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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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TPM Reader JEB follows up with some thoughts on Trumpism, strongman rule and extreme wealth …

As it’s a slow Thanksgiving weekend Friday I re-read your “Brittle Grip” series of posts. You spoke today about the global rise of extreme wealth and strongman rule, though you had previously written mostly about the United States only. This prompts a few thoughts.

The first is the most obvious. Strongman rule has been around for a long time. In one form or another it long characterized the government of nations in several regions of the world. Most of those nations were not especially wealthy; your typical local strongman held political power but not a great deal of economic power, certainly not compared to the United States or the European countries. This has changed somewhat in recent years, more in some countries than in others.

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TPM Reader DK has a good point. Leaving these to one-off decisions by the Chief Justice as presiding officer has the additional possible advantage of avoiding some damaging precedents …

I have read your discussion of a Senate impeachment trial with John Roberts in the role of presiding officer. The take away being that the Democrats don’t need to wait for a Supreme Court decision to subpoena witnesses (Mulvaney, et.al.) with direct knowledge of White House actions. Instead a witness could be called during a Senate trial, and if Roberts were to overrule objections, they would have to testify.

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A bit uncharacteristically and somewhat uncomfortably I’ve been mulling over a series of issues and commonalities connecting the global rise of strongman rule, Trumpism and extreme wealth but without feeling I’d pulled my thoughts together sufficiently to write about it. So absent any new posts, I thought I’d share the list of earlier posts I’ve been reading through to focus my thoughts.

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There’s some backstory to the current Rudy Giuliani drama I’d like to share.

After he left the mayoralty at the end of 2001 Giuliani made tens of millions of dollars on his reputation as “America’s Mayor” and a 9/11-based terrorism and security expert under the shingle Giuliani Partners. In the nature of things that rep was more valuable abroad than at home. He cashed in big time. That went on for about 15 years with a brief timeout for his failed 2008 presidential bid. He also had his own law firm Bracewell Giuliani, before leaving the firm to join Greenberg Traurig in 2016.

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An utterly remarkable story this morning in the Post. Reporters got hold of a series of retainer contracts that were being negotiated early this calendar year. It’s not clear whether they were finalized or money changed hands. But they involved Rudy Giuliani agreeing to represent the former top prosecutor in Ukraine, Yuri Lutsenko, both as an individual and in his role as top prosecutor for combined sums of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just so we’re clear, this is the guy who he was working with to manufacture damaging information about the Biden family.

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We’ve known for months that Rudy Giuliani held some of his Ukraine-related meetings in Spain. What wasn’t clear was what client or work had brought him to Spain in the first place. The Post reports this morning that he was staying at the Spanish estate of a Venezuelan energy magnate facing a money laundering and bribery probe in the US. There’s not anything illegal or even inappropriate about this in itself. But it underscores a clear pattern: Most of Giuliani’s business of late has been has been finding foreign oligarchs and plutocrats with legal trouble in the United States and getting paid to use his connection to Trump and the DOJ to get them off the hook.

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Here are a few interesting data points from the just-released CNN poll on impeachment. The topline is pretty bad for the President. 50% of Americans believe the President should be impeached and removed from office. 43% disagree. Slightly more encouraging for the President is that those are the exact numbers CNN/SSRS found in mid-late October, prior to the public hearings. The President’s approval stands at 42% with 54% disapproving. In other words, the numbers are bad. But the hearings didn’t move anyone. We can also note that his approval is basically identical to the number who oppose removal from office. It’s like perfect polarization. You either support President Trump or you think he should be removed from office.

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Along with Josh Kovensky’s big scoop about Trump world lawyer Bud Cummins and the SDNY, there’s been a flurry of news over the last 48 hours about the tangle of corruption connecting Trump and Ukraine, largely but not exclusively through Rudy Giuliani. Most of these stories – and the criminal or semi-criminal networks they’re about – get hard to follow: Ten names you haven’t heard of involved in a corrupt enterprise in a country where corruption is endemic and commonplace. This tends to obscure the real pattern which is most important from a US perspective.

Let me try to explain what that is.

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Great exclusive here from Josh Kovensky who’s been working this story for several weeks and has more coming on this front. Another Trump-aligned attorney — actually a former U.S. Attorney, Bud Cummins — was pushing the Southern District of New York on investigations of Joe Biden based on clients he was working for in Ukraine. He was trying to serve as an intermediary for Yuriy Lutsenko, the crooked prosecutor who later hooked up or was already working with Rudy Giuliani. Yesterday, Giuliani published a letter to Senator Lindsey Graham, offering new purported evidence for Graham’s investigation into the Biden family. This is what he was talking about.

The big picture here is that when you have a crooked President who puts out word that he’s looking for foreigners to take out his political rivals, a lot of shady people come out of the woodwork — unsurprisingly.

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It seems our former AUSA Reader was on to something when they pointed to the logic of trying to deal with subpoenaing recalcitrant witnesses at a Senate trial rather than getting slow rolled for months in the courts and possibly, ultimately getting nothing. You’ll remember that Chief Justice Roberts acts as judge in a senate trial and under Senate rules he makes all decisions on questions of evidence, relevance, subpoenas witnesses – though he can be overruled on those judgments by a majority of the Senate.

Chairman Adam Schiff appeared this morning on both the State of the Union and Meet the Press and he seemed to confirm that this is his thinking too.

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