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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Here is what I am thankful for. It’s not the only thing I’m thankful for. It’s not what I’m most thankful for. But it is something I’m very thankful for and it is the thing I’m thankful for that relates directly to this site. So this seems like the place to give thanks.

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With the holidays upon us and with a long Thanksgiving weekend for the lucky among us, I thought I’d recommend some books for your reading pleasure. In the distant past I did a lot of book reviews on TPM. But in recent years I get hung up because I often don’t have the time to do a proper review or I didn’t read the book with the thought of doing a review in mind. In other cases, I loved a book but I read it two years ago so I’m rusty on all the particulars. So I’m just going to recommend these eight books, with just some brief notes about why I found them interesting rather than a comprehensive review. But each of these books is one that I found engrossing and learned a great deal from. A number of them had a transformative effect on how I think about and understand a given topic.

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The Pentagon has announced that on November 12th the Army recovered additional remains of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, a month after his body was found. Remember that Johnson’s widow was not permitted to view his body and she even publicly speculated about what was really in her husband’s coffin. It now seems they didn’t tell her that what was in the casket was not her husband’s entire body.

Obviously, terribly things happened to bodies in war, mutilation, dismemberment, decapitation. That is war. The issue here is that it seems the Pentagon kept this information from Johnson’s wife and family.

We now know that in 2015 Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) settled a sexual harassment claim with a former staffer. The story originated when the notorious alt-right figure Mike Cernovich provided settlement documents to Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed, rightly, independently confirmed the story. The story was thus based on the documents but no longer relied on the documents or their authenticity. Conyers’ office has now confirmed the key details of the story. Conyers denies the underlying accusations and notes that he admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. But that’s really beside the point since that’s in the nature of confidential settlements.

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Yesterday the CEO of AT&T came out in response to the just-announced DOJ lawsuit and said in CEO-speak that they are going to court and ready to use full discovery powers to determine whether President Trump’s animus toward CNN is what is driving this dispute. That makes me really wonder if the Trump White House knows what it’s getting into. Are they really ready for the exposure of discovery and do they realize it could and likely will go directly to the President.

But I wanted to flag a note from an anonymous TPM Reader, TPM Reader AN. He’s an antitrust lawyer. And while I think he agrees that the government’s argument in this case represents a dramatic reversal of recent decades of antitrust enforcement (especially for a GOP administration) he notes some technical factors that may put the government in a better position to win this case than people realize.

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CNN is reporting that DOJ has decided to sue to block AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, which owns both CNN and HBO. You may have read what I’ve written about this before. I generally oppose all mega-mergers like this for a host of reasons. But I have very little doubt that what is driving this is President Trump and his feud with CNN. There’s abundant evidence to that effect, which makes this highly dangerous.

Buzzfeed reported this morning that multiple sources claim that National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster called President Trump an “idiot” and a “dope” in a private dinner with Oracle CEO Safra Catz. McMaster also criticized Steve Bannon, Rex Tillerson and said presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner has no business being involved in national security issues at all. According to Buzzfeed, Catz told one source “[the conversation was so inappropriate that it was jaw-dropping.”

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As the Russia story again heats up, let’s remember the ties between Russia and the US evangelical right as a critical backdrop and predicate for the entire story. Here’s my backgrounder on the topic (sub req.)

Let’s return to the topic of ties between Russia and the US evangelical right.

Russia or at least many Russians have spent a decade cultivating relationships with the evangelical right in the United States. Indeed, it would be incorrect to see it as a one-sided cultivation. The evangelical right in the US – along with other rightist political formations in Western Europe – has come to see Vladimir Putin’s Russia as the logical head of a kind of white, Christian, authoritarian ‘international’, as the US and Europe have become less white and more culturally permissive.

An analogous building of bonds has taken place between Russia and the NRA, despite the fact that there’s nothing analogous to ‘gun rights’ or even such a political debate in Russia. The NRA was a critical backer of Donald Trump and spent tons of millions of dollars on field organizing on Trump’s behalf in 2016 – a much more significant factor in Trump’s election victory than many realize. Of course, the gun rights and right-wing evangelical community overlap to a significant extent. So in some ways these are two parts of the same phenomenon.

I raise this because in recent days we’ve seen Alexander Torshin’s name come up again in the Russia story. He’s a key player in ties between Russia and the NRA. He’s also close to Vladimir Putin and, allegedly, Russian organized crime. You’ve likely seen this new story about a “Russian backdoor overture” that has tripped up Jared Kushner. That was Torshin’s approach to a West Virginia-based evangelical activist named Rick Clay. Clay wanted to “get two sides together to talk about Christian values.”

TPM also reported that Sam Clovis, an increasingly central player in the Russia story, had strongly pro-Russian views on Ukraine well before Trump’s campaign even started. Clovis came to Trump’s campaign as a major player in conservative evangelical political circles.

To be clear, this is not an argument that US evangelicals or gun rights activists were somehow assets in place when Trump came on the scene. We’re talking about ties which came about to a significant extent organically, as a significant faction of the American right came to see Russia as an exemplar of how a 21st century society should be run. Everything from what we’d call public diplomacy to spy operations were then layered over this as the Russian government tried to cultivate these ties.

The relevance for today is that these were in many cases the channels through which approaches to the Trump world were made. It was furthered by the fact that Trump very early on made his tightest and most enduring political alliance with the evangelical right. It all fits together, not as a broad conspiracy necessarily but as different parts of a complex puzzle, all of which came together in 2016.

Since ties between Russia and the evangelical right are partly organic and vastly more broadly based than whatever relationship Russia has with the Trump family we should expect it to continue long after Trump.

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There are a number of different developments in the Russia story that I wanted to flag and discuss as we begin this Thanksgiving-shortened week.

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