Tuesday Reads: Public Impeachment Hearings Begin Tomorrow

Good Morning!!

Tomorrow should be an interesting day, as the impeachment inquiry goes public for the first time. NPR has all the details: Impeachment Hearing FAQ: Who Will Testify And How The Questioning Will Work.

Public impeachment hearings begin Wednesday, and the first round of witnesses includes three career public servants who have testified behind closed doors that President Trump did link military aid and a White House meeting for Ukraine with a promise to investigate one of the president’s domestic political opponents….

The first hearing is on Wednesday beginning at 10 a.m. ET. The second hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. ET on Friday. You can watch live on NPR.org and listen to special coverage on many local public radio stations….

The three witnesses who will appear:

William Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, told investigators that he learned shortly after he was tapped for his post that there was a parallel foreign policy channel set up that he believed undermined U.S. national security interests.

George Kent,the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, described how Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, went against the traditional bipartisan approach regarding U.S. support for Ukraine in an effort to push for political investigations.

Marie Yovanovitch was ousted from her post as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May after a campaign led by Giuliani to criticize her performance and alleged lack of support for the president’s policies. She recounted in her closed-door testimony that she was told by Ukrainians to “watch my back” because Giuliani’s associates were pushing their business interests and viewed her as an obstacle.

More at the NPR link.

The Washington Post: Career federal employees are the protagonists in the impeachment drama — at risk to themselves.

Rank-and-file bureaucrats who work in the federal agencies that handle national security will defy the directive of the White House to stay quiet, instead describing what they saw as they went about, in their view, just doing their jobs.

Their role in recounting to the public how President Trump and his allies attempted to enlist Ukraine to investigate his political rivals will not come without risk. All but one of the 11 career Foreign Service staff, military officers and Pentagon officials who first testified in closed-door depositions in the Capitol basement are still in government.

They’re back at work following the extraordinary private testimony they gave starting Oct. 3 in the impeachment inquiry into the president they work for. For now, they’ve faced no efforts to punish them for telling House investigators that normal diplomacy was bypassed by a rogue foreign policy to benefit Trump politically, their lawyers say. However, former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who is scheduled to testify publicly on Friday, is close to retirement and told House investigators that she felt “threatened” by the president — and worried about her pension and her employment.

Top White House political appointees failed to comply with subpoenas to testify. So the accounts of longtime professional staff have driven the fact-finding by the House Intelligence Committee. Their testimony provides a striking contrast with some aides who have left the Trump administration in frustration — only to keep their observations private.

“The American people do not know the extent to which they now benefit from these anonymous professionals in the federal government,” said Timothy Naftali, a historian at New York University and former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. “The way to understand how the Trump team subverted national security is to understand the experts, the neutral professionals who are describing how foreign policy is supposed to be conducted.”

CNN examines the Russian reactions to the impeachment drama: Putin has relished US political chaos. He may now fear Trump’s impeachment.

On Russian state television, tightly controlled by the Kremlin, support for Donald Trump in his current impeachment battle is absolute. After all it is Russia, they sometimes joke, that got the US president elected in the first place!

Of course, allegations of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, which swept Trump into office, are officially denied in Russia. But they are often referenced, even on serious television news shows, with a sarcastic wink.

“Have you lost your minds that you want to remove OUR Donald Ivanovich,” bawls Vladimir Soloviev, host of “Evening,” a pro-Kremlin current affairs program which has been focusing on the US impeachment proceedings….

“The chaos brought by Trump into the American system of government is weakening the United States,” Karen Shakhnazarov, CEO of Mosfilm Studio and a regular guest on Russian state television, tells the studio audience.

“America is getting weaker and now Russia is taking its place in the Middle East. Suddenly, Russia is starting to seriously penetrate Africa. So, when they say that Trump is weakening the United States — yes he is and that’s why we love him. The more problems they have, the better for us,” Shakhnazarov says

Read the rest at CNN.

The New York Times has a great background article on the Ukraine matter. It’s long and involved, so I’ll just post the link here for anyone who wants to read it: Trump, Ukraine and Impeachment: The Inside Story of How We Got Here.

As usual, the White House is in chaos in the lead-up to public hearings. The Washington Post reports: White House infighting flares amid impeachment inquiry.

The White House’s bifurcated and disjointed response to Democrats’ impeachment inquiry has been fueled by a fierce West Wing battle between two of President Trump’s top advisers, and the outcome of the messy skirmish could be on full display this week, according to White House and congressional officials.

Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has urged aides not to comply with the inquiry and blocked any cooperation with congressional Democrats. Top political aides at the Office of Management and Budget, which Mulvaney once led, have fallen in line with his defiant stance, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk freely about the behind-the-scenes developments.

Mulvaney’s office blames White House counsel Pat Cipollone for not doing more to stop other government officials from participating in the impeachment inquiry, as a number of State Department officials, diplomats and an aide to Vice President Pence have given sworn testimony to Congress.

Cipollone, meanwhile, has fumed that Mulvaney only made matters worse with his Oct. 17 news conference, when he publicly acknowledged a quid pro quo, essentially confirming Democrats’ accusations in front of television cameras and reporters. Cipollone did not want Mulvaney to hold the news conference, a message that was passed along to the acting chief of staff’s office, according to two senior Trump advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. A Mulvaney aide said a team of White House lawyers prepared him for the news conference and never said he should not do it.

Head over to the WaPo to read the rest.

Adam Schiff released more transcripts yesterday, breaking more news.

Betsy Swan at the Daily Beast: Mulvaney’s OMB Held Up Lethal Ukraine Aid in 2017 for Fear of Russian Reaction.

Under Mick Mulvaney’s leadership, the Office of Management and Budget temporarily put a hold on the delivery of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine in 2017 because of concerns their arrival would upset Russia, according to former White House official Catherine Croft….

Croft told congressional impeachment investigators that after the Trump administration greenlit the delivery of Javelin missiles to Ukraine in late 2017—the first delivery of lethal aid to the country since Russian separatists seized territory in its Eastern region in 2014—Mulvaney’s office held it up.

“Did you understand why?” asked the congressional staffer questioning her.

“I understood the reason to be a policy one,” she replied.

“What was the policy one?”

“In a briefing with Mick Mulvaney, the question centered around the Russian reaction,” she continued.

“What was the concern about the Russian reaction?” asked the staffer.

“That Russia would react negatively to the provision of Javelins to Ukraine,” she said.

NBC News: Pentagon official testifies White House directed freeze on aid to Ukraine.

Laura Cooper, the top Pentagon official overseeing U.S. policy regarding Ukraine, told House impeachment investigators last month that President Donald Trump directed the relevant agencies to freeze aid to Ukraine over the summer, according to a transcript of her testimony released Monday.

Cooper, during Oct. 23 testimony before the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s Ukraine dealings, testified that she and other Pentagon officials had answered questions about the Ukraine assistance in the middle of June — so she was surprised when one of her subordinates told her that a hold had been placed on the funds after an interagency meeting in July.

“I got, you know, I got a readout from the meeting — there was discussion in that session about the — about OMB [Office of Management and Budget] saying that they were holding the Congressional Notification related to” Ukraine, Cooper testified, according to the transcript.

Cooper, according to the transcript of her testimony, described the hold as “unusual.”

Cooper said that she attended a meeting on July 23, where “this issue” of Trump’s “concerns about Ukraine and Ukraine security assistance” came up. She said the president’s concerns were conveyed by acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Days later, on July 26, she testified that she found out that both military and humanitarian aid had been impacted.

Asked if the president was authorized to order that type of hold, Cooper said there were concerns that he wasn’t.

You can also read a lengthy summary of the latest transcripts at Politico: ‘Alarm bells’: What Cooper, Croft and Anderson told impeachment investigators.

Also at Politico, Laura Glover has an interesting piece on how the Senate could end up removing Trump: There’s a Surprisingly Plausible Path to Removing Trump From Office.

By most everyone’s judgment, the Senate will not vote to remove President Donald Trump from office if the House impeaches him. But what if senators could vote on impeachment by secret ballot? If they didn’t have to face backlash from constituents or the media or the president himself, who knows how many Republican senators would vote to remove?

A secret impeachment ballot might sound crazy, but it’s actually quite possible. In fact, it would take only three senators to allow for that possibility.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will immediately move to hold a trial to adjudicate the articles of impeachment if and when the Senate receives them from the House of Representatives. Article I, Section 3, of the Constitution does not set many parameters for the trial, except to say that “the Chief Justice shall preside,” and “no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.” That means the Senate has sole authority to draft its own rules for the impeachment trial, without judicial or executive branch oversight….

…according to current Senate procedure, McConnell will still need a simple majority—51 of the 53 Senate Republicans—to support any resolution outlining rules governing the trial. That means that if only three Republican senators were to break from the caucus, they could block any rule they didn’t like. (Vice President Mike Pence can’t break ties in impeachment matters.) Those three senators, in turn, could demand a secret ballot and condition their approval of the rest of the rules on getting one.

So . . . what stories are you following today?


Lazy Caturday Reads

By Midori Yamada

Good Morning!!

It has been an interesting week in the impeachment inquiry and next week should be even more interesting. Will John Bolton testify? He’s apparently OK with his lawyer leaking information to The New York Times: Bolton Said to Know of ‘Many Relevant Meetings’ on Ukraine, but Will Not Testify.

John R. Bolton, President Trump’s former national security adviser, knows about “many relevant meetings and conversations” connected to a pressure campaign on Ukraine that House impeachment investigators have not yet been informed of, his lawyer told lawmakers on Friday.

The lawyer, Charles J. Cooper, tucked the tantalizing assertion into a letter to the chief House lawyer in response to committee chairmen who have sought Mr. Bolton’s testimony in their impeachment inquiry but expressed unwillingness to go to court to get an order compelling it….

By Tetsuo Takahara

…hints about what Mr. Bolton might be able to add came as new details emerged from the impeachment inquiry about how an effort by Mr. Trump’s allies to use the United States’ relationship with Ukraine to accomplish the president’s political goals opened a bitter rift inside the White House.

According to testimony made public on Friday, the push, spearheaded in large part by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, pitted Mr. Bolton, who sought repeatedly to resist it, against Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff who senior officials said may have played a central role in carrying it out.

Trump is sucking up to Bolton this morning.

This from the NYT article makes me want to read Fiona Hill’s testimony this weekend.

Transcripts of testimony by Fiona Hill, the former senior director for Russia and Europe at the National Security Council, and Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the Ukraine expert there, described how the council under Mr. Bolton became consumed with trying to thwart Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to bend Ukraine policy to the president’s political advantage.

By Cheryl Wilson

They said there was evidence Mr. Mulvaney was involved in setting up a quid pro quo in which Ukraine could not receive a White House meeting unless top officials there committed to investigations that Mr. Trump wanted. And they showed how the foreign policy officials most deeply knowledgeable about Ukraine were sidelined and forced to act as mere spectators — in some instances watching for Mr. Giuliani’s freewheeling appearances on cable news for clues — in dealing with the relationship with Kiev.

Ms. Hill said Mr. Bolton repeatedly sought to cut off the influence of Mr. Giuliani, whom he referred to as a “hand grenade.”

Mr. Bolton was “closely monitoring what Mr. Giuliani was doing and the messaging that he was sending out,” she told investigators, adding that he warned “repeatedly that nobody should be meeting with Giuliani.”

And Hill knows about Trump’s history with Russia.

Alexander Vindman’s testimony might be an interesting read too. He tore apart Trump propagandist John Solomon’s “reporting” on the fake Ukraine conspiracy. The Washington Post: ‘But you know, his grammar might have been right’: Lt. Col. Vindman bashed John Solomon in testimony.

Kazuaki Horitomo

In his deposition last month on Capitol Hill, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman characterized as “false” the work of John Solomon, the former executive vice president for digital video at The Hill, according to a transcript released Friday. Vindman just might know: He has served as the top Ukraine hand at the National Security Council and watched as Solomon’s reports on the country in The Hill surfaced earlier this year. He gave his deposition as part of the House impeachment inquiry.

In the pages of The Hill, Solomon poured starting fluid on the idea that former vice president Joe Biden had pressed for the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor so as to lessen the pressure on the company where his son, Hunter Biden, held a board seat. Part of this Solomon oeuvre included an interview with then-Ukrainian prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, who alleged that former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch had presented him a do-not-prosecute list.

There’s no evidence for such a deed. Lutsenko later retracted the claim, and Vindman called it “preposterous” in his deposition.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) decided to press Vindman on his conclusion that Solomon was pushing bogus reporting.

Zeldin: Did your sources, though, say that everything was false or just parts of it were false?
Vindman: I think all the key elements were false.
Zeldin: Just so I understand what you mean when you say key elements. Are you referring to everything John Solomon stated or just some of it?
Vindman: All the elements that I just laid out for you. The criticisms of corruption were false.
Zeldin: You mentioned —
Vindman: Were there more items in there, frankly, congressman? I don’t recall. I haven’t looked at the article in quite some time, but you know, his grammar might have been right.

To check on Solomon’s reporting, Vindman had quizzed his “interagency colleagues” at the State Department and the intelligence community. He asked for “background” and wanted to know if there was “anything substantive in this area.”

Read more at the WaPo.

By Kamwei Fong

Alexander Nazaryan at Yahoo News: Testimony from Alexander Vindman and Fiona Hill caps a devastating week for Trump.

The week ended on a sour note for President Trump, with the public release of testimony by two national security council staffers — one current, one former — who expressed alarm over the way Trump officials pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for political help at home. The campaign, orchestrated by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and intended to harm Joe Biden, a political rival, is now the subject of an impeachment inquiry launched last month by the House of Representatives….

That scheme was managed by Giuliani, whose role in attempting to wrest political concessions from Zelensky was plainly troubling to career public servants unused to his unorthodox approach. “Rudy Giuliani is a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up,” national security adviser John Bolton told Fiona Hill, a Russia hardliner on the National Security Council whose testimony was released on Friday. 

The other transcript released on Friday is of the interview with Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert at the NSC. Vindman remains at his job at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, right next to the White House, despite having been the subject of withering attacks by Trump and his allies. Bolton was fired in September, while Hill left her post in June.

The testimony of the two officials is bound to energize Democrats ahead of next week’s public hearings. It includes a denunciation by Vindman of the “inherent risk” of playing politics with world affairs and Hill’s flat assessment of the Republican talking point — that Ukraine “was launching an effort to upend our [2016] election” — as “a fiction.”

Read the rest at the link. You can also read a good summary of the testimony highlights at CNN: We read all 2,677 pages of impeachment inquiry testimony released to date. Here’s what’s clear.

The New York Times has a background piece on John Eisenberg, the White House lawyer who is accused of ordering concealment of Trump’s Ukraine phone call: Ukraine Affair Thrusts White House Lawyer Into Center of Crisis.

Mr. Eisenberg has emerged as a central figure in the impeachment inquiry, appearing frequently in the new transcripts. House investigators want to question him, but he skipped a scheduled deposition this week….

By Didier Lourenco

Mr. Eisenberg, 52, served a decade ago as a Justice Department lawyer who worked on surveillance law. Interviews with more than two dozen current and former colleagues paint a portrait of a meticulous, conservative lawyer with a tightly wound and introverted, sometimes prickly manner.

Former associates questioned whether his experience made him an awkward fit for his current role, which requires rendering legal judgments in fast-moving crises arising from military and intelligence operations. The Trump transition team selected Mr. Eisenberg over many prominent Republican national security lawyers who had signed “Never Trump” statements.

That figures. At the DOJ, Eisenberg was a supporter of warrantless surveilance program.

During the George W. Bush administration, Mr. Eisenberg landed at the Justice Department’s powerful Office of Legal Counsel, where he came to focus on national security.

In Mr. Bush’s second term, Mr. Eisenberg was among a few executive branch lawyers who tried to put its contentious warrantless surveillance program onto firmer legal footing. Mr. Bush began the program after the Sept. 11 attacks based on an expansive claim of executive power, even though a 1978 law required court orders for wiretaps on domestic soil.

Mr. Eisenberg and the other lawyers developed a creative legal theory for why a court could lawfully issue orders blessing the program. They persuaded a judge in 2007 to do so. But another judge balked, and the administration turned to Congress to enact a new surveillance law instead.

Read more about Eisenberg at the NYT link.

According to Dana Millbank at The Washington Post, there are plenty of examples of Trump’s childish behavior in the impeachment inquiry transcripts: The United States is being run by a toddler.

He has tantrums. He rips up paper. He disregards facts. He believes crazy conspiracies. He’s erratic and ill-informed. Those around him walk on eggshells, trying to prevent him from doing the geopolitical equivalent of sticking his finger in an electrical socket.

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor and political appointee, described Trump’s style: “President Trump changes his mind on what he wants on a daily basis. I have no idea what he wanted on the day I called him.” Sondland also spoke about Trump’s “completely inconsistent” behavior: “The funny part is that he was railing about the problems with Ukraine in our meeting, but I think shortly after that he sent essentially an unconditional invitation to President Zelensky to come visit him.”

By Hiroshige

Sondland testified about Trump’s unreasonableness (“He sort of went on and on and on about how Ukraine is a disaster and they’re bad people”), limited attention (“He didn’t even want to deal with it anymore, and he basically waved and said, ‘Go talk to Rudy’”) and poor judgment (“Taking directions from the president, as I must, I spoke with Mr. Giuliani … Please know that I would have not recommended that”). Likewise, George Kent, the deputy secretary of state overseeing Ukraine, painted a picture of aides trying to soothe a childlike Trump. “Initially the president did not want to sign a congratulatory letter, and he actually ripped up the letter that had been written for him,” Kent testified. “But by the end of the meeting he’d been convinced.”

Republicans’ questions suggest they, too, accept that the president is not entirely rational; they urged witnesses to respond as “if you are in President Trump’s world,” whether Trump’s views are “reasonable or not” and “fair or not.”

For example: “If the president, for whatever reason, true or untrue, develops a feeling that he’s got an ambassador that isn’t loyal to him, he’s going to bring them home, correct?”

And: “If you try to get inside the president’s head, I mean, he may have been searching for the name ‘Burisma’ but couldn’t grasp it so he spits out ‘Biden’?”

More examples at the link.

I’m going to end there. Please share your thoughts and recommended reads in the comment thread below.


Thursday Reads: I Can’t Take It Anymore . . .

Good Morning!!

I’m having another one of those “I can’t take anymore” days. I couldn’t stand reading the news yesterday and today the feeling is even stronger as I’ve forced myself to surf for stories to post. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

An aide to Mike Pence is testifying in the impeachment inquiry today. Reuters: As public hearings loom, Vice President Pence aide meets with U.S. House committees.

U.S. congressional committees conducting an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump met on Thursday for the first time with a top adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, one of the last witnesses to testify behind closed doors before public hearings start next week.

Jennifer Williams, a career foreign service officer and special adviser to Pence for Europe and Russia, arrived at the U.S. Capitol to testify behind closed doors on Thursday morning with members of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees.

Lawmakers will look to Williams for information about how much Pence knew about efforts by Trump and those around him to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

According to CNN, Williams was “concerned” about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine president Zelensky.

Williams was on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky, and she was concerned about what she heard on the call but there is no indication Williams raised her concerns to her superiors, according to the source.

Justin Shur, Williams’ attorney, told CNN in a statement Wednesday night that she would answer the committee’s questions “if required to appear.”

“Jennifer is a longtime dedicated State Department employee,” Shur said in the statement. “If required to appear, she will answer the Committees’ questions. We expect her testimony will largely reflect what is already in the public record.” [….]

Williams, a longtime State Department staffer, is detailed to Pence’s office as special adviser on European and Russian affairs and was one of two Pence aides on the call. The other was Gen. Keith Kellogg, the vice president’s national security adviser, who has not yet been called to testify.

Williams would be the first person on Pence’s national security team to appear. She has knowledge of how much the vice president knew about the efforts by Trump and those around him to push Ukraine to launch investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, as well as 2016 election interference, a source familiar with her thinking told CNN.

We’ll probably hear more about Williams and what she has to say later on today.

The New York Times reported this morning that Zelensky received the message about a quid pro quo loud and clear, and he was planning to do Trump’s bidding: Zelensky Bowed to Trump’s Demands, Until Luck Spared Him.

KIEV, Ukraine — It was early September, and Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, faced an agonizing choice: whether to capitulate to President Trump’s demands to publicly announce investigations against his political enemies or to refuse, and lose desperately needed military aid.

Only Mr. Trump could unlock the aid, he had been told by two United States senators, and time was running out. If the money, nearly $400 million, were not unblocked by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, it could be lost in its entirety.

In a flurry of WhatsApp messages and meetings in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, over several days, senior aides debated the point. Avoiding partisan politics in the United States had always been the first rule of Ukrainian foreign policy, but the military aid was vital to the war against Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, a conflict that has cost 13,000 lives since it began in 2014.

By then, however, Mr. Zelensky’s staffers were already conceding to what seemed to be the inevitable, and making plans for a public announcement about the investigations. It was a fateful decision for a fledgling president elected on an anticorruption platform that included putting an end to politically motivated investigations.

Zelensky was prepared to make a public statement about the two investigations Trump was demanding, until news broke about Trump’s withholding of military aid.

Finally bending to the White House request, Mr. Zelensky’s staff planned for him to make an announcement in an interview on Sept. 13 with Fareed Zakaria, the host of a weekly news show on CNN.

Though plans were in motion to give the White House the public statement it had sought, events in Washington saved the Ukrainian government from any final decision and eliminated the need to make the statement.

But word of the freeze in military aid had leaked out, and Congress was in an uproar. Two days before the scheduled interview, the Trump administration released the assistance and Mr. Zelensky’s office quickly canceled the interview.

Read the whole thing at the NYT.

Also at The New York Times, a story on how Lev Parnas got the money to pay for Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to manufacture dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden: Behind the Deal That Put Giuliani Together With a Dirt-Hunting Partner.

It has been one of the enduring mysteries of the impeachment drama: Where did a cash-strapped Ukrainian-born American businessman get $500,000 to pay President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani?

It turns out that the money came from a Long Island lawyer named Charles Gucciardo, a Republican donor and supporter of Mr. Trump. The payment was part of a deal in which Mr. Gucciardo would become an investor in a company started by the businessman, Lev Parnas, according to Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Gucciardo’s lawyer and other people familiar with the arrangement.

The money, paid to Mr. Giuliani’s firm in September and October 2018, cemented a relationship between Mr. Parnas and Mr. Giuliani. Within months that relationship would evolve into a critical front in the campaign by the president and Mr. Giuliani to pressure the Ukrainian government to start investigations that would benefit Mr. Trump politically.

Mr. Gucciardo, 62, a plaintiff’s lawyer, has not been implicated in any wrongdoing, and there is no evidence that he was involved in the Ukrainian pressure campaign.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Information has begun leaking out about the upcoming tell-all book by “Anonymous” and it doesn’t look good for Mike Pence. Yashar Ali at HuffPost: Exclusive: Book Claims Senior Officials Believed Pence Would Support Use Of 25th Amendment.

The much-anticipated book “A Warning,” reportedly written by an unnamed senior White House official, claims that high-level White House aides were certain that Vice President Mike Pence would support the use of the 25th Amendment to have President Donald Trump removed from office because of mental incapacity.

According to the exposé, which is written by someone that The New York Times and the publisher of the book say is a current or former senior White House official, using the pen name “Anonymous,” highly placed White House officials did a back-of-the-envelope tally of which Cabinet members would be prepared to sign a letter invoking Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which says that if the president is deemed unfit to discharge the duties of his office, the vice president would assume the role.

That letter would need to be signed by a majority of the Cabinet, delivered to Pence for his signature and then submitted to Congress.

According to Anonymous, there was no doubt in the minds of these senior officials that Pence would support invoking the 25th Amendment if the majority of the Cabinet signed off on it.

Trump is not going to be happy with Mike today.

Meanwhile, Republicans–led by Rand Paul–are trying to out the Ukraine whistleblower. The name has been out there for awhile, but Republicans are trying to bait mainstream reporters into printing it. Yahoo News: Whistleblower attorneys fear for client’s safety as Trump allies move to out him.

On the evening of Oct. 2, Mark Zaid, one of the attorneys representing the anonymous official whose whistleblower complaint sparked the impeachment probe into President Trump, received an email with the subject line: “a bullet in your head.”

Zaid reported the email to the FBI, which investigated and determined the threat wasn’t credible, but that message was just one of the dozens received by the whistleblower’s attorneys from individuals ranging from the merely critical to downright threatening.

On Wednesday morning, a person using the encrypted email service ProtonMail told Zaid to “DIE you piece of FILTH,” and another emailed the legal team repeatedly, in one message saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin “would have already shot scum like this,” referring to the whistleblower. A third told Andrew Bakaj, the whistleblower’s primary lawyer and head of his own law firm Compass Rose Legal Group, that someone would “come up to [him] on the street” when he “least expects it,” hinting at violence.

Others are less threatening but still critical, like a man going by the name Jeb Stuart, who called in to insist the whistleblower come forward with their complaints publicly.

A review of a trove of voicemails, emails and messages on social media provided to Yahoo News by the whistleblower’s legal team demonstrate the effects of efforts by Trump allies to vilify the whistleblower and those testifying against the president in the impeachment inquiry. That campaign consists of a blend of talking points promoted by key conservative figures and those originating from Trump or his allies themselves.

The results, according to the whistleblower’s lawyers, has been a campaign of harassment that makes them fear for their client’s personal safety.

More details at Yahoo News.

The Roger Stone trial is going to be interesting. A couple of stories to check out:

Zoe Tillman at Buzzfeed News: A Jury Saw Records Of Trump’s Phone Calls With Roger Stone After The DNC Announced It Was Hacked In 2016.

Stone, a longtime adviser to President Donald Trump, is charged with lying to Congress about trying to contact WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, during the 2016 campaign and communicate what he was learning to Trump’s campaign. To prove that, prosecutors spent the first day of the trial presenting evidence that Stone did try to contact WikiLeaks — and that he was, in fact, not only in touch with the campaign, but with Trump himself.

The jury saw emails, text messages, and call records documenting Stone’s communications with the campaign around the same time that he was in touch with two associates about tracking down emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee that were eventually released by WikiLeaks; the US intelligence community later concluded that Russian intelligence was involved in hacking the DNC and orchestrating the release of the stolen emails through WikiLeaks.

The jury saw records of phone calls between then-candidate Trump and Stone in 2016, including on June 14, 2016, when the DNC announced it had been hacked, and in the weeks that followed. Prosecutors made clear that they didn’t know what the two men discussed — they only had the call logs — but they placed those calls in the middle of a timeline of Stone’s alleged efforts to get messages to WikiLeaks and Assange.

“Evidence will show Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad. The truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,” Assistant US Attorney Aaron Zelinsky told the jury.

Attacking the CIA: November 4, 2019

CNN: Roger Stone’s ‘payload is still coming’ email went to Erik Prince, prosecutors say.

On the opening day of Roger Stone’s trial for allegedly lying to Congress and obstructing its investigation, one mystery appeared to be solved by prosecutors.

The Donald Trump supporter who Stone alerted in October 2016 that “the payload is coming” — an apparent reference to WikiLeaks’ release of damaging emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign — was Blackwater founder Erik Prince, according to prosecutors….

The communication is one of several at the center of the trial. Prosecutors expect to call members of the Trump campaign but are not planning on calling Prince, according to a person familiar with the plan.

Two days after Stone learned that “big news” damaging to Clinton’s campaign would soon be leaked by WikiLeaks he emailed Prince — the founder of Blackwater, a controversial private military company — telling him “the payload is still coming,” according to the source.

According to the indictment, Stone emailed Prince on October 3, 2016, two days after Randy Credico told Stone, “big news Wednesday” and six days before WikiLeaks released hacked emails from the Clinton campaign. In the email, Stone tells Prince, “Spoke with my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming.”

Late the following day Prince sent a text message to Stone asking if he had “hear(d) anymore from London.” Stone replied, “Yes — want to talk on a secure line — got Whatsapp?”
Stone told Prince, according to the indictment, that more material would be released that would be damaging to the Clinton campaign.

It isn’t clear why Stone would have relayed that information to Prince. They didn’t know each other prior to the campaign, the source said. Credico has denied that he acted as Stone’s intermediary with WikiLeaks and said his messages to Stone were based on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s public statements.

That’s all I have for you today. I’m going to spend the rest of the day escaping into a book. What stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads: The Latest News with Rabbits

A Night In, by Kim Parkhurst

Good Morning!!

So much is happening.

Yesterday, the House Intelligence Committee released two transcripts of State Department Officials who have testified in the impeachment inquiry, Marie Yovanovich and Michael McKinley. Today, the Committee will release two more transcripts from Kurt Volker and Gordon Sundland. CBS is providing live updates on the transcript releases and the impeachment inquiry generally. None of this is looking good for Trump.

Dana Millbank at The Washington Post:  So this is why Trump doesn’t want officials to testify.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) released the first batch of transcripts Monday from the closed-door depositions, including that of Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine removed from her post by President Trump at the urging of his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

If this is a sign of what’s to come, Republicans will soon regret forcing Democrats to make impeachment proceedings public. Over 10 hours, the transcript shows, they stumbled about in search of a counter-narrative to her damning account.

A Family of Rabbits (Oil on Canvas), by Alfred Richardson Barber

Yovanovitch detailed a Hollywood-ready tale about how Giuliani and two of his now-indicted goons hijacked U.S. foreign policy as part of a clownish consortium that also included Sean Hannity and a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor. Their mission: to oust the tough-on-corruption U.S. ambassador who threatened to frustrate Giuliani’s plans to get Ukraine to come up with compromising material on Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.

Mike Pompeo has a cameo as the feckless secretary of state who refuses to stand up for his diplomat out of fear of setting off an unstable Trump. It all culminated in a 1 a.m. call from State’s personnel director telling Yovanovitch to get on the next flight out of Kyiv. Why? “She said, ‘I don’t know, but this is about your security. You need to come home immediately.’ ”

Yovanovitch, overcome with emotion at one point in her testimony, said she later learned that the threat to her security was from none other than Trump, who, State officials feared, would attack her on Twitter if she didn’t flee Ukraine quickly.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Also at the Post, Greg Sargent writes: The scope of Trump’s corruption is mind-boggling. New developments show how.

At this point, the broad contours of the Ukraine scandal are well understood. President Trump appears to have used hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money appropriated as military aid to extort a vulnerable ally into helping him rig the 2020 election on his behalf.

But there are two other aspects of this scandal that need elaboration. The first is the degree to which this whole scheme is corrupting multiple government agencies and effectively placing them at the disposal of Trump’s reelection effort.

The second is that two of the scheme’s goals — getting Ukraine to validate a conspiracy theory absolving Russia of 2016 sabotage, and to manufacture smears of one of Trump’s leading 2020 rivals — are really part of the same story. At the core of this narrative is Trump’s continuing reliance on foreign help in corrupting our democracy to his advantage, through two presidential elections, and the covering up of all of it.

Much more at the link.

More suggested reads on Ukraine/impeachment:

The New York Times: Pompeo Faces Political Peril and Diplomats’ Revolt in Impeachment Inquiry.

Grant Stern at Occupy Democrats: Key impeachment witness transcript reveals Trump Jr.’s role in setting up Ukraine-Biden dirt plot.

Rand Paul is calling on the media to print the name of the Ukraine Whistle blower. Greg Olear writes about Paul’s transformation into a Trump/Russia stooge at Medium: Red Paul: The Senator from Kentucky is Now Working for Vladimir Putin.

Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times: On Ukraine, Trump Is a Con Man, but He’s Also a Mark.

Aaron Rupar at Vox: Trump’s responses to the impeachment inquiry are becoming increasingly incoherent.

In New York, two significant players in the Ukraine scandal were in court yesterday, and one of them, Lev Parnas, is talking to impeachment investigators.

The New York Times: Lev Parnas, Giuliani Associate, Opens Talks With Impeachment Investigators.

Still Life with Rabbits and Fruit by Jacob Samuel Beck

The associate, Lev Parnas, had previously resisted speaking with investigators for the Democrat-led impeachment proceedings, which are examining the president’s pressure attempts in Ukraine. A former lawyer for Mr. Trump was then representing Mr. Parnas.

But since then, Mr. Parnas has hired new lawyers who contacted the congressional investigators last week to notify them to “direct any future correspondence or communication to us,” according to a copy of the letter.

The lawyers also signaled on Monday that Mr. Parnas, who was arrested last month on campaign finance charges, is prepared to comply with a congressional subpoena for his documents and testimony.

Mr. Parnas, a Ukrainian-born American citizen who was central to Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to dig up dirt on Mr. Trump’s rivals, could offer Congress a vein of information about the efforts in Ukraine.

“We are willing to comply with the subpoena to the extent that it does not violate any appropriate privilege that Mr. Parnas may properly invoke,” said Joseph A. Bondy, who along with Edward B. MacMahon, Jr. now represents Mr. Parnas.

Mr. Bondy said that given the federal criminal charges, his client may invoke his right under the Fifth Amendment not to incriminate himself.

Feeding White Rabbits, by Frederick Morgan

Parnas was angered by Trump’s claims that he doesn’t even know who the Giuliani pal is.

“Mr. Parnas was very upset by President Trump’s plainly false statement that he did not know him,” said Mr. Bondy, whose client has maintained that he has had extensive dealings with the president.

After federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced charges against Mr. Parnas and three other men, Mr. Trump told reporters that he did not know Mr. Parnas or Igor Fruman, another Giuliani associate who also worked to help Mr. Trump in Ukraine and was among those charged with campaign finance violations. The two men had contributed extensively to political committees supporting Mr. Trump and appeared with the president in pictures posted on social media.

More big news should come out soon, since Roger Stone goes on trial today. NPR: Roger Stone, Trump Friend And Alleged Tie To WikiLeaks, Faces Trial In Washington.

President Trump’s friend and political adviser Roger Stone is set to go on trial Tuesday in a proceeding that could reveal just how close Trump world got to the Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Jury selection is scheduled to commence following months of unusual public silence from Stone, who has been gagged by the judge in his case following a flap this year over his posts on social media.

Stone pleaded not guilty in January after a grand jury in Washington, D.C., returned an indictment with one count of obstructing a proceeding, five counts of making false statements to Congress and one count of witness tampering — because prosecutors allege that he tried to persuade another witness to lie to Congress too.

A bit more:

Stone and some of his associates may have been links in a chain that connected Trump in New York City with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London, who at the time had confined himself in the Ecuadorian Embassy there.

Assange, in turn, was in contact with Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, which had stolen a trove of embarrassing material from political targets in the United States.

WikiLeaks released many of those emails and other documents with disruptive effects on political life in the U.S. — and enjoyed public encouragement by Trump and his campaign.

What Mueller’s investigation revealed was how much Trump and aides worked to get more.

More Roger Stone reads to check out:

Michael Isakoff: Roger Stone’s trial could hang on a comedian’s drunken texts.

Politico: The Idiot’s Guide to the Roger Stone trial.

Emptywheel: What Prosecutors Need to Show to Prove Roger Stone Guilty.

There’s also a primary campaign going on. Some interesting stories about that:

The Post and Courier: Tom Steyer aide resigns after stealing Kamala Harris’ SC 2020 volunteer data.

Two Rabbits, by H. Baert

COLUMBIA — A South Carolina aide for Tom Steyer’s 2020 presidential campaign stole valuable volunteer data collected by Kamala Harris’ campaign using an account from when he worked with the S.C. Democratic Party, according to multiple state and national party officials.

The Steyer campaign said that it does not have possession of the data and that Democratic officials were only aware of the download, which they said was inadvertent, because they proactively notified them. Both the Democratic National Committee and S.C. Democratic Party denied that.

The Democratic National Committee said they quickly caught the attempt on Friday by Steyer’s deputy S.C. state director Dwane Sims to export Harris’ data, which contained thousands of volunteer contacts collected over the course of the campaign in this critical early-voting primary state.

Read more at the link. This reminds me of how Bernie Sanders’ campaign stole data from Hillary Clinton and then sued the DNC for suspending their access to data for a short time.

Also in South Carolina, the Post and Courier reports that Elizabeth Warren appears to be planning to basically cede the state’s primary: Elizabeth Warren is having a moment, but will it translate into South Carolina momentum?

Warren has yet to secure any major endorsements here. Her visits have been sporadic at best.

When she participated in an environmental justice roundtable in Charleston’s Rosemont neighborhood a few weeks ago, her campaign announced the visit with less than 24-hours notice.

The visit, which included a walking tour of the neighborhood, also never appeared on Mobilize America, a website that serves as a centralized system for Democratic and progressive campaigns to post about upcoming events.

When Warren was invited to speak at the Charleston County Democratic Party’s Blue Jamboree, she declined, despite the urging of multiple South Carolina Democratic leaders.

“I think she’s conceded the state,” said Charleston County Democratic Party Chair Colleen Condon. “It’s very disappointing.”

That isn’t likely to help her standing with African American voters. Kamala Harris seems to be  conceding New Hampshire to focus on Iowa, but that isn’t surprising since either Warren or Sanders is likely to win there.

Bill Barr continues to act as Trump’s personal attorney. Now he’s trying to smoke out the name of the anonymous staffer who wrote a NYT op-ed that he or she has now turned into a book.

The Washington Post: The Justice Department is fishing for details about the anonymous ‘resistance’ op-ed writer.

The Justice Department is looking for identifying details about the anonymous Trump administration official who excoriated the president’s “amorality” in an unsigned New York Times opinion column last year, according to a letter the agency sent Monday.

By Walter Hunt

The author of the column, whose identity has remained a secret for more than a year, has also written a tell-all book that will publish this month — and Assistant Attorney General Joseph H. Hunt wants proof that the writer is not bound by a government nondisclosure agreement.

Either that, Hunt wrote in the letter, or the book’s publisher and the author’s agents should turn over the official’s employment information: where in the government the person worked, and when he or she worked there. If the official had access to classified information, Hunt warned, the book should be “submitted for pre-publication review.”

The book has been billed as the behind-the-scenes sequel to the searing column, which described a White House in dangerous disarray and an internal “resistance” force that sought to thwart Trump’s “misguided impulses.” The Times identified the author only as “a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure.” The book will list the author as “Anonymous.”

I’ve only scratched the surface of today’s news. What stories have you been following?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Lighter Stories for a Dark Time

By Didier Lourenco

Good Morning!!

I hope all you Sky Dancers are having a nice weekend! I’m going to stick with lightweight stories today, because I’ve been feeling so discouraged by the political news. So here goes.

You know that impenetrable wall that Trump is trying build on our Southern border? It’s not working out so well. The Washington Post: Smugglers are sawing through new sections of Trump’s border wall.

SAN DIEGO — Smuggling gangs in Mexico have repeatedly sawed through new sections of President Trump’s border wall in recent months by using commercially available power tools, opening gaps large enough for people and drug loads to pass through, according to U.S. agents and officials with knowledge of the damage.

The breaches have been made using a popular cordless household tool known as a reciprocating saw that retails at hardware stores for as little as $100. When fitted with specialized blades, the saws can slice through one of the barrier’s steel-and-concrete bollards in a matter of minutes, according to the agents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the barrier-defeating techniques.

By Nastya Ozozo

After cutting through the base of a single bollard, smugglers can push the steel out of the way, allowing an adult to fit through the gap. Because the bollards are so tall — and are attached only to a panel at the very top — their length makes them easier to push aside once they have been cut and are left dangling, according to engineers consulted by The Washington Post….

Trump has increasingly boasted to crowds in recent weeks about the superlative properties of the barrier, calling it “virtually impenetrable” and likening the structure to a “Rolls-Royce” that border-crossers cannot get over, under or through.

Hahahahaha!! A bit more:

The smuggling crews have been using other techniques, such as building makeshift ladders to scale and overtop the barriers, especially in the popular smuggling areas in and around San Diego, according to nearly a dozen U.S. agents and current and former administration officials….

The U.S. government has not disclosed the cutting incidents and breaches, and it is unclear how many times they have occurred. U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to provide information about the number of breaches, the location of the incidents and the process for repairing them. Matt Leas, a spokesman for the agency, declined to comment, and CBP has not yet fulfilled a Freedom of Information Act request seeking data about the breaches and repairs. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the private contractors building the barrier, referred inquires to CBP….

In the San Diego area, smugglers have figured out how to cut the bollards and return them to their original positions, disguising the breaches in the hope that they will go unnoticed and can be reused for repeated passage. Agents said they have learned to drive along the base of the structure looking for subtle defects, testing the metal by kicking the bollards with their boots.

Kazuaki Horitomo, tattooed cats

If damage is detected, welding crews are promptly sent to make fixes. The smugglers, however, have returned to the same bollards and cut through the welds, agents say, because the metal is softer and the concrete at the core of the bollard already has been compromised. The smugglers also have tried to trick agents by applying a type of putty with a color and texture that resembles a weld, making a severed bollard appear intact.

I guess it’s not so funny when you think about what a waste of taxpayer money this boondoggle is.

Also at The Washington Post, yesterday Alexandra Petri had a little fun with Trump’s announcement that he’s now a Florida resident: ‘Why I’m Leaving New York,’ by Donald Trump. A sample:

I did not leave for a long while because I was in love with New York. I do not mean love in the gross way you feel inside that makes you weak. I mean love like, the city begged and pleaded with me, the city wanted to give me everything, they would catch and kill the bad stories for me. Here I was in Manhattan.

I remember when my publicist and I first moved to Manhattan. We needed new faces. All the old faces of contractors were upset, they whined and sobbed, they said, pay me, pay me, please. But I didn’t pay them. New York was a wonderful place, a brass jungle where dreams were made of, where you did not have to pay the people who built the dreams.

But the city changed. They say I changed, but you know. I remember. One morning I woke up and something was different. There was a time when there were so many mobsters in my office that I worried about inviting cameras in to film the first season of “The Apprentice.” Where everything was brass, or at least brazen. When the smell of graft rose up from the whatever the river is called, and it was a good place to have a family, to not change your kids’ diapers in. Did the city change, or did I, or did the tax rate, or did the ongoing prosecution by the SDNY?

By Will Barnet, American, 1911-2012

So I said, should I leave? And the people cried.

A man came up to me on the street, he said, “Sir, you can’t leave, you can’t leave New York!” And he was crying. He said, “It’s going to be carnage if you leave, sir, it’s going to be bloody, painful carnage.” And I said, “I know, believe me, it’s going to be bad, but I have to do it! What can I say? They don’t tax you so good here in New York City. They don’t treat you very nice.” I said, “Maybe treat me nice, and I will stay.” But they didn’t treat me nice, and now I have to go.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

At The New York Times, Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt analyze Trump’s insane storytelling about the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi:

It was a vivid scene worthy of the ending of a Hollywood thriller, the image of a ruthless terrorist mastermind finally brought to justice “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way” to his death. But it may be no more true than a movie script.

In the days since President Trump gave the world a graphic account of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s last minutes, no evidence has emerged to confirm it. The secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the regional commander who oversaw the operation that killed the leader of the Islamic State all say they have no idea what the president was talking about.

Four other Defense Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share details of the raid, said they had seen no after-action reports, situation reports or other communications that support Mr. Trump’s claim. Nor did they have any indication that Mr. Trump spoke with any of the Delta Force commandos or ground commanders in the hours between the Saturday night raid and his Sunday morning televised announcement.

One American official who was deeply familiar with the operation dismissed the president’s version of events as mere grandstanding. Another senior official briefed extensively on the mission said, “I don’t know how he would know that. It sounds like something he made up.” The surveillance drone video Mr. Trump watched in the Situation Room had no live audio.

‘Hallowed Cat’ by Nicola Slattery

But we’re so used to Trump’s constant exaggerations and lies that no one seems to care.

That Mr. Trump seems to have made up the scene of a whimpering terrorist may be shocking on one level yet not all that surprising from a president who over the years has made a habit of inventing people who do not exist and events that did not happen. Mr. Trump’s flexibility with fact has become such an established feature of his presidency that polls show most Americans, including even many of his own supporters, do not, as a rule, take him at his word.

What may be most telling about the episode is how little attention the disparity of details received. In the past, presidential words were scrutinized with forensic exactitude and any variance from the established record could do lasting political damage. In the era of Trumpian truth, misstatements and lies are washed away by the next story, prompting Pinocchios from fact checkers and scolding from Democrats and Never Trumpers while Republicans dismiss them with that’s-just-Trump-being-Trump weariness.

“Donald Trump is not simply a serial liar; he is attempting to murder the very idea of truth, which is even worse,” said Peter Wehner, a former strategic adviser to President George W. Bush and an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump. “Because without truth, a free society cannot operate.”

Emphasis added.

The New York Times has three stories today analyzing Trump’s Twitter feed and the power of its influence. Here’s the main one: In Trump’s Twitter Feed: Conspiracy-Mongers, Racists and Spies.

Mr. Trump, whose own tweets have warned of deep-state plots against him, accused the House speaker of treason and labeled Republican critics “human scum,” has helped spread a culture of suspicion and distrust of facts into the political mainstream.

The president is also awash in an often toxic torrent that sluices into his Twitter account — roughly 1,000 tweets per minute, many intended for his eyes. Tweets that tag his handle, @realDonaldTrump, can be found with hashtags like #HitlerDidNothingWrong, #IslamIsSatanism and #WhiteGenocide. While filters can block offensive material, the president clearly sees some of it, because he dips into the frothing currents and serves up noxious bits to the rest of the world.

By Kelly Beeman

By retweeting suspect accounts, seemingly without regard for their identity or motives, he has lent credibility to white nationalists, anti-Muslim bigots and obscure QAnon adherents like VB Nationalist, an anonymous account that has promoted a hoax about top Democrats worshiping the Devil and engaging in child sex trafficking….

The New York Times examined Mr. Trump’s interactions with Twitter since he took office, reviewing each of his more than 11,000 tweets and the hundreds of accounts he has retweeted, tracking the ways he is exposed to information and replicating what he is likely to see on the platform. The result, including new data analysis and previously unreported details, offers the most comprehensive view yet of a virtual world in which the president spends significant time mingling with extremists, impostors and spies.

Fake accounts tied to intelligence services in China, Iran and Russia had directed thousands of tweets at Mr. Trump, according to a Times analysis of propaganda accounts suspended by Twitter. Iranian operatives tweeted anti-Semitic tropes, saying that Mr. Trump was “being controlled” by global Zionists, and that pulling out of the Iran nuclear treaty would benefit North Korea. Russian accounts tagged the president more than 30,000 times, including in supportive tweets about the Mexican border wall and his hectoring of black football players. Mr. Trump even retweeted a phony Russian account that said, “We love you, Mr. President!”

In fact, Mr. Trump has retweeted at least 145 unverified accounts that have pushed conspiracy or fringe content, including more than two dozen that have since been suspended by Twitter. Tinfoil-hat types and racists celebrate when Mr. Trump shares something they promote. After he tweeted his support for white farmers in South Africa, replies included “DONALD IS KING!” and “No black man can develop land.”

Read the analyses at the NYT.

Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread. I hope you’re enjoying a great Fall weekend!


Haunting Halloween Reads

Frida Kahlo, “Girl with Death Mask (She Plays Alone)” 1938

Ghoul Morning!!

Washington DC is an exciting place these days. Last night the Washington Nationals won the World Series and this morning the House of Representatives is debating a resolution on impeachment of the fake “president.”

CNN and MSNBC showed the House deliberations live and, as  I write this, votes are being counted. And the resolution has now passed.

The New York Times Editorial Board on the Democrats’ impeachment resolution: The Rules of Impeachment. Democrats get serious about the next phase of inquiry.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives will vote on whether to erect a series of guardrails of its own, for the possible impeachment of the president. The resolution now before Congress avoids past missteps by allowing extended questioning of witnesses by staff lawyers before preening lawmakers take the stage, and it sets fair rules that respect precedent.

Paul Cézanne, “Pyramid of Skulls,” 1901

Such rules are needed because the stakes are so high and the charges against Mr. Trump so serious. The latest bombshell landed Tuesday, when Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated Army officer who serves as the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, testified that he was on the July 25 call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, and that he heard Mr. Trump ask Mr. Zelensky to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. More concerning, Colonel Vindman shared that the White House’s reconstructed transcript of the call left out some key details — and that administration officials refused his repeated efforts to correct the record before it was released to the public, according to an account in The Times.

With such revelations piling up, the White House and its backers have opted for a defense strategy that avoids addressing the president’s actions and focuses instead on discrediting the impeachment process as illegitimate and unfair. They have criticized House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for not holding a formal authorization vote, for conducting closed-door depositions and for denying the president the due process afforded in formal criminal proceedings.

None of these objections hold up. Even so, Democrats aim to address them with the provisions of the resolution they will consider on Thursday.

Central to the resolution’s ambitions are ensuring order, transparency and fairness as the inquiry moves to the public stage. Rules are being set for conducting public hearings (including who gets to question whom and for how long), publicly disclosing depositions and issuing subpoenas. Guidelines have been established for the participation of Mr. Trump and his lawyers and the transfer of evidence from other committees to the Judiciary Committee, where any articles of impeachment would be considered. The rules providing for the minority party to call its own witnesses are basically the same as those set by Republicans during the Clinton impeachment.

Henryk Weyssenhoff, “Premonition,” 1893

Virginia Heffernan at The Los Angeles Times: Column: Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment deliberateness has been maddening, but it’s finally paying off.

It’s all disturbing. Very disturbing. Or rather, as Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) put it after sitting through Tuesday’s impeachment inquiry testimony, “extremely, extremely, extremely disturbing.”

So, triple-X disturbing. If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is conducting an orchestra with this probe, she’s left the quiet early movements far behind.

With each witness, the maestra and her House of Representatives colleagues are building intensity. It’s getting hot and loud in the nation’s capital — and, sure, it’s disturbing. But it’s also galvanizing.

For fully half of Americans, the ones who now favor the president’s removal from office, there’s finally hope that Trump might — at long last — be held responsible for the grave injuries he’s done to this country.

Read the rest at the link.

Ronald Brownstein at The Atlantic: Nancy Pelosi’s Predictions for Impeachment.

Nancy Pelosi wants you to know that the House Democratic leadership has not committed to impeaching President Donald Trump—notwithstanding the muscle she’s thrown behind the inquiry, or tomorrow’s vote on how its next stage will proceed.

“We have not made any decision to impeach,” the House speaker insisted during a meeting with a small group of columnists earlier this week.

Aksel Waldemar Johannessen, “The night,” 1920

But Pelosi nevertheless left little doubt that’s where the process is headed. She said flatly that she believes the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation has already accumulated enough evidence about Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine to justify such a decision. “I do think we have enough,” she said. “We’ve had enough for a very long time … but as long as there is corroboration, we might as well get some more. And then we’ll see.” She was equally unequivocal that the core charges against Trump—that he withheld congressionally appropriated military aid to try to force Ukraine to investigate a political opponent—reach the standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors” required for impeachment.

“If this president were to get away with this, forget about it all,” she said, sitting in a conference room in her suite of offices in the Capitol. “We might as well not even run for office. You don’t need this branch of government if he’s going to overturn the power of the purse, if he is going to overturn all of the other checks and balances, the power of inquiry.”

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

I won’t publish the name here, but Republicans have publicly identified a man they claim is the whistleblower who brought attention to the Ukraine scandal. They’re exulting because he is a Democrat, but it doesn’t matter one whit, because the allegations in the whistleblower complaint have now been corroborated by multiple witnesses. Here’s the latest:

This morning, Tim Morrison, who resigned from the White House yesterday, is testifying to the impeachment inquiry.

The Washington Post: White House official expected to confirm diplomat’s account that Trump appeared to seek quid pro quo.

Tim Morrison, the top Russia and Europe adviser on President Trump’s National Security Council, is expected to corroborate the testimony of a senior U.S. diplomat who last week offered to House impeachment investigators the most detailed account to date for how Trump tried to use his office to pressure Ukraine into launching an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden, said a person familiar with the matter.

Odilon Redon, “The Cyclops,” 1898-1900

Morrison is expected to tell impeachment investigators on Thursday that the account offered by Ambassador William B. Taylor Jr., is accurate, particularly that Morrison alerted him to the president’s and his deputies’ push to withhold security aid and a meeting with the Ukrainian president until Ukraine announced an investigation of the Bidens and 2016 election interference, the person said on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive discussions

Morrison will also say that he did not necessarily view the president’s demands as improper or illegal, but rather problematic for U.S. policy in supporting an ally in the region, the person said.

Morrison’s testimony comes a day after he told colleagues he plans to leave the Trump administration. His testimony was sought due to his proximity to critical White House decisions and recurring presence in testimony from previous U.S. officials.

Also at the Washington Post, Josh Rogin writes that Morrison is not the Democrat’s friend: National Security Council aide Tim Morrison will not be part of the Resistance.

National Security Council official Tim Morrison is a lot of things: a Trump administration political appointee, a John Bolton acolyte, a naval reserve intelligence officer, a lawyer and a Russia hawk, to name a few. But Democrats might not want to pin their impeachment hopes on his testimony Thursday, because there are three things Morrison is not: a whistleblower, a Never Trumper or a potential member of the Resistance.

Each administration witness in the House’s impeachment inquiry is approaching his or her testimony differently. Kurt Volker resigned as Ukraine envoy and handed over all his documents. Acting ambassador William B. Taylor didn’t resign, delivered blistering testimony accusing President Trump of abusing his power, then returned to his post in Kyiv and received a hero’s welcome. Morrison’s former supervisor, Charles Kupperman, is declining to be deposed at all and is appealing to the courts.

Read more at the link.

Last night, the name of the lawyer who ordered Trump’s Ukraine phone call transcript hidden was revealed. The Washington Post: White House lawyer moved transcript of Trump call to classified server after Ukraine adviser raised alarms.

Moments after President Trump ended his phone call with Ukraine’s president on July 25, an unsettled national security aide rushed to the office of White House lawyer John Eisenberg.

Salvador Dali, “The Face of War,” 1940

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine adviser at the White House, had been listening to the call and was disturbed by the pressure Trump had applied to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rivals, according to people familiar with Vindman’s testimony to lawmakers this week.

Vindman told Eisenberg, the White House’s legal adviser on national security issues, that what the president did was wrong, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

Scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad, Eisenberg proposed a step that other officials have said is at odds with long-standing White House protocol: moving a transcript of the call to a highly classified server and restricting access to it, according to two people familiar with Vindman’s account.

The details of how the White House clamped down on information about the controversial call comes as the House impeachment inquiry turns its focus to the role of Eisenberg, who has served as deputy White House counsel since the start of Trump’s administration. House impeachment investigators on Wednesday evening announced they have asked Eisenberg and a fellow White House lawyer, Mike Ellis, to testify Monday.

It’s getting real for Trump, and Mitch McConnell has told him to stop attacking GOP Senators who will be jurors in an impeachment trial. Politico: After McConnell advice, Trump lays off GOP senators on impeachment.

Sitting inside the White House, Mitch McConnell gave Donald Trump some straightforward advice: Stop attacking senators — including Mitt Romney — who likely will soon judge your fate in an impeachment trial.

Vincent Van Gogh, Head of a Skeleton with a burning cigarette, 1886

The one-on-one meeting last week between the Senate majority leader and the president covered several weighty issues including Syria, according to two people familiar with the conversation. But like everything these days when it comes to Trump, impeachment was high on the president’s mind.

And in this case, Trump appears to have listened to the man in the Senate who controls the future of his presidency.

As he juggles legislative priorities like funding the government and passing a new North American trade deal, Trump can’t get his mind off Democrats’ efforts to oust him from the White House. He’s been courting his congressional allies with golf, a World Series game and frequent phone calls — all to develop an echo chamber of support from his allies in Congress.

But the White House is largely leaving the prickly task of managing the Senate Republican Conference to McConnell. Though much of the pair’s contact is concealed even from aides, people familiar with the conversations say they speak all the time — and there’s been an uptick in recent weeks as the impeachment threat grows more serious.

Can Trump resist attacking his critics? I seriously doubt it, but we’ll see.

Happy Halloween, Sky Dancers!!


Tuesday Reads: Climate Change Action and Impeachment Inquiry News

Good Morning!!

Action on Climate Change

Before I get started on the latest news, I want to share some information about a climate action that is taking place today in several U.S. cities, including Boston. My sister-in-law is a leader in her local chapter of Mothers Out Front, an organization that fights climate change. The group has been working to call attention to Blackrock, a huge asset management corporation whose CEO Larry Fink has tried to position himself as pro-environment, while leading the company that contributes more than any other to the problem of global warming.

My brother made this video to publicize today’s actions.

Some background:

The Guardian, May 21, 2019: World’s biggest investor accused of dragging feet on climate crisis.

[Blackrock CEO Larry] Fink, who was paid $24m (£18.8m) in 2018, began BlackRock as part of Blackstone, the world’s largest private equity group, and spun it out in 1995. Since then, New York-based BlackRock has risen to become an investing behemoth, controlling $6.5tn in assets – a value more than twice the annual output of the UK economy.

That staggering size has placed BlackRock at the heart of the global fossil fuel industry: it is the largest investor in coal worldwide, according to InfluenceMap, an environmental campaign group, and has by far the highest density of coal holdings of the world’s 10 largest investors. BlackRock effectively owns 2.1bn tonnes of thermal coal reserves, based on the size of its stakes in major miners.

In August, two of the country’s fastest growing grassroots groups – Extinction Rebellion and Mothers Out Front – sent a bold message to BlackRock staff at their Boston office.

BlackRock is counted among the top three shareholders in every oil “supermajor” bar France’s Total, and is among the top 10 shareholders in seven of the 10 biggest coal producers, according to Guardian analysis of data from financial information firm S&P.

Yet Fink, 66, who moves in US Democrat political circles, argues it is not his company’s duty to fight the climate emergency. In the real version of his annual letter to shareholders, published in January, Fink said that his overriding duty is to make customers money.

“Our firm is built to protect and grow the value of our clients’ assets,” Fink wrote. “We often get approached by special interest groups who advocate for BlackRock to vote with them on a cause. In many cases, I or other senior managers might agree with that same cause – or we might strongly disagree – but our personal views on environmental or social issues don’t matter here. Our decisions are driven solely by our fiduciary duty to our clients.”

Also from The Guardian, September 17, 2019: Wall Street investment giants voting against key climate resolutions.

Some of Wall Street’s largest asset management companies are failing to live up to commitments to use their voting power to fight the climate crisis, according to a new report.

The report, published on Tuesday by the Washington DC-based Majority Action and the Climate Majority Project, claims that BlackRock Inc, the world’s largest asset manager with more than $6tn under management, and Vanguard, with assets of $5.2tn, have voted overwhelmingly against the key climate resolutions at energy companies, including a resolution at ExxonMobil’s annual shareholder meeting, and at Duke Energy.

Had BlackRock and Vanguard not torpedoed these investor efforts, at least 16 climate-critical shareholder resolutions at S&P 500 companies would have received majority support in 2019, representing a significant corporate shift on climate, the report claims….

“The climate crisis is well upon us, and leading investors are stepping up to press fossil-fuel-dependent companies to align their strategies to the goals of the Paris agreement but some of the largest US investment companies are severely lagging,” said Majority Action’s Eli Kasargod-Staub.

“Blackrock and Vanguard have been using their shareholder voting power to undermine, rather than support, investor action on climate, including opposing every one of the resolutions proposed by the $34tn Climate Action 100+ coalition, calling for significant board room reform in response to its failure to act on climate change,” Kasargod-Staub added.

Unfortunately, it’s raining in Boston today. I expect the mothers will still show up for the demonstration though. I’ll report back if I hear anything about how it went.

UPDATES from the Boston BlackRock protest

Impeachment Inquiry News

Today a White House insider who heard Trump’s call to Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky will testify in the impeachment inquiry.

The New York Times: Army Officer Who Heard Trump’s Ukraine Call Reported Concerns.

A White House national security official who is a decorated Iraq war veteran plans to tell House impeachment investigators on Tuesday that he heard President Trump appeal to Ukraine’s president to investigate one of his leading political rivals, a request the aide considered so damaging to American interests that he reported it to a superior.

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, arriving Tuesday on Capitol Hill.Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman of the Army, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, twice registered internal objections about how Mr. Trump and his inner circle were treating Ukraine, out of what he called a “sense of duty,” he plans to tell the inquiry, according to a draft of his opening statement obtained by The New York Times.

He will be the first White House official to testify who listened in on the July 25 telephone call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry, in which Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Colonel Vindman said in his statement. “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.”