Friday, November 22, 2019

How Trump can stop the impeachment process (now!)

Earlier this week Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin reported (well, speculated) about President Trump’s health saying We can stop this entire impeachment process right now.

The Post reports:

President Trump’s impromptu weekend visit to a doctor remained shrouded in secrecy Monday as he stayed away from the public eye and the White House dodged questions about his health.

Trump, 73, made an unscheduled trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on Saturday, later saying on Twitter that he had begun “phase one” of his annual physical exam and that the results had been “very good.”

Many others have noted that minor medical procedures and tests can be performed at the White House, raising the question as to what Walter Reed had that Trump needed on the spur of the moment. It’s also loopy to think you can take an “annual” exam three months early to get it out of the way because you know you will be busy (all year?!).

Monday night, the White House released a memo from Trump’s physician, Sean Conley, insisting, “Despite some speculation, the President has not had any chest pain, nor was he evaluated or treated for any urgent or acute issues." Conley continued, “Specifically, he did not undergo any specialized cardiac or neurologic evaluations.” That only deepened suspicions. (What’s urgent as opposed to serious?) If he could rule out specific procedures, why not tell us exactly what treatment Trump did receive?

The American people have every right to know just about everything regarding the president’s physical condition. If he refuses to provide it, voters should be wary of reelecting him, particularly since Trump is 73 years old and is considered obese. It should also not go unmentioned that he has been undergoing arguably the most rage-inducing (for him, not us) period of his presidency, a stress factor if ever there was one.

If Trump is not well enough to run for reelection (or even get through the remainder of his term without further physical problems), let alone serve another term, there is no need to torment him, causing further physical and mental (his, not ours) harm. He should explain his health condition (or just say he has one), step down and oversee a smooth transition of power. As soon as he is out the door and headed for his new permanent residence in Florida, the witnesses and the hearings, the revelations and the scandals can be put aside. Sure, he might be prosecuted later on, but if he is in poor health, what are the chances he’d get any real jail time?

The benefits of an early retirement are considerable. He need not become the third president ever impeached. We would lose interest in his tax returns. The emoluments cases and the discovery into his finances would end. He would not have to dread a spasm of conscience or a court ruling that would provoke former national security adviser John Bolton to provide devastating testimony against him. And Trump could at least claim that when he left (if he goes quickly), the economy was not yet in a recession.

Other benefits abound. Trump would not have to capitulate in the unwinnable trade war with China. Let the new President Pence do that. Trump would not have to admit failure to denuclearize North Korea or acknowledge the dead end he has reached on his pullout from the Iran nuclear deal. Those can be Pence’s problems, as well. And, most of all, Trump would not have to worry about a humiliating loss in the 2020 election, or being blamed for “reverse coattails" (as he was in Louisiana).

I, for one, would not want to pry into the nature of Trump’s health issues, provided he leaves quickly. As a private citizen he can retain his phony extra inch (mysteriously moving from 6-foot–3 to 6-foot–4) and his pension and never leave a Trump property. No annoying NATO meetings or embarrassing encounters with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Just tell us he has a health issue and go. We’ll take him at his word (for once). Just go.

I would add: getting thrown under the bus has got to hurt - a lot. That’s what happened when Ambassador Gordon Sondland took the stand in the impeachment hearing. The Strangely Happy Envoy: Sondland Jokes, and Spreads Heat. A plum ambassadorship lands the cheerful hotelier in the red-hot middle of a fast-cooking impeachment crucible.

"Was there a quid pro quo?” asked Mr. Sondland, the rich Oregon hotelier whose $1 million donation to President Trump’s inauguration got him far more than he bargained for.

“The answer is yes.”

That was just the beginning:

Not only that, but Mr. Sondland implicated pretty much every principal over his head and under his bus.

… Throughout the morning, Mr. Sondland bore the appearance of a person who knew he was saving himself, as if he was no longer concerned with staying within the jagged loyalty matrix and “irregular channels” and omerta codes of Trump World.

… getting into a relationship like this [with President Trump] is the essence of why so many plutocrats give money to politicians — a chance to be a player, to joke around at the highest levels. They can regale friends about their exchanges and hold up their cellphone when he calls. Look, the president even called him a “nice guy.”

But the shine does wear off, and quite predictably with this president.

“You know, on Oct. 8 of this year, the president tweeted that you are a really good man and a great American,” Mr. Krishnamoorthi pointed out to Mr. Sondland. “And of course, on Nov. 8, one month later, he said let me just tell you, I hardly know the gentleman.”

“Easy come, easy go,” Mr. Sondland said.

(Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry for the tip on the Sondland article.)

Trump defense talking points destroyed by evidence

Gradually, methodically, and sometimes painfully slowly the testimony provided in the public impeachment hearings destroyed GOP talking points. For a good summary, check out the closing remarks by Committee Chairman Adam Schiff in this youtube video. Below are my brief reactions to those talking points.

Ukrainians got their call, got a meeting, and got the funds for military assistance so no problem

After Gordon Sondland’s Impeachment Testimony: What Will the Republicans Do Now?

This was essentially the argument that Jim Jordan, the Ohio brawler whom the Republicans drafted onto the Intelligence Committee to soften up the witnesses, put forward when he got to question Sondland. “They get the call, they get the meeting, they get the money,” Jordan said. “It’s not two plus two—it’s 0 for three.” Regardless of its value as a sound bite, this dismissive line won’t suffice for Republican senators facing tough reĆ«lection contests, and there are quite a few of them apart from Tillis; Susan Collins, of Maine; Cory Gardner, of Colorado; Martha McSally, of Arizona; and Joni Ernst, of Iowa. On the subject of impeachment, all of these Republicans were conspicuously silent on Wednesday.

Adam Schiff, in his closing remarks on Thursday, trashed that argument. The Watergate burglars did not get what they were after, so does that make them innocent of any crime? The “no harm, no foul” defense does not work for another reason. The freeze was lifted but only after lots of press attention. The fact that there was a freeze, for as yet officially unexplained reasons, shook the confidence of a valuable ally.

The Ukrainians did not know about the freeze on the assistance

Impeachment testimony knocks down another key GOP talking point

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of Donald Trump’s fiercest defenders, appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation earlier this week and pushed one of his party’s favorite talking points. Referencing the July 25 phone meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which the Republican pressured his counterpart to participate in a political scheme, the Ohio congressman took aim at a foundational element of the controversy.

“The Ukrainians didn’t know that their aid was held at the time of the call,” Jordan said. The Ohioan made related points during yesterday’s hearing with Ambassador Gordon Sondland.

However, Benen calls our attention to evidence that the Ukrainians did know about Trump’s freeze at least by the time of the July 25 phone call. “Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine, testified as part of Congress’ impeachment inquiry and explained that Ukraine did, in fact, know about the White House’s hold.”

Hearsay

This line of attack emphasizes supposed unreliability of 2nd-hand information. But fact witnesses from the National Security Council Jennifer Williams, Adviser to Vice President for Europe and Russia, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Top Ukraine expert were on the July 25 call when Trump made his ask of Zelenskyy (“for a favor though”). That’s no longer hearsay.

The President denies quid pro quo

This is the “I am not a crook” defense. Trump claimed “no quid pro quo.” The problem is that Ambassador Sondland testified under oath that, according to Politico, It was no secret’: Sondland says Trump ordered Ukraine pressure campaign.. “Was there a ’quid pro quo?’” he said. “The answer is yes.”

Russia is innocent, the Ukrainians did it

What’s still being touted, by Devin Nunez, for example, is the claim that (1) the Russians did not meddle in the 2016 election to support Trump, but that (2) the Ukrainians meddled to support Clinton. Balderdash! This is 100% fog designed to confuse us all. Arizona Blue Meanie explains how that theory is totally wrong in Republican star witnesses blow up GOP conspiracy theories, implicate Trump. See also the opening statement from Dr. Fiona Hill.

Finally, it comes down to whether Republicans will accept facts and evidence.

Steve Benen observes that, “As every pro-Trump talking point gradually implodes, I can only assume the president and his cohorts will soon be reduced to saying that evidence is no longer relevant at all.”

Adam Schiff made a similar observation in his applauded closing speech on Thursday.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Fiona Hill's opening statement Thursday morning. It's a stunning rebuke of GOP 2016 Ukraine fiction.

Here is some of the text from the NY Times of Dr. Fiona Hill’s opening statement in the impeachment hearing Thursday morning. (Block quotes are suppressed; emphases added.)

Opening Statement of Dr. Fiona Hill
to the House of Representatives
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

November 21, 2019

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Nunes, and members of the Committee. Thank you for inviting me to testify before you today. I have a short opening statement.

I appreciate the importance of the Congress’s impeachment inquiry.

I am appearing today as a fact witness, as I did during my deposition on October 14th, in order to answer your questions about what I saw, what I did, what I knew, and what I know with regard to the subjects of your inquiry. I believe that those who have information that the Congress deems relevant have a legal and moral obligation to provide it.

I take great pride in the fact that I am a nonpartisan foreign policy expert, who has served under three different Republican and Democratic presidents. I have no interest in advancing the outcome of your inquiry in any particular direction, except toward the truth.

I will not provide a long narrative statement, because I believe that the interest of Congress and the American people is best served by allowing you to ask me your questions. I am happy to expand upon my October 14th deposition testimony in response to your questions today.

But before I do so, I would like to communicate two things.

First, I’d like to share a bit about who I am. … [Scriber: Here follows Hill’s description of her family and her credentials. Following is the second thing she communicates to the Committee.]

Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.

The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies, confirmed in bipartisan Congressional reports. It is beyond dispute, even if some of the underlying details must remain classified.

The impact of the successful 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today. Our nation is being torn apart. Truth is questioned. Our highly professional and expert career foreign service is being undermined.

U.S. support for Ukraine—which continues to face armed Russian aggression—has been politicized.

The Russian government’s goal is to weaken our country—to diminish America’s global role and to neutralize a perceived U.S. threat to Russian interests. President Putin and the Russian security services aim to counter U.S. foreign policy objectives in Europe, including in Ukraine, where Moscow wishes to reassert political and economic dominance.

I say this not as an alarmist, but as a realist. I do not think long-term conflict with Russia is either desirable or inevitable. I continue to believe that we need to seek ways of stabilizing our relationship with Moscow even as we counter their efforts to harm us. Right now, Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We are running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.

As Republicans and Democrats have agreed for decades, Ukraine is a valued partner of the United States, and it plays an important role in our national security. And as I told this Committee last month, I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine—not Russia—attacked us in 2016.

These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes. President Putin and the Russian security services operate like a Super PAC. They deploy millions of dollars to weaponize our own political opposition research and false narratives. When we are consumed by partisan rancor, we cannot combat these external forces as they seek to divide us against each another, degrade our institutions, and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.

I respect the work that this Congress does in carrying out its constitutional responsibilities, including in this inquiry, and I am here to help you to the best of my ability. If the President, or anyone else, impedes or subverts the national security of the United States in order to further domestic political or personal interests, that is more than worthy of your attention. But we must not let domestic politics stop us from defending ourselves against the foreign powers who truly wish us harm.

The Trumpublicans want to 'get to the bottom of what happened.' The thing is, there is no bottom.

The GOPlins want to “get to the bottom of what happened”. Yet they, via the White House’s stonewall, resist providing access to documents and individuals who might provide critical information. In the absence of such information, we rely on testimony under oath of others, like Ambassador Sondland.

THe NY Times Editorial Board recounts how Sondland Has Implicated the President and His Top Men. Congress now needs to hear from more witnesses before an impeachment vote.

Their conclusion is important.

It’s worth emphasizing this point: All the witnesses whose testimony has been damaging to Mr. Trump have given that testimony under oath. All of those who we are led to believe would exonerate the president have so far refused to testify.

Remember, all of these people were fully aware of what was going on, according to Mr. Sondland. As he said, “Everyone was in the loop,” and he took exception to the effort being characterized as an “irregular channel” of diplomacy.

“I’m not sure how someone could characterize something as an irregular channel when you’re talking to the president of the United States, the secretary of state, the national security adviser, the chief of staff of the White House, the secretary of energy,” Mr. Sondland said.

Dan Goldman, the staff lawyer for the Democrats, asked if these witnesses would be able to provide key information about the events in question. “I think they would,” Mr. Sondland replied.

If Mr. Trump truly believes he insisted on no conditions for the White House meeting and the aid for Ukraine, he has a clear choice: Let people testify. At this point it’s hard to see what reason they have for continuing to refuse. Nor is there any justification for the administration to refuse to turn over the underlying documents and notes made by those witnesses who have already testified.

Americans shouldn’t be distracted by Republican smoke bombs, but they should also not be satisfied with a truncated inquiry into a question as consequential as whether the president of the United States should be removed from office. There is already abundant evidence that Mr. Trump has abused his power, holding out hundreds of millions of dollars to secure a bribe from a foreign government he wanted to investigate his political rival. In the process, he undermined American national security, and he is continuing to obstruct efforts by a coequal branch of government to get to the bottom of what happened.

These are classic examples of impeachable offenses; some are federal crimes. It is essential for the House to conduct a thorough inquiry, including hearing testimony from critical players who have yet to appear. Right now, the House Intelligence Committee has not scheduled testimony from any witnesses after Thursday. That is a mistake. No matter is more urgent, but it should not be rushed — for the protection of the nation’s security, and for the integrity of the presidency, and for the future of the Republic.

Trump’s defense

Backing up to Sondland’s testimony on Wednesday morning, Judd Legum at popular.info provides a readable summary (in a Subscriber’s Post).

On September 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. 58 days later, there are no questions left to be answered. It is indisputable that Trump committed multiple impeachable acts in an effort to pressure the government of Ukraine to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.

Any ambiguity ended on Wednesday, with the testimony of Trump’s Ambassador to the European Union, Gordan Sondland. While Republicans were quick to dismiss other witnesses as “Never Trumpers,” Sondland is the opposite. He donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration.

Trump himself, just last month, described Sondland as “a really good man and great American.” But Sondland’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee was absolutely devastating.

The call summary released by the White House established that Trump asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival. That, in itself, is impeachable. But Republicans insisted that a “quid pro quo” was necessary for Trump to be truly culpable. On that question, Sondland left no ambiguity. Here’s an excerpt from Sondland’s opening statement:

I know that members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a “quid pro quo?” As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.

Sondland testified that he personally pressured the Ukranian government to announce an investigation of Bursima, the company that employed Hunter Biden, and the DNC, “at the express direction of the president.” Sondland advised the Ukrainians that making such a statement was the way to get the things they wanted from Trump, including a White House meeting and hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid.

Sondland detailed this in a statement he provided to the committee after his closed-door deposition:

Also, I now do recall a conversation on September 1, 2019, in Warsaw with [Zelensky aide Andriy] Yermak. This brief pull-aside conversation followed the larger meeting involving Vice President Pence and President Zelensky, in which President Zelensky had raised the issue of the suspension of U.S. aid to Ukraine directly with Vice President Pence. After that large meeting, I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak, where I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.

Sondland’s testimony holds particular weight not only because he is a Trump supporter but also because he was in frequent direct contact with Trump and Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Guiliani.

Trump’s brief defense

Trump appeared in front of the White House and delivered a short statement. Trump focused on a September 9 phone call with Sondland. In the phone call, Sondland asked what Trump wanted from Ukraine in exchange for releasing military aid.

Trump quoted himself, according to Sondland’s testimony. “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”

But Trump left out a critical point. After saying he wanted nothing, Trump also demanded that Zelensky make a public statement announcing the investigations to “clear things up.” In other words, after denying there was a quid pro quo, Trump described a quid pro quo.

Trump also tried to distance himself from Sondland. “I don’t know him very well. I have not spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well. He seems like a nice guy though,” Trump said.

That’s classic Trump. When some persons disagrees with him, he denies knowledge of them – even though those persons were appointed by him to the posts they hold. “This is not a man I know well.” A man, by the way, who donated a million bucks to Trump in his 2016 presidential campaign.

The Trumpublicans want to ‘get to the bottom of what happened.’ The thing is, there is no bottom.

'if you’re attacking the character of a decorated American war hero for having the audacity to tell the truth, you’re losing.'

Here’s the rest of that story.

In Wednesday morning email, Charlie Sykes writing in The Bulwark fingers the GOP for their trashing of Lt. Col. Vindman and Jennifer Williams.

Let’s start this busy Wednesday with a mea culpa. A few weeks back I suggested that my fellow Wisconsinite Sean Duffy’s botched attempt to smear Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman had exposed “(at least for now) the limits of Trumpian indecency.”

CORRECTION: This was wrong. There is no limit.

As Rick Wilson put it so colorfully, the message yesterday to Vindman from TrumpWorld was essentially: “F*ck You For Your Service.”.

Vindman, he writes, came before the committee “carrying a powerful weapon: a reminder of the honor, modesty and integrity that have disappeared in the frothing Trumpian version of American military values.”

Vindman did so knowing that the Trump social media hate machine will focus on him now. The military has moved his family onto an army base for security. Twitter is flooded with threats, insults, and accusations of treason, pedophilia, and espionage. It’s the usual Trumpworld immune system response; anyone, anywhere who opposes this President is to be destroyed.

We knew that was coming. It’s part of the landscape now. What even the pessimists didn’t expect was that the House minority would go as low as it did.

House minority counsel Steven Castor’s line of questioning was pathetic, a transparent attempt to accuse Vindman of dual loyalties that even in this low moment shocked America. His sneering insinuation that Vindman was somehow compromised by the Ukrainian government’s offer of the job of Minister of Defense, an offer he declined and promptly reported, was a moment where even Republican members of the committee looked uncomfortable, and those shameless motherfuckers would watch Trump eat a live baby and laugh it off. Castor even asked what language the offer was made in (it was English.)

Naturally, all of it came from the top:. The Daily Beast reports that the Trump White House took “the extraordinary step of distributing talking points to allies of the president trashing one of its employees.”

Exit take: there is no bottom.

About that which is coming from the top …

A White House Now ‘Cannibalizing Itself’ reports Peer Baker at the NY Times. Even for a president who rarely spares the rhetorical howitzer, this was something new.

WASHINGTON — As Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman sat in a stately chamber testifying on Tuesday, the White House posted on its official Twitter account a message denouncing his judgment. His fellow witness, Jennifer Williams, had barely left the room when the White House issued a statement challenging her credibility.

In President Trump’s Washington, where attacks on his enemies real or perceived have become so routine that they now often pass unnoticed, that might not seem all that remarkable — but for the fact that Colonel Vindman and Ms. Williams both still work for the very same White House that was publicly assailing them.

With the president’s allies joining in, the two aides found themselves condemned as nobodies, as plotting bureaucrats, as traitors within and, in Colonel Vindman’s case, as an immigrant with dual loyalties. Even for a president who rarely spares the rhetorical howitzer, that represents a new level of bombardment.

Mr. Trump has publicly disparaged cabinet secretaries, former aides and career officials working elsewhere in the government, but now he is taking aim at people still working for him inside the White House complex by name.

"This White House appears to be cannibalizing itself,” said William C. Inboden, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush. “While many previous White House staffs have feuded with each other and leaked against each other, this is the first time in history I am aware of a White House openly attacking its own staff — especially for merely upholding their constitutional duties.”

White House, Republicans take aim at war hero to defend Trump reports Steve Benen at MSNBC/MaddowBlog. Some is complementary to Baker’s report (above).

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is the top Ukraine expert on the White House National Security Council. As part of the ongoing impeachment proceedings, he’s also a witness with tough-to-dismiss credibility: the lieutenant colonel is a decorated U.S. Army combat veteran who earned a Purple Heart.

And as the world saw yesterday, Vindman also has devastating insights into Donald Trump’s apparent wrongdoing as part of the Ukraine extortion scheme. For his trouble, as NBC News noted, the war hero “faced repeated character attacks from several House Intelligence Republicans,” including not-so-subtle innuendo about his loyalties.

In one case, Steve Castor, the counsel for committee Republicans, asked a series of questions about whether Vindman had at one point been offered the post of Ukrainian defense minister by a Ukrainian politician.

Vindman, for his part, said such a request occurred three times, but that he dismissed the offers immediately, reported them to his superiors and to counterintelligence authorities, and told Castor it’s no secret where his allegiance is.

“I’m an American,” he said.

That the topic came up at all seemed to be part of a clear effort by Republican to discredit the allegiance of Vindman. Several conservatives have used the same tactic, including Fox News personalities.

By most measures, it was the ugliest thing we’ve seen as part of the public impeachment hearings. Dana Milbank noted, “[F]or pure maliciousness, it is hard to top the gall of Trump partisans who question Vindman’s loyalty.” The columnist characterized it as “sheer McCarthyism.”

As dishonorable as the House Republicans’ conduct appeared, things were no better a mile and a half down Pennsylvania Avenue. The New York Times reported overnight on the White House going after Vindman and Jennifer Williams, a top foreign policy adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, by name.

In President Trump’s Washington, where attacks on his enemies real or perceived have become so routine that they now often pass unnoticed, that might not seem all that remarkable – but for the fact that Colonel Vindman and Ms. Williams both still work for the very same White House that was publicly assailing them.

With the president’s allies joining in, the two aides found themselves condemned as nobodies, as plotting bureaucrats, as traitors within and, in Colonel Vindman’s case, as an immigrant with dual loyalties. Even for a president who rarely spares the rhetorical howitzer, that represents a new level of bombardment.

Mr. Trump has publicly disparaged cabinet secretaries, former aides and career officials working elsewhere in the government, but now he is taking aim at people still working for him inside the White House complex by name.

The article quoted William Inboden, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush, saying, “While many previous White House staffs have feuded with each other and leaked against each other, this is the first time in history I am aware of a White House openly attacking its own staff – especially for merely upholding their constitutional duties.”

This included the president himself, who took some time at yesterday’s cabinet meeting to take a few rhetorical shots at the lieutenant colonel, even making a snide comment about Vindman appearing on Capitol Hill in uniform.

I realize that Vindman’s testimony was brutally effective and did the White House no favors. But if you’re attacking the character of a decorated American war hero for having the audacity to tell the truth, you’re losing.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Trump confounds the science - a great parody

Scriber’s output these days is low due to competition from the impeachment hearings. But I had to do this one.

Great Simon and Garfunkel “Sound of Silence” parody about Trump is a great find - by friend of Scriber Miriam Lindmeier..

There are some great music parodies coming from Parody Project, which look at today’s politics in all of its strangeness. “Confounds the Science” is about Trump’s tweets and stupidity. Here are the first two verses:

Hello darkness my old friend.

It’s time for him to tweet again,

but first he’ll have to check in with Fox news

‘cause that’s the only place he gets his clues.

That’s how things get planted in his brain,

where they remain,

and it confounds the science.

The problem is he’s not alone.

He tweets to people on his phone

that global warming is a giant hoax

perpetuated by the liberal folks,

and he hires people that all think the same,

that play his game

and it confounds the science.

Monday, November 18, 2019

All the ways the Trumpian defense by the Cracker Graham crumbles

U. S. Sen. Lindsey ‘Cracker’ Graham Says He Won’t Accept Senate Trial Until Whistleblower Is Exposed (from TalkingPointsMemo).

Within hours of acting ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor’s public testimony Wednesday, during which he dropped an explosive new claim about a previously unknown conversation that President Trump had with EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) declared that he’s still on a crusade to expose the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry.

(From Fox News via TPM) Graham: “I will not accept a trial in the Senate until I know who the whistleblower is.”

Let’s stop there for the moment for counterpoints.

First, the “explosive new claim” will go public this week in testimony by people with direct knowledge of that conversation. So the hearsay defense is itself DOA.

Second, the investigation is way beyond what the whistleblower contributed. Those allegations have been substantiated several times by other people with direct knowledge of what went on in the July 25 conversation. So the only reason for obtaining the identity of the whistleblower is retribution by Trump and his sycophants and that in itself would be breaking the law.

There is more.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Trump privately discussed with aides whether to fire Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson for reporting the whistleblower’s complaint to Congress, which addressed the President’s now-infamous July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Third, that confirms my assertion above about Trump’s malicious intentions with respect to the whistleblower.

And, if all that were not bad enough …

On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that some Republicans are mulling delaying and extending the impeachment trial in the Senate to force Democratic senators in the 2020 presidential race to stay in Washington and away from early primary states.

The rest of the TPM reporting follows the break.

Trump's smear of Yovanovitch is really about himself

The New Yorker satirist, Andy Borowitz, reports on Trump’s psychological projection onto former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in “Everywhere She Went Turned Bad,” Says Man with Six Bankruptcies.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In a blistering tweet on Friday, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was accused of leaving a trail of destruction by a man with six bankruptcies and multiple business failures.

“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” wrote the man, who ran the now defunct United States Football League into the ground and paid twenty-five million dollars to settle fraud charges against a fake university bearing his name.

“She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” tweeted the man, whose lengthy roster of bankruptcies includes the Trump Taj Mahal (1991), Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino (1992), the Plaza Hotel (1992), Trump Castle Hotel and Casino (1992), Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts (2004), and Trump Entertainment Resorts (2009).

“Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her,” continued the man, who founded such business fiascoes as the Trump Shuttle airline, Trump Vodka, and Trump Steaks.

At the House of Representatives, Representative Devin Nunes vigorously defended the man’s controversial tweets. “He is calling out someone for creating disasters everywhere she goes, and no one is more qualified to talk about that than he is,” Nunes said.

Add to all that the dissolution of the Trump Foundation for cause and the fine paid by Trump.

Just remember Rick Wilson’s observation: everything Trump touches dies.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

A time line for everything you need to know about the Ukraine bribery scandal

Cinco amigos
The cinco amigos:
those who Trump never met

The AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona provides a lengthy time line covering Everything you need to know about the Ukraine scandal and impeachment. Here is just a small part of it covering the definition of bribery and as practiced by Trump, Giuliani, and the others shown in this photo. (Top level block quotes are suppressed. Following is quoted from the Blue Meanie’s post.)

The other insane talking point coming from Republicans and Trump TV is that extortion is not in the constitution and neither is attempted bribery (as grounds for impeachment), and in any case, Trump never received the payoff he asked for. Laura Ingraham: “Attempted bribery isn’t in the Constitution”.

Bribery is expressly stated as grounds for impeachment in the Constitution, and it is the solicitation of a bribe that is the offense, one does not have to actually receive anything in return. The Founders Would Have Called Out Trump for Bribery:

The bribery charge sticks to Trump whether one looks to federal law or to the understanding of bribery in the era of the Framers.

Aaron Blake reports on current law at The Washington Post:

The federal bribery statute says someone has committed bribery if he or she is a “public official” who “directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally … in return for … being influenced in the performance of any official act.” The argument here would be that Trump sought politically helpful investigations from Ukraine in exchange for releasing military aid and/or granting a much-sought Oval Office meeting for its president, Volodymyr Zelensky. To date, six officials have said there was some kind of quid pro quo there.

As for bribery as the Framers understood it, a trio of attorneys writing at Lawfare quote 18th- and early–19th-century legal treatises to show that the constitutional understanding was even broader than what federal law now prohibits––put simply, bribery was “understood as an officeholder’s abuse of the power of an office to obtain a private benefit rather than for the public interest.”

They go on to explain:

The understanding of bribery at the Founding maps perfectly onto Trump’s conduct in his call with Zelensky. As noted above, Trump made clear to Zelensky that he was asking him for a “favor”—not a favor to benefit the United States as a whole or the public interest, but a favor that would accrue to the personal benefit of Trump by harming his political rival. Trump’s request that Zelensky work with his private attorney, Rudy Giuliani, underscores that Trump was seeking a private benefit. And Trump was not seeking this “undue reward” (to quote “Russell on Crimes” and the Delaware statute) as a mere aside unrelated to the president’s official role. Rather, he did so in the course of an official diplomatic conversation with a head-of-state.

In fact, Rudy Giuliani has since stated, “The investigation I conducted concerning 2016 Ukrainian collusion and corruption, was done solely as a defense attorney to defend my client against false charges, that kept changing as one after another were disproven,” characterizing his own actions as something not done to benefit the American people, but done “solely” to benefit Trump.

The Lawfare authors continue:

The transcript makes clear that Trump tied together the request for a personal favor with the delivery of military aid. But even if he had not made such a direct connection, this sort of corrupt use of public office to obtain a private benefit fits squarely within the definition of bribery when the Constitution was written.

Moreover, given the specifics of the allegations against President Trump, it is noteworthy that nothing worried the Founders more than the possibility that the president would be corrupted by a foreign power. As Gouverneur Morris said about impeachment during the Constitutional Convention, “[The President] may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust; and no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate in foreign pay without being able to guard [against] it by displacing him.”

In reference to other Trump scandals, a debate about what constitutes “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” [abuse of power] may be necessary. But on the Ukraine matter, that debate doesn’t matter. What matters is whether Trump is guilty of “Bribery” as it is used in the Constitution. It would appear that he is.

(Scriber: See the original post from the Blue Meanie for citations.)

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Trump performs witness intimidation in real time. Yovanovitch answers with uncynical outrage.

A few days ago Trump attended a baseball game and got booed. Friday former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch publicly testified at the impeachment inquiry and got a standing ovation. Following are some observations on Yovanovitch’s testimony … and Trump’s further attempts to intimidate her.

Kathleen Parker (Washington Post) reports on how Trump saw the Yovanovitch hearing and just couldn’t bear being left out.

As former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was testifying Friday at the congressional impeachment hearings, the tyrannical 2-year-old occupying the Oval Office busied himself on Twitter trying to smear her. Presumably, there are no grown-ups left to mind him.

There he was, the president of the United States, apparently watching the proceedings, and he couldn’t bear being left out. He hurled insults at Yovanovitch in what House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) described as “witness intimidation in real time.” Not only was this an outrage bordering on criminal, Trump’s Twitter-tantrum conceivably could lead to an article of impeachment.

Aw, what’s another article or two?

This wasn’t Trump’s first time trying to bully — and, yes, intimidate — this highly respected public servant. Yovanovitch was an anti-corruption reformer in her role in war-torn Ukraine. But in May, for seemingly personal reasons, Trump fired her.

Ironically, Yovanovitch had learned of her ouster from Ukraine while honoring a murdered Ukrainian anti-corruption activist. She was told that she should get on a plane home that very day, according to her testimony. Trump likes this sort of thing, too. Remember that when James B. Comey was removed as FBI director two years ago, he was giving a pep talk to employees in the Los Angeles field office as wall-mounted televisions behind him began to flash “Comey Resigns.”

In her damning testimony last month during closed hearings, Yovanovitch said her firing was engineered in part by Giuliani, along with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were arrested last month on campaign-finance violations just as they were about to board a plane out of the country with one-way tickets. She claimed that the trio was conspiring with corrupt, old-guard Ukrainians to get her replaced with someone who would be more favorable to their “business dealings” — importing natural gas into Ukraine.

Plainly, Ukrainian natural gas is the stock to watch. For now, after the first two days of public hearings, it would seem that Trump and Giuliani are the bad news — and maybe soon they’ll be “going through some things” themselves.

Susan B. Glasser, in the New Yorker, reminds us that it is still possible to feel outrage citing In Trump’s Jaded Capital, Marie Yovanovitch’s Uncynical Outrage. A fired Ambassador demonstrates that it is apparently still possible to be shocked by the President – even through the “smear” conducted by Trump and his henchmen.

For a few hours on Friday, an unassuming career diplomat named Marie (Masha) Yovanovitch did something that I thought had become impossible in Donald Trump’s Washington: she managed to hold on to her amazement and outrage at the President’s amazing and outrageous actions. In this hyper-partisan, hyper-political time, she was neither. Nearly three years into this Presidency, that is no given. A state of weary cynicism has taken hold regarding Trump, among his supporters and also his critics. He is what he is. What can we do about it? Even impeachment has quickly come to be seen through this lens. Members of Congress are all too likely to vote the party line. Does any of it matter?

In hours of spellbinding testimony, on the second day of the House’s public impeachment hearings, Yovanovitch offered a decisive rebuttal to that way of thinking. She said that she had been surprised and appalled when Trump succumbed to a foreign disinformation campaign and fired her as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine based on false allegations trafficked by Rudy Giuliani, his private lawyer. She had taken on corrupt interests inside Ukraine, and those parties had, in turn, targeted her—and, unbelievably, it had worked. The President, the most powerful man in the world, had gone along with it. “It was terrible,” she said. Yovanovitch said that she was shocked when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo failed to issue a statement in her defense, although she had spent thirty-three years in the Foreign Service. She said that she was intimidated and incredulous when the President attacked her in a phone call with a foreign leader. She said that she felt threatened. These are simple truths, which is why they were so powerful. So was the question she posed to the members of the House Intelligence Committee arrayed on the dais in front of her: “How could our system fail like this?” That, of course, is a question for which Americans as yet have no real answer.

… Yovanovitch’s appearance was ultimately about what the hell the country is supposed to do with a President who is so manifestly unpresidential. Friday offered a chance to reflect on Trump’s conduct, to consider the extent of his boorishness, his poor judgment, his ignorance, his recklessness, and his callous disregard for anything other than his own personal interests. There will be many days and weeks to come in which to hash out what, if anything, in all this saga involving Ukraine, should be considered impeachable by Congress. But that is not the real import of Friday’s hearing, which was a rare opportunity for America to stop and take stock of Trump and what he has wrought. This was a day to contemplate the excesses of Donald John Trump.

For those who wondered about what an impeachment in the Twitter era would look like, the answer came hurtling from Trump’s phone at 10:01 a.m. The President of the United States was hate-tweeting a witness in real time, while she was testifying. In the tweet, he appeared to blame Yovanovitch for all the troubles of the countries to which she had been assigned in the course of her career. “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” he tweeted. Her service in war-torn Somalia had clearly stung the Vietnam draft dodger in the Oval Office, and he wrote, “She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” He finished off with a reminder of his “absolute right” to hire and fire Ambassadors.

This, if you haven’t detected it, is a classic case of psychological projection. Rick Wilson has observed that “everything Trump touches dies.” Trump is projecting his own personal malicious toxicity upon Yovanovitch.

Glasser concludes:

Yovanovitch’s firing has always struck me as problematic for Trump. Republican committee members did not attempt to defend it, and instead simply fell back on Trump’s right to fire her. Yovanovitch skewered that excuse after her G.O.P. questioners reminded her one too many times that Trump held this right. “The President has the right to withdraw an Ambassador at any time, for any reason,” Yovanovitch said, “but what I do wonder is, why was it necessary to smear my reputation?”

Why indeed. Because that’s the way real “human scum” operates.

Check out House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff’s closing remarks on Friday. Then, as the proceedings ended, Watch as former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch leaves the impeachment hearing to a standing ovation. Jen Hayden at Daily Kos reports.

Watching former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testify before the House impeachment hearing, one thing became crystal clear: She is a highly competent, dedicated career diplomat who has put her entire life in service the United States, serving in the State Department for 33 years. Even as the president of the United States smeared her in real time during her testimony, and Republicans were asking questions meant to subtly call her judgment and motives into question, Yovanovitch responded with dignity and professionalism. It became evident that she is an extremely valuable asset to the State Department and this nation.

The audience at the hearing apparently agreed, because at the conclusion of her testimony, as Republicans continued to grandstand and shout over House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff’s closing gavel, huge applause broke out in the chamber as Yovanovitch stood up from the hot seat and started to leave the room.

Here are a few clips showing just how thunderous the applause was in the hearing room: clip1 and clip2.

Tonight, let’s toast Marie Yovanovitch and all the patriots (and their families) who serve so devotedly as members of our diplomatic corps, shall we?

Trump tweets witness intimidation while watching Yovanovitch testimony. Jeff Flake - Trump is 'incapable of controlling himself'

The HuffPost reports that Marie Yovanovitch explains how Trump opened the door for corruption. If a bad-faith smear campaign worked against her, it’ll work again, the ousted ambassador told lawmakers in an impeachment hearing.

President Donald Trump’s decision to remove the former ambassador to Ukraine from her post over bad-faith smears dramatically undermined U.S. efforts to fight corruption worldwide, she told Congress in a public impeachment hearing Friday morning.

Over hours of testimony, Marie Yovanovitch described how the Trump administration bought into and advanced a coordinated campaign of lies about her launched by a Ukrainian official accused of corruption, right-wing pundits and Trump’s own lawyer. Trump warned that Yovanovitch was “going to go through some things” on his now-infamous July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports in the NY Times that Ex-Envoy to Ukraine ‘Devastated’ as Trump Vilified Her. As Marie Yovanovitch testified, President Trump tweeted insults at her, drawing charges of witness intimidation.

In a proceeding full of high points, this one stands out.

Ms. Yovanovitch’s public testimony, which played out over more than five hours in a packed and hushed House Ways and Means Committee Room, was an indictment of foreign policy in the Trump era, outlining the harm to American diplomacy and national security by a president who embraced false claims to target his own officials representing the United States overseas.

“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, at the very moment that Ms. Yovanovitch was testifying about having felt threatened by the president. “She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”

Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, interrupted his counsel’s questioning to read the president’s words aloud to Ms. Yovanovitch and to ask for her reaction. There were audible gasps in the room as he did so.

"It’s very intimidating,” she replied, taken aback.

To that, Mr. Schiff replied gravely, “Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”

Democrats said Mr. Trump’s comments were clear attempts by the president to intimidate a crucial witness in the impeachment inquiry and do the same to others who might yet come forward. They argued that the comments could constitute grounds for an article of impeachment against Mr. Trump.

Committee Chairman Schiff tweeted “Right now, President Trump is watching our hearing and tweeting baseless attacks against Ambassador Yovanovitch. This is witness intimidation in real time. And we won’t stand for it.”

Also in the Times, there is this by Michael D. Shear: With a Tweet, Trump Upends Republican Strategy for Dealing with Yovanovitch. House Republicans planned ahead, hoping to strike a respectful tone at Friday’s impeachment hearing. Mr. Trump’s tweet was exactly the kind of attack they had hoped to avoid.

(Thanks to Mrs. Scriber for this tip. Selected paragraphs were reordered by Scriber.)

Heading into Friday’s impeachment hearing, the Republican strategy for dealing with Marie L. Yovanovitch was simple: treat the ousted ambassador to Ukraine with respect during her testimony on Friday and avoid any appearance of bullying a veteran diplomat who had been vilified and driven from her post.

President Trump blew up the plan.

By repeating the same kind of verbal attack that made Ms. Yovanovitch a sympathetic witness for the Democrats in the first place, Mr. Trump undercut his own party’s best chance at minimizing the impact of her testimony. And he handed Democrats another new argument — that his tweet amounted to nothing less than witness intimidation that itself could become an article of impeachment.

“That was not part of the plan, obviously,” said Jeff Flake, the former Republican senator from Arizona, who clashed repeatedly with Mr. Trump before he retired in 2017. “He can’t help himself. You would think every instinct would be to lay off. She’s a sympathetic witness. But he seems just to be incapable of controlling himself.”

White House aides insisted on Friday that the president was too busy to watch the hearing, but in fact, he chose to watch Ms. Yovanovitch, who had stuck in his craw because he saw her as an obstacle to his desire to have investigations into Hunter Biden, the younger son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., people close to Mr. Trump said.

[Trump’s] decision to fling the sharp-edged insult an hour into Ms. Yovanovitch’s testimony was the latest evidence — as if any more was needed — that Mr. Trump’s instincts are rarely in sync with the interests of his party.

On the first day of the impeachment hearings on Wednesday, the president had managed to avoid commenting about the two men who testified — William B. Taylor Jr., the top diplomat in Ukraine, and George P. Kent, a senior State Department official.

Mr. Trump’s congressional allies … had planned to be especially careful with Ms. Yovanovitch.

On Thursday, they met for several hours in Room HVC–215 of the Capitol for a practice session aimed at coordinating their overall message, with members who were not on the Intelligence Committee playing the parts of the former ambassador and Representative Adam B. Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence committee.

And then the human volcano trashed all that with a single tweet.

Trump presents as having no self-control and being beyond control by even his closest advisors and members of his Trumpublican party. That impulsivity is a dangerous characteristic of a national leader. But that’s true only if Trump is a democratic leader. He is not. He is an autocrat, a dictator, a modern day King George.

Step back and look at the larger picture, the forrest, if you will. The inquiry is about whether we will still have a democracy at the end of 2020 and whether we are a nation of laws.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Wednesday was a 'bad, bad day' for Republicans but 'not as outlandish as it could be'

That second quote in this post’s title was uttered by the Republican staff lawyer, Stephen Castor. My sources saw nothing good in the performance of the GOPlins in the impeachment hearing. If you disagree, you should think about switching to a different vaping flavor.

AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona leads off with Some thoughts about the first impeachment hearing.

The first public impeachment hearing on Wednesday went exactly as I predicted it would. Democrats approached the proceedings with a high degree of sobriety and seriousness. Republicans engaged in disruption, distraction, and disinformation in an effort to undermine the credibility of the proceedings. They only served to undermine their own credibility.

The State Department experts on Ukraine, who are fact witnesses, laid out a concise statement of the facts of why they were “concerned” about President Trump extorting the president of Ukraine to open an investigation into unfounded conspiracy theories about Ukraine interference in the 2016 election, and unfounded conspiracy theories about Joe Biden, in exchange for (quid pro quo) a White House visit and the release of security assistance approved by Congress but delayed by the White House to exert leverage over Ukraine to get the investigations that Trump wanted.

Ambassador William Taylor, in particular, provided a detailed chronology of the events and explanation for his concerns. In his opening statement Taylor told members of Congress that President Donald Trump directed officials to tie foreign aid to his demands that Ukraine open an investigation into the Biden family and the 2016 election.

Ambassador Taylor added one “bombshell” detail not previously discussed in his earlier deposition, because he only recently learned of it. Impeachment hearings begin with new evidence of phone call implicating Trump in Ukraine controversy:

The call, overheard by one of Taylor’s aides, puts the president more squarely in the middle of the swirling Ukraine scandal … “The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about ‘the investigations,’ ” Taylor told lawmakers, adding that he understood that they were following up on the matter a day after Trump spoke with Ukraine’s new leader, Volodymyr Zelensky. “Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.” Taylor said that at the conclusion of the call, his aide asked Sondland what Trump thought of Ukraine and Sondland responded that “President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.”

David Holmes, the Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and the aide referred to by Ambassador William Taylor, is expected to testify in a closed session deposition on Friday.

UPDATE: The AP reports, Second US official in Kyiv heard Trump call: The second diplomatic staffer also at the table was Suriya Jayanti, a foreign service officer based in Kyiv. Jayanti was in Washington last month and scheduled for a closed-door interview with impeachment investigators. But the deposition was canceled because of the funeral for former House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings and has not yet been rescheduled.

This blows up one of the Republican defenses that this was a “rogue operation” by Rudy Giuliani, Gordon Sondland, and possibly Mick Mulvaney. Republicans Want to Throw Giuliani and Sondland Under the Bus. Their Plan Is Ridiculous. Taylor draws a direct line to President Trump as the director of this scheme.

And by the way, Ambassador Sondland’s cellphone call to Trump from Kyiv restaurant was a stunning breach of security exposing the conversation to surveillance by foreign intelligence services, including Russia’s, former U.S. officials said. (It is almost a certainty that U.S. intelligence surveillance also intercepts all cell phone calls in Ukraine.)

The NY Times Editorial Board thinks that the Republicans’ Best Defense Is a Bad Offense What the day’s impeachment hearings revealed.

One thing we all probably knew, if you want to mount a defense of anything, you would not pick Rep. Jim Jordan as your champion.

Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio set their tone and pace, apparently betting that a sustained note of incredulity and a motor-mouth delivery could distract listeners from the fragility of his arguments. He insisted the president couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong because, in the end, Ukraine got its money without committing to any investigations.

This point of view has radical implications for America’s system of justice and overcrowded prisons, if Mr. Jordan in fact truly believes that all inmates convicted of attempted crimes are innocent of wrongdoing.

Another thing the TV audience should have learned was that we owe a lot to stand-up public servants like George Kent and Bill Taylor.

[The TV audience] learned they are still served by people of integrity who are committed to advancing the national interest. The day’s two witnesses, George Kent and William Taylor, both deeply experienced diplomats, provided precise, scrupulously nonpartisan and damning testimony about the effort at the center of the inquiry: the secretive shakedown of Ukraine by Mr. Trump and his associates, for the president’s political gain.

And those Americans who tuned in also learned that the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have set themselves a degrading task. Rather than engage the facts about Mr. Trump’s Ukrainian escapade, they are twisting them and eliding them and inventing new ones they’d prefer. They spent most of Wednesday stuffing straw men and then ostentatiously knocking them down.

My nomination for the OMG moment.:

Perhaps the most telling remark was offered by a Republican staff lawyer, Stephen Castor, who suggested that while the president’s behavior may have been highly irregular, “it’s not as outlandish as it could be.” Here’s a tip: When “not as outlandish as it could be” is your strongest defense, it’s time to rethink your position.

Charlie Sykes writing at The Bulwark lists “Ten Takeaway Points from Day One.” My abbreviated version with snippets follows.

It went badly for Trump. “The witnesses, William Taylor and George Kent were impressive, succinct, unflappable, and damaging to the president,” …

The GOP questioning was… awful. More that from other sources below.

The bored teenager response is a tactic, but also a tell. “TrumpWorld is loudly complaining that it is already booooooored, by this whole impeachment thing. … indeed, the GOP seemed to do their very best to drain the hearing of drama by making it as confusing and inane as possible. But their efforts to get America to tune out also suggests they understood that the show was not helping their guy.” Even the GOP insiders took exception as exemplified by this tweet: “this is a massive f*ck!ing sh!t show” "no one wants to be here.

It was a bad day for conspiracy theories: “Some of the GOP committee members seemed intent on venturing deep into the rabbit hole of the various conspiracy theories that have been floated about Ukraine.” "Kent was having none of it. As the Washington Post noted, the bow tied diplomat, “emerged as a forceful debunker of some of the most frequently cited assertions and conspiracy theories among Trump’s allies.”

The complaints about “hearsay” were lame. “The complaints also served to remind viewers that Trump is aggressively blocking the testimony of aides who did have direct contact with the president. His obstruction of that testimony is likely to constitute a separate article of impeachment.”

No harm no foul? “ The other threadbare talking point on display was the argument that since the military aid was eventually released there was no harm and therefore no misconduct. Ambassador Taylor seemed to address that directly when he said: “Even as we sit here today, the Russians are attacking Ukrainian soldiers in their own country and have been for the last four years. I saw this on the front line last week; the day I was there a Ukrainian soldier was killed and four were wounded.””

Character matters. Wednesday’s testimony provided the country with a stark choice." - between having our kids grow up to be like Trump or Taylor.

The cringe worthiness of the House GOP was on full display. “What was on display on Capitol Hill on Wednesday was not simply an impeachment inquiry into an unscrupulous president,” writes Peter Wehner. “It was the on-going, deepening complicity and corruption of the party he leads.” And it was embarrassing. John Ratcliffe, who was actually once in line to be named Director of National Intelligence said: “If they impeach President Trump for blackmail or extortion or making threats or demands, they have to call President Trump a liar to do it.”

Well, yes.

Rick Wilson, Editor-At-Large of The Daily Beast, does a caustic number on the House Republicans in All the President’s Fools Couldn’t Put Trump’s ‘Perfect Call’ Together Again Wednesday’s impeachment hearing was a contest of gravitas that the skells, sycophants, and dead-end goons on the committee were bound to lose—and did.

Wednesday’s opening act of the impeachment of Donald J. Trump was only going to end one way for Trump and his defenders, and that was badly.

In the face of two credible, nonpartisan witnesses of unimpeachable character and service, the Trump House Clown Caucus brought their A-game, and instead of changing the dialogue and owning the libs they managed to validate the witnesses, embarrass themselves, and doubtlessly enrage the Audience of One.

You could practically hear him screaming all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue as his allies’ carefully constructed tower of bullshit collapsed under the matter-of-fact, up-the-middle baritone recitation of his plan from men who lived through the Ukraine scandal.

And that was just the beginning of Wilson’s scathing evaluation.

Ambassador Bill Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, two experienced government hands, played their roles to perfection. In particular, Taylor’s bravura 41-minute statement was a riveting tick-tock of the why, when, and how of Trump’s attempt to corruptly abuse American power to gain domestic political advantage. Taylor deftly drew a binding timeline that showed the role Rudy Giuliani and Trump cat’s paw Gordon Sondland played in trying to suborn the cooperation of Ukraine’s new government into a false investigation of Joe Biden. George Kent’s knowledge of Ukraine, its politics, and the damage Trump’s efforts wrought was as granular as it was damning.

It was a contest of gravitas that Trump’s skells, sycophants, and dead-end goons on the committee were bound to lose—and did. Jordan, Nunes, and the rest were so overmatched by Taylor and Kent that it was almost laughable.

Jordan, as always, was without a jacket, an appropriately knotted necktie, or a clue. His gotchas didn’t get anything, his predicates were as thin as his combover, and his belief that he’d save the day by talking louder and faster was a flop. He was rattling off “questions” so fast that he sounded like an auctioneer who had discovered the joy of cocaine. …

Trump’s defense and defenders like motor mouth Jordan are not the only GOP casualties as Wednesday’s hearing closed out.

… one element of the Republican show on Day One was the constant repetition of the so-called hearsay defense. In the mayfly world of the Trump GOP, they act as if tomorrow will never come, and Gordon Sondland will never testify. They seem to believe that executive privilege will never be broken or the testimony of others ordered. Democrats need to emphasize that the hearsay question could be easily resolved by letting White House and State Department personnel testify.

The weak link is, of course, Gordon Sondland, who was Trump’s do-boy in Ukraine. He spoke directly to the president, repeatedly. We will discover soon enough the contents of those direct conversations with Trump, including the cover-up call in which Trump ordered him to tell Volker there was no quid pro quo. The consciousness of guilt in that would be evident to even the meanest, dumbest Trump defender. Yes, Devin, I’m looking at you, you dolt.

It was a bad day for Mick Mulvaney and Rudy Giuliani. Both men were implicated very directly in the testimony of both Kent and Taylor. For Giuliani, well, he was everywhere in the testimony, increasing his political radioactivity, and the odds that Trump will be forced to pursue the strategy Republican leaders leaked to Axios on Wednesday morning: framing the entire fiasco as Rudy running his own game in Ukraine and bamboozling an innocent President Trump. The evidence—and again, just on the first day—shows that’s an outrageous lie, and it’s never going to pass the smell test. Trump’s nervousness over Rudy in the wind, broke and angry, is delicious.

Mulvaney, a man with a face like a terrified rodent, has for weeks kept his twitching nose to the wind, smelling the pungent musk of White House predators all around him and knowing that his role is, at best, lunch. Taylor’s direct testimony of a Mulvaney aide confirming the shutoff of Ukraine aid draws yet another line of contact directly back to the Acting Provisional Kinda Chief of Staff and the President. Anyone who thinks a man with Mulvaney’s wee cojones was freelancing, I’d suggest they stop day-drinking. Mulvaney was acting on orders. The line goes to the top.

It was a bad, bad day for Trump. His defenders on the committee came in believing that keeping him, Fox News, and the Republican base happy would save the day. It won’t.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Bill Taylor drops 'bombshell' in first day of televised impeachment hearings

Andrew Prokop reports at vox.com that Ambassador Bill Taylor dropped a bombshell in his impeachment hearing opening statement. He said a member of his staff gave an account of a previously unknown Trump phone call.

Toward the end of his opening statement in the first public impeachment hearing Wednesday, diplomat Bill Taylor dropped a bombshell.

Last week, Taylor testified, a member of his staff told him of a previously unknown phone call involving President Donald Trump — one that points to further personal involvement by the president in pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

This call took place on July 26, the day after Trump’s now-infamous phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Taylor’s staff member told him that Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland had called Trump on the phone from a restaurant; the staffer was present for that call. During the call, the staffer heard Trump ask Sondland about “the investigations,” and Sondland replied that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.

"Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine,” Taylor said. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”

It’s yet another damning revelation in the scandal, one that further debunks the president’s defenders’ argument that there was nothing to see here. And it’s momentous because it suggests that Trump was very personally involved in what Sondland was telling the Ukrainians.

More of Taylor’s testimony follows the break.

It appears that Taylor’s “member of his staff” is David Holmes who is expected to testify in closed session, according to Heavy.com, Top Taylor Aide Expected to Testify Friday.

David Holmes is the Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and a top aide to William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.

Holmes is one of two additional witnesses expected to speak in closed sessions on Friday.

Per the U.S. Embassy’s site, Holmes is the Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. He is also a top aide to Taylor.

Per Axios, Holmes worked at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine under Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. He is still working at the embassy under Taylor.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Public hearings start this morning. Will the GOP rise to the occasion - or will they roll over for Trump

When the GOP Rose To The Occasion writes Charlie Sykes in The Bulwark. Bill Kristol’s tweet is featured:

A new video from Republicans for the Rule of Law, reminding House Republicans how some of their predecessors rose to the occasion 45 years ago. Will at least some of today’s Republicans put country and Constitution first?

The ad will air on Fox and will be promoted digitally.

Fox?!?!?!?! Wow! It’s a good ad.

The test starts this morning as the impeachment inquiry hearings go public. It is not likely that the current crop of Republicans in the House will rise to the occasion. Watch for it.

Michelle Goldberg tells us how To Exonerate Trump, Republicans Embrace Russian Disinformation. In this week’s impeachment hearings, expect a lot of G.O.P. conspiracy theorizing.

Jordan
Jim Jordan will lay bare the canards

Stay on the lookout for this guy. He spreads more duck sh!t than Trump. Here’s what Goldberg has to say.

On Friday, House investigators released the transcript of the former National Security Council official Fiona Hill’s testimony from last month. It showed a Republican staff member trying and failing to get Hill to concede that there might be some validity to the conspiracy theories underlying Donald Trump’s demands of President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.

“Are you familiar with the, you know, the allegation about Serhiy Leshchenko?” asked the Republican aide, Steve Castor. He added, “You know, relating to publicizing Manafort’s role in the Ukraine?”

Leshchenko, whom I interviewed in October, is a former member of Parliament in Ukraine and probably the most famous investigative journalist in the country. He helped expose the so-called black ledger that listed $12.7 million in secret payments to Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, from his client Viktor Yanukovych, the wildly corrupt Russian-aligned oligarch who ruled Ukraine until 2014. Manafort is in federal prison in part for failing to disclose or pay taxes on the millions he sucked out of Ukraine. Nevertheless, to make Trump’s demands of Zelensky seem just and rational, some Republicans have started painting Manafort as the victim of Leshchenko’s plotting.

Hill, a Russia expert and co-author of a psychological study of Vladimir Putin, tried to shut down this line of questioning. “The Ukrainian government did not interfere in the U.S. election,” she said, adding, “The Ukrainian Special Services also did not interfere in our election.” As the Republican questions continued, Hill seems to have grown almost indignant. “I’m really worried about these conspiracy theories, and I’m worried that all of you are going to go down a rabbit hole, you know, looking for things that are not going to be at all helpful to the American people or to our future election in 2020,” she said.

She is right to be concerned. This week, as part of its impeachment inquiry, the House begins public hearings into Trump’s attempt to extort Ukraine’s president into starting bogus investigations to benefit Trump politically. Republicans have telegraphed several possible defenses of the president.

The Washington Post reported that House Republicans may try to throw the hapless Trump lackeys Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney and Gordon Sondland under the bus, suggesting they “could have acted on their own to influence Ukraine policy.” Other Republicans have settled on calling Trump’s actions “inappropriate” but not impeachable. But the House Republicans who are actually involved in the hearings seem set to go all in on the fantasy of Ukrainian election interference. To exonerate Trump, they are ready to help cover for Russia.

On Saturday, Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, sent the committee’s chairman, Adam Schiff, a list of people Republicans want to call to testify. To understand the significance of some of the names, you’d have to plunge into the very rabbit holes Hill warned of. Luckily, Nunes made his intention clear, writing of Trump’s “documented belief that the Ukrainian government meddled in the 2016 election,” which “forms the basis for a reasonable desire for Ukraine to investigate the circumstances surrounding the election.”

The conspiracy theories that undergird the president’s “documented belief” aren’t really coherent, but they don’t have to be to serve their purpose, which is sowing confusion about the well-established fact that Russia assisted Trump’s campaign. They posit not just that Manafort was set up, but also that Democrats worked with Ukraine to frame Russia for hacking Democrats’ emails, a dastardly Democratic plot that led to Trump’s election. Naturally, George Soros, perennial scapegoat for the far right, is also involved.

“George Soros was behind it. George Soros’s company was funding it,” Giuliani said on ABC in September, spinning tales of Hillary Clinton’s collusion with Ukraine. Speaking to The Post, Giuliani accused Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, of “working for Soros.” Indeed, Hill in her testimony suggested that a sort of Infowars-era McCarthyism has been loosed on the national security bureaucracy, with “frankly an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about George Soros” used to “target nonpartisan career officials, and also some political appointees as well.”

Some of these lies seem to have originated in Russia; documents from the Mueller investigation recently obtained by BuzzFeed News show that Manafort was blaming Ukraine for the Democratic National Committee hack back in 2016, a story he apparently got from one of his associates, a former Russian intelligence officer named Konstantin Kilimnik. (Hill testified that she’d encountered Kilimnik in a previous job, and “all of my staff thought he was a Russian spy.”)

A few of Trump’s more responsible aides have reportedly tried to disabuse him of Ukraine conspiracy theories, to no avail. Instead it appears that House Republicans, out of slavish fealty to the president, are going to use high-profile hearings to amplify them.

In her testimony, Hill seemed to warn Republicans off their current path. She mentioned the report issued last month by the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee about how Russia used online propaganda to boost Trump in 2016. “If we have people running around chasing rabbit holes because Rudy Giuliani or others have been feeding information to The Hill, Politico, we are not going to be prepared as a country to push back on this again,” she said. “The Russians thrive on misinformation and disinformation.” Unfortunately, so do Trump’s defenders.

(Thanks to our Roving Reporter Sherry for the Goldberg tip.)

3 Republicans - all it takes to get the Senate its conscience

Juleanna Glover, writing in Politico.com, shows that There’s a Surprisingly Plausible Path to Removing Trump From Office: It would take just three Republican senators to turn the impeachment vote into a secret ballot. It’s not hard to imagine what would happen then.

By most everyone’s judgment, the Senate will not vote to remove President Donald Trump from office if the House impeaches him. But what if senators could vote on impeachment by secret ballot? If they didn’t have to face backlash from constituents or the media or the president himself, who knows how many Republican senators would vote to remove?

A secret impeachment ballot might sound crazy, but it’s actually quite possible. In fact, it would take only three senators to allow for that possibility.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will immediately move to hold a trial to adjudicate the articles of impeachment if and when the Senate receives them from the House of Representatives. Article I, Section 3, of the Constitution does not set many parameters for the trial, except to say that “the Chief Justice shall preside,” and “no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.” That means the Senate has sole authority to draft its own rules for the impeachment trial, without judicial or executive branch oversight.

During the last impeachment of a president, Bill Clinton, the rules were hammered out by Democrats and Republicans in a collaborative process, as then Senate leaders Trent Lott and Tom Daschle recently pointed out in a Washington Post op-ed. The rules passed unanimously. That’s unlikely this time, given the polarization that now defines our politics. McConnell and his fellow Republicans are much more likely to dictate the rules with little input from Democrats.

But, according to current Senate procedure, McConnell will still need a simple majority—51 of the 53 Senate Republicans—to support any resolution outlining rules governing the trial. That means that if only three Republican senators were to break from the caucus, they could block any rule they didn’t like. (Vice President Mike Pence can’t break ties in impeachment matters.) Those three senators, in turn, could demand a secret ballot and condition their approval of the rest of the rules on getting one.

Trump and those around him seem confident that he won’t lose the 20 Republican senators needed to block a guilty verdict. But it’s not hard to imagine three senators supporting a secret ballot. Five sitting Republican senators have already announced their retirements; four of those are in their mid–70s or older and will never run for office again. They might well be willing to demand secrecy in order to give cover to their colleagues who would like to convict Trump but are afraid to do so because of politics in their home districts. There are also 10 Republican senators who aren’t up for reelection until 2024 and who might figure Trumpism will be irrelevant by then. Senators Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski have been the most vocal Republicans in expressing concerns about Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine. Other GOP senators have recently softened in their defense of him, as well—all before the House has held any public hearings.

There’s already been some public speculation that, should the Senate choose to proceed with a secret ballot, Trump would be found guilty. GOP strategist Mike Murphy said recently that a sitting Republican senator had told him 30 of his colleagues would vote to convict Trump if the ballot were secret. Former Senator Jeff Flake topped that, saying he thought 35 Republican senators would vote that way.

While it’s unlikely Trump would support a secret ballot, it’s possible he might actually benefit from one in the long run. If a secret ballot is agreed on and Trump knows the prospect of impeachment is near, he could then focus his energies on his post-presidency. Once he leaves office, Trump faces multiple possible criminal investigations, at the federal, state and local level. He almost certainly knows that a President Pence could pardon him only for federal crimes. To avoid the prospect of serving time, Trump could negotiate a collective settlement—just as the Sackler family has done in the OxyContin matter—with all the jurisdictions now running independent investigations into his activities. Trump’s impeachment, followed by a quick resignation, might appease Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s and New York Attorney General Letitia James’s thirst for justice, making them more likely to agree to a deal.

Even McConnell might privately welcome the prospect of a secret ballot. He has always been intently focused on maintaining his Republican majority in the Senate. Trump’s approval numbers continue to languish, and support for impeachment has been rising. McConnell himself, facing reelection next year, has an approval rating of just 18 percent in Kentucky, not to mention that the Republican governor there just suffered a stunning upset in last week’s election. All of which suggests McConnell might warm to the possibility that he and his caucus could avoid a public up-or-down vote in defense of behavior by the president that’s looking increasingly indefensible.

A secret ballot might get Trump out of office sooner than everyone expects: The sooner any three Republican senators make clear that they will support nothing short of a secret ballot, the sooner Trump realizes his best course could be to cut a deal, trading his office for a get-out-of-jail-free card—a clean slate from prosecutors—just as Vice President Spiro Agnew did. And if Trump were to leave office before the end of the year, there might even be enough time for Republicans to have a vibrant primary fight, resulting in a principled Republican as the nominee.

Juleanna Glover has worked as an adviser for several Republican politicians, including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft and Rudy Giuliani, and advised the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Jeb Bush.

Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Trump will pay 2 million for actions taken by the now dissolved Trump Foundation

Back in 2016, in the heat of the election, I posted evidence that Trump is a deadbeat (June 11, 2016: Donald “Deadbeat” Trump does not pay his bills …), stiffing small businesses while at the same time making himself rich (or maybe just richer - .June 12, 2016:Deadbeat Donald and the serial bankruptcies in Atlantic City).

Because the Donald and his Trumpers were attacking the Clinton Foundation (while using the Trump Foundation for illegal acts), I explored those two foundations ( August 29, 2016: The speech Hillary should give about the Clinton Foundation). I concluded that the Clinton Foundation was being used for appropriate charitable purposes and that the Trump Foundation was functioning as a personal slush fund. I concluded: “Donald ”Deadbeat“ Trump wants to close down a (Clinton) foundation that betters the lives of millions across the globe while he uses his own foundation, illegally, to provide service to his campaign.”

Now, factcheck.org (among other sources) reports on the settlement of a suit against Trump, his family, and his foundation. November 8, 2019: Trump Spins Court Ruling on Trump Foundation

President Donald Trump downplayed the findings in a case against his namesake charitable foundation, claiming the judge had found only “some small technical violations.” Actually, in a settlement announced this week, the judge ruled that Trump “breached his fiduciary duty” to the Donald J. Trump Foundation in service of his 2016 presidential campaign.

The ruling was part of a settlement to a June 2018 case filed by the office of the New York state attorney general against Trump, his three eldest children and their charitable foundation. The lawsuit alleged that the Trump Foundation had long “operated in persistent violation of state and federal law governing New York State charities” by, among other things, allowing Trump’s 2016 campaign committee to direct and coordinate the foundation’s televised fundraiser for veterans in Des Moines, Iowa, in January 2016.

In a statement posted to Twitter on Nov. 7, Trump called the lawsuit a form of “politically motivated harassment,” and seemingly dismissed the judge’s ruling as insignificant. “All they found was incredibly effective philanthropy and some small technical violations, such as not keeping board minutes,” Trump’s statement read.

There was more to it than that.

In her ruling on Nov. 7, state Supreme Court Justice Saliann Scarpulla wrote that the parties resolved most of the attorney general’s claims on their own, but left it to her to determine what Trump would have to personally pay for his alleged misuse of his foundation.

“A review of the record … establishes that Mr. Trump breached his fiduciary duty to the Foundation and that waste occurred to the Foundation,” she wrote. “Mr. Trump’s fiduciary duty breaches included allowing his campaign to orchestrate the Fundraiser, allowing his campaign, instead of the Foundation, to direct distribution of the Funds, and using the Fundraiser and distribution of the Funds to further Mr. Trump’s political campaign.”

Scarpulla said that she found that the $2.8 million raised at the Iowa fundraiser “was used for Mr. Trump’s political campaign and disbursed by Mr. Trump’s campaign staff, rather than by the Foundation, in violation” of several laws. However, she ordered Trump to pay $2 million in waste damages — not the full $2.8 million sought by the attorney general — because “the Funds did ultimately reach their intended destinations, i.e., charitable organizations supporting veterans,” she wrote.

Trump will pay the $2 million to eight previously agreed upon charities, which also will share the now-dissolved Trump Foundation’s remaining $1.8 million in assets.

As part of the settlement agreement, Trump and his lawyers also acknowledged past instances in which Trump had caused his foundation to make payments on behalf of some of his businesses, including Mar-a-Lago and the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, New York. And Trump agreed to reimburse $11,525 to the foundation for a payment it made for auction items at a charitable benefit.

The short of it - the essential facts and what you need to know about Trump's betrayal of American values

In a Special to the Arizona Daily Star, Ryan McCarl and John Rushing help our Understanding Trump’s betrayal at heart of impeachment probe. Here is their opinion piece in full (emphases added, and block quotes suppressed).

The recent revelation that President Trump attempted to coerce Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election led not only to an impeachment inquiry, but also to a flood of news and misinformation. Only the most dialed-in voters can keep up with the scandal’s details, and new details are emerging every day.

Every American should understand the essential underlying facts as well as the historical context: what Trump did, why it was illegal, and why it matters.

What Trump did: Congress decided to send military aid to Ukraine to help protect it from Russia, which invaded Ukraine in August 2014. Trump prevented the aid from being delivered while secretly demanding that Ukraine investigate conspiracy theories that would assist Trump in the 2020 election. Trump then tried to cover up his actions by, among other acts, hiding a call transcript in a secret server and blocking Congress’ attempts to investigate.

Why it was illegal: It is illegal to extort foreign governments for personal gain and to ask them to interfere in an American election. It is also illegal to obstruct justice by hiding evidence of wrongdoing and ordering officials to disobey congressional subpoenas.

Why it matters: While Trump’s actions may have broken campaign finance and obstruction of justice statutes, the problem with Trump’s conduct is deeper than its illegality. The central problem is that Trump used public resources as though their purpose were to serve Trump’s personal reelection campaign instead of the interests of the United States.

That is an abuse of power. The United States government, including the office of the President, exists solely to serve the American people. It does not exist to further the personal aims of elected officials. When the public entrusts elected officials with political power, those officials are expected to act in the public’s interest — not use their power to further selfish aims. (That is what the term “corruption” means: the abuse of public power to serve private purposes.)

Trump breached his constitutional obligation to faithfully execute the law on behalf of the public. If Congress cannot hold President Trump accountable for this breach of trust, we will have given up on values critical to the American experiment in democracy: the idea that no one is above the law, that government exists to serve the people, and that elected officials have a fiduciary duty to use government power to serve the public — not to serve themselves.

Ryan McCarl is a fellow at the UCLA School of Law. John Rushing holds a law degree from the University of Texas and a doctorate from the University of Oxford, and works as a film producer.