With just 53 more days until the inauguration, Trump is dreaming up ways to make things more difficult for Joe Biden and for the American people by undermining U.S. foreign policy, hurting the military, damaging the environment and public health, hurting federal employees, and making sure the coronavirus pandemic kills as many people as possible. He even plans to troll Biden’s inauguration.
The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh may not much have impact on the Iranian nuclear programme he helped build, but it will certainly make it harder to salvage the deal intended to restrict that programme, and that is – so far – the most plausible motive.
Israel is widely agreed to be the most likely perpetrator. Mossad is reported to have been behind a string of assassinations of other Iranian nuclear scientists – reports Israeli officials have occasionally hinted were true.
According to former officials, the Obama administration leaned on Israel to discontinue those assassinations in 2013, as it started talks with Tehran that led two years later to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), by which Iran accepted constraints on its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
It would be a fair guess that Joe Biden would also oppose such assassinations when he takes office on 20 January and tries to reconstitute the JCPOA – which has been left wounded but just about alive in the wake of Donald Trump’s withdrawal in 2018.
If Mossad was indeed behind the assassination, Israel had a closing window of opportunity in which to carry it out with a green light from an American president, and there seems little doubt that Trump, seeking to play a spoiler role in his last weeks in office, would have given approval, if not active assistance. He is reported to have asked for military options in Iran, in the aftermath of his election defeat.
“I think they would have had to get a green light from Washington. I don’t think they would do it without,” Dina Esfandiary, a fellow at the Century Foundation, said. “In terms of motive, I think it’s just pushing Iran to do something stupid to ensure that the Biden administration’s hands are tied when they come in to pursue negotiations and de-escalation.’
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has vowed revenge and to continue the country’s “scientific” activities after the killing of the country’s chief nuclear scientist, as top Iranian officials pile blame on Israel over the killing.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who became the face of Iran’s controversial nuclear program, was killed in a district east of Tehran on Friday, in what Iranian officials are calling an assassination.
“There are two matters that people in charge should put in their to do list: 1- To follow up the atrocity and retaliate against those who were responsible for it. 2- To follow up Martyr Fakhrizadeh’s scientific and technical activities in all fields in which he was active,” Khamenei wrote Saturday in a tweet from an account often attributed to him, making a veiled reference to the country’s nuclear activities.
He added: “Our distinguished nuclear scientist in the defense of our country, Mr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed by the oppressive enemies. This rare scientific mind lost his life for his everlasting great scientific work. He lost his life for God and the supreme leader. God shall reward him greatly.”
Trump is rushing to damage environmental protections and public health before he leaves office, and EPA employees are fighting back. The New York Times: E.P.A.’s Final Deregulatory Rush Runs Into Open Staff Resistance.
President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was rushing to complete one of its last regulatory priorities, aiming to obstruct the creation of air- and water-pollution controls far into the future, when a senior career scientist moved to hobble it.
Thomas Sinks directed the E.P.A.’s science advisory office and later managed the agency’s rules and data around research that involved people. Before his retirement in September, he decided to issue a blistering official opinion that the pending rule — which would require the agency to ignore or downgrade any medical research that does not expose its raw data — will compromise American public health.
“If this rule were to be finalized it would create chaos,” Dr. Sinks said in an interview in which he acknowledged writing the opinion that had been obtained by The New York Times. “I thought this was going to lead to a train crash and that I needed to speak up.”
With two months left of the Trump administration, career E.P.A. employees find themselves where they began, in a bureaucratic battle with the agency’s political leaders. But now, with the Biden administration on the horizon, they are emboldened to stymie Mr. Trump’s goals and to do so more openly.
The filing of a “dissenting scientific opinion” is an unusual move; it signals that Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the E.P.A., and his politically appointed deputies did not listen to the objections of career scientists in developing the regulation. More critically, by entering the critique as part of the official Trump administration record on the new rule, Dr. Sinks’s dissent will offer Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s E.P.A. administrator a powerful weapon to repeal the so-called “secret science” policy.
Trump is threatening to veto a defense bill because it includes instructions to remove Confederate names from military bases. NBC News:
President Donald Trump is threatening to veto legislation to fund the military as one of his final acts in office unless a widely supported, bipartisan provision to rename military bases honoring Confederate military leaders is removed, according to White House, defense and congressional sources.
Since the Nov. 3 election, Trump has privately told Republican lawmakers that he won’t back down from his position during the campaign that he would veto the annual National Defense Authorization Act if it includes an amendment to rename the bases….
Trump’s stance has put in doubt legislation that had been agreed to by Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate. It has sent members of Trump’s party scrambling to find a path for the defense bill, which outlines military policy and funding, and put them on a collision course with Democrats.
Trump is working to destroy protections for civil service employees. The Washington Post: Trump moves to strip job protections from White House budget analysts as he races to transform civil service.
The outgoing Trump administration is racing to enact the biggest change to the federal civil service in generations, reclassifying career employees at key agencies to strip their job protections and leave them open to being fired before Joe Biden takes office.
The move to pull off an executive order the president issued less than two weeks before Election Day — affecting tens of thousands of people in policy roles — is accelerating at the agency closest to the White House, the Office of Management and Budget.
The budget office sent a list this week of roles identified by its politically appointed leaders to the federal personnel agency for final sign-off. The list comprises 88 percent of its workforce — 425 analysts and other experts who would shift into a new job classification called Schedule F.
The employees would then be vulnerable to dismissal before Trump leaves office if they are considered poor performers or have resisted executing the president’s priorities, effectively turning them into political appointees that come and go with each administration.
Trump’s Treasury secretary is working to make it harder for Biden to help Americans impacted by the pandemic. Fox Business: Mnuchin plans to move $455B in coronavirus relief out of Biden’s reach.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is expected to move $455 billion in unspent coronavirus stimulus money into a fund that the incoming Biden administration cannot deploy without congressional approval, Bloomberg reported.
The CARES Act funding will be placed in the agency’s General Fund, a Treasury Department spokesperson told Bloomberg. If Mnuchin’s successor — Biden is widely expected to pick former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to fill the role — wants to access that money, she will need to receive Congress’ blessing….
Last week, Mnuchin said he would not extend several emergency loan programs set up with the Federal Reserve, prompting a rare criticism from the U.S. central bank. While the lending facilities have been little used so far, they were viewed as a vital backstop for the pandemic-ravaged economy.
The money is part of the $500 billion Treasury Department fund created at the end of March by the CARES Act. The Treasury Fund set aside $46 billion for loans and loan guarantees to the airline industry, and the remainder was designated to support Fed lending programs to businesses, states and municipalities.
And of course there’s the raging pandemic that Trump has not only ignored but enabled with his rallies and his mocking of public restr
More than 205,000 new cases were reported Friday — which likely consists of both Thursday and Friday reports in some cases, as at least 20 states did not report Covid-19 numbers on Thanksgiving.
The US has now reported more than 100,000 infections every day for 25 consecutive days, with a daily average of more than 166,000 across the last week — almost 2.5 times higher than the summer’s peak counts in July.
The number of Covid-19 patients in US hospitals is just off record levels: more than 89,800 on Friday, only a few hundred lower than the peak set a day earlier, according to the COVID Tracking Project….
Based on the current Covid-19 numbers in the US, the country is far from rounding the corner, she said.
“If anything, we are rounding the corner into a calamity,” Wen said. “We’re soon going to exceed well more than 2,000 deaths, maybe 3,000, 4,000 deaths every single day here in the US.”
That projection has been echoed by other experts including Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University, who predicted Wednesday the country’s daily death toll would likely double in 10 days, and soon see “close to 4,000 deaths a day.”
Finally, Trump wants to cause problems for Biden’s inauguration and first term. I doubt if it will work, but it will be a national embarrassment. The Daily Beast: Trump’s Already Gaming Out a 2024 Run—Including an Event During Biden’s Inauguration.
According to three people familiar with the conversations, the president, who refuses to acknowledge he lost the 2020 election as he clearly did, has not just talked to close advisers and confidants about a potential 2024 run to reclaim the White House but about the specifics of a campaign launch. The conversations have explored, among other things, how Trump could best time his announcement so as to keep the Republican Party behind him for the next four years. Two of these knowledgeable sources said the president has, in the past two weeks, even floated the idea of doing a 2024-related event during Biden’s inauguration week, possibly on Inauguration Day, if his legal effort to steal the 2020 election ultimately fails.
According to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter, the president has privately bragged that he’d still remain in the spotlight, even if Biden is in the Oval Office, in part because the news media will keep regularly covering him since—as Trump has assessed—he gets the news outlets ratings and those same outlets find Biden “boring.”
That’s it for me today. I hope you all are having a relaxing holiday weekend!
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
“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?
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.
ISTANBUL — 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.
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?
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.
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?
The Los Angeles Times: Trump’s ‘favor’ and delay of U.S. aid weakened Ukraine in the fight against Russia.
Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a tremendous Tuesday!!
Trump apparently worked himself up into a frenzy last night. He woke up an sent out a series of angry tweets, in one of which he admitted for the first time that Russia helped him get elected. He actually deleted the first tweet but sent out another in which he made the same admission.
A little later Trump emerged from the White House and unleashed a rage-filled 17 minute rant in which he angrily denigrated Robert Mueller. He also contradicted his own tweet, claiming that Russia didn’t help him in 2016.
The Washington Post: Trump attacks Mueller, says he would have brought charges if he had evidence of a crime.
“Robert Mueller should have never been chosen,” Trump said of the former special counsel, who was appointed by former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein, a Republican Trump appointee.
Trump told reporters that he considered Mueller “totally conflicted” because he had discussions about the position of FBI director early in the Trump administration and is friendly with former FBI director James B. Comey, whom Trump fired in 2017.
“He loves Comey,” Trump claimed. “Whether it’s love or a deep like, he was conflicted.” [….]
Trump also cited a “business dispute” with Mueller on which he did not elaborate. In the past, White House aides have pointed to an alleged dispute over membership fees at Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia….
“You know who got me elected? I got me elected,” he said. “Russia didn’t help me at all. Russia, if anything, I think, helped the other side.” [….]
In his comments to reporters, Trump downplayed the prospect of impeachment. A growing number of Democrats were advocating that course on Wednesday after Mueller’s appearance.
“It’s a dirty, filthy disgusting word and it has nothing to do with me,” Trump said. “There was no high crime and there was no misdemeanor.”
This morning’s rant continued as Trump unleashed a number of insults about McCain and how Trump was “never a fan.” He also denied demanding that John McCain’s name be hidden on the U.S. Navy battleship named after McCain’s father and grandfather while Trump was in Japan.
The New York Times: White House Asked Navy to Hide John McCain Warship During Trump’s Visit.
The White House asked the Navy to hide a destroyer named after Senator John McCain in order to avoid having the ship appear in photographs taken while President Trump was visiting Japan this week, White House and military officials said Wednesday.
Although Navy officials insisted they did not hide the ship, the John S. McCain, they did give all of the sailors aboard the day off on Tuesday as Mr. Trump visited Yokosuka Naval Base.
Two Navy sailors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said that the McCain sailors were not invited to hear Mr. Trump speak that day aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp, while sailors from other American warships at the base were.
A Navy service member based on Yokosuka said that all of the American warships in the harbor were invited to send 60 to 70 sailors to hear Mr. Trump’s address, with the exception of the McCain. When several sailors from the McCain showed up anyway, wearing their uniforms with the ship’s insignia, they were turned away, the service member said.
White House aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly, confirmed the request was made but said that Mr. Trump did not know about it. A United States official said on Wednesday that the White House sent an email to the Navy with the request on May 15.
[Emphasis added] Raise your hand if you believe Trump had nothing to do with the request.
CNN: Navy reviewing ‘Make Aircrew Great Again’ patches worn by sailors during Trump visit.
The Navy is conducting a review to examine whether President Donald Trump-themed patches worn by sailors on their uniforms during the President’s visit to the USS Wasp violated Navy rules.
“Navy leadership is aware of the incident and reviewing to ensure the patch doesn’t violate DoD policy or uniform regulations,” US Navy spokesperson Lt. Sam Boyle told CNN.Several service members aboard the USS Wasp were seen wearing the patches when Trump addressed sailors on Tuesday. The patches showed a Trump-like image and the slogan “Make Aircrew Great Again.” [….]
Military personnel often wear unofficial unit patches, sometimes imbued with humorous images, as part of an effort to build unit cohesion and morale.However, service members are prohibited from exhibiting political messages while in uniform.Unit commanders are usually responsible for ensuring that the unofficial patches do not violate military regulations.Department of Defense guidelines say that “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”
Trump faces more legal trouble about that massage parlor owner in Florida Cindy Yang.
Federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., this week sent subpoenas to Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, and Trump Victory, a political fundraising committee, demanding they turn over all records relating to Republican Party donor Li “Cindy” Yang and several of her associates and companies, the Miami Herald has learned.
Yang, a South Florida massage-parlor entrepreneur, is the target of a public corruption investigation seeking to determine if she funneled money from China to the president’s re-election campaign or otherwise violated campaign-finance laws. She became a GOP donor in the 2016 election cycle and opened a consulting company that promised Chinese businesspeople the chance to attend events at Mar-a-Lago and gain access to Trump and his inner circle. Some of those events were campaign fundraisers that required guests to buy tickets for entry, payments that are considered political contributions. Foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to U.S. political campaigns.
Investigators are seeking evidence from Mar-a-Lago and Trump Victory as they build a potential case against Yang and possibly others close to her. The president’s club and the fundraising committee are not the targets of the investigation. The subpoenas cover records from January 2017 to the present. A spokeswoman for Yang did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
One subpoena, issued by a federal grand jury in West Palm Beach, compels Mar-a-Lago to turn over all documents, records and communications relating to Yang, as well as 11 other people, one charity and seven companies affiliated with her, according to a person familiar with the investigation who asked for anonymity to discuss an ongoing probe. The people named in that subpoena include Yang’s family members, former employees at her massage parlors and several donors to Trump Victory. Prosecutors were trying to serve the subpoena to Mar-a-Lago through a South Florida law firm, the source said.The second subpoena, for Trump Victory, was served to attorneys at a Washington, D.C., law firm. It seeks campaign-finance records relating to Yang and her associates.
Click the link to read the rest.
As Trump focuses on attacking the people on his enemies list, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are moving us closer to war with Iran.
The U.S. military’s guided bombs brought “shock and awe” to Baghdad in 2003 when American forces invaded Iraq 16 years ago to hunt for weapons of mass destruction. They never found any. Many observers, today, consider that war a failure.
Now, half of all Americans believe the U.S. will go to war with Iran “within the next few years,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released in late May amid increased tensions between the two countries, longtime geopolitical foes.
The escalating Tehran-Washington crisis comes as the White House claims, without providing detail or public evidence, that Iran poses an increased threat to American forces and facilities in the Middle East – one year after Trump withdrew from an accord between Iran and world powers aimed at limiting Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.
Is Iran doomed to be an Iraq redux? This is just one of the questions raised by a crisis that has eerie parallels to the missteps that led to the Iraq War in 2003, where the buildup to conflict was precipitated by faulty intelligence and confrontational foreign policymakers such as John Bolton in President George W. Bush’s administration.
Read all about it at the link above. Meanwhile, does anyone know what Trump foreign policy is?
Fred Kaplan at Slate: Who Speaks for the United States?
Tuesday’s New York Times story on the serious disagreements between President Donald Trump and national security adviser John Bolton misses the bigger picture—namely, that Trump is having disagreements with his entire foreign policy team. To put it another way, it is impossible to say just what U.S. foreign policy is—or, to put it more starkly still, the United States has no foreign policy.
The Times story focuses on disputes over Iran and North Korea.
Bolton has described North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s latest short-range missile tests as violations of a U.N. Security Council resolution; Trump says they’re no big deal. Bolton has called for regime change in Iran; Trump said last week in Japan that he’s fine with the current regime, as long as it stays away from nuclear weapons.
But this dispute involves more players than Trump and Bolton. State Department spokespeople, as well as National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, have said—in agreement with Bolton—that the North Korean tests violated a Security Council resolution. Trump stands utterly alone in his view that Kim is an honorable, trustworthy partner.
On Iran, in contrast with what Trump says now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently laid out 12 preconditions for holding talks. Among the demands were that Tehran stop testing ballistic missiles, stop assisting militias in the region, and make several other concessions that would amount, in effect, to a regime change.
And of course, there are his long-standing disputes, over a host of issues, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, various combatant commands, and pretty much the entire intelligence community.
Imagine if you were a world leader who wants to align, or improve relations, with the United States. What do you do? Do you agree with—and act in ways that advance the policies of—the president, the secretary of state, or the national security adviser? It’s impossible to placate all of them simultaneously. So you begin to wonder: Who speaks for the United States?
Please read the whole thing.
So . . . that’s what’s happening so far this morning. What stories are you following?