Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

In my post from yesterday, I put together the timeline and circumstantial evidence which, I believe, strongly suggests President Trump discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin the phony cover story he would prepare the next day for his son, Donald Trump, Jr. There’s another element of the story which also provides key context and points to President Trump’s state of mind and sources of information at the time.

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I’ve been poking around this morning and the George Papadopoulos/Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos situation is way, way weirder than I’d come close to realizing. As I noted this morning, for whatever reason the couple has now glommed on to Trump’s “spygate” conspiracy theory. As I noted, not only is this troubling. It doesn’t even add up in any obvious way in self-interested terms. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to a relative minor felony, lying to federal agents. With cooperation he should get a light sentence. Shifting gears and playing for an anti-Deep State pardon seems very hard to figure. But something else happened when I was listening to that interview last night.

Put simply, when I listening to Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos last night she didn’t sound like she’s Italian.

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So much news emerged overnight that I’m not sure how much attention will get focused on this odd development in the George Papadopoulos case. Let me address it briefly. We knew little about George Papadopoulos until last October when his plea deal with the Special Counsel’s office revealed that he was a key point of contact with Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign. Later we learned that his inebriated discussion with an Australian diplomat was the trigger that launched the Russia probe in July of 2016. He made a deal, has been cooperating and recently the Special Counsel’s office filed court papers signaling he’s likely completed his cooperation and is ready for sentencing. All of this is what you’d expect for a cooperating witness. But last night, Papadopoulos’s wife was on Fox asking President Trump for a pardon and seemingly claiming that George had been set up.

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One of the many revelations from that “leaked” letter from the White House to the Mueller team is that the White House is now stating as a fact what it had long denied or at least seriously downplayed: that the President personally “dictated” the text of the original, false statement from his son describing the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. The Times later reported this. But it’s long been disputed just how much role he had in writing the statement. Now that the President’s direct and apparently sole authorship is confirmed, it brings us back to a critical question that hasn’t been discussed in some time: Did Trump talk with Vladimir Putin one on one to get his cover story straight about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting?

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Hard not to notice that within the last 48 hours the President appears to be making a final break with Paul Manafort, now claiming the FBI should have warned him that Manafort was dirty and maybe in league with Russia or pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. (He’s hinted at similar logics before but never been quite this explicit about it.) He is also aggressively claiming an absolute right to pardon himself. Not only are these not the actions of an innocent man. They aren’t the actions of anyone who isn’t seeing their legal jeopardy rapidly increasing. It will be fascinating – in the future – to understand what developments were occurring in the background that made sense of these actions.

President Trump is up this morning with the audacious claim that he has an absolute power to pardon himself and that all legal scholars agree this is so. Needless to say there’s zero consensus on this point. It’s more of a conceptual black box. It’s not immediately clear what specific constitutional or historical fact would preclude a self-pardon. But I think I’m on safe ground asserting that most legal scholars would agree that this is clearly not the intended use of the power. Indeed, it puts the entire constitutional framework on its head. Below I note a column by Douglas Kmiec in which he notes that the same DOJ opinion which says a sitting President shouldn’t be indicted notes that a self-pardon is similarly a contradiction in terms.) But set that aside, because it’s preposterous that such a thing would even be considered. More salient is the question of whether a sitting President can even be indicted – which precedes the question of a pardon.

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Today the Times reports that earlier this year Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti or his colleagues reached out to major Democratic donors to see if they’d fund Daniels’ legal case. The main one seems to have been part of David Brock’s network. No one seems to have been interested in doing so, in part because Avenatti seemed to be having plenty of luck getting publicity and making trouble for Trump on his own.

I’m not sure this really contradicts Avenatti’s claims because the one he’s really going to town on is his claim that no political donors are funding their efforts. The Times article actually seems to confirm this point, even if they’d earlier tried to get that kind of funding. (Currently Avenatti’s fees are apparently being paid from a crowdfunding effort which has raised approximately $500,000 from 15,000 donors.)

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Very interesting piece by our Investigations Desk reporter Tierney Sneed. The Special Counsel’s office does not leak and they’ve been famously good at keeping major components of their investigation totally under wraps. But in this piece, Tierney pulls together a series of hints and references in different court filings and arguments which seem to point to separate, on-going investigation into Manafort which is not connected to the various money laundering, bank fraud and failure to register charges he’s currently facing. Check it out here.

In the latest Episode of The Josh Marshall Podcast Adam Davidson and I do a deep deep dive into Trump, Russia, money laundering, 9/11 and the evolution of the commercial real estate business all which paved Trump’s decades long road to Moscow. Fascinating stuff and I learned a lot. Listen.

The issue of presidential pardons raises an important issue with “norms”. I have written many times over the years that Presidents don’t use the pardon power nearly enough. The pardon power is archaic and in some ways hard to reconcile with our modern concepts of justice and judicial process. But mercy is an important element of justice. Indeed, without a role for mercy there can be no justice. There are many people rotting in prison who shouldn’t be there, even if they were guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted. In the past, the pardon was used sometimes for reasons as simple as managing prison over crowding. Sentences do not need to be sacrosanct. The pardon power is a tool to cut through the harsh indifference of criminal law and right wrongs.

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