Thursday, November 28, 2019

Simian battles in the era of global meltdown

NY Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has a scary view of The World-Shaking News That You’re Missing saying that The U.S.-China divide isn’t just about trade.

I take as the essence of what he has to say in his closing paragraphs.

We need to pause and ask ourselves exactly where we are heading with this whole tech/trade war with China. And Beijing needs to do the same.

China is our economic competitor, economic partner, source of talent and capital, geopolitical rival, collaborator and serial rule-breaker. It is not our enemy or our friend.

The only effective way to manage a relationship this complex is: 1) with an all-of-government approach. You can’t have the Justice Department doing one thing, the Pentagon another, the Treasury another, the trade negotiators another, the State Department another and the president tweeting another. There has to be a tightly coordinated strategy to get the best out of this relationship and cushion the worst. And 2), we need as many Pacific and European allies as possible so it’s “The Whole World Versus China” on the right rules for trade and technology integration in the 21st century, not just Trump versus Xi over who has the biggest tariff.

Unfortunately, Trump has deployed a totally disjointed, impulsive “America First” strategy that has ended up “America Alone” — and weaker. And Xi has been no better. So a relationship that the world needs to work, to drive growth and deal with global problems like climate change, is slowly unraveling. We will miss it when it’s gone.

Or, as Kishore Mahbubani, the Singaporean academic, former diplomat and author of the forthcoming book “Has China Won?” said to me: “I wonder if one day future historians will look back at this contest between Americans and Chinese and compare them to two families of apes fighting with each other while the forest around them is burning.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Trump's corrupt connection to Turkey - A story of 'life or death national security decisions because of an active conflict of interest related to his business'

Tim Miller writing in The Bulwark tells us why Trump’s Turkey Corruption Is Way Worse Than You Realize. An idiot’s guide to the Trump Turkey scandal that no one is paying attention to.

You need to read this one as Miller lists the characters and their timelines (yup - more than one). Here goes. (Block quotes are assumed unless otherwise marked up.)

Earlier this month, Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton, the moustachioed one, the unlikeliest of potential #Resistance heroes, left another clue about his knowledge of President Donald Trump’s corrupt dealings during an investment event at Morgan Stanley.

According to a report by MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, Bolton said that he believes there is a “personal or business relationship dictating Trump’s position on Turkey.”

Wait what?

The president’s former national security advisor suggested that the commander-in-chief made life or death national security decisions because of an active conflict of interest related to his business?

Even by the standards of Trumpian corruption, this is holy-motherforking-shirtballs level stuff.

Bolton’s accusation, if accurate, would amount to the biggest scandal in the American presidency in half a century: The most senior security staffer, a man with unparalleled access to the president, believes that Trump acted in a way that is indistinguishable from double-dealing despots the world over.

How is everyone not focusing on this story?!?

I suspect the answer is because the media finds it hard to litigate more than one claim of presidential malfeasance at a time and the purposeful opacity of Trump’s business dealings.

So until we get the full work-up on the Bolton story, let’s take a look at what is already in the public domain.

How could the Trump administration have two cases of diplomacy being performed for personal corrupt ends? I mean, really: How does this sort of thing happen when there are so many checks in place?in a giant federal bureaucracy.

Well, the Ukraine “drug deal” was able to get as far as it did because the dealers—Mick, Rudy, Gordo, and Rick—acted in what Ambassador Bill Taylor described as an “irregular” diplomatic channel. Which is to say: outside of the regular structure that is guided by law and norms and all the other things the “rule of law” party used to care a lot about.

And it turns out that a similarly irregular diplomatic channel exists with Turkey. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that Berat Albayrak—he’s Turkish strongman Recep Erdogan’s son-in-law—said that he’s been working on “backdoor diplomacy”—his words, not mine—with Jared Kushner and Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ, son-in-law of Trump’s business partner Aydin Dogan.

Kushner, of course, is American strongman Donald Trump’s son-in-law.

That “backdoor”—son-in-law to son-in-law to son-in-law—goes around the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, who is a career diplomat named David Satterfield.

Satterfield has been in the foreign service since 1980—literally before Kushner was born—and held high-level positions throughout the Middle East. Which makes you wonder why Trump needs his daughter’s 38-year-old husband to be back-dooring U.S. policy to America’s most important frenemy in the region.

And the answer is that while Trump directed Rudy to handle his political affairs vis-a-vis Ukraine, he needed to keep it in the family in Turkey because where Trump’s bread is buttered. In 2015, Trump told Steve Bannon that he had a “little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul.”

That major building initially brought in between $5 million and $10 million per year to the Trump Organization. More recently income has been closer to $1 million a year.

Couple this multi-million dollar conflict of interest with reports that Trump came to an agreement with Erdogan to abandon the Kurds in a phone call—completely outside the normal channels of the U.S. foreign policy and defense apparatus and against the recommendation of everyone in those channels—and the fact that the primary parties to communication between the two nations are a triopair of family hangers-on and it’s hard not to think that something is deeply rotten in Ankara.

Like so many Trump scandals, much of the evidence of corruption in regards to Turkey is sitting in plain sight. So I put my old oppo hat on and dug around to create a handy-guide to what we know about Trump’s conflicts of interest and a list of questions as to what Congress can find out.

For those who don’t want to wade into this particular Trumpian Black Sea, the [short] is:

Trump enabled a despot who has significant leverage over his business in a brutal ethnic cleansing of our ally, cutting an opaque sweetheart deal negotiated by the sons-in-law of Erdogan, Trump, and Trump’s business partner.

Meanwhile, Erdogan has empowered Trump’s business partner, making him Turkey’s key man in Washington, which gives him inordinate influence on the administration and ensures that the financial interests of all involved are maintained.

Here is a primer on the major players and events.

The Players

Recep Tayyip Erdogan – President of Turkey

Berat Albayrak – Turkish Minister of Finance and Treasury; Erdogan son-in-law; friend of Jared Kushner

Aydin Dogan – Turkish tycoon and Trump business partner

Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ – Chairman of the Turkish government funded Turkey-U.S. Business Council (TAIK), son-in-law to Dogan; friend of Kushner; and Trump business partner

Arzuhan Dogan Yalçındağ – Wife of Mehmet; on the board of Dogan Holdings and minority owner; currently in business with the Trump Organization

Reza Zarrab – Iranian/Turkish businessman; arrested in the U.S. for evading Iranian sanctions; former resident of Trump Towers Istanbul; represented by Rudy Giuliani

The Timeline: Trump Business

2009 – Ivanka Trump begins making trips to Turkey to pursue a business relationship with Aydin Dogan (who ran, among other businesses, CNN Turk) and his son-in-law Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ.

April 2012 – Erdogan attends the opening of Trump Towers Istanbul, which is a licensing deal struck between Dogan and the Trump Organization. Trump says Turkey is an “investment priority.” Dogan puts $400 million into the deal.

June 2016 – Erdogan floats the possibility of having the Trump name removed from the towers because of Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, showing the potential power he would wield over Trump’s business.

November 2016 – Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ attends the Trump Tower victory party in New York City and immediately becomes the intermediary between Turkey and the new administration.

December 2016 – The Trump Organization signals its intention to move forward on a new hotel in Dallas, partnering with a Turkish businessman.

January 2017 –Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ becomes head of the Turkey-U.S. Business Council (TAIK).

March 2017 – Erdogan threatens Dogan—who in addition to being Trump’s business partner also owns a number of Turkish media properties—over hostile stories appearing in newspapers Dogan owns. Erdogan warns: “Everyone should know their place. Whoever tries to play us against ourselves will pay a heavy price.”

May 2017 –Yalçındağ schedules the TAIK conference, which had in previous years been held at the Ritz Carlton, at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. He does the same the next two years.

March 2018 – Under heavy pressure from Erdogan, Dogan sells the media assets in his conglomerate to a pro-government group.

The Timeline: Trump Administration

May 2017 –Erdogan’s security guards assault protesters on U.S. soil. President Trump does not condemn the attack.

February 2018 – Yalçındağ indicates that TAIK is lobbying Trump on foreign policy in addition to economic policy, stating that Trump has agreed with their posture that border disputes should be resolved within the region. (Translation: Turkey should be free to do whatever it wants with the Kurds on the Syrian border and America should stand aside.)

December 2018 – Trump agrees to remove troops protecting the Kurds in Syria at Erdogan’s request, in agreement with the suggestion of TAIK and against the advice of his full national security team. After being pressured by Congress, Trump backtracks and keeps a minor presence in the area.

February 2019 –Kushner and Albayrak meet to discuss economic relations between Turkey and the United States.

April 15 2019 – Yalcindag, Kushner, Albayrak, and Wilbur Ross meet at another TAIK conference, hosted at the Trump International Hotel.

April 16 2019 –Kushner, Albayrak, Mnuchin, and Trump hold an impromptu meeting in the White House. Albayrak describes the meeting as “a reflection of Mr. Trump’s fondness, love and real warm feelings both toward Turkey and our president.”

July 14 2019 –Pompeo says that the law requires Turkey be sanctioned for purchasing a Russian missile system.

July 24 2019 – Trump undercuts Pompeo, saying that he doesn’t want to put sanctions on Turkey. Trump asks for flexibility from Congress.

October 6 2019 – Erdogan wins Trump over in a phone call (again) and successfully persuades him to remove all troops, allowing the slaughter of the Kurds on the Syrian border—again, against the advice of his full national security team.

October 14 2019 – Under pressure from Congress, Trump authorizes sanctions against Turkey.

October 23 2019 – Trump lifts those sanctions in a deal brokered by … wait for it … Russia.

November 2019 – Trump makes Turkey a sweetheart offer that includes a new trade deal and a sanctions waiver regarding the purchase of the Russian missile system.

The Timeline: Michael Flynn

August 2016 – Turkey gives Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn a $600k lobbying contract from Ekip Alptekin—then the head of TAIK. Later, in January of 2017, Alptekin’s job is given to Trump’s business partner Yalçındağ.

November 2016 – Flynn, now working as a Turkish agent, writes a pro-Erdogan op-ed in The Hill(natch) and does not reveal his financial ties.

December 2016 – Flynn rejects the Obama administration’s plan to arm the Kurds at Turkey’s behest.

The Timeline: Giuliani / Halkbank

2010 to 2014 – During this period, Reza Zarrab, who is the ringleader of a crime organization designed to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, runs his business from Trump Towers in Istanbul.

March 2016 – Zarrab is arrested in Florida for sanctions evasion.

February 2017 – Zarrab hires Rudy Giuliani to be part of his legal defense. Giuliani travels to Turkey to meet with Erdogan.

Early 2017 – In an Oval Office meeting, Giuliani pushes for a prisoner swap between the sanctions-evading Zarrab and Pastor Andrew Brunson—an American citizen who who was baselessly arrested in 2016 by Turkish authorities in order to be used as a bargaining chip against the United States. During the meeting, Trump asks Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to drop the case against Zarrab. Tillerson refuses. (Once again, this is a case of Trump being bailed out of his attempt to commit illicit acts by staffers refusing his requests.)

November 2017 – Zarrab cuts a deal with prosecutors and testifies that he worked with the Turkish state bank Halkbank in order to evade sanctions against Iran. Zarrab’s testimony implicates Erdogan as part of the sanctions-evasion scheme.

April 16, 2019 – Kushner, Albayrak, Mnuchin, and Trump hold their impromptu meeting in the White House—the one we mentioned earlier—despite the fact that Mnuchin is overseeing a Treasury Department investigation into Halkbank that implicates Albayrak.

October 2019 – During a prank call with a Russian radio host who Senator Lindsey Graham believed to be Turkey’s defense minister, Graham twice volunteers that Trump told him in private conversations that he is “very sensitive” to the Halkbank case and “keen” to do what he can to resolve it.

So let’s turn this into an executive summary:

  • President Trump has substantial, active business interests in Turkey that Erdogan has demonstrated he can damage.
  • The president has repeatedly sided with Turkey against the unanimous objections of his national security advisors.
  • The Turkish point person for this relationship Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ, whose finances are deeply entangled with Trumps and who has repeatedly bragged about his ability to influence U.S. policy.
  • The main diplomatic channel between the United States and Turkey consists of three men who have intertwined financial interests—Trump, Kushner, Yalçındağ— and the Erdogan family.
  • A second irregular diplomatic channel is headed up by the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who also has a financial interest in the country through his client Reza Zarrab. Remember: Giuliani is being paid to defend Turkish nationals who allegedly trespassed against U.S. law by evading sanctions imposed against Iran. Which is an enemy of America.
  • The initial irregular diplomatic channel—the one with Michael Flynn being paid by Turkey—resulted in the president’s first national security advisor going to jail for lying about having been a foreign agent in Turkey’s employ.
  • There seems to be such little oversight of the U.S.-Turkey relationship that there is no record of what was said in most of the Trump/Erdogan calls or the Kushner/Albayrak/Yalçındağ meetings. Even Trump’s own national security advisor believe there must be corrupt personal dealings at play.

This fact pattern, combined with the astonishing Ukraine testimony last week, demands that Congress investigate. The questions are abundant:

  • How has Turkey has so successfully evaded U.S. sanctions?
  • What happened that caused the president to unilaterally reverse course and allow the Turks to slaughter our Kurdish allies?
  • What is in the transcripts of the POTUS calls with Erdogan dealing with these matters?
  • How has Trump’s business relationship impacted other events in the region, such as the al-Baghdadi raid?
  • What were the 2019 financial ties between Trump and his diplomatic counterparty?
  • What, specifically, led the top national security aide to the president to believe he was financially compromised?

We know that a campaign orchestrated by Erdogan and Trump’s business partner has resulted in a Turkey First White House that has shown no regard for our national security, the sacrifice of our allies, or the rule of law. An investigation should determine the degree to which this betrayal of American interests is the result of more Trumpian corruption.

Tim Miller is a contributor to The Bulwark and a communications consultant. He previously served as senior advisor to the anti-Trump Our Principles PAC, communications director for Jeb Bush, and spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Update on Trump's other crimes

In this morning’s email in a Subscriber’s post, The Forgotten Crimes, Judd Legum (popular.info) reminds us that Trump is mired in more scandal than just the Ukraine matters.

On Monday … there were significant developments in three distinct scandals facing Trump — all completely unrelated to Ukraine. Congressional Republicans may have decided that Trump is above the law and are content to bury their heads in the sand. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to play along.

The Storm has not passed

Little more than a year ago, Trump’s longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, pled guilty to felony campaign finance violations. Cohen said that in 2016 he facilitated six-figure payments to two women who said they had affairs with Trump, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, at the “direction” of Trump. Cohen and Trump conspired to break campaign finance law for a specific purpose — they wanted to conceal the payment from the public because they believed it would damage his presidential candidacy.

Prosecutors referred to Trump as “Individual–1” and the case established Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator in two federal crimes.

Although Trump himself was not charged federally, he may not be in the clear.

On Monday, CNN reported that “David Pecker, the head of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, has spoken with prosecutors with the New York district attorney’s office as part of its investigation into the Trump Organization’s handling of hush money payments to women who alleged affairs with President Donald Trump.” The payments to McDougal were made by the National Enquirer’s parent company, AMI. He was also allegedly involved in the broader effort to “capture and kill” negative stories about Trump.

The meeting, which took place in late October, shows local prosecutors “are still trying to connect the dots between Trump and the hush money payments.” Pecker could be “a potential critical witness down the road in any legal action against Trump or the Trump Organization.” The focus of the investigation is on whether the hush-money payments broke any state laws.

The prosecutors have also “interviewed Cohen at least three times at the Otisville Correctional facility where he is serving a three-year federal prison sentence for multiple crimes, including facilitating the hush money payments.”

Mueller’s main man

Remember Robert Mueller? His detailed report provided compelling evidence that Trump obstructed justice at least four times.

Mueller’s star witness was former White House counsel Don McGahn. In interviews with Mueller’s team, McGahn unequivocally stated he “received at least two phone calls with Trump in which the president ‘directed him to call’ Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to have Mueller ‘removed.’”

“You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod,” Trump said, according to McGahn. Trump has denied asking McGahn to direct the firing of Mueller.

McGahn was subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee to testify earlier this year. McGahn refused to comply with the subpoena, citing executive privilege, and the House sued to compel his testimony. On Monday, a federal court ruled that McGahn “(and other senior presidential advisors) do not have absolute immunity from compelled congressional process.” It ordered McGahn to “appear before the Committee to provide testimony, and invoke executive privilege where appropriate.”

The decision, if it is not successfully appealed, could prompt Democrats to expand their impeachment inquiry into matters covered by the Mueller report. It also “could prompt a handful of witnesses in the… Ukraine probe to testify over the president’s objections.” Many witnesses have refused to comply with Houses subpoenas using made similar arguments to McGahn. Those arguments have now been rejected by a federal judge.

The ticking clock on tax returns

Since assuming the presidency, Trump has done anything and everything to keep his tax returns secret. Time may be running out.

In April, the House of Representatives issued a subpoena for Trump’s tax returns and other financial information to Mazars USA, Trump’s accounting firm. The House subpoena relates back to the hush-money payments. It was issued after members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee learned that Trump did not list his debt to Cohen for the payments on his ethics disclosure forms. Cohen also alleged that Trump “inflated and deflated descriptions of his assets on financial statements to obtain loans and reduce his taxes.” The documents held by Mazars USA could prove (or disprove) Cohen’s allegation.

Last month, an appeals court ruled in favor of the House, finding the subpoena “valid and enforceable.” The court ordered Mazars USA to turn over the information. It was a split decision, with two judges ruling to uphold the subpoena and one dissenting. But the dissenting judge cited the lack of a formal impeachment inquiry to justify the search for potential crimes. That is no longer an issue.

The late Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who chaired the Oversight Committee, called the decision “a fundamental and resounding victory for congressional oversight, our constitutional system of checks and balances and the rule of law.”

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued Trump a reprieve, staying the decision. But the Supreme Court is also moving quickly. It’s giving Trump only until December 5 to file a writ of certiorari requesting the Supreme Court review the case. Then, the court “could announce whether it will hear the case in the coming weeks and, if it does, issue a decision by June.”

If the Supreme Court, however, declines to hear the case, the stay will automatically lift and the subpoena will go into effect.

Oh, please!

'the question for Republicans is how much more pure humiliation they are willing to take'

That’s a question that we all need to ask and answer. It touches on every aspect of our country and our very lives. But we need a coalition to beat Trump. I won’t be the first but I hope I will not be the last to offer to join with principled conservatives to defeat Trump and Trumpism.

Bill Lueders, Editor of the Progressive magazine, makes a case for those of us who are sick to death of Trump to Join Together to Dump Trump. What a delightful irony it would be if, in the end, this most determinedly divisive of Presidents ended up bringing the people of this country together. (h/t Charlie Sykes, Editor of The Bulwark)

Here are Lueders’ concluding excerpts.

As Sykes frames it, the question for Republicans is how much more pure humiliation they are willing to take.

“What Republicans right now have to be asking is: Do they really want to support five more years of this? We’re talking about five more years of Donald Trump as the commander-in-chief. Five more years of defending and enabling Donald Trump, particularly as he becomes more and more untethered, more and more unhinged, more and more contemptuous of the truth and of the law.”

There can be little doubt that Republicans are driven largely by political self-interest, as are many Democrats. But that means some of them might still be persuaded to abandon Trump. Sykes, while “immensely disappointed at the degree to which [Republicans] have rationalized and enabled Donald Trump,” has not given up hope that they will turn against him. If a few Republicans do so, a few more will likely follow.

And progressives can be a part of this, as long as they can get beyond blaming their fellow citizens for having the bad judgment to support Trump and instead encourage them to honestly ask: “Do you really want to be part of this anymore?”

The answer, for a broad and growing swath of the American public, is no.

No, we do not want a President who constantly embarrasses us on the global stage.

No, we do not want a foul-mouthed bigot to be America’s face to the world.

No, we are not OK with separating children from their families and locking them in cages.

No, we don’t want a President who doesn’t know the name of his own Defense Secretary, refers to members of his party as “Rupublicans,” and thinks Colorado is on the Mexican border.

No, we will not normalize Donald Trump, his ignorance, his crudeness, his impulsiveness, his meanness of spirit, his contempt for the very notion of Constitutional checks and balances, his open corruption and gross incompetence.

Yet Republican politicians will never abandon Trump as long as they perceive that this will cost them politically. As of midautumn, nine in ten Republican voters and Republican-leaning independents opposed impeachment. But that may change.

To secure the deserved ouster of this President, we need to win over a critical mass of ordinary Trump supporters. That may happen just from the open Congressional debate over impeachment and the weight of daily mounting evidence as to the President’s criminality.

To date, the President’s every response to the possibility of impeachment underscores its necessity. He has set out to obstruct the process, even ordering public officials to refuse to testify about his misbehavior. It is getting clearer that anyone who stands with him stands in opposition to the rule of law.

In the end, there will be some Republicans who will support impeachment—perhaps not enough to oust Trump from office but enough to more plausibly put the lie to the notion that the push for impeachment is a Democratic plot. There will be more defections of principled conservatives and constituencies that realize, however belatedly, that Trump has been conning them. And the majority of Americans who oppose this President will continue to grow.

What a delightful irony it would be if, in the end, this most determinedly divisive of Presidents ended up bringing the people of this country together.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas said to be willing to testify against Devin Nunes

Cinco amigos
The cinco amigos:
The Lev Parnas Connection, Part 1
(from Blog for Arizona)
UK protests 1
Devin Nunes:
The Lev Parnas Connection, part 2
(from Blog for Arizona)

House Intel committee ranking member Devin Nunes claimed over and over ad nauseam that Ukrainians were the ones meddling in the 2016 election and that then Vice President Joe Biden was corrupt. (None of that is substantiated.) Now, however, it seems that Nunes was getting his information from the former Ukraine corrupt prosecutor. This story is still unfolding.

[From Axios] The backdrop: The Daily Beast and CNN reported last week that the attorneys for Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani’s who was indicted last month, said their client is willing to tell Congress about phone calls and meetings in Vienna in 2018 between Nunes and Shokin. Nunes said on Fox that by working with someone under indictment, the two outlets were “likely conspiring to obstruct justice.”

You can fill in the details by reading these two reports.

Exclusive: Giuliani associate willing to tell Congress Nunes met with ex-Ukrainian official to get dirt on Biden. (By Vicky Ward, CNN, Updated 1:49 PM ET, Sat November 23, 2019).

On Sunday, the AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona, adds commentary to the CNN report in CNN: Lev Parnas is willing to testify against Rep. Devin Nunes.

Here’s a public post summary from Judd Legum in this morning’s popular.info email: Devin Nunes’ European Vacation.

The most prominent Republican defending Trump during the impeachment inquiry is a man who is suing a fictional cow, Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA).

Nunes has used his time in the spotlight to push “fantastical conspiracy theories” and draw attention away from Trump’s conduct. He falsely accused the Democratic chairman of the committee, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), of trying to obtain nude photos of Trump. Nunes “brought up elements of the prominent, but baseless, CrowdStrike conspiracy theory that a cybersecurity firm attempted to cover up evidence that Ukraine tried to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.” He also tried to reveal the identity of the whistleblower.

Nunes has always been a fiercely loyal defender of Trump. But he may have had another motivation to throw up a smokescreen: He allegedly was an integral part of the conspiracy that brought about the impeachment inquiry in the first place.

Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Guiliani, alleges that Nunes met with “former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin” in Vienna last November, CNN reports. Parnas says, “he worked to put Nunes in touch with Ukrainians who could help Nunes dig up dirt on Biden and Democrats in Ukraine.”

If what Parnas is saying is true, it could be a very big deal. Nunes was asking a foreign national for something of value (dirt on Biden) to help his preferred presidential candidate (Trump). That could violate federal law.

Parnas, however, is not necessarily reliable. He currently faces criminal charges for “illegally funneling foreign donations to U.S. political candidates.” He’s also trying to convince Democrats to grant him some form of criminal immunity in exchange for his testimony.

Nunes started with what seemed like a strong denial. Stories about Parnas’ claims by CNN and The Daily Beast were “demonstrably false and scandalous” and “the perfect example of defamation and reckless disregard for the truth,” Nunes told the far-right website Breitbart. Nunes promised to sue CNN, The Daily Beast, and their sources right after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Notably, while criticizing the reporting, Nunes did not specifically deny he met with Shokin in Vienna. According to Congressional records, Nunes did make a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe with three of his aides at the time in question.

Congressman Jim Hines (D-CT), who is on the House Intelligence Committee, explained on CBS’ Face the Nation how the use of taxpayer funds creates additional problems for Nunes:

Look, I don’t know what happened on that trip, but the allegation is that Devin Nunes used federal funds to fly himself and a couple of staffers over there in the search of dirt on Biden. That’s actually what the president is accused of doing – misusing public dollars for a political purpose.

On Sunday, Nunes appeared on Fox News and was asked point-blank whether he met with Shokin in Vienna: “Bottom line, were you in Vienna with Shokin?”

He refused to answer.

I really want to answer all of these questions and I promise you I absolutely will come back on the show and answer these questions. But because there is criminal activity here, we’re working with the appropriate law enforcement agencies, we are going to file all this – everyone’s going to know the truth, everybody is going to know all the facts but I think you can understand that I can’t compete by trying to debate this out with the public media when 90 percent of the media are totally corrupt. And because this is criminal in nature and because it is so bad, so slanderous, we’ve got all the facts on our side and we are going to file in federal court because I’m not going to sit here and try to compete against the media that I have no chance of winning this.

Nunes’ dodge doesn’t make much sense. If the meeting never happened, Nunes could say that and offer proof.

Top House Democrat says ethics probe of Nunes is likely over alleged meeting with Ukrainian about Bidens.

A high-ranking House Democrat said Saturday it’s “quite likely” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) will face an ethics investigation over allegations that he met with an ex-Ukrainian official to obtain information about former vice president Joe Biden and his son.

Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, appeared on MSNBC where he was asked whether Nunes could face a House inquiry. “Quite likely, without question,” Smith said.

The allegation that Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, met with a former Ukrainian prosecutor last year to discuss the Bidens came from the attorney for Lev Parnas, one of two Soviet-born associates of Rudolph W. Giuliani who were indicted on charges they broke campaign finance law.

Parnas’s attorney, Joseph Bondy, told The Washington Post that Ukraine’s former top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, informed Parnas that he had met with Nunes in Vienna in December 2018.

Nunes fires back: Nunes suggests CNN, Daily Beast committed crimes with reporting on Ukraine prosecutor.

House Intelligence Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) claimed on Fox News‘ “Sunday Morning Futures” that he is taking CNN and the Daily Beast “likely into federal court” for their reporting on allegations that he met with former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin to discuss digging up dirt on Joe Biden.

It’s unclear what Nunes would sue the publications for. If he sues for defamation, he would have to prove as a public official that the outlets acted with actual malice and reckless disregard for the truth.

However, both publications reported on statements that Parnas’ attorneys released and neither issued any claims regarding the truth of the statements.

What he’s saying: Nunes said the reports are false but would not answer a direct question from Fox’s Maria Bartiromo about whether he met with Shokin in 2018.

“I really want to answer all of these questions, and I promise you I absolutely will come back on the show and answer these questions. But because there is criminal activity here, we’re working with the appropriate law enforcement agencies, we are going to file all this,” Nunes said.

“Everyone’s going to know the truth, everybody is going to know all the facts, but I think you can understand that I can’t compete by trying to debate this out with the public media when 90% of the media are totally corrupt,” he continued.

“And because this is criminal in nature and because it is so bad, so slanderous, we’ve got all the facts on our side and we are going to file in federal court because I’m not going to sit here and try to compete against the media that I have no chance of winning this.”

Nunes also told Breitbart last week that the “scandalous stories published by the Daily Beast and CNN are the perfect example of defamation and reckless disregard for the truth.”

All that’s out of the Trump playbook. Remember that Trump is notorious for suing those critical of his behaviors - and losing the suits. For example, he sued Tim O’Brien and lost: A journalist who was sued by Trump describes Trump’s hilarious incompetence under oath.

In 2006, Trump sued Timothy L. O’Brien, whose TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald, an unauthorized biography, claimed that Trump had overstated his wealth. Trump lost the lawsuit, in part because of his dismal performance during a two-day deposition by O’Brien’s lawyers.

O’Brien describes Trump’s hilarious state of unpreparedness and his inability to answer straight questions, and speculates on how Trump might perform when facing [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller, a legendarily sharp investigator: “Trump would have been well served to acknowledge that others in his organization – like his chief financial officer – had independently decided to gather and report certain problematic financial information. But Trump couldn’t resist saying that his minions at the Trump Organization and elsewhere were just following his orders, a boast that also raised the legal stakes for himself (even if he didn’t realize that’s what he was doing).”

Trump is impatient and has never been an avid or dedicated reader. That’s OK if you’d rather play golf, but it’s not OK when you need to absorb abundant or complex details. Lawyers typically prepare binders full of documents for their clients to pore over prior to a deposition, hoping to steel them for an intense grilling. My lawyers did that prior to my own deposition in the Trump lawsuit. But Trump didn’t appear to be well prepared when we deposed him, a weakness that my lawyers exploited …

Trump, for example, had submitted a document to the court from his accountant outlining his assets and liabilities. He was proud of the document’s glowing conclusions but hadn’t seemed to have read most of it prior to sitting down with my lawyers – including a section that said that the report wasn’t a reliable gauge of his wealth. Trump seemed surprised when my lawyers pointed that out.

Judging from Nunes’ performance during the impeachment inquiry hearings, he’s no more likely than Trump to win a law suit.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

If you read nothing else - the case for impeachment by Common Cause

This post contains selections from the stunning November 20th report on impeachment by Common Cause, PATTERNS OF DECEPTION: Obstruction, Corruption & Abuse of Power. The Nonpartisan Case for Removing President Donald J. Trump from Office (And thanks to Phil Nicolay for calling our attention to the report.)

But first, I was struck by one of the great coincidences in the presidency of Donald Trump that occurred on two days this past summer: July 24 and July 25. In the Common Cause report we learn that “Impeachment of the president is an extraordinary measure that the people put in place to remove a president for his dangerous actions. On July 24, 2019, for the first time in the organization’s near–50-year history, Common Cause called for an impeachment investigation of a president.” That call now appears prescient, because, we now know from the Washington Post (for example), The impeachment hearings filled out what we know about July 25 — and whether there was a quid pro quo.

Ever since the Ukraine scandal has become public, July 25 has been a date of central importance: It’s the day President Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the phone, and we learned when the White House released a rough transcript of that call that Trump asked Zelensky for the “favor” of looking into former vice president Joe Biden.

Laura Cooper, a Russia and Ukraine expert at the Defense Department whose office was administering Ukraine aid, testified Wednesday that the Ukrainian officials reached out to her office on July 25, asking what was going on with the military aid, which had been mysteriously frozen. (By Trump, senior administration officials say.)

The rest of this post is a brief version of, and containing excerpts from, the Common Cause report.

(Scriber: Unless otherwise noted, all material quoted here is verbatim and block quotes are assumed.)

FOREWORD
by Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause President

In these highly polarized and partisan times, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the people are the ultimate source of governmental power and through our vote, we transfer that power to elected representatives who govern until the next election.

The Framers understood power’s corrupting influence when concentrated in too few hands and the threat that poses to the rule of law and the promise of self-governance. Our Constitution allows for an impeachment inquiry, impeachment, trial, conviction, and removal of public officials, including the President. Impeachment is, and should be, very rare, and only taken up under extraordinary circumstances.

Common Cause issues this report and our call for the House of Representatives to impeach President Donald J. Trump, and for the Senate to convict and remove him from office, as a principled, nonpartisan, and solemn duty as advocates for democracy. It doesn’t matter to us which party Donald Trump represents, or who holds majorities in the House or Senate.

Mr. Trump’s violation of the power entrusted to him and his conduct in public office brings us to this historic moment. The evidence is clear that his actions, and those of his campaign and White House staff, undermined and threatened the integrity of our elections and have been an assault on the high ethical standards we expect from elected officials. While impeachment is a political decision for many people in both parties, for others and for Common Cause, it’s about principles, not politics, a clear sense of right and wrong, and the future of the people’s voice in our democracy.

As a nonpartisan, 1.2 million member advocacy organization that promotes laws to strengthen all peoples’ voices in our democracy, it is the rule of law and the delicate balance of power between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches that allow the people to assert our voices and hold power accountable.

In these moments when the rule of law is tested, Americans have a responsibility and a duty to put our country and our Constitution over personal profit or partisan political gain. For most Americans that simply means we must pay attention to the facts, making sure the information we are getting is accurate and factual.

Our democracy is fragile because it is an audacious experiment in humans’ ability to self-govern given the complex nature of human relations. For 244 years, and counting, when difficult times divided us, heroes arose to lead us back together so that ultimately, we the people prevail.

When others rushed to judgment calling for impeachment as soon as President Trump was sworn in, we urged caution. As partisans on both sides tried to use the Mueller investigation to make a case to the public before it was completed, we demanded the special counsel be allowed to finish his report and present the facts. Only after seeing that damning evidence did we call for an impeachment inquiry, and we did so at a moment when that position was not popular with the leadership of either political party. With even more evidence now clearly available for the public to see after two weeks of compelling public hearings and months of investigations and depositions, there is more than enough evidence to convict and remove President Trump from office.

The report outlines nine articles of impeachment, each of which serves as grounds on which the president should be removed from office. Ultimately, the House will decide the articles, and either impeach or not. If the House impeaches, it is up to the Senate to conduct a fair and open trial and acquit or convict. Only with a conviction can the president be removed from office. It is not easy, and it should not be, but the evidence is clear and compelling. The harder task, in this instance, will fall to those who turn their backs on the rule of law to cynically protect themselves and their political party, not democracy, under a misguided notion that people aren’t paying attention or will forget by the next election.

We won’t. We won’t let anyone else forget either. The future of democracy and our ability to self-govern is literally at stake here. President Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and the way he has ignored democratic norms, values and laws, attacked institutions like the courts and the press have done enormous damage to our country.

The principles upon which Common Cause was founded and that have shaped us for 50 years have, at their core, a fundamental respect for the voice of all people. John Gardner founded Common Cause in 1970 as a Republican who had served in the cabinet of President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat. It was a time of civil unrest at home, a Cold War and nuclear arms race with the former-Soviet Union, and a very hot, very unpopular war in Viet Nam. But as tumultuous as the politics and civil unrest were in those moments, Gardner saw the potential to harness the power of the people to organize and demand reforms to make government and politics more accessible to all people.

No one should take democracy for granted, but as the House and Senate work their way through the impeachment process, the significance of this historic moment is especially important for those who sought and accepted the public’s trust. They have taken an oath and now have a duty and obligation to protect and defend our Constitution, the rule of law, and the most basic notion of right versus wrong.

(Scriber: Following is the introduction to the report, an abbreviated table of contents listing nine articles of impeachment, the impeachment trial process, and then the conclusion to the report. You will have to consult the report itself for justification of the articles.)

INTRODUCTION
There are few options to hold a president accountable when he or she is abusing presidential power other than elections and impeachment. The Founding Fathers wisely understood that there may be times between elections when it is necessary to hold the president accountable by providing the Congress the power to impeach and remove the president from office.

When Alexander Hamilton served as treasury secretary, he warned of the kind of leader who could threaten our fledgling republic.

When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the general government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—it may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”

Hamilton also argued in The Federalist Papers No. 65 that impeachment is a tool to hold the president accountable and that the focus of an impeachment would not be limited to violation of law but rather abuse or violation of some public trust.

A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the mis- conduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.

Hamilton’s worries about the kind of leader who could threaten our democracy is a strikingly accurate forecast of our alarming present reality. Unfortunately, President Donald J. Trump’s abuses of power, obstruction of justice and other high crimes and misdemeanors are exactly what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they gave Congress the power to impeach.

Article II of the U.S. Constitution provides that the president “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Article I of the Constitution provides that “the House of Representatives … shall have the sole Power of Impeachment” and further provides:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. … When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

Impeachment of the president is an extraordinary measure that the people put in place to remove a president for his dangerous actions. On July 24, 2019, for the first time in the organization’s near–50-year history, Common Cause called for an impeachment investigation of a president. In its report, The Case for an Impeachment Inquiry of President Trump, Common Cause called on the U.S. House of Representatives to begin an impeachment investigation in response to White House stonewalling of attempts to investigate potential criminal conduct or wrongdoing by President Trump. On August 8, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said publicly for the first time that his committee was conducting an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. And on September 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House was opening a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

The House’s impeachment inquiry has made clear that, during his 2016 election campaign and continuing through his first three years in office, President Trump has committed numerous impeachable offenses that have undermined democratic elections and governance—the protection of which is at the core of Common Cause’s mission.

President Trump has abused the power of his office by withholding an almost $400 million military aid package to Ukraine to pressure Ukraine’s government into announcing and launching an investigation of Trump’s 2020 election opponent Joe Biden—a scheme that constitutes the solicitation of a bribe by President Trump from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. President Trump’s solicitation of election assistance from Ukraine’s president violated the federal campaign finance law prohibition on soliciting a political “contribution” from a foreign national. President Trump obstructed Congress’s impeachment inquiry and, consequently, obstructed justice, to cover up this abuse of power. Trump’s abuse of power, solicitation of a bribe, obstruction of justice and campaign finance law violation with respect to Ukraine are all impeachable offenses.

However, President Trump’s impeachable conduct is not limited to the Ukraine scandal. President Trump violated federal campaign finance laws through a “hush” payment scheme during his 2016 presidential election campaign. President Trump has abused his power not only by failing to adequately safeguard our elections from foreign interference but also by actively soliciting foreign assistance to his electoral campaigns—a pattern of practice that dates back to the 2016 election when he urged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails and continues in his 2020 campaign, requesting electoral assistance from Ukraine and China. President Trump refused to divest his ownership of the Trump Organization and, consequently, has accepted foreign and domestic emoluments in violation of the Constitution. In addition, President Trump has continually obstructed efforts by Congress and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate his impeachable conduct.

With great solemnity, Common Cause urges Congress to hold President Trump accountable for his abuses of power, bribery, obstruction of justice, receipt of emoluments, failure to safe-guard our elections from foreign interference and campaign finance violations—actions that constitute high crimes and misdemeanors. To this end, Common Cause, on behalf of its 1.2 million members and supporters, calls on the House of Representatives to impeach President Trump and for the Senate to convict him, remove him from office and disqualify him from holding office in the future.

This report details the bases for Common Cause’s call for the impeachment of President Trump. Part I proposes nine articles of impeachment and the facts that justify them, and Part II outlines the appropriate process and procedures that should govern a Senate impeachment trial.

PART I: NINE ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT AND THE FACTS THAT JUSTIFY THEM
A. Articles of Impeachment Related to the Ukraine Scandal
1. Abuse of Power (Ukraine)
2. Bribery(Ukraine)
3. Obstruction of Justice (Ukraine and Broader Impeachment Inquiry)
4. Campaign Finance Violations (Ukraine)
B. Articles of Impeachment on Other Matters
5. Obstruction of Justice (Russia investigation)
6. Abuse of Power (Russia Investigation)
7. Foreign and Domestic Emoluments
8. Abuse of Power (Failure to Adequately Safeguard U.S. Elections From Foreign Interference) 9. Campaign Finance Violations (“Hush” Payments)
PART II: SUMMARY OF SENATE IMPEACHMENT TRIAL PROCESS
A. Senate Rules for Impeachment Trials
B. Additional Procedures Used in Clinton Impeachment Trial
C. Standard of Proof in Senate Impeachment Trial
D. Requirements and Expectations for a Senate Impeachment Trial of President Trump

CONCLUSION
Careful consideration of the facts led us to conclude we had to call for impeachment of a president for the first time in Common Cause’s nearly 50-year history. It is because our history stretches back to 1970, just before the Watergate scandals, that we are also mindful of the cyclical nature of life and politics, and so leave you with wisdom and hope from our founder.

John Gardner was a philanthropist, philosopher, and professor. While we quote him from time- to-time, this moment—both for our nation and for Common Cause as we prepare to mark our 50th anniversary in 2020—calls for an extended excerpt from one of Gardner’s 11 books, The Recovery of Confidence. The following is from the book’s chapter six, which begins with the epigraph Dum spiro spero—a Latin phrase meaning “While I breathe, I hope.”

“We have all reacted against naïve optimism, the optimism that believes every- thing will come out all right, that imagines it has found a sure path to salvation.

“I speak for another kind of optimism, an optimism that does not assume it has found a cure for all life’s ills, that recognizes the deep, intrinsic difficulties in social change, that accepts life’s often unfavorable odds—but will not stop hoping, or trying, or enjoying when it’s possible to enjoy.

“No doubt the world is, among other things, a vale of tears. It is full of absurdities that cannot be explained, evil that cannot be countenanced, injustices that cannot be excused. The individual who does not understand that is disarmed in a hazardous environment.

“But then there is the resilience of the human spirit. Hope runs deeper than intellectual appraisal. We were designed for struggle, for survival. Only fatal and final injuries neutralize that irrepressible striving toward the light. Our conscious processes—the part of us that is saturated with words and ideas— may arrive at exceedingly gloomy appraisals, but an older, more deeply rooted, biologically and spiritually stubborn part of us continues to say yes to hoping, yes to striving, yes to life.

“If there is a long chance we can replace brutality with reason, inequity with justice, ignorance with enlightenment, we must try. And our chances are better if we have not convinced ourselves that the cause is hopeless. All effective action is fueled by hope. Pessimism may be an acceptable attitude in literary and artistic circles, but in the world of action it is the soil in which desperate and extreme solutions germinate, among them reaction and brutal oppression.

“It is not given to man to know the worth of his efforts. It is arrogant of the individual to imagine that he has grasped the larger design of life and discovered that effort is calculated to accomplish some immediate increment in the dignity of a fellow human. Who is to say it is useless? Our purpose in life is to try.”

John Cassidy summarizes impeachment developments

New Yorker’s John Cassidy asks Where Does Impeachment Go From Here in his Sunday morning email column.

More hearings?

Schiff was calm, forensic, and articulate. Many Democrats regard Nadler as having less of a sure hand. The seventy-two-year-old has reportedly been consulting closely with Schiff and Pelosi, but he hasn’t yet given any public indication of how many hearings he will hold, or even whether his committee will confine itself to the Ukraine matter when it starts to draw up articles of impeachment. The Judiciary Committee is also looking into whether Trump obstructed justice during the Mueller investigation, and a court is expected to rule on Monday whether Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, will be forced to testify in that probe. There have been rumors that the Democrats might include a Mueller-related charge in the articles of impeachment, although pursuing that matter along with Ukraine could conceivably slow things down. Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn reported that “Democrats still haven’t made a final decision on whether to include any impeachment articles tied to the special counsel’s findings.”

On Friday, Schiff told the Los Angeles Times that the Intelligence Committee could conceivably hold more hearings as well. “We’re not foreclosing the possibility of additional depositions or hearings,” Schiff said, “But we’re also not willing to wait months and months and let them play rope-a-dope with us in the courts.” He added that the committee will now work “both tracks” of its Ukraine inquiry, continuing to investigate what happened while also “beginning to put our report together.”

What Trumpublicans want

… Although Graham and other close Trump allies initially called for the Senate to vote to dismiss any articles of impeachment as soon as they are sent to the upper chamber, without a trial, this idea ran into opposition from G.O.P. senators facing tough election races next year, and from Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate. That proposal now appears to have been dropped in favor of a short trial that would last a couple of weeks, or so. “The prospect of an abbreviated trial is viewed by several Senate Republicans as a favorable middle ground—substantial enough to give the proceedings credence without risking greater damage to Trump by dragging on too long,” the Washington Post reported.

It isn’t clear how Trump regards this prospect. In public, he is all bluster and braggadocio. On Friday, when he called into his favorite morning show, “Fox & Friends,” for a lengthy interview, he said, “Frankly, I want a trial.”…

Behind the scenes, however, Trump’s mood is reportedly much less upbeat. Citing sources close to him, the Washington Post wrote that he “is ’miserable’ about the impeachment inquiry and has pushed to dismiss the proceedings right away.” …

In addition to dismissing the damning evidence presented in the House hearings and trying to whip Fox News into line, Trump is reaching out to some Republican senators whose votes he may need in January. …

Investigating the investigators

Judging by what we have seen over the past couple of days, the other key element of the Trump-G.O.P. strategy will be diversion. For weeks now, the President and his allies have been hyping the upcoming release of a report from Michael Horowitz, the inspector general of the Justice Department, into the origins of the Mueller investigation. During his interview on “Fox & Friends,” on Friday, Trump said that Horowitz’s report would be “historic,” adding, “What you’re going to see, I predict, will perhaps be the biggest scandal in the history of our country.” Later on Friday, a number of major news organizations published reports about Horowitz’s findings based on briefings from unnamed U.S. officials.

These accounts said Horowitz had discovered that a low-level F.B.I. lawyer altered an e-mail that other F.B.I. officials used as part of their efforts to get a secret intelligence court to renew a wiretap order on Carter Page, a foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign. The Washington Post wrote that Horowitz has referred this finding to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation, and the lawyer, whose name is Kevin Clinesmith, is no longer working for the Bureau. Evidently, this was what Trump had been talking about. However, the news reports also said the inspector general’s report will debunk some of the broader conspiracy theories that Trump and his allies have been promoting. Horowitz concluded that the Page-wiretap application “still had a proper legal and factual basis, and, more broadly, that FBI officials did not act improperly in opening the Russia investigation,” according to the Post story. The Times wrote that Horowitz “made no finding of politically biased actions by top officials Mr. Trump has vilified like the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey; Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy who temporarily ran the bureau after the president fired Mr. Comey in 2017; and Peter Strzok, a former top counterintelligence agent.” This news won’t prevent Trump, and his supporters, from seizing on the Horowitz report and twisting its findings, of course. As the impeachment process continues, they will try anything to create a distraction.

Fusion GPS founders find election meddling by Ukrainians only in Trump's dreams

In yesterday’s NY Times, Glenn R. Simpson and Peter Fritsch,the founders of Fusion GPS, wrote about The Double-Barreled Dream World of Trump and His Enablers. They wanted to take down Biden. But they also wanted to absolve Moscow of election meddling. With thanks to our Roving Reporter Sherry, here are excerpts.

Mr. Trump and his enablers — Rudolph Giuliani foremost among them — have scrambled all year to do two deeds at once. They want to besmirch Joe Biden, without foundation, for supposedly using his office as vice president to protect his son Hunter, who served until recently on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. And they want to reinvent what happened in 2016 so as to switch the blamea for the election meddling from Moscow to Kyiv.

Congress is rightly focused on the quid pro quo demands that Mr. Trump was making of the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to further his own personal political interests. But the effort to rewrite the history of 2016 is no less insidious.

As the founders of Fusion GPS, the research firm that commissioned the reports by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele that raised some of the earliest warnings of Russia’s actions, we’re willing to clear up some of the nonsense now so ripe on the right.

House Republicans like Representatives Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan seem eager to portray Fusion as co-conspirators with the Ukrainians in some devilish plot to undermine Mr. Trump’s 2016 candidacy. That could not be further from the truth. None of the information in the so-called Steele dossier came from Ukrainian sources. Zero. And we’ve never met Serhiy Leshchenko, the Ukrainian former legislator and journalist who Republicans want to blame for the downfall of Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

That said, our investigation of Donald Trump did get a great boost because of Ukraine, just not in the way Republicans imagine. We began looking into Mr. Trump’s business dealings and ties to Russia in the fall of 2015 with funding from Republicans who wanted to stop his political ascent. The Ukraine alarms went off six months later, when candidate Trump brought into his campaign none other than Mr. Manafort, a man with his own tangled history with Russian oligarchs trying to get their way in Ukraine.

It turns out we already knew a great deal about Mr. Manafort’s activities in Ukraine because we worked on several stories about his work for Russian-backed politicians eight years earlier, when we were both still writing for The Wall Street Journal. That reporting threw a spotlight on how Mr. Manafort, while representing clients involved in fierce geopolitical struggles over Ukraine, had neglected to comply with a lobbying law requiring that he register as a foreign agent — the very law, among others, to which he pleaded guilty to violating.

Those articles triggered years of media coverage exposing Mr. Manafort’s questionable lobbying activities and ties to pro Russia oligarchs. In the meantime, we left The Journal and went on to found Fusion GPS, a research and strategic intelligence firm, in 2010.

A few months later we stumbled on some Ukrainian media reports noting that documents existed in Kyiv that chronicled the political spending of the pro-Russia ruling party at the time, which had hired Mr. Manafort. We wondered if his name might crop up in those papers. Someone suggested Mr. Leshchenko might be of help in the matter — a fact we stored away. To this day, we have never met him.

The New York Times got to the story first, in August 2016, reporting that a black ledger of illicit payments showed that millions of dollars had gone into the pocket of one Paul Manafort. That story led to Mr. Manafort’s ouster from the campaign, and undoubtedly fueled F.B.I. interest in his activities, though the so-called black ledger was never used in the criminal cases against him.

We’d love to take credit for finding the black ledger, but we didn’t, and any alert reporter following the Ukrainian press would have known to follow the leads that led to it.

That hasn’t stopped Republicans from weaving conspiracy theories about our work in Ukraine. Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer and the main stirrer of the conspiracy pot in Ukraine, cooked up a fresh fabrication just this week, telling Glenn Beck on his TV program that he had “very strong evidence that a lot of the Steele dossier was produced in Ukraine” and that “Glenn Simpson spent a fair amount of time there during the time that the dossier was being written.”

By sheer coincidence, one of us — the aforementioned Mr. Simpson — found himself on a plane from New York to Washington with Mr. Giuliani just hours later, and he couldn’t resist confronting the former New York mayor about his claim after they landed.

"I understand you think I spent a lot of time in Ukraine?” Mr. Simpson inquired.

“You did spend some time in Ukraine,” Mr. Giuliani replied.

“Did I?” Mr. Simpson asked as he waved his phone in front of Mr. Giuliani, signaling that he was recording the encounter.

“What if I told you I have never been to Ukraine in my life?”

“Well,” Mr. Giuliani replied with equanimity, “O.K. I will find out if that’s true or not.”

So, Mr. Giuliani is still investigating the lies he hopes will save a deeply corrupt presidency. That should chill all Americans.

Sen. Lindsey Graham then and now - the shame of it

"In a political world getting more contentious by the day, with even greater divisions and an increasing lack of civility,” [Senator Lindsey] Graham said, “Joe Biden has always stood out.”

That was then, toward the end of Biden’s term as Vice President. Graham and Biden were the best of friends according to this story in the Washington Post: Joe Biden unloads on Lindsey Graham amid signs GOP senators will target Hunter.

This is now. Graham is f*cking over his previous best friend. How low will he go?

Former vice president Joe Biden lashed out Friday at Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, a longtime friend and once-close Republican ally, as Graham stepped up efforts with other GOP senators to make Biden’s son Hunter a focus of the impeachment proceedings.

The eruption shows how bitter the impeachment battle could become — personally enmeshing a top Democratic presidential candidate — as it shifts from a process controlled by House Democrats to one in which Senate Republicans attempt to reorient the focus toward Biden’s family.

Graham (R-S.C.) requested new documents Thursday from the State Department, attempting to uncover additional information related to Hunter Biden’s activities when he was on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

“Lindsey is about to go down in a way that I think he’s going to regret his whole life,” Joe Biden said on CNN. Asked by host Don Lemon what he would say to his longtime Senate colleague, Biden responded, “I say: ‘Lindsey, I just — I’m just embarrassed by what you’re doing, for you. I mean, my Lord.’ ”

Biden’s reaction Thursday also reflects how deeply Washington has changed in the brief time since he left public office — with Graham now aligning himself ever more closely with Trump and Biden still insisting that Republicans can leave the Trump era behind.

I am disappointed, and quite frankly I’m angered, by the fact — he knows me, he knows my son. He knows there’s nothing to this,” Biden said. “Trump is now essentially holding power over him that even the Ukrainians wouldn’t yield to. The Ukrainians would not yield to, quote, ‘investigate Biden’ — there’s nothing to investigate about Biden or his son.”

A Graham spokesman declined to comment and said the senator was unavailable.

Joe Biden’s campaign noted Friday that Republicans had never previously raised questions or concerns about Hunter Biden’s activities, doing so only when Trump began facing an impeachment threat.

“Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress for most of the last five years and said or did nothing to indicate they thought that this warranted attention,” said Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesman. “As recently as a few weeks ago, Lindsey Graham said that such an investigation would be a circus. What changed?”

He added, “Lindsey Graham has forfeited his conscience to escape a primary.”

As part of a series of tributes just before Biden’s term as vice president ended, Graham lavished praised on Biden, called him “a fierce competitor” who “never takes the fight too far.”

If Graham wants to go after children of Biden, let him also go after the children of Trump.

Lyndon Johnson would not have been surprised by Sen. Graham’s perfidy.

LBJ: Trump does not pass the hound’s tooth test.

I’ll let him speak from the grave. During The Last Days of the President, Lyndon Johnson [quoting] gave his outgoing Cabinet members a … sobering, kind of advice: “Each of you had better leave this town clean as Eisenhower’s hound’s tooth. The first thing Democrats do when they take power is find where the control levers are. But the first thing Republicans do is investigate Democrats. I don’t know why they do it but you can count on it.”)

Borowitz reports that Nunes warns of verifiable information in a 'fact circus'

New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz reports that Devin Nunes Accuses Witnesses of Misleading American People with Facts.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In what some observers called his most sarcastic opening statement of the impeachment inquiry, Representative Devin Nunes, on Thursday, accused witnesses of trying to mislead the American people with facts.

“From the beginning of these proceedings, the Democrats’ witnesses have offered facts, more facts, and nothing but facts,” Nunes said. “I, for one, have had enough of their factual games.”

Ramping up his attack, he accused the civil servants who have testified of having “an almost cult-like worship of verifiable information.”

“ ‘Step right up,’ these witnesses seem to be saying,” Nunes added. “ ‘The fact circus is in town.’ ”

Nunes, however, warned his Democratic colleagues that “the American people won’t be fooled by your relentless account of things that actually happened.”

“When the American people see the Democrats building this massive, sky-high tower of facts, they have to ask themselves: Is that all you’ve got?” he said.

Friday, November 22, 2019

How Trump can stop the impeachment process (now!)

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

The Post reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The answer is yes.”

That was just the beginning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump defense talking points destroyed by evidence

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

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

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

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

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

The Ukrainians did not know about the freeze on the assistance

Impeachment testimony knocks down another key GOP talking point

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

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

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

Hearsay

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

The President denies quid pro quo

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

Russia is innocent, the Ukrainians did it

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 21, 2019

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

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

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

November 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their conclusion is important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s brief defense

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

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

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

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

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

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