Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Rush pool report on comments from Trump press aide Hogan Gidley aboard Air Force One on whether there’s any redemption possible for Bannon. Most notable is reference to Ivanka’s and Don Jr’s ‘sacrifice’ in serving their nation. To criticize “two of the president’s children are serving this nation, sacrificing in their service, it is repugnant, it is grotesque.” More quotes after the jump …

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A week ago I said we were at the end of the beginning of the Trump/Russia story. The big question of whether there was collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign has been answered for anyone who has their eyes open. They did. The question is how far it went and what was involved. But there’s another question, related but distinct, which is in my mind perhaps the biggest question or mystery about the whole story.

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One of the recurrent questions in political discussions is whether there may be some points of principle that unite forces on the right and left who otherwise agree on very little. The focus is usually on core issues of civil liberties and the rule of law.  The left may support a broad public commitment to providing health care for the public; the right may say it should all be determined by the market. But perhaps on these core issues there’s more agreement. Perhaps recognizing that is the due we should give to others we disagree with.

Recent events makes clear how baseless this assumption really is.

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We are now back on to the feverish debate about whether or not Donald Trump is mentally ill or suffering from the onset of dementia. The most important thing to know about this debate is that it simply doesn’t matter. Diagnoses are something for trained professionals and even they are challenged to make them without a proper in-person examination. But again, it doesn’t matter.

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The Times published a big story yesterday that shed key new light on President Trump’s effort to control the Russia investigation and fire James Comey. I read it last night and immediately thought of how new details fit into what we already knew of the timeline surrounding Comey’s dismissal. I’m still putting my thoughts together on how this affects the larger Russia story. But I wanted to share with you the timeline I put together in addition to some additional thoughts (Prime access) on what it means, especially with respect to McGahn’s, Sessions’ and Rosenstein’s complicity in President Trump’s effort to protect himself from the probe. I use these to frame my thinking and visualize the chronological relationship between events.

Yesterday’s Times article about President Trump’s effort to control the Russia investigation had a number of key new pieces of information. Perhaps the most individually notable is the report that Trump instructed White House Counsel Don McGahn to lobby Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia probe. Unbeknownst to Trump and McGahn, Sessions had already decided he would do so. But I was just as interested in how a number of details from the Times piece (in addition to other information published in recent days) fill out our understanding of the timeline surrounding Trump’s decision to fire Comey.

It sheds further light on that mysterious tarmac interlude I’ve mentioned a number of times and which I have always suspected involved an argument and final decision to fire Comey. It also shows much more clearly than we’ve known heretofore the complicity of Sessions and Rosenstein in Trump’s effort to kill the probe. Indeed, what we see more generally is a number of advisors and appointees trying — really, really trying — to prevent Trump from firing Comey but eventually failing and then, having failed, assisting him in doing so and attempting to conceal the reasons for it.

Just as an overview to the below, note that Comey’s two pre-firing days of testimony to Congress frame the outline. It is reportedly in response to the first testimony that Trump begins discussing his desire to fire Comey. It is the second testimony that prompts him to actually do it — apparently after some six weeks of fairly strenuous lobbying by advisors against the idea.

Note too how Sessions’ actions, apparently trying to gin up negative news stories about Comey, appear to have been triggered by a chewing out he got from Trump on the day of Comey’s second testimony. Critically, the Times piece has new evidence that suggests Rosenstein was looped in too, aware of and part of the message Sessions got from Trump that afternoon at the White House.

Here’s the timeline.

March 20th, 2017: First Comey testimony, in which he first publicly announces that there is, in fact, an investigation into whether there was collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. According to the Times, it is in response to this testimony that Trump begins discussing firing Comey with staff.

May 3rd, 2017: Second Comey testimony to Congress.

May 3rd, 2017: An infuriated Trump vents his anger at Sessions, who was at the White House on the day of Comey’s testimony, over his decision to recuse himself from the investigation and his failure to protect him as Attorneys General Kennedy and Holder had protected Presidents Kennedy and Obama. Trump questions Sessions’ loyalty and says he wants to get rid of Comey.

May 5th, 2017: According to the Times, a Sessions aide approaches a congressional staffer about finding negative information about James Comey and discusses the Attorney General’s desire for “one negative article a day in the news media about Mr. Comey.”

May 5th, 2017: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein approaches a member of the White House Counsel’s office and tells the aide “that top White House and Justice Department lawyers needed to discuss Mr. Comey’s future.”

May 6-7th, 2017: President Trump spends a rainy weekend at his Bedminster, NJ resort. He reportedly obsesses over Comey and over this weekend makes the decision to fire Comey. Trump is accompanied by Hope Hicks, Jared Kushner, KT McFarland, Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino. It is over this weekend that Miller, at Trump’s direction, drafts a letter explaining and justifying the firing of James Comey. The letter is met with stiff internal opposition from White House Counsel McGahn among others and was never sent to Comey or published.

May 7th, 2017: After arriving at Joint Airbase Andrews from New Jersey, Air Force One waits on the tarmac for just under an hour before President Trump deplanes. The delay has never been explained. Trump was on Air Force One with Hicks, Kushner, McFarland, Miller, and Scavino.

May 8th, 2017: Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney Rosenstein meet Trump at the White House to discuss James Comey. Trump says he has decided to fire James Comey and asks Rosenstein to prepare a memo outlining reasons for Comey’s dismissal. Rosenstein is provided with a copy of Miller’s never-sent draft memo.

May 9th, 2017: Rosenstein memo is shared with Sessions and forwarded to the White House and President Trump.

May 9th, 2017: President Trump fires James Comey.

May 10th, 2017: President Trump welcomes Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov along with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak to the White House. Trump tells Lavrov, according to an internal White House summary of the meeting: “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

May 11th, 2017: President Trump tells NBC’s Lester Holt: “In fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won’.”

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Six months ago I joked that the President’s defenders would eventually come around to arguing that we should pity the President rather than hold him in contempt because he’d been raised in a culture of criminality and had no experience following the law.

The weird thing is that I’m now coming around to that defense. Now, needless to say, it’s no defense. But allow me to explain. Because I do think it is illuminating, inasmuch as something as dark as President Trump’s predatory, criminal instincts can be brought to the light. Three times in recent days we’ve seen references to the President’s belief that Attorneys General for Presidents Kennedy and Obama protected them from the law and that Trump had great respect for this. He has displayed a running rage and contempt for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, once his most important political ally, because he failed in this most basic of duties: protecting the President from the law.

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