Lazy Caturday Reads: Trump In Trouble

Good Morning!!

Only a little more than 2 weeks to go until November 3!

Biden continues to lead Trump in the polls. In the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, he Biden is ahead by 11 points among likely voters. At Vanity Fair, Bess Levin humorously summarizes the findings: Poll: Americans Think Donald Trump is a “Horrible” “Disgusting” “Putinesque” “Ass.” They additionally think he’s a “racist,” “despicable,” “corrupt,” “antichrist.”

Trump was able to win in 2016 with just 46% of voters casting a ballot in his favor because states key to the Electoral College backed him. But Biden is ahead in several crucial states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which helped Trump clinch the election four years ago. Not only has Biden maintained an advantage with Black, Latino, and women voters—which might have something to do with the fact that Trump is a flaming raollscist and misogynist—plus young voters, independents, and people who live in cities and suburbs, he is also leading the president with a heretofore unthinkable collection of individuals: white people.

Yes, Trump, who won white voters by 20 points in 2016, and has spent the last four years saying and doing things that have suggested there was a nonzero chance he might appear at a rally one day wearing a white sheet and burning a cross, is losing to Biden with his favorite demographic….

e311dc18f9055eeb652c4493bf95a51fAdditionally, 52% of likely voters view Trump’s presidency as a failure, which is generally not a great thing vis-à-vis winning an election. The bad news for the president comes on the heels of his white-power-embracing, lie-spewing, explosive-diarrhea-of-the-mouth debate performance earlier this month and his COVID-19 diagnosis. And it’s not the only thing the campaign should probably be worried about! On top of the cold, hard data, poll respondents were asked to describe the candidates using one word, and for Trump, the views are a positive sign, unless it’s considered a positive that Americans think he’s a pathetic jackass:

“For Trump, the word that stands out is ‘incompetent,’ while for Biden it is ‘honest.’

From the NPR article:

To be clear, both candidates have a range of words ascribed to them that are positive and negative.

For Trump, on the positive end, people said he is “good,” “great,” “successful” and “strong.” On the negative side, “incompetent” was overwhelmingly the most common word used, followed by “liar,” “failure,” “bad,” “horrible,” “disaster,” “arrogant” and “buffoon.”

The positives ascribed to Biden include, for example, “honest,” “confident,” “hopeful,” “good,” “trustworthy” and “compassionate.”

On the negative side, voters said: “old,” “confused,” “incompetent,” “senile” and “weak.”

Biden also beat Trump soundly in TV ratings of their competing town hall appearances on Thursday night. Vanity Fair: It’s Official: Biden Beats Trump in Town Hall Television Ratings.

Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil was formulated by Dr. S. N. Thomas in the late 1840s. It contained spirits of turpentine, camphor, oil of tar, red thyme, and fish oil

Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil was formulated by Dr. S. N. Thomas in the late 1840s. It contained spirits of turpentine, camphor, oil of tar, red thyme, and fish oil.

According to Nielsen numbers released Friday, the Biden event was watched by 13.9 million viewers on ABC, easily besting Trump’s NBC spectacle, which drew just 10.9 million viewers. The Trump event’s total viewership was dwarfed by Biden’s even though Trump’s was simulcast on CNBC and MSNBC: as CNN noted, the three networks combined for roughly 13 million viewers, a total that still lagged behind the Biden event.

Before Thursday night’s town hall with Trump aired on NBC—a last-minute decision that was broadly panned—outlets reported that the president was banking on a ratings windfall.

“He looks at this the same way he looks at attendance at his rallies versus the [turnout] Biden gets for his events,” an anonymous source told The Daily Beast this week. “He obviously wants to blow Biden out of the water.

But on Friday morning, in the wake of mockery for his performance, Trump received some surprising news: a Biden ratings lead in the preliminary numbers. Even then, it was expected that Trump would ultimately prevail, owing to the fact that NBC blanketed its cable networks with the president. Alas, that wasn’t the case—although Trump could still potentially claim victory, as the Nielsen numbers only account for television viewership and not online and streaming numbers. (As one reporter noted, however, Biden’s town hall did comfortably beat Trump’s event in viewership on YouTube.)

It’s not looking good for Trump, and he is clearly freaking out about it. In a rally in Macon, GA last night he said he might have to leave the country if he loses.

From the article:

At one point, Mr. Trump threatened to leave the country should he lose the election.

“Could you imagine if I lose?” he said. “I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country, I don’t know.”

Trailing in the polls and at a significant cash deficit compared to Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump attempted to argue that he was opting against raising more money as he enters the final stretch of the election.

7ba691e3487ddcefa6da51176d2d1c9a“I could raise more money,” he said. “I would be the world’s greatest fund-raiser, but I just don’t want to do it.”

Mr. Trump’s campaign announced this week that he had raised over $247 million last month, far short of the record $383 million raised by Mr. Biden’s campaign and affiliated Democratic committees.

The president also delivered a discursive monologue about what he cast as a choice to not be more presidential, an allusion to the chaotic style that has turned off suburban women, a group that helped boost Mr. Trump to victory four years ago.

“I used to go and I’d imitate a president who’s playing presidential — it’s so easy compared to what we do,” he said. “I said, ‘I can be more presidential than any president in our history with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln when he wore the hat, that’s tough to beat.’”

Mr. Trump acknowledged his losses in the suburbs, seeming to link his slide to his divisive style. Mr. Biden leads by 23 points among suburban women in battleground states, according to recent polling by The New York Times and Siena College. Among suburban men, the race is tied.

“Suburban women,” he said. “I heard they like my policy but they don’t like my personality. I said they don’t care about my personality, they want to be safe.”

I don’t think it’s just his personality that turns off women voters. It’s his actions and non-actions.

76b7e01e343198f80551b13039a37789Trump might actually try to leave the country if he loses, because he will face multiple criminal prosecutions. But that won’t save him from the millions he owes to someone, likely Deutsche Bank. The New York Times has a new article up based on Trump’s tax data: $421 Million in Debt: Trump Calls It ‘a Peanut,’ but Challenges Lie Ahead.

President Trump painted a rosy picture of his financial condition during a televised town hall on Thursday night, calling his hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due “a peanut” and saying he had borrowed it as a favor to lenders eager to take advantage of his financial strength.

In fact, the loans, and the unusual requirement he had to accept to receive them, illustrate the financial challenges he faces and the longstanding reluctance of banks to deal with him.

Mr. Trump had to personally guarantee $421 million in debt, a rare step that lenders only require of businesses that may not be able to repay. The commitment puts his assets on the line and could place his lenders, should he be re-elected, in the position of deciding whether to foreclose on a sitting president.

The personal guarantee also speaks to why, despite Mr. Trump’s assertion that banks are eager to lend him money, nearly all the money he borrowed in the last decade came from only two institutions.

“When a bank asks for a personal guarantee, it is because the bank isn’t satisfied with the creditworthiness of the borrower,” said Richard Scott Carnell, who served as assistant secretary for financial institutions at the Treasury Department under President Bill Clinton and now teaches law at Fordham University. “If the captain gives a personal guarantee for the ship, he will be less likely to sink it.”

Sheet music, 1876There are lots of articles today on the ridiculous New York Post/Rudy Giuliani story about Hunter Biden’s alleged emails. This one is by David Ignatius at The Washington Post: The truth behind the Hunter Biden non-scandal.

The story of Hunter Biden’s involvement with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma isn’t a scandal about his father, as the Trump campaign claims, but part of a personal tragedy for the vice president’s son, compounded by this week’s dissemination of what looks like disinformation about Joe Biden’s role.

What’s clear, beyond the false scandal-mongering, has been evident for years: Hunter Biden made a mistake getting involved with a dubious company like Burisma. But the notion that the Burisma affair undermines Joe Biden’s case to be president is, as he would say, malarkey.

The Biden campaign has been understandably reluctant to respond, for fear of giving the story legitimacy. Still, Biden has said his son made a mistake. Family friends say the vice president is reluctant to publicly criticize Hunter Biden further, but they stress that both Bidens have learned the painful lesson that a president’s children should stay away from international business. Would that the Trump family recognized that rule.

That’s really the point, isn’t it? I wonder why more news outlets don’t focus on Trump’s nepotism and the corrupt behavior of his children and son-in-law.

e0112888dc530ac522ef0f49d21a74a3The Hunter-Ukraine connection has been a political sideshow since the Biden campaign began. It got new voltage this week when the New York Post published what it claimed were emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop suggesting that he had helped arrange a 2015 meeting between his father and a Burisma executive. The Biden campaign denied any such meeting, and its accounts, based on recollections of multiple staff members, are believable. An Eastern European expert in digital forensics who has examined some of the Ukrainian documents leaked to the New York Post told me he found anomalies — such as American-style capitalization of the names of ministries — that suggest fakery.

Read more at the WaPo and at the following links:

AP: Biden email episode illustrates risk to Trump from Giuliani.

The Daily Beast: Bolton Warned His Staff To Stay Away From Russia-Aligned Rudy Giuliani.

NPR: Analysis: Questionable ‘N.Y. Post’ Scoop Driven by Ex-Hannity Producer, Giuliani.

The Daily Beast: Rudy: Only ‘50/50’ Chance I Worked With a ‘Russian Spy’ to Dig Dirt on Bidens.

One more before I wrap this up. Yesterday Judge Reggie Walton called Trump’s bluff on his tweeted order to declassify every document associated with the Russia investigation. The Washington Post: U.S. judge: Do Trump’s tweets or White House lawyers speak for president on declassifying entire Russia probe?

A federal judge rebuked the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office on Friday for dismissing without explanation President Trump’s “emphatic and unambiguous” tweets ordering the declassification of all documents in the government’s probe of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

“I have fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to the single greatest political CRIME in American History, the Russia Hoax,” the president tweeted Oct. 6. “Likewise, the Hillary Clinton Email Scandal. No redactions!”

1883 posterTrump’s blanket statement came the day after he returned to the White House from three days of treatment for the novel coronavirus at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The tweet has since created a headache for government lawyers in pending open-records lawsuits filed by news organizations seeking fuller disclosure of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report and investigative materials.

Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer maintained in a court filing Tuesday that the White House Counsel’s Office informed the Justice Department that notwithstanding the president’s statement, “there is no order requiring wholesale declassification or disclosure of documents at issue.”

The Judge wasn’t buying it.

At Friday’s hearing, however, Judge Reggie B. Walton of the U.S. District Court in D.C. expressed bafflement at the claim that President Trump’s words were not to be believed.

“I think the American public has a right to rely on what the president says his intention is,” Walton said.

“It seems to me when a president makes a clear, unambiguous statement of what his intention is, that I can’t rely on the White House Counsel’s Office saying, ‘Well, that was not his intent,’ ” the judge said in a hearing conducted by videoconference because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Walton directed the department by noon Tuesday to clarify with Trump or “an individual who has conferred directly with the president” whether Trump had intended to order the declassification and release of Mueller report materials without redaction. The judge cited the urgency of releasing as much information as possible in the remaining days before the election.

This could get interesting. I hope you all have a great weekend. Please stop by Sky Dancing if you have the time and inclination–we love to hear from you!


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.


Lazy Caturday Reads: 2020 and Impeachment

Good Morning!!

It’s looking like the media has successfully erased Kamala Harris’ candidacy, but yesterday Trump gave her a publicity boost. Trump was inexplicably given an award at a traditionally Black college in South Carolina, but only 10 students were invited to attend the forum, which was filled with Trump supporters.

Greenville News: President Trump addresses political allies as Benedict students are asked to stay in dorms.

COLUMBIA – In a way, what happened outside Benedict College’s gates in the heart of downtown felt quite small. At its peak, the crowd covered less than 100 yards of the sidewalk. But the scene itself represented something much bigger: the fractured, divisive, sometimes ugly and often loud American political climate.

Protests were mounted outside the 150-year-old historically black college where inside a school auditorium President Donald Trump spoke to a room filled with more political allies than students.

The event was billed as a keynote speech on bipartisan success in criminal justice reform, which the president tied to a booming economy that he told his audience has helped black people more than ever before.

Benedict students — some of whom pondered the week prior what questions they might ask the president once his surprise visit to the weekend-long “2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum” was announced — were asked to stay in their dorms.

Seven students were allowed inside for the speech….

The announcement that Trump would join came late and to the surprise of those participating in the forum. The original announcement of the event highlighted only that Democratic candidates were participating.

When Kamala Harris learned about Trump’s appearance she cancelled her own visit to Benedict College.

Trump attacked Harris for this on Twitter and this morning she responded.

I know it’s unlikely Americans are ready for Black woman as the Democratic nominee, but I continue to admire this woman greatly and I believe she will continue make a difference in the years to come.

Greenville News: Kamala Harris backs out of Benedict forum after Trump receives award on visit to SC.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris has withdrawn from participating in the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum today at Benedict College after learning President Donald Trump received an award at the forum on Friday.

Harris, the junior senator from California, was due to speak at the event at the historically black college alongside fellow 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, but she posted a message on Twitter announcing her withdrawal less than 24 hours before she was scheduled to speak.

She cited the Bipartisan Justice Award that the president received and event organization that left only nine Benedict students to be invited, only seven of whom were able to attend according to a school spokesperson.

“I won’t be complicit in papering over Trump’s record,” Harris tweeted in part before announcing she’ll instead take part in a panel at Benedict College’s Antisdel Chapel with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.

Joe Biden is still leading in most polls, but he has been struggling to raise money for his campaign.

Politico: Why Biden is getting crushed in the all-important money race.

Joe Biden’s campaign is drawing more support from big-ticket donors than any other candidate in the race — yet he still can’t match his rivals’ cash flow.

Biden has raised $20.7 million from contributions of at least $500 — $1.5 million more than his nearest competitor, despite entering the race later than all of them — thanks to the former vice president’s strong connections and goodwill among the traditional donors who have long financed the Democratic Party. Biden drew donations from 114 former big money fundraisers for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the third quarter, the most of any Democrat, according to a POLITICO analysis.

But it’s been nowhere near enough to make Biden the leader of the fundraising pack. In fact, his big-dollar dominance, and his reliance on those donors, is more evidence of how quickly small-dollar donations have become the most important component of political fundraising in a sprawling, fractured Democratic race. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are all outraising Biden, and stockpiling cash significantly faster than him, on the back of major support from online donors that Biden has been unable to build.

Biden is spending too much time holding big money fundraisers and not enough time campaigning. A bit more:

The bundler contributions and connections are helping keep Biden’s campaign afloat, but some of those donors are cringing at the way Biden is running his campaign.

“I don’t think Joe Biden is going to be the nominee,” said one major fundraiser, who said he gave to Biden out of loyalty during the third quarter. “I think there’s a thirst for something down the road taking us towards something bigger and better. That’s not going to be Joe Biden, for whom I have the utmost respect. He is acting his age and showing his age.”

Much more at the Politico link. Yesterday Biden approved formation of a super pac. Politico: Biden throws his campaign a lifeline.

By reversing course and dropping his opposition to super PACs, Joe Biden has all but admitted he’s getting swamped in fundraising.

But it was a strategic retreat that could end up paying big dividends for his cash-starved campaign.

Calls to a half-dozen maxed-out Biden donors Friday revealed that they would gladly dig deeper for the former vice president and contribute to a super PAC that enables them — and corporations — to give and spend unlimited amounts of money.

The witching hour by Lisa Parker

“Joe Biden has not raised as much money as the others through his own campaign efforts. But you have to understand, that’s basically how it works. Bernie Sanders had, what, 20,000 people at an event in New York? Suppose each one of those people gave $100,” said Joe Cotchett, a major Bay Area bundler for Biden. “Does Joe have the ability to have 20,000 people at a rally right now? The answer is no. But hopefully for Joe, it will come.”

Harold Schaitberger, head of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which has already endorsed Biden, said it would likely commit to a Biden super PAC.

“We would be in a position to support that effort,” said Schaitberger. “We’re certainly capable of spending in the six figures.

We’ll see. I still don’t think Biden will win the nomination, but at this point, I’ve stopped caring. I’ll vote for Kamala if she’s still around on Super Tuesday, and I’ll hold my nose and vote for whoever the Dems nominate. I don’t think we’ll beat Trump in an election. He has to be impeached and removed or forced to resign. There’s no evidence right now that the 2020 election will be legitimate.

Another problem for Biden is the drip drip drip about his son Hunter. If he is the nominee, the Republicans will talk about Hunter non-stop, and it won’t matter if he did anything illegal. He certainly traded on his father’s name. The latest from The New York Times: Giuliani Is Drawing Attention to Hunter Biden’s Work in Romania. But There’s a Problem.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, signaled this month that he planned to open a new front in his attacks against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — work done by Mr. Biden’s son Hunter Biden for a wealthy Romanian business executive facing corruption charges.

But there’s a problem with that strategy: Mr. Giuliani participated in an effort that would have helped the same executive, and was in fact recruited to do so by Louis J. Freeh, a former F.B.I. director who had been brought onto the matter by Hunter Biden.

In effect, Mr. Giuliani and Hunter Biden were on the same team, if not at the same time. And their work to help the business executive, along with that of Mr. Freeh, stood in contrast to efforts by the United States, including Vice President Biden while he was in office, to encourage anti-corruption efforts in Romania.

The dynamic in Romania underscores how Mr. Giuliani has done a brisk international business with clients who sometimes seem to be seeking to capitalize on his connections to Mr. Trump even as he has accused Hunter Biden of seeking to capitalize on his father’s name while doing business in other countries. And the disclosure of the connection between his role in Romania and Mr. Biden’s comes at a time when Mr. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for possible violations of foreign lobbying laws.

Trump will bash Hunter unmercifully if Biden is the nominee and it won’t matter that Trump is far more corrupt and that his own children are raking in millions through his presidency. The media doesn’t focus on Trump’s nepotism now and they likely won’t in 2020. The focus will be on “both sides,” and pretending that Joe and Hunter’s questionable ethics or, even worse, Elizabeth Warren’s long history of claiming Native American ancestry. It will be the new “her emails.”

I’m sorry to sound so negative today. It’s still a long time until the primaries begin, but it’s not looking good right now. The good news is that the Impeachment inquiry is going full speed ahead.

Catbatting by Maggie Vandewalle

The New York Times: Impeachment Inquiry Is Legal, Judge Rules, Giving Democrats a Victory.

A federal judge handed a victory to House Democrats on Friday when she ruled that they were legally engaged in an impeachment inquiry, a decision that undercut President Trump’s arguments that the investigation is a sham.

The declaration came in a 75-page opinion by Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the Federal District Court in Washington. She ruled that the House Judiciary Committee was entitled to view secret grand jury evidence gathered by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

Typically, Congress has no right to view such evidence. But in 1974, the courts permitted lawmakers to see such materials as they weighed whether to impeach President Richard M. Nixon. The House is now immersed in the same process focused on Mr. Trump, Judge Howell ruled, and that easily outweighs any need to keep the information secret from lawmakers.

And in a rebuke to the Trump administration, she wrote that the White House strategy to stonewall the House had actually strengthened lawmakers’ case. She cited Mr. Trump’s vow to fight “all” congressional subpoenas and an extraordinary directive by his White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, that executive branch officials should not provide testimony or documents to impeachment investigators.

“The White House’s stated policy of noncooperation with the impeachment inquiry weighs heavily in favor of disclosure,” Judge Howell wrote. “Congress’s need to access grand jury material relevant to potential impeachable conduct by a president is heightened when the executive branch willfully obstructs channels for accessing other relevant evidence.”

Of course we don’t know what the right-wing SCOTUS will ultimately decide.

One more interesting piece from Just Security: George Washington’s Advisors Agreed: Impeachment Did Away with Executive Privilege.

President George Washington’s decision to withhold diplomatic papers from the House of Representatives with respect to the Jay Treaty has become an important precedent in current debates over executive privilege. Earlier this month, the White House Counsel’s Office invoked this precedent as its first cited source in claiming executive privilege with respect to the scope of the testimony of Fiona Hill, the former top Russia advisor on the National Security Council. And as the Ukraine affair first came to light and impeachment entered the discussion, John Yoo, writing for the New York Times, cited this precedent as a major stumbling block that would thwart any impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s abuse of his diplomatic powers.

But as one of us pointed out in a recent post for Just Security, Washington clearly signaled that executive privilege would not be available if the House were pursuing an impeachment inquiry. In withholding the papers, he wrote that

“It does not occur that the inspection of the papers asked for can be relative to any purpose under the cognizance of the House of Representatives, except that of an impeachment, which the resolution [requesting the papers] has not expressed.”

(Judge Naomi Rao recently quoted this language in drawing a distinction between the information that Congress can access in an impeachment proceedings as opposed to lawmaking in a dissent.)

Earlier this week, we published an op-ed, highlighting this and other evidence from the Founding era and discussed its significance for current events. While writing, we were impressed by just how unanimous Washington’s advisors were on an impeachment carve-out to executive privilege. Here are some key quotes (with emphasis added), from Washington’s Cabinet (whose advice he had requested) and several others…

Read the rest at the link. Maybe the courts will save us yet–if Chief Justice Roberts can bring himself to care about the Constitution more than partisanship.

I’ll add more links in the comment thread. What stories have you been following?


Tuesday Reads: Democratic Debate and Trump’s Troubles

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 2008

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wassily Kandinsky, Autumn in Murnau, 1908

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Hopper, October on Cape Cod

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georgia O’Kefee, Autumn Leaves, 1924

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest I, 1902

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henri Rousseau, Eiffel Tower at Sunset, 1910

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Gauguin, Landscape in Arles near the Alyscamps, 1888

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

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

Read the rest at the NYT.

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

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

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

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


Lazy Caturday Reads: The Mushrooming Ukraine Scandal

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

Good Afternoon!!

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

Here’s what’s happening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Cat on a Windowsill, Korovin Konstantin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buster Keaton in Electric House, 1922

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Barn Cat by Ron McGinnnis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Circus, Merna Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin, 1928

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

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

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

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

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

Painting by Mischa Askenazy, 1888-1961

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Painting by Peter Adderley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at FP.

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