Friday, November 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My nomination for the OMG moment.:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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