Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

Of course that is simply not true.

Background on Sondland from the Times article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at the WaPo.

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

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

Donny Montana: October 6, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest at the link.

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


Lazy Saturday Afternoon Reads

Spring is on the way!

Spring is on the way!

 

Good Afternoon!!

I woke up this morning with my eyes so scratchy and watery that I couldn’t read anything on-line until I took a long hot shower. It’s either a cold, a sinus infection, or very early pollen in the air–or maybe all three. Who knows? Anyway, I’m feeling better now.

There’s plenty of news this morning, but not a lot of *new news,* if you know what I mean. The Middle East is still in chaos, Malaysian Airlines 370 is still missing, Republicans are still insane; yet the Earth still continues to turn on its axis. I’ve tried to find a few stories worthy of your attention–I’ll let you be the judge.

UPDATE (11:57 Eastern):

There actually is some breaking news from Ukraine. BBC News is reporting that Russian troops storm[ed a] Ukraine airbase in Crimea, shots fired.

Shooting and explosions have been heard as Russian troops – backed by armoured vehicles – stormed a Ukrainian airbase in Crimea.

Reports say at least one person was injured during the assault on Belbek base, near Sevastopol. The base is now said to be under Russian control.

Earlier, several hundred unarmed protesters seized a Ukrainian naval base at Novofedorivka, western Crimea.

Pro-Russian militia has also been seizing Ukrainian Navy ships.

The BBC’s Ian Pannell, in Crimea, says the Ukrainian troops on the peninsula feel beleaguered and abandoned by their chiefs in Ukraine….

In Belbek, two armoured personnel carriers burst through the wall of the base followed by Russian troops firing weapons in the air.

An ambulance was then seen entering the base amid reports that at least one person was injured.

The Ukrainian soldiers were later gathered at the base main square in front of the heavily armed Russian troops.

The storming followed an ultimatum by the Russians to surrender.

Did you hear that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blocked Twitter in his country?

Reuters: Furious reaction, political split after Turkey bans Twitter.

A court blocked access to Twitter after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s defiant vow, on the campaign trail on Thursday ahead of March 30 local elections, to “wipe out” the social media service, whatever the international community had to say about it.

Industry Minister Fikri Isik said talks with Twitter were taking place and the ban would be lifted if the San Francisco-based firm appointed a representative in Turkey and agreed to block specific content when requested by Turkish courts.

Twitter turkey

What’s Erdogan’s problem with social media?

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 11 years, is battling a corruption scandal that has been fed by social media awash with alleged evidence of government wrongdoing. He did not mention the Twitter ban at two campaign rallies on Friday.

Turkey’s main opposition party said it would challenge the ban and file a criminal complaint against Erdogan on the grounds of violating personal freedoms. The country’s bar association filed a separate court challenge.

Twitter users called the move a “digital coup”, some comparing Turkey to Iran and North Korea, where social media platforms are tightly controlled. There were also calls for protests.

“Waking up to no Twitter in Turkey feels like waking up to a coup. The modern equivalent of occupying the radio stations,” U.S. author and journalist Andrew Finkel, who has reported from Turkey for more than 20 years, said on his Twitter account.

This morning Reuters reports that

Turks attempting to access Twitter have found an Internet page carrying court rulings saying that a “protection measure” has been taken, blocking the site.

But many have been able to get around the ban, either by using virtual private network (VPN) software or changing their Domain Name System (DNS) setting, effectively disguising their computers’ geographical whereabouts.

By Saturday, though, computers that had been set with DNS numbers widely circulated to help people get around the ban were not able to access the Internet at all.

“Apparently alternate DNS servers are also blocked in Turkey. New settings are being circulated,” wrote one Twitter user.

Apparently twitter is very popular in Turkey. The Washington Post has lots more reactions to the Turkish Twitter ban.

I know everyone is sick of the missing MH370 story, so I’ll just give you one link to a minor update.

WaPo: Australia expands search for missing jetliner as China investigates new satellite image.

Chinese satellite image

Chinese satellite image

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — China released a new image of a “suspected floating object” in the Indian Ocean on Saturday, in the vicinity of an Australian-led search that has brought fresh hope to the hunt for a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner.

China has sent ships to investigate, according to the Malaysian government.

The Chinese government said one of its satellites spotted the object on March 18, about 75 miles west of the location released by Australia earlier this week.

A grainy image of the latest find was tweeted Saturday by Chinese state television, CCTV. It is dated two days after the two images released by Australia.

The search for the missing airliner has now entered a third week, with the main hope for a breakthrough hinging on planes and ships being able to locate floating objects picked up by satellites in a desolate stretch of ocean almost as close to Antarctica as to Australia.

Michelle Obama is on a good will tour of China with her mother and two daughters. Time reports on the First Lady’s defense of “the free internet” in a speech at Peking University.

First Lady Michelle Obama used a trip to China Saturday to promote the liberating “power of technology” in a veiled swipe at the harshly restrictive Internet and media environment in the country.

At her first—and only—major speech scheduled during her…trip…Obama said that new technology can “open up the entire world and expose us to ideas and innovations we could never have imagined.”

“It is so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the Internet and through the media,” she said. “Because that’s how we discover the truth, that’s how we learn what’s really happening in our communities, in our country and our world.”

President Xi Jinping and his wife welcomed U.S. first lady and her mother and daughters

President Xi Jinping and his wife welcomed U.S. first lady and her mother and daughters

 

I never watch the Sunday talk shows, because they are horrible; but Paul Waldman of WaPo’s The Plum Line apparently hasn’t given up on them.

Waldman asks: Can the Sunday shows get better?

Most members of Congress would kill to be interviewed on one of the shows, since getting such an appearance instantly brands you as an important person whose opinions are worth listening to. But “Meet the Press,” the oldest and most venerated of the shows, has been struggling of late, falling behind “This Week” and “Face the Nation” in the ratings, leading to some rumors about David Gregory’s future. But as Michael Calderone reports in the Huffington Post, the network is “doubling down” on Gregory as it tries to gingerly step its way into the digital world. The problem, though, is what they put on the air every Sunday.

There’s a conceit about the Sunday shows, that they hold the powerful accountable. It’s where “newsmakers” come to be raked over the coals, unable to escape the probing queries of savvy and unrelenting interrogators. But it’s awfully hard to watch the shows and believe that’s true. What happens instead is that the powerful come on the shows, and the hosts try (and almost always fail) to trap them with various kinds of “gotcha” questions, which the powerful handle by returning again and again to their carefully planned messages. The result, even for those of us who love listening to and talking about politics and policy, is remarkably tedious.

Meet the press

So how can these awful shows be improved?

Let me make a couple of suggestions I know they’d never consider. First, ban all party chairs, White House communication staff, party “strategists,” and anyone else whose primary objective is to spin from ever, ever, ever appearing on the show. Ever. To ask a question I’ve raised elsewhere: Has anyone anywhere in the United States turned off their TV and said, “Wow, that interview with Reince Priebus was really interesting”? Of course not, and the same applies to his Democratic counterpart, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. That’s because their job is to deliver talking points, and they do so with a discipline worthy of the Marine Honor Guard, no matter what questions they’re asked. And they get plenty of time on cable, so why waste valuable minutes on a Sunday show by letting them repeat the same talking points they’ve recited 100 times that that week?

And while we’re at it, why not go farther and cut down the interviews with elected officials and candidates by three-quarters or so? I’m serious. When was the last time you saw a truly edifying interview on a Sunday show with a senator or member of Congress? If you want to talk about what’s going on in Ukraine, I could hardly care less what John McCain (the shows’ most frequent guest) thinks about it, and I doubt I’m alone. He knows next to nothing about the situation, and as a minority party senator with almost no support among his colleagues, he’ll have precisely zero impact on the outcome of events. So how about, as a first rule, the people you bring on should 1) know as much as possible about the things you’re going to discuss, and 2) have little if any interest in spinning?

Good luck with that. I’d say the very best thing that could be done is to ban both John McCain and Lindsey Graham from ever appearing on Sunday shows. And for heaven’s sake get rid of David Gregory and put Bob Schieffer permanently out to pasture. BTW, Bob’s guest tomorrow will be Mitt Romney because he undoubtedly has all the answers on what’s up with Russian and Ukraine.

A few more quick hits . . .

Politico: Judge strikes down Mich. same-sex marriage ban

Reuters: Pope appoints former child victim to church group on sex abuse

Talking Points Memo: Creationists Complain Tyson’s ‘Cosmos’ Isn’t Giving Them Airtime

Business Insider: North Dakota State Is America’s Team

So . . . what stories are you following today? Let us know in the comment thread and have a terrific weekend!