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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

President Trump made a big show last hour that he may be willing to release a transcript of a “second” call with President Zelensky of Ukraine. He said Congress is “clamoring” for it and he may agree to release it. Just to explain the backstory: This appears to be the brief congratulatory call Trump made to Zelensky in April after he was elected President. (It actually precedes the July 25th call; so it’s actually the first.) It’s come up in various depositions. All evidence suggests it was brief, cordial and unobjectionable. No one has been clamoring for it. I don’t think investigators have even asked for it. This seems to be a simple effort to make a show of transparency out of something that will look innocuous once it’s released. Perhaps it’s also an attempt to have one cordial “perfect” transcript floating around for people who haven’t been following the details. Just more distraction.

I wanted to flag this article in the Post that published overnight, which purports (and I don’t doubt it) to described the House GOP’s latest angle on protecting the President.

Quite simply, Rudy Giuliani, Gordon Sondland and Mick Mulvaney were freelancing this whole caper and the President was not involved. In other words, they’re the fall guys who get Trump off the hook. It’s a curious and entertaining article on a number of levels since by the conventions of newspaper writing dictate that the authors cannot really say the entire premise is absurd. They have to step around it and obliquely suggest it.

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Here are some basic thoughts about what happened in this story, what matters and how to describe it.

The President used extortion to cheat in the 2020 presidential election. He used military aid dollars meant to aid an ally against his Russian patrons in order to force Ukraine to intervene in the 2020 elections, in order to remain in office by corrupt means.

There are various crimes that get committed along the way. But that is the core of it. The President is delegated vast powers to act in the national interest and he has vast discretion to determine what he or she believes the national interest is. But when he uses those powers for his own personal or financial gain they are illegitimate on their face, abuses of power and merit impeachment. The fact that he was doing so to sabotage a national election makes it vastly worse. And the fact that he was getting a foreign power to sabotage a US election makes it worse still. Any talk of “quid pro quos” and this and that minutiae is a distortion of what happened. Quid pro quos are simply exchanges of one thing for another. Presidents will ask for help on one bill in exchange for another. They’ll condition one kind of aid to a country on assistance on another foreign policy goal. In itself it means nothing. The crimes are bribery and extortion, the abuses of power are using presidential power for personal gain and the central offense against the state is the attempt to sabotage a national election, the event on which the legitimacy of the entire system rests.

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My read is that after the shock of defeat wears off, Kentucky Republicans are trying to move this toward a face-saving, mercy recanvass before Matt Bevin shuffles off this electoral coil and heads toward a high paid contributor gig at Fox. But as TPM Reader Greg Downs (Professor of History at UC Davis) explains, the last time Kentucky used this provision of the state constitution to overturn an election, things got pretty weird …

Appreciated your post on the insane idea floated by the head of the Kentucky state senate. As a (partial) Kentucky native and (complete) history nerd, I grew up knowing a bit about the crazy 1899 precedent and I think there are some details that may even strengthen your point.

The key thing is what followed that 1899-1900 overturning: Basically cataclysmic violence. Some of this was already brewing; the Republican and the L & N railroad had sent out word (and by legend free railroad passes) and Republicans (1000 allegedly) came down with arms to the state capitol while the inaugurated Republican governor fought with the Democratic legislature that was considering overturning the result. In late January, someone–lots of legends about whom–shot the Democratic candidate, William Goebel, who was also the boss of the state senate. In response lots of Democrats came out to the capitol armed while Goebel was treated.

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Earlier this week news emerged that Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani confederate, has replaced John Dowd as his lawyer and opened discussions with the House about testifying before the on-going impeachment inquiry. Comments from Parnas’s new lawyers point pretty clearly to the conclusion that he’s looking for immunity in exchange for his testimony. The possibility of immunity hearkens back to the Iran-Contra scandal which led to the prosecution and conviction of Oliver North. But in July 1990 a federal court threw out North’s convictions on the basis of the limited immunity Congress had granted him years earlier to compel his testimony.

That outcome led a generation of political and legal minds to believe that Congress erred by getting in the way of a later potential criminal investigation and prosecution. Subsequent congressional probes have bent over backwards not to get in the way of DOJ investigations. But that conventional wisdom is wrong.

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On Sondland’s turnabout, we get this update from TPM Reader EWF …

I’ve written you occasionally in the past. I’ve practiced law for 35 years, with a concentration on representing lawyers on matters of professional responsibility. I also teach legal ethics at … Sondland’s affidavit, in which he says he now “recalls” the quid pro quo regarding withholding aid, looks to me like it was born of one or both of two legal sources.

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It appears that Republican Matt Bevin has gone down to defeat in the Kentucky governor’s race. Democrat Andy Beshear will be the state’s next governor. Republicans are having a solid night overall in the state. So it’s worth considering what this result means and what it doesn’t. Matt Bevin is many ways a toxic figure, even in a deep red state. He dismantled a very popular and successful implementation of the ACA. This is mainly about Bevin’s unpopularity, which was well earned.

Why it’s important is this: Bevin went all in on impeachment to get himself over the finish line. He brought in Trump for a caustic, aggressive rally last night to finish the sale. But it didn’t work. That’s a big deal.

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