Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

Fox?!?!?!?! Wow! It’s a good ad.

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

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

Jordan
Jim Jordan will lay bare the canards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was more to it than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 8, 2019

The crass class war waged by billionaires

Why are billionaires against a wealth tax? Do they really need all that money?

Elizabeth Warren unveils wealth tax calculator for ‘confused’ billionaires is reported by Yahoo Finance.

Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) hasn’t been shy about her desire to impose a tax on the wealthy.

The Massachusetts senator exchanged Tweets with billionaire Microsoft (MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates after he spoke out against her wealth tax. Now Warren has revealed just how much he would pay under her wealth tax plan — and how much other well-known, high-wealth figures would pay as well.

Her website created a Calculator for the Billionaires and features sections for various figures at the top of the income bracket, including Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos, Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Gates, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon, and even Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ family. Individuals who identify as billionaires can also enter in their respective incomes to find out how much they’d pay.

The Warren wealth tax plan would impose an annual tax of 2% on every dollar a household has above $50 million, which increases to 6% for households with more than $1 billion. Under this plan, Gates, who has a net worth of approximately $107 billion, would pay $6.4 billion in taxes.

OK, let’s pause for a moment. Suppose that you have just passed the $1 billion mark and thus you too are subject to the wealth tax - as above, 6%. Your tax would be $6 million. That leaves you with $94 million. What can you do with that much wealth? Suppose that you want to buy an electric car, a Tesla. I googled the prices on the Tesla and determined that a middle range price for a Tesla would be about $56,990. How many of those vehicles could you buy? The answer is 1,649. After your first, what would you do with the other 1,648 Teslas?

You might object to the annual taxation.

“Don’t worry too much about Bill Gates,” Warren’s website stated. “If history is any guide, if billionaires do nothing other than invest their wealth in the stock market, it’s likely that their wealth will continue to grow.”

And although Amazon paid $0 in federal taxes last year, its CEO, Jeff Bezos would have to pay $6.7 billion under this plan.

Meanwhile, Dimon, another vocal critic of Warren’s wealth tax, would pay $55 million based on his net worth of $1.6 billion. Betsy DeVos’s family would be taxed a whopping $283 million for their collective net worth of $5.4 billion.

Warren has repeatedly emphasized that the revenue generated from her wealth tax would go towards programs she hopes to fund, like Medicare for All and expanded Social Security. The idea has garnered the support of other politicians, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

Experts project that Warren’s wealth tax would generate $2.75 trillion in revenue over a 10-year period.

There appears to be growing support for a wealth tax from the public — a Politico/Morning Consult poll from earlier this year indicated that 76% of registered voters believe wealthy Americans should pay more taxes. Additionally, a Fox News survey revealed that 70% of Americans, including 54% of Republicans, are in support of raising taxes on those who earn more than $10 million.

… many billionaires have come out against Warren’s plan, including Dimon, Gates, Mark Cuban, and Leon Cooperman.

[but] One notable billionaire — Warren Buffett — has voiced support for a sort of wealth tax in the past.

“My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress,” he wrote in a 2011 op-ed for the New York Times. “It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”

Obviously, my example of 1,648 Teslas is nuts. No one is going to buy that many automobiles. But they just may use that money to buy something even more valuable - political power.

Norman Solomon, writes in the Reader Supported News about The Crass Warfare of Billionaires Against Sanders and Warren.

When Elizabeth Warren stands on a debate stage and argues for a targeted marginal tax on the astronomically rich, such advocacy is anathema to those who believe that the only legitimate class war is the kind waged from the top down. In early autumn, CNBC reported that “Democratic donors on Wall Street and in big business are preparing to sit out the presidential campaign fundraising cycle — or even back President Donald Trump — if Sen. Elizabeth Warren wins the party’s nomination.”

As for Bernie Sanders — less than four years after he carried every county in West Virginia against Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary — the state’s Democratic senator Joe Manchin flatly declared last week that if Sanders wins the nomination, he will not vote for his party’s nominee against Trump in November 2020.

Some billionaires support Trump and some don’t. But few billionaires have a good word to say about Sanders or Warren. And the pattern of billionaires backing their Democratic rivals is illuminating.

“Dozens of American billionaires have pulled out their checkbooks to support candidates engaged in a wide-open battle for the Democratic presidential nomination,” Forbes reported this summer. The dollar total of those donations given directly to a campaign (which federal law limits to $2,800 each) is less significant than the sentiment they reflect. And people with huge wealth are able to dump hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars at once into a Super PAC, which grassroots-parched AstroTurf candidate Joe Biden greenlighted last month.

The donations from billionaires to the current Democratic candidates could be viewed as a kind of Oligarchy Confidence Index, based on data from the Federal Election Commission. As reported by Forbes, Pete Buttigieg leads all the candidates with 23 billionaire donors, followed by 18 for Cory Booker, and 17 for Kamala Harris. Among the other candidates who have qualified for the debate coming up later this month, Biden has 13 billionaire donors and Amy Klobuchar has 8, followed by 3 for Elizabeth Warren, 1 for Tulsi Gabbard, and 1 for Andrew Yang. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has zero billionaire donors.

And that, I think, is the source of the billionaires being so far out against Warren’s wealth tax. It’s not the money they would lose - it’s about the political power that their money buys.

New York, New York. Lovable again now that Trump has left.

The Late Show bids adieu to Trump. You will want to watch this one recommended by Roving Reporter Sherry. (You might have to fiddle with your volume!)

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Trump runs a scam on millions - Dinner with Deadbeat Donald, Part 2

In Tuesday’s post on Dinner with Deadbeat Donald … I featured a report by Judd Legum on a scam run by Trump in which the winner of a contest was to have a meal with Trump. The thing is, it appears that in 15 such contests there were no winners. Now, in a Public post, Judd Legum at popular.info reports an UPDATE: Trump campaign contest to win a meal with Trump was a fraud. Following are excerpts.

A heavily-promoted contest to win breakfast with President Trump in New York City on September 26 was a fraud. The purported winner of the contest, Joanna Kamis, did not have breakfast with Trump. Instead, she was invited to a breakfast at a New York City restaurant that Trump did not attend. Kamis was later permitted to take a photo with Trump.

The promise of breakfast with Trump was used in hundreds of Facebook ads to entice supporters to donate money. The ads were clear that donors would be entered into a contest to share a meal with Trump. “This is your LAST CHANCE to meet me this quarter, and I really want to discuss our Campaign Strategy for the rest of the year with you over breakfast,” Trump said in a Facebook ad in September.

The contest was also promoted extensively over email. A September 20 email to Trump’s list, which reportedly includes at least 20 million people, was sent with the subject line “Breakfast for two.” The email contains a copy of a message Trump allegedly sent to his campaign: "Can you send me an updated list of Patriots who have entered to have breakfast with me in New York City first thing tomorrow morning? Are my top supporters on the list? I really want to get their opinion on my 2020 Campaign Strategy over breakfast.”

The Trump campaign sent at least four other email messages about the breakfast in September with subject lines like “The president really wants to have breakfast with you.”

The revelation of the fraudulent contest comes two days after Popular Information released the results of an investigation of 15 contests the Trump campaign has held to win meals with Trump. While other campaigns enthusiastically promote photos of candidates dining with low-dollar donors, Popular Information could not find evidence that anyone actually won a meal with Trump.

The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for information about contest winners from Popular Information or a reporter from the Washington Post. But when Vanity Fair picked up the story on Monday, Trump communications director Tim Murtaugh tweeted that “people win the contests each time.” Murtaugh, however, did not provide any proof to substantiate his claim.

The controversy continued to gain steam. Richard Painter, a former associate counsel in the Bush White House, told Newsweek that the failure to deliver on the promised meals with Trump could be criminal. “You’re raising campaign cash, you’re lying to people. If you obtain money from people through false pretenses that’s a violation of federal mail fraud and wire fraud statutes,” Painter said.

Under numerous state laws, the Trump campaign is required to provide the winner of each contest upon request. That’s why the Trump campaign’s official rules of each contest state it will do so if you send a self-addressed stamped envelope.

REQUESTING RULES, NAME OF WINNER, OR DESCRIPTION OF PRIZE: To receive a written copy of the Promotion rules, the name of the Promotion winner, or a description of the Prize, please send your request and a self-addressed and stamped return envelope to Trump Make America Great Again Committee, 138 Conant Street, 2nd Floor, Beverly, MA 01915.

(Some contests list a different address.)

But a New York Times reporter, Katie Rogers, revealed on Tuesday that she had sent “several letters” via this process but did not receive a response. The Trump campaign’s failure to respond likely violates state law.

In Texas, for example (Texas Business and Commerce Code § 621.204.):

A person who conducts a contest shall, at the end of the contest period, provide to any person who requests the information:
(1) the names of all major prize winners;  and
(2) the prizes won by each winner.

Legum notes that “Similar laws exist in Tennessee and Maryland, among many others. Trump’s contest was open to residents of all 50 states, so it must comply with the laws of all 50 states.”

Popular Information has made its own request for the names of winners and [Scriber] will keep you updated as this scandal continues to unfold.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The scope of Trump's corruption is known - without end, like a kraken it entangles all it touches

Trump corruption
The Kraken of Trump's corruption
entangling American democracy

The kraken (/ˈkrɑːkən/) is a legendary cephalopod-like sea monster of giant size …

Like the kraken, The scope of Trump’s corruption is mind-boggling. New developments show how. explains Greg Sargent at the Washington Post.

At this point, the broad contours of the Ukraine scandal are well understood. President Trump appears to have used hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money appropriated as military aid to extort a vulnerable ally into helping him rig the 2020 election on his behalf.

But there are two other aspects of this scandal that need elaboration. The first is the degree to which this whole scheme is corrupting multiple government agencies and effectively placing them at the disposal of Trump’s reelection effort.

The second is that two of the scheme’s goals — getting Ukraine to validate a conspiracy theory absolving Russia of 2016 sabotage, and to manufacture smears of one of Trump’s leading 2020 rivals — are really part of the same story. At the core of this narrative is Trump’s continuing reliance on foreign help in corrupting our democracy to his advantage, through two presidential elections, and the covering up of all of it.

… [snip]

We still haven’t gotten our arms around the mind-boggling scale of corruption on display here. Multiple government agencies [Justice and State] are actively helping Trump absolve Russia of sabotaging the last presidential election on his behalf — thus burying his own campaign’s eagerness to benefit from it — and helping him cover up his effort to solicit more foreign help in cheating his way to victory in the next one.

But it gets worse.

Impeachment transcripts become latest point of panic for Trump, wrote Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog).

Up until now, the congressional impeachment inquiry has unfolded largely behind closed doors. There have been some exceptions – some witnesses, for example, have publicly released their opening statements – but by and large, a limited number of officials have been privy to the depositions.

That will soon change. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CBS’s Face the Nation [this last Sunday], “I think you’re going to see all of the transcripts that are going to be released probably within the next five days. I don’t know if they’re all going to be released on the same day. But they’re going to be very telling to the American people.”

Yup. Those transcripts were (and are being) released.

And that is precisely what Donald Trump appears to be afraid of.

President Trump suggested Sunday that Republicans should release their own versions of transcripts of interviews in the House’s ongoing impeachment inquiry.

Just as he invited Russia to intervene, he now is corruptly asking Republicans in Congress to further betray our country by doctoring official records.

In case this isn’t painfully obvious, if the White House were confident that the transcripts from the impeachment inquiry would exonerate Trump and derail the impeachment proceedings, Trump wouldn’t be panicking like this.

It’s unlikely that anyone in the West Wing has reviewed the deposition transcripts, but dozens of House Republicans have participated in the behind-closed-doors process – claims to the contrary notwithstanding – and they’ve had an opportunity to let the president know how the evidence has unfolded.

And given the weekend’s presidential tweets, Trump has apparently been told to expect some discouraging news.

There’s also a degree of irony hanging overhead: for weeks, the White House and its GOP allies have condemned the private nature of the impeachment inquiry and demanded more transparency. But now that transcripts are poised to be released, Trump appears to be scrambling to undermine public confidence in the materials – which Republicans claimed to be eager for us to see.

During the assorted depositions, some House Democrats told reporters that Republicans were actually lucky that the discussions were unfolding in private. In light of Trump’s stress-tweeting, the president is starting to realize those Dems were right.

Postscript: In case anyone is tempted to take Trump’s concerns about “manipulated” transcripts seriously, George Conway explained that the conspiracy theory the president is raising isn’t really possible.

Below is Trump’s tweet and Conway’s takedown. As usual, Truth 1, Trump 0.

Trump tweeted twice:

If Shifty Adam Schiff, who is a corrupt politician who fraudulently made up what I said on the “call,” is allowed to release transcripts of the Never Trumpers & others that are & were interviewed, he will change the words that were said to suit the Dems purposes. Republicans…

… should give their own transcripts of the interviews to contrast with Schiff’s manipulated propaganda. House Republicans must have nothing to do with Shifty’s rendition of those interviews. He is a proven liar, leaker & freak who is really the one who should be impeached!

To which Conway responded:

Dummy—I mean “Mr. President”—you do realize that they use real court reporters—stenographers—to transcribe these depositions, don’t you? That the stenographers are under oath?And that the witnesses get to review the transcripts for errors before they sign them under oath?

As Republican Strategist Rick Wilson said, everything Trump touches dies (and few are spared reports NPR). Unfortunately, for our nation, Trump is touching our democracy.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Dinner with Donald Deadbeat, Trump too big to fail, another shutdown over the wall, and other cons and myths

Back in June of 2016 I posted about how Donald “Deadbeat” Trump does not pay his bills … … at least not some of them. There are damning investigations appearing in national news outlets about the thousands of bills Trump’s companies did not pay. They contract for the work, refuse to pay or offer a fraction of what is owed, drag the small contractors into costly legal actions, and the small guys get burned.

It didn’t have to be that way. Trump’s financial difficulties caught the attention of Atlantic City regulators who, in theory, were in a position to put an end to Trump’s grifting. In politico.com Michael Kruse reports on The 5 People Who Could Have Stopped Trump. Gambling regulators once contemplated yanking Trump’s casino licenses. Why they didn’t holds a lesson for lawmakers today.

[In the Spring of 1991] the regulators had overwhelming reason to question his financial stature and overall fitness to continue. In addition to Trump’s dismal individual straits, the cash flow at his debt-riddled casinos wasn’t enough to make them profitable as the industry sagged in the throes of a recession. Trump’s “financial viability,” Steven P. Perskie, the chairman of the commission, stated at a meeting in May, “is in serious peril.” He and his fellow commissioners had a choice to make: renew Trump’s licenses and hope his bottom line improved—or strip him of them and risk delivering a debilitating blow to Atlantic City’s wheezing economy.

Today, more than a generation later and a year out from the 2020 election, Trump in the White House is staring at a fundamentally similar scenario—the growing probability that his fate will be decided by a group of regulators, albeit of a different, more high-profile ilk but nonetheless obligated to determine whether he can remain in office long enough for voters to decide whether he deserves a second term. Just as there are people who are empowered to stop him now—members of Congress, in particular Republicans—there were people who could have stopped him then. And didn’t.

What the casino commissioners—Perskie and Vice Chair Valerie H. Armstrong along with W. David Waters, James R. Hurley and Frank J. Dodd—opted for instead was a different form of oversight, enacting stricter monitoring, mandating a regimen of daily, weekly and monthly updates and reports from Trump and his upper-tier staff. Some of the commissioners, too, engaged in occasional harrumphing and finger-wagging, logging into the record words like “incomplete,” “confusing,” “disappointing” and “disheartening,” sounding at times like precursors to GOP lawmakers’ mostly toothless tsk-tsking toward Trump these past few years. In the end, though, worried about the prospect of shuttered casinos, thousands of jobs lost and general area economic disarray that might have rippled on account of his ousting, they essentially let him skate.

“He was just too big,” said Jack O’Donnell, a former Trump casino executive who resigned in 1990 and wrote a deeply unflattering tell-all book in 1991.

“He was too big to fail,” said Marvin Roffman, a veteran casino analyst who had been outspoken in his predictions that the debt Trump took on to fuel his Atlantic City endeavors was going to lead to collapse and was fired because of it after his company bowed to pressure from the angered developer.

“They were worried about if he went down, Atlantic City would go down with him,” Trump biographer Tim O’Brien told me. “He was the star of Atlantic City, and it became like regulatory capture”—a term that refers to instances in which a governmental body kowtows to a dominant interest in an industry it’s assigned to regulate.

There was as well something more subtle at play, perhaps, something that speaks more to human nature than selfless concern for casino workers on the edge. If the commissioners had cracked down totally on Trump, it would have accentuated how often before they had given him a pass. To all of a sudden cut him down would have forced questions about the manner in which for years they so reliably had built him up.

“He sniffed that weakness, that they were not going to really, you know, enforce anything,” fellow Trump biographer Gwenda Blair said. “They were not going to take away his license. They couldn’t. It sounds awfully simple-minded, but that’s it. He figures it out so that for people to go against him it’s going to make them look bad: It’s going to make them look bad that they ever approved his casinos, it’s going to make the bankers look bad that they ever gave him his loans, it’s going to make the Republican Party look bad that it ever got behind him.”

But pulsing, too, through this episode involving Trump’s regulators from the past are lessons for his regulators of the present. As the latter calculate the advantages and downsides of challenging the most powerful elected official on the planet, they would be wise to recall that Atlantic City’s decision to save Trump was part of a broader effort to save the city itself. And it didn’t work.

The lessons for our times are these. The current regulators, Republican members of Congress, are not about to stop (i.e., impeach) Trump because, like the gambling regulators of Atlantic City, they personally are invested in that decision. To impeach Trump would be to admit that they were wrong in the previous and many ways they have supported and defended him. But by letting Trump off the moral, financial, and legal hooks, they place the nation at risk for failure - just as the gaming industry in Atlantic City finally collapsed.

[By 2009 Atlantic City] was a husk of what it wanted to be when it OK’d casinos and kept greenlighting Trump—the result of “a decades-long losing streak,” as the Washington Post put it last year.

In his [2016 presidential] campaign, pressed periodically about his record there, Trump congratulated himself while criticizing the place that saved him. “I had the good sense to leave Atlantic City,” he said in the first GOP debate. “I left Atlantic City before it totally cratered, and I made a lot of money in Atlantic City, and I’m very proud of it.” In Atlantic City, there were lots of losers. Not Trump, he said. “Atlantic City fueled a lot of growth for me,” he told the New York Times in 2016. “The money I took out of there was incredible.”

That would be other people’s money.

It has come up less during his presidency. There have been more immediate crises to worry about than his history in Atlantic City. At this juncture, though, as Trump attacks power-checking Democrats and angles to maintain sufficient acquiescence from the members of his own party who matter the most, it’s imperative to consider anew the calculations that allowed him to skirt accountability in the spring and summer of 1991. They pack fresh relevance now.

“They should have taken his license, given it to a trustee, and today we wouldn’t be dealing with Donald Trump in the White House,” David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who covered Atlantic City and the hearings of ‘91 for the Philadelphia Inquirer, told me. But “they could not bring themselves to go back and acknowledge that they got it completely wrong. They had to protect their position.”

Christine Todd Whitman, the former governor of New Jersey, told me Republicans in Congress—especially in the Senate, if and when Trump’s fate comes down to their votes in an impeachment trial—need to do what the casino commissioners in Atlantic City did not. “They need to stand up to him,” she said. “He needs to be held accountable for his actions.”

… the broad-brush parallels being what they are, I asked people who know Trump and know Atlantic City if they had any advice for Republicans currently in Congress.

“What they should be thinking about, in my opinion, is that if they think they’ve seen the worst, they’re wrong,” O’Donnell said. “This behavior, so to speak, this outrageousness, whatever you want to call it, this lack of loyalty, is going to escalate.”

“What you could say is, and which is true in Atlantic City, is you gave him a break,” said Simon. “And all he cared about was himself. And in the end, you could give him a break, if you’re a Republican, but he will do you in.”

“Anyone who thinks that Donald Trump is important to their long-term viability is either not very bright or kidding themselves,” O’Brien said. “He never shows any gratitude for the people who cut him slack. He just blames things on them.”

The lesson, then, from 1991?

“That if they tether their future to Donald Trump in the belief that without him they won’t have a bright or successful future,” he said, “they might as well just step right off the cliff with him.”

We are facing that cliff. And in another way, the Donald of the 90s has returned in the form of the Donald of 2016.

In January 2019 John Nichols wrote in The Nation how Trump Got Rich by Screwing Over Workers—Of Course He’s Doing It Again as President. “For decades, Trump repeatedly didn’t pay those who worked for him, and now that he’s in the White House, little has changed.”

Of course not. Trump is a genetic grifter, a congenital con man. Nichols explains.

The biggest lie ever told in American politics is the claim that Donald Trump cares about working people.

He never has. He never will.

As a bankruptcy-prone business mogul, Trump has always financed his lavish lifestyle at the expense of the workers and contractors he screwed over. Now he is doing the same thing as president, having engineered a government shutdown that on Friday denied 800,000 federal employees their paychecks.

“Cheating, scamming, and ripping off workers is a Donald Trump tradition that goes back decades. Federal workers are just Trump’s latest victims,” says Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. “For decades, Trump repeatedly didn’t pay those who worked for him, and now that he’s in the White House, little has changed. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers and employees of federal contractors are suffering the same fate because of the Trump shutdown.”

Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that “the American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.”

That was a lie.

As Weissman says, Trump has as president “betrayed workers at every turn.”

“From rolling back health, safety and wage protections to misleading coal miners to tax giveaways for billionaires and big corporations that left most Americans with a pittance,” he explains, “it should be obvious by now that Trump holds working people beneath contempt."

And here he goes again. Yesterday ABC News reported that Congress may be headed toward another government shutdown.

As the nation’s capital is consumed by the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, President Donald Trump on Sunday signaled that he is not committed to keeping the federal government open later this month – setting up another potential government shutdown ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

In response to a question asking the president whether he would commit to avoiding another shutdown like the one that roiled Washington almost one year ago, Trump refused to rule out the possibility.

“I wouldn’t commit to anything,” Trump told reporters on the White House South Lawn on Sunday. “It depends on what the negotiations are.”

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was concerned that Trump would shut down the government over the impeachment inquiry.

“I believe left to our own devices Congress could work out an agreement to quickly fund the government,” Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters on Capitol Hill. “But I’m increasingly worried that President Trump may want to shut down the government again because of impeachment, an impeachment inquiry. He always wants to create diversions.”

… the key is the Homeland Security bill, where Senate Republicans want $5 billion diverted from the Labor and Health and Human Services budget to provide additional money for the president’s border wall.

Democrats don’t support that and their bill, which has only passed out of committee, does not include any new funds for the border wall. An aide said Democrats are open to increasing Homeland Security funding – for Coast Guard ice breakers, for example – but they insist any offsets cannot come from domestic programs in the Labor and HHS title.

“How we get out of it, I don’t know,” the Democratic aide said. “But there’s a general commitment we’re not going to shut down.”

Where are the winners?

Here’s another sign of the president not being able to help himself when it comes to running a con.

In a Public post at popular.info, Judd Legum explores the question: The Trump campaign holds a lot of contests. Does anyone win?.

The Trump campaign has held at least 15 contests since 2018 offering the chance to win breakfast, lunch, or dinner with President Trump. Supporters are enticed to donate to Trump’s campaign with promises of free travel, accommodations, and an “epic” meal with Trump at various locations across the country. An investigation by Popular Information, however, did not uncover evidence that anyone has ever actually won.

Dangling a meal with the candidate to encourage small-dollar contributions is a common tactic in modern presidential politics. Campaigns are typically eager to publicize these meals because: 1. They show the candidate interacting with average Americans, and 2. They encourage more people to enter the next contest.

Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, for example, had a contest in July to “Grab a Beer with Elizabeth.” Warren posted several photos of her toasting with “Mike and his wife Linda, from Elma New York!”

Who won all of the meals that Trump was supposed to have with supporters? No one will say.

Last Monday, Trump was supposed to have lunch with a contest winner in Chicago. Numerous Facebook ads promised people who donated to his campaign a “VIP trip” and an “epic” meal.

The contest was also heavily promoted over email. “I just saw the most recent list of Patriots who have contributed to win a trip to meet me in Chicago on October 28th, and I noticed you STILL haven’t entered,” Trump “wrote” in an October 22 email. “We’d hate for you to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have lunch with President Trump himself at his FAVORITE hotel in Chicago,” the campaign said in another message sent on October 23.

On Monday, October 28, the day that Trump was traveling to Chicago, I contacted Anne Gearan, the Washington Post reporter who was traveling with Trump on behalf of the press. (This role is known informally as the “pooler” or “pool.”) I asked Gearan if she had heard anything about a contest winner having lunch with Trump.

She had not, but she put in a request for information with the Trump campaign and the White House. She included her request in the pool report.

Note: pool asked but has not received info from either the campaign or the White House about results of a contest for lunch with the president at this event. Will pass along anything I get.

Gearan never passed along any information, and I confirmed with her that she never received any information about the Chicago contest winner.

The winner of the Chicago lunch and 14 other completed contests for meals with Trump remain shrouded in mystery. These contests were promoted heavily via email and Facebook. The Trump campaign has sent at least 86 emails over the last two years about the meals.

But neither Trump nor the campaign ever publicly disclosed the winners. This is perplexing because even something as simple as releasing a photo of the meal is an easy way to generate positive news coverage and increase interest in the next contest.

Last week, Popular Information contacted Matt Wolking, Deputy Director of Communications for the Trump campaign, and requested the names of the contest winners and/or photos of the meals. Wolking did not respond.

The Trump campaign did send out a text message about a new contest to have lunch with him in Atlanta.

Trump is scheduled to visit Atlanta for a fundraiser on November 8. The tight turnaround raises questions about whether such a meal is realistically possible. As of Sunday, November 3, entries to the contest are still open. Even if the contest ended Sunday, this leaves the Trump campaign just four days to select a winner, arrange logistics, and presumably vet the winner for security and public relations purposes.

Most contests run by the Trump campaign follow a pattern ⁠— messages over email and Facebook, promoting a meal with Trump at a location that Trump will be visiting soon.

But for several weeks in August and September of 2018, the Trump campaign bought hundreds of Facebook ads about a contest for a dinner with Trump with no designated location. This contest, unlike the others, does not appear to be promoted over email.

But like all the other contests, there was no announced winner.

Is it a scam?

Are these contests, which promise a meal with Trump, a scam? Is the Trump campaign swindling its own supporters? We don’t know.

Scriber thinks it’s a good bet given Trump’s history as a deadbeat and grifter.

In one respect, failing to go through with the meals makes little sense. The estimated value of each meal, including transportation and accommodations, is $3,000. For a campaign that is raising tens of millions of dollars every quarter, this is a pittance.

But this is a campaign that has been willing to scam its supporters before. As Popular Information documented in May, the Trump campaign held a campaign to give away “the 1 millionth MAGA hat,” signed by Trump. On May 23, the Trump campaign ran a Facebook ad claiming that the deadline to enter was midnight.

It ran that same ad, claiming a midnight deadline, for 12 days: May 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, June 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Here, the Trump campaign is telling an obvious lie to its supporters about a midnight deadline to gain a small advantage. Falsely claiming a deadline was midnight likely encouraged people to enter at a higher rate.

Is the Trump campaign failing to follow through on its meal contests to save a few thousand dollars and Trump some time? I need your help to find out.

If you have information about who won these contests — or know someone who does — please contact me at judd@popular.info. Or you can use my secure email: jlegum@protonmail.com.

Now, now. No breath holding!

I leave you with a Trumpian failure - the closing of the Taj in Atlantic City (from the politico.com story). Think of this as a metaphor for the America in our future if Congress will not, or cannot, constrain Trump.

War room
Top: A liquidation sale at the former Trump Taj Mahal Casino and Resort, in 2017. The property will be redeveloped in a Hard Rock Cafe-owned resort, but signage and branding (bottom) found in rooms and hallways reminds of the previous occupancy. | Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images; About

Monday, November 4, 2019

With mental reservation and purpose of evasion the Republicans - President and U. S. Senators - fail to defend the Constitution.

Why have so many Republicans given up on America?

This last Saturday my post was about how America’s regime cleavage risks a Trumpian last refuge. The focus was on the article by Thomas Pepinsky, “a professor of government at Cornell University and a nonresident senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution,” explains Why the Impeachment Fight Is Even Scarier Than You Think.. Political scientists have studied what our democracy is going through. It usually doesn’t end well.

Here are two excerpts.

Political scientists have a term for what the United States is witnessing right now. It’s called “regime cleavage,” a division within the population marked by conflict about the foundations of the governing system itself—in the American case, our constitutional democracy. In societies facing a regime cleavage, a growing number of citizens and officials believe that norms, institutions and laws may be ignored, subverted or replaced.

Regime cleavages … focus the electorate’s attention on the political system as a whole. Instead of seeking office to change the laws to obtain preferred policies, politicians who oppose the democratic order ignore the laws when necessary to achieve their political goals, and their supporters stand by or even endorse those means to their desired ends. Today, when Trump refuses to comply with the House impeachment inquiry, he makes plain his indifference to the Constitution and to the separation of powers. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argues that impeachment overturns an election result, he is doing the same. In the minds of Trump, his allies and, increasingly, his supporters, it’s not just Democrats but American democracy that is the obstacle.

And that is why Republican Senators and this Republican President are not bothered by violating their oaths of office.

Michael Gerson, without employing the concept of “regime cleavage” per se, reports instances of it in his Washington Post column The GOP’s defense of Trump has me sinking into cynicism. (Also see this morning’s Daily Star for a copy.)

Unless you were paying close attention, you might have missed one of the most illuminating moments so far in President Trump’s impeachment saga.

During Army Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman’s testimony Tuesday before House impeachment investigators, he said: “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security.”

It is the second sentence that cuts. Vindman not only argued that Trump’s crude and obvious quid pro quo was inappropriate. As a regional expert, Vindman was concerned also that Trump’s actions would weaken support for a front-line country resisting Russian aggression and thus compromise U.S. security interests.

It was in this context that Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) road-tested a Republican response to impeachment. “I thought it was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign government to investigate a political opponent,” he said. “I also do not think it’s an impeachable offense.”

BTW: Portman cannot have it both ways. If asking “a foreign government to investigate a political opponent” is not impeachable, then it’s OK for the president to do it again, and again, and again. But if such an act is inappropriate, then there must be some method of enforcement to deal with the impropriety.

Portman is usually found in the more thoughtful portion of his tribe. But this answer conspicuously, even deceptively, ignores the issue at hand. A decision about impeachment not only involves the response to a specific act — say, a third-rate burglary. It also necessarily entails a judgment about the fitness for high office of the actor. In Trump’s case, the problem is not a slimy phone call in a lifetime of slimy phone calls. The problem is a president who puts his personal interests ahead of U.S. national security. And who still finds nothing wrong with his “perfect” conversation. The corrupt act reveals a corrupt man, unable to make the most rudimentary judgments about the nation’s good.

In light of all this — against all my instincts — I am sinking into cynicism. If the best of the Republican Party is willing to make shallow, shoddy excuses for an unfit president, then the path ahead is disturbingly clear. The details of the case for impeachment, it seems, will not finally matter. Fearing the revolt of their base — and the retribution of an emotionally unstable president — Senate Republicans (with one admirable exception, Utah’s Mitt Romney) have already chosen their final position: acquittal. And whatever is revealed in the course of the investigation — no matter how vomitous — will fall just short of an impeachable offense. The goal posts will move and move until they are in the next county. And tolerance for corruption in high places will continue to grow.

Only two eventualities might change Republican calculations on impeachment. First, the Republican base might turn against Trump in significant numbers. This is unlikely to the point of impossibility. No matter what the impeachment investigation reveals, Fox News and conservative talk radio will produce an alternative narrative to which partisans can cling. Even if this involves the defamation of patriots such as Vindman. Even if this involves conspiracy theories and massive revisions to reality.

Second, Americans outside the Republican base might turn against Trump so vigorously and completely that the political incentives for Republican officeholders begin to change. What does it profit senators to keep the base if they lose the rest of the electorate? Such a decisive shift in public sentiment also seems unlikely, but who knows what further ethical horrors a corruption investigation featuring Trump and Rudolph W. Giuliani might reveal?

There is, of course, another factor that might change. Republican senators could actually take the deliberative role of their institution seriously. They could recover a proper outrage at public corruption. They could recall why they entered public service in the first place and choose to pay the cost of conscience.

I still want to believe this is possible. But I’m not holding my breath.

U. S. Senators take this oath. “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

The oath taken by newly elected presidents is similar and prescribed in the Constitution. "Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: — “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” ARTICLE II, SECTION 1, CLAUSE 8.

The President and his sycophants in the Congress have violated, and are violating each hour of each day, their respective oaths. They never intended to honor those words because, fundamentally, they do not believe in America, its democracy, and its institutions. If they really did believe in what they swore to uphold, they would not be lying about (the President) and mounting specious defenses (Senators) of the President’s illegal acts.

See? It’s regime cleavage at work.

The AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona has an exhaustive list of more instances of quid pro quo (at least 5, maybe 8) than we are accustomed to seeing in the media: Republicans have no defense to Trump’s extortion and bribery of Ukraine. He wraps up with these observations.

A handful of scholars and legal experts (Lawfare Blog) have argued that what Trump did constitutes bribery — or at least, bribery as the Founding Fathers understood it. The framers of the Constitution understood bribery to be an offense that includes both giving and accepting bribes. “Bribery” is one of the offenses specified in the Constitution meriting impeachment.

As Aaron Blake explains:

Some have argued what Trump did was more extortion than bribery — particularly if he was withholding already-approved military aid for leverage — because Ukraine wasn’t going to get anything it wasn’t already due. But those two words have often been used interchangeably. And even if you want to draw that line, Trump’s conditioning of an Oval Office meeting on the investigations would seem to qualify as an extra benefit and, thus, potential bribery.


Why get bogged down in specific offenses with actual statutory requirements that the other side could argue must be satisfied, when you’re really making a general case about abuses of power? That risks allowing people to argue this wasn’t technically bribery, and maybe allowing the accused to skate. A number of experts have argued against defining what Trump did as bribery, including Renato Mariotti and Teri Kanefield, for that very reason.

But we’re in a different era now, in which polarization has rendered basically any subjectivity and plausible deniability politically weaponized. The phrase “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” is a nebulous one to pretty much every American who doesn’t call themselves a constitutional scholar. That allows plenty of people to convince themselves Trump’s actions don’t rise to the level required.

You could argue that defining Trump’s misdeeds by a less subjective term would be much more fruitful. Does your average person know whether what Trump allegedly did is a “high Crime” or “Misdemeanor?” Perhaps not. And perhaps they think a “high Crime” means something, well, with a high degree of criminality — which isn’t true.

Could they be convinced, by contrast, that it was the kind of bribery that is expressly forbidden in the Constitution? And, on a more basic level, do people even know that bribery is an impeachable offense? Those are the questions Democrats should probably be asking themselves about now.

Democrats and the media need to be educating the public about constitutional law, and simplifying the evidence in this case. There is no doubt that Donald Trump should be impeached for this crime. He used the powers of the presidency to benefit himself, and he invited a foreign nation to interfere in our 2020 presidential election — just as he did with Russia in the 2016 election. Donald Trump’s abuse of power is a threat to our national security and the integrity of our elections.

Once upon a time there was a conservative faction deeply opposed to Trump - the NeverTrumpers. What happened to them? Is Romney the only one that remains? (And remember that even he tried sucking up to Trump in search of a position in the Trump administration.)

Washington Post columnist Bret Stephens tells us the story in The NeverTrump Vindication. They may be on respirators. But conscientious conservatives still count. Let’s see.

… his tweet of Oct. 23 — the one that called NeverTrumpers “human scum” — plumbed new depths in the debasement of presidential speech. … “The Never Trumper Republicans, though on respirators with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats,” the president wrote, before warning of their scummy natures.

Think that one over. If the few remaining NeverTrump conservatives can still be that dangerous while we’re on respirators, we must be powerful indeed. …

[After the election] The NeverTrumpers scattered. Some became ex-conservatives. Others, full-on Trumpers. Still others, anti-anti-Trumpers — which only meant they were smart enough to see the president for what he is and churlish enough to be angry at those who wouldn’t join them in capitulating to it.

Yet the NeverTrumpers never scattered entirely, and thank heavens for that. Every political system will always have a conservative faction, and every healthy democracy needs that faction to be rooted in some combination of classical liberalism and moral traditionalism. Trump’s G.O.P., whatever its political fortunes, is the opposite: a nativist party led by a libertine.

At some level, conservatives know this. Trump knows they know it. Which explains why he has turned his sights on Never Trumpers: What despots and demagogues fear most is their followers developing a conscience.

… the president’s support with his base is slipping at last. A new poll finds Trump’s support among Republicans at 74 percent — an eight-point decline since September and the lowest since he was elected. Nearly one in five Republicans support impeachment and removal. So do 47 percent of independents. These numbers will not move in Trump’s favor if the truth about his “drug deals” (to borrow Bolton’s phrase) continues to come to light.

I doubt any of this will be sufficient to get at least 20 Republican senators to vote for Trump’s removal from office. But Trump knows that the number needed to spell his moral defeat on impeachment is four. If Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and one other Republican join the Democrats to convict, the political humiliation will be thunderous. And, as my colleague David Leonhardt has convinced me, it could devastate his re-election chances. If the administration thinks impeachment is such a political winner, they wouldn’t be fighting it this hard.

In the meantime, someone ought to print “Human Scum” on a limited-edition T-shirt. Given who said it about whom, it turns out to be a badge of honor.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

America's regime cleavage risks a Trumpian last refuge

Bear with me. All that in the title will become clear.

David Gordon, writing in Blog for Arizona, observes that Republicans in the House of Representatives heard the call of History and Hung Up on It..

In a vote to formalize the next phase of the impeachment process, all the Republicans, who had complained, without much validity, that they had been shut out of the process in the closed-door depositions (Republicans and their counsel are in the room during all the withness presentations), just voted against the next stage which includes rules for public hearing, the release of transcripts from the closed-door depositions, and due process protections for the President.

Note “all” - even those few who are critical of Trump?

Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post), along similar lines, comments on how Every House Republican just ignored their oath of office. The key word here is “every”.

It was a sad spectacle, a confirmation that not a single House Republican (even those who are retiring) appreciates his/her oath of office, that not a single Republican can step away from partisanship and look to the greater good, and not a single Republican who is concerned enough about the extortion of a foreign government to influence our elections to do anything about it. For whatever they do in politics and in life, the vote on Thursday setting forth the procedures for public hearings on impeachment and the inevitable vote on articles of impeachment will define their public life.

Unless they see the light and vote for articles of impeachment, not a single one will be able say that, when the chips were down and the most dangerous president in history attempted to delegitimize our elections (by inviting interference) and to co-opt the government for private political gain, they put country over party. None will be able to claim that they stood against an invitation for a foreign government to investigate a U.S. citizen.

Not even Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.), …

He’s the guy who will not run for reelection because, supposedly, of his negative opinion of what Trump is doing.

The quotes I’ve provided above are evidence of a growing fundamental divide in American politics. At some deep level, I suspect that Republicans all acknowledge Trump’s misdeeds and, no way to sugar coat it, his horse-shit character.

So, assuming I am correct, what prevents the GOPlins from doing the right thing?

(You might also observe that the very fact that I ask that question is evidence of the divide.)

Also, Mrs. Scriber chimes in thinking that Trump really believes he has done nothing wrong. Hence our very views of ethics and morality, what is right and what is wrong, are at odds.

So here’s one theory, if you will, about what all this means for our democracy. (With thanks to the tip from Scriber Subscriber Mark Mandel.)

Thomas Pepinsky, “a professor of government at Cornell University and a nonresident senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution,” explains Why the Impeachment Fight Is Even Scarier Than You Think. Political scientists have studied what our democracy is going through. It usually doesn’t end well.

For decades, Republicans and Democrats fought over the same things: whose values and policies work best for American democracy. But now, those age-old fights are changing. What was once run-of-the-mill partisan competition is being replaced by a disagreement over democracy itself.

This is particularly evident as the president and many of his allies crow about the illegitimacy of the House impeachment inquiry, calling it an attempted coup, and as the White House refuses to comply with multiple congressional subpoenas as part of the probe.

This marks a new phase in American politics. Democrats and Republicans might still disagree about policy, but they are increasingly also at odds over the very foundations of our constitutional order.

Political scientists have a term for what the United States is witnessing right now. It’s called “regime cleavage,” a division within the population marked by conflict about the foundations of the governing system itself—in the American case, our constitutional democracy. In societies facing a regime cleavage, a growing number of citizens and officials believe that norms, institutions and laws may be ignored, subverted or replaced.

And there are serious consequences: An emerging regime cleavage in the United States brought on by President Donald Trump and his defenders could signal that the American public might lose faith in the electoral process altogether or incentivize elected politicians to mount even more direct attacks on the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers. Regime cleavages emerge only in governing systems in crisis, and our democracy is indeed in crisis.

Just look at the hardening split among the American people on impeachment: The fraction of citizens who oppose the impeachment inquiry is the same as that who approve of the president, signifying that partisan disagreement over policy has turned into a partisan divide over political legitimacy. This cleavage shows up in discourse across the American political spectrum that labels one’s political opponents as un-American, disloyal, even treasonous. But it is clearest in the argument that it would amount to a “coup” to remove the president via conviction in the Senate, and thus that the regular functioning of the legislative branch would be illegitimate. These divisions are over the laws that set out plainly in our Constitution how the president can be subject to sanction.

Regime cleavages are different from other political “cleavages.” Conflict between left and right, for example, over issues such as taxation and redistribution, is healthy. Other cleavages are based on identity, such as racial conflict in South Africa, or religious divides between Hindus and Muslims in India or Protestants and Catholics during the past century in the Netherlands. Identity cleavages can be dangerous, but they are common across the world’s democracies and can be endured, just so long as different groups respect the rule of law and the legitimacy of the electoral process.

Regime cleavages, by contrast, focus the electorate’s attention on the political system as a whole. Instead of seeking office to change the laws to obtain preferred policies, politicians who oppose the democratic order ignore the laws when necessary to achieve their political goals, and their supporters stand by or even endorse those means to their desired ends. Today, when Trump refuses to comply with the House impeachment inquiry, he makes plain his indifference to the Constitution and to the separation of powers. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argues that impeachment overturns an election result, he is doing the same. In the minds of Trump, his allies and, increasingly, his supporters, it’s not just Democrats but American democracy that is the obstacle.

American politics is not yet fully consumed by this current, emerging regime cleavage. But if it continues without a forceful, bipartisan rebuke, we can expect that politics in the United States will increasingly come to be characterized by the kinds of intractable conflicts between populist outsiders, old-guard politicians, and the machinery of the state that have characterized presidential democracies in countries like Argentina and, more recently, Taiwan. Our regime cleavage has not yet hardened to the extent that it has in these countries, but if it does, it will not be possible to elect a president who can “end the mess in Washington” because both sides of the regime cleavage will argue that the other is illegitimate and undemocratic. Voters, understandably, will lose what faith they have left in the value of democracy itself. In the worst-case scenario, presidents and their supporters would be entirely unaccountable to Congress, while their opponents would reject the legitimacy of the presidency altogether.

Even worse: What if Trump refuses to acknowledge defeat by a Democratic opponent in 2020? What would happen in that case? Might the president’s supporters resort to violence? Might broad segments of the GOP simply refuse to recognize an elected Democratic executive as well?

Let me jog your memory. Trump has incited violence in past rallies. And can you imagine this guy, having been defeated at the ballot box, going meekly to join the ranks of other one-term presidents? That you cannot marks this as another indicator of the regime cleavage that threatens our democracy.

Protecting the rule of law, defending the separation of powers and restoring constitutional order to Washington increasingly seem as though they will require the impeachment, conviction and removal from office of the current president. At the very least, Americans of every political persuasion must demand that the administration take part in the impeachment proceedings, even if the Republicans in the Senate ultimately weigh partisanship over evidence in their vote. So long as the executive and legislative branches respect the procedures and powers outlined in the Constitution, we must all respect their legitimacy—regardless of the outcome. If we fail to agree on and abide by our common democratic principles, our emerging regime cleavage will harden, and the future for American democracy will be bleak.

I’ll close with this famous quote from the science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov.

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” -Salvor Hardin in Foundation - Isaac Asimov, US science fiction novelist & scholar (1920 - 1992).

Whatever else you might think of Donald Trump as president, I suspect that “competent” is not on your list. It’s not on mine. What we must hope for, then, is that Trump and his tribal followers do not embrace that last refuge.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Trump provides cash to Senators who condemn the impeachment inquiry. Ethics lawyer claims Trump appears to be engaging in felony bribery.

If you need an update on the impeachment inquiry, check out The Impeachment Inquiry Will Now Be Televised by Clare Malone at 538.

Onward …

Politico.com reports that Trump lures GOP senators on impeachment with cold cash. The president is tapping his vast donor network to buck up lawmakers whose support he badly needs — but who also need him.

Trump is tapping his vast fundraising network for a handful of loyal senators facing tough reelection bids in 2020. Each of them has signed onto a Republican-backed resolution condemning the inquiry as “unprecedented and undemocratic.”

The new online fundraising drive bypassed ’[Sen. Susan] Collins, an occasional Trump critic who called on the president to retract his tweet comparing the impeachment investigation to a “lynching.” Collins also said Trump made a “big mistake” in asking China to investigate the Biden family.

The Maine senator has avoided taking a position on impeachment because, she says, as a juror in a prospective Senate trial she doesn’t want to “prejudge” the proceedings.

What about our Senator McSally?

Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, another vulnerable Republican facing reelection, was also omitted, though apparently for a different reason. While McSally signed onto the anti-impeachment resolution, she has frustrated Republican officials over her reluctance to exclusively use WinRed, a Trump-endorsed online fundraising tool. Party officials are trying to turn WinRed into a centralized hub of small-donor giving ahead of the 2020 election and used the platform to send out Trump’s appeal for the three senators.

Collins and McSally are missing out on a potential windfall after they were both outraised by their Democratic rivals during the third quarter of the year. McSally’s Democratic opponent, former astronaut Mark Kelly, has raked in $5 million more than her over the course of the year.

McSally’s campaign declined to comment, and a spokesperson for Collins did not respond.

McSally may be wise to not take money from Trump.

Newsweek reports that TRUMP IS COMMITTING ‘FELONY BRIBERY’ BY GIVING FUNDRAISING CASH TO GOP SENATORS AHEAD OF IMPEACHMENT TRIAL: EX-BUSH ETHICS LAWYER.

Attorney Richard Painter, who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, warned on Thursday that President Donald Trump appeared to be committing “felony bribery” by giving Republican senators fundraising cash ahead of an increasingly likely impeachment trial in the Senate.

The lawyer shared the politico.com report covered above and tweeted:

“This is a bribe. Any other American who offered cash to the jury before a trial would go to prison for felony bribery. But he can get away with it?” Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, wrote on Twitter. “Criminal.”

The senators can raise their own campaign cash. Any senator who accepts cash from @realDonaldTrump before the impeachment trial is guilty of accepting a bribe and should go to the slammer.

(Thanks to Roving Reporter for tips about Trump’s apparent payola.)