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.


Fractured Fairy Tale Friday Reads: Russians Hiding under the White House Beds

Wassily Kandinsky artwork

Two riders before the red, 1911, woodblock, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. (Wassily Kandinsky)

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

We’re beginning to see just how wrapped up Republicans are with Russians.  I ran across this from bellingcat this morning by Casey Michel.  And we thought only the NRA was awash in Russian money and influence!!!   “Money Talks: Len Blavatnik And The Council On Foreign Relations”.

Last month, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), one of America’s leading think tanks, announced that it had received a substantial donation that would help round out the organization’s upcoming budget. As a statement on the CFR’s website detailed, a CFR member had graciously decided to help facilitate funding for CFR’s intern program. The donation, as CFR’s statement detailed, would provide “paid internships to over one hundred interns each year,” and would help “cultivat[e] the next generation of leaders in government, academia, and the private sector.” CFR President Richard Haass, as he wrote on Twitter, was “[g]rateful” for the “generous gift.”

It’s easy to see why CFR’s brass would express gratitude for the gift. After all, issues surrounding paying interns have circulated among any number of American institutions over the past decade, from media to civil society to, as CFR’s announcement noted, think tanks. A CFR spokesperson told Bellingcat that the donation totaled $12 million.

There was one problem, though. As CFR noted, the donation had come from the Blavatnik Family Foundation — and was specifically facilitated by CFR member Len Blavatnik.

Blavatnik may not be a household name in the United States and has not been sanctioned by any Western governments, but the involvement of Blavatnik, born in the USSR in what is now southern Ukraine, has already sparked a firestorm of internal controversy at CFR.

CFR’s willingness to accept the donation from Blavatnik’s foundation has been a case study in the “soft enabling of kleptocracy,” Sarah Chayes, one of the leading anti-corruption voices in the U.S., told Bellingcat. It also fits into Blavatnik’s previous history of working with what she described as “image launderers,” all of whom have helped Blavatnik — who has worked closely over the years with figures now sanctioned specifically by the U.S. for their role in spreading the Kremlin’s kleptocracy — in shaping the reputation of someone who accrued substantial wealth in the mad scramble for post-Soviet resource and industry.

The pushback over the previous weeks has culminated in an unprecedented protest against CFR’s move to accept and publicize the donation from Blavatnik’s foundation. One letter, addressed to Haass and signed by dozens of the most prominent anti-corruption activists in the U.S. and Ukraine, leading experts on post-Soviet kleptocracy, and former members of the Treasury Department, State Department, and National Security Council, condemned the move as a means of helping “Blavatnik [export] Russian kleptocratic practices to the West.”

Haass and CFR, however, haven’t expressed any concern about the donation, nor about the fact that the U.S.’s leading anti-kleptocracy voices have condemned the move. There’s no indication that CFR will walk back the donation, despite the unprecedented pushback they’ve received.

Three Riders in red, blue and black 1911, woodblock, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. (Wassily Kandinsky)

Blavatnik’s donations to US institutions run a lot deeper than you’d think and the article is worth your time to read.  Follow this author.  He’s part of the Kleptocracy Initiative and keeps track of these sorts of things.

Along the way, Blavatnik kept a relatively low profile politically, and made efforts — both personal and financial in nature — to retain friends all across the political spectrum, especially in the U.S. Having gained U.S. citizenship, Blavatnik has made a concerted effort to financially back both Democratic and Republican candidates over the years. In 2016, though, Blavatnik split with his prior precedent, and poured some $6 million into Republican coffers, as well as donating  $1 million directly to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee. Over the past year, Blavatnik has returned to his old habits, and begun donating across the aisle, according to data from the Federal Election Commission.

But in the aftermath of Russia’s 2016 interference efforts, new questions began to swirl about Blavatnik’s funding. Not only did the U.S. sanction individuals like Vekselberg, figures with whom Blavatnik had previously been close, but last year it emerged that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office had specifically investigated Blavatnik’s donations to Trump’s inauguration. Vekselberg also told the Financial Times that he attended Trump’s inauguration at a table Blavatnik paid for, although Blavatnik’s spokesperson denied this.

Mikhail Vrubel. Pearl.
1904. Cardboard, pastel, gouache, coal.

Kenneth Vogel–writing for the NYT–has the byline for this important read Giuliani’s Ukraine Team: In Search of Influence, Dirt and MoneyThe president’s lawyer was paid by Lev Parnas, who with Igor Fruman worked on behalf of President Trump in Ukraine.”

When Rudolph W. Giuliani set out to dredge up damaging information on President Trump’s rivals in Ukraine, he turned to a native of the former Soviet republic with whom he already had a lucrative business relationship.

Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian-American businessman with a trail of debts and lawsuits, had known Mr. Giuliani casually for years through Republican political circles. Last year, their relationship deepened when a company he helped found retained Mr. Giuliani — associates of Mr. Parnas said he told them he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars — for what Mr. Giuliani said on Thursday was business and legal advice.

Even as he worked with Mr. Parnas’s company, Fraud Guarantee, Mr. Giuliani increasingly relied on Mr. Parnas to carry out Mr. Trump’s quest for evidence in Ukraine that would undercut the legitimacy of the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference on his behalf in the 2016 election and help him heading into his 2020 re-election campaign.

Mr. Giuliani dispatched Mr. Parnas and an associate, Igor Fruman, a Belarusian-American businessman, to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, where, despite fending off creditors at home, BuzzFeed reported, they ran up big charges at a strip club and the Hilton International hotel. Their mission was to find people and information that could be used to undermine the special counsel’s investigation, and also to damage former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a prospective Democratic challenger to Mr. Trump.

 

Image result for Alexej von Jawlensky

Girl with Red Ribbon Alexej von Jawlensy

Here’s a brief take of the Josh Chafetz piece from Common Dreams: “Law Professor’s Advice to House Democrats: Arrest Rudy Giuliani.”

Faced with an intransigent White House unwilling to cooperate with an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s pressuring of the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rival former Vice President Joe Biden, the House should take aggressive action including arresting Rudy Giuliani, a law professor argues in a column for The New York Times Thursday.

“The answer is unlikely to be found in a courtroom,” writes law professor Josh Chafetz.

The White House has repeatedly refused to answer subpoenas and on Tuesday afternoon, as Common Dreams reported, announced in an eight page letter that the administration will flatly refuse to cooperate in the inquiry, a move that could set up a constitutional crisis.

“There is no legal basis for Trump’s position,” NBC analyst Katie Phang said on Twitter Tuesday. “Hard stop.”

House Democrats need to think outside the box, Chafetz argues.

“The House should instead put back on the table the option of using its sergeant-at-arms to arrest contemnors—as the person in violation of the order is called—especially when an individual, like Rudy Giuliani, is not an executive branch official,” Chaftez writes.

Chafetz acknowledges that the move was extreme, but said that the net benefits of taking things to that level would outweigh the possible negatives of such an action and allow for the House to open the door to other punitive actions seen as less radical.

“The House arresting someone would be explosive and clearly should not be undertaken lightly,” says Chafetz. “But the very explosiveness of it would be a way for the House to signal the seriousness of White House obstructionism to the public.”

The Demon Seated, Mikhail Vrubel 1890

The State Department is getting into the spotlight more and more on the entire Ukrainian situation as a Senior Advisor to Pompeo resigns. This is from WAPO. And an Ambassador removed by Trump speaks out.

Michael McKinley, a career diplomat and senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has resigned his position amid rising dissatisfaction and plummeting morale inside the State Department over what is seen as Pompeo’s failure to support personnel ensnared in the Ukraine controversy.

A senior officer who has held a range of diplomatic posts, including ambassador to Afghanistan, Colombia and Peru, McKinley was serving as ambassador to Brazil last year when Pompeo recruited him as a policy adviser and a conduit between his office and the career service.

Pompeo was expected to issue a statement Friday announcing the departure.

McKinley declined to comment Thursday evening.

Among the many issues in which he played a role, McKinley has been closely involved in administration policy on Venezuela, Mexico, Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, where last month President Trump abruptly canceled U.S. peace negotiations with the Taliban that both sides had said were near an agreement.

There seems to be a large number of career professionals in various departments ready to testify and go to Congress as well as the press. And it’s about time.

Which also means that Trump needed a hit from a Hatefest Bong.  This time the Orange Plague went to Minneapolis home of Minnesota Nice.

Musicians from Queen to Prince’s estate are suing Trumpto quit using their music.  It probably will do as much good as trying to bill the campaign for the public safety issues surrounding every Trump Rally where attendees are none to bully press and public alike and fights frequently break out with encouragement of the Orange Snot Blob.  More people protested the visit than attended the rally.

And, as usual Trump lied his fat ass off as well as spewed the usual racist, misogynistic, bigoted crap.  He made a point of attacking Somali Refugees in a place where they are an integral part of the community and recently sent Congresswoman Ilhan Abdullahi Omar to serve as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district in 2019. The district includes all of Minneapolis and some of its suburbs.

Safe places from Trumpists in any place will always be bookstores, universities, and libraries were no Trumper dares go.  Facts and knowledge are to them what garlic and wooden stakes are to Vampires.

Image result for Alexej von Jawlensky

Portrait of the Dancer Alexander Sakharov, 1909

Here’s the AP FactCheck.

Here’s a look at his claims at a Minneapolis rally, his first since Democrats opened an impeachment inquiry of Trump’s actions as president:

TRUMP: “If our opponent had won that election, you know what would have happened? Right now, China would be the No. 1 economy anywhere in the world. And right now, I can tell you, they’re not even close.”

THE FACTS: No matter who got elected in 2016 — Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton — China’s economy could not have caught up to America’s.

Even if the U.S. economy had not grown at all since 2016, China’s gross domestic product — the broadest measure of economic output — would have had to have surged a fantastical 79% in three years to pull even with America’s. That comes to growth of more than 21% a year — something even China’s super-charged economy has never approached.

The Chinese economy continues to slowly narrow the gap because every year it grows much faster than America’s. In 2019, for example, the International Monetary Fund expects Chinese GDP to increase 6.2%, more than double the 2.6% growth it expects for the United States. But it’s got a long way to go to surpass the U.S.

___

TRUMP: “We have totally defeated the ISIS caliphate.”

THE FACTS: His claim of a 100% defeat is misleading as the Islamic State still poses a threat.

IS was defeated in Iraq in 2017, then lost the last of its land holdings in Syria in March, marking the end of the extremists’ self-declared caliphate.

Still, extremist sleeper cells have continued to launch attacks in Iraq and Syria and are believed to be responsible for targeted killings against local officials and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

IS controlled large swaths of northern and eastern Syria, where they declared a caliphate in 2014 along with large parts of neighboring Iraq.

U.N. experts warned in August that IS leaders are aiming to consolidate and create conditions for an “eventual resurgence in its Iraqi and Syrian heartlands.”

Mädchen mit Zopf

Mädchen mit Zopf,Alexei Jawlensky (1864-1941)

But, most importantly, Congress heard from Marie Yovanovich today.  This is from WAPO “Ousted ambassador Marie Yovanovitch tells Congress Trump pressured State Dept. to remove her.”

The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine whose abrupt ouster in May has become a topic of interest for House impeachment investigators said Friday that her departure came as a direct result of pressure President Trump placed on the State Department to remove her, according to her prepared remarks before Congress obtained by The Washington Post.

Marie Yovanovitch told lawmakers that she was forced to leave Kiev on “the next plane” this spring and subsequently removed from her post, with the State Department’s No. 2 official telling her that, though she had done nothing wrong, the president had lost confidence in her and the State Department had been under significant pressure to remove her since the summer of 2018.

In explaining her departure, she acknowledged months of criticisms by Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had accused her of privately badmouthing the president and seeking to protect the interests of former vice president Joe Biden and his son who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Yovanovitch denied those allegations and said she was “incredulous” that her superiors decided to remove her based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.” She also took direct aim at Giuliani’s associates whom she said could’ve been financially threatened by her anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine.

“Contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine,” she said.

The sweeping criticisms by a diplomat with more than 30 years in the foreign service came amid rising dissatisfaction inside the State Department at what is seen as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s failure to defend his subordinates who became targets in the Ukraine controversy. Michael McKinley, a career diplomat and senior adviser to Pompeo, resigned from his post this week as resentment in the building has grown.

Alexej von Jawlensky - Selbstportrait - Self Portrait

Alexej von Jawlensky, self portrait, 1905

We’ve definitely gotten to a watershed here.   I’ll end with this from Jonathan Lemire  of the Associated Press: “Analysis: In impeachment fight, it’s Trump vs. Constitution

 Donald Trump has spent his time in office trying to bend the conventions of the American presidency to his will. Now he appears to be trying to override a core principle of democracy: that no one is above the law.

Faced with an impeachment inquiry, Trump has openly defied the core constructs of the Constitution. He chafes at the idea of co-equal branches of government and rejects the House’s right to investigate him.

He has deployed a convoluted logic in which he has declared that the courts can’t investigate him because as president he cannot be charged with a crime but also that Congress cannot impeach him because its inquiry is politically illegitimate.

It’s a “heads he wins, tails you lose” formulation.

“It’s anathema to his character and his life story to be checked and balanced by anything,” said presidential historian Jon Meacham, a professor at Vanderbilt University. “The Constitution was formed to contain appetite. And we now have the president who is driven entirely by appetite.”

In a scathing eight-page letter this week, the Republican president’s lawyers served notice there will be no cooperation with the impeachment inquiry.

Trump’s White House has ignored document requests and subpoenas. It readily invokes executive privilege — going so far as to argue that the privilege extends to informal presidential advisers who never held White House jobs. And his team all but dares Democrats to hold them in contempt.

The impeachment standoff follows a pattern Trump has established throughout his presidency as he has jettisoned experienced advisers and flouted conventions.

The fact that he survived the special counsel’s Russia investigation without paying much of a political penalty left him all the more emboldened.

One day after Robert Mueller’s faltering testimony brought an end to that threat, Trump unleashed a new one by asking Ukraine’s president to investigate his political foe Joe Biden. That prompted the fast-moving impeachment inquiry that Trump now resists.

After two weeks of a listless and unfocused response to the impeachment probe, the White House letter to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week was a declaration of war.

While it was filled with dubious legal arguments, its intent was clear: Trump would not play ball, claiming that the game was rigged against him.

It’s time to shut the Trump Circus down and send him and the monkeys to jail.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

Of course that is simply not true.

Background on Sondland from the Times article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at the WaPo.

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

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

Donny Montana: October 6, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest at the link.

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


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

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest at the WaPo.

More interesting reads, links only:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now to the latest news.

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

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

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

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

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

A bit more:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More stories to check out, links only:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great Caturday, Sky Dancers!!


Friday Shock and Awe Reads: Tilt-Shifting the Trumpist Regime

Image result for famous paintings tilt shifted

A Van Gogh Tilt Shifted by Serena Malyon

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

I do not know about you but I’m seeing and feeling a shift in the Force.  This is the first time–in what has been the wave of Trumpist corruption and chaos–that I’ve sensed brakes.  I know this is not likely to be the end of this at all but it most certainly feels like a beginning. The media narrative has changed, The momentum for reaching towards Articles of Impeachment in the House has surpassed the magic number. The less crazy Republicans look noticeably shaken.  The picture of the US from this weekend to last has been tilt-shifted. The focus has changed. A different lens has been applied.

My art and photo choices today are based on a technique called “tilt-shifting”. Hopefully, you’ll see why  I chose these works that express the technique which uses a special lens.

If you are new to these photo manipulations, “tilt-shift” is an effect that gives a real-world scene an illusion of being a miniature model. It can be achieved in two ways: optically (with a special lens) or simulated in Photoshop, by adjusting a photograph’s contrast, color saturation, and depth of focus.

“It works quite well with regular photographs, so we decided to try it using classical paintings by famous artists to see what would happen…” Serena Malyon, a 3rd-year student at art school, took some of Van Gogh’s most beautiful paintings and turned them into photoshopped images to achieve this amazing tilt-shift effect.

You can find an interview with Serena at My Modern Met.

You may learn more about Tilt Shift Photography here.  

And Tilt Shifting as it applies to Paintings here.

 

Tilt-Shift Paul Cezanne Sainte Victoire 1890

Tilt-Shift Sainte Victoire 1890 by Paul Cezanne https://theworldsartist.com/then-and-now-oil-painting

The first difference I sense is that Republicans are meekly showing concern.  This is still feckless and gutless but it’s more than we’ve seen in nearly three years.

The public release of the whistle-blower complaint also revealed cracks in the edifice of loyalty Trump has attempted to construct around himself, both in the West Wing and on Capitol Hill.

In addition to Collins’s criticism, Representative Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican, said in a public hearing on the complaint Thursday that Trump’s call was “not okay.”

While some of the president’s closest allies on Capitol Hill rushed to his defense, the vast majority of Senate Republicans were silent on the complaint. Many claimed they hadn’t had a chance to read it. Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, said that because he might be a juror in Trump’s impeachment trial, he shouldn’t comment.

Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, said some Republicans privately told him they’re concerned about the latest development. But he said he doesn’t expect them to break with Trump “yet.”

White House officials have expressed concern that the impeachment investigation — focused on the president’s foreign policy — comes at a time of vulnerability for Trump. Several high-profile national security officials who could have direct knowledge of his actions toward Ukraine have recently departed.

They include the former director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, who announced his resignation three days after Trump’s call with Zelenskiy, and his deputy, Sue Gordon, who was forced out of her position in August. Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton left earlier this month after a dramatic split between the two men.

These are the most obvious officials to call to the committee investigations which are now going to be ongoing in the House and in the Senate under the auspices of the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican.

Today, Politico shows a vote with a handful of Republican defections on rerouting pentagon funding to the Border Wall in this story: “Congress forces a Trump veto with rebuke on border wall funding.”  How will military families and the usual assortment of Defense-oriented Republicans respond to this?

The House on Friday voted to once again overturn President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration to build a border wall, sending the legislation to Trump who is sure to veto it.

Eleven Republicans and one Republican-turned-independent sided with every Democrat to block Trump’s maneuver to circumvent Congress and divert billions in Pentagon funding to his wall.

The GOP defections were one less than the 13 Republicans who voted with Democrats on the same measure in February, when Congress first attempted to block Trump’s largely unprecedented use of emergency powers.

Since that vote, the White House has disclosed precisely which lawmakers’ districts would lose military construction funding, including in seats held by more than a dozen Republicans.

“The president’s decision to cancel $3.6 billion for military construction to pay for his wasteful wall makes America less safe,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a rare floor speech Friday, adding that the Trump administration is “stooping so low as to steal from a middle school in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.”

The Senate approved the measure earlier this week after 11 Republicans joined Democrats, underscoring the somewhat bipartisan nature of the rebuke.

Congress voted to terminate Trump’s national emergency earlier this spring but failed to win enough support to override the president’s veto. When Trump vetoes the measure again, it will mark the sixth veto of his presidency.

Under the law governing national emergencies, Congress can bring up a vote on Trump’s declaration every six months — and Democrats intend to do it in a bid to squeeze Republicans.

Even better, I’ve noticed a new tendency for the media to begin to speak of the Orange Snot Blob in past tense and plans for the post Trumpist Crime Family syndicate regime.

Tilt Shifted Van Gogh Serena Molyan

Most of his here know and have discussed that Speaker Pelosi knows strategy, the house, and how to count. Discover more about Pelosi at The New Yorker.   This lede is by David Remenick: “Nancy Pelosi: An Extremely Stable Genius. When asked if it was possible that impeachment might backfire, the Speaker of the House insisted that politics has nothing to do with it. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “He has given us no choice.”

From the start, Pelosi has confronted Trump with a wry fearlessness. When, in a moment of rare self-aggrandizement, Trump referred to himself as an “extremely stable genius,” she replied, “When the ‘extremely stable genius’ starts acting more Presidential, I’ll be happy to work with him on infrastructure, trade, and other issues.” In an Oval Office confrontation last year, she brooked no disrespect from Trump and asked that he please not underestimate “the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats.” When, on another occasion, Trump referred to Pelosi as a “mess,” the Speaker thoughtfully suggested that the President might benefit from an “intervention for the good of the country.”

For months, however, Pelosi avoided the ultimate intervention. She frustrated many members of the Democratic caucus who believed—for myriad reasons, some contained in the Mueller report, some not—that they should pursue an impeachment inquiry against the President. Pelosi was reluctant, worried that there was not enough evidence to prevent a backfire scenario, in which Trump would emerge from impeachment still safely in office, emboldened, unchallenged by his own party, a martyr with an enhanced prospect at reëlection.

“Remember this,” Pelosi told me, in an interview on Thursday afternoon, as she recalled the Watergate era. “I saw, as a young person, that the Republicans didn’t come around until the tapes. It wasn’t like they were saying, ‘This behavior is not acceptable to us.’ The tapes were dispositive of the issue. There was no vote to impeach, because it was so clear that he had to go. But even Nixon knew of his responsibility to the country. I’m not sure this person does.”

Tilt-Shift Paul Cezanne Gardanne Photo.

HuffPo’s Matt Fuller says that while Democrats are unifying, Republicans are fracturing.  Is this progress?  Is this the best we can hope for now?  What about the near future; say around Thanksgiving?

It’s been one week since most of Capitol Hill heard the first reports of a whistleblower, and with new developments almost every day since, Republicans and Democrats are still wrapping their heads around how much the impeachment dynamics have flipped.
In a week, House Democrats have moved from a drawn-out investigative approach to near-unanimity on impeachment proceedings. For them, it’s no longer a matter of whether they’ll impeach President Donald Trump; it’s when and by what charges.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, members are all over the place.

Some say they haven’t read the whistleblower complaint released Thursday (or, worse, still haven’t read the summary of the call between Trump and the Ukrainian president that was released Wednesday). Some Republicans said there is absolutely nothing wrong with anything the president did, that Democrats owe Trump an apology or even ought to be thanking the president. Other Republicans step on that narrative by admitting that, no, actually, maybe there is something to these charges ― splitting the difference by expressing some unease with the situation but arguing it doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment.

..

Still, the loudest voices are from the Republicans who insist Trump has done nothing wrong.

Republicans are seizing on one line in the complaint to undermine the whistleblower’s credibility: “I was not a direct witness to most of the events described.”

The whistleblower said he had more than a half dozen White House sources whose accounts matched each other, plus publicly available information. But Republicans have already left the room.

But what about the voter who start going to the polls in less than a year?

According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll that was conducted between September 24 and 26, support for impeachment across party lines now stands at 43 percent, an uptick from 36 percent just last week. Similarly, a HuffPost/YouGov poll, also fielded between September 24 and 26, found that the margin between those backing impeachment and those who oppose it was expanding. In this week’s survey, 47 percent supported impeachment, while 39 percent opposed it, compared to 43 percent and 41 percent that felt the same way in a previous September poll. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll that was held on September 25 also found that 49 percent of voters favor impeachment proceedings.

These polls, while broadly conducted before the release of the whistleblower complaint on Thursday, show a shift in public sentiment since Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry announcement earlier this week. While it’s still very early to know whether such shifts in the public mood will stick, the polls do suggest that House Democrats’ decision to move forward with the inquiry along with the new information that’s come out about the Trump-Zelensky phone call on July 25 could be altering how voters view impeachment.

In both the Politico/Morning Consult and HuffPost/YouGov polls, the increases in support for impeachment were largely fueled by Democratic voters. The Morning Consult poll saw an increase from 66 percent to 79 percent among Democratic voters, 33 percent to 39 percent among Independent voters, and 5 percent to 10 percent among Republican voters. The HuffPost/YouGov poll, too, saw an uptick of 74 percent to 81 percent among Democratic voters, 35 percent to 37 percent among Independents and a dip among Republicans from 16 percent to 11 percent.

Tilt-Shift A Cottage In A Cornfield by John Constable.

This is not a huge leap either but it’s a signal of a shift.   And we almost have a weird confirmation from the Russians that The Hair Furor makes some weird, unAmerican phone calls in this headline from NBC News: “Kremlin says it hopes U.S. would not release Trump-Putin calls, like it did with Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “we would like to hope that it wouldn’t come to that.”

Asked Friday if Moscow is worried that the White House could similarly publish transcripts of Trump’s calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “we would like to hope that it wouldn’t come to that in our relations, which are already troubled by a lot of problems.”

None of this can come soon enough for most of us.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 

 


Thursday Reads: DNI Facing Intel Committees and Trump Facing Impeachment

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

Here’s the latest:

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest at the WaPo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at the link above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selected analysis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at the link.

A few more:

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

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

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

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