Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Oh, Rudy: A Sleazebag's Fate Is Linked To The Biggest Sleazebag Of 'Em All

ELISE AMENDOLA / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Now Ukraine is investigating Hillary campaign and DNC conspiracy with foreign operatives including Ukrainian and others to affect 2016 election.  And there's no [FBI Director James] Comey to fix the result. ~ RUDY GIULIANI tweet, April 23, 2019 
After growing accustomed to Rudy Giuliani's syphilitic-brained pronouncements, we haven't heard much from him lately.  That may have something to do with the fact Donald Trump's personal lawyer and fixer set out to defend the president against the possibility of impeachment and instead helped create the basis for impeachment -- the Ukraine scandal -- all the while hanging out with incredibly sleazy people and doing some self-dealing of his own that have led to three federal investigations against him.   
This is but one of the more delicious ironies of the beleaguered Trump's fight to remain in office.  Here are two more as a second week of televised impeachment hearings gets underway and support for removing Trump from offices clicks upward:
The Russians know far more about what Giuliani has been up to than do House investigators.  Despite claiming to sell cybersecurity advice, he has run Trump's shadow Ukraine policy using open cellphone lines and communications apps that Moscow routinely monitors. 
Even though Trump instructed officials to speak directly to Giuliani about anything relating to that shadow policy, Republicans are prepared to throw him under the bus by claiming that he, Mick Mulvaney and others were freelancing without the president's knowledge. 
The federal investigations targeting Giuliani concern potential campaign-finance violations and failure to register as a foreign agent, a counterintelligence probe involving his Ukraine business dealings and a criminal investigation into his business relationship with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who helped him to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and son and lit the fire under the sacking of Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovich.   
Parnas and Fruman, who were arrested as they were about to board a flight for Kiev, where they may have planned to meet Giuliani, have been charged with conspiracy, falsification of records, and lying to the Federal Election Commission about their political donations.  Parnas is cooperating with the feds. 
Trump, who makes a big deal over hiring "the best and most serious people," has had a lot of lousy lawyers, but Giuliani may be the worst, if only for his proclivity to say extraordinarily dumb things like "Truth isn't truth," which he infamously uttered when confronted with Trump's Russia scandal misdeeds on "Meet the Press." 
Or explaining that because Trump doesn't believe he obstructed justice, he can plausibly deny obstructing justice. 
Or when he said there is no such crime called "collusion," which as has been pointed out is kind of like saying that if you walked into an Apple Store, stuffed an iPhone in your pants and walked out, you're innocent because the criminal code makes no specific reference to "stuffing an iPhone in your pants." 
Or like not needing his own lawyers, a comment he made the other day shortly before he hired his own lawyers.  
Politics always has been populated by sleazebags, but every generation or so someone like Giuliani comes along who is so vile that he stands out from the pack, which is really saying something considering the lowlifes, con artists and grifters that have long orbited Trump. 
The president hired Giuliani to be his personal lawyer in April 2018, ostensibly to help extricate him from the Russia scandal, which has come back to bite Trump in his capacious ass as impeachment investigators look into whether he lied to Robert Mueller.  (You think?)  
There likely is a second reason Giuliani was hired: In 2017, Trump had begun floating the discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine and not Russia hacked Democratic emails in 2016.   Giuliani already had established contacts with malleable Ukrainian officials who were eager to work with him, and he was to begin laying the groundwork for the military aid-for-Bidens dirt extortion plot in December 2018.  
The stories of Giuliani's sleazyness are legion, and that is quite an accomplishment since he came into most of our lives on the highest of notes as "America's Mayor," who took charge after the 9/11 disaster.    
But from there it has been all downhill.    
Giuliani liked to brag that as mayor of New York City, he spent more time at Ground Zero than rescue and clean-up workers, which is false and a lie akin to Trump's claim that he spent a lot of time at Ground Zero and was involved in the cleanup.  (In reality, he made a brief appearance a week after the attacks and played no part in the cleanup.)   
Actually, Giuliani's administration had failed to address the flaws in the response to the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, which came back in spades on 9/11, and he knowingly sent workers into the toxic hell of the collapsed Twin Towers.  
Then there are Giuliani's ample personal shortcomings, including being a serial adulterer who broke the news to his second wife that he was getting a divorce during a televised press conference and is now being sued by his third and current wife for a gadzillion bucks because of another affair.  
Had Giuliani been nominated by the Family Values Party aka Republicans and then elected president in 2008, his pal Bernard Kerik would have missed his inauguration.    
This is because the former NYC corrections chief, promoted to police commissioner by Giuliani, was doing prison time for just one of his multiple legal entanglements, which included glomming onto $165,000 in free renovations to his Bronx apartment by a construction company with mob ties, shacking up with his mistress in a Manhattan condo reserved for cops with post-9/11 traumas, and that timeless toe stubber, failing to pay taxes on an illegal immigrant nanny whom he was boinking on the side.   
None of this had prevented Giuliani from drawing on his vast reservoirs of good judgment and recommending that Kerik become Dubya's first homeland security czar.  Dubya wisely demurred.  
Giuliani has been a gold medalist in flip-flopping.    
He was for gay rights before he was against them.  He was for gun control before he hearted the National Rifle Association.  He was for forgiving illegal immigrants eking out honest livings in the Big Apple until he wanted to deport them.  He was once a hawk on Iran, but then beame a dove before reverting to being a hawk. 
Giuliani flailed at becoming the GOP presidential nominee again in 2012 and yet again last year, and was on the A-list to become Trump's secretary of state because of being such a big help to him during the 2016 campaign. 
This included bragging on a right-wing radio show on October 26, less than two weeks before the election, that he was in contact with FBI agents and had "a surprise or two that you're going to hear about in the next few days" regarding Lock Her Up Hillary's emails.   
FBI Director James Comey's hand was then forced, and in an effort to get out ahead of a story that was now certain to be leaked by Republicans, he informed several congressional committees by letter on October 28 of a non-existent development in the Clinton email investigation that, coupled with Russia-Trump . . . uh, collusion, essentially doomed her. 
After the election, Giuliani helpfully bragged that he had advised the newbie president about how to impose his patently illegal Muslim ban "legally."    But it turned out his conflicts of interest were too enormous even for Trump and the top job at State went to Rex Tillerson.  
And now, a year and a half and after Giuliani was brought on board -- 18 months of missteps, outrageous statements and outright lies, including the whopper that he knew nothing about the very extortion attempt he helped engineer -- the fate of this sleazebag is linked to the the biggest sleazebag of them all.  

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Trump Is Now Running From The Founders & Constitution, As Well As The Law

DAVID NAKAMURA / THE WASHINGTON POST
It has been two months since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that Democrats were initiating impeachment proceedings against President Trump.   It has been a week since the proceedings shifted into overdrive with public hearings.  And while you will vehemently disagree if you are trapped in the Fox News echo chamber or rely on Breitbart to reassure you that the earth is flat, the big takeaways are that not only has the public backlash nervous Democrats feared not occurred, but support for impeachment is growing. 
While the hearings are being spoofed as a sort of Jetsons Meet the Flintstones for the Resistance and MAGA crowds by lazy pundits, I happen to believe that more and more people are realizing their country has been taken from them by the monster in the White House and they want it back, dammit. 
The searing indictment of the monster that House Democrats are presenting through the anguished testimony of nonpartisan career diplomats and others disobeying Trump's orders to not cooperate in their Ukraine scandal probe is helped considerably by the Republican inability to defend the indefensible while never once invoking the Constitution they took an oath to obey. 
Charles Pierce, in noting that Trump is now running from not just the law but the Founders and that Constitution, as well, offers these timely words of wisdom at Esquire:
The reluctance of the political order to accept impeachment as a viable part of the Constitution largely felt as though the danger was not to the executive branch, but to the comfortable illusions that Americans had developed over the years regarding their form of government.  One of the great conundrums in the American political mind is that a prideful boasting about the Constitution is always accompanied by mournful concern for its fragility.  Don't let the Constitution run at full ops or it will break down and there will be gears and wires all over the highway. 
It is positively comical to watch the president and his advocates seek to wrap themselves in these old illusions. They are the subtext of the entire defense because, on the facts of the case, the president is dead-bang impeachable.
The president, grimly familiar as we have become with his narcissistic self-pitying, vulgar tweetstorms, rampant self-dealing and corruption and never ending torrent of lies, is of course the biggest enemy of the flailing Republican efforts to keep his dam from bursting. 
As it is, the drip-drip-drip from the dam is increasing as impeachment proceedings accelerate and referenda on Trump in off-off year elections in Pennsylvania, Virginia and now deep-red Louisiana send the message that he cannot win a second term in an honestly contested election.   
In an impeachment highlight reel moment, sacked Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovich told rapt investigators on Friday that she received the first ominous phone call about her ouster while honoring Ukrainian anti-corruption activist Kateryna Handzyuk.  Republicans, who sensed that they needed to treat Yovanovich with kid gloves, alternately sat on their hands or praised her for all her difficult assignments in global hotspots as she described the Trump-fueled "smear campaign" that effectively ended her distinguished 30-year career. 
(Handzyuk died on November 4 after enduring 11 operations from the burns caused by the sulphuric acid an angry attacker threw on her.  She had continued to fight corruption from her hospital bed.)   
But Trump, who claimed he wasn't watching the hearings, was unable to keep it zipped and lashed out as Yovanovich was testifying, tweeting that she was a bad actor. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff stopped the proceedings, read the tweet aloud and hinted that witness intimidation, long a Trump weapon of choice, might be added to the articles of impeachment to be drawn up against him, presumably abuse of power and contempt of Congress, for openers. 
As only the fourth impeachment inquiry in American history plays out, the next act in the drama may well star the perjurious Gordon Sondland, who is one of eight administration officials scheduled to testify this week. 
Sondland helped Trump smear diplomats like William Taylor, George Kent and Yovanovich in establishing a shadow State Department to bribe Ukraine and boost his chances in the 2020 election by getting the president of the nascent democracy to smear Joe Biden and son and back the right-wing claim that Ukraine and not Russia hacked Democratic emails in 2016. 
Sondland, as we now know, called Trump on an unsecured phone from a busy Kiev restaurant the day after the president's infamous shakedown call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and told him Zelensky was ready to move forward with "the investigations."  (Wink wink, nod nod).  After Sondland hung up, a staff member asked him what Trump had to say about Ukraine, to which Sondland replied, "Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden." 
Sondland bought an ambassadorship for a $1 million donation to Trump's inaugural events, and now must decide between loyalty to the Chosen One or joining other insiders like Paul Manafort, and Michael Cohen, who are in prison, and now Roger Stone, who is headed there. 
It may take a while, but my guess is that Gordy will crack, the Founders will smile, the Constitution will survive and Trump will slouch ever closer to the end of his reign. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

Outrage Fatigue Is Donald Trump's Greatest Weapon Against Impeachment

MICHAEL ROBINSON CHAVEZ/ THE WASHINGTON POST
It was August 2016.  Newly coronated Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had just pivoted from calling John McCain a coward for being shot down over North Vietnam to characterizing Khizr Khan as a simpering Hillary Clinton puppet, Khan's wife Ghazala as an obeisantly silent slave and their son, Humayan, who sacrificed his life to a suicide bomber on an Iraqi roadside to save his comrades, as a needless casualty of a war that would never have been fought had he been president.  The full extent of the horrors the reality television star and faux billionaire was capable of unleashing if he improbably was elected still were only an abstraction, but I warned for the first and not last time against taking Trump's demagoguery for granted.   
Little even did I know, and a kind of outrage fatigue has taken hold in the intervening three-plus years.   That fatigue has now become perhaps the most effective weapon of the beleaguered president and his congressional Republican sycophancy amidst impeachment hearings that further reveal him to be everything we had feared and more. 
One fatigued media outlet called the momentous public testimony this week detailing Trump's attempted extortion of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig nonexistent dirt on father and son Biden a "big yawn," another "more like the dress rehearsal for a serious one-act play than the opening night of a hit Broadway musical," another "consequential but dull," while yet another grouched that "fireworks and explosive moments were scarce." 
As if describing Trump's blatant self dealing in scrupulous detail should be some kind of Netflix series.  
But it was the really fatigued Chris Cillizza of CNN who took the booby prize for saying that the witnesses who were methodically depantsing the president, including William Taylor, George Kent and Maria Yovanovich, "lacked the pizzazz necessary to capture public attention." 
Okay, so the media flunks yet another test of how to cover Trump by stooping to the role of reality television show critics.  This is an especially grave failure because these examples singing Trump's tune are music to the ears of the president and his defenders.
In the course of that pizzazz-deficient week of testimony, Trump immigration point man Stephen Miller was revealed to be the white supremacist we've long suspected him of being, Trump welcomed fellow tyrant Recep Tayyip Erdogan into the Oval Office where they had a chuckle about Turkish atrocities against the Kurds trapped in northern Syria after Trump had abandoned him, and there was yet another round of environmental protection rollbacks.   
None produced barely a blip on the media's radar, and you had to dig really deep to find mention of a smug Erdogan making a big deal of returning Trump's fatuous October 9 letter to him after he withdrew U.S. troops from northern Syria in which he warned, "Don't be a tough guy.  Don't be a fool.  I will call you later."   
And so Erdogan, like Kim Jong-un of Korea, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Xi Jinping of China and, of course, Vladimir Putin of Russia, played the president for the fool he is. 
But the week was not without at least some pizzazz. 
Sean Spicer put on a bravura swan song performance in tangoing into the sunset on "Dancing With the Stars." 
Trump provided the zing Yovanovich may have lacked by attacking her while she testified in a slam-dunk case of witness intimidation.   
Oh, and Roger Stone, Republican dirty trickster and longest of Trump's longtime advisers, was found guilty of lying to Congress and tampering with a witness concerning his involvement in WikiLeaks' release of Russian-hacked Democratic emails in the 2016 election.  Stone will likely join former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen in doing prison time, but it should be noted that none of the three were charged with being directly involved in the Trump campaign's collusion with Putin's cyberwarriors to throw the election.   
Nor has any other American as Trump has skated in what arguably is the crime of the century.  (All of that noted, the Stone conviction is a big win for Robert Mueller, whom I took apart just the other day.)    
Whether congressional Republicans can play us like fools through their divert-and-distract impeachment hearing maneuvering will go far in determining whether the president's abuses of power stand and reveal the once vaunted but now battered American system of justice incapable of holding accountable a monster like Trump. 
We simply cannot wait for another Blue Wave to do the job.           

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Reassessing 'Maximum Bob' Mueller Six Months On: The Special Counsel Blew It

COLIN ANDERSON / THE ATLANTIC
To say that a lot of people were disappointed with Robert Mueller is an understatement. 
Okay, the guy wasn't the superman we had pumped him up to be.  But in my bend-over-backwards effort to be fair, I believed that the special counsel's shortcomings were tempered because his legal remit, including a bar on indicting a sitting president, was limited.   
Still, Donald Trump has gotten away with nary a scratch from his collusion with Vladimir Putin's cyberwarriors, which greased the skids for his "victory" in 2016, a devious path that he has tried to go down again in the Ukraine scandal, and that has not sat well.  
Robert Barr's slimy veneer of whitewash over Mueller's final Russia scandal report has been cited as a key element in Trump's escape act, and the attorney general did indeed divert attention from more damning aspects of the 448-page report, including 10 instances in which Mueller concluded that the president tried to obstruct justice. 
But the special counsel is now back on the hook -- and deservedly so -- not because of ongoing impeachment hearings, which on Wednesday produced highly damaging public testimony that Trump knew exactly what he was doing in trying to extort Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to manufacture dirt on the Bidens, but a side drama that has played out a few block from the Capitol at a federal courthouse where the Roger Stone trial began wrapping up with final arguments later in the day. 
Long story short, the final prosecution witness against Stone, self-proclaimed Republican dirty trickster and the longest of Trump's longtime advisers, was former Trump campaign advisor Rick Gates, who testified that Trump may have been aware of WikiLeaks' methodical release of damaging emails hacked by a Russian intelligence service and of Stone's efforts to present himself as a backchannel to the so-called ant-secrecy group. 
Trump, having refused a face-to-face interview with Mueller after months of jousting that in retrospect was ridiculous, told him in writing that he did "not recall" being aware of communications between WikiLeaks and Stone, Gates or his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.  
But Gates testified that Trump "indicated that more information would be coming" after getting off a call with Stone in July 2016 and said he received a directive from Manafort to check in with Stone about information incoming from Wikileaks and that other people from the campaign would be updated, "including the candidate." 
Mueller handed off the indictment of Stone to other prosecutors, who charged him with witness tampering, obstructing an official proceeding, and five counts of making false statements to the House Intelligence Committee about his relationship with WikiLeaks.    
But if Gates's testimony seems minor in the overall scheme of things, it is not.   
This is because it calls into question why Mueller left this crucial information out of his final report, as well as what else he might have left out of a document of huge legal and historical import in making the case against a deeply corrupt president that six months after its release seems more pallid by the day.  In other words, "Maximum Bob" did not live up to his reputation as a dogged former FBI director and prosecutor. 
Josh Marshall puts it this way at Talking Points Memo:
As I've said many times before, you shouldn’t change your view of an investigation or an investigator just because you are disappointed with or didn't expect the result.  This is a kind of situationally convenient way of thinking we should all avoid. But this isn't quite that.  We're learning new facts – a lot of them – which the investigators either clearly knew (Gates was their cooperating witness, after all) or ones they should have come across but didn't. 
Was Rod Rosenstein leaning on Mueller more than realized?  Was Bill Barr?  Neither possibility is terribly convincing since Mueller had all the clout and public attention to defy them if he wanted to.  Was Mueller restraining his own investigators and this oddity of a report was the result? I'm really not sure. Certainly his public testimony and his resistance to that testimony suggested his heart wasn’t quite in it.
That seems all the more obvious in light of the confused and ineffectual Democratic response to Barr's whitewash and then on July 24 the mother of all anticlimaxes -- Mueller's halting testimony before two House committees in which his reputation took another hit.  
"It was a game of chicken among chickens," as Slate's Dahlia Litchwick commented at the time.    
Mueller had pointedly warned that if forced to testify before Congress, he would not say anything beyond what his report said.   And when all was said and done after nearly seven hours of testimony before the Democratic-led House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, two of the committees now plunging ahead with impeachment hearings, the former special counsel did not elaborate, hewing to a letter from Barr written at Mueller's request instructing him to not answer a wide variety of questions about his investigation, which the AG asserted is covered by executive privilege but was an egregious frontal assault on the Constitution and congressional oversight.  
Asked by a Democratic congressman whether the reason he "did not indict Donald Trump is because of the OLC [Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel] opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president," Mueller said it was, but then sought cover. 
"That is not the correct way to say it," Mueller elaborated.  "We did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime." 
Mueller's most pointed criticism of the president at the hearing came when he said he found Trump's repeated statements during the campaign praising WikiLeaks for releasing the Democratic emails to be disturbing.   
"Problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays of giving some hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal behavior," Mueller said in muddled elaboration. 
Casting future events against past performances can be unfair.   
But virtually every discussion and commentary about the televised impeachment hearings ends up asking the same question: Will Democrats in a few short weeks be able to make the case Trump should be removed from office?  Probably.  Yet Mueller had two years and didn't even come close.   
And that is that.

The New Normal: Running From Your Patriotic Duty For A Big, Fat Book Deal

JABIN BOTSFORD / THE WASHINGTON POST
The concept of what constitutes duty to country in contemporary American politics has undergone a seismic shift that the narcissistically self absorbed Donald Trump has only served to accelerate.  Lapel-pin patriotism -- "see, I'm wearing the flag, so I gotta love my country" -- is an obvious manifestation, but opting for a megabuck book deal in lieu of answering the call to patriotism is the new normal. 
Given the choice between trying to save the country or feathering his nest, John Bolton is taking the money -- a reported $2 million deal with Simon & Schuster for a tell-all book that is likely to be only a tell-something -- and running from his obligation to come forward as possibly the key witness to the Ukraine scandal shenanigans, which did not erupt fully formed from a single extortionate phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky but came together over months of plotting by the president and Rudy Giuliani and their henchmen to find ways to try to influence the 2020 election as Moscow had so thoughtfully done in 2016. 
Bolton, Trump's third national security adviser, famously told White House aide Fiona Hill that "I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up," a reference to two players in the president's scheme to extort Zelensky into dishing dirt on Joe Biden and his son, but has decided to not appear before House impeachment investigators, let alone make a star turn at the televised public hearings that began on Wednesday. 
This although Bolton "was personally involved in many of the events, meetings, and conversations about which you have already received testimony, as well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far," according to a letter from Bolton's lawyer to House Democrats that sounds an awful lot like a book promotion. 
Others with books contemplated, in the works or just out include a West Wing insider known only as Anonymous, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, chief of staff John Kelly, defense secretary Jim Mattis and Donald Trump Jr.  
Haley deserves special mention. 
Trump's former U.N. ambassador not only has adeptly played a game of licking Trump's wingtips while tut-tutting over his more egregious excesses, but has proven expert at promoting her own new book, With All Due Respect, in which she claims that Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to recruit her to work against the president in order to "save the country."   
The nerve of them! 
Meanwhile, Anonymous deserves special scorn. 
A Warning, which is to be released on November 19, is written by "a senior official in the Trump administration" and paints the chilling portrait of the president as cruelly inept and a danger to nation and world that we have read and heard about so often in the accounts of people who don't cower behind a veil of anonymity. 
A more appropriate would seem to be Almost A Warning. 
Anonymous writes breathlessly that senior administration officials considered resigning en masse last year in a "midnight self-massacre" to sound a public alarm about the president's conduct, but rejected the idea because they believed it would further destabilize an already teetering government. 
This almost patriotism prompts Charles Pierce to write at Esquire:
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Anonymous can bite me.  I have no intention of shelling out a dime to read about how someone almost ran into the burning house to save the baby, or about how someone almost gave up their seat in the lifeboat when the great ship went down, or about how someone almost dove into a freezing river to save a busload of nuns, or, for that matter, about how someone almost decided not to be a part of the most monstrous executive administration since the (un)death of Vlad The Impaler.  I am not interested in someone's heartfelt account of their near-collision with actual integrity.  I decline to be fascinated by the tale of how someone nearly ran into courage on the street but had to catch a bus instead.  Like I said, Anonymous can anonymously bite me.
According to Dahlia Lithwick at SlateKelly does not yet have a book deal, but is using the threat of one as insurance against Trump going after him personally.  How's that for doing the patriotic thing? 
"This is the way democracy ends," concludes Lithwick, "Not with a bang but with a book deal." 

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Monday, November 11, 2019

Trump's Allies Are Stuck With Lemons, So They're Trying To Make Lemonade

EVAN VUCCI/ THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Removing this petty, shabby tyrant from office goes a long way to restoring and resetting the Constitution as a limit on power and a guarantee against its wanton future abuse. It must be done. With speed, with vigor, and with determination. ~ ANDREW SULLIVAN 
Donald Trump's congressional Republican sycophancy has a very big problem.   
The evidence that the president held up desperately needed military aid for Ukraine and a promised White House visit for its president by trying to extort him to dig up dirt on the Bidens and other Democrats in a bald-faced effort to influence the 2020 election is overwhelming.  That evidence of this impeachable high crime comes not from House Democrats but 13 career diplomats and other administration officials who have disobeyed Trump's orders and appeared before investigators.  And so in a contemporary turn on the old adage that if you have lemons you make lemonade, Trump's allies are desperately attempting to divert attention from the beleaguered president. 
With public impeachment hearings beginning on Wednesday, Republicans are demanding that witnesses be added to the probe, including former vice president Joe Biden's son, Hunter, his business partner, Devon Archer, and the whistleblower whose initial complaint kicked off the Ukraine investigation. 
Republicans, who conveniently forget they had joined Democrats in appropriating the nearly $400 million in aid Trump used as a cudgel in his extortion scheme, are alternately whining that the inquiry is unfairly partisan with presidential poodle Senator Lindsey Graham refusing to read deeply damaging witness transcripts, while trying to front load the witness list. 
Through extraneous witnesses, Republicans hope to sow confusion and flog their discredited conspiracy theories, which includes beating the dead-horse canard that Ukraine and not Russia hacked Democratic emails in 2016, and characterizing Ukraine as an historically corrupt nation that the most corrupt president in American history is only trying to reform (!!!). 
Then there is their attempt to shift blame from Trump onto a rogues gallery of individuals including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, EU ambassador Gordon Sondland and fixer Rudy Giuliani, whom they ludicrously claim were pursuing their own objectives while the poor president stood haplessly by.  This must be the reason there was a secret White House server on which to hide documents damaging to Trump, no?
The 2,677 pages of interview transcripts released over the past week show the extent to which GOP lawmakers, lacking the witnesses and documents to mount a defense that might undermine the withering testimony, have focused on unsubstantiated conspiracy theories when not muttering to reporters that what the president did might not have been advisable but is not impeachable.  Or in the words of feckless GOP Representative Mac Thornberry, you can't impeach Trump for a crime he does "all the time." 
Yes, Republicans are fully involved in the hearings even if they're trying to create the impression that they are not, and their questioning of witnesses has been short on substance while long on those pet theories. 
The contrast could not be more evident than during the deposition of William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, who blew apart Trump's Ukraine defense in damning detail. When it was the Republicans' turn to depose Taylor, they did not ask a single question of substance. 
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that one GOP lawmaker questioned fired Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovich about her national heritage, including a suggestion her nickname Masha is Ukrainian (it's Russian, just like she is) in a fruitless attempt to find bias, and another interrogated her about whether her staff "monitored" the social media account of an alt-right conspiracy theorist whose main claim to fame is smearing a Washington pizzeria as the site of a fictional Democratic pedophile ring in which Hillary Clinton was involved. 
Pretty much all of this is, of course, is ancillary to the Ukraine scandal and impeachment inquiry, which explains why Republicans also want to call a researcher for the firm that commissioned the Steele dossier linking Trump and Russia in an attempt to manufacture a nonexistent connection between the dossier and Ukraine. 
The reliably wingnutty Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, argues that witnesses such as Biden and Archer would "assist the American public in understanding the nature and extent of Ukraine’s pervasive corruption, information that bears directly on President Trump's long-standing and deeply-held skepticism of the country." 
Intel chairman Adam Schiff says Democrats would evaluate the witness requests but his committee "will not serve . . . as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens or 2016 that the President pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit, or to facilitate the President's effort to threaten, intimidate, and retaliate against the whistleblower who courageously raised the initial alarm." 
Complicating Republican attempts to shift the focus away from Trump is the ongoing trial a few blocks from the Capitol of fellow liar and longest of longtime confidants Roger Stone, an intermediary between the 2016 Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which released thousands of Democratic email messages hacked by Russians.  
Trump’s presidency has been defined by his belief that he cannot be held accountable. 
This grossest of fictions has been abetted by Republicans whose fealty to the Chosen One is more important than obeying their oath to uphold the Constitution by acting as a check on the executive branch and the president's many abuses of power. 
The frenzy of lemonade making is playing out as courts hear a seemingly inexhaustible list of legal cases stemming from Trump's stonewalling.  Some may end up before a Supreme Court that won't necessarily be friendly to the president despite its right-leaning bent. Then there is the possibility that his frantic efforts to sabotage the impeachment process will themselves become an article of impeachment.    
While the Republican divert-and-delay tactic is likely to work in the Fox News echo chamber and ratchet even higher the partisan rancor on Capitol Hill, it fails miserably as a defense.   Minds are made up: Republicans will defend Trump at all costs, but a majority of voters favor impeachment and removing him from office. 
Let's get on with it.   

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Vets Day Remembrance: 'That People All Over The World Can Live In Real Peace'

NICK UT / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
I had the privilege of covering many big stories during a long newspaper career.  The visit of a diminutive woman to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., some 23 years ago on Veterans Day 1996 would seem to pale in comparison to the Clinton impeachment circus or O.J. Simpson trials, to name two of the biggies, but it is the one that I most cherish.   
Phan Thi Kim Phúc will always be the Girl in the Photograph.  
JOE McNALLY / TIME-LIFE
Nine years old when her South Vietnamese village was bombed in 1972, she was photographed by Nick Ut fleeing down Highway One from the devastating napalm attack, the clothes burned off her reed-thin body, arms outstretched and face contorted into a silent, agonizing scream.    
The powerful Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photograph seemed to represent all that was wrong for the U.S. in Vietnam.  Some say it hastened the end of the war, which never made sense to me since the Kháng chiến chống Mỹ had been going on for 17 years and dragged on for another three.    
I had been tipped by a memorial fundraiser that Kim Phúc (pronounced kim fookwould be making a surprise appearance during the annual Veterans Day ceremonies.    
For me and many other people at The Wall that day, a circle that had been broken for too many years was completed with the climax of a remarkable personal odyssey as Kim Phúc stood before the slash and laid a wreath in memory of the 58,212 fallen American men and women who are inscribed on its sweeping black granite wall.  
Several thousand people, many of them veterans in faded fatigues, looked on from the sweeping lawn below the Lincoln Memorial.  Many had tears in their eyes.  Some wept. The war was already all but "lost" on the day that an American commander ordered South Vietnamese Air Force planes to drop napalm on a Buddhist temple in the village of Trang Bang near Saigon.  
Kim Phúc had crowded into the temple with other villagers thinking they'd be safe.  The napalm attack burned her arms and shoulders to the bone.  Her two younger brothers died instantly.    
Bundled in a long coat against the autumn chill, Kim Phúc told me in excellent English with a trace of an accent (she had been living in Toronto) that despite everything, she feels no anger.  
"I do not want to talk about the war," she said, almost apologetically before she and a retired Air Force colonel, a POW for six years after his fighter plane was shot down, carried a large wreath to the wall.    
Many in the crowd were surprised when Kim Phúc was introduced.  The program for the Veterans Day ceremony had been printed before she decided to accept the invitation from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation, which has worked to find and remove landmines and provide prosthetics for Vietnamese amputees.  
Her appearance was a measure of the extent to which Americans have come to terms with a war that so divided them.  It does not seem likely that she would have felt welcome, let alone be a guest of honor who received a sustained ovation, at a Veterans Day ceremony 15 or 20 years ago.  
"I cannot change history, Kim Phúc said.  "Even if I could talk face-to-face with the pilot who dropped the bomb, we could not change history."

Friday, November 08, 2019

How About Demanding That GOP Senators Commit To Upholding Their Oaths?

LARRY DOWNING / REUTERS
Lanny Davis and Anthony Scaramucci have an ass-kickingly good idea: The Senate should proceed to an impeachment trial only if at least 20 Republican senators announce beforehand that they are open-minded about whether Donald Trump should be removed from office. 
This is not a grandstanding trivial pursuit but a minimum standard of fairness, they write in a Washington Post op-ed column.  Asking for a juror to commit to be open-minded before the evidence is presented by prosecutors and then tested by defense lawyers is what potential jurors are asked to commit to when they are subjected to jury selection before a trial.  Senators, in effect, will be jurors at an impeachment trial, with 20 being the minimum number of Republicans who would have to vote with Democrats to convict the president on articles of impeachment.   
Yes, getting 20 Republicans, let alone Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (photo, above) to publicly agree to uphold their oath is unlikely when they have repeatedly violated it in coddling Trump as only a cult can worshipfully obey its leader as he runs roughshod over the Constitution.   
But the refusal of a Republican senator facing a tough reelection fight in 2020 -- and there are several such races in swing states -- will give their Democratic challengers potent ammunition: How can you send Senator Smith back to Washington when he refuses to even commit to his oath of office? 
Davis, who was President Clinton's special counsel and Scaramucci, who was Trump's communications director for a New York minute, write that despite being a liberal Democrat and conservative Republican, they agree that:
President Trump must be impeached by the House and removed from office, either by the Senate or at the ballot box on Nov. 3, 2020. 
Based on Trump's undisputed words  alone, there can be no doubt that the president has met the standard for impeachment.  While the framers were intentionally vague in not defining what was meant by "high crimes and misdemeanors," the two key framers who interpreted this phrase --  Alexander Hamilton and James Madison -- agreed that a president should be removed from office for "the abuse or violation of some public trust."
Davis and Scaramucci suggest that if such public pronouncements of open-mindedness by at least 20 Republican jurors do not occur within a month or so after the House impeachment resolution, then a Senate trial would be a waste of time and unwise. 
They write that such a move might seem unfair to Trump because it would deny him an opportunity to answer the charges brought by the House.  For this reason, they propose that the president be given the option of having a full Senate trial if he wants one. 
Davis and Scaramucci:
But our instinct is that, if given a choice, Trump would say, "Thanks, but no thanks."  He will know that second presentation (and the larger TV audience that goes with it) of the undeniable evidence that he asked a foreign government leader to intervene to help him in the 2020 presidential election won’t help him politically. 
Our hunch is that most Americans would prefer to avoid wasting time during a crucial presidential election. They would rather focus on the important issues facing the country. 
We still believe a House impeachment vote must occur.  It is needed to establish an important historical precedent -- holding future presidents accountable in history for what this House may find were serious abuses of presidential power. 
An impeachment vote will occur.  The only questions are when the vote is taken and what Ukraine scandal excuse his defenders are cycling through at the time.   
The No Quid Pro Quo defense has crashed and burned, the It's All Fake News defense is on life support, while the latest is the incredibly lame Fall Guy defense, as in his advisers played Trump for a patsy in pursuit of their own foreign policy agenda and Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney and Gordon Sondland are being fitted for fall guy outfits in the service of getting the poor, misunderstood president off the hook.  
Trump is getting trounced in most 2020 election polls because few voters beyond his vaunted base remain undecided even though the election is a year distant, and a large majority of the rest say they will vote for any Democrat.  Yet you can be forgiven if the 2020 campaign is starting to feel a lot like 2016. 
Despite Hillary Clinton being the overwhelming favorite and popular vote winner, Trump won because of that under-appreciated MAGA cap-wearing base, his appeal as a racist and sexist, the Fox News propaganda machine and masterful use of social media by the tandem of the Trump campaign and Russia hackers.  Trump is historically unpopular -- more voters want him impeached than wanted Richard Nixon impeached -- but the feeling persists that he could pull off another Electoral College rope-a-dope. 
In this context and the near certainty that 20 Republican senators won't suddenly grow a pair, the Davis-Scaramucci proposal is a winner in the context of every little bit helping the anti-Trump cause. 
And could have the additional dividend of helping tip the Senate into Democratic hands.