Tuesday Reads: Senate Impeachment “Trial” Begins

Chief Justice John Roberts presides over the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump.

Good Morning!!

The Senate impeachment “trial” begins this afternoon, and Mitch McConnell is doing his damnedest to make sure it won’t be a real or fair one. Awhile back, McConnell said this trial would follow the rules set for Bill Clinton’s impeachment, but–surprise!–that was just one big fat lie.

Nicholas Fandos at The New York Times: McConnell Impeachment Rules Modify Clinton Precedent.

But when Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, finally released a draft of his resolution on Monday evening, less than 24 hours before the Senate was expected to consider it, there were several meaningful differences from the rules that governed Mr. Clinton’s impeachment, some of which were in line with Mr. Trump’s preferences and his legal team’s strategy.

The measure is expected to pass on Tuesday along party lines, over strenuous Democratic objections….

Mitch McConnell and pals

Like in the Clinton trial, the Democratic House impeachment managers and Mr. Trump’s defense lawyers will have up to 24 hours to argue their respective cases for and against conviction on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. But in 1999, the Senate imposed no additional limit on how the time was used. Mr. McConnell’s proposal states that each side much complete its work within two days, beginning as early as Wednesday.

That means opening arguments could be finished by the end of this week, allowing the senators 16 hours for questioning and a subsequent debate early next week over whether to consider witness testimony. In the fastest possible scenario, the Senate could vote to convict or acquit by the end of January….

When the Clinton trial opened, the Senate “admitted into evidence,” printed and shared with senators all records generated by the House impeachment inquiry into Mr. Clinton. Not so this time.

Though the House’s evidence from the Trump impeachment inquiry would still be printed and shared with senators, it would only be formally considered by the Senate as part of its official record if a majority of senators voted to do so. That vote could only take place after the Senate decided whether to call witnesses and seek additional documents — that is, as the trial moves toward conclusion.

So it’s already looking like a kangaroo court, which surprises no one. McConnell’s rules also don’t guarantee there will be new witnesses or documents.

It says that after senators conclude their questioning, they will not immediately entertain motions to call individual witnesses or documents. Instead, they will decide first whether they want to consider new evidence at all. Only if a majority of senators agree to do so will the managers and prosecutors be allowed to propose and argue for specific witnesses or documents, each of which would then be subject to an additional vote.

If a majority of the Senate ultimately did vote to call a witness for testimony, that witness would first be interviewed behind closed doors and then the “Senate shall decide after deposition which witnesses shall testify, pursuant to the impeachment rules,” if any. Consistent with the Clinton trial rules, this essentially means that even if witnesses are called, they might never testify in public.

Naturally Democrats are not going to take this lying down. The House impeachment managers are holding a press conference right now and Chuck Schumer has already stated his objections. He told NPR this morning that McConnell’s rules are “a national disgrace” and told MSNBC that “Everything in these rules is rigged.” Right now Jerry Nadler is saying that McConnell’s rules amount to an obvious cover-up.

The White House is doing it’s best to make sure the “trial” will be a complete joke. The Hill reports on the Republican impeachment “advisers”:

The White House announced Monday that President Trump appointed several prominent Republican House members to advise his impeachment defense team ahead of the Senate trial set to begin this week.

GOP Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), John Ratcliffe Texas), Mike Johnson (La.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Debbie Lesko (Ariz.), Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Doug Collins are set to play leading roles.

A statement from the White House said the lawmakers “have provided guidance to the White House team, which was prohibited from participating in the proceedings concocted by Democrats in the House of Representatives” throughout the House proceedings and would continue to do so in the Senate.

You’ll notice that those are the Reps who tried to turn the House impeachment process into a shriekfest. According to the Hill, Democrats and even even some GOP Senators didn’t like the idea of House members getting involved in the Senate process.

Key Republican allies in the Senate have also warned against such appointments, warning that the addition of Republican House members would cast the Senate trial in a partisan light.

“I don’t think it’s wise. I think we need to elevate the argument beyond body politics, beyond party politics and talk about the constitutional problems with these two articles,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters earlier this month.

I wonder if McConnell is at all worried about what the public reaction could be to a show trial. The latest CNN poll found that 51 percent of Americans think Trump should be removed from office and 69 percent believe that the Senate trial should include witnesses.

The poll is the first major national telephone poll since the articles of impeachment were sent to the Senate, formally launching Trump’s trial there. They are also the first such poll results since Soviet-born businessman Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, publicly implicated the President in the Ukrainian pressure campaign during a series of television interviews.

The new poll also finds majorities of Americans view each of the charges on which Trump will face trial as true: 58% say Trump abused the power of the presidency to obtain an improper personal political benefit and 57% say it is true that he obstructed the House of Representatives in its impeachment inquiry.

Of course there are partisan, gender, race, age, and geographical differences in attitudes toward the trial:

Overall, 89% of Democrats say he should be removed from office, while just 8% of Republicans feel the same way. Among independents, it’s nearly dead even: 48% say the Senate should vote to remove him, while 46% say that they should not. Views on whether Trump should be impeached and removed are also evenly split across battleground states, 49% are on each side across the 15 states decided by 8 points or less in 2016. Those states are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

House impeachment managers take articles of impeachment to Senate.

Beyond partisanship, there are wide divisions in the poll by gender, race, education and age. Nearly six in 10 women (59%) say the Senate should remove Trump from office; 42% of men agree. Among African Americans, 86% say Trump should be removed. That drops to 65% among Hispanics and 42% among whites.

Combining race and gender, about eight in 10 women of color (79%) say he should be removed. That dips to 59% among non-white men, 49% among white women and 33% among white men. For whites, education adds another degree of division: 59% of white women with college degrees say the Senate should remove Trump, compared with 43% among white women without degrees, 44% among white men with degrees and 27% among white men without college degrees. A majority (56%) of those under age 45 say the President should be removed, while older Americans are more evenly split (47% in favor among those age 45 and over, 50% opposed).

This from Politico is shocking, but not surprising: Justice Department backed Trump strongarm of House impeachment probe.

The Justice Department secretly blessed President Donald Trump’s decision to stonewall the Democratic-led House over impeachment last year, the president’s legal team disclosed Monday.

The legal brief submitted to the Senate as part of Trump’s defense includes an opinion from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel concluding that Trump was justified in categorically rejecting the House’s demands for information before lawmakers passed a formal impeachment resolution on October 31.

“We conclude that the House must expressly authorize a committee to conduct an impeachment investigation and to use compulsory process in that investigation before the committee may compel the production of documents or testimony in support of the House’s sole power of impeachment,” Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel wrote in the detailed legal rationale.

The opinion was officially dated Sunday and released by the Justice Department on its website Monday, timing that appeared to dovetail with a Senate-set noon, holiday deadline for Trump’s first substantive brief in the impeachment trial.

Chuck Schumer is giving a press conference right now. He is emphasizing that McConnell is trying to make sure that Americans don’t watch the trial because it will begin in the afternoon and last late into the night and early morning hours. There will be a battle between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate today, but so far it appears that McConnell has to votes to pass his ridiculous rules.

The White House is also trying to make sure the American people don’t hear from John Bolton. The Washington Post: Trump’s lawyers, Senate GOP allies work privately to ensure Bolton does not testify publicly.

President Trump’s legal defense team and Senate GOP allies are quietly gaming out contingency plans should Democrats win enough votes to force witnesses to testify in the impeachment trial, including an effort to keep former national security adviser John Bolton from the spotlight, according to multiple officials familiar with the discussions.

While Republicans continue to express confidence that Democrats will fail to persuade four GOP lawmakers to break ranks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has opposed calling any witnesses in the trial, they are readying a Plan B just in case — underscoring how uncertain they are about prevailing in a showdown over witnesses and Bolton’s possible testimony.

One option being discussed, according to a senior administration official, would be to move Bolton’s testimony to a classified setting because of national security concerns, ensuring that it is not public.

To receive the testimony in a classified session, Trump’s attorneys would have to request such a step, according to one official, adding that it would probably need the apReaproval of 51 senators.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Here are a couple of good articles analyzing Trump’s impeachment defense.

From Charlie Savage at The New York Times: ‘Constitutional Nonsense’: Trump’s Impeachment Defense Defies Legal Consensus.

As President Trump’s impeachment trial opens, his lawyers have increasingly emphasized a striking argument: Even if he did abuse his powers in an attempt to bully Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 election on his behalf, it would not matter because the House never accused him of committing an ordinary crime.

Their argument is widely disputed. It cuts against the consensus among scholars that impeachment exists to remove officials who abuse power. The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” means a serious violation of public trust that need not also be an ordinary crime, said Frank O. Bowman III, a University of Missouri law professor and the author of a recent book on the topic.

“This argument is constitutional nonsense,” Mr. Bowman said. “The almost universal consensus — in Great Britain, in the colonies, in the American states between 1776 and 1787, at the Constitutional Convention and since — has been that criminal conduct is not required for impeachment.”

But the argument is politically convenient for Mr. Trump. For any moderate Republican senator who may not like what the facts already show about his campaign of pressure on Ukraine, the theory provides an alternative rationale to acquit the president.

Read the rest at the NYT.

More analysis from Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes at The Atlantic: Trump’s Impeachment Brief Is a Howl of Rage.

The House managers’ brief is an organized legal document. It starts with the law, the nature and purposes of Congress’s impeachment power, then walks through the evidence regarding the first article of impeachment, which alleges abuse of power, and seeks to show how the evidence establishes the House’s claim that President Trump is guilty of this offense. It then proceeds to argue that the offense requires his removal from office….

By contrast, the White House’s “Answer of President Donald J. Trump” to the articles of impeachment, filed by the president’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow and the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, does not read like a traditional legal argument at all. It begins with a series of rhetorical flourishes—all of them, to one degree or another, false. The articles of impeachment are “a dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their President,” the president’s lawyers write—as though the impeachment power were not a constitutional reality every bit as enshrined in the founding document as the quadrennial election of the president. The articles are “a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election,” and are “constitutionally invalid on their face,” they write, as though the president’s right to extort foreign leaders for political services were so beyond reasonable question, it is outrageous that anyone might object to it.

This document reads like one of the president’s speeches at his campaign rallies. The language is a little more lawyerly, if only a little. In Sekulow and Cipollone’s hands, Trump’s cries of “Witch hunt!” have turned into “lawless process that violated basic due process and fundamental fairness.” His allegations that Democrats are a “disgrace” have turned into “an affront to the Constitution.” And Trump’s insistence that there’s a plot to destroy his presidency has become a “highly partisan and reckless obsession with impeaching the president [that] began the day he was inaugurated and continues to this day.”

But the message is unchanged. It’s not a legal argument. It’s a howl of rage.

Read more at The Atlantic.

I’ve tried to lay out the basics; we’ll soon be able to watch what happens in the Senate for ourselves. Please share your reactions as the day goes on, but feel free to post on other topics as well. It should be an interesting day!


Lazy Caturday Reads: “The Man Who Knows Too Much”

Andy Warhol

Good Afternoon!!

The cat illustrations and paintings in this post are by Andy Warhol.

Lev Parnas is still dominating the headlines as we move toward the impeachment trial that is scheduled to begin next week; I’m focusing this post on his revelations and reactions to them. Here’s the latest.

CNN: New documents from Parnas reveal more on possible Yovanovitch surveillance, communication with Nunes aide.

House Democrats on Friday released new documents from indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas ahead of the Senate trial that includes new information about the apparent surveillance of former US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and additional contacts between Parnas and an aide to Rep. Devin Nunes of California….

The new documents include screenshots of undated text messages that appear to show Robert Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate in Connecticut, messaging with a foreign number from Belgium, which appear to describe efforts to surveil Yovanovitch. Hyde appeared to share the screenshots with Parnas, which is how they wound up on his phone that he turned over to House investigators.

The Belgian country-code number sends Hyde a screenshot of an official photo of Yovanovitch. The Belgium number, whose identity is not known, writes “My contacts are checking,” adding, “I will give you the address next week.”

Hyde replied, “Awesome.”

In another series of texts, the Belgian number tells Hyde at 2:05 p.m., “Nothing has changed she is still not moving they check today again,” shortly adding, “It’s confirmed we have a person inside.”

“She had visitors,” the Belgian number texted in another exchange.

Hyde is claiming it was all a “joke,” but I think we need to know the name of the guy in Belgium.

“I’m a landscaper from Simsbury, Connecticut, that is trying to get into the government relations, public relations world, lobbying world, whatever you want to call it,” Hyde said. “And this guy Adam Schiff is a bad character. … It was just copy and paste b——- from some intel guy — probably that was f—ing with me, trying to set Trump up.”

On Devin Nunes:

The new documents also show communications between Parnas and Nunes aide Derek Harvey, in which they arrange interviews with Ukrainian officials and apparent meetings at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., including with Giuliani.

The new materials draw Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, even further into the efforts undertaken by Giuliani and his associates to push out Yovanovitch in Ukraine and dig up dirt on the President’s political rivals. Last month, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee included in their impeachment inquiry report phone records of calls exchanged between Nunes and Parnas and other allies of President Donald Trump.

Nunes admitted Wednesday to speaking on the phone with Parnas, who has become a key figure in the Ukraine scandal, after previously saying such a conversation would have been “very unlikely.”

Read more at CNN. Also see this piece by Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: New text messages put Devin Nunes on the hot seat.

Betsy Swan at The Daily Beast posted a lengthy article on her interview with Parnas: Lev Parnas Dishes On Kushner, Maduro, and Soros.

A dinner with Jared and Ivanka about cannabis, a phone call from Trump Hotel with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and a whole lot of theorizing about George Soros. Lev Parnas’ interactions with Trumpworld, in his words, went way beyond the Ukraine influence effort.

The former ally of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani spent more than a year embedded with some of the president’s close outside allies. In that time, he said he had an inside view of all sorts of eyebrow-raising interactions and conversations. He described several of them in an interview with The Daily Beast from his lawyer’s office in Midtown Manhattan.

He spoke at length about his former allies Giuliani, Victoria Toensing, and Joe diGenova. A spokesperson for Toensing and diGenova’s law firm indicated that the topics he discussed were covered by attorney-client privilege. “It is unfortunate that some people will violate the attorney-client privilege,” the spokesperson said. “We cannot.”

Giuliani and his lawyers did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the interview.

The interview is much too long to summarize with excerpts so you’ll have to click the link to read all the gossip.

Lucian K. Truscott IV at Salon: The man who knows too much: Lev Parnas is the smoking gun on Ukraine scandal.

Revelations this week by Rudy Giuliani’s henchman Lev Parnas in interviews with MSNBC, CNN and the New York Times blew Iran out of the headlines and landed on Capitol Hill like a bomb. Here was an insider in the Ukraine conspiracy not only willing to talk, but to provide documents to back up allegations he has made about Trump’s shakedown of Volodymyr Zelensky to get dirt on his potential Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.

Parnas is the reason Republicans are so scared of opening the Senate trial of Trump to witness testimony. According to Parnas, everyone was in on the Ukraine scheme. Trump himself, of course, but also Vice President Mike Pence was in on it. So was Attorney General William Barr, so was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and so were Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and national security adviser John Bolton. At the very center of the scheme, according to Parnas, was the man he worked for, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Parnas has letters, text messages, contemporaneous notes, travel documents and more to back up his recollections of what happened as Trump tried to muscle Ukraine into aiding his re-election campaign by announcing an investigation of Biden. Trump was obviously getting ready to pound Biden with Ukraine conspiracy allegations the same way he pounded Hillary Clinton about her emails in 2016. Hey, it worked once! Why not?

After testimony by 10 witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee last fall, new information has continued to roll in. We have recently learned that the order to withhold the $400 million in congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine came the day after Trump’s “perfect” phone call with the Ukrainian president last July 25. More recently, a series of emails and other contacts at the top of the Trump administration questioning the legality of the sequestering of the funds has come to light. And now we’ve got Parnas and his trove of texts, notes, letters and other documents that back up his stories about working for Giuliani to get former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch fired, and all the machinations surrounding the shakedown of Ukraine’s president and other officials to get them to investigate Biden.

But too little attention has been paid to the oldest question of all: Cui bono? Who benefits? Trump, of course. But how? Was it all about Biden, or was there something else Trump was trying to accomplish? Scratch the surface of the Ukraine scandal, and what you see is Russia, and Trump’s old pal, Vladimir Putin.

Read the rest at Salon. Also worth a read at Slate: New Documents Casually Destroy the Already-Bad Republican Case That Trump’s Ukraine Scheme Was Aboveboard, By Ben Mathis-Lilly.

In case you missed it, Parnas told Rachel Maddow that being in Trump’s orbit is felt like a cult. A new book argues that Trump behaves exactly like a cult leader. Lauren Frias at Business Insider: Lev Parnas and Michael Cohen are right to think working for Trump was like being in a cult, according to a cult expert.

Steve Hassan, a cult expert and author of a book called “The Cult of Trump,” spoke to Insider about the ways in which Trump and his circle behave share characteristics with cults.

“What’s interesting and shocking to me is to hear Lev Parnas describe [Trump] as a cult leader and such, and I’m curious how he arrived to that insight,” Hassan said, referring to an MSNBC interview Parnas gave.

“I knew that Trump fit the stereotypical profile of all cult leaders, which is essentially malignant narcissism, which is the narcissism — plus the psychopathic elements of feeling above the law, the pathological lying, paranoia, the jealousy, the harassment,” he added….

“First of all, cult leaders think they’re above everybody else, above the law, and then everything exists for their adulation,” Hassan said.

“Cult leaders think nothing of using people like pawns to get their way, and it doesn’t matter if there are people on the staff saying this is a bad idea, which apparently Bolton did,” Hassan said. In December The New York Times reported that former national security adviser John Bolton tried to convince Trump to release military aid to Ukraine.

“His will matters more than any rationality and the potential consequence,” Hassan continued.

He said cult leaders also have a tendency to cast out anyone who disagrees with them. He says this can be seen in the record high turnover of staff in the Trump White House.

Read more at Business Insider.

One more by Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: The Kremlin Inches Closer to the Biden PlotLev Parnas pointed his finger at Dmytro Firtash.

Somewhere near the heart of the Ukraine scandal is the oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Evidence has long suggested this fact. But over the past week, in a televised interview and in documents he supplied to Congress, Rudy Giuliani’s former business partner Lev Parnas pointed his finger at the Ukrainian oligarch. According to Parnas, Giuliani’s team had a deal with Firtash. Giulani would get the Justice Department to drop its attempt to extradite the oligarch on bribery charges. In return, according to Parnas, the oligarch promised to pass along evidence that would supposedly discredit both Joe Biden and Robert Mueller.

Parnas’s account, of course, is hardly definitive. Throughout his career, he has attempted to inflate his importance to make money. (Firtash apparently paid him $1 million for his services, though it’s still not totally clear what those services were.) And his description of Firtash’s involvement raises as many questions as it settles. Still, the apparent centrality of Firtash should inform any assessment of Giuliani’s escapades and the entire Ukraine story.

Andy Warhol with kitten, 1957

When commentators invoke the name Dmytro Firtash, it is usually followed by mention of his alleged connections to Russian organized crime and the fact that he is close to the Kremlin. These descriptions, however, understate his ties to Vladimir Putin. In his book Russia’s Crony Capitalism, the Atlantic Council’s Anders Aslund describes Firtash as a “Kremlin Influence agent.” A Ukrainian parliamentarian who investigated Firtash has called him “a political person representing Russian interests in Ukraine.” That representative of Russian interests is who Giuliani and Parnas apparently enlisted as their partner.

The rapid ascent of Firtash, a fireman from western Ukraine, remains mysterious—although he once disgorged details from his past in a long chat with the U.S. ambassador to Kyiv, Bill Taylor, a description of which eventually emerged in a WikiLeaks document dump. But it’s been widely reported that Firtash attached himself to the gangster Semion Mogilevich, one of the region’s most important Mafia bosses, a man the FBI placed on its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. (His lawyers vociferously deny any connections to gangsters.)

When Putin ascended to power in 2000, he gained control of his country’s natural-gas business. He placed his allies at the helm of the country’s gas monopoly, Gazprom, and he has routinely wielded that company as an instrument of Russian foreign policy. In 2002, Firtash became Gazprom’s most important middleman: He was responsible for selling Russian gas to Ukraine. Thanks to an extraordinary Reuters investigation, which burrowed into Customs documents, contracts, and Cyprus bank accounts, the details of this arrangement are now well known. Gazprom sold Firtash gas at four times below the market price. When Firtash resold the gas to the Ukrainian state, he pocketed a profit of $3 billion. Even as he amassed this fortune, bankers close to Putin extended Firtash an $11 billion line of credit.

Read the rest at The Atlantic. It’s fascinating.

That’s it for me. I hope you all enjoy the long weekend!


Thursday Reads: The Proverbial Sh** Is Hitting The Fan

Good Morning!!

Lately I’ve been feeling as if I’m treading water, waiting to see what is going to happen with impeachment. I felt that way even before Nancy Pelosi finally decided the time was right to do it. In the past few weeks while she held off on transmitting the articles to the Senate, more evidence has become public, and even yesterday as the articles were delivered more shocking news broke. Now it feels as if the proverbial shit is finally hitting the fan.

Former Giuliani pal Lev Parnas turned over documents to the House and those documents were sent to the Senate along with the impeachment articles and then released to the public. The New York Times interviewed him yesterday: Lev Parnas, Key Player in Ukraine Affair, Completes Break With Trump and Giuliani.

Lev Parnas, the Soviet-born businessman who played a central role in the campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate political rivals of President Trump, completed his break with the White House on Wednesday, asserting for the first time in public that the president was fully aware of the efforts to dig up damaging information on his behalf.

In an interview with The New York Times on the day the House transmitted articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump to the Senate, Mr. Parnas also expressed regret for having trusted Mr. Trump and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer and the architect of the Ukraine pressure campaign. His lawyer said he was eager to cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating Mr. Giuliani.

Trump with Lev Parnas

Mr. Parnas made his remarks as House impeachment investigators released more material he had turned over to them. The material, including text messages, photos and calendar entries, underscored how deeply Mr. Parnas and others were involved in carrying out the pressure campaign and how new information continues to surface even as the Senate prepares to begin Mr. Trump’s trial next week. And it provided additional evidence that the effort to win political advantage for Mr. Trump was widely known among his allies, showing that Mr. Parnas communicated regularly with two top Republican fund-raisers about what he was up to.

Text messages and call logs show that Mr. Parnas was in contact with Tom Hicks Jr., a donor and Trump family friend, and Joseph Ahearn, who raised money for pro-Trump political groups, about developments in the Ukraine pressure campaign.

In the text messages, Mr. Parnas kept Mr. Hicks and Mr. Ahearn apprised of efforts to disseminate damaging information about targets of Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani, including the United States ambassador to Kyiv, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Ukrainians who spread information about Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman.

The records seem to expand the circle of people around Mr. Trump who were aware in real time of the pressure campaign. The campaign led to Mr. Trump’s impeachment in the House last month and a Senate trial that will start next week just as the 2020 presidential campaign is moving into high gear.

In the interview with The Times, Mr. Parnas said that although he did not speak with Mr. Trump directly about the efforts, he met with the president on several occasions and was told by Mr. Giuliani that Mr. Trump was kept in the loop.

Parnas also gave an interview to Rachel Maddow. Some of it aired on Maddow’s show last night with more to come tonight. Deadline: Rachel Maddow’s Bombshell Interview With Lev Parnas: Trump Was In The Loop, And So Were Many Others.

Rachel Maddow’s interview with Lev Parnas, the former associate of Rudy Giuliani, basically confirmed what House Democrats have been saying all along as they pursued impeachment against Donald Trump: He was very much in the loop.

In Parnas’s words, “President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He knew all of my movements.”

Given that Parnas described a scheme to shakedown the new Ukrainian government until they announced an investigation of Joe Biden, that means a lot, as he described in detail a pressure campaign that was placed on Ukrainian officials.

An early episode came last spring, when Parnas said that he was enlisted to warn an aide to incoming president Volodymyr Zelensky that if an investigation was not announced, Vice President Mike Pence’s visit for Zelensky’s inauguration would be cancelled. The aide refused, and Pence’s visit was canceled.

“I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president,” Parnas said to Maddow.

He also confirmed other claims made during the impeachment inquiry, including the serious charge that aid to Ukraine was withheld as government officials continued to hold off on announcing a Biden investigation. “It wasn’t just military aid; it was all aid” that was under threat of being withheld, Parnas said.

But Trump’s team is likely to spend the next few days trying to discredit Parnas, who, along with another associate, Igor Furman, was arrested in October on campaign finance charges. As Maddow was playing her interview with Parnas, her Fox News rival Sean Hannity was calling MSNBC the “state run, MSNBC conspiracy channel media.”

Lev Parnas, Kevin McCarthy, and Igor Fruman

More on Parnas documents from Politico: Democrats release more Parnas evidence, including voicemails with Trump associates.

House impeachment investigators released a new set of evidence that was obtained from Lev Parnas, an indicted former associate of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani — including voicemails, photos, and text messages between Parnas and high-level figures within Trump’s orbit.

The material includes voicemail messages Parnas received from Giuliani and Victoria Toensing, a prominent Trump-aligned lawyer, both of whom have been identified as players in an effort to force the removal of the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, during the spring.

“Hey Lev. VT here. We’ve got a request to talk to the big one,” Toensing said in the April 23, 2019, voicemail message. “So I just wanted to get the latest from you, if I could. I know it’s late there. I’m sorry.”

The timing of the Toensing voicemail coincides with a flurry of activity involving Yovanovitch’s ouster. On April 23, Giuliani tweeted that Ukraine was investigating 2016 election interference, and Trump recalled Yovanovitch from Ukraine on April 24.

The previously undisclosed documents, released late Tuesday night but not publicly noticed, were posted ahead of the House formally sending its impeachment articles to the Senate, underscore the evolving nature of an investigation that House Democrats say is ongoing — and was stifled in its early stages by Trump’s refusal to allow his aides and associates to comply with congressional subpoenas.

The most shocking information that came out of the Parnas documents was the possibility that Trump allies were stalking and perhaps even physically threatening then Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Parnas told Maddow that he didn’t believe that had actually happened and it was just a fantasy created by a “loony” Trump ally Robert Hyde.

Marie Yovanovitch

Nonetheless, Ukraine has opened an investigation into the possible threat to Yovanovich. NBC News: Ukraine launches probe into alleged surveillance of former U.S. envoy.

Ukraine has launched criminal investigations into the possible illegal surveillance of former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, and the reported hacking of Burisma Holdings, the natural gas company at the center of the Trump impeachment.

“Ukraine’s position is not to interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States of America,” the Interior Ministry, which runs the police forces, said in a statement.

However, recent reports pointed to the possible violation of Ukrainian and international law, it said.

“Ukraine cannot ignore such illegal activities on the territory of its own state,” the statement added….

“Our goal is to investigate whether there actually was a violation of Ukrainian and international law, which could be the subject for proper reaction. Or whether it is just bravado and fake information in the informal conversation between two U.S. citizens,” the ministry said.

Some background on Robert Hyde from The Washington Post: GOP figure who said he tracked U.S. ambassador was previously involuntarily committed, records show.

A Republican congressional candidate and former Marine who suggested last year that he was tracking a U.S. ambassador who had fallen out of favor with President Trump was once involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital after an incident at one of the president’s resorts and is the subject of a restraining order obtained by a political consultant, police and court records show.

On Tuesday, Robert F. Hyde became the latest figure to emerge in the drama surrounding the Trump administration’s recall last year of Marie Yovanovitch as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine when his 2019 messages were made public on the eve of Trump’s impeachment trial. His exchanges with an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, had been turned over to House Democrats in response to a subpoena.

In the messages to Lev Parnas, Hyde claimed to be in contact with a “private security” team near the embassy in Kyiv and suggested that he had the ambassador under physical and electronic surveillance. “It’s confirmed we have a person inside,” he wrote in March.

Robert Hyde with Trump

On Wednesday, Hyde claimed he had been “joking” in the messages he sent to Parnas.

On his social media accounts, Hyde, a long-shot candidate for Congress in Connecticut’s 5th District, has posted numerous photos of himself and Trump or members of the president’s family, many of them taken at Trump properties. He appeared grinning with Trump on Easter at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

Among the photos and videos is a picture from a party to which, according to the post, Hyde had taken friends on May 7 at a bowling alley in the White House complex.

The bowling party occurred about a week before police were called to Trump’s Doral resort in Miami-Dade County for a “male in distress fearing for his life,” according to a police report from the incident.

Hyde told officers that he had been “set up and that a hit man was out to get him,” officers wrote. Hyde “spoke about emails he sent that may have placed his life in jeopardy” and said he believed that painters and landscape workers were trying to harm him and that the Secret Service was watching him.

Read more at the links I’ve provided.

I’ve only scratched the surface of today’s news. We have no idea what will happen with impeachment now, except that Mitch McConnell will do his best to protect Trump. He’s planning to shut the media out of the impeachment trial–will he get away with it? It’s beginning to look as if he will have a tough time, as more and more shit hits the media fan. I expect we’ll learn even more today. It’s all going to come out.

Dahlia Lithwick argues that McConnell’s cover-up plan is in big trouble: How Will the Senate Get Away With Its Sham Trial Now?

Interestingly, with an impeachment trial in the Senate raising the stakes perhaps even higher than those for a Supreme Court vacancy, McConnell committed a rare unforced error before Christmas: He proclaimed that Senate Republicans would “be working through this process hopefully in a fairly short period of time, in total coordination with the White House counsel’s office and the people who are representing the president.” This essentially amounts to a confession he’d be rigging up a show trial to acquit the president without hearing any material evidence—not exactly what that whole “trial” mechanism is meant to do, legally speaking. Perhaps as a result of that unfortunate admission, McConnell now has to contend with at least a handful of vulnerable Republicans in the Senate who are not perfectly cool with the “we’re coordinating with Trump to get him acquitted super fast” situation. And as such, we enter this historic week of Senate impeachment with at least the wisp of a hope that there might be a fairer trial ahead than anyone could have anticipated.

That slim hope nests in a variety of cozy places, including but not limited to the prospect that Chief Justice John Roberts has some institutional interests in avoiding a kangaroo trial, the fact that the American public has shown some bipartisan interest in hearing actual testimony from actual witnesses, and the fact that the president appears to continue to conflate his personal political ambitions with the national interest, even after being impeached for precisely that conduct in the House. (Maybe this will finally prove to be too much for even the most casual observer?) Plus, newly released documents from Rudy Giuliani’s indicted Ukraine-gate confederate, Lev Parnas, again confirm that the rough contours of the aid-for-oppo research scheme. But they go even further: The new documents (with more to come) add elements of actual threats to the welfare of a sitting U.S. ambassador, directed by the associates of Trump’s associates, which has implications for Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal lawyer. Senate Republicans will need to explain why none of this matters and why they want to know nothing more about the back deals and thuggery that, it is now clearer than ever, were conducted under the president’s directive. That means that there is at least a smidgen of hope wafting off senators like Mitt Romney of Utah, who says he’d like to hear testimony from John Bolton, and Susan Collins of Maine, who says she is possibly open to impeachment witnesses and documents, all of which makes it trickier for McConnell to magic up his dream trial of opening statements leading to closing statements leading to a brisk victory lap-slash-acquittal.

Read the rest at Slate.

I’ll post some more links in the comment thread; it’s so difficult to figure out what to highlight these days. I hope you’ll share the stories you are following too.


Tuesday Reads: Pelosi Is Winning On Impeachment, But Russia Is Still Helping Trump.

By Félix Edouard Vallotton

Good Morning!!

Lots of tweeting about Trump and Melania at the LSU-Clemson game yesterday. Melania wore some kind of raincoat that looked like it was made out of garbage bags. More people are starting to notice Trump’s odd standing and walking issues.

See more tweets at Raw Story: Internet speculates about Trump’s strange gait at Clemson vs LSU championship.

There was disagreement about whether Trump or Melania released the other’s hand, but Melania looks angry. Some people suggested she was digging her fingernails into his hand before he let go. Watch and see what you think.

 

Enough gossip, there is also breaking news on impeachment. CNN: Pelosi sets up floor vote as soon as Wednesday to name impeachment managers and send articles to the Senate.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated that that the House will vote Wednesday on a resolution to name the impeachment managers for the Senate trial of President Donald Trump and transmit the articles to the chamber, two sources told CNN on Tuesday.

Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues Tuesday morning at a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill that she won’t announce impeachment managers during that meeting, according to a source familiar with the remarks. Last week, Pelosi told Democrats she planned to discuss plans for sending over the articles of impeachment, which she’s held following a vote last month.

By Belinda Del Pesco

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on Monday night that the House vote to name the impeachment managers “could be” on Wednesday, adding that the Senate has “practical problems” if they were to move sooner since three Democratic senators are participating in the presidential debate.

After a several week delay to formally send the articles, Pelosi’s move will kick the impeachment fight officially into the Senate’s court, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is readying a resolution of his own to set out the rules of the trial.

It looks like Pelosi’s decision to hold onto the articles for a few weeks is paying off. The New York Times: Republicans Rule Out Outright Dismissal of Impeachment Charges.

Senate Republicans indicated on Monday that they would not seek to summarily dismiss the impeachment charges against President Trump, proceeding instead to a trial with arguments and the possibility of calling witnesses that could begin as soon as Wednesday.

Dismissal was always a long shot given Republicans’ narrow control of the Senate, but it was the subject of renewed discussion after Mr. Trump said on Sunday that he liked the idea put forward by some conservatives as a way to deny the House’s case the legitimacy of a trial. Other Republicans had signed on to a resolution that would have dismissed the House’s impeachment articles if they were not promptly brought to trial.

In interviews, rank-and-file senators and party leaders made clear on Monday that even if they wanted to pursue dismissal, the votes simply were not there to succeed — at least not at the outset of the trial. They did not rule out considering a motion to dismiss the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after opening arguments from both sides.

“Our members generally are not interested in a motion to dismiss,” said Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a top Republican leader. “They think both sides need to be heard. They believe the president needs to be heard for the first time in a fair setting.”

By Henri Lebasque

Mitch doesn’t have the votes for dismissal anymore. The Washington Post: Top Senate Republicans reject Trump’s renewed call for immediate dismissal of impeachment charges.

On Monday, senior Republicans said immediate dismissal could not win approval in the chamber, where Republicans hold a 53-seat majority. And even some staunch Trump allies argued that the president’s legacy would benefit from a robust trial.

“I don’t think there’s any interest on our side of dismissing,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the fourth-ranking GOP senator. “Certainly, there aren’t 51 votes for a motion to dismiss.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that he wants the trial — only the third impeachment of a president in U.S. history — to follow the format used 21 years ago in the trial of President Bill Clinton. In that case, the Senate approved a resolution that would have allowed the Senate to vote to dismiss the charges.

But senior Republicans signaled Monday that they are not inclined to include such a provision in the resolution that will kick off Trump’s trial, perhaps as soon as Thursday….

Another GOP senator, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss legislation that is not yet public, also said the inclusion of a provision to dismiss is unlikely.

Even the White House now admits there are going to be witnesses, according to CBS News: White House expects GOP defections on calling witnesses in Senate impeachment trial.

Senior White House officials tell CBS News they increasingly believe that at least four Republicans, and likely more, will vote to call witnesses. In addition to Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and possibly Cory Gardner of Colorado, the White House also views Rand Paul of Kentucky as a “wild card” and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee as an “institutionalist” who might vote to call witnesses, as one official put it.

By Edouard Vuillard

Last week, Collins said she was working with a “fairly small group” of GOP senators to allow new testimony, adding that her colleagues “should be completely open to calling witnesses.” Romney has expressed an interest in hearing from former national security adviser John Bolton, who has said he would testify under subpoena. Murkowski said last week that the Senate should proceed as it did during the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial.

Gardner and Alexander have both said the Senate trial should be fair and impartial. Paul has said the president should be able to call his own witnesses, including the whistleblower whose complaint about Ukraine sparked the impeachment inquiry in the first place.

More on Rand Paul from Politico: Republicans face reckoning on impeachment witnesses.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul offered a warning to his colleagues as they began debating whether to hear from witnesses like John Bolton in President Donald Trump’s imminent impeachment trial.

“Don’t think you can just vote for Bolton and not the witnesses Trump wants,” Paul told senators at a party lunch last week, according to two attendees and two people briefed on the meeting. He advised that incumbent senators’ conservative base would be enraged if vulnerable lawmakers were seen as undercutting Trump.

The blunt advice from Paul laid bare the GOP’s perilous task in handling Trump’s impeachment trial in an election year, all while the president delivers stage directions on his Twitter account. Trump over the weekend first requested that House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and even Speaker Nancy Pelosi appear as witnesses, then argued a few hours later that the trial should be dismissed summarily before it begins….

By Patrick Bornemann

The GOP has tried to stay focused on its game plan to shut down Democratic hopes of locking in witnesses at the outset of the trial, but it’s become increasingly clear the party will face an internal reckoning during the trial as it defends its Senate majority and faces a president who demands complete loyalty.

In other news, The New York Times broke this stunning story last night: Russians Hacked Ukrainian Gas Company at Center of Impeachment

With President Trump facing an impeachment trial over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, Russian military hackers have been boring into the Ukrainian gas company at the center of the affair, according to security experts.

The hacking attempts against Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company on whose board Hunter Biden served, began in early November, as talk of the Bidens, Ukraine and impeachment was dominating the news in the United States.

It is not yet clear what the hackers found, or precisely what they were searching for. But the experts say the timing and scale of the attacks suggest that the Russians could be searching for potentially embarrassing material on the Bidens — the same kind of information that Mr. Trump wanted from Ukraine when he pressed for an investigation of the Bidens and Burisma, setting off a chain of events that led to his impeachment.

The Russian tactics are strikingly similar to what American intelligence agencies say was Russia’s hacking of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman and the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign. In that case, once they had the emails, the Russians used trolls to spread and spin the material, and built an echo chamber to widen its effect.

Then, as now, the Russian hackers from a military intelligence unit known formerly as the G.R.U., and to private researchers by the alias “Fancy Bear,” used so-called phishing emails that appear designed to steal usernames and passwords, according to Area 1, the Silicon Valley security firm that detected the hacking. In this instance, the hackers set up fake websites that mimicked sign-in pages of Burisma subsidiaries, and have been blasting Burisma employees with emails meant to look like they are coming from inside the company.

By Ethel Sands

Russia is still listening to what Trump wants them to do. And don’t forget, they could also have planted fake information to be released at appropriate times. They did that in 2016 when they hacked John Podesta’s emails.

At The Washington Post, former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul warns: Be prepared to fight a dangerous new wave of disinformation during the Senate trial.

In a matter of days, U.S. senators will be exercising one of their most solemn constitutional duties as they take part in the second phase of the impeachment process. When they do so, they — and the rest of us — should take heed of Hill’s warning. By now it should be amply clear that Russian-style disinformation tactics, whether employed by Russians or Americans, represent a major threat to American democracy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his proxies deploy several methods of disinformation to strengthen their power and influence. The first is to deny facts. For instance, Putin initially denied that Russian soldiers had seized control of Crimea in February 2014, denies Russian involvement in the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014, and denies any Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

A second tactic is to deflect attention from the facts, also known as “whataboutism.” When criticized about Crimean annexing Crimea, Putin’s media shoot back, what about Kosovo? Or New Mexico? When criticized about civilian casualties from Russian military intervention in Syria, Kremlin defenders retort, what about Iraq, Vietnam or Hiroshima? When confronted with evidence of Russian meddling in U.S. elections, the Russian standard refrain is, you do it all the time.

By Harold Knight

A third practice is the dissemination of lies. Russian state media once asserted that President Barack Obama and former Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi embraced the same ideology. I may be more sensitive than most about this tactic, because when I was serving as U.S. ambassador to Russia, Kremlin media outlets accused me of fomenting revolution against Putin’s regime; perhaps most disgustingly of all, a video was circulated suggesting I was a pedophile. When Putin met with President Trump in July 2018 in Helsinki, the Russian president again lied about me, claiming I had broken Russian law while working in the White House.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

More stories to check out, links only:

The Daily Beast: Warren and Sanders’ Famous Friendship Finally Ices Over.

Business Insider: Trump needed to show Soleimani was an imminent threat to assassinate him — and could be in dangerous legal territory now he’s abandoned the argument.

The Daily Beast: Jitters at MSNBC as Brass Eyes Moving Chuck Todd and Talks to Shep Smith.

NPR: Here Are The Lawyers Who Will Defend President Trump Against Impeachment.

The Washington Post: Trump retweeted Pelosi in Muslim garb. The White House made it worse.

NBC News: Muslim groups denounce Trump retweet of fake Pelosi-Schumer photo.

Courthouse News Service: Trump Campaign Adviser Pleads Guilty to Child Porn, Sex Trafficking.

The Daily Beast: U.S. Embassies Were Never Told of Supposed Soleimani Threat Because It Didn’t Exist: Officials.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Lazy Caturday Reads

P.D. James

Good Afternoon!!

For quite awhile now I’ve been distracting myself from the horrors of the daily news cycle by reading thrillers and detective stories. I’ve even read some “cozy” mystery series featuring cats. You might be surprised how many mystery authors are also cat lovers. So I decided to illustrate this post with some of those writers with their cats.

Unfortunately, the Trump crises march onward without pause and I can’t ignore them completely. Here’s what’s happening this morning.

At Vanity Fair, Gabriel Sherman reported some troubling evidence of Trump’s “mental decay”: You Won’t Believe What Trump Said About His Middle Name.

On this week’s episode of Inside the Hive, Vanity Fair special correspondent Gabriel Sherman, who was attending the Globes for his show, The Loudest Voice, relayed a story that sums up the Trump presidency and the mess we’re currently living in. Standing near the bar, Sherman ran into Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, and the two started chatting. Sherman asked Luntz when he last saw the President. “Last week, at the White House Christmas party,” Luntz said. Sherman asked what the two men talked about, to which Luntz replied that he had asked Trump what his middle initial “J” stands for. “Genius,” Trump responded.

Why aren’t DC political reporters calling more attention to Trump’s cognitive decline the way they glommed all over Hilary’s weakness from pneumonia in 2016? I recall much more reporting on Reagan’s forgetfulness than we’ve seen about Trump’s obvious symptoms of dementia.

Are Trump’s lies getting more outrageous too? It’s difficult to tell, but I think they are. Either it’s due to his cognitive issues or he’s simply realized that he can get away with anything. For an example see this story in The Washington Post: Trump now claims four embassies were under threat from Iran, raising fresh questions about intelligence reports.

Louise Penny

President Trump said on Friday that a senior Iranian general killed by a U.S. drone strike had been planning attacks on four U.S. embassies, a claim made to justify the decision but that was at odds with intelligence assessments from senior officials in Trump’s administration.

Trump and his top advisers have been under intensifying pressure from lawmakers in both parties to share more details about the intelligence they say showed Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was planning imminent attacks against U.S. personnel in the Middle East….

In an interview with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, excerpts of which were released Friday afternoon, Trump expanded on comments from a day earlier, when he initially told reporters that Soleimani’s forces “were looking to blow up our embassy” in Baghdad. He later said at a rally in Toledo that “Soleimani was actively planning new attacks, and he was looking very seriously at our embassies, and not just the embassy in Baghdad.” [….]

But a senior administration official and a senior defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified information, said they were only aware of vague intelligence about a plot against the embassy in Baghdad and that the information did not suggest a fully formed plot. Neither official said there were threats against multiple embassies.

Read more details at the WaPo link.

Patricia Highsmith and Aurora the Queen of Cats

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Trump’s Rationale for Killing Soleimani Is Falling Apart.

When the administration shared its intelligence with select members of Congress, many of them came away unimpressed, if not outright disgusted. Rep. Gerry Connolly described the presentation as “sophomoric and utterly unconvincing.” Even Republican Senator Mike Lee, heretofore an unquestioning Trump supporter, called it the worst briefing, at least on a military issue, he’s seen in the “nine years [he’s] been here.” This is the equivalent of a person who owns 14 house cats reporting that they walked out of the theater halfway through Cats.

Exactly what the administration said, or failed to say, remains classified. But the administration’s public explanations have hardly added clarity. Trump’s initial remarks did not mention any new threat to a U.S. embassy. The next day, he said, “We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy,” presumably in Baghdad. Last night, at a rally in Toledo, he expanded the threat to “embassies,” multiple. In a new interview with Fox News, he has specified the threat as being to four embassies. Oddly, these details seem not to have been included in the briefing to Congress, which raises the question of why information is too classified for members of the U.S. government, but low-level enough to share with the Fox News audience….

Other ancillary details have made the case look more questionable still. Trump reportedly told associates he acted in part to placate Republican Senators whose support he needed to shape the Senate impeachment trial. The Washington Post reports today that, on the same day as the Soleimani strike, another American mission attempted, but failed, to take out a different Iranian commander in Yemen, where Iran is involved in a civil war. This seems like a strange coincidence if the second target was also linked to an imminent threat to the U.S. “This suggests a mission with a longer planning horizon and a larger objective, and it really does call into question why there was an attempt to explain this publicly on the basis of an imminent threat,” Iran scholar Suzanne Maloney told the Post.

Ruth Rendell

Some background on the Iranian leader targeted in Yemen from the Post story mentioned above: On the day U.S. forces killed Soleimani, they targeted a senior Iranian official in Yemen.

On the day the U.S. military killed a top Iranian commander in Baghdad, U.S. forces carried out another top-secret mission against a senior Iranian military official in Yemen, according to U.S. officials.

The strike targeting Abdul Reza Shahlai, a financier and key commander in Iran’s elite Quds Force who has been active in Yemen, did not result in his death, according to four U.S. officials familiar with the matter….

The State Department offered a $15 million reward last month for information leading to Shahlai and the disruption of the Revolutionary Guard’s financial mechanisms. The announcement said that Shahlai is based in Yemen and has a “long history of involvement in attacks targeting the U.S. and our allies, including in the 2011 plot against the Saudi ambassador” at an Italian restaurant in Washington.

U.S. officials have alleged that Shahlai, born around 1957, is linked to attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq, including a sophisticated 2007 raid in which Iranian-backed militiamen abducted and killed five Americans troops in the city of Karbala.

In a news conference last year, the U.S. special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, said the United States remains “gravely concerned by his presence in Yemen and potential role in providing advanced weaponry of the kind we have interdicted to the Houthis,” who continue to battle a Saudi-led coalition for control of Yemen.

Iran has provided support and training to the Houthi rebels in their fight with the coalition led by Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional foe.

It is unclear why the operation did not succeed. The State Department and White House declined to comment.

Rita Mae Brown

Who knows what the Trump gang is up to, but I’ll bet it has something to do with Saudi Arabia, since they are the ones running the war in Yemen. One thing we can be sure of: it’s all going to come out eventually, and it will be ugly.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Nancy Pelosi may send articles of impeachment to the Senate next week:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Friday that the House will consider a resolution next week to appoint impeachment managers and transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate, setting the stage for a historic trial of President Trump.

Her announcement, in a letter to Democratic colleagues, came shortly after the House ended its workweek without taking a vote on the matter. As recently as Thursday, Pelosi (D-Calif.) had continued to insist that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should release a resolution laying out rules of a trial before the articles are transmitted.

Also at the Post, George Conway and Neal Kaytal have some strategic suggestions: How Pelosi should play her impeachment cards.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has announced that she plans to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate, but that does not mean she has lost in the seeming standoff with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over whether to call witnesses at the Senate trial. McConnell has said “there’s no chance the president’s going to be removed from office” and “there will be no difference between the president’s position and our position.” In response, Pelosi still has cards in her hand — if she plays them — because the House approved two articles of impeachment against President Trump.

Lilian Braun Jackson

The first article of impeachment effectively charges the president with shaking down Ukraine; the second impeaches him for his unprecedented obstruction of Congress. That gives the speaker room to maneuver. She could choose to tweak her announcement and send only the second article, on obstruction, for trial. Or she could transmit them both — along with a House-approved provision advising the Senate that if it fails to obtain adequate witnesses and documents, the House will reopen the investigation into Article I and subpoena that material itself.

Separating the two articles — our preferred approach — would make perfect sense. When it comes to the second article, all the evidence about Trump’s obstruction is a matter of public record. There’s nothing more to add, so the second article is ripe for trial. But as to the first, although there is plenty of evidence demonstrating Trump’s guilt, his obstruction has prevented all of the evidence from coming to light.

Since the House voted to approve the articles of impeachment last month, new revelations of Trump’s involvement have emerged, including emails showing that aid was ordered withheld from Ukraine 91 minutes after Trump’s supposedly “perfect” phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, has said he is willing to testify before the Senate if subpoenaed, and Bolton’s lawyer has said he has new information, yet McConnell has balked at assurances that Bolton would be called.

How can one conduct a “trial” without knowing this evidence? As lawyers, we have never heard of a trial without witnesses.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Ann Rule

More stories to check out, links only:

AP: White House considering dramatic expansion of travel ban.

Buzzfeed News: The Trump Administration Has Been Preparing To Expand The Travel Ban, Documents Reveal.

CNN: Why Trump’s changing Iran story is costing him support in Congress.

The Washington Post: Trump angered by House ally’s [Matt Gaetz] push to limit his authority on Iran.

The Daily Beast: Hannity Appears to Threaten to Give Out GOP Senators’ Phone Numbers if They Allow Impeachment Witnesses.

The Guardian: How to dump Trump: Rick Wilson on Running Against the Devil.

ProPublica: We Found Major Trump Tax Inconsistencies. New York’s Mayor Wants a Criminal Investigation.

The American Independent: Wisconsin dairy farmers suffer massive blow thanks to Trump’s trade war.

The Daily Beast: Bloomberg Spent $200 Million and Isn’t on Track to Score a Single Delegate.

 


Frenetic Friday Reads: Everything’s a Mess

Frenetic spray painted bird by L7M (street art)

Good Morning!!

It feels as if the world is in a permanent state of chaos, and much–though not all–of the mess can be laid at the feet of Trump and his GOP cult.

For example, if Trump had not impulsively ordered the assassination of Iranian General Soleimani, this would not have happened and 176 people would still be alive. The New York Times: Video Shows Ukrainian Plane Being Hit Over Iran.

Video verified by The New York Times appears to show an Iranian missile hitting a plane near Tehran’s airport, the area where a Ukrainian jet crashed on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.

As investigators work to determine an official cause of the accident, the video offered new clues about the crash, which came hours after a violent confrontation between Iran and the United States. American and allied officials on Thursday said they believed an Iranian missile had accidentally brought the plane down.

A small explosion occurred when what appears to be a missile hit the plane above Parand, a city near the airport, but the plane did not explode, the video showed. The jet continued flying for several minutes and turned back toward the airport, The Times has determined. The plane, which by then had stopped transmitting its signal, flew toward the airport ablaze before it exploded and crashed quickly, other videos verified by The Times showed.

Joan Miró Danseuse-Créole, 1978

Visual and sonic clues in the footage also matched flight path information and satellite imagery of the area near where the plane crashed. The satellite images were taken on Thursday and provided to The Times by Maxar Technologies, a space technology company.

Trump’s foreign policy is a chaotic disaster, Fareed Zacharia writes at The Washington Post: Trump does not have a foreign policy. He has a series of impulses.

CNBC: Iraqi PM tells US to start working on troop withdrawal.

Iraq’s caretaker prime minister asked the U.S. secretary of state to start working out a road map for an American troop withdrawal from Iraq, his office said Friday, signaling his insistence on ending the U.S. military presence despite recent moves to de-escalate tensions between Iran and the U.S.

Adel Abdul-Mahdi made the request in a telephone call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday night, his office said in a statement. He also told Pompeo that recent U.S. strikes in Iraq were an unacceptable breach of Iraqi sovereignty and a violation of the two countries’ security agreements.

The Iraqi leader asked Pompeo to “send delegates to Iraq to prepare a mechanism to carry out the parliament’s resolution regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq,” according to the statement.

“The prime minister said American forces had entered Iraq and drones are flying in its airspace without permission from Iraqi authorities and this was a violation of the bilateral agreements,” the statement added.

By Gladys Nilsson

At Vanity Fair, Nick Bilton describes how Iran could hit the U.S. with cyberattacks: “That’s Where Things Really Get Scary”: Gaming Out An Iranian Cyberattack.

While several possible scenarios could manifest from the latest Donald Trump-led global conflict, including everything from things blowing over (unlikely) to World War III (also unlikely, but possible), the skirmish that is most probable, and the one Americans should be most worried about, would take place in cyberspace. The potential for an army of computers to produce deadly results is very real. Power grids could be shut down for days, or weeks, or indefinitely. The stock market could be knocked offline or sent into free fall by hackers. Water supplies could be poisoned; driverless cars could be used like battering rams or to mow down Americans en masse; simple corporate espionage could tank the economy. A tad dramatic? Sure. All very possible scenarios? Absolutely.

The Iranian hornet nest Trump just kicked has been training for a digital skirmish for years, according to a former State Department official I recently spoke with. As the Department of Homeland Security warned in a bulletin on Saturday, “Previous homeland-based plots have included, among other things, scouting and planning against infrastructure targets and cyber enabled attacks against a range of U.S.-based targets.” The agency noted that “Iran maintains a robust cyber program and can execute cyber attacks against the United States. Iran is capable, at a minimum, of carrying out attacks with temporary disruptive effects against critical infrastructure in the United States.”

With these kinds of attacks, the death toll could far outweigh that of typical warfare. As Ambassador Henry Cooper, the former director of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative and a preeminent expert on missile defenses and space weapons, has said, a successful attack on the American power grids could shut down the “U.S. electric power grid for an indefinite period, leading to the death within a year of up to 90% of all Americans,” or 297 million.

Yikes! Head over to Vanity Fair to read the rest.

Frenetic Lines, by Karine Molloy

Thanks to Trump, Mitch McConnell, and GOP Senators, election security is questionable at best.

The New York Times:  ‘Chaos Is the Point’: Russian Hackers and Trolls Grow Stealthier in 2020.

The National Security Agency and its British counterpart issued an unusual warning in October: The Russians were back and growing stealthier.

Groups linked to Russia’s intelligence agencies, they noted, had recently been uncovered boring into the network of an elite Iranian hacking unit and attacking governments and private companies in the Middle East and Britain — hoping Tehran would be blamed for the havoc.

For federal and state officials charged with readying defenses for the 2020 election, it was a clear message that the next cyberwar was not going to be like the last. The landscape is evolving, and the piggybacking on Iranian networks was an example of what America’s election-security officials and experts face as the United States enters what is shaping up to be an ugly campaign season marred by hacking and disinformation.

American defenses have vastly improved in the four years since Russian hackers and trolls mounted a broad campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. Facebook is looking for threats it barely knew existed in 2016, such as fake ads paid for in rubles and self-proclaimed Texas secessionists logging in from St. Petersburg. Voting officials are learning about bots, ransomware and other vectors of digital mischief. Military officials are considering whether to embrace information warfare and retaliate against election interference by hacking senior Russian officials and leaking their personal emails or financial information.

Yet interviews with dozens of officials and experts make clear that many of the vulnerabilities exploited by Moscow in 2016 remain.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Wassily kandinsky, Composition VII (1913)

The Washington Post: The Cybersecurity 202: Voting vendors, security pros still far apart on protecting 2020 election.

Voting machine companies and cybersecurity advocates are still miles apart on what it will take to secure 2020 against Russian hackers. 

During a nearly three-hour congressional hearing yesterday, security advocates sounded alarm bells about possible election hacks, warning machines in use today can be easily compromised. Companies, meanwhile, mostly defended the status quo.

At one point, the chief executive of Hart InterCivic, one of three major companies that control more than 80 percent of the voting machine market, even defended selling paperless voting machines that can’t be audited and that top security experts and the Department of Homeland Security have warned are far too vulnerable in an era when elections are being targeted by sophisticated Russian hackers…

The divisions highlighted how, despite three years of surging congressional attention to election security since Russia’s 2016 hacking efforts, there has been almost no government oversight of voting machine makers themselves.

House Administration Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) opened the hearing noting that “there are more federal regulations for ballpoint pens and magic markers than there are for voting systems” — quoting Lawrence Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

David Koloane, Johannesburg

Don’t forget what Trump has done to Puerto Rico. The Washington Post: Hit by devastating earthquakes, Puerto Rico still waiting on billions for hurricane relief.

As Puerto Rico weathers devastating earthquakes, the island is still waiting on more than $18 billion in federal funding that was designated after hurricanes that struck more than two years ago. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused the Trump administration of acting unlawfully in withholding the money and called on officials to “cease and desist that illegal activity.”

The holdup has continued past a congressionally mandated deadline last fall for more than $8 billion of the aid to be officially announced. As aftershocks continued to shake the U.S. territory after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake Tuesday morning, Democrats sought to refocus attention on the delayed hurricane aid, while questioning whether the federal government will give Puerto Rico what it needs to recover this time.

“I think it puts a considerable burden on the administration to show good faith,” said Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.), pointing to President Trump’s history of criticizing Puerto Rico and moving to slow the disbursement of money. “And in this case, good faith involves not just responding to this latest disaster, but cleaning up from the previous one as well.”

An ongoing dispute over Puerto Rico could also become an issue in the presidential election. Residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote in federal elections, even though they are U.S. citizens, but many live and cast ballots in Florida, a critical swing state.


Tuesday Reads: Lying Dotard Precipitates Apocalypse

Coffee, by Pierre Bonnard

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday, Dakinikat eloquently articulated the mess Trump has made of our once powerful nation. I have to agree with her that it looks like the “American Century” is ending. Will the U.S. go the of the British empire? Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we could get rid of Trump and McConnell and elect leaders who are committed to upholding the Constitution and protecting democracy.

Who knows what will happen? But right now we are dealing with a possible apocalypse led by an demented old man who spends most of his time either playing golf or watching Fox News. There are no more “adults” advising him–if there ever were–and two of the most powerful people in his administration are end-of-the-world evangelicals Pence and Pompeo. And those two seem just fine with Trump starting a war with Iran.

We have a long way to go before the November election and I don’t have a lot of faith in any of the Democratic presidential candidates. I hope I’m wrong.

As for impeachment, we still don’t know if there will be a real trial in the Senate. Bolton says he will testify, but he knows it’s unlikely the Republican Senate will ask him to.

So that’s where things stand today. Here’s the latest news and opinion from around the internet.

Tsuguaru Fujita At the Cafe

There’s been another natural disaster in Puerto Rico. The Washington Post: Puerto Rico earthquake Tuesday morning triggers blackout, reports of injuries and at least one dead.

A powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake off Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast early Tuesday morning has triggered a widespread blackout, interrupted telecommunications and sent homeowners scrambling out of collapsing homes in towns near the epicenter.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the shaking began about 4:24 a.m. and was followed by intense aftershocks, including a 6.0-magnitude shock wave that also was felt across the U.S. territory. As the sun rose on Puerto Rico, reports of significant damage and injuries were beginning to emerge from areas already impacted by a 5.8-magnitude quake on Monday that destroyed homes and a natural rock formation that was a signature coastal tourist attraction. The Tuesday morning earthquake briefly triggered tsunami-warning sirens and authorities alerted residents that a tsunami was possible — but that warning was later canceled.

Gov. Wanda Vásquez Garced told government employees to stay home as more aftershocks are expected throughout the day. Emergency personnel are evaluating the damage and inspecting Puerto Rico’s power generation plants — all of which are located along the southern coast near the origin of the seismic activity.

Gladyra Archilla, a spokesperson for the city of Ponce, confirmed that a 77-year-old man was killed when a wall in his home fell on top of him. Emergency personnel are trying to rescue one other person in that home who is pinned under debris. Archilla said that many local buildings in the southern city were damaged.

Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times on the dire U.S. political situation: The Nightmare Stage of Trump’s Rule Is Here.

After three harrowing years, we’ve reached the point many of us feared from the moment Donald Trump was elected. His decision to kill Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s second most important official, made at Mar-a-Lago with little discernible deliberation, has brought the United States to the brink of a devastating new conflict in the Middle East.

Mickalene Thomas, Portrait of Mnonja, 2010

We don’t yet know how Iran will retaliate, or whether all-out war will be averted. But already, NATO has suspended its mission training Iraqi forces to fight ISIS. Iraq’s Parliament has voted to expel American troops — a longtime Iranian objective. (On Monday, U.S. forces sent a letter saying they were withdrawing from Iraq in response, only to then claim that it was a draft released in error.) On Sunday, Iran said it will no longer be bound by the remaining restrictions on its nuclear program in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal that Trump abandoned in 2018. Trump has been threatening to commit war crimes by destroying Iran’s cultural sites and tried to use Twitter to notify Congress of his intention to respond to any Iranian reprisals with military escalation.

The administration has said that the killing of Suleimani was justified by an imminent threat to American lives, but there is no reason to believe this. One skeptical American official told The New York Times that the new intelligence indicated nothing but “a normal Monday in the Middle East,” and Democrats briefed on it were unconvinced by the administration’s case. The Washington Post reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who last year agreed with a Christian Broadcasting Network interviewer that God might have sent Trump to save Israel from the “Iranian menace” — has been pushing for a hit on Suleimani for months.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Also at The New York Times, David Leonhardt writes: No One Believes Trump.Which isn’t good in an international crisis.

“This is where having credibility — and having a president who didn’t lie about everything — would be really, really helpful,” Samantha Power, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, wrote recently.

Jean Edouard Vuillard, Lucy Hessel reading

A president with credibility would be better able to persuade foreign governments to help protect American diplomats and military members who are now at risk.

A president with credibility would be more likely to beat Iran in the global court of public opinion.

A president with credibility would be able to set clear red lines that might influence Iran’s behavior in coming weeks.

But President Trump has no credibility. His political rise was built on a lie (about Barack Obama’s birthplace). He has told thousands of untruths since becoming president. He appears to be lying again — about why he ordered the assassination of Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s most significant military leader.

To emphasize Trump’s lack of credibility, here’s stunning piece of fact-checking at The Washington Post: Anatomy of a Trump rally: 67 percent of claims are false or lacking evidence.

We’re kicking off the new year with a line-by-line fact check of President Trump’s longest rally to date.

It was the Moby Dick of fact-checking assignments, a two-hour tornado of false and bewildering claims. Trump was in rare form. The rally was held Dec. 18, just as the House was voting to impeach him.

The president surpassed 15,400 false or misleading claims as of Dec. 10, according to our database tracking all of his suspect statements. But it’s worth drilling down on his rallies. They’ve gotten longer over time, and they’re a key part of Trump’s reelection bid, drawing supporters by the thousands.

By Ron Francis

We wanted to do the math and find out whether the president speaks more fictions or facts in front of his crowds. We focused only on statements of material fact at the December rally in Michigan, avoiding trivialities and opinions. We didn’t double-count statements when the president repeated himself.

According to our analysis, the truth took a beating once again. From a grand total of 179 factual statements we identified, 67 percent were false, mostly false or unsupported by evidence.

Read the detailed analysis of the rally at the WaPo link.

At Rolling Stone, Mark Binelli attempts to explain what happened to the old Lindsey Graham: How Lindsey Graham Lost His Way.

Over the course of his three terms representing South Carolina in the Senate, Graham had become predominantly known for two things: extreme hawkishness on foreign policy, following the lead of his close friend and mentor, the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, and a bipartisan streak that resulted in high-profile attempts to cut big deals on issues like immigration reform and climate change. A former senior staffer for a Democratic senator who has worked alongside Graham on bipartisan legislation tells me, “Like John McCain, he was a conservative Republican, but it was always worth asking where he was going to be on a particular issue, because he wasn’t completely beholden to party orthodoxy. He’d often be way out ahead of his staff, negotiating on the Senate floor unbeknownst to them, and they would be playing catch-up.”

Will Folks, a conservative political blogger in South Carolina, says, “The joke here is Graham has a ‘count to six’ approach to governing: He spends the first four years of his term doing whatever he wants, veering off toward the left, and then the last two years, when the electorate is paying more attention, he comes right.”

On the Green Bank, Sanary, 1911 Hanri Lebasque

Graham is “never flustered, and just a natural at dealing with people who don’t like him,” says David Woodard, a political-science professor at Clemson University who ran Graham’s first two campaigns for the House of Representatives and recalls the first-term congressman as quickly becoming the unofficial social director for his freshman class, though he added, “You’re going to find Lindsey knows a lot of people, but he’s not close to anybody.”

Like much of the GOP establishment, Graham had opposed Trump during the 2015 primary, but he spoke out more forcefully than most, and in the general election, he wrote in third-party candidate Evan McMullin. Which has made his subsequent capitulation all the more breathtaking, even in the context of a modern Republican Party completely transformed into the party of Trump.

Read the rest at Rolling Stone.

More stories of possible interest, links only:

CNN: Senate GOP swing votes sidestep questions about Bolton testimony.

Neal Katyal and Joshua Geltzer at The Washington Post: Trump wants us to trust him on Iran. Without a real impeachment trial, we can’t.

The Texas Tribune: Former Castro supporters in Texas switch to Biden after Castro drops out.

The New York Times: Pentagon Rules Out Striking Iranian Cultural Sites, Contradicting Trump.

Reuters: Iran considering 13 ‘revenge scenarios’ after U.S. strike: report.

The Washington Post: Russian trolls are targeting American veterans, and Trump’s government isn’t helping, group says.

Courthouse News Service: Feds to Hand Over Roger Stone Records to Media Outlets.

The Washington Post: The old Nikki Haley called for civility. The new one just said Democrats are ‘mourning’ a terrorist.