether he would pardon Mike Flynn was one of many signs of that. That is Trump trying to show that he, not Bob Mueller or anyone else, has the power.

There’s one more piece of the puzzle. The President’s lawyer charged with managing interactions with the Mueller investigation – Ty Cobb – has been telling the President and White House staff for months that the Mueller probe is winding down and is likely to finish by the close of 2017 with Mueller issuing a report exonerating the President. I’ve yet to hear or read any legal observer who thought that made sense. But it was apparently believed by many or some in the White House. Most importantly, President Trump apparently believed or believes it. It may be the reason Trump has been relatively calm in respect to the probe, at least not seeking to fire Robert Mueller. Some think, not implausibly, that this is Cobb’s motivation, protecting his client from his most self-destructive impulses with a benign deception. Maybe Cobb has also deceived himself.

But it is the evening of December 15th. At some point, no matter how much you want to believe something, the evidence contradicting your belief can grow so great that your edifice of confidence crumbles. It can happen rapidly. Even in the Trumpian world of fictive realities, the nonsensical nature of Cobb’s assurances must be becoming clear. That dam of realization seems to have given way or is in the process of breaking. That’s perilous.

For clarity, I don’t think Mueller will be fired. But I believe the groundwork is being laid to do so. I believe there’s an effort afoot to try. It is also entirely possible Trump will fire Mueller, especially if he can get a clean bill of health from one of the House committees which he can brandish as a justification. That will trigger a grave crisis. Keep an eye on the escalating attacks on Mueller, the increasing drive to close down the congressional investigations.

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