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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

There’s something about the Vindman story which, going unsaid, tells us a lot about our current moment, the moment Donald Trump has created. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy appeared to confirm yesterday that LTC Alexander Vindman won’t face an investigation back at the Pentagon. But for what? We know what he did, which was testify — apparently truthfully — in response to a congressional subpoena. What is there to investigate? Not only do the President’s calls for an investigation not answer this question, there’s really no conceivable predicate based on any publicly known information. But that’s the point. Investigations are now simply attacks. To the extent there is a matter to be probed it is loyalty.

We have a lot of different developments coming out of the Justice Department at once. Let’s try to put them in some ordered perspective. We have the brazen interference in the Stone trial which has already led to multiple resignations. We have the breaking news that Andrew McCabe has finally been told that he won’t face any criminal charges. And just now we have news that Bill Barr has assigned a group of outside prosecutors to “review” the prosecution and conviction of Mike Flynn.

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Let’s come back to this brief exchange we had last night with TPM Reader HR and TPM Reader TB. No one believes this was anything more than Barr’s effort to be corrupt more effectively and with less press attention. The only question was whether it was all stage managed with Trump or whether it was actually Barr saying, “Hey, I’m trying to run the DOJ to protect you and your friends and target your enemies. Tweeting all the time just make that harder to do.”

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TPM Reader HR disagrees with TB. But I think TB is saying something similar. From HR

I disagree with your reader. I read Barr’s remarks as a signal to Trump that the tweets are getting in the way of Barr doing Trump’s bidding. Kind of like McConnell ignoring Trump’s maximalist tweets during the impeachment trial. Let me do my job and I’ll get you the result you want, trust me. It’s not defiance, it’s a plea to let Trump’s professional henchmen do their job. But it’s a bonus that it can be read wishfully as a plea for independence.

I think TB is saying just the same thing. Barr just wants Trump to allow him to do his dirty work efficiently and in the background. The tweets are making the corrupt enterprise harder to pull off. TB’s point, if I understand it, is that Trump is too dominance motivated to understand, too impulsive not to need to hit back.

I’m pretty skeptical it will come to this. But I think TPM Reader TB makes a good point that is worth keeping an eye on.

I can’t avoid the conclusion that Barr will now inevitably be fired because (as you have pointed out) Trump sees everything through the lens of a domination ritual, and Barr attempted to be the dom on TV just now by saying it’s impossible for him to do his job with Trump’s constant tweeting. The commentary about how Barr just wants Trump to shut up so he can keep doing corrupt things for Trump with a veneer of legality or acceptability is irrelevant, is too complex a thought for Trump, and is not a game that Trump has the patience to play. Trump must win every domination ritual, and the only way to reestablish dominance in this situation is to fire Barr. My guess is it will happen after a period of weeks.

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There’s far too much water under the bridge for me to consider John Kelly a good guy. But even deeply compromised individuals have their limits. The point he makes here about the Alex Vindman situation is right on point and cuts to the core of our national crisis. As Kelly reminds us officers are trained from the beginning and throughout their career not to follow illegal orders and to report them when they occur through their chain of command. “We teach them, ‘Don’t follow an illegal order. And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.’”

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The Democratic primary race looks more upended and chaotic than at any point so far. I don’t think the exact reasons for that have gotten sufficient attention.

The standard primary campaign model is that one candidate notches early wins. That creates momentum, earned media, money all of which then compound the strength from those early victories. This all allows the winning candidate to build on their margins in state after state. As that happens, also-rans see their money dry up and chances dwindle. They drop out adding to the process. Soon enough you’ve got your nominee.

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My colleagues are covering the details of the emerging DOJ scandal tied to the sentencing of Roger Stone. I want to note a pattern, which seems critical. Famously, the day after Robert Mueller testified before Congress Trump was on the phone with President Zelensky of Ukraine, trying to bully him into opening those investigations. The plot had been going on for months – but Trump was largely in the background, letting his henchman speech for him. It was on July 25th when Trump grabbed the plot with both hands and communicated directly to Zelensky. He followed up by shutting down the military aid pipeline.

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