Thursday Reads: I Can’t Take It Anymore . . .Posted: November 7, 2019
I’m having another one of those “I can’t take anymore” days. I couldn’t stand reading the news yesterday and today the feeling is even stronger as I’ve forced myself to surf for stories to post. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
An aide to Mike Pence is testifying in the impeachment inquiry today. Reuters: As public hearings loom, Vice President Pence aide meets with U.S. House committees.
U.S. congressional committees conducting an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump met on Thursday for the first time with a top adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, one of the last witnesses to testify behind closed doors before public hearings start next week.
Jennifer Williams, a career foreign service officer and special adviser to Pence for Europe and Russia, arrived at the U.S. Capitol to testify behind closed doors on Thursday morning with members of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees.
Lawmakers will look to Williams for information about how much Pence knew about efforts by Trump and those around him to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
According to CNN, Williams was “concerned” about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine president Zelensky.
Williams was on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky, and she was concerned about what she heard on the call but there is no indication Williams raised her concerns to her superiors, according to the source.
Justin Shur, Williams’ attorney, told CNN in a statement Wednesday night that she would answer the committee’s questions “if required to appear.”
“Jennifer is a longtime dedicated State Department employee,” Shur said in the statement. “If required to appear, she will answer the Committees’ questions. We expect her testimony will largely reflect what is already in the public record.” [….]
Williams, a longtime State Department staffer, is detailed to Pence’s office as special adviser on European and Russian affairs and was one of two Pence aides on the call. The other was Gen. Keith Kellogg, the vice president’s national security adviser, who has not yet been called to testify.
Williams would be the first person on Pence’s national security team to appear. She has knowledge of how much the vice president knew about the efforts by Trump and those around him to push Ukraine to launch investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, as well as 2016 election interference, a source familiar with her thinking told CNN.
We’ll probably hear more about Williams and what she has to say later on today.
The New York Times reported this morning that Zelensky received the message about a quid pro quo loud and clear, and he was planning to do Trump’s bidding: Zelensky Bowed to Trump’s Demands, Until Luck Spared Him.
KIEV, Ukraine — It was early September, and Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, faced an agonizing choice: whether to capitulate to President Trump’s demands to publicly announce investigations against his political enemies or to refuse, and lose desperately needed military aid.
Only Mr. Trump could unlock the aid, he had been told by two United States senators, and time was running out. If the money, nearly $400 million, were not unblocked by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, it could be lost in its entirety.
In a flurry of WhatsApp messages and meetings in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, over several days, senior aides debated the point. Avoiding partisan politics in the United States had always been the first rule of Ukrainian foreign policy, but the military aid was vital to the war against Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, a conflict that has cost 13,000 lives since it began in 2014.
By then, however, Mr. Zelensky’s staffers were already conceding to what seemed to be the inevitable, and making plans for a public announcement about the investigations. It was a fateful decision for a fledgling president elected on an anticorruption platform that included putting an end to politically motivated investigations.
Finally bending to the White House request, Mr. Zelensky’s staff planned for him to make an announcement in an interview on Sept. 13 with Fareed Zakaria, the host of a weekly news show on CNN.
Though plans were in motion to give the White House the public statement it had sought, events in Washington saved the Ukrainian government from any final decision and eliminated the need to make the statement.
But word of the freeze in military aid had leaked out, and Congress was in an uproar. Two days before the scheduled interview, the Trump administration released the assistance and Mr. Zelensky’s office quickly canceled the interview.
Read the whole thing at the NYT.
Also at The New York Times, a story on how Lev Parnas got the money to pay for Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to manufacture dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden: Behind the Deal That Put Giuliani Together With a Dirt-Hunting Partner.
It has been one of the enduring mysteries of the impeachment drama: Where did a cash-strapped Ukrainian-born American businessman get $500,000 to pay President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani?
It turns out that the money came from a Long Island lawyer named Charles Gucciardo, a Republican donor and supporter of Mr. Trump. The payment was part of a deal in which Mr. Gucciardo would become an investor in a company started by the businessman, Lev Parnas, according to Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Gucciardo’s lawyer and other people familiar with the arrangement.
The money, paid to Mr. Giuliani’s firm in September and October 2018, cemented a relationship between Mr. Parnas and Mr. Giuliani. Within months that relationship would evolve into a critical front in the campaign by the president and Mr. Giuliani to pressure the Ukrainian government to start investigations that would benefit Mr. Trump politically.
Mr. Gucciardo, 62, a plaintiff’s lawyer, has not been implicated in any wrongdoing, and there is no evidence that he was involved in the Ukrainian pressure campaign.
Read the rest at the NYT.
Information has begun leaking out about the upcoming tell-all book by “Anonymous” and it doesn’t look good for Mike Pence. Yashar Ali at HuffPost: Exclusive: Book Claims Senior Officials Believed Pence Would Support Use Of 25th Amendment.
The much-anticipated book “A Warning,” reportedly written by an unnamed senior White House official, claims that high-level White House aides were certain that Vice President Mike Pence would support the use of the 25th Amendment to have President Donald Trump removed from office because of mental incapacity.
According to the exposé, which is written by someone that The New York Times and the publisher of the book say is a current or former senior White House official, using the pen name “Anonymous,” highly placed White House officials did a back-of-the-envelope tally of which Cabinet members would be prepared to sign a letter invoking Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which says that if the president is deemed unfit to discharge the duties of his office, the vice president would assume the role.
That letter would need to be signed by a majority of the Cabinet, delivered to Pence for his signature and then submitted to Congress.
According to Anonymous, there was no doubt in the minds of these senior officials that Pence would support invoking the 25th Amendment if the majority of the Cabinet signed off on it.
Trump is not going to be happy with Mike today.
Meanwhile, Republicans–led by Rand Paul–are trying to out the Ukraine whistleblower. The name has been out there for awhile, but Republicans are trying to bait mainstream reporters into printing it. Yahoo News: Whistleblower attorneys fear for client’s safety as Trump allies move to out him.
On the evening of Oct. 2, Mark Zaid, one of the attorneys representing the anonymous official whose whistleblower complaint sparked the impeachment probe into President Trump, received an email with the subject line: “a bullet in your head.”
Zaid reported the email to the FBI, which investigated and determined the threat wasn’t credible, but that message was just one of the dozens received by the whistleblower’s attorneys from individuals ranging from the merely critical to downright threatening.
On Wednesday morning, a person using the encrypted email service ProtonMail told Zaid to “DIE you piece of FILTH,” and another emailed the legal team repeatedly, in one message saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin “would have already shot scum like this,” referring to the whistleblower. A third told Andrew Bakaj, the whistleblower’s primary lawyer and head of his own law firm Compass Rose Legal Group, that someone would “come up to [him] on the street” when he “least expects it,” hinting at violence.
Others are less threatening but still critical, like a man going by the name Jeb Stuart, who called in to insist the whistleblower come forward with their complaints publicly.
A review of a trove of voicemails, emails and messages on social media provided to Yahoo News by the whistleblower’s legal team demonstrate the effects of efforts by Trump allies to vilify the whistleblower and those testifying against the president in the impeachment inquiry. That campaign consists of a blend of talking points promoted by key conservative figures and those originating from Trump or his allies themselves.
The results, according to the whistleblower’s lawyers, has been a campaign of harassment that makes them fear for their client’s personal safety.
More details at Yahoo News.
The Roger Stone trial is going to be interesting. A couple of stories to check out:
Zoe Tillman at Buzzfeed News: A Jury Saw Records Of Trump’s Phone Calls With Roger Stone After The DNC Announced It Was Hacked In 2016.
Stone, a longtime adviser to President Donald Trump, is charged with lying to Congress about trying to contact WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, during the 2016 campaign and communicate what he was learning to Trump’s campaign. To prove that, prosecutors spent the first day of the trial presenting evidence that Stone did try to contact WikiLeaks — and that he was, in fact, not only in touch with the campaign, but with Trump himself.
The jury saw emails, text messages, and call records documenting Stone’s communications with the campaign around the same time that he was in touch with two associates about tracking down emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee that were eventually released by WikiLeaks; the US intelligence community later concluded that Russian intelligence was involved in hacking the DNC and orchestrating the release of the stolen emails through WikiLeaks.
The jury saw records of phone calls between then-candidate Trump and Stone in 2016, including on June 14, 2016, when the DNC announced it had been hacked, and in the weeks that followed. Prosecutors made clear that they didn’t know what the two men discussed — they only had the call logs — but they placed those calls in the middle of a timeline of Stone’s alleged efforts to get messages to WikiLeaks and Assange.
“Evidence will show Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad. The truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,” Assistant US Attorney Aaron Zelinsky told the jury.
On the opening day of Roger Stone’s trial for allegedly lying to Congress and obstructing its investigation, one mystery appeared to be solved by prosecutors.
The Donald Trump supporter who Stone alerted in October 2016 that “the payload is coming” — an apparent reference to WikiLeaks’ release of damaging emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign — was Blackwater founder Erik Prince, according to prosecutors….
The communication is one of several at the center of the trial. Prosecutors expect to call members of the Trump campaign but are not planning on calling Prince, according to a person familiar with the plan.
Two days after Stone learned that “big news” damaging to Clinton’s campaign would soon be leaked by WikiLeaks he emailed Prince — the founder of Blackwater, a controversial private military company — telling him “the payload is still coming,” according to the source.
According to the indictment, Stone emailed Prince on October 3, 2016, two days after Randy Credico told Stone, “big news Wednesday” and six days before WikiLeaks released hacked emails from the Clinton campaign. In the email, Stone tells Prince, “Spoke with my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming.”
Late the following day Prince sent a text message to Stone asking if he had “hear(d) anymore from London.” Stone replied, “Yes — want to talk on a secure line — got Whatsapp?”
Stone told Prince, according to the indictment, that more material would be released that would be damaging to the Clinton campaign.
It isn’t clear why Stone would have relayed that information to Prince. They didn’t know each other prior to the campaign, the source said. Credico has denied that he acted as Stone’s intermediary with WikiLeaks and said his messages to Stone were based on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s public statements.
That’s all I have for you today. I’m going to spend the rest of the day escaping into a book. What stories are you following?