Thursday, October 31, 2019

Update on race for U. S. Senate seat in Arizona

Things are moving fast on the impeachment front. We are getting close to the terminal actions by the House, one of which is the move toward public hearings, first in Intelligence and then in Judicial. John Cassidy at the New Yorker looks ahead to What Can We Expect from Televised Impeachment Hearings? It’s not a long read so have at it.

Taking a break from the national news about the impeachment, now pretty close to certain, I thought I’d dwell a little on what to expect here in AZ.

538 reports that Primary Challenges Might Keep These Republican Senators From Voting To Remove Trump.

… in total, there are 23 Republican-held seats up in 2020.

And in five of these races, Republicans face particularly tough reelection battles. Election forecasters have rated these races as the most competitive. …

One of them is the seat currently held by Martha McSally. 538 says that “the threat of a primary challenger is a real concern. In fact, both McSally and Tillis already have one.”

The AZ Republic (azcentral.com) reports.

Republican businessman Daniel McCarthy will run against incumbent Sen. Martha McSally for the GOP’s Senate nomination in 2020, dashing her hopes of averting a potentially nasty primary fight.

McCarthy, of Glendale, has been teasing a run for months and has questioned her conservative credentials and loyalty to President Donald Trump, who has already endorsed McSally.

McCarthy casts himself as conservative more aligned with the conservative base in today’s Republican Party than McSally. In interviews and Facebook posts, he has supported the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the 2017 Republican tax law, and Trump’s signature border wall plan.

McSally has a history of supporting all of those policies, in one form or another.

In recent weeks, McCarthy has attacked McSally over her comments that she is “open” to to act on warnings of violent tendencies or activities by people who may have access to guns.

Larry Sabato, the political scientist who directs the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said McCarthy could complicate McSally’s efforts to woo more moderate voters.

“He can spend some bucks and he can make some damaging attacks, and all in all that’s bad news for her,” Sabato said. “He may drive her to the right while the Arizona electorate is clearly moderating” to a more purple status.

McSally, if she survives the primary challenge, will face former astronaut Mark Kelly.

Political analysts deem Arizona’s special election for the Senate seat a toss-up.

[But] “When it comes to the campaign, which will come later, we are unified,” McSally said. "I’m endorsed by President Trump. We are unified in the Republican Party.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Another Trumpublican smear campaign against a decorated military officer

Led by whom? Dumb question.

The so-called conservatives, aka Tumpublicans, GOPlins, etc., have no problem vilifying members of our armed forces when it suits their purposes. The ugliest of the smears originate in the office of the commander-in-chief. Their latest target is Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman. He just happens to be the Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. Here’s what’s going on.

The Washington Post reports that Vindman offers a firsthand account of critical episodes in alleged quid pro quo.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert assigned to the National Security Council, is testifying in the House impeachment inquiry Tuesday, offering new details on the push for investigations of President Trump’s political rivals and corroborating other witnesses with his firsthand account of the alleged attempt at a quid pro quo.

Vindman is the first impeachment witness to have listened in on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump said he wanted a “favor” after Zelensky brought up the topic of nearly $400 million in promised American military aid. Vindman was listening from the Situation Room along with other NSC officials and members of Vice President Pence’s staff, he said in prepared remarks released late Monday, and was so “concerned by the call” — and that the president’s request could be seen as “a partisan play” that could “undermine U.S. national security” — that he reported it to the NSC’s lead counsel.

Here are parts of his opening statement.

Vindman

I have dedicated my entire professional life to the United States of America. For more than two decades, it has been my honor to serve as an officer in the United States Army. As an infantryofficer, I served multiple overseas tours, including South Korea and Germany, and a deployment to Iraq for combat operations. In Iraq, I was wounded in an IED attack and awarded a Purple Heart. Since 2008, I have been a Foreign Area Officer specializing in Eurasia. In thisrole, I have served in theUnited States’embassies in Kiev, Ukraine and Moscow, Russia. In Washington, D.C., I was a politico-military affairs officer for Russia for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefswhere I authored the principle strategy for managing competition with Russia.In July 2018, I was asked to serve at the National Security Council.

When I joined the White House’s National Security Council (“NSC”), I reported to Dr. Fiona Hill, who in turn reported to John Bolton, the National Security Advisor. My role at the NSC includes developing, coordinating, and executing plans and policies to manage the full range of diplomatic, informational, military, and economic national security issues for the countries in my portfolio, which includes Ukraine.

In my position, I coordinate with a superb cohort of inter-agency partners. I regularly prepare internal memoranda, talking points, and other materials for the National Security Advisor and senior staff.

Most of my interactions relate to national security issues and are therefore especially sensitive. I would urge the Committees to carefully balance the need for information against the impact that disclosure would have on our foreign policy and national security.

I have never had direct contact or communications with the President.

Following this meeting [July 10], there was a scheduled debriefing during which Amb. Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma. I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push. Dr. Hill then entered the room and asserted to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.

Following the debriefing meeting, I reported my concerns to the NSC’s lead counsel. Dr. Hill also reported the incident to the NSC’s lead counsel.

On July 25, 2019, the call occurred. I listened in on the call in the Situation Room with colleagues from the NSC and the office of the Vice President. As the transcript is in the public record, we are all aware of what was said.

I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine. I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security. Following the call, I again reported my concerns to NSC’s lead counsel.

Vindman’s prepared testimony touched a nerve with Trump. The president took to Twitter early Tuesday to deride the Iraq War veteran, who appeared for his testimony in uniform, calling him a “Never Trumper” and questioning his recollection of events.

That attack was echoed by other right-wingers. Right takes aim at key White House witness, decorated combat vet reports Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog).

… Vindman is a White House official with direct, first-hand information about what transpired – he was on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky – and his testimony appears likely to corroborate the testimony of other key witnesses.

Just as importantly, Vindman, who immigrated to the United States as a small child, is a witness with tough-to-dismiss credibility: the lieutenant colonel is a decorated U.S. Army combat veteran who served in Iraq, where he was injured by an IED blast in the line of duty. He was awarded a Purple Heart.

This morning [Tuesday], Donald Trump nevertheless denounced Vindman as a “Never Trumper witness,” suggesting without evidence that the lieutenant colonel has suspect political motivations. As New York’s Jon Chait added, several prominent voices in conservative media have targeted him in even uglier ways.

“Here we have a U.S. national-security official who is advising Ukraine while working inside the White House apparently against the president’s interest,” [Fox News’ Laura Ingraham said] on her nightly show. “Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle on this story?” former Bush-administration lawyer John Yoo replied. “Some people might call that espionage.” (Alan Dershowitz, the third member of the colloquy, smiled along.)

This morning on cable news, the smear campaign continued. “It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense,” said former congressman Sean Duffy on CNN. “I don’t know that he’s concerned about American policy … We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from … he has an affinity for the Ukraine.” Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade added, “We also know he was born in the Soviet Union, emigrated with his family. Young. He tends to feel simpatico with the Ukraine.”

My point is not that decorated American combat veterans are always right or that their conclusions must never be challenged. That’s not how a responsible public discourse works in a free society.

It is nauseating, however, for Trump’s allies to publicly question Vindman’s loyalties because he’s an American immigrant who has the audacity to tell the truth about what he saw and heard at the White House.

If this seems at all familiar, it’s because the right has too often been willing to smear decorated American combat veterans who stand in conservatives’ way. The Swift-Boat campaign against John Kerry in 2004 was inexcusable – I won’t soon forget attendees to the Republican National Convention wearing band-aids to mock Kerry’s Purple Heart – and Donald Trump’s eagerness to mock John McCain’s military service was just as awful.

More recently, Robert Mueller, another decorated combat veteran, was on the receiving end of far-right attacks.

No one is immune.

Postscript: Trump suggested this morning that he’s “never even heard of” Alexander Vindman. As I noted on Twitter, that’s not a great line: the president, who’s been deeply and directly engaged on U.S. policy toward Ukraine, has never heard of the top Ukraine expert on the White House National Security Council? Why not?

Now scroll back and check out that picture. All those medals and service ribbons mean something to those presently serving in our military and those who have served in the past (and that would be me). To trash that man’s service is to cast a blight on us all. Damn right I take it personally.

Facebook is a Republican rag

Here is a bit of news about Facebook, news supported by evidence collected by Judd Legum at popular.info.. You can go to his site and inspect the data yourself. Those data are supplemental to my post about Facebook earlier this month: Why everyone should get off of Facebook - It’s a Trumpublican mouthpiece.

On Monday, Popular Information revealed how The Daily Wire, a toxic right-wing website, has been able to achieve phenomenal success on Facebook, in part, through gaming the system. The investigation revealed “a clandestine network of 14 large Facebook pages that purport to be independent but exclusively promote content from The Daily Wire in a coordinated fashion.”

This network appeared to be in blatant violation of Facebook’s rule against “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” But Facebook told Popular Information that it would not take any action against these pages.

While Popular Information’s reporting indicated that this was a coordinated astroturf campaign to enable The Daily Wire to game the Facebook algorithm, the new Facebook statement presented a different narrative. The activity of these pages was “real” — authentic and genuine expressions of the “real people” behind them.

On the surface, this statement makes little sense. The pages are clearly managed not by individual “real people” but by a central authority. That authority is using the pages exclusively promote The Daily Wire. At 12:02 PM on Tuesday, for example, 13 pages all tweeted the same story from The Daily Wire with the same text.

Perhaps, as Facebook’s statement suggests, these are just a group of 13 “real people” who got together and decided to promote The Daily Wire in a coordinated fashion. It’s a nice story, but Popular Information has uncovered information proving that it isn’t true. At least two of these pages are owned by the parent company of The Daily Wire, Forward Publishing.

… despite Facebook’s claim, this network is not run by “real people.” It’s run by The Daily Wire.

But why is it such a big advantage? Facebook’s algorithm rewards content that is shared from multiple profiles. By clandestinely controlling more than a dozen pages, The Daily Wire makes it appear as if all of its content is being broadly shared.

How important is this? The proof is in the pudding. Each article from The Daily Wire gets far more engagement on Facebook than any other significant publisher.

By justifying The Daily Wire’s deceptive conduct, Facebook is allowing far-right content to flourish at the expense of everything else.

So why are we - that is, thee and me - subscribing to Facebook? Why are we implicitly supporting this Republican rag?

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

How the impulsivity of our mentally deranged 'great leader' almost derailed a military op and then he publicly leaked the intelligence and operational details.

Oh, heck. I am so sorry for that headline. It’s just that once I got started I was in danger of not stopping. As it is, there is much more here. Let’s start with the raid that got Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Trump’s part in it.

John Cassidy at the New Yorker reports that Donald Trump Makes the Raid That Killed Baghdadi All About Him In a briefing on the raid that killed the isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Trump presented himself as the mastermind behind the operation. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. (What am I thinking? Of course, if there is something further from the truth, Trump will find it and brag about it.)

… According to the version of events Trump provided on Sunday morning, Baghdadi blew himself up, in a tunnel under the compound, “as our dogs chased him down,” and “he died like a dog.” But, as the common refrain suggests, even though you can’t take what Trump says literally, you shouldn’t ignore it completely, especially when he is trying to spin a single successful strike by the U.S. military into a huge strategic victory for his embattled Presidency. “He’s done tremendous damage,” Trump continued, referring to al-Baghdadi. “But it was an amazing display of intelligence and military power and coördination and getting along with people. Lots of great things happened. So that was a big, big day and a big weekend, and we’re very happy about it.”

If that sounded like a wrap, it wasn’t. [OMG!] Trump also confirmed that he is considering releasing some of the footage from the raid, which he, Vice-President Mike Pence, and a number of others watched, in real time, from the White House Situation Room. This is the footage, reportedly shot from above the compound, that Trump described on Sunday as “something really amazing to see … as though you were watching a movie.” When Trump says he’s considering releasing the footage, you can assume he’s already screaming at people in the White House about why it isn’t out there already. Presumably, if Trump had his way, a fully narrated version would be released immediately, and it would be supplemented by a prime-time Fox miniseries—starring him, of course, because, in his telling, he was the mastermind behind the entire thing.

In Trump’s defense, his account of his role in the planning of the raid wasn’t the most glaring falsehood he uttered during his briefing. That prize went to his assertion that, before 9/11, he wrote a book in which he singled out Osama bin Laden and said, “You have to kill him. You have to take him out.” Here is what the Associated Press’s fact checkers had to say about this statement: “His 2000 book, ‘The America We Deserve,’ makes a passing mention of bin Laden but did no more than point to the al-Qaida leader as one of many threats to U.S. security. Nor does he say in the book that bin Laden should have been killed . . . The book did not call for further U.S. action against bin Laden or al-Qaida to follow up on attacks [Bill] Clinton ordered in 1998 in Afghanistan and Sudan after al-Qaida bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.”

Trump is delusional. And as commander-in-chief that makes him very dangerous. Consider his leaking of the details of the al-Baghdadi raid. Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports on the blubbermouth’s leaks: After decrying leaks, Trump shares sensitive details on Baghdadi raid

… as part of the same White House event in which he suggested Democrats might not be trustworthy to be discreet with sensitive intelligence, Donald Trump shared all kinds of operational details that he could’ve easily kept to himself, including the precise number of commando helicopters used and the route they took to the raid.

Politico reported:

Throughout the rest of the news conference, Trump eagerly divulged operational details that would normally be reserved for expert officials to share at their discretion. The move immediately drew criticism from national security analysts who said they were alarmed by the volume of information he shared regarding the location and specifics of the nighttime raid.

Over the course of his remarks, Trump revealed that Baghdadi had been “under surveillance for a couple of weeks”; the number of helicopters involved in the mission and their time of liftoff; how special forces teams managed to penetrate the compound where Baghdadi was found; how lab technicians administered a “genius” DNA test after he killed himself by detonating a suicide vest; and which “element of the attack [U.S. forces] were most afraid of.”

A separate Politico report added, “Taken together, some of the details Trump revealed could help terrorist groups piece together new information about how U.S. counterterrorism forces gather intelligence and execute such dangerous missions, said veterans of previous operations.”

For Trump to divulge these operational details was unsettling. For him to divulge these operational details while complaining about leaks and suggesting others lacked discretion was ridiculous.

The thing is: the raid succeeded in spite of, and not because of, what Trump did. His withdrawal of U. S. troops almost trashed the op.

The Times reported that As Kurds Tracked ISIS Leader, U.S. Withdrawal Threw Raid Into Turmoil. Trump’s decision to pull troops from Syria upended a 5-year alliance and threw the plans against al-Baghdadi into disarray.

[Unlike Trump] American officials would not discuss the specific intelligence provided by the Kurds, but said that their role in finding Mr. al-Baghdadi was essential — more so than all other countries combined, as one put it — contradicting President Trump’s assertion over the weekend that the United States “got very little help.”

Yet even as the Syrian Kurdish fighters were risking their lives in the hunt that led to Mr. al-Baghdadi’s death this weekend, Mr. Trump abruptly shattered America’s five-year partnership with them.

Last December, Mr. Trump suddenly announced on Twitter that he was withdrawing the roughly 2,000 American troops in Syria because ISIS had been defeated, calling that “my only reason for being there.”

The decision baffled the Kurdish-led forces, who were still locked in fierce battles with the Islamic State and would not rout the group from its last patch of territory for another three months.

The withdrawal decision angered Mr. Trump’s Republican allies in Congress and even members of his administration.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned, as did Brett McGurk, the presidential envoy for the fight against the Islamic State, who both considered it a mistake. …

[Now] the Kurds are busy resisting further Turkish advances that they fear could amount to the ethnic cleansing of Kurds from their homeland.

Kurdish leaders say they hoped five years of cooperation could have ended with more respect for their sacrifices.

“All of a sudden you give it up and give it to the regime and Russia and Iran,” said Mr. Can, the S.D.F. adviser. “After that, who is going to trust the Americans and help them? No one.”

Ignorance + Dishonesty = Dangerous Delusions

Let’s take that one at a time starting with ignorance. Thomas Friedman explains: Al-Baghdadi Is Dead. The Story Doesn’t End Here. President Trump boasts of defeating the Islamic State. He’s only showing how ignorant he is.

… this story is far from over, and it could have many unexpected implications. Let’s start at home.

President Trump was effusive in his praise for the U.S. intelligence agencies who found and tracked al-Baghdadi to the lair in Syria where he blew himself up to avoid being captured. In his news conference, Trump went on and on about just how good the men and women in our intelligence agencies are.

Well, Mr. President, those are the same intelligence agencies who told you that Russia intervened in our last election in an effort to tip the vote to you and against Hillary Clinton (and are still intervening). When our intel agencies exposed that reality, you impugned their integrity and quality.

And the same intelligence agencies who tracked down al-Baghdadi are the same ones who produced two whistle-blowers high up in your White House — who complained that you, Mr. Trump, abused the power of your office to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, touching off this impeachment inquiry.

And those same intelligence agencies whom you hailed as heroes for tracking down al-Baghdadi, Mr. Trump, are the same “deep state,” the same agencies and whistle-blowers whom your White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, just smeared as “radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.’’

So thank you, Mr. Trump, for clearing up this confusion. We now know that the same intelligence services who have been heroic in protecting us from those who want to attack our constitutional democracy from abroad are the same heroes who have stepped up to protect our constitutional democracy from within. Unlike you, Mr. Trump, they took seriously their oath to do both.

… Trump kept going on and on in his news conference about how he, in his infinite wisdom, was keeping U.S. troops in Syria to protect the oil fields there so maybe U.S. oil companies could exploit them. He even boasted that while he was against the Iraq war, we should have taken over all of Iraq’s oil fields to pay for it.

This is disgusting talk, and again, a prescription for trouble in the future. If America has any role in the Middle East today, it is not to protect the oil wells, but to protect and enhance what I call the “islands of decency.”

These are places like Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan, Jordan, the U.A.E., Oman, Lebanon and the frail democracies in Tunisia and Baghdad. None of these are developed democracies; Oman, Jordan and the U.A.E. are monarchies. But perfect is not on the menu in the Middle East right now. And these countries do promote more moderate versions of Islam and religious tolerance, they do empower their women and they do encourage modern education.

These are the necessary but not sufficient antidotes to ISIS. They are worth preserving and enhancing in hopes that they can develop one day into something better for all their peoples. Just look at the democracy protests in Lebanon. You can see where the young people want to go.

Only Trump would boast of defeating ISIS and thinking that all that needs to be done now is to protect the Middle East’s oil wells and America’s favorite dictators — and not its wells of decency.

In the end, Washington Post columnist Max Boot explains why It’s impossible to give the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt.

When previous administrations took controversial steps, there was a general assumption, even among critics, that they were acting in what they believed to be the public interest. When this administration makes contentious decisions — such as awarding a $10 billion Pentagon contract to Microsoft instead of Amazon, or probing the origins of an investigation into Russia’s attack on the 2016 election — the presumption of goodwill has been replaced by a presumption of ill will and illegality.

This seaminess is entirely in character for a president who was surrounded by felons (his previous personal attorney, his first national security adviser and his former campaign chairman); lied about his payments to an alleged mistress in apparent violation of campaign finance laws; engaged in pervasive obstruction of justice to stymie an investigation into his campaign links with Russia; continues to do business as a property manager and developer around the world; lies 22 times a day; and even falsified a weather map to show that he was right about a hurricane.

I wish I could give the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt. But I simply can’t. No objective observer could. I assume that both the decision to “investigate the investigators” and to award a contract to Microsoft over Amazon are deeply corrupt, just like everything else that Trump touches. The onus is on the administration to show otherwise. That’s hard to do given that you can’t believe a single word that Trump and his dishonest aides say.

When you can have no faith that the president is acting in the public interest — when, in fact, you have good cause to believe the opposite — it’s time to impeach and remove, because the president has lost all credibility and hence his ability to carry out the duties of his office.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Why a Ukrainian oligarch is obsessed with getting dirt on Joe Biden - follow the money!

THE BIG PAYBACK?

You betcha. If you want to understand the attempt to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, you just need to follow the money.

Betsy Swan and Adam Rawnsley at The Daily Beast report how a Ukrainian Oligarch Seethed About ‘Overlord’ Biden for Years Dmytro Firtash’s lawyers say his team had to investigate Joe Biden to defend their client. One expert says Biden pushed reforms that cost the oligarch up to $400 million per year.

Indicted Ukrainian gas oligarch Dmytro Firtash spent more than $1 million hiring key figures in Republican efforts to investigate the Biden family.

His lawyers—who often go on Fox News to defend President Trump—say they needed the dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden to demonstrate that Firtash’s prosecution was politically motivated.

But the two men have a history. Two Ukrainian gas industry experts say the gas-market reforms pushed by Biden and others in 2014 and 2015 hit Firtash in the wallet, and badly. One knowledgeable outside observer estimated that the 2014 and 2015 gas reforms and legislation cost him hundreds of millions of dollars.

On Dec. 9, 2015, Biden gave a speech to Ukraine’s parliament. He praised the protesters who forced out Ukraine’s Russia-friendly president, he recited Ukrainian poetry, and he called for reforms to Ukraine’s gas market, too.

“The energy sector needs to be competitive, ruled by market principles—not sweetheart deals,” he said, basking in the audience’s repeated applause.

Firtash, who built his fortune in part through a rather sweet gas-trading deal, hated it. Earlier this year—more than three and a half years after the talk—he was still seething. Firtash told The Daily Beast that the Ukrainian parliamentarians in the audience were humiliatingly subservient to Biden.

Now people linked to Firtash are at the heart of Republicans’ efforts to find dirt on Biden, and a document Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has said is key to his theory of Biden World malfeasance was produced for Firtash’s legal team. The reporter who published that document, The Hill’s John Solomon, is a client of Firtash’s new lawyers, Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova. Over the summer, Trump pressured Ukraine’s president to cooperate with Giuliani’s efforts. That pressure stunned many Republicans and gave House Democratic leadership the impetus they had long sought to announce an impeachment inquiry.

Trump-Friendly Lawyers Join Legal Team of Ukraine’s Firtash reports Bloomberg News.

Dmitry Firtash, a wealthy Ukrainian and onetime business partner of Paul Manafort who is facing extradition to the U.S. on corruption charges, has hired a legal team with close ties to President Donald Trump.

The lawyers retained by Firtash are Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, according to representatives for Firtash and for the attorneys.

The husband-and-wife team were vocal critics of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election and have voiced support for Trump in the news media and in frequent appearances as legal commentators on Fox News.

Now back to the Daily Beast report.

Austrian authorities arrested Firtash a few weeks before the DOJ’s announcement. He posted about $174 million in bail and has since been living in Vienna, fighting extradition from his palatial corporate offices there. And while the allegation isn’t part of the DOJ’s indictment of Firtash, U.S. government lawyers have said in court that he’s an “upper echelon” associate of a Russian criminal organization. Firtash says the claim is baseless.

In June of this year, an Austrian judge greenlit his extradition to the U.S. But his high-powered legal team is still fighting. And this July, that team got some new oomph: DiGenova and Toensing, a husband-and-wife duo who have worked on a host of contentious fights and have deep ties in Washington’s tight-knit conservative legal community. They even reportedly secured a meeting about Firtash’s case with Attorney General Bill Barr—a sit-down many criminal defense lawyers would kill for.

In a July 2015 speech, Biden praised Ukraine for “closing the space for corrupt middlemen who rip off the Ukrainian people.”

“Middleman” was an epithet often aimed at oligarchs like Firtash, whose gas business had raked in millions by acting as a broker between Ukraine’s state-owned gas company and Russia’s Gazprom.

“There is one of the biggest state-owned enterprises, which is Ukrainian Naftogaz, a gas company, that had very shadowy and non-transparent deals with middlemen and with the Russian Federation,” Arseniy Yatseniuk, the country’s prime minister at the time, said in a speech just two days after Biden’s. “So last year we eliminated this middleman. His name is Mr. Firtash. He is under FBI investigation and expected to be extradited to the United States.”

Oleksandr Kharchenko, the director of the Center for Energy Industry Research Center in Kyiv, said the changes damaged Firtash’s business interests.

“It hit him directly,” he said.

The 2015 reforms appear to have cost Firtash a lot of money. It’s difficult to estimate how much, as the oligarch’s finances are quite opaque. Victoria Voytsitska was a member of the eighth convocation of the Ukrainian parliament and a member of its committee on Fuel Energy, Nuclear Policies, and Security. She told The Daily Beast that the gas market reforms have likely cost Firtash about $215 million to $400 million a year since their 2015 rollout.

That should give you a sense of why Giuliani et al. are so obsessed with finding dirt on Biden. In trying to move Ukraine away from energy corruption, Biden ran afoul of Firtash - and didn’t flinch. To the extent that Trump was also pushing finding dirt on Biden, then he too is snarled in the web of corruption traceable to Firtash

The al-Baghdadi raid succeeded in spite of Trump's actions in Syria and because of help from the Kurds.

That action was months in the making during which the Kurds provided valuable intelligence. I wonder if the Kurds are being as helpful after Trump abandoned them.

Kevin Fitzpatrick has two posts in Vanity Fair that I feature along with more reporting by the NY Times.

WHITE HOUSE GOES FULL “DEAR LEADER” IN PRAISE OF “GENIUS” DONALD TRUMP. The Trump-John Kelly feud takes a turn into sycophancy.

Accused by former White House chief of staff John Kelly of replacing him with a “yes man,” President Donald Trump dispatched a yes woman to rebut him. “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President,” Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement to CNN on Saturday, offering North Korean television a lesson in sycophancy.

The dust-up began when Kelly claimed at a Washington Examiner political summit over the weekend that he’d spoken to Trump before his January departure about the perils of silencing dissent in office. “I said, whatever you do, don’t hire a ‘yes man,’ someone who won’t tell you the truth,” Kelly claimed. “Don’t do that. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached.” He continued, paraphrasing the conversation: “Don’t hire someone that will just, you know, nod and say, ‘You know, that’s a great idea Mr. President,’ Because you will be impeached.’”

In the months since Mick Mulvaney took over as acting chief of staff, Democrats have launched an official impeachment inquiry into Trump’s efforts to extort Ukraine into opening investigations into Joe Biden and an u founded conspiracy theory that Russia was framed for election hacking in 2016. The irony was apparently lost on Grisham—who has not held a single press briefing since taking over from Sarah Sanders. Grisham issued an almost uncanny “Dear Leader”-style response to Kelly’s claim, proclaiming Trump’s unparalleled greatness.

“I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great President,” Grisham said in a statement. That president, likewise refused to allow Kelly even the briefest of credit. “John Kelly never said that, he never said anything like that,” Trump replied in his own statement. “If he would have said that, I would have thrown him out of the office. He just wants to come back into the action like everybody else does.”

Kelly—sometimes credited as one of the “adults in the room” when it came to managing Trump—went on to express mild regret at his departure from the White House. “I have an awful lot of, to say the least, second thoughts about leaving,” he added. “It pains me to see what’s going on, because I believe if I was still there or someone like me was there, he would not be kind of, all over the place.”

He concluded of Trump’s recent struggles with the office, “the system that should be in place, clearly — the system of advising, bringing in experts, having these discussions with the president so he can make an informed decision — that clearly is not in place. And I feel bad that I left.”

PRAISING HIMSELF FOR ISIS RAID, TRUMP UNDERMINES HIS OWN VICTORY. A rambling presser announcing the demise of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi saw Trump bowing to Russia, taking shots at Obama and generally squandering any bipartisan goodwill.

The fastest way to burn political capital after a military victory, it seems, is to have Donald Trump announce it. The president spent Sunday morning gleefully recounting the gory details of a U.S. Special Forces raid in Syria that claimed the life of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—indulging many of his own worst impulses in the process.

Trump presaged the White House announcement Saturday night over Twitter, boasting, “Something very big has just happened!” in a tweet that—according to a Defense Department official quoted by the New York Times—may have been premature, placing Trump’s eagerness for positive news coverage over conclusive identification of Baghdadi’s body. Word of the successful raid had nonetheless leaked to press by Sunday morning. Later, in a press event in the West Wing, Trump described Baghdadi as “a coward” who died “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way.” Only afterward did Trump specify that Baghdadi had died by detonating his own suicide vest, claiming the lives of three children in the process.

Trump’s revelry in the gruesome depiction of the ISIS leader’s end was poorly received by members of the press, as was his decision to first thank Russia, then Turkey, Syria and Iraq, for their cooperation in the operation, ahead of U.S. intelligence. The announcement was also complicated by the continued fallout from Trump pulling U.S. forces out of Syria, abandoning America’s Kurdish allies, though Trump sheepishly acknowledged that Kurdish forces provided “information that turned out to be helpful.” [More on that below.] Critics of Trump’s decision have also emphasized that the raid on Baghdadi underscores the argument for a continued U.S. presence battling ISIS in Syria, not the culmination of any objective.

With the House impeachment inquiry deepening and his polling underwater, Trump seemed especially eager to reset the news cycle in his favor. But as usual, he found ways to undermine what might have been a unifying moment. Perhaps most egregious, he made a point of boasting that the death of Baghdadi was more significant than the 2011 raid that killed 9/11 architect Osama bin Laden, as overseen by former president Barack Obama. “This is the biggest one perhaps that we’ve ever captured,” Trump said during the Q&A portion of his conference. “This is the biggest there is. This is the worst ever. Osama bin Laden was big, but Osama bin Laden became big with the World Trade Center. This is a man who built a whole, as he would like to call it, a country.”

Others took offense at Trump’s seemingly first-person account of the raid, which included vivid descriptions of U.S. helicopters entering Syrian airspace and ground forces “blowing a hole through the wall” of Baghdadi’s compound, as if Trump were leading the charge himself. It was “as though you were watching a movie,” Trump gushed of the Situation Room, where he huddled with Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The White House even helpfully staged a photo of the event, recalling a similar historic image of Obama watching the bin Laden raid.

Trump may yet succeed in temporarily boosting his poll numbers and repairing strained relationships with hawkish Republican lawmakers upset by the Syria withdrawal, though he naturally snubbed Democratic lawmakers by declining to inform speaker Nancy Pelosi or House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff of the raid—allegedly for fear of “leaks.” Instead, the gruesome, meandering affair ended as many Trump spectacles tend to—with loyal toadies like senator Lindsey Graham sent out to sing his praises.

“The president’s determination over time has paid off,” Graham told reporters, ignoring his prior break with the president over Syria. “We don’t give him enough credit for destroying the caliphate … . This is a moment when President Trump’s worst critics should say, ‘Well done, Mr. President.’”

Well, Lindsey “Sycophant” Graham, there’s another side to this.

The Kurds helped with this one - HUGELY!

C.I.A. Got Tip on al-Baghdadi’s Location From Arrest of a Wife and a Courier. President Trump’s abrupt decision to pull forces from northern Syria disrupted planning for the raid and forced the Pentagon to press ahead with a risky night operation, military officials said.

… Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw American forces from northern Syria disrupted the meticulous planning and forced Pentagon officials to press ahead with a risky, night raid before their ability to control troops and spies and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared, according to military, intelligence and counterterrorism officials. Mr. al-Baghdadi’s death, they said, occurred largely in spite of Mr. Trump’s actions.

The officials praised the Kurds, who continued to provide information to the C.I.A. on Mr. al-Baghdadi even after Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw the American troops left the Syrian Kurds to confront a Turkish offensive alone. The Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, one official said, provided more intelligence for the raid than any single country.

[At the end of the raid] Mr. al-Baghdadi ran into an underground tunnel, with the American commandos in pursuit. Mr. Trump said that the ISIS leader took three children with him, presumably to use as human shields from the American fire. Fearing, apparently correctly, that Mr. al-Baghdadi was wearing a suicide vest, the commandos dispatched a military dog to subdue Mr. al-Baghdadi, Mr. Trump said.

It was then that the Islamic State leader set off the explosives, wounding the dog and killing the three children, Mr. Trump said.

It’s sad that kids get used this way, really! How’s the dog?

(Thanks to Sherry, our Roving Reporter, for pointers to these and related pieces.)

Sunday, October 27, 2019

GOPlins should be careful what they ask for. Imagine the national gasp when witnesses like Ambassador Taylor take the public stand

Clouds Darken over the Trump White House writes The New Yorker columnist John Cassidy in a weekly email summary.

Donald Trump and his family are at Camp David for the weekend, celebrating the tenth wedding anniversary of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. (A White House official assured CNN that the couple is paying for the event out of their own pockets. On Saturday morning, the President tweeted that he’s paying for it.) After another brutal week for the President, the Trumps and their guests have plenty to talk about, between popping the champagne corks. On Saturday, another witness was testifying on Capitol Hill to the House’s impeachment inquiry, which is now overshadowing the forty-fifth Presidency: Philip Reeker, the acting Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs. Two more officials are expected to testify on Monday and Tuesday.

This week, it became clear to any remaining doubters that the impeachment inquiry is now a serious threat to the Trump Presidency. On Tuesday, William B. Taylor, Jr., the chief diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, testified that one of the President’s associates told him that Trump demanded two politically motivated investigations from the leader of Ukraine as the price for resuming military aid to the embattled country. (Taylor’s opening statement was leaked and published online.) As I noted in a post on Wednesday, this confirmed the version of events that was laid out in the complaint by an anonymous intelligence-community whistle-blower, and it directly contradicted the claim by Trump that there had been no quid pro quo.

Related posts

Thanks, Whistle-Blower, Your Work Is Done By The Times Editorial Board.

[On “Human Scum” and Trump in the Danger Zone][glasser] by Susan B. Glasser at the New Yorker. After Ambassador William Taylor’s testimony, the President is freaking out about impeachment.

Then, on Friday, a federal judge in Washington ruled that the impeachment inquiry is legal, despite the lack of a floor vote to authorize it in the House of Representatives. This ruling demolished the White House’s argument that the investigation was constitutionally invalid, and that the Administration was therefore within its rights to refuse to coöperate. “No governing law requires this test—not the Constitution, not House Rules, and not [the grand-jury-secrecy rule], and so imposing this test would be an impermissible intrusion on the House’s constitutional authority,” Beryl Howell, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, wrote. The ruling also found that the Justice Department must turn over to the House Judiciary Committee secret grand-jury testimony that was gathered by Robert Mueller, the former special counsel.

Taken together, these developments confirmed that Trump’s efforts to dismiss the inquiry as a meaningless charade have failed—a fact that the White House is acknowledging in actions, if not words. …

Sen. Lindsey Graham, Mick Mulvaney (the acting White House chief of staff), Steve Bannon, and Jason Miller were all worried about the WH defense (or lack of it). The strongest suggestion was to keep Rudy Giuliani “out of sight.”

In fact, Giuliani did disappear from television for the past week, as his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman pleaded not guilty in a federal court in New York to charges of making illegal campaign donations, and were each released on a million-dollar bail bond. But the former mayor hasn’t managed to stay out of the news. On Friday, NBC News’s Rich Schapiro reported that Giuliani had pocket-dialled him twice and inadvertently left a pair of lengthy voice mails. In one of them, which was left at the end of September, Giuliani was heard railing to somebody about Joe and Hunter Biden. In the second message, which was left on October 16th, he seemed to be talking to an unnamed associate about Bahrain and Turkey, two countries where he and his security-consulting firm have done business. At one point, according to a story that Schapiro published on Friday, Giuliani says, “We need a few hundred thousand.” Even if there was nothing untoward in these messages, the fact that Giuliani left them will further convince many of Trump’s allies that he should be kept as far away from the President as possible.

But silencing Giuliani will only take the White House so far. Arguably, he’s already done too much damage. And, in any case, Trump himself represents another barrier—the largest one—to his aides putting together a coherent defense strategy or an effective messaging team. Even now, facing the biggest challenge of his already very challenged Presidency, Trump appears to be resisting efforts to manage him, or even assist him. “Here’s the thing. I don’t have teams,” he told reporters at the White House on Friday. “Everyone’s talking about teams. I’m the team. I did nothing wrong.”

That may be just bravado, of course. (With Trump, you can never be quite sure.) On Friday, Politico reported that the White House was looking to hire a “communications guru” as early as next week, and it confirmed that two people were being seriously considered: Pam Bondi, a Trump loyalist who served two terms as Florida’s attorney general, and Tony Sayegh, a former senior official at the Treasury Department, who led communications in the Administration’s ultimately successful effort to pass the Republican tax bill, in 2017. But the Politico story also indicated that there was still some uncertainty about the White House’s plan. It quoted a Republican close to the Administration, who said, “They are trying to figure out how to set up a war room, without it being a war room and without it devolving into a civil war inside the White House. There are different conceptions of what a war room would look like, and the president has not deputized anyone to do it.”

The key question, of course, is whether any of this is undermining support for Trump among Republican senators, who will almost certainly decide the President’s fate. At the start of the week, Chris Wallace, the host of “Fox News Sunday,” caused a stir by saying that a “very well-connected Republican” told him that there was a twenty-per-cent chance of the President being removed from office. Mulvaney, who was interviewed by Wallace, dismissed this as “absurd,” and added, “the President is extraordinarily popular back home, more popular in the swing districts now that impeachment has started.” It wasn’t immediately clear which survey Mulvaney was referring to, but public polls taken this week show that Trump’s nationwide approval rating among Republicans has held up, even as his approval rating among all voters has dropped by several points. For example, an Economist/YouGov survey showed that eighty-four per cent of self-identified Republicans think that the House shouldn’t impeach Trump. As the impeachment inquiry continues, elected Republicans and Democrats alike will be closely monitoring numbers like these. If they remain steady, it is hard to see twenty Republican senators voting to convict Trump. If the numbers start to fall significantly, all bets are off.

The Trumpublicans, notably those GOPlins invading the SCIF room this last Wednesday, should be careful what they ask for. We already know that Taylor’s testimony elicited “gasps” from those in attendance at an earlier closed door session. The invaders were carping about “secret” hearings and wanted open meetings. Well, guess what. The House Dems already have committed to open testimony at some not too far away point in the investigation. Are the Rethugs prepared for a national gasp when the witnesses take a public stand?

(Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry for tips.)

We might get a competent and honest White House if the occupant started reading news papers

Extra, Extra! Prez Won’t Read All About It. Maureen Dowd writes about how Snowflake Trump wants us off his lawn.

The short of it is that the Prez, he of the Offal Office, canceled the WH subscription to the Times and The Post. The question is where or to whom, then, will he turn to get his morning narcissistic fix?

President Snowflake had a pout this past week and canceled the White House subscriptions to The Times and The Washington Post. He probably thinks the papers are still delivered by boys in tweed news caps tossing them over the fence in the general direction of the West Wing.

Get those damn papers off my lawn!

It gets better.

Stephanie Grisham, Trump’s press secretary, imperiously announced that the White House would also strong-arm federal agencies to end their subscriptions to the papers, noting that this would be “a significant cost saving” to taxpayers.

Not as much, of course, as if Trump stopped spending tens of millions on golf outings after savaging his predecessor for excessively hitting the links. Besides, taxpayers would probably be happy to spend the money on newspapers if the president would stop staring at his name and educate himself on the globe.

The enormity of his stupidity caused him to accomplish the impossible: He managed to bollix up America’s Middle East policy even more, after we had already shattered the region through ignorance and arrogance.

Dowd continues.

Given the perverted values we’ve seen in other institutions, such as Facebook, the Catholic Church, the Bush-Cheney White House and the Trump White House, it feels good to be part of an institution that aims to illuminate rather than obscure.

Speaking of spin, I’ve got a push alert for Kellyanne Conway: No matter how many reporters you dress down, your tortured triangle with George and Donald is a real story. No one in Washington has seen anything like it since the days of Martha Mitchell.

So, Mr. President, given that you are shorn from The Times and The Post, I feel an obligation to fill you in on what you’re missing:

You’re about to be impeached.

Nancy Pelosi is kicking your butt.

The Deep State is not only out to get you; it’s gotten you.

The Republicans on the Hill who tried to crash the hearing — even though their fellow Republicans were taking part — looked like fanatical losers. Matt Gaetz compared his stunt to the Spartans and the movie “300,” but he’s no Gerard Butler and his pizza party was lame.

Your long-suffering Republican allies/hostages are finally getting tired of having to defend you all the time.

But, as Dowd observes, there is a deeply symbiotic relationship between the media and the Mendacidotard. He depends on the media to feed his narcissistic nastiness. And the media uses the result to sell more papers.

So, with respect to those cancelled subscriptions, she concludes and tells Trump, “You’ll sneak back and you know it.”

(Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry.)

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Judge rules for Dems - impeachment inquiry is legal

This is a very big deal. The NY Times reports that Impeachment Inquiry Is Legal, Judge Rules, Giving Democrats a Victory. The finding came in an order directing the Justice Department to hand over secret grand jury evidence from the Mueller investigation to House impeachment investigators.

In brief, the GOPlins in Congress have insisted that the ongoing investigation conducted by House committees is not legal absent a vote by the full House. The Dems countered by pointing to previous impeachment inquiries begun without such a vote - and there is no mandate for such a vote in the Constitution. The two important rulings are highlighted in bold below.

A federal judge handed a victory to House Democrats on Friday when she ruled that they were legally engaged in an impeachment inquiry, a decision that undercut President Trump’s arguments that the investigation is a sham.

The declaration came in a 75-page opinion by Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the Federal District Court in Washington. She ruled that the House Judiciary Committee was entitled to view secret grand jury evidence gathered by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

Typically, Congress has no right to view such evidence. But in 1974, the courts permitted lawmakers to see such materials as they weighed whether to impeach President Richard M. Nixon. The House is now immersed in the same process focused on Mr. Trump, Judge Howell ruled, and that easily outweighs any need to keep the information secret from lawmakers.

And in a rebuke to the Trump administration, she wrote that the White House strategy to stonewall the House had actually strengthened lawmakers’ case. She cited Mr. Trump’s vow to fight “all” congressional subpoenas and an extraordinary directive by his White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, that executive branch officials should not provide testimony or documents to impeachment investigators.

Judge Howell agreed with the Democrats, calling the Republican arguments “cherry-picked and incomplete” and lacking support from the Constitution, House rules or court precedents.

“Even in cases of presidential impeachment, a House resolution has never, in fact, been required to begin an impeachment inquiry,” wrote Judge Howell, an appointee of President Barack Obama.

So the House is actually conducting an impeachment inquiry. Like I said, this is a very big deal.

It's possible. The Senate could vote against Trump. Here's how.

Elie Mystal writing at The Nation advises Don’t Count the Senate Out on Impeachment. To convict Trump on impeachment charges, 20 GOP senators will need to break ranks. Here’s how that can happen. I’ll jump in partway.

… despite what fatalistic Democrats and pundits tell you, a conviction in the Senate is not hopeless. The Daily Caller, a conservative website I only check when I want to feel morally and intellectually superior to others, claims to have done a poll of all 53 Republican senators. They found that only seven of them dismissed impeachment outright—and many of those seven staked their dismissals on process concerns, which will be hard to stick to after all the evidence is laid bare during a televised Senate trial. All of this suggests that there is a lot of room to move the Republican caucus.

To turn these Republicans, it will take a massive display of collective action. We, the American people, will have to demand that senators hold Trump accountable. We have to call. We have to write. We have to fight.

Towards that end, I have divided the Republican Senate into four groups. I encourage everybody to pick a senator—“adopt” one, if you will—and make pressuring him or her to do the right thing your responsibility. Make it part of your daily routine to call or write this person. Get others to join. There are 53 of these people, and we only need 20 to uphold the Constitution.

If you live in a state with Democratic senators, volunteer to help pen letters for a friend who lives under Republican rule. If somebody living in South Carolina wants to talk to Tim Scott but sound like me while doing it, let me know.

Remember how regular Americans saved Obamacare from the rabid “Freedom Caucus” of Republicans in the House? Remember how Trump still doesn’t have his wall? Remember when a bunch of American refugees with minimal military training banded together with President Bill Pullman and defeated the aliens on the Fourth of July that one time? We can do this. We must do this. Here’s where to focus our efforts.

Mystal provides a contact link for each Senator named below. You’ll have to go to the original source for those links. I’ll give you one for McSally below.

GROUP A: THE RETIRING OR UP FOR REELECTION
Dan Sullivan (AK), Martha McSally (AZ), Tom Cotton (AR), Cory Gardner (CO), David Perdue (GA), Johnny Isakson (GA), Jim Risch (ID), Joni Ernst (IA), Pat Roberts (KS), Mitch McConnell (KY), Bill Cassidy (LA), Susan Collins (ME), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS), Steve Daines (MT), Ben Sasse (NE), Thom Tillis (NC), Jim Inhofe (OK), Lindsey Graham (SC), Mike Rounds (SD), Lamar Alexander (TN), John Cornyn (TX), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Mike Enzi (WY).

Here’s a thought: There are 23 Republican senators up for reelection in 2020, which means that there are 23 people who will have to vote on whether to convict an obviously corrupt president and then face the voters. From a certain perspective, you don’t even need to worry about the rest of the Republican caucus if you can just make life miserable enough for these 23 people.

Obviously, you’re not going to get them all. Lindsey Graham has sold his soul to Trump. Tom Cotton is going to run the Trump campaign for president in 2024. Moscow Mitch is appropriately nicknamed. In some of these states, Trump is more popular than the senator running for reelection.

But in others, Trump’s approval rating is actually underwater. There are polls showing Trump’s ratings slumping around the net-unpopular zone in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, and North Carolina. He’s barely hanging on in Alaska, Georgia, and Texas. If you add all the senators from those states, that’s 11. If you add Lamar Alexander and Pat Roberts, who are both retiring and ostensibly have no political interest in rubber-stamping a criminal president, you could swell the number to 13.

Republicans in those states might think that the only way to survive is to fully embrace Trump and his base. But if Trump’s numbers get worse as more evidence against him is made public, acquitting Trump might not look like a life raft but instead like political suicide.

I’m going to be conservative and say that 10 people from this group can be convinced to convict.

GROUP B: REPUBLICANS WITH AN ALLEGED CONSCIENCE
Lisa Murkowski (AK), Marco Rubio (FL), Chuck Grassley (IA), Rand Paul (KY), Richard Burr (NC), Rob Portman (OH), Tim Scott (SC), Ted Cruz (TX), Mike Lee (UT), Mitt Romney (UT).

Don’t get me wrong, I think all of these people, with the exception of Murkowski, are bald-faced hypocrites. They’ve debased themselves and their party for Trump, and they will all continue to do so. Trump viciously insulted Ted Cruz’s father and wife, yet Cruz still supports Trump. Tim Scott used his position as the nation’s only African American Republican senator to defend Trump’s lynching analogies. Rand Paul is a novel made flesh yet loosed from its original binding. Mitt Romney is a person who once asked to lead the free world but now makes fake Twitter accounts to speak to the people.

But all of these people have given an indication during the Trump era that they know better. They know what the president does is wrong.

There could be 10 votes for impeachment here. These 10 ten people damn well know that extorting a foreign government to investigate a political rival in exchange for weapons to fight Russia warrants removal from office. Whether even one of these 10 has the basic courage to vote their conscience is anyone’s guess. But if these people have a conscience, their constituents should be vocally demanding that those better angels step forward.

Let’s imagine a world where eight people from this group can find the courage to convict. That puts Trump two votes shy of removal.

GROUP C: THE ONES WHO KNOW THE VOTERS WILL NEVER FORGET
Rick Scott (FL), Pat Toomey (PA), and Ron Johnson (WI).

These senators are not up for reelection in 2020. But there’s no reasonable universe where these people should be able to acquit Trump and then hang onto their jobs when their election cycle is up. Scott and Johnson already needed the strong voter-suppression efforts in their states to win their elections last time.

Call these people and tell them that. These three people will not be the first on the Trump conviction scene. But can you imagine getting 18 Republicans to defect only to have Pat Toomey and Ron Johnson say, “No, no, I will be the vote to save the president”? Please. Pressure these guys, and they will fold.

If two of these three people can be turned, we’re at 20, and Trump gets impeached and removed from office.

GROUP D: AT LEAST WE TRIED
Richard Shelby (AL), John Boozman (AR), Mike Crapo (ID), Todd Young (IN), Mike Braun (IN), Jerry Moran (KS), John Kennedy (LA), Roger Wicker (MS), Roy Blunt (MO), Josh Hawley (MO), Deb Fischer (NE), John Hoevan (ND), Kevin Cramer (ND), James Lankford (OK), John Thune (SD), Marsha Blackburn (TN), John Barrasso (WY).

These people are not going to vote to convict the president. I could make a case that the Indiana boys might see the merits of putting a Hoosier in the White House, or that since Josh Hawley wants the media to talk about him like he’s a Republican with a conscience, he might actually act like one for the first time in his public life. But none of these people is up for reelection, and none of them has shown that they were called to public service out of anything other than sheer opportunism.

But let’s do the math the other way. Instead of counting to 20 Republicans as I have been doing, let’s try to count to the 34 Republicans needed to acquit the president. This “at least we tried” group represents 17 votes, half the needed number. Scroll back up through the previous groups. Are you sure that Trump has 17 additional votes? Are you sure that he will still have 34 Republicans willing to free him after his public trial in the Senate?

It is very difficult to hold a president of the United States accountable for his criminal actions. But don’t let anybody tell you that it is impossible. Do the math. Then get on the phones. These senators can be pressured. They can be shamed. They can change their minds.

Trump’s entire defense rests on his belief that there aren’t 20 Republicans with the courage to cross him. What if he’s wrong?

Sen. Lindsey Graham can say it if he tries - im.peach'a.ble

The Washington Post Editorial Board helps Sen. Lindsey Graham understand the quid pro quo, saying Here’s the quid pro quo proof, Lindsey Graham.

… Mr. Graham did say the other day that “if you could show me that, you know, Trump was actually engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing.”

We think we can help the South Carolina Republican. …

[SNIP]

William B. Taylor Jr., the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Kyiv, also knew about the demand for a public statement. On Tuesday, he testified that Mr. Sondland had told him he had heard about the requirement directly from Mr. Trump. Mr. Taylor also said Mr. Sondland had told him he had been wrong to tell the Ukrainians that only a White House meeting was linked to the statement; in fact, “ ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance,” Mr. Taylor said. That’s consistent with the news conference last week by White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who confirmed that the military aid was held up to leverage a Ukrainian investigation — before issuing an unconvincing retraction.

The pressure campaign continued into September. On Sept. 8, Mr. Taylor said, Mr. Sondland informed him that after talking to Mr. Trump, he had told Mr. Zelensky that if he “did not ‘clear things up’ in public, we would be at a ‘stalemate.’ ” Added Mr. Taylor: “I understood a ‘stalemate’ to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance.”

The Ukrainians eventually told Mr. Volker that they did not want to promise investigations of Mr. Biden and the Democrats. The statement, Mr. Volker said, “was shelved.” And Mr. Zelensky never got his White House meeting. U.S. military aid, which Mr. Trump had ordered held up on July 18, was released on Sept. 11 — only after the corrupt quid pro quo was becoming public. By that date, House Democrats had announced that they would investigate whether the aid had been blocked to force Ukraine to assist Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign.

Mr. Graham and some other Republicans would portray the July 25 phone call as an isolated event in which Mr. Trump did not clearly conclude a quid pro quo with Mr. Zelensky. But the evidence presented to Congress shows that the call was part of a process that extended over three months and included repeated and specific demands for Ukraine to undertake political investigations, including of Mr. Trump’s possible 2020 opponent, lodged by Mr. Trump and by the lawyer he told top aides to work with on the deal.

Mr. Graham is himself a lawyer and former military prosecutor. He surely can recognize this corrupt campaign for what it is. The question is whether he, and other Republicans, have the moral courage to do so.

I can help also. It’s more than “very disturbing” as claimed by Sen. Graham. It’s impeachable. The Senator can say it if he tries. im.peach’a.ble

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Warrior's Dissent - the generals speak out

OPINION at the NBC News by Col. Jack Jacobs. From the beginning of his tenure, the president has given critics plenty of reasons to be excoriated. But we have heard little dissent from warriors — until now.

On Oct. 17, I attended the Al Smith Dinner, an annual charity gala in New York City. Political big-shots mingle with media celebrities and corporate executives. It is always an entertaining experience. This year’s keynote address was by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, President Donald Trump’s erstwhile secretary of defense. Trump once praised Mattis profusely, but more recently has made him the object of his scorn, calling him “the world’s most overrated general.” (Full disclosure: I know Jim Mattis and can report that he is among the finest officers I have met since I first donned a uniform 53 years ago.)

Although Mattis has a well-developed and wry sense of humor, he is judicious about using it. His public persona leaves one with the correct impression that he is the consummate professional warrior. But at the Al Smith Dinner, he chose to deploy his weapons of erudition, surprising and amusing the hundreds of attendees with a rare counterattack directed at the president’s “overrated” insult. “I’m honored to be considered that by Donald Trump because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress,” Mattis said in his keynote speech. “So, I guess I’m the Meryl Streep of generals.”

The barb was doubly surprising given Mattis’ previous reluctance to criticize his former commander in chief, a decision that has garnered its fair share of criticism. But there’s a reason for Mattis’ reluctance. Generals in Mattis’ position, even those who are retired, do not criticize the sitting president. Until this administration, Mattis’ joke would have been unthinkable. And yet, Mattis is merely the latest in a line of commanding officers who have recently rebuked the president’s decisions. This collective decision to go against such entrenched military traditions should give their warnings even more weight. When the generals are speaking out, something is really wrong.

[BIG snip]

When warriors of the caliber of Mattis and McRaven or Votel and Allen publicly reprove the president, citizens may properly conclude that our national security decision-making is truly dysfunctional and that the nation is dangerously at risk.

To be sure, from the very beginning of his tenure, the president has given critics plenty of reasons — both stylistic and substantive — to be excoriated. But, as in the past, we have not heard dissent from warriors. Until now.

Perhaps the proximate impetus for the military’s disaffection was the president’s latest decision, to withdraw precipitously almost all American forces from Syria. For the United States, there has been nothing positive that has resulted from this misguided choice, and all the strategic gains have accrued to Turkey, Syria, Russia, Iran and ISIS.

On the other hand, maybe this decision’s effect on these officers’ thinking is more wide-ranging. We are now in the unenviable and dangerous position of having convinced both friends and adversaries that we are withdrawing from the world stage. Mattis, for one, would gladly suffer a lifetime of adolescent, ad hominem criticism if the result were the safety, security and prosperity of his country.

(Tip from Roving Reporter Sherry.)

The Grim Reaper of the U. S. Senate

Judd Legum (popular.info) reports on prospects for flipping the U. S. Senate. It starts with dumping Moscow Mitch McConnell.

Next year, McConnell is up for reelection. He faces Democratic Amy McGrath — perhaps his toughest ever opponent. McGrath is having early success at fundraising, pulling in $10.7 million in the first three months of her Senate candidacy. But McConnell has been raising money for this race since 2014 and has $9 million in cash, while McGrath has $6.7 million.

Still, it’s clear McGrath will have the resources she needs to mount a vigorous campaign.

McConnell is a powerful force in Washington but an unpopular figure at home in Kentucky. A Morning Consult poll shows he has a 37% approval rating, making him the most unpopular Senator in the country.

A poll conducted by the AARP in July showed a statistical dead heat, with McConnell leading McGrath by one point, 47% to 46%.

A McGrath victory would not only remove McConnell from office but could flip the balance of power in the Senate, ensuring the best chance of success for meaningful climate legislation. Republicans currently hold a three-seat majority, 53–47, with _three Republican incumbents in significant danger_—Martha McSally (AZ), Cory Gardner (CO), and Susan Collins (ME).

Nevertheless, several large corporations that publicly profess a deep commitment to combating climate change are bankrolling McConnell’s campaign. In so doing, they are helping the single biggest obstacle to climate action remain in power.

… fossil fuel companies aren’t the only ones supporting McConnell’s re-election campaign. McConnell is also drawing support from eco-conscious corporations who tell their customers they are committed to addressing climate change.

  • Microsoft has also donated the $10,000 maximum to McConnell’s re-election campaign and $20,000 to the Bluegrass Committee, McConnell’s leadership PAC.
  • Facebook has also donated the $10,000 maximum to McConnell’s reelection campaign and $10,000 to the Bluegrass Committee, McConnell’s leadership PAC.
  • CVS has also donated the $10,000 maximum to McConnell’s reelection campaign and $20,000 to the Bluegrass Committee, McConnell’s leadership PAC.
  • Johnson & Johnson has also donated the $10,000 maximum to McConnell’s reelection campaign and $10,000 to the Bluegrass Committee, McConnell’s leadership PAC.
  • Pfizer has also donated the $10,000 maximum to McConnell’s reelection campaign and $15,000 to the Bluegrass Committee, McConnell’s leadership PAC.

Here’s the thing. All of these corporations claim to be dedicated to combatting climate and yet they donate to McConnell. Why is that a big deal? Legum lists Moscow Mitch’s actions against environmental action.

Trump is indeed making the climate crisis worse. But that doesn’t define how the president has spent his decades-long career. Trump has not dedicated his entire political life to transforming the country’s political system in a way that systematically benefits carbon-intensive industries and ensures effective climate legislation is perpetually gridlocked. Trump simply hasn’t done that. But Mitch McConnell has.

“The real McConnell legacy is two-fold,” said [noted environmentalist Bill McKibben]. “There’s never been the slightest chance of meaningful climate legislation reaching the Senate floor for a vote while he’s held power, and he’s packed the federal judiciary with judges — beginning with the fraudulent holdup of Merrick Garland — that means the chance for the judicial branch dealing with this crisis are slimmer than they should be.”

In addition to taking two of the three branches of government out of the climate fight, McConnell has also given fossil fuel interests disproportionate power over U.S. elections.

When bipartisan attempts at climate legislation have emerged, McConnell has done everything in his power to make sure they fail. In 2009, for example, McConnell engaged in ridiculous delay tactics to prevent the passage of a bipartisan Senate climate bill.

And when a climate bill passes the House, McConnell just doesn’t take it up in the Senate. Indeed, “McConnell has touted his ability to block House-passed legislation, calling himself the ‘Grim Reaper’ for progressive policy ideas,” the Hill reported. Those ideas include recently House-passed legislation to re-enter the Paris agreement.

McConnell is up for reelection in 2020, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. If McConnell wins and maintains his position as Senate Majority Leader, it means there will be no significant legislative action on climate change for the foreseeable future. He will also continue to be a position to pack the courts with judges hostile to regulations on carbon-intensive industries.

The next decade the world’s last chance to stop catastrophic climate change. If McConnell remains in power, the chances of success are vanishingly small.

McConnell fancies himself as a “Grim Reaper” when it comes to progressive environmental policies. Although he would not admit it, he may well be a Grim Reaper for the entire planet.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Invasion of the GOPlins - and other tales from the Trumpublican crypt

Let’s start with the CBS News report that a Top diplomat tells lawmakers Ukraine aid was directly tied to investigations.

In extraordinary testimony that left lawmakers stunned, Bill Taylor – the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine – testified on Tuesday that U.S. aid to Ukraine was explicitly tied to the country’s willingness to investigate President Trump’s political rivals, providing new details about the events at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

William Taylor, the chargé d’affaires of the U.S. embassy in Kiev, delivered a 15-page statement behind closed doors to members of the House committees leading the impeachment probe. Taylor emerged as a key witness in the investigation into the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine when text messages between him and two other top diplomats came to light earlier this month.

In the statement, Taylor describes a concerted effort to use U.S. leverage to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to commit to opening investigations into debunked allegations of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, as well as the gas company Burisma, which had hired former Vice President Joe Biden’s son in 2014. Taylor said these efforts came via an “irregular, informal channel of U.S. policy-making” consisting of Rudy Giuliani, then-special envoy Kurt Volker, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland.

So, Trump’s scheme is snaring more and more members of the administration. And it’s forcing them to behave more and more like common hooligans. Following Taylor’s testimony on Tuesday, the Trumpublicans in the House on Wednesday invaded a House committee meeting being conducted in a secured room thus disrespecting the House’s own rule and the customary procedures of investigations by such committees. Here’s more.

Behind close doors is an essential standard operating procedure (SOP) of grand juries, and the House in this case operates analogously to a grand jury. But that SOP is rankling the thuggish Trumpublicans in the House. They are trying to get the House to operate as if it were conducting a trial. Hey R’s: that is the responsibility of the Senate. Read the Constitution.

[Wikipedia defines:] “Impeachment in the United States is the process by which a legislature (usually in the form of the lower house) brings charges against a civil officer of government for crimes alleged to have been committed, analogous to the bringing of an indictment by a grand jury.

The critical words are highlighted. Grand jury investigations are not public and certainly don’t include in the deliberations the targets of those investigations. Likewise, the investigation by the House is shielded and does not function as a trial - that is the responsibility of the Senate. How many times must we tutor Republicans about the impeachment process? The House acts as prosecutor and the Senate functions as a trial.

But now it seems as though the Republicans in the House are willing to sabotage the House’s processes and rules to make some points at Faux News.

House Republicans May Have Committed Some Light Treason opines Senior Editor Jim Swift at Bulwark.com.

A few months ago, internet personalities devised a plan to storm Area 51.

As the logic went: if enough of us storm a 1,300 square mile facility, they can’t stop us all. Which was true enough, I guess.

On Wednesday a group of House Republicans decided to take a page from America’s real influencers and storm the impeachment inquiry.

Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-InfoWars), led a few dozen members of the House Republican caucus to Naruto run a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, inside the U.S. Capitol complex in order to perform a sit in.

The majority rules in the People’s House and there are rules. Gaetz and his co-conspirators are suggesting that Republicans have been shut out from the testimony being given in the impeachment inquiry because it’s being done in a classified setting to the House. It’s important to underscore that this simply is not true.

The Republican members of Congress who sit on the committee either were (or should have been) in this SCIF. The hearing is closed not to “Republicans” but to all members who are not on the relevant committee. And the members of the relevant committee come from both parties.

Gaetz and his colleagues weren’t just protesting, though. They compromised a secure area. This is not just foolish, but reckless. It’s like storming Area 51, except instead of idiot social media celebrities doing it for the engagement, it’s elected political representatives doing it to get airtime on Fox.

If you’ve never been in a SCIF, and 99.9 percent of Americans have not, it’s basically like being put in a rubber room prison that’s wrapped in a Faraday Cage. The whole point of the SCIF is that nothing gets in and nothing gets out that isn’t planned and accounted for. There are a few hundred of these facilities scattered throughout official Washington—the FBI, CIA, and Pentagon obviously need them—but only a couple on the Hill.

You are not, under any circumstances, supposed to bring electronic devices into a SCIF. You can understand why. Members of Congress are not like the president, getting their phones rigorously checked by security personnel for signs of compromise. The device protocol for the average member of Congress aren’t that much more security-conscious than your mom’s.

So, in an effort to defend President Trump, Gaetz and company stormed the SCIF to disrupt the hearing and they didn’t just byob their own devices—they likely used them to show off on Twitter.

Rep. Mark Walker screeched on twitter “Open the process!” As I said, the Trumpublicans just don’t understand the role of the House in impeachments. Or, worse: maybe they do and are acting for other reasons.

… after claiming, in the first person, to be “in” the SCIF, both Gaetz and Walker flipped and, well after the fact, claimed that their tweets were not from “inside the room,” but from “staff outside.” Either way, one of these claims is a lie.

Not that it matters which is which. Because either way, as Mieke Eoyang, a former congressional staffer who worked on national security issues, put it this way: House Republicans endangered national security in an attempt to cover for President Trump.

We have reached a point where the political interests of the president run counter to the security interests of the nation. Or maybe we’ve been at that point for a long time. It’s just that now, other elected Republicans are admitting it through their actions.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Quid pro quo update

Judd Legum provides a brief on impeachment testimony, particularly testimony about the quid pro quo.

On Tuesday, William Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, delivered bombshell testimony at the House of Representatives. Taylor testified that Trump conditioned hundreds of millions in military aid to Ukraine on a public commitment from Ukraine to investigate his political rivals — Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.

“[EU] Ambassador [Gordan] Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check,” Taylor said. That’s the definition of a quid pro quo.

Taylor’s detailed testimony wasn’t necessary to justify impeachment. The fact that Trump asked Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens — which was established by the call summary released by the White House — was more than enough.

But dozens of Republicans in Congress defended Trump by publicly declaring that there was “no quid pro quo.” The implication, of course, was that if Trump engaged in a quid pro quo, it would be a serious offense. Now, these Republicans have some explaining to do. If you are interested in the receipts, I’ve collected many of the statements from Republican members of Congress about “quid pro quo” here

Legum includes statements by 20 Republican Reps, by Scriber’s count, including our own Andy Biggs and Debbie Lesko. Way to go Arizona!

Russia advances while America withdraws - some observations on America's fractured foreign policy

The Washington Post reports that Russian military units patrol northeastern Syria in agreement with Turkey.

"Big success on the Turkey/Syria Border. Safe Zone created!” President Trump wrote brayed Wednesday on Twitter.

“Ceasefire has held and combat missions have ended. Kurds are safe and have worked very nicely with us,” he said.

But even as Trump declared success in Syria, U.S. policy appeared to be in disarray.

There are three angles here. One is that in the headline. Russians have moved in as we have moved out. That’s part of a larger pattern of American decline in the age of Trump. But that “big picture” is another story for another day.

The second is that, while Trump ordered all troops out of Syria and back home, SecDef Mark Esper just moved them, to Western Iraq to keep fighting ISIS. Angle 2a highlights the rift between POTUS and SecDef. Scriber is betting on another departure from the Effing Moron’s cabinet. It’s a good bet. Said Moron referred to SecDef Mark Esper as Mark Esperanto.

Angle 2b is that, ironically, Trump’s command, bringing our troops home, might well be realized because of resistance from Iraq.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper was in the Iraqi capital to discuss the redeployment of hundreds of U.S. troops, after Iraq’s military announced its opposition to allowing American forces to stay in the country.

Iraqi Defense Minister Najah al-Shammari told the Associated Press on Wednesday that U.S. forces were only “transiting” through Iraqi territory and would depart within four weeks.

The Pentagon chief had said earlier this week that U.S. troops departing Syria would redeploy to western Iraq to continue fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Well, maybe not if Iraq orders them out.

Angle #3: Trump lays claim to Syrian oil field. At least, that’s Scriber’s take on what was motivating some of Trump’s tweets.

[The Post again:] Also this week, Trump announced an apparent U.S. plan to secure lucrative oil fields in northern and eastern Syria. Esper told reporters Monday that a force of about 200 U.S. troops would be stationed near the oil fields “to deny access, specifically revenue to ISIS and any other groups that may want to seek that revenue to enable their own malign activities.”

Any other groups? Like Turkey and Russia and Syrian government?

The Hill, among other sources, reported that Trump brayed “We have secured the Oil. Bringing soldiers home!’ ”It’s unclear what Trump meant by his oil comment and a similar claim last week that resulted in some confusion among the foreign policy community."

But on Wednesday, [wapo reported] Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the Syrian government should retain control of all of the oil facilities in northeastern Syria, Reuters reported, quoting Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.

Like everything else in Trump world, this is a story still being written. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Happy Halloween - inside the first pentagon briefing with the Effing Moron

Here’s a story from Politico.com that should scare the bejeesus out of us all.

Inside Trump’s First Pentagon Briefing. What [Guy Snodgrass] saw there that foretold the coming rift between Mattis and the president—and today’s foreign policy crises. Guy Snodgrass is former chief speechwriter for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. He is the author of Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon With Secretary Mattis, from which this [Politico] article is adapted.

War room

Here is some of the story (with some rearranging of paragraphs).

As planned, Mattis kicked off the meeting with remarks we had rehearsed in his office a number of times. Mattis tends to turn professorial during important meetings, providing the audience with excessive detail rather than tailoring his approach to the group he’s speaking with. This instinct worsens when he is anxious about an event, and he will spend an inordinate amount of time on tactical details that have little bearing on strategic outcomes in order to bolster his confidence level. Unfortunately, to the room his opening sounded too much like a lecture.

Trump scowled.

Mattis worked through his first slide about “chokepoints,” extremely narrow, landlocked corridors between larger bodies of water. He then shared his philosophical view about America’s two fundamental powers of intimidation and inspiration, telling the president a story I’d heard many times.

Years before, a terrorist had attempted to kill then-two-star general Mattis with an improvised explosive device. Marines notified Mattis that they had captured the terrorist as he was trying to place the device on the road Mattis frequently traveled, using two 155-millimeter mortar rounds, a car battery and a detonator. Not the terrorist’s finest day. As Mattis told me during a meeting in his office, “The terrorist realized as he stared down the rifle barrels pointed at him that he was in danger of losing his 401(k).”

Mattis decided to speak with the terrorist after he was apprehended. Once in a holding room, Mattis slid a cup of coffee across the table to help break the ice as he sat down. Ultimately, the terrorist wanted to know: “Do you think if I’m really good at Guantanamo, will they let me move to America after I’m released?” As Mattis told it, the story represents two fundamental powers: We can intimidate others through our military superiority, but America’s power to inspire is every bit as—and perhaps even more—powerful.

Mattis continued with his briefing, walking through in exacting detail the force ratios in each major geographic location. He sought to convince the president that our allies and partners put forward far more troops in support of stability abroad than America does. In short, America gets a good deal from an overseas military presence.

The president frowned, fiddling with the papers in front of him while glancing around the room.

Mattis’ third slide triggered a stronger response from Trump. A visual depiction of our Pacific posture, this slide zoomed in on the U.S. forces located in Japan and South Korea—forces that had kept the peace in both countries for more than six decades. It detailed the numbers of troops in each country, the cost to American taxpayers, and the costs borne by our allies to support forces in their country. Mattis made the point that America had been willing to accept unfair terms following World War II in order to get both countries back on their feet, but that now would be an opportune time to update our trade agreements should Trump desire to do so.

Mattis loved this slide because it outlined the significant contributions both nations were making, with Japan footing part of the bill to shift U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, and South Korea paying to move Army soldiers to a new base. He emphasized to the president the importance of Japan paying to offset the costs for a new base, saying it was the first time in history they’d done so.

“Who is paying the rest of the bill for the move to Guam?” the president demanded. He was upset that Japan was only covering a part of the total costs required to relocate the base.

There was silence. But only briefly.

“Our trade agreements are criminal,” Trump thundered—despite the fact that Mattis was not talking about anything trade-related. “Japan and South Korea are taking advantage of the United States.” This was decidedly not the message Mattis’ slide intended to convey.

Out of nowhere, the president added, “And the USS Ford [the navy’s newest aircraft carrier] is completely out of control with cost overruns!”

Mattis struggled to regain control of the meeting. In one sense he got what he’d wanted. The president was definitely engaged, but not in the way Mattis had hoped.

Twenty-five minutes later, it was Tillerson’s turn to run the gauntlet. Tillerson was by nature a slow talker. I could tell at once that was not an endearing quality to Trump. When Tillerson’s turn was over, Trump looked like a kid who had been told it was time for recess.

Cohn’s brief was easily the best of the three. It consisted of only three slides. Sensing the president’s mood, Cohn was in and out in under five minutes. All eyes shifted to the president.

A very good study, thank you,” said Trump. “This is one big monster created over a number of years. Japan … Germany … South Korea … our allies are costing more than anyone else at the table!” Again, not the message any of us had intended.

Then the president paused. His eyes seemed animated by a thought.

"I just returned from France,” he said. “Did you see President Macron’s handshake?” he asked no one in particular. “He wouldn’t let go. He just kept holding on. I spent two hours at Bastille Day. Very impressive.”

A pause.

“I want a ‘Victory Day.’ Just like Veterans Day. The Fourth of July is too hot,” he said, apparently out of nowhere. “I want vehicles and tanks on Main Street. On Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the White House. We need spirit! We should blow everybody away with this parade. The French had an amazing parade on Bastille Day with tanks and everything. Why can’t we do that?”

Those of us in the control room linked to the Pentagon conference room shifted uncomfortably, shooting glances at each other. Where was this going? We’d opened the control room door 30 minutes before to improve air flow. A Secret Service agent poked his head in, apparently uncomfortable with the conversation and the light it cast on the president. “Hey,” he asked, “do you guys need to still be in here?”

Mattis and his team’s response to the president’s suggestion made clear that they were adamantly opposed to a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Mattis and others voiced concern that a parade like what Trump wanted would harken back to Soviet Union—like displays of authoritarian power. Mattis stated that precious taxpayer dollars would be better spent elsewhere, and that the optics of such a display of power would boomerang, causing more harm to America’s international prestige than any domestic benefit could outweigh. Mattis was also concerned that a parade would risk eroding the military’s long-standing apolitical reputation.

It didn’t matter—Trump was serious. Mattis deflected and played for more time by saying, “We’ll take a look at some options and get back to you, Mr. President.”

On it went, with Tillerson and Mattis taking turns with the president, each jumping in to try to keep the discussion focused on the importance of America’s alliance structure, of the critical nature of our global footprint and the economic benefit the United States derives from ensuring global stability and order.

… Over time Mattis began to shut down, sitting back in his chair with a distant, defeated look on his face. He had cared so much about this meeting, had poured his heart and soul into it, and had believed firmly in his ability to bring Trump around to his way of thinking. None of his attempts were working. From my vantage point, Mattis was playing a game of chess against a president fixated on “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”

Across the table from Mattis, Tillerson also became increasingly frustrated, jousting verbally with the president before becoming so exasperated that he stopped talking completely for the last half-hour of the meeting. Tillerson sat back in his chair with his arms crossed, an incredulous scowl on his face as he shot pointed looks over to Mattis.

Many times during Tillerson’s tenure, reporters would claim that he thought his boss was an idiot—and each time Tillerson would deny it publicly. But there was no doubt among most observers in the room that day that Tillerson was thinking exactly that. Both men—Mattis and Tillerson—were despondent. We had just witnessed a meeting with Trump, up close and personal.

For the remainder of the meeting, Trump veered from topic to topic—Syria, Mexico, a recent Washington Post story he didn’t like—like a squirrel caught in traffic, dashing one way and then another.

Now we knew why access was controlled so tightly.

I learned an important lesson that would pay off when Trump returned for a briefing the following January: only use slides with pictures … no words.

And with that, two of the principals concerned with foreign policy (Tillerson) and military readiness (Mattis) were out in the cold, apparently preceded by the third, National Security advisor McMaster.

(Thanks to our Roving Reporter Sherry for this tip.)