Josh Marshall

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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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My personal posting may be a bit lighter today or delayed until later in the day, as it was yesterday, because I’m going through the impeachment inquiry transcripts methodically. Here’s Sondland’s and here’s Volker’s testimony.

We’re back to another round of the Democratic woe-is-me, contending polls psychodrama. Jon Chait has a follow-on on yesterday’s NYT/Siena in which he sees those perilous numbers in key swing states as a sign that the Democratic presidential primaries have slipped into an echochamber in which no one realizes or cares that the leading candidates are pushing a policy platform that is simply not popular with most voters. As Chait puts it, Trump is “right on the cusp of victory.” Meanwhile, this morning, WaPo/ABC has a new poll out showing the Democrats holding thunderous margins against Donald Trump nationwide. Both of these soundings cannot be true at the same time.

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I’ve been working my way through Ambassador Yovanovitch’s testimony.

We’re so deep into the minutiae of this plot that we need to take a few paces back to see one of the most important parts of the story. It’s not hidden precisely. But it’s seldom the focus of the discussion: The President is absurdly susceptible to foreign influence.

Let me explain.

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One year out from the 2020 election, this article and group of polls from the Times is getting a lot of attention this morning and just as much heartburn for Democrats. The gist of the piece is a series of horserace polls in key swing states, measuring Trump against the top three Democratic candidates — Biden, Sanders and Warren.

If these polls are accurate they paint a sobering reality for Democrats, which is that even their strongest contender could easily lose the election even with big leads nationwide.

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