Thursday Reads: Day 1 of Impeachment Hearings and Other NewsPosted: November 14, 2019
Funny, Kellyanne’s husband George Conway didn’t seem to agree. He spent yesterday on MSNBC arguing in favor of impeaching and removing Trump.
Eric Wemple at The Washington Post: ‘I’m horrified. I’m appalled’: George Conway takes Trump-bashing mind to MSNBC.
Conway brought his pro-impeachment views to MSNBC on Wednesday morning. Asked about what constitutes an impeachable offense, Conway — who bailed on the Republican Party last year — offered the following:
That goes to the very heart of what a high crime and misdemeanor is. I mean, there are two ways to look at it: The first — the way I prefer to look at it — is the holistic view, and the holistic view is that when you become president, you raise your right hand and you swear to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and also the Constitution provides and uses that word, those words “faithfully execute,” in reference to faithfully execute the laws. And when you take on that duty — and the framers really took oaths seriously — you are promising to take that awesome power that’s being thrust upon you and use it for the nation’s benefit and not for your own benefit. And the problem with Donald Trump is, he always sees himself first.
It just so happens, noted Conway, that in the case of Ukraine, President Trump used the “most unchecked” power of the presidency — foreign policy, that is — to “advance his own personal interests as opposed to the country’s.” As several witnesses have claimed in closed and open House depositions, Trump and his associates attempted to condition military aid and an Oval Office meeting on the Ukrainian president’s announcement of an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
As for why some folks can’t see the abuses of power, Conway need look no further than another cable-news channel — one where his sentiments might be a bit less welcome. “I’m horrified. I’m appalled,” said Conway about the Republican response to Trump’s misdeeds.
Actually, there was an unexpected bombshell in Wednesday’s testimony. Ambassador Bill Taylor revealed that a member of his staff overheard Trump asking about the “investigations” he was pressuring Ukraine to undertake when EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland called Trump on a cell phone in a Ukrainian restaurant. The call took place on July 26, one day after Trump’s infamous phone call to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.
A U.S. ambassador’s cellphone call to President Trump from a restaurant in the capital of Ukraine this summer was a stunning breach of security, exposing the conversation to surveillance by foreign intelligence services, including Russia’s, former U.S. officials said.
The call — in which Trump’s remarks were overheard by a U.S. Embassy staffer in Kyiv — was disclosed Wednesday by the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., on the dramatic opening day of public impeachment hearings into alleged abuse of power by the president.
“The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone” asking U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about “the investigations,” Taylor testified, referring to the president’s desire for a probe of the son of Trump’s potential political opponent in 2020, Joe Biden, and the Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter Biden once served.
Sondland, Taylor said, told Trump in that conversation that “the Ukrainians were ready to move forward” on the investigations.
The U.S. Embassy staffer who overheard the call, political counselor David Holmes, is scheduled to testify Friday before House impeachment investigators in a closed session.
After the call ended Holmes asked Sondland how Trump felt about Ukraine. Sondland replied that Trump cared more about investigating Biden than helping Ukraine.
More from the Post on the security implications of the call:
“The security ramifications are insane — using an open cellphone to communicate with the president of the United States,” said Larry Pfeiffer, a former senior director of the White House Situation Room and a former chief of staff to the CIA director. “In a country that is so wired with Russian intelligence, you can almost take it to the bank that the Russians were listening in on the call.” [….]
It was also noteworthy in that ambassadors typically don’t just pick up the phone and call presidents. “They never do so to discuss Ukraine policy,” former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said in a tweet. “Doing so on a cellphone from Kyiv means [the] whole world was listening in.”
Mediaite reports that, according to Watergate alum John Dean, First Day of Trump Hearings Yielded More Damning Testimony Than All of Watergate.
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean characterized the first day of public impeachment testimony against President Donald Trump as both thorough and damning, saying House Democrats “already have more than they had against Richard Nixon to impeach him. Just on all accounts….
“John, I mean, given what you saw today, did this move the needle for any Republican senators who are watching?” CNN host Anderson Cooper asked Dean.
“There’s a conspiracy, we know from what’s come out of the executive sessions, generally, where this is going,” Dean said. “What struck me today in listening to these two witnesses is they already have more than they had against Richard Nixon to impeach him. Just on all accounts.”
“Why do you say that?” asked fellow panelist, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
“Because the evidence is there,” Dean responded. “It was my testimony, a few people that were lower in the pecking order than me, and it happened before the tapes.”
Unlike the already released call summary where Trump is seen soliciting an investigation into his potential political rival, the blockbuster revelation that a White House taping system existed only came out weeks after Dean’s testimony in June 1973. The subsequent legal fight by the Nixon White House to prevent releasing the tapes to Congress became another impeachable offense and the infamous 18-and-a-half-minute gap on a tape where Nixon discussed the Watergate break-in became a key piece of evidence proving the Nixon cover-up.
Meanwhile, Republicans have conspiracy theories. Yesterday at Buzzfeed News: The Witnesses At Today’s Impeachment Hearing Weren’t Trying To Evade Republicans’ Questions. They Couldn’t Understand Them.
From the very first questions that Republicans asked in the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Wednesday, it was clear that a core part of the proceedings will not be about determining whether the president committed an impeachable offense. Instead, it will be an example of the damage that years of right-wing misinformation has done to the highest levels of the country’s political system.
Many of the questions from the House Intelligence Committee left Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior state department official, in disoriented silence.
In their opening statements, both Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the Intelligence Committee, and the committee’s vice chair, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, brought up elements of the prominent, but baseless, CrowdStrike conspiracy theory that a cybersecurity firm attempted to cover up evidence that Ukraine tried to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. Whereas Schiff’s questions seemed framed to establish that Trump and his allies spent years chasing rumors, Nunes and the other Republicans on the Intelligence Committee staked much of their time on nonsense yanked from conservative Facebook groups and hyperpartisan news sites.
“Trump then requested that Zelensky investigate a discredited 2016 CrowdStrike conspiracy theory and, even more ominously, look into the Bidens,” Schiff said. “Neither of these investigations was in the US national interest.”
“This is a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign,” Nunes said. “Now they accuse Trump of malfeasance in Ukraine, when they themselves are culpable.”
There is one America that believes what was in former FBI director Robert Mueller’s report, that there was coordinated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which helped the Trump campaign. But there is a second America that believes that in the summer of 2016, the Democratic National Committee colluded with Ukrainian nationals to frame the Trump campaign for collusion with Russia, implicating a Ukrainian American DNC contractor, Alexandra Chalupa, in the collusion and the California-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in the subsequent cover-up.
The impeachment inquiry has also revealed the vast damage that Trump has done to U.S. diplomacy.
Joshua J. Geltzer at The Atlantic: The System Was Blinking Red.
Those who listened to the first day of public impeachment hearings, focused on Ukraine-related matters, heard a lot about Donald Trump and a lot about Rudy Giuliani. And for good reason: Both were central players in the White House–driven push to trade American weapons and a meeting at the White House for Ukraine’s help with Trump’s reelection.
But listeners also heard a lot about long-serving U.S. government officials, including the two witnesses who testified, and how they reacted to the push led by Trump and Giuliani. What might have gotten lost in the day’s testimony is that these more ordinary officials were doing extraordinary things. Those included repeated threats to resign and repeated referrals to lawyers of possible violations of U.S. law by U.S. officials. This is not normal—not normal behavior by public servants, not normal disagreement within the policy-making process, not normal at all. To the contrary, this is a sign that inside the U.S. government, Trump’s improper bullying of Ukraine was setting off alarms—and the system was blinking red.
Start with the multiple threats of resignation that Ambassador William Taylor, America’s top diplomat in Ukraine, indicated he’d made with utter sincerity (an indication confirmed by the written record). Threats of resignation by government officials—especially officials like Taylor, with decades of service to presidents of both political parties—are extremely rare. Given how dramatic a threat of resignation is, and given how frequent such resignations have been under the Trump administration, it’s important to remember that this isn’t, say, an ordinary negotiating tactic for government officials as they jostle with colleagues in formulating policy. Quite the opposite—this is the ultimate card to play, and most government officials go through their entire careers without ever considering it. (I never played it while I served in government!) [….]
And it wasn’t just the policy process’s breakdown that was clear to U.S. government officials seeing this all unfold; it was adherence to the law as well. The first day of testimony confirmed earlier reporting that U.S. government officials who realized the nature of the White House’s Ukraine push repeatedly asked that White House national-security lawyers be notified out of concern that matters were headed seriously, even dangerously, awry. That, too, is not normal—not even close to it.
Read the rest at The Atlantic.
The Daily Beast: Revealed: The Pro-Trump Playbook for Smearing U.S. Diplomats.
Foreign governments have settled on a new strategy to sideline American officials they don’t like: peddling conspiratorial dirt on those officials to portray them as enemies of President Donald Trump.
The impeachment inquiry has revealed the success of that strategy in Ukraine, where ethically dubious officials teamed up with Trump’s personal attorney to remove a U.S. ambassador. A Hungarian government-backed campaign against a top National Security Council official was less successful, though not for a lack of effort. And according to senior U.S. officials, the same strategy succeeded in scuttling a nominee to be America’s top diplomat in Albania.
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that John Solomon, one of Rudy Giuliani’s favorite conservative columnists and conspiracy-peddlers, makes an appearance in both the Ukraine and Albanian dramas.
“We have permitted open season on our diplomats,” declared Fiona Hill, a former senior Trump White House national security official, during her closed-door testimony to the impeachment inquiry. “Any one of us here could be subject to this kind of claims and these kinds of attacks, any single person who gets crosswise with any of these individuals or any of these countries, if they think that any of us are in the way.”
The attacks frequently invoke George Soros, the right-wing bogeyman and Fox News primetime fixture. And they appear tailor-made to Trump’s idiosyncratic sensibilities, focusing on issues and controversies that tend to grab the attention of right-wing media—and, by extension, the president himself. The strategies also bear the hallmarks of the surreptitious campaign to undermine U.S. diplomats in Ukraine by people close to the president, chiefly hRis personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
Read the rest at the link.
More stories to check out:
Renato Mariotti at Politico: Impeachment Is Not a Fair Fight, and on Day One It Showed.
John Harris at Politico Magazine: Trump Exposed: A Brutal Day for the President.
The New York Times: As Talks With Putin Loom, Ukraine Looks in Vain for U.S. Help.
The New York Times: Erdogan Hands ‘Tough Guy’ Letter Back to Trump.
The New York Times: Michael Bloomberg Has a History of Demeaning Comments About Women.
FiveThirtyEight: Why Deval Patrick Is Making A Late Bid For The Democratic Nomination.