Tuesday Reads: Senate Impeachment “Trial” Begins

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

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

Mitch McConnell and pals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House impeachment managers take articles of impeachment to Senate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest at the WaPo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest at the NYT.

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at The Atlantic.

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


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

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

Trump with Lev Parnas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lev Parnas, Kevin McCarthy, and Igor Fruman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marie Yovanovitch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Hyde with Trump

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at the links I’ve provided.

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

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

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

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

Read the rest at Slate.

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


New Year’s Eve Reads: Trumpschmerz

New Year’s Eve by Sabzi

Good Morning!

One more day until 2020 begins. Here’s what’s happening right now:

As 2019 draws to a close with “Death to America” is trending on Twitter. The New York Times: Protesters Attack U.S. Embassy in Iraq, Chanting ‘Death to America.’

BAGHDAD — Protesters broke into the heavily guarded compound of the United States Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday and lit fires inside to express their anger over American airstrikes that killed 24 members of an Iranian-backed militia over the weekend.

The men did not enter the main embassy buildings and later withdrew from the compound, joining thousands of protesters and militia fighters outside who chanted “Death to America,” threw rocks, covered the walls with graffiti and demanded that the United States withdraw its forces from Iraq.

The situation remained combustible, with protesters vowing to camp outside the compound indefinitely. Their ability to storm the most heavily guarded zone in Baghdad suggested that they had received at least tacit permission from Iraqi security officials sympathetic to their demands.

Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians play Auld Lang Syne, by David Lloyd Glover

The American airstrikes on Sunday have resulted in the most serious political crisis in years for the United States in Iraq, stoking anti-Americanism and handing an advantage to Iran in its competition for influence in the country.

The airstrikes targeted an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, Kataib Hezbollah, which the United States accused of carrying out a missile attack on an Iraqi military base that killed an American contractor and wounded American and Iraqi service members. A spokesman for the militia denied involvement in the attack.

But the size of the American response — five strikes in Iraq and Syria that killed two dozen fighters and wounded dozens of others — prompted condemnation from across the political spectrum and accusations that the United States had violated Iraqi sovereignty.

Trump is blaming Iran, The Washington Post reports:

President Trump responded angrily Tuesday to the protesters’ actions, charging that Iran was behind a deadly militia attack that led to the airstrikes and blaming Tehran for the embassy siege.

“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many,” Trump tweeted from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. “We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!”

Painting for The New Yorker by Owen Smith

A spokesman for the Kataib Hezbollah militia said the demonstrators intend to besiege the embassy until the facility shuts down and U.S. diplomats leave Iraq.

But the angry demonstrators defied appeals delivered over loudspeakers by the group’s leaders not to enter the embassy compound and smashed their way into one of the facility’s reception areas, breaking down fortified doors and bulletproof glass and setting fire to the room.

American guards inside the embassy fired tear gas to keep the militia supporters at bay. U.S. troops could be seen nearby and on rooftops, their weapons drawn, but they did not open fire. Embassy civil defense workers just inside the gates attempted to put out the fires with water hoses.

The protesters also smashed security cameras, set two guardrooms ablaze and burned tires. They made a bonfire out of a pile of papers and military MREs (meals ready to eat) found in the reception area, where guards normally search visitors. Kataib Hezbollah flags were draped over the barbed wire protecting the embassy’s high walls.

So much for Trump and Kushner’s plans for peace in the Middle East. And didn’t American taxpayers spend $750 million to make the Baghdad embassy impenetrable?

Here’s a little comic relief from The Daily Beast: Team Trump’s Furious Hunt to Find Out Who ‘Liked’ a Chelsea Clinton Tweet.

On the evening of July 10, 2017, staffers at the U.S. embassy in Brussels—the official office for the ambassador to the European Union—received an unusual call from the seventh floor of the State Department back in Washington. The office of then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was irate. Someone in Brussels with access to the mission’s Twitter account had liked the wrong tweet. It had set off alarm bells in Foggy Bottom.

The tweet wasn’t just any tweet. It was one written by Chelsea Clinton and directed at President Donald Trump in a public spat that took the internet by storm.

A New Years Eve Night by A. Snegirev, 1982

That week in July, Trump drew criticism for his decision to let his daughter Ivanka fill his seat at the G-20 meeting of top economic powers in Hamburg, Germany. After days of the pile-on, Trump took to Twitter the morning of July 10 to claim his decision to have Ivanka represent the U.S. at the G-20 was “very standard” and that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany agreed. Not more than 15 minutes later, he switched his tenor and began attacking Clinton and the press. “If Chelsea Clinton were asked to hold the seat for her mother, as her mother gave our country away, the Fake News would say CHELSEA FOR PRES!,” Trump said.

Clinton shot back: “It would never have occurred to my mother or my father to ask me. Were you giving our country away? Hoping not.”

That tweet garnered more than half a million likes, including by the account for the U.S. mission to the European Union. That kickstarted a weeks-long investigation, prompted by the secretary’s office, into who exactly at the Brussels mission had access to the Twitter account and hit “Like” on Clinton’s tweet, according to two former U.S. officials. (Full disclosure: Clinton sits on the board of IAC, The Daily Beast’s parent company.) Nearly 10 people were interviewed about whether they, as administrators of the account, had mistakenly or deliberately pressed the “Like” button. All of them denied any wrongdoing, those sources said. One individual familiar with the exchanges said the secretary of state’s top managers in Washington “wanted blood” and called Brussels numerous times demanding the name of the culprit.

U.S. officials in Belgium were never able to give Tillerson’s office a name and soon after, the embassy restructured the Twitter account and limited access to just two individuals.

The Trumpies know what’s really important–protecting their boss’s fragile ego.

New Year’s Still Life, by Moesey Li

At The Washington Post, Greg Sargent explains why Mitch McConnell is counting on the political media to help him protect Trump in a fraudulent impeachment trial: Explosive new revelations just weakened Trump’s impeachment defenses.

If Mitch McConnell is going to pull off his scheme to turn President Trump’s impeachment trial into a quick and painless sham with no witnesses, the Senate majority leader needs the story to be covered as a conventional Washington standoff — one that portrays both sides as maneuvering for advantage in an equivalently political manner.

But extraordinary new revelations in the New York Times about Trump’s corrupt freezing of military aid to Ukraine will — or should — make this much harder to get away with.

McConnell badly needs the media’s both-sidesing instincts to hold firm against the brute facts of the situation. If Republicans bear the brunt of media pressure to explain why they don’t want to hear from witnesses, that risks highlighting their true rationale: They adamantly fear new revelations precisely because they know Trump is guilty — and that this corrupt scheme is almost certainly much worse than we can currently surmise.

That possibility is underscored by the Times report, a chronology of Trump’s decision to withhold aid to a vulnerable ally under assault while he and his henchmen extorted Ukraine into carrying out his corrupt designs.

The report demonstrates in striking detail that inside the administration, the consternation over the legality and propriety of the aid freeze — and confusion over Trump’s true motives — ran much deeper than previously known, implicating top Cabinet officials more deeply than we thought.

Please go read the rest at the link. It’s long but important.

I’ve been pretty successfully ignoring the news during these two holiday weeks, except for when I’ve had a blog post to write. Susan Glasser of The New Yorker had more trouble doing that, and now she has found a word to describe life in Trumpworld: Our Year of Trumpschmerz.

So much for the holidays. In the quiet of Christmas and New Year’s, the President of the United States has repeatedly attacked “Crazy Nancy” Pelosi and her family, inveighed against the “bogus Impeachment Scam” and circulated the alleged name of the C.I.A. whistle-blower whose complaint triggered it, retweeted an account that described former President Barack Obama as “Satan’s Muslim Scum,” hosted the accused war criminal he recently pardoned over the objections of military leaders, and promoted a post calling himself “the best President of all time.” He even accused the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, of personally ordering Canadian television to cut a seven-second snippet of the schmaltzy Christmas movie “Home Alone 2” that features Trump, an accusation the President refused to retract, although it was quickly proven that the scene was one of many edited out as a time-saver back in 2014, long before either Trudeau or Trump was anywhere close to power.

Dance at the Moulin Rouge, by Toulouse Lautrec

Even now, three years into the Trump Presidency, there is no language to fully capture the madness of all this, though many of my journalistic colleagues have gone to great lengths to record and codify just how disturbingly nutty 2019 has been. The Washington Post reports that Trump ended the year having made more than fifteen thousand four hundred false and misleading statements since his inauguration. CNN’s “Inside Politics” produced a four-page, single-spaced list of all the people and institutions Trump has attacked by name this year. There are online trackers for the unprecedented levels of turnover in Trump’s Administration and for the rapidly proliferating array of lawsuits involving Trump’s assertions of sweeping executive authority. By any measure, 2019 will go down as a remarkable year in the annals of the American Presidency: Trump began it by causing the longest-ever federal government shutdown in history, after Congress refused to spend billions on his proposed border wall, and ended it as only the third President in history to be impeached by the House of Representatives.

Glasser searched for a word to encompass the horrors of living in Trump’s world.

There must be one of those long German words for all that soul-sickening worry, right? Some tortured mouthful of consonants that captures the ceaseless anxiety and absurdity of Washington in the age of Trump? I asked my friend, the German scholar and writer Constanze Stelzenmüller, an astute observer of Trumpism at the Brookings Institution and especially of its toxic effect on the troubled transatlantic relationship. She said that, even in Trump-skeptical Berlin, there was no single, widely accepted word that describes this phenomenon but gamely offered up her own stab at it. The word she came up with is “Trumpregierungsschlamasselschmerz.”

Her word has pretty much everything that has come to characterize this uniquely dysfunctional moment in America’s troubled capital: Trump and his Administration (“regierung” means government); the slow-motion car crash of constant controversies (“schlamassel”); and the continuous pain or ache of the soul that results from excessive contemplation of it all (“schmerz”). Sure, it’s a mouthful, but that’s the point: there should be one word that sums up the Trumpian disruption we are experiencing, not merely a jumble of different ones. It’s the tweets and the other stuff, too: the endless attacks on enemies, real and imagined; the torrent of lies; the eroding of the basic functions of government; and the formerly unimaginable assault on our institutions. It’s impeachment and the Mueller Report and migrant children in cages, the bullying of allies, and the lavish praise of adversaries. It’s the uncertainty and worry that comes with all of the above.

On the brink of a new year, Trumpregierungsschlamasselschmerz has come to dominate our collective psyche. There is no taking a vacation from it. I confess that I have not yet figured out how to pronounce this unwieldy linguistic invention that so deftly captures our national Trump-soul-sickness. Luckily, I received a follow-up e-mail from Constanze, in which she proposed a shortened version that gets right to the angsty, anxious point: If “Trumpregierungsschlamasselschmerz” is too much, she said, you can just use “Trumpschmerz.” Either way, in German or in English, it’s my nominee for the word of the year in 2019. I suspect it will be in 2020 as well.

And with that I’ll turn the floor over to you, Sky Dancers. What stories are you following, if any?


Thursday Reads: Obedience to Authority and Impeachment

Good Morning!!

I haven’t been able to watch much of the impeachment debate last night and today. I just can’t stand to listen to the Republicans shouting nonsense over and over again. Why have these people willingly submitted to an ignorant, dementia-riddled, narcissistic authoritarian “president?” Are we really going to allow our country to become a dictatorship because these cowards refuse to stand up to a pathetic man like Trump? Are there really no Republicans with the courage to defend the Constitution? What is wrong with these people?

Yesterday, I came across an article in Scientific American Mind that is highly relevant to these questions. I’m sure you remember the famous experiment by social psychologist Stanley Milgrim that demonstrated that most people will obey an authority figure even if it requires them to physically hurt other human beings. Here’s a brief video explaining the experiment:

 

Rethinking the Infamous Milgram Experiment in Authoritarian Times, by Jacob M. Appel

In brief, Milgram, at the time a 26-year-old assistant professor at Yale University, recruited subjects to participate “in a study of memory and learning,” which entailed administering an associative learning task to another subject (actually an accomplice in the study) and then administering painful shocks of substantially higher voltage for each incorrect answer. The purported goal was to study human obedience in the wake of the atrocities of Nazi Germany when, as Milgram described it, “millions of innocent persons were systematically slaughtered on command.” The results proved “surprising” in “the sheer strength of obedient tendencies”; in this first reported experiment, 26 of 40 American subjects shocked the victims at the highest level. Twenty variations with more than 600 additional subjects yielded similar outcomes…..

But what should the takeaway be from Milgram’s research? For more than a half century, investigators—most prominently Thomas Blass—have sought to explain why Milgram’s subjects proved so obedient. Although correlates have been found with personality, internal versus external locus of control, underlying belief systems and situational factors, no answer has proven entirely satisfactory.

Instead, the public is generally left with Milgram’s own impression as explained in his book Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (1974): “Tyrannies are perpetuated by diffident men who do not possess the courage to act out their beliefs.” Or, even more broadly, in the subtitle of his Harper’s article from the previous year: “A social psychologist’s experiments show that most people will hurt their fellows rather than disobey an authority.”

But some participants in Milgram’s study did refuse to obey.

Blass has noted that there must be “individual differences in obedience … because in most obedience studies, given the same stimulus situation, one finds both obedience and disobedience taking place.” In other words, some people do disobey. Some of Milgram’s subjects did defy the experimenter. Like Jan Rensaleer, a Dutch immigrant who responded to the experiment’s warning that he had no other choice to continue at 255 volts with the following memorable declaration:

“I do have a choice. Why don’t I have a choice? I came here on my own free will. I thought I could help in a research project. But if I have to hurt somebody to do that, or if I was in his place, too, I wouldn’t stay there. I can’t continue. I’m very sorry. I think I’ve gone too far already, probably.”

In some cases, the subject stood up during the experiment and walked away.

So maybe it is a mistake to view Milgram’s work as an “obedience experiment”—although he clearly did. Maybe what he actually conducted was a disobedience experiment, showing that some people will not follow orders no matter how strong the social pressure.

They are out there, waiting the moment when history calls upon them to disobey. We should not lose sight of them in the weeds of social psychology. They are Stanley Milgram’s unheralded legacy—and we may even stand among them.

Will any Republicans find the will to disobey Trump and McConnell? What will we do when the time comes for us fight back against the growing authoritarianism in our government and its institutions?

Here’s the latest on impeachment:

CNN: McConnell will move to acquit Trump if he’s impeached, not merely dismiss charges, 2 Republican senators say.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to hold a final vote to acquit President Donald Trump, should he be impeached, when a majority of senators believe his trial has run its course instead of holding a vote on dismissing the articles of impeachment, two Republican senators told CNN on Wednesday.

Republicans want to have a vote on acquittal — to clear the President of the charges against him — not simply rely on a 51-vote threshold procedural motion to dismiss the hotly disputed case.

The Constitution mandates 67 votes are required to convict the President and remove him from office, a barrier widely considered too high to be reached in this case.

One vote McConnell can’t rely on is that of Vice President Mike Pence, who has “no role in impeachment,” according to a GOP leadership aide, despite being president of the Senate with the mandate to break ties….

McConnell hinted at this strategy when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday and said the Senate would have two choices after hearing opening arguments from the House impeachment managers and the President’s defense counsel.

“It could go down the path of calling witnesses and basically having another trial or it could decide — and again, 51 members could make that decision — that they’ve heard enough and believe they know what would happen and could move to vote on the two articles of impeachment,” he said. “Those are the options. No decisions have been made yet.”

The Washington Post: Senate Republicans look to hold short impeachment trial despite Trump’s desire for an aggressive defense.

Senate Republicans are coalescing around a strategy of holding a short impeachment trial early next year that would include no witnesses, a plan that could clash with President Trump’s desire to stage a public defense of his actions toward Ukraine that would include testimony the White House believes would damage its political rivals.

Several GOP senators on Wednesday said it would be better to limit the trial and quickly vote to acquit Trump, rather than engage in what could become a political circus.

“I would say I don’t think the appetite is real high for turning this into a prolonged spectacle,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (S.D.), the chamber’s ­second-ranking Republican, told The Washington Post on Wednesday when asked whether Trump will get the witnesses he wants in an impeachment trial. “Members want to deal with the arguments, hear the case and hopefully reach a conclusion.”

The emerging Senate GOP plan would provide sufficient time, possibly two weeks, for both the House impeachment managers and Trump’s attorneys to make their arguments before a vote on the president’s fate, according to 13 senators and aides familiar with the discussions, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.

Most notably, a quick, clean trial is broadly perceived to be the preference of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who wants to minimize political distractions in an election year during which Republicans will be working to protect their slim majority in the chamber.

The tension now is over whether to allow witnesses who could turn the trial into an even more contentious affair.

But a lot can happen in two weeks. How will the public react to a sham trial? How horrible will Trump’s behavior become? McConnell has a problem:

McConnell is not sure Republicans have enough votes to only call Trump’s preferred list, the person said. Any agreement to call a witness would require 51 votes, and if Democratic votes were needed to end an impasse among Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) would demand his own list of witnesses as part of any compromise.

Under McConnell’s thinking, this could possibly mean calling Vice President Pence and top White House aides, such as acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, to testify.

“Witnesses would be a double-edged sword,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said.

So McConnell will probably try to avoid calling witnesses? Will there be public outrage? I don’t know. I guess we are going to find out.

More reads, links only:

Kurt Bardella at NBC News: House Republicans’ Trump impeachment strategy was simple: Distract, deceive and yell.

EJ Dionne at The Washington Post: Our country is accepting the unacceptable.

Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg: Abuse of Power? Republicans Seem OK With It.

CNN: FBI agents warn of ‘chilling effect’ from Trump and Barr attacks.

The Washington Post: Eric Holder: William Barr is unfit to be attorney general.

Bloomberg: Giuliani Ally Parnas Got $1 Million From Russia, U.S. Says.

Emma Green at The Atlantic: American Jews Are Terrified.

The Daily Beast: Ukrainians: Trump Just Sent Us ‘a Terrible Signal’

Anne Applebaum at The Atlantic: The False Romance of Russia. American conservatives who find themselves identifying with Putin’s regime refuse to see the country for what it actually is.

John F. Harris at Politico: What if Trump weren’t nuts?


Tuesday Reads: Too Many Emergencies

Good Afternoon!!

Is it just me, or are we really approaching the point at which U.S. democracy cannot be saved? Trump wants to hold next year’s G7 at his private Doral resort in Florida, which would mean that foreign countries would literally have to pay his family business for the privilege of attending. And Trump will likely try to invite Putin next year after he “went to the mat for Putin” over the weekend.

As we approach next year’s presidential election, the Federal Election Commission, the agency that enforces campaign finance laws, is going out of business. Trump and McConnell have stymied legislative efforts to secure our elections.

House Democrats aren’t doing much to control the lawless madman president, much less take steps toward impeaching him. They are making efforts to get his tax returns through the courts, but Rep. Richard Neal refuses to ask New York to provide Trump’s state tax returns.

It’s beginning to look like the race for the Democratic presidential nomination will be between three deeply flawed septuagenarian candidates: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

I hope you’ll check out the links above; there simply isn’t time or space for me to provide excerpts here. And there are so many emergencies that I didn’t mention, such as Trump’s war on immigrants, the problem of easily available guns and the rising threat of white supremacist violence.

Today’s top emergency is the burning of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil.

The Washington Post: What you need to know about the Amazon rainforest fires.

The Amazon — nearly four times the size of Alaska — is a vast sink for storing carbon dioxide and a key element of any plan to restrain climate change. Any increase in deforestation there would speed up global warming as well as damage an important refuge for biodiversity.

Studies show the 2.2 million-square mile forest is nearing a tipping point, at which large fragmented portions of the rainforest could transform into an entirely different, drier ecosystem, leading to the acceleration of climate change, the loss of countless species and disaster for the indigenous populations that call the tropical rainforest home….

The trees and plants of the Amazon forest pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as part of photosynthesis. Destruction of the forest releases carbon stored in the trees and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide used by them.

People are the cause of the Amazon fires.

…most fires in the Amazon are caused by humans, set either accidentally or intentionally.

Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research found the country has lost more than 1,330 square miles of forest cover to development since January, when President Jair Bolsonaro took office. That’s a 39 percent increase over the same period in 2018. July in particular featured a huge spike in forest loss, with an area larger than the city of Los Angeles lost in a single month.

Why would anyone want to hard the Amazon rain forest?

The biggest economic interest groups eating away at the Amazon are cattle grazers and soybean growers. “Directly after deforestation, mostly what we see is pasture,” said Mikaela Weisse, a fellow at the World Resources Institute. Later, soybean growers expand by taking over pasture lands.

Mining, timber and development firms are also eyeing the region for expansion, encouraged by Bolsonaro’s election.

There’s much more helpful (and horrifying) information at the WaPo link.

The New York Times: Brazil Says It Will Reject Millions in Amazon Aid Pledged at G7.

Hours after leaders of some of the world’s wealthiest countries pledged more than $22 million to help combat fires in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s government angrily rejected the offer, in effect telling the other nations to mind their own business — only to later lay out potential terms for the aid’s acceptance.

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil expressed his ire in a series of Twitter posts on Monday, and specifically criticized and taunted President Emmanuel Macron of France, who had announced the aid package at the Group of 7 summit meeting. Their comments extended a verbal feud between the two leaders.

But early the next day, Mr. Bolsonaro offered possible terms for the acceptance of the aid package when he spoke to reporters in the capital, Brasília.

He said that if Mr. Macron withdrew “insults made to my person,” and what Mr. Bolsonaro interpreted as insinuations that Brazil does not have sovereignty over the Amazon, he would reconsider.

“To talk or accept anything from France, even with their very best intentions, he will have to withdraw his words, and then we can talk,” Mr. Bolsonaro said. “First he withdraws them, then he makes the offer, and then I’ll answer.”

Mr. Bolsonaro, who has suggested earlier that Mr. Macon’s real motive is to shield France’s agriculture from Brazilian competition, had tweeted on Monday that the president “disguises his intentions behind the idea of an ‘alliance’ of the G7 countries to ‘save’ the Amazon, as if we were a colony or a no-man’s land.”

He sounds a lot like like Trump.

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board: Editorial: The Amazon is burning and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro doesn’t care.

The fires raging at the edges of the Amazon rainforest are, at the moment, largely consuming lands that had already been converted from their natural state into tracts waiting to be farmed or developed. Nevertheless, some of the blazes are eating away at the rainforest itself, reducing its size by a football field a minute. And one of the most disturbing things about them is that they aren’t part of the cycle of nature, like a California wildfire might be, but are intentionally set in many cases to get rid of brush and felled trees to make way for soy fields and beef grazing grounds. That reflects Brazil’s troubling return to a policy of deforestation that, if unabated, could have grave consequences for efforts to counter the worst effects of global warming.

The reason the Amazon is burning is because Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who followed Donald Trump’s populist, anti-establishment playbook to win election last year, wants it to. He thinks the Amazon should not be protected, and that lands reserved for indigenous peoples should not be recognized — all in the name of economic growth. That see-no-evil approach is another point Bolsonaro has in common with Trump, who has sought to make an alarming amount of public lands available for oil and gas drilling and other extractive industries, such as uranium mining — the health of the planet be damned.

At the just-concluded G-7 meeting in France, international leaders criticized Bolsonaro for his land-use and environmental policies, which include telling those who would cut the rainforest that his government would no longer stop them. So the rate of deforestation, while still far below what it had been a dozen years ago, has been increasing. The G-7 also announced more than $20 million in aid to Brazil and Bolivia for firefighting equipment — a drop in the bucket considering the need, advocates say — and French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to put together an alliance to push for reforestation.

Bolsonaro was not receptive; he accused the leaders of embracing colonialism by telling Brazil what to do. But there’s nothing colonial in asking a neighbor to stop lighting fires that affect the rest of us….

We are all joined by the hard reality that our continued release of carbon into the atmosphere — whether it be from the cars we commute in or the forest Brazilians burn to grow food — is endangering us all. It’s a reality not recognized by Bolsonaro. Nor by Trump, who neither joined the criticism of Bolsonaro’s policies nor showed up for the G-7 climate talks that led to the fire aid package. Both presidents’ disregard for the well-being of the world is, literally, playing with fire. That won’t end well.

The Washington Post: How beef demand is accelerating the Amazon’s deforestation and climate peril.

There are approximately 1.5 billion cows in the world, a population second only to humans among large mammals. They can be raised anywhere: from the Arctic to the equator, on prairies, in deserts and on mountains.

Cattle ranchers in the Brazilian Amazon — the storied rainforest that produces oxygen for the world and modulates climate — are aggressively expanding their herds and willing to clear-cut the forest and burn what’s left to make way for pastures. As a result, they’ve become the single biggest driver of the Amazon’s deforestation, causing about 80 percent of it, according to the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

The ecological devastation is done in the service of the surging demand for beef. About 80 percent of Brazil’s beef is consumed domestically, said Nathalie Walker, the director of the tropical forest and agriculture program at the National Wildlife Federation.

Read more at the WaPo.

I admit, I’m feeling extremely pessimistic today. If anyone has more positive news, I’d love to read about it. I love you guys.