Thursday Reads

Elijah Cummings in Baltimore, 1997, Andre Chung, Baltimore Sun

Good Morning!!

I woke up this morning at 5:30 and I turned on the TV to see if there was any news. There was. Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings had died at age 68. What a heartbreaking loss for our country.

Reactions:

The Washington Post: Rep. Elijah Cummings, Democratic leader and regular Trump target, dies at 68.

Elijah E. Cummings, a Democratic congressman from Maryland who gained national attention for his principled stands on politically charged issues in the House, his calming effect on anti-police riots in Baltimore, and his forceful opposition to the presidency of Donald Trump, died early Thursday morning at Gilchrist Hospice Care, a Johns Hopkins affiliate in Baltimore. He was 68.

After undergoing an unspecified medical procedure, the Democratic leader did not return to his office this week, the Baltimore Sun reported. A statement from his office said that he had passed away due to “complications concerning longstanding health challenges.” Mr. Cummings was chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee and a leading figure in the Trump impeachment inquiry.

Born to a family of Southern sharecroppers and Baptist preachers, Mr. Cummings grew up in the racially fractured Baltimore of the 1950s and 1960s. At 11, he helped integrate a local swimming pool while being attacked with bottles and rocks. “Perry Mason,” the popular TV series about a fictional defense lawyer, inspired him to enter the legal profession.

“Many young men in my neighborhood were going to reform school,” he told the East Texas Review. “Though I didn’t completely know what reform school was, I knew that Perry Mason won a lot of cases. I also thought that these young men probably needed lawyers.”

In the Maryland House of Delegates, he became the youngest chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and the first African American to serve as speaker pro tempore, the member who presides in the speaker’s absence.

In 1996, he won the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives that Kweisi Mfume (D) vacated to become NAACP president. Mr. Cummings eventually served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and as ranking Democrat and then chairman of what became the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

He drew national attention as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chief defender during 2015 congressional hearings into her handling of the attack three years earlier on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The attack killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

He was “the quintessential speaking-truth-to-power representative,” said Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md. “Cummings has never shied from a very forceful give-and-take.”

Here is Rep. Cummings last tweet.

ABC News quotes a statement from Cummings’ wife:

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party and Cummings’ wife, said in a statement that Cummings was “an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility.”

“He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem,” Rockeymoore Cummings said. “I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly.”

In other news, Trump is still Trump and he’s still occupying the people’s house.

Trump lackey Gordon Sondland is testifying at the impeachment hearing today. He seems to be claiming that he was completely in the dark about Trump’s and Giuliani’s machinations in Ukraine, even while he (Sondland) was carrying out their orders.

The Daily Beast: Sondland Throws Trump Under the Bus.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, will tell Congress that he was told by President Trump that he had to help his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani with his plan on Ukraine.

In his opening statement, which was obtained by The Daily Beast, Sondland will say: “I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s2020 reelection campaign.”

“Based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.”

Click the link to read the full statement. We’ll probably hear more details later on today.

I’m sure you’ve read Trump’s idiotic letter to Turkey’s Erdogan. This is from Bess Levin at Vanity Fair: “Is This Real?”: Trump Sends Third-Grade Reading-Level Letter to Erdogan.

Donald Trump has said or done something certifiably insane nearly every day of his presidency. And not like, “This guy’s a little kooky”-level insane, but full-on “Mr. President, put down the stapler and unhand the president of Finland”-level insane. But last week, apparently seeking to prove to the world that we ain’t seen nothing yet re: the depths of his mental instability, he wrote and reportedly proudly distributed the following letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for all the world to see:

The Turkish government was not amused. Middle East Eye: ‘We dumped it in the trash’: Trump’s letter to Erdogan gets hostile reception.

A leaked letter written by US President Donald Trump to Recep Tayyip Erdogan warning his Turkish counterpart not to be a “fool” has sent shockwaves around Turkey due to its lack of protocol and seriousness.

Dated 9 October, the day Erdogan launched an offensive in northeastern Syria against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, the letter aimed to make a deal between Turkey and the SDF and included an open economic sanctions threat.

Yet this wasn’t the part Turks focused on.

“It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen,” Trump wrote. “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” [….]

It has now been confirmed as genuine by the White House, but soon after the leak on Wednesday, thousands of Turks asked each other on Twitter and WhatsApp whether the letter was authentic or a joke.

“If this letter is real, Trump is absolutely completely crazy,” one Turk tweeted.

Turkish officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Middle East Eye that they responded to Trump’s letter in kind and with stronger language.

“We just dumped his letter into the trash,” one of them said.

The leak comes at a particularly sensitive time, with US Vice President Mike Pence touching down in Ankara on Thursday in a bid to seek a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurdish-led SDF.

“This Trump letter to Erdogan is the most damaging correspondence that could’ve been leaked ahead of VP Pence’s visit to Ankara tomorrow,” Soner Cagaptay, a prominent Turkey expert tweeted on Wednesday.

“Now, Erdogan has no option but to delay ceasefire in Syria, less he be humiliated in front of his nation as weak and bowing to America’s threat.”

Trump was so proud of this letter that he bragged about it in the same meeting in which he attacked Nancy Pelosi as a “third-grade politician.” From the AP:

The administration called in congressional leadership to discuss the situation in Syria. The House had just voted, 354-60, to overwhelmingly oppose the president’s announced U.S. troop withdrawal, a rare bipartisan rebuke. Trump’s action has opened the door for a Turkish military attack on Syrian Kurds who have been aligned with the U.S. in fighting the country’s long-running war.

Trump kicked off the meeting bragging about his “nasty” letter to Turkish President Recep Erdogan, according to a Democrat familiar with the meeting who was granted anonymity to discuss it. In the letter, Trump warned the Turkish leader, with exclamation points, not to be “slaughtering” the Kurds. The person called Trump’s opening a lengthy, bombastic monologue.

Pelosi mentioned the House vote and Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, started to read the president a quote from former Defense Secretary James Mattis on the need to keep U.S. troops in Syria to prevent a resurgent of Islamic State fighters.

But Trump cut Schumer off, complaining that Mattis was “the world’s most overrated general. You know why? He wasn’t tough enough.” Trump went on, “I captured ISIS.”

Pelosi explained to Trump that Russia has always wanted a “foothold in the Middle East,” and now it has one with the U.S. withdrawal, according to a senior Democratic aide who was also granted anonymity.

“All roads with you lead to Putin,” the speaker said.

Then it began.

Trump said to Pelosi, “I hate ISIS more than you do.”

Pelosi responded, “You don’t know that.”

Schumer intervened at one point and said, “Is your plan to rely on the Syrians and the Turks?”

Trump replied, “Our plan is to keep the American people safe.”

Pelosi said: “That’s not a plan. That’s a goal.”

Trump turned to Pelosi and complained about former President Barack Obama’s “red line” over Syria. According to Schumer, he then called her “a third-rate politician.”

At that point, the genteel Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House Majority Leader, interjected, “This is not useful.”

Pelosi and Hoyer stood and left the meeting. As they did, Trump said, “Goodbye, we’ll see you at the polls.”

From the White House driveway, Pelosi told reporters Trump was having some kind of “meltdown” inside. She said they had to leave because Trump was unable to grasp the reality of the situation.

Later, she would insist he even botched the insult, calling her “third-grade” rather than “third-rate.”

The impeachment inquiry never came up, she said.

Trump insisted later on Twitter that it was Pelosi who had a “total meltdown,” calling her “a very sick person!”

He also tweeted pictures from the room. “Do you think they like me?” he asked mockingly about one, showing Pelosi and Schumer looking exhausted and glum.

“Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown!” he tweeted with another.

In that photo, Pelosi can be seen, surrounded by congressional leaders and military brass around a table at the White House, finger outpointed. She is standing up, literally, to Trump.

Pelosi turned the photo into the banner on her Twitter page.

No one likes him.

Mike Pence is in Turkey right now and it’s not going well.

Who knows what horrors today may bring. This is our reality now. Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.


Tuesday Reads: Democratic Debate and Trump’s Troubles

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 2008

Good Morning!!

The latest Democratic debate airs on CNN tonight at 8PM. You can read about what to expect in this piece at Vox.

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but I have to admit that I’m far from enthused about watching it, although I’ll try to give it a chance. I’m sick of the irrelevant candidates like Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, and Tom Steyer; and as for the top three–Biden, Warren, and Sanders–I still believe they are too old for the job.

If we are going to have a septuagenarian president, I would rather have it be Hillary. I guess I have to face the fact that I’ll never be as excited about a candidate as I was about her.

Another issue with tonight’s debate is the Biden campaign’s decision to allow Hunter Biden to participate in an ABC News interview today.

From The Daily Beast: Biden’s Rivals Are Utterly Perplexed at the Timing of Hunter’s Interview.

After months of staying silent amid an avalanche of attacks by President Trump and his team, Hunter Biden, son of the former vice president, made his first public comments in an interview Tuesday morning just about 12 hours before his father takes the debate stage Tuesday night.

Wassily Kandinsky, Autumn in Murnau, 1908

For the majority of the Democrats running for president, and even one notable surrogate to Joe Biden himself, there is a sense of confusion as to why Hunter is choosing now to finally speak up about the extent of his business ties in Ukraine and China.

“I wouldn’t have put Hunter on the air,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a top surrogate for Biden, told The Daily Beast. “I think the more you respond, the more you’re playing into Donald Trump.” [….]

For Team Biden, Hunter’s Biden’s interview, which aired on ABC News’ Good Morning America, was an opportunity to clear the air and turn the attention back to the widespread corruption running rampant in the Trump White House. It also gave the younger Biden a chance to present facts in his own words to counter Trump’s misinformation campaign.

In the interview, he admitted that he had shown “poor judgment” in taking the job with a Ukrainian natural gas company but insisted that he had done nothing unethical.

Does anyone believe that the debate moderators will ignore all this and focus on Donald Trump and his children’s blatant self-dealing? I don’t.

Meanwhile, Trump is burning down the post-WWII world order. That should be the subject of tonight’s debate, not Hunter Biden.

Edward Hopper, October on Cape Cod

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Trump’s Worst Betrayal Yet.

President Trump didn’t make a “mistake” in pulling troops out of northeastern Syria last week, as many have charged. It’s what he has long wanted to do. The mistake was not understanding—and, more to the point, not caring about—the consequences.

Trump’s fateful phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Oct. 6, giving him the green light to cross the Syrian border and crush the Kurds without U.S. resistance, did more than any single act has ever done to demolish the post-WWII global order and isolate America from the rest of the world. This, again, has been Trump’s goal since he entered the White House.

Until recently, one or more of his advisers—Jim Mattis, H.R.
McMaster, John Bolton, or Gen. Joseph Dunford—obstructed or dissuaded him from withdrawing. Now all of those advisers are gone, and their replacements lack either the clout or the gumption to push back.

Trump may believe that he’s doing the right thing, that abandoning the rest of the world’s problems will “make America great again.” He doesn’t realize that America’s might and wealth depend, in large measure, on the cooperation it receives from others—either offered or coerced—in pursuing its interests around the world.

He is also blind to the fact—or loath to admit—that he, in fact, is not getting out of the world. On Friday, days after abandoning the Kurdish allies to the Turks (and consequently, all of Syria to Bashar al-Assad and the Russians), Trump announced that he was sending 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia. But to Trump’s mind, there was a big difference in this deployment.
“Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we are doing to help them,” he told reporters. “That’s a first. We appreciate that.”

Georgia O’Kefee, Autumn Leaves, 1924

To Trump, the U.S. military is nothing more than a mercenary force to be rented out to the highest bidder.

It was as if sending American troops abroad doesn’t count as a commitment if taxpayers don’t have to pay for it. It was as if Trump were telling the world that the U.S. military is now a mercenary force. It was a message to any country currently hosting American troops at least in part at our largesse—because, say, previous presidents have considered it in U.S.
interests to keep troops there—that they should start rethinking their options for how to stay secure

Trump has made a practice of abrogating treaties, filching on commitments, and alienating allies, but, more than any single act, the betrayal of the Kurds should tell everyone that—as long as Trump is president and, who knows, perhaps beyond—there is no reason to trust the United States on anything.

I hope you’ll go read the rest at Slate.

From Axios, here’s a quote from deep thinker Trump on abandoning the Kurds:

“Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.” read one of the president’s tweets. “I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

He doesn’t seem at all concerned about getting U.S. troops out of Syria safely or getting our nukes out of Turkey.

Trump even tried to blame the Kurds for the release of Islamic State prisoners. From The Week:

It appears that President Trump was a bit off the mark Monday morning when he tweeted a theory that Kurdish forces were releasing prisoners with ties to the Islamic State in an attempt to get the U.S. to continue fighting alongside them. Trump’s suspicions were likely derived from the fact that the Kurds, longtime U.S. allies in the Middle East, were disappointed in Washington for removing U.S. troops from the region, providing Turkey — which considers Kurdish forces a national security threat — an opening to invade.

Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest I, 1902

U.S. officials have said that prisoners with ISIS ties are being deliberately released, but it’s actually Turkish proxy forces in the Free Syrian Army — a decentralized rebel group that has been linked to extremists groups and was once recruited by the CIA to aid the U.S. in its fight against ISIS — who are behind it, rather than the Kurds, Foreign Policy reports. The Free Syrian Army has also been accused of executing Kurdish prisoners and killing unarmed civilians.

As for the Kurds, one U.S. official said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have not abandoned or released any prisoners with ISIS ties and, in some cases, the SDF has reportedly moved detainees to other facilities further south.

Subsequently, Trump’s theory is not sitting well with U.S. and Kurdish forces. “That has enraged our forces in Syria,” another senior U.S. administration official said. “Kurds are still defending our bases. Incredibly reckless and dishonest thing to say.”

Yesterday, Trump’s former Russia and Ukraine adviser Fiona Hill testified at the Impeachment hearings. Here’s the latest on that.

The Washington Post: Trump’s ex-Russia adviser told impeachment investigators of Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine.

Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia adviser, told impeachment investigators on Monday that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented U.S. officials and career diplomats in order to personally benefit President Trump, according to people familiar with her testimony.

Hill, who served as the senior official for Russia and Europe on the National Security Council, was the latest witness in a fast-moving impeachment inquiry focused on whether the president abused his office by using the promise of military aid and diplomatic support to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.

Henri Rousseau, Eiffel Tower at Sunset, 1910

In a closed-door session that lasted roughly 10 hours, Hill told lawmakers that she confronted Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about Giuliani’s activities which, she testified, were not coordinated with the officials responsible for carrying out U.S. foreign policy, these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of her deposition.

Sondland played a leading role in the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to open investigations of the president’s political rivals, text messages obtained and later released by House Democrats show. Three congressional committees are now probing how Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election in an attempt to damage Trump’s candidacy.

Sondland plans to testify on Thursday and the Committees are now talking about questioning John Bolton.

The New York Times: Bolton Objected to Ukraine Pressure Campaign, Calling Giuliani ‘a Hand Grenade.’

The effort to pressure Ukraine for political help provoked a heated confrontation inside the White House last summer that so alarmed John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, that he told an aide to alert White House lawyers, House investigators were told on Monday.

Mr. Bolton got into a tense exchange on July 10 with Gordon D. Sondland, the Trump donor turned ambassador to the European Union, who was working with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to three people who heard the testimony.

Paul Gauguin, Landscape in Arles near the Alyscamps, 1888

The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar with the testimony.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition. (Another person in the room initially said Mr. Bolton referred to Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mulvaney, but two others said he cited Mr. Sondland.)

Read the rest at the NYT.

Finally, The Daily Beast reports that Trump Suspects a Spiteful John Bolton Is Behind Some of the Ukraine Leaks.

In recent weeks, numerous leaks have appeared in the pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other major papers and news outlets detailing the president’s attempts to enlist foreign leaders to help dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and also aid Trump’s quest to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s concluded investigation. And as is his MO, the media-obsessed president has been fixated on not just the identity of the whistleblower behind the internal complaint that brought this scandal to the fore, but also on who, exactly, has been namelessly feeding intel to the press.

In the course of casual conversations with advisers and friends, President Trump has privately raised suspicions that a spiteful John Bolton, his notoriously hawkish former national security adviser, could be one of the sources behind the flood of leaks against him, three people familiar with the comments said. At one point, one of those sources recalled, Trump guessed that Bolton was behind one of the anonymous accounts that listed the former national security adviser as one of the top officials most disturbed by the Ukraine-related efforts of Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who remains at the center of activities that spurred the impeachment inquiry.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.


Lazy Caturday Reads: The Mushrooming Ukraine Scandal

Three Kittens Sitting & Watching by Jean-Louis Klein & Marie-Luce Hubert, Cyclades, Greece

Good Afternoon!!

The Ukraine scandal is unwinding into a massive conspiracy. Rudy Giuliani is in big trouble and the mob boss in the White House is on the verge of throwing him under the bus. The White House is struggling to deal with the tsunami of bad news–they once again sent out their Ukraine talking points to Democrats, according to The Hill.

Here’s what’s happening.

The New York Times: Giuliani Is Said to Be Under Investigation for Ukraine Work.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.

The investigators are examining Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one of the people said. She was recalled in the spring as part of Mr. Trump’s broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects.

The investigation into Mr. Giuliani is tied to the case against two of his associates who were arrested this week on campaign finance-related charges, the people familiar with the inquiry said. The associates were charged with funneling illegal contributions to a congressman whose help they sought in removing Ms. Yovanovitch.

Mr. Giuliani has denied wrongdoing, but he acknowledged that he and the associates worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect potentially damaging information about Ms. Yovanovitch and other targets of Mr. Trump and his allies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his younger son, Hunter Biden. Mr. Giuliani shared that material this year with American government officials and a Trump-friendly columnist in an effort to undermine the ambassador and other Trump targets.

Trump advisers are pushing him to throw Rudy overboard, according to Politico.

Black Cat on a Windowsill, Korovin Konstantin

For weeks, prominent Republican advisers have been privately imploring President Donald Trump to sideline Rudy Giuliani after a barrage of inconsistent, combative and occasionally cringe-inducing media interviews, according to three people familiar with the conversations.

And that was before the arrest of two foreign-born businessmen who reportedly helped Giuliani try to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democrat to take on Trump in next year’s election. Several reports have indicated Giuliani himself may be caught up in the probe.

Yet Trump remains linked to Giuliani, who was initially hired to help fend of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigators, but who now may have pulled the president into another investigation — one that might lead to impeachment. While the president has long appreciated Giuliani’s pugnacious and never-back-down attitude, Trump allies fear Giuliani will damage Trump with his long-winded monologues and free-wheeling accusations.

The constant sniping from staff could ultimately force Trump to dump his long-valued fixer, as he has done with former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and countless other ousted officials, like ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

“Rudy Giuliani needs to stop talking,” said a former campaign official who remains close to Trump’s team.

Trump claims he doesn’t know Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two Ukrainian “businessmen” who were arrested on Wednesday night as they tried to flee to Vienna on one way tickets. Unfortunately for Trump, he has been photographed with the two thugs; and Parnas actually attended Trump’s private party celebrating his 2016 election.

Politico: Indicted Giuliani associate attended private ‘16 election night party for ‘friend’ Trump.

Buster Keaton in Electric House, 1922

Lev Parnas described himself to a foreign correspondent at the cash-bar event in midtown Manhattan as a friend of the president-elect who didn’t live far from his South Florida winter home.

Parnas arrived at Trump’s November 2016 election night party, which was held in a ballroom at the Midtown Hilton, with two other men in suits and their heavily made-up wives, according to a forgotten but newly relevant dispatch from the event published at the time in Le Figaro, France’s oldest daily newspaper.

The Ukrainian-born businessman told the paper that a friend from his hometown of Boca Raton, Fla., had hosted several fundraising events for Trump and that his daughter had traveled around the state singing on the candidate’s behalf. It is not clear what friend Parnas was referring to.

“We are confident,” Parnas, told the newspaper, “America wants a change.” The newspaper described Parnas as an insurer. (Parnas co-founded a company, Fraud Guarantee, that at some point retained Giuliani as a lawyer.)

I posted this one in the comments yesterday, but it bears repeating. Reuters: Indicted Giuliani associate worked on behalf of Ukrainian oligarch Firtash.

One of the two Florida businessmen who helped U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal attorney investigate his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, also has been working for the legal team of a Ukrainian oligarch who faces bribery charges in the United States, according to attorneys for the businessmen and the oligarch.

Lev Parnas, one of the two associates of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, served as a translator for lawyers representing oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Parnas was arrested on Thursday along with the other Florida businessman, Igor Fruman, on unrelated charges that included illegally funneling $325,000 to a political action committee supporting pro-Trump candidates.

The Barn Cat by Ron McGinnnis

Both men had worked in an unspecified capacity for Firtash before Parnas joined the Ukrainian’s legal team, according to a person familiar with the Florida men’s business dealings with Firtash….

Firtash, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen, is battling extradition by U.S. authorities on bribery charges from Vienna, where he has lived for five years.

Federal prosecutors in Illinois said in court papers in 2017 that Firtash was an “upper-echelon” associate of Russian organized crime. He was indicted in 2013 and charged with bribing Indian officials for access to titanium mines. Firtash has denied any wrongdoing.

Firtash was “financing” the activities of Parnas and Fruman, the source familiar with their business dealings said. The source did not detail their specific work for the oligarch or how much money he had paid them and over what period.

Firtash’s attorneys are Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing, who also have been working for Trump. Parnas and Fruman are being represented by former Trump attorney John Dowd.

I’ll be honest, I’m still trying to sort all these stories out. It’s kind of like reading a Russian novel–it’s difficult to keep all the names straight. I’m just sharing the latest news I’ve read.

CBS San Francisco reports on another arrest in the SDNY Ukraine/Giuliani investigation: Ukrainian Andrey Kukushkin, Linked To Giuliani Associates, Arrested In San Francisco On Campaign Finance Violations.

Andrey Kukushkin, 46, is one of four people named in a grand jury indictment announced Thursday by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York.

The others, all Florida residents, include two associates of presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Ukrainian-born Lev Parnas, 47, and Belarus-born Igor Fruman, 54, and a fourth defendant, David Correia, who was born in the United States. The four men are all U.S. citizens….

From The Circus, Merna Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin, 1928

Kukushkin was arrested in San Francisco Thursday morning, according to William Sweeney, assistant chief of the FBI’s New York field office. He made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco and was ordered to be held in custody until a detention hearing on Friday, according to court records.

He is expected to be transferred to New York at a later date to face the charges there.

All four defendants are accused of conspiring in a scheme to disguise contributions of $10,000 each to two Nevada state office candidates from an unnamed Russian businessman who wanted to obtain licenses for marijuana businesses. Federal law prohibits campaign contributions from foreign nationals.

Everyone is trying to find out who the unnamed “Russian businessman” in the SNDY indictment is. David Corn speculates at Mother Jones: Who’s the Secret Russian in the Indictment of Giuliani’s Pals? We Found Some Clues.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman—who had been helping Giuliani search for dirt on Joe Biden and the Democrats in Ukraine—and David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, who were each identified as businessmen, were charged in what seems to be overlapping capers. Parnas and Fruman allegedly made secret donations to Republicans in an effort to advance their business interests and promote the agenda of one or more Ukrainian officials (which included firing the US ambassador to Ukraine). And these two Giuliani confederates also teamed up with Correia, a business partner of Parnas, and Kukushkin and allegedly made donations secretly financed by a Russian national to Republican candidates for state offices in Nevada to buy influence they could use to set up a cannabis business there. This Russian, who would be part of their legal marijuana venture, sent $1 million from overseas accounts to Fruman that was to be used for contributions to federal and state candidates in Nevada and other states, according to the indictment. It’s illegal for a foreigner to funnel donations to US candidates.

Painting by Mischa Askenazy, 1888-1961

The mystery: Who is this wealthy Russian who allegedly tried to make illegal contributions to US politicians in pursuit of launching a cannabis venture?

The indictment does not say. It refers to this individual only as “Foreign National-1.” And the question cannot be yet answered definitively. But California state records and emails obtained by Mother Jones indicate that a Russian businessman named Andrey Muraviev had previously worked with Kukushkin to develop a cannabis enterprise.

It’s complicated so if you’re interested, head over to Mother Jones and read all about it.

NBC News has a scoop on the ousting of former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch: Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged 2 Giuliani associates to push for the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador.

The unnamed Ukrainian official referenced in a federal indictment as directing a plot to oust the then-U.S. ambassador is Ukraine’s former chief prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, according to a U.S. official familiar with the events.

According to the source, Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged two associates of Rudy Giuliani to push for the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was forced out in May.

The associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested Wednesday night as they prepared to board a one-way flight out of the country at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C.

Painting by Peter Adderley

“They sought political influence not only to advance their own financial interests, but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official ⁠— a Ukrainian government official who sought the dismissal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine,” Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a Thursday news conference.

The indictment says the efforts by Parnas and Fruman to remove then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, a respected diplomat with deep knowledge of Ukraine, were “conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”

Read the rest at NBC News. Lutsenko is the prosecutor that Trump urged Ukraine’s President Zelinsky not to fire in the July 25th phone call.

One more from Foreign Policy: Pompeo’s State Department Reels as Impeachment Inquiry Sinks Morale.

The fast-moving impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump has dragged the State Department into the center of the scandal and further wrecked morale at Foggy Bottom, presenting a stress test for how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will balance his relationship with America’s diplomats against his relationship with the president.

The ever-expanding probe into the Trump administration’s apparent efforts to coerce foreign governments into digging up dirt on political rivals has even lower-level State Department officials wondering if they, too, need to lawyer up, with the foreign service officers’ union starting a legal defense fund for career officials caught in the impeachment crossfire.

The latest State Department drama came on Friday as Marie Yovanovitch—a decorated career diplomat forced out of her job as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May following a pressure campaign from Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and his now indicted associates—testified before Congress. The White House sought to ban her voluntary testimony, but she went ahead after a subpoena from the House of Representatives.

Some nine current and former officials said many in the State Department are shocked and angry that Pompeo did little to shield her. No senior State Department official, including Pompeo, defended Yovanovitch as she was thrust into the spotlight amid the impeachment scandal. The State Department, again at the behest of the White House, also blocked the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, from testifying before Congress on Tuesday, though his lawyer said Friday that he will testify next week.

“You don’t get credit for saying something about swagger, then caving the first time you get heat,” said Daniel Fried, who served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs under former President George W. Bush, referring to Pompeo’s promise last year to restore the State Department’s “swagger.”

Read more at FP.

I have no doubt there will be more news breaking this weekend and I can’t wait! What do you think?


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Trump’s EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland was scheduled to testify to the House Intelligence Committee this morning, but Trump and Pompeo ordered him not to do it.

The New York Times: Witness in Trump-Ukraine Matter Ordered Not to Speak in Impeachment Inquiry.

The Trump administration directed a top American diplomat involved in its pressure campaign on Ukraine not to appear Tuesday morning for a scheduled interview in the House’s impeachment inquiry.

The decision to block Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, from speaking with investigators for three House committees is certain to provoke an immediate conflict with potentially profound consequences for the White House and President Trump. House Democrats have repeatedly warned that if the administration tries to interfere with their investigation, it will be construed as obstruction, a charge they see as potentially worthy of impeachment….

Robert Luskin, Mr. Sondland’s lawyer, said in a statement that as a State Department employee, his client had no choice but to comply with the administration’s direction. He said Mr. Sondland had been prepared and happy to testify, and would do so in the future if allowed.

Of course that is simply not true.

Background on Sondland from the Times article.

Mr. Sondland has become enmeshed in the burgeoning scandal into how the president sought to push the Ukrainians to investigate his political rivals. Although Ukraine is not in the union, Mr. Trump instructed Mr. Sondland — a wealthy hotelier and campaign contributor — to take a lead in relations between the Trump administration and the country. Democrats consider him a key witness to what transpired between the two countries.

Mr. Sondland interacted directly with Mr. Trump, speaking with the president several times around key moments that House Democrats are now investigating, including before and after Mr. Trump’s July call with the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. The president asked Mr. Zelensky on the call to do him “a favor” and investigate the business dealings of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son and a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election.

Text messages provided to Congress last week showed that Mr. Sondland and another senior diplomat had worked on language for a statement they wanted the Ukrainian president to put out in August that would have committed him to the investigations sought by Mr. Trump. The diplomats consulted with Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, about the statement, believing they needed pacify him in order to allow the United States to normalize relations with the Ukrainians.

Adam Schiff responded to the Trump administration’s illegal action.

Yesterday Newsweek talked to a member of the National Security Council who heard the call between Trump and Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan after which Trump ordered U.S. troops out of northern Syria: Exclusive: Official Who Heard Call Says Trump Got ‘Rolled’ By Turkey And ‘Has No Spike.’

In a scheduled phone call on Sunday afternoon between President Trump and President Erdogan, Trump said he would withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria. The phone call was scheduled after Turkey announced it was planning to invade Syria, and hours after Erdogan reinforced his army units at the Syrian-Turkish border and issued his strongest threat to launch a military incursion, according to the National Security Council official to whom Newsweek spoke on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. withdrawal plays into the hands of the Islamic State group, Damascus and Moscow, and the announcement left Trump’s own Defense Department “completely stunned,” said Pentagon officials. Turkey, like the United States, wants regime change in Syria. Russia and Iran support the Assad regime.

“President Trump was definitely out-negotiated and only endorsed the troop withdraw to make it look like we are getting something—but we are not getting something,” the National Security Council source told Newsweek. “The U.S. national security has entered a state of increased danger for decades to come because the president has no spine and that’s the bottom line.” [….]

According to the NSC official, who had first-hand knowledge of the phone call, Trump did not endorse any Turkish military operation against Kurdish Forces, but also did not threaten economic sanctions during the phone call if Turkey decided to undertake offensive operations.

Trump has also invited Erdogan to visit the White House next month.

Here’s a reminder what happened on a previous visit by Erdogan.

Yesterday, Trump threatened Turkey in a tweet that would cause any other person’s family to request a psychiatric evaluation:

Some outlets are reporting that Trump has been walking back the original order. We’ll see….

Meanwhile Turkey isn’t backing down. The Washington Post: Turkey rejects Trump’s threats amid conflicting U.S. signals over Syria offensive.

 Turkey’s vice president said Tuesday that his country would “not react to threats,” as it prepared to mount a military offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria, a day after President Trump warned that he would destroy Turkey’s economy if the offensive did not meet with his approval.

“When it comes to the security of Turkey, as always, our president emphasized Turkey will determine its own path,” the vice president, Fuat Oktay, said in a speech at a university in Ankara, the Turkish capital. He referred to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has vowed to create a “safe zone” in a lengthy swath of Syrian territory along Turkey’s border.

Erdogan and other Turkish officials have suggested for days that the military operation could begin at any moment. Turkish troop convoys have headed to the border, and local media outlets have published details of what they say is the battle plan. Turkey’s Defense Ministry wrote Tuesday on Twitter that all its preparations for the operation were complete.

But there was no sign yet that Turkish troops were moving forward, as the United Nations and aid agencies warned of potentially catastrophic humanitarian consequences, and as the Trump administration delivered confusing signals about how it views Turkey’s plans to attack a Syrian-Kurdish force that partnered with the U.S. military to fight the Islamic State militant group.

A new poll shows that 59 percent of Americans support the impeachment inquiry.

The Washington Post: Poll: Majority of Americans say they endorse opening of House impeachment inquiry of Trump.

A majority of Americans say they endorse the decision by House Democrats to begin an impeachment inquiry of President Trump, and nearly half of all adults also say the House should take the additional step and recommend that the president be removed from office, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.

The findings indicate that public opinion has shifted quickly against the president and in favor of impeachment proceedings in recent weeks as information has been released about Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian government officials to undertake an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 campaign rival, and Biden’s son Hunter.

Previous Post-Schar School or Post-ABC News polls taken at different points throughout this year found majorities of Americans opposing the start of an impeachment proceeding, with 37 percent to 41 percent saying they favored such a step. The recent revelations appear to have prompted many Americans to rethink their position.

The poll finds that, by a margin of 58 percent to 38 percent, Americans say the House was correct to undertake the inquiry. Among all adults, 49 percent say the House should take the more significant step to impeach the president and call for his removal from office. Another 6 percent say they back the start of the inquiry but do not favor removing Trump from office, with the remainder undecided about the president’s ultimate fate. The results among registered voters are almost identical.

Read more at the WaPo.

Vanity Fair has a long piece on Bill Barr’s past history. Author Marie Brenner suggests that Barr’s relationship with his father could provide clues to Barr’s alignment with Trump: “I Had No Problem Being Poltically Different”: Young William Barr Among the Manhattan Liberals. A brief excerpt:

Who, then, is the real William Barr? I wanted to investigate that question through the prism of his growing up as a young conservative in the intellectually demanding and socially cosseted world of New York private schools—ironically, the same schools that educated Cohn. I wanted to understand how he might have been affected in the 1970s by the public scandal that consumed his father, Donald Barr, then the headmaster of the tony Dalton School and a respected voice in academics, on the right-wing opinion pages, and at the center of America’s calamitous culture wars.

Donny Montana: October 6, 2019

William Barr’s origin story is, in fact, a parable of how family, education, protest, and principle served to shape the era—and shape a young man who would become America’s chief law enforcement officer. At the same time, it is also a narrative about how a charismatic, domineering, and doctrinaire figure named Donald might have helped define the contours of his son’s formative years….

In the 1967 Horace Mann yearbook, Barr had already been tagged with his future persona: “a staunch conservative on political issues,” a master of “facial contortions,” and a brilliant mimic of his Catholic school priests. Often, he rode the subway home with another classmate, Barry Scheck, who would become an attorney and eventually cofound the Innocence Project, using DNA evidence to free wrongly convicted prisoners. “We would argue all the way down from school and all the way back,” Scheck said.

Barr and his three brothers revered their father, spending countless hours at the dinner table discussing philosophy, politics, and the issues of the day. Before attending Horace Mann, all four siblings had gone to Corpus Christi, a nearby parochial school where he was in class with many Irish, Hispanic, and black students. William Barr was the privileged son of an intellectual. In first grade, he made a speech in class supporting Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower for president. At age eight, Barr told his parents that he wanted to learn to play the bagpipes. His father not only encouraged him but located a former Scottish pipes major in the British army and for years personally escorted his son up to 168th Street for Tuesday-night classes. At one point, the young Barr even declared to his Horace Mann adviser that when he grew up, he wanted to become head of the CIA.

Horace Mann was another environment entirely: completely secular, with a large Jewish contingent. A few who knew the Barr boys came to call them “the bully Barrs”; the siblings, these former classmates claimed, could be intimidating. The fact that his father was born Jewish was not a factor in Bill Barr’s upbringing. While he knew he had Jewish relatives, he never discussed the specifics with his father. “He had become more Catholic than the Catholics,” he said to those who asked.

The school was an enclave of conservative privilege that had educated New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, historian Robert A. Caro, and Si Newhouse Jr., the late owner of Condé Nast (the parent company of Vanity Fair). The head of the history department, Alfred Briggs, lectured on the evils of communism and Red China, and lavished praise on Horace Mann’s most notorious graduate, Roy Cohn. “We need more Roy Cohns in the world,” Briggs frequently said. “Roy was my best student of all time.”

I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I plan to do it as soon as this post goes up.

One more by Virginia Heffernan at The Los Angeles Times: Opinion: Do Barr, Pompeo and Giuliani share a death wish?

Atty. Gen. William Barr, who is deeply embroiled in the Trump-Ukraine affair, doesn’t care about his place in history. “I’m at the end of my career,” he told Jan Crawford of CBS in March. “Everyone dies.”

Rudolph Giuliani, the president’s fixer, who is even more deeply embroiled in the Trump-Ukraine affair, is likewise indifferent. “I don’t care about my legacy,” he told the New Yorker last month. “I’ll be dead.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 55, who is especially embroiled in the Trump-Ukraine affair, also has his eye on an End Times cleansing. “It is a never-ending struggle,” he told a Kansas church group, describing his work for the president. “Until the Rapture.”

Poets have envisioned death in thousands of ways. Clouds, worms, reunions, virgins and more. But Barr, Giuliani and Pompeo — each in the midst of a distinct moral crisis — may have a new one. Death as sweet, sweet liberation from congressional oversight.

Let me propose an epitaph, suitable for any of these men when the time comes: “He’s gone where subpoenas can lacerate his heart no more.”

But if these men are counting on death to end their sea of troubles, the House doesn’t intend to give them that chance. With every letter or subpoena, Congress is demanding that these men stop daydreaming about oblivion or ecstatic union with Jesus and do what’s right in the here and now.

Read the rest at the link.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Tuesday Reads: Rats are Abandoning Trump’s Sinking Ship and Leaking Like Crazy

Good Morning!!

Yesterday was quite a day. In the afternoon, it became abundantly clear that the rats are jumping off Trump’s sinking ship, competing to see who can be the first to leak dirt on the Dotard and his gang of miscreants. Here’s summary from CBS News: New revelations shed light on Trump-Ukraine call — live updates.

A series of rapid-fire developments brought the House impeachment inquiry into clearer focus Monday afternoon, with Democrats issuing new demands for evidence and new revelations about the circumstances of the president’s call with Ukraine coming to light.

Just before 4 p.m., three House committees announced they had subpoenaed Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, for documents related to his work on behalf of President Trump to persuade Ukraine to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden. The committees also requested material about Giuliani’s work to secure Ukraine’s cooperation into a Justice Department review of the origins of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

Shortly after the subpoena was announced, The Wall Street Journal reported Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on the July 25 call between the president and the Ukrainian leader. CBS News has confirmed Pompeo was on the call.

The New York Times reported Mr. Trump had called the prime minister of Australia to request assistance in the Justice Department review. The call came at the behest of Attorney General William Barr.

A Justice Department official then told CBS News that Barr had asked Mr. Trump to reach out to a number of foreign officials to request their assistance in his review, which is being led by the U.S. attorney in Connecticut. A source familiar with the matter said Barr traveled to Italy as part of his effort, and The Washington Post reported he has also reached out to intelligence officials in the United Kingdom.

In the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, Mr. Trump repeatedly asked him to work with Barr to pursue a fringe conspiracy theory about the origins of the 2016 U.S. counterintelligence investigation that would became the Mueller probe.

But it wasn’t just Australia. At about 8:30 last night, The Washington Post reported: Barr personally asked foreign officials to aid inquiry into CIA, FBI activities in 2016.

Attorney General William P. Barr has held private meetings overseas with foreign intelligence officials seeking their help in a Justice Department inquiry that President Trump hopes will discredit U.S. intelligence agencies’ examination of possible connections between Russia and members of the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the matter….

The direct involvement of the nation’s top law enforcement official shows the priority Barr places on the investigation being conducted by John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, who has been assigned the sensitive task of reviewing U.S. intelligence work surrounding the 2016 election and its aftermath.

The attorney general’s active role also underscores the degree to which a nearly three-year-old election still consumes significant resources and attention inside the federal government. Current and former intelligence and law enforcement officials expressed frustration and alarm Monday that the head of the Justice Department was taking such a direct role in reexamining what they view as conspiracy theories and baseless allegations of misconduct.

So far, we’ve learned that Barr and Trump sought help to discredit their own intelligence community from Australia, the UK, and Italy. What other countries have been approached? I imagine we’ll learn more soon. Keep in mind that this entire criminal enterprise is designed to help Vladimir Putin by discrediting the Mueller investigation and removing sanctions on Russia.

Elliot Hannon at Slate: Trump Is Now Enlisting Foreign Leaders to Discredit Russian Election Meddling on His Behalf.

It’s now abundantly clear that President Trump is actively deploying the resources of the U.S. government explicitly to bolster his chances of reelection in 2020. The recent whistleblower complaint revealed one part of the two-pronged strategy: leverage U.S. military aid to Ukraine to compel the Ukrainian government to dredge up old allegations on political rival Joe Biden. The second aspect of the Trump vindication-through-vilification reelection strategy has led Trump and his allies to investigate the investigation by Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election to try to muddy the water sufficiently that Trump looks clean by comparison—or by confusion. That effort is also being propelled by the power vested in the highest offices of the U.S. government, including, of course, the presidency. Yet another example, the New York Times reports, is a recent phone call made by President Trump to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison asking the foreign leader to assist Attorney General Bill Barr in the investigation of the Mueller investigation.

Will Trump get away with it? He is opening inciting violence against the whistleblower, Adam Schiff, and anyone else who tries to stand up to him. We don’t know yet what will happen, but history shows that politicians who mess with the CIA/FBI are playing with fire. I expect more drip drip drip revelations in the coming days.

Yesterday David Remnick at The New Yorker highlighted Trump’s unhinged attacks on anyone who tries to stand up to him:

Shortly after eight this morning, the President of the United States, making maximal use of his “executive time,” wielded his smartphone to issue a legal threat against the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. It is worth reading the missive from @realDonaldTrump in full:

“Rep. Adam Schiff illegally made up a FAKE & terrible statement, pretended it to be mine as the most important part of my call to the Ukrainian President, and read it aloud to Congress and the American people. It bore NO relationship to what I said on the call. Arrest for Treason?”

Were the collective nerve endings of the electorate not so frayed and numbed by now, we might be even more alive to the ugliness of this message from the White House. One of the consequences of the Trump Presidency is the way  that it constantly diminishes our expectations of anything other than hideous rhetoric and action. But there are those who are intensely aware of the potential consequences of such a threat. Sources close to Schiff told The New Yorker today that Democrats in Congress are deeply worried about the President using Twitter to incite violence and to direct it at specific members.

The threat to Schiff via Twitter came just a few days after the President, speaking at the United States Mission to the United Nations, said that whoever provided information to the whistle-blower about his July 25th telephone call with the President of Ukraine was “close to a spy.” Trump went on to wax nostalgic about how spies were dealt with “in the old days”—with the death penalty, in other words. “As soon as I heard that, I thought, He has the soul and the mind of an authoritarian,” Nicholas Burns, a former high-ranking diplomat who has served in Republican and Democratic Administrations, told me. “What other President in American history would say that?”

As Remnick points out, Trump’s violent threats against his “enemies” are nothing new and they are likely to get worse as the impeachment investigation continues.

This could be an ominous sign for Trump. The Washington Post: McConnell says if House impeaches Trump, Senate rules would force him to start a trial.

Should the impeachment spotlight turn to the Senate in the coming weeks, McConnell — who faces a reelection fight next year — will confront the dual pressures of minimizing political pain for his Senate majority and ensuring legitimacy and a sense of fairness for what would be only the third impeachment trial of a president in American history.

On Monday, McConnell said he was bound by existing Senate rules governing the impeachment and conviction process, amid speculation that he could simply ignore the specter of putting Trump on trial. Senior Republican aides had worked to try to tamp down that notion over the weekend.

“I would have no choice but to take it up,” McConnell said during a CNBC interview. “How long you’re on it is a whole different matter, but I would have no choice but to take it up, based on a Senate rule on impeachment.”

The Kentucky Republican — who hasn’t hesitated in the past to revise Senate rules to benefit Republicans, specifically the president’s judicial nominees — stressed he would not change them to aid Trump. That move would require the support of 67 senators, almost certainly an insurmountable threshold.

I’m waiting with bated breath to see what breaks today in this massive scandal that has now engulfed Trump, his personal attorney, his White House lawyers, his Secretary of State, and his Attorney General.

And what about the second whistleblower complaint that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal has been sitting on? Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: There’s another whistleblower complaint. It’s about Trump’s tax returns.

An unnamed civil servant is alleging serious interference in government business. If the allegations are true, they could be a game-changer. They might set in motion the release of lots of other secret documents showing that President Trump has abused his authority for his personal benefit.

Wait, you thought I meantthe whistleblower from the intelligence community?

Nope. I’m talking about a completely different whistleblower, whose claims have gotten significantly less attention but could prove no less consequential. This whistleblower alleges a whole different category of impropriety: that someone has been secretly meddling with the Internal Revenue Service’s audit of the president.

In defiance of a half-century norm, Trump has kept his tax returns secret.

We don’t know exactly what he might be hiding. His bizarre behavior, though, suggests it’s really bad.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

More interesting reads, links only:

The New York Times Magazine: This Is the Moment Rachel Maddow Has Been Waiting For.

Miami Herald: ‘He conned us from day one’: Giuliani’s Ukraine ally leaves trail of South Florida debts.

David Enrich at The New York Times: Me and My Whistle-Blower.

Alex Pascal at The New York Times: Did the Trump White House Mishandle the Ukraine Call Memo?

Politico: Trump may have lied to Mueller, House Democrats say

The Los Angeles Times: Trump’s ‘favor’ and delay of U.S. aid weakened Ukraine in the fight against Russia.

Politico: Hillary Clinton says staying in her marriage was ‘gutsiest’ thing she’s ever done.

Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a tremendous Tuesday!!


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

I hope you’ll forgive a little childhood nostalgia from me this morning. Yesterday I came down with a cold and sought a little comfort by recalling the Beatrix Potter stories my parents read to me as a child. I googled Potter and came across this wonderful story about her life at The Guardian: The strange life of Beatrix Potter — how rabbits (and mushrooms) set her free, by Matthew Dennison. Dennison wrote a brief biography of Potter, Over the Hills and Far Away: The Life of Beatrix Potter. Here’s the Amazon blurb of the book:

Inspired by the twenty-three “tales,” Matthew Dennison takes a selection of quotations from Potter’s stories and uses them to explore her multi-faceted life and character: repressed Victorian daughter; thwarted lover; artistic genius; formidable countrywoman. They chart her transformation from a young girl with a love of animals and fairy tales into a bestselling author and canny businesswoman, so deeply unusual for the Victorian era in which she grew up. Embellished with photographs of Potter’s life and her own illustrations, this biography will delight anyone who has been touched by Beatrix Potter’s work.

At The Guardian, Dennison writes that at 25, Potter was:

Unmarried, cripplingly shy, plagued by poor health, she passed empty days in the nursery of her childhood home in South Kensington, at the beck and call of her irritable parents. She would remain there until her unexpected marriage at the age of 45.

In place of friends, she had a “noisy cheerful” pet rabbit called Benjamin H Bouncer. On good days, she noted, he was “amiably sentimental to the point of silliness”; on bad days, he ate the insides of her paintbox. Beatrix even dreamt about him: “Bunny came to my bedside in a white cotton nightcap and tickled me with his whiskers.” Inspired by Pepys, she wrote her diary in a complicated code of her own invention, sometimes framing her entries as letters to an imaginary friend called Esther. In these diaries, she vented frustration at her comfortable, pointless existence. As young as 10, she recorded an intention to “do something”.

It took quite awhile, but Potter eventually broke away from her restrictive parents by studying nature and painting. Of course she was best known for her illustrations of rabbits, but she also wrote illustrated stories about cats. I’ve used some of those illustrations in this post.

Now to the latest news.

We’re moving rapidly toward impeachment and maybe we’ll actually be able to rid ourselves of the monster in the White House. The revelations about Trump administration corruption are coming out at warp speed. You’ve probably been following every twist and turn, just as I have.

The latest: Last night we learned that Trump’s meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office was even worse than previously reported. The Washington Post: Trump told Russian officials in 2017 he wasn’t concerned about Moscow’s interference in U.S. election.

President Trump told two senior Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because the United States did the same in other countries, an assertion that prompted alarmed White House officials to limit access to the remarks to an unusually small number of people, according to three former officials with knowledge of the matter.

The comments, which have not been previously reported, were part of a now-infamous meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in which Trump revealed highly classified information that exposed a source of intelligence on the Islamic State. He also said during the meeting that firing FBI Director James B. Comey the previous day had relieved “great pressure” on him.

A memorandum summarizing the meeting was limited to a few officials with the highest security clearances in an attempt to keep the president’s comments from being disclosed publicly, according to the former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

A bit more:

White House officials were particularly distressed by Trump’s election remarks because it appeared the president was forgiving Russia for an attack that had been designed to help elect him, the three former officials said. Trump also seemed to invite Russia to interfere in other countries’ elections, they said.

The previous day, Trump had fired Comey amid the FBI’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russia. White House aides worried about the political ramifications if Trump’s comments to the Russian officials became public.

Trump had publicly ridiculed the Russia investigation as politically motivated and said he doubted Moscow had intervened in the election. By the time he met with Lavrov and Kislyak, Trump had been briefed by the most senior U.S. intelligence officials about the Russian operation, which was directed by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and included the theft and publication of Democratic emails and the seeding of propaganda in social media, according to the findings of the U.S. intelligence community.

Apparently, no one told Robert Mueller about these remarks–unless they were redacted by Cover-Up General Bill Barr.

Another scoop from The New York Times: White House Classified Computer System Is Used to Hold Transcripts of Sensitive Calls.

The White House concealed some reconstructed transcripts of delicate calls between President Trump and foreign officials, including President Vladimir V. Putin and the Saudi royal family, in a highly classified computer system after embarrassing leaks of his conversations, according to current and former officials.

The handling of Mr. Trump’s calls with world leaders has come under scrutiny after questions over whether a transcript of a July 25 call with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was improperly placed into this computer system.

The latest revelations show the focus that White House officials put o safeguarding not only classified information but also delicate calls with Mr. Trump, the details of which the administration did not want leaked.

In the case of the calls with the Saudi royal family, the restrictions were set beforehand, and the number of people allowed to listen was sharply restricted. The Saudi calls placed in the restricted system were with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prince Khalid bin Salman, who at the time was the Saudi ambassador to the United States….

The practice began after details of Mr. Trump’s Oval Office discussion with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, leaked to the news media, leading to questions of whether the president had released classified information, according to multiple current and former officials. The White House was particularly upset when the news media reported that Mr. Trump had called James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, a “nut job” during that same meeting, according to current and former officials.

The White House had begun restricting access to information after initial leaks of Mr. Trump’s calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia. But the conversation with Mr. Lavrov and Sergey I. Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, prompted tighter restrictions.

From The Guardian this morning: Trump’s Ukraine call sparks new questions over intelligence chief’s firing.

Three days after his now infamous phone conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Donald Trump abruptly fired his director of national intelligence in favour of an inexperienced political loyalist.

According to a New York Times report, the White House learned within days that the unorthodox call on 25 July with Zelenskiy had raised red flags among intelligence professionals and was likely to trigger an official complaint.

That timeline has raised new questions over the timing of the Trump’s dismissal by tweet of the director of national intelligence (DNI), Dan Coats, on 28 July and his insistence that the deputy DNI, Sue Gordon, a career intelligence professional, did not step into the role, even in an acting capacity.

Instead, Trump tried to install a Republican congressman, John Ratcliffe, who had minimal national security credentials but had been a fierce defender of the president in Congress. Trump had to drop the nomination after it emerged that Ratcliffe had exaggerated his national security credentials in his biography, wrongly claiming he had conducted prosecutions in terrorist financing cases.

Despite the collapse of the Ratcliffe nomination, Gordon was forced out. She was reported to have been holding a meeting on election security on 8 August when Coats interrupted to convinceher that she would have to resign.

According to The New York Times, Trump knew about the whistleblower complaint “Soon After Trump’s Call” with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, so it appears that Trump fired Coats and Gordon to keep them from getting involved in the situation. 

The Washington Post reports that Trump may have been trying to get China to investigate Hunter Biden’s activities there: Trump says he raised Hunter Biden allegations with his China go-between.

President Trump, who has alleged that Hunter Biden got the Chinese to put $1.5 billion into an investment fund, said during private remarks this week that he raised the matter with a U.S. executive who has served as his intermediary on trade talks with Beijing….

In remarks to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations on Thursday morning, Trump said he discussed Biden’s China work with Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive of the investment company Blackstone.

“I was with the head of Blackstone . . . Steve Schwarzman,” Trump said, according to a video of the remarks obtained by The Washington Post. After alleging that Hunter Biden got $1.5 billion from the Chinese, Trump said he asked Schwarzman, “Steve, is that possible?” Trump said Schwarzman asked, “Who got that?” and Trump responded, “Biden’s son.”

Trump said he asked Schwarzman how that could happen, and the executive responded: “Maybe I shouldn’t get involved, you know it’s very political.”

I wonder how many other countries Trump has tried to solicit for help with the 2020 election?

More stories to check out, links only:

Gary Kasparov at The New York Daily News: The dam is breaking: Trump’s true character is revealed, more fully than ever.

Michael Cohen at The Boston Globe: Forget impeachment. Donald Trump needs to resign.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: The Ukraine Scandal Is a Fitting Symbol of Trump’s Presidency. It May Finally Be His Downfall.

Anne Applebaum at The Washington Post: Americans spent decades discussing rule of law. Why would anyone believe us now?

The Washington Post: Deep Throat’s identity was a mystery for decades because no one believed this woman.

CNN: Democrats say White House stonewalling won’t drag out inquiry and will boost case for impeachment.

HuffPost: Now One Of Trump’s Court Picks Is Tied Up In This Ukraine Scandal.

The Washington Post: Amateur pro-Trump ‘sleuths’ scramble to unmask whistleblower: ‘Your president has asked for your help.’

The Daily Beast: Pompeo Grapples for Ways to Outlast Hurricane Rudy.

Have a great Caturday, Sky Dancers!!


Thursday Reads: DNI Facing Intel Committees and Trump Facing Impeachment

Good Morning!!

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is testifying before the House Intelligence Committee this morning. Maguire has given his opening statement and the questioning has begun. At about 8:30, the whistleblower complaint was released to the public. You can read it here.

So far Maguire is working pretty hard to obfuscate Adam Schiff’s questions, but he has admitted that he first took the complaint to the White House counsel’s office for advice. He keeps claiming that he can’t violate executive privilege but he also admits that the “president” has not asserted executive privilege. Next he went to the DOJ even though Bill Barr is specifically mentioned in the whistleblower complaint as likely being involved in Trump’s wrongdoing!

Anyway, if you’re watching, please post your thoughts in the comments to this post.

Here’s the latest:

The Washington Post: Whistleblower claimed Trump abused his office and that White House officials tried to cover it up.

The whistleblower complaint at the heart of the burgeoning controversy over President Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president claims not only that the president misused his office for personal gain and endangered national security but that unidentified White House officials tried to hide that conduct.

“In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election,” the whistleblower wrote in the complaint dated Aug. 12. The House Intelligence Committee released the document Thursday morning.

“This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals. The President’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph W. Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General (William P.) Barr appears to be involved as well,” the complaint states.

In that phone call, Trump pressed President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, one of his chief political rivals, and Biden’s son Hunter — offering to enlist Barr’s help in that effort while dangling a possible visit to the White House, according to a rough transcript of the call released by the White House on Wednesday.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

The New York Times: Whistle-Blower’s Complaint Says White House Tried to ‘Lock Down’ Ukraine Call Records.

President Trump used the power of his office to try to get Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election to investigate a political rival “for personal gain,” according to an explosive whistle-blower complaint released on Thursday after days of damning revelations about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Attorney General William P. Barr and the president’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani were central to the effort, the complaint said.

In addition, the complaint says that whistle-blower, an unidentified intelligence officer, learned from multiple American officials that “senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced as is customary by the White House Situation Room.”

“This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call,” the complaint said.

The whistle-blower’s complaint was based on accounts from multiple White House officials who were “deeply disturbed” by what they heard on the call, the complaint said.

Read more at the link above.

The New York Times last night: Phone Call Showed Only a Slice of Trump’s Obsession With Ukraine.

Long before the July 25 call with the new Ukrainian president that helped spur the formal start of impeachment proceedings against him in the House, Mr. Trump fretted and fulminated about the former Soviet state, angry over what he sees as Ukraine’s role in the origins of the investigations into Russian influence on his 2016 campaign.

His fixation was only intensified by his hope that he could employ the Ukrainian government to undermine his most prominent potential Democratic rival in 2020, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

His personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, has undertaken a nearly yearlong, free-ranging effort to unearth information helpful to Mr. Trump and harmful to Mr. Biden.

And Mr. Trump has put the powers of his office behind his agenda: He has dispatched Vice President Mike Pence and top administration officials with thinly veiled messages about heeding his demands about confronting corruption, which Ukrainian and former American officials say is understood as code for the Bidens and Ukrainians who released damaging information about the Trump campaign in 2016. This summer he froze a package of military assistance to Ukraine even as the country, eager to build closer relations with Washington, continued to be menaced by its aggressive neighbor Russia.

HuffPost: Donald Trump Actually Has 2 Whistleblowers To Worry About.

…there’s another whistleblower ― one with possible evidence that Trump tried to corrupt an Internal Revenue Service audit of his personal tax returns ― who has received relatively little attention.

The tax whistleblower…went straight to Congress ― specifically to the House Ways and Means Committee, which had sued the Trump administration for refusing to provide copies of the president’s tax returns in response to a formal request. Democrats say they need Trump’s returns to make sure the IRS properly enforces tax laws against the president.

But Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) is far less outspoken than Schiff, and his approach to the tax case has been cautious. He decided to stay focused on the lawsuit, using the whistleblower’s material to bolster that case.

In a brief last month, the committee told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that a “federal employee” had approached them with “evidence of possible misconduct” and “inappropriate efforts” to influence an IRS audit of the president. The document provided no further detail about the whistleblower, but in a footnote, Democrats offered to tell U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden all about it in private.

A spokesman for the committee said this week that McFadden, a Trump nominee who donated to the Trump 2016 campaign and volunteered for the Trump presidential transition, has so far not asked to hear more about the whistleblower. He denied a Democratic motion to speed up the case.

Selected analysis:

This one is really interesting. I hope you’ll read the whole thing by Murray Waas at the New York Review of Books: Trump, Giuliani, and Manafort: The Ukraine Scheme.

The effort by President Trump to pressure the government of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son had its origins in an earlier endeavor to obtain information that might provide a pretext and political cover for the president to pardon his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, according to previously undisclosed records.

These records indicate that attorneys representing Trump and Manafort respectively had at least nine conversations relating to this effort, beginning in the early days of the Trump administration, and lasting until as recently as May of this year. Through these deliberations carried on by his attorneys, Manafort exhorted the White House to press Ukrainian officials to investigate and discredit individuals, both in the US and in Ukraine, who he believed had published damning information about his political consulting work in the Ukraine. A person who participated in the joint defense agreement between President Trump and others under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, including Manafort, allowed me to review extensive handwritten notes that memorialized conversations relating to Manafort and Ukraine between Manafort’s and Trump’s legal teams, including Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

These new disclosures emerge as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Tuesday that the House would open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s conduct. What prompted her actions were the new allegations that surfaced last week that Trump had pressured Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Trump’s potential 2020 campaign rival, Biden, and his son Hunter, placing a freeze on a quarter of a billion dollars in military assistance to Ukraine as leverage. The impeachment inquiry will also examine whether President Trump obstructed justice by attempting to curtail investigations by the FBI and the special counsel into Russia’s covert interference in the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor.

New information in this story suggests that these two, seemingly unrelated scandals, in which the House will judge whether the president’s conduct in each case constituted extra-legal and extra-constitutional abuses of presidential power, are in fact inextricably linked: the Ukrainian initiative appears to have begun in service of formulating a rationale by which the president could pardon Manafort, as part of an effort to undermine the special counsel’s investigation.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: The Ukraine Scandal Is Not One Phone Call. It’s a Massive Plot.

On July 25, President Trump held a phone call in which he repeatedly leaned on Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and Paul Manafort’s prosecutors. The episode is so blatantly inappropriate even Trump’s most fervent apologists are, with a few exceptions, having trouble defending it. What they are trying to do, instead, is define this phone call as the entire scandal. Trump emphasizes that he “didn’t specifically mention the explicit quid pro quo” of military aid in return for the investigation.

That is true, as far as it goes. The quid pro quo in the call, though perfectly apparent, is mostly implicit. But the real trick in Trump’s defense is framing the call as the entire scandal. The scandal is much more than that. The call is a snapshot, a moment in time in a months-long campaign that put American policy toward Ukraine at the disposal of Trump’s personal interests and reelection campaign.

Last spring, Rudy Giuliani was openly pressuring Kiev to investigate Joe Biden. Giuliani told the New York Times, “We’re meddling in an investigation … because that information will be very, very helpful to my client.” The key word there was “we’re.” The first-person plural indicated Giuliani was not carrying out this mission alone. A series of reports have revealed how many other government officials were involved in the scheme.

Read more at the link.

A few more:

Susan Glasser at The New Yorker: “Do Us a Favor”: The Forty-eight Hours That Sealed Trump’s Impeachment.

Lawrence Tribe at USA Today: Donald Trump’s call with Ukrainian president drips with impeachable crimes.

Neal Kaytal at The New York Times: Trump Doesn’t Need to Commit a Crime to Be Kicked Out of Office.

Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread below.