Thursday Reads: The Political Press Slowly Comes Back to LifePosted: January 2, 2020
The long holiday news blackout is finally drawing to a close. A big story just broke at Just Security: Exclusive: Unredacted Ukraine Documents Reveal Extent of Pentagon’s Legal Concerns.
“Clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold.”
This is what Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), told Elaine McCusker, the acting Pentagon comptroller, in an Aug. 30 email, which has only been made available in redacted form until now. It is one of many documents the Trump administration is trying to keep from the public, despite congressional oversight efforts and court orders in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation.
Earlier in the day on Aug. 30, President Donald Trump met with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the president’s hold on $391 million in military assistance for Ukraine. Inside the Trump administration, panic was reaching fever pitch about the president’s funding hold, which had stretched on for two months. Days earlier, POLITICO had broken the story and questions were starting to pile up. U.S. defense contractors were worried about delayed contracts and officials in Kyiv and lawmakers on Capitol Hill wanted to know what on earth was going on. While Trump’s national security team thought withholding the money went against U.S. national security interests, Trump still wouldn’t budge.
But getting at that truth hasn’t been easy and the Trump administration continues to try to obscure it. It is blocking key officials from testifying and is keeping documentary evidence from lawmakers investigating the Ukraine story. For example, this note from Duffey to McCusker was never turned over to House investigators and the Trump administration is continuing to try to keep it secret.
Just Security has been reviewing the unredacted documents.
The documents reveal growing concern from Pentagon officials that the hold would violate the Impoundment Control Act, which requires the executive branch to spend money as appropriated by Congress, and that the necessary steps to avoid this result weren’t being taken. Those steps would include notifying Congress that the funding was being held or shifted elsewhere, a step that was never taken. The emails also show that no rationale was ever given for why the hold was put in place or why it was eventually lifted.
What is clear is that it all came down to the president and what he wanted; no one else appears to have supported his position. Although the pretext for the hold was that some sort of policy review was taking place, the emails make no mention of that actually happening. Instead, officials were anxiously waiting for the president to be convinced that the hold was a bad idea. And while the situation continued throughout the summer, senior defense officials were searching for legal guidance, worried they would be blamed should the hold be lifted too late to actually spend all of the money, which would violate the law.
The emails also reveal key decision points, moments when senior officials hoped the hold might be lifted. This includes Vice President Mike Pence’s September meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which a senior defense official expected would resolve the funding issue, raising the question: Why? What was supposed to come out of that meeting that would pave the way for Trump to lift the hold? What was Pence expected to communicate?
But, the hold wasn’t immediately lifted after Pence’s meeting with Zelenskyy. Instead, the president finally released the money on Sept. 11, just as the whistleblower complaint was about to break into the open.
Read much more at the link and or check out these Twitter threads:
This is all more fuel for the impeachment fire and more justification for Nancy Pelosi’s decision to hang on to the already passed impeachment articles for awhile.
Eleanor Clift at The Daily Beast: How Long Can Nancy Pelosi Hold Back These Articles of Impeachment? Longer Than You Think.
“This is working beautifully for her, and for the country,” says Norm Ornstein, a political scientist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “In the weeks since the House voted for Impeachment, there have been more damning emails, and there’s no reason to believe we have seen the end of it.”
Delaying the trial allows more evidence of wrongdoing by the president and his allies to surface and potentially sway public opinion and perhaps even some Senate Republicans.
After the House voted the articles, the conventional wisdom was that Democrats needed the Senate to act quickly so a trial would conclude before the 2020 primaries got underway. That thinking has now shifted. “A trial at some point is almost inevitable,” says Ornstein. “But I don’t see any reason to push it forward as long as Democrats have the upper hand.”
Pushed for a time limit, Ornstein told The Daily Beast that he thinks Pelosi can extend through February, “keeping all options open,” he said. “In moments of this kind, my lodestar is whatever Pelosi does is best.”
Tom Mann with the Brookings Institution and co-author with Ornstein of the 2012 book about Congress, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, said in an email that he’s “sure Pelosi is adjusting her cost/benefit analysis and consulting widely every day. McConnell’s outrageous behavior gives her cover to stretch this out to force genuine consultations on rules and witnesses for the trial. If and when she finds the political costs are likely to outweigh the benefits, she will refer the articles to the Senate. But not until then.”
Anyone who bets against Nancy is a damn fool.
The Washington Post Editorial Board: The Senate and the public need to hear from Mulvaney and Bolton.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is withholding two articles of impeachment from the Senate, pending assurance that the Republican leader of that body, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), will agree to a full and fair trial of the House’s charges against President Trump. Whatever else may be said about the speaker’s move, and however long her holdout lasts, it has certainly taken advantage of some inevitable holiday-season downtime to focus attention on the Senate’s role in the process. So far, that has meant much-needed discussion of Mr. McConnell’s obvious — and obviously political — intention to go through the motions of a trial on the way to an acquittal.
Now fresh reporting from the New York Times has emerged to strengthen the Democrats’ minimum condition of a real trial: The Senate must seek witness testimony from key players in Mr. Trump’s attempt to strong-arm Ukraine into announcing an investigation of his political rival, former vice president Joe Biden, using congressionally appropriated military aid and promises of a White House visit as leverage. The Times reports, based in part on previously undisclosed emails, that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney tried to freeze the military aid on Mr. Trump’s behalf as early as June, prompting puzzlement and backlash within the administration — to the extent that Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-national security adviser John Bolton convened a White House meeting with Mr. Trump to urge release of the aid. Mr. Trump, apparently fixated on the idea that Ukraine had tried to defeat him in 2016, balked, asserting, contrary to Defense Department certifications, that Ukraine was hopelessly corrupt.
David Sanger at The New York Times: Trump Bet He Could Isolate Iran and Charm North Korea. It’s Not That Easy.
While the Iranian-backed attack on the United States Embassy in Baghdad seemed to be under control, it played to Mr. Trump’s longtime worry that American diplomats and troops in the Middle East are easy targets and his longtime position that the United States must pull back from the region.
In North Korea, Kim Jong-un’s declaration on Wednesday that the world would “witness a new strategic weapon” seemed to be the end of an 18-month experiment in which Mr. Trump believed his force of personality — and vague promises of economic development — would wipe away a problem that plagued the last 12 of his predecessors.
The timing of these new challenges is critical: Both the Iranians and the North Koreans seem to sense the vulnerability of a president under impeachment and facing re-election, even if they are often clumsy as they try to play those events to their advantage….
The protests in Iraq calmed on Wednesday, and Mr. Kim has not yet unveiled his latest “strategic weapon.” But the events of recent days have underscored how much bluster was behind Mr. Trump’s boast a year ago that Iran was “a very different nation” since he had broken its economy by choking off its oil revenues. They also belied his famous tweet: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”
Today the most generous thing one could say about those statements is that they were wildly premature. Many foreign policy experts say he fundamentally misjudged the reactions of two major American adversaries. Neither seems to fear him, precisely the critique he leveled at Barack Obama back in the days when Mr. Trump declared America’s toughest national security challenges would be solved as soon as a president the world respected was in office.
The core problem may have been Mr. Trump’s conviction that economic incentives alone — oil profits in Tehran and the prospect of investment and glorious beach-front hotels in North Korea — would overcome all other national interests.
Trump only cares about money and his own selfish needs; he doesn’t understand that other may be driven by ideology or moral values.
More stories to check out:
The New York Times Editorial Board: Shock Waves From American Airstrikes in Iraq May Have Just Begun.
The New York Times: ‘It’s Creepy’: Unexplained Drones Are Swarming by Night Over Colorado.
Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: A dishonestly edited video of Joe Biden signals what’s coming.https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/01/02/dishonestly-edited-video-joe-biden-signals-whats-coming/
Farhad Manjoo at The New York Times: Only You Can Prevent Dystopia. How to survive the internet in 2020. (It’s not going to be easy.)