Sunday, September 29, 2019

Be Cautious, America: The Shackles Are Loosened, But We're Still Not Free

Asked how I felt at the end of the momentous week just concluded -- during which the Ukraine scandal went supernova and House Democrats announced that they intend to impeach Donald Trump -- I cautiously replied that "I felt as if my shackles had been sightly loosened."  
Yet this ostensible cause for celebration is, after nearly three years of wearing Trump's shackles, more of a cause for caution because we're still not free.  Not by a long shot.   
The Ukraine scandal, detailed with vivid exactness by an intelligence committee whistleblower, is the proverbial "smoking gun" that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was unable to sniff out over his two-year Russia scandal investigation. 
"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," wrote the whistleblower.  It doesn't get any clearer than that, as well as make it easier for House Democrats to defend against the inevitable spin, conspiracy theorizing and outright lying as pre-impeachment hearings move forward.    
All of this says less about Mueller's shortcomings, which in fairness largely were because of the limitations of his remit, including a bar on indicting a sitting president, than Trump's sick world of crap, corruption and crime and his belief that because, as the Chosen One, he had gotten away with nary a scratch from his collusion with Vladimir Putin's cyberwarriors, which greased the skids for his "victory" in 2016, he was going to go down the same devious path again. 
This time, using the awesome power of the American presidency, he was going to extort a foreign leader, with nearly $400 million in desperately needed military aid as the hammer, to dish nonexistent dirt on Joe Biden, his leading Democratic presidential challenger in the 2020 election, much as he had climbed into bed with Russia in dishing nonexistent dirt on Hillary Clinton in 2016.  And because he was the Chosen One, he wasn't even going to bother to cover his fat ass. 
(Furthermore, methinks that Putin's invisible hand is all over the Ukraine scandal.)  
"It's finally clear enough to see the monsters in the fog," as Esquire's Charles Pierce puts the week's events. 
But by revealing, in the whistleblower's one fell swoop, the vastness of Trump's evil empire, which we now can confirm includes his vice president, acting chief of staff, attorney general, secretary of state and ravingly mad personal lawyer and fixer, we have taken only the first step toward exterminating it, and impeachment will be an extremely fraught process.  It is here that cause for caution takes center stage although those of us who felt that something really bad was going to happen to Trump -- slipping on the proverbial banana peel as I have repeatedly put it -- have been more or less vindicated. 
"Our tone must be prayerful, respectful, solemn, worthy of the Constitution," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi privately told colleagues as impeachment barrels ahead with the news the anonymous whistleblower will speak behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee, which is forgoing Congress's two-week recess. 
It was a week that was going to change everything, but we know all too well that the more Trump feels cornered, the more disturbed his words and actions become.   
His demands that the whistleblower's identity be revealed and unsubtle suggestion that he be strung up amidst a scramble by hard core Trumpkins to unmask him was only a foretaste of what is to come.  I just can't erase from my mind that Nancy Pelosi's children may face the same harm as the 22 Latinos dispatched at a Walmart store in El Paso by a white supremacist who dutifully responded to Trump's imprecations to send non-white immigrants back to their homelands with a legally-purchased semi-automatic version of the fabled AK47 assault rifle. 
And then there is the "sudden" renewed interest in Clinton's emails. 
As many as 130 current and former senior State Department officials who sent messages to then-Secretary of State Clinton's private email have been questioned because their emails have been retroactively classified and now constitute potential security violations in the jaundiced view of the Trump administration, another blatant abuse of presidential power to attack a political adversary. 
How low can Trump go in fighting "Do Nothing Democratic Savages," as he called them in a weekend tweetstorm?  You ain't seen anything yet.               

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Biggest Bombshell Of All: Russia, Ukraine Scandals Are Inextricably Linked

With the bombshells over President Trump's effort to extort Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to pursue false corruption allegations against leading Democratic challenger Joe Biden flying fast and furious, the biggest kaboom of all is getting lost -- that the roots of the Ukraine scandal, the underlying reason for Trump's forthcoming impeachment, began with a search for dirt that might provide the pretext and political cover for him to pardon his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, a twice convicted and now imprisoned casualty of the Russia scandal. 
Investigative reporting veteran Murray Waas, using previously unexamined documents, concludes in a riveting New York Review of Books takeout that attorneys representing Trump and Manafort had at least nine conversations relating to the dirt-gathering effort beginning in the early days of the Trump administration and lasting until as recently as May of this year.  Trump personal lawyer and fixer Rudy Giuliani, who is deeply implicated in the Ukraine scandal, was a key player in those conversations. 
Manafort exhorted the White House through his lawyers to press Ukrainian officials to investigate and discredit individuals, both in the U.S. and in Ukraine, who he believed had published damning information about his political consulting work over a 10-year period for Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Vladimir Putin Ukrainian president who fled the former Soviet satellite republic to Moscow in 2014.   
That consulting work, while not directly related to Russia's interference in the 2016 election with the Trump campaign's involvement, resulted in Manafort's conviction on eight felony counts, including money laundering and tax and mortgage fraud.  He is serving a 47-month prison setence. 
Writes Waas:
New information . . . 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.
The records reviewed by Waas also indicate that Giuliani, in communications with Manafort's legal team, originally intended to push a narrative that the Democratic National Committee, Democratic donors, and Ukrainian government officials had "colluded" to defeat Trump in 2016. 
The narrative has been repeatedly debunked, although that has not prevented Trump, Giuliani and conservative media surrogates from repeatedly pushing it.   
Giuliani himself has acknowledged that while pursuing that failed narrative he stumbled upon the business dealings of Biden's son, Hunter, in Ukraine and consequent creation of the also debunked allegation that Biden, while Barack Obama's vice president, pushed for the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating the energy firm with whom Hunter Biden did business.  Waas writes that what Giuliani has not said is that this was part of an overall effort to pursue Manafort's enemies in Ukraine in the service of a possible presidential pardon.     
The Biden narrative became the underpinning of Trump's now exposed abuse of presidential power. 
Trump repeatedly tried to extort Zelensky, who is a Putin foe, to investigate the leading Democratic challenger for the presidency by holding back nearly $400 million in aid from this U.S. ally to fight Russian aggression, and to share whatever he found with Attorney General William Barr.   All that is laid out in detail in the devastating report of an intelligence community whistleblower that also implicates Giuliani, Vice President Pence and Barr, who did nothing about a criminal referral to his Justice Department by the intelligence community inspector general based on the report and attempted to cover up both the referral and complaint. 
On May 10, Trump recalled to Washington Marie Yovanovitch, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, an unnoticed early warning sign of the mischief Trump and Giuliani were working. 
Yovanovitch's dismissal was attributed at the time to the belief of Republican conservatives that she was not doing enough to help Trump, but the records reviewed by Waas show that Giuliani believed that the ambassador had attempted to undercut his covert Ukraine activities. 
Trump's dangling of pardons for Manafort and Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney and fixer, and others who might provide damaging testimony against the president have been widely reported and were noted in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report on his Russia scandal investigation. 
The communication pipeline between Manafort's lawyers and the White House, nominally protected by a so-called joint defense agreement, also has been widely reported and stemmed from Manafort's hopes that Trump would pardon him.  As part of a plea bargain in which Manafort admitted to additional crimes, including witness tampering, he was guaranteed leniency by federal prosecutors working for Mueller if he became a fully cooperating witness for them.   
But Manafort's cooperation was a ruse. 
Prosecutors said he had told them and FBI agents "multiple discernible lies" while constantly briefing Trump's attorneys on what he was being asked and what he was telling Mueller.  
In the end, Mueller did not follow up [on Manafort's perfidy].  Nor have Democrats in the House, who had a similar legitimate right to independently investigate the matter. . . . In the absence of any branch of government holding them accountable, Trump and Giuliani faced no sanction for doing so.  They had good reason, after all, to believe they were invincible.
There never was formal understanding of a presidential pardon, writes Waas, because such a pardon would raise the specter of whether it might constitute obstruction of justice. But Trump's former campaign manager has believed that Giuliani's efforts to investigate some of Manafort's accusers in Ukraine, including a journalist who made public a secret ledger revealing that Yanukoyvch had made $12.7 million in secret "black ledger" cash payments to Manafort for his consulting work, was a favorable sign that Trump might pardon him after the 2020 presidential election. 
That, of course, has become an abstraction with Trump's reelection chances foundering and now the explosive Ukraine allegations, impending impeachment and possibility --- albeit a long shot at this point -- of becoming the first president to be removed from office.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Dam Has Finally Broken. So What Should The Articles Of Impeachment Be?

The decision to make Donald Trump only the fourth president in American history to face impeachment -- as risky, difficult and belated as that may have been -- was the easy part. Deciding what the articles of impeachment should be -- and making the case that they are justified -- will be the hard part. 
Anyone other than a diehard Trumpkin who is not convinced that the president needs to be impeached after the explosive Ukraine scandal -- and revelations that Trump, with the help of his fixer Rudy Giuliani, tried to extort a foreign leader and foe of Vladimir Putin to investigate his leading Democratic challenger for the presidency by holding back nearly $400 million in aid from this U.S. ally to fight Russian aggression, a crime that had its origins in discussions about whether to pardon former Trump campaign director Paul Manafort for his Russia-scandal related misdeeds -- needs to crawl back into their cave.   
Yes, the Russia and Ukraine scandals are inextricably linked. 
If the impeachment inquiry is limited only to the Ukraine scandal, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is counseling it should be, the House Intelligence Committee would take the lead in drafting articles of impeachment.  If the inquiry is not limited to the Ukraine scandal, the House Judiciary Committee would take the lead.   
Keeping in mind that impeachment is a political and not a legal process, and that events growing out of Trump's naked effort to bypass diplomatic, defense and intelligence channels to try to extort the Ukraine president into investigating his leading Democratic presidential challenger are developing at breakneck speed, Trump's lawyers are clinging to the problematic argument that he has done nothing wrong precisely because he is president, while Trump himself has falsely claimed that Article II of the Constitution gives him the right to do anything he wants.  
Beyond hiring more defense lawyers and forming an Official Impeachment Defense Task Force to raise money for a prolonged impeachment battle, the rest of Trump's defense remains murky beyond the obvious -- deflecting, defying, lying and beating back demands already before federal judges that the White House stop stonewalling the various House investigations and produce documents and witnesses critical to those probes.  
Impeachment takes those court cases to a new level and presents additional perils for Trump because under the rules of impeachment, House Democrats have unique and enhanced legal rights to extract information and then present their findings in public hearings. 
"Trump's misconduct presents what the military calls a target-rich environment," write the legal analysts at Lawfare.  "There's a huge range of activity that a reasonable member of Congress could in good conscience regard as impeachable.  That said, it would be a very bad idea for the House to take the approach of throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall and seeing what, if anything, sticks. 
Presuming that the inquiry is not limited to the Ukraine scandal, those Lawfare aces -- Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes -- write that House Democrats should concentrate on five major areas, each of which "could easily support" an article of impeachment. 
They are:
(1.) Obstruction of justice and abuse of law enforcement. 
This covers the president's efforts to impede Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia scandal investigation, James Comey's firing, attempting to dissuade witnesses, including Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Micael Cohen, from cooperating with federal authorities, and corruptly trying to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of the investigation and to reverse his decision to recuse himself, the president's attempt to limit the investigation by pressuring Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller and have White House Counsel Don McGahn create a false record regarding his actions with respect to efforts to fire Mueller. 
.(2.) Attempts to leverage the power of the presidency against political opponents.
This includes the president's request to Sessions to reverse his recusal so that he could direct the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute Hillary Clinton, and publicly accusing of crimes several individuals, including Comey, former FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, Justice official Bruce Ohr and Ohr's wife, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.  The president also appeared to threaten prosecution of Cohen's wife and father-in-law, while the president and Giuliani repeatedly pressured Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.  
(3.) Abuse of foreign policy and misuse of aid money. 
This is the Ukraine scandal writ large with the president himself acknowledging that his July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky concerned "all of the corruption taking place and largely the fact that we don't want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating (sic) to the corruption already in the Ukraine," while Giuliani has said that he asked the Ukrainian government to look into the Biden family after initially denying it.   Nearly $400 million in military aid was held up on the president's orders while this pressure was being exerted, an abuse of law enforcement powers for personal gain rather than public concern.
(4.) Efforts to obstruct congressional investigations. 
This includes the president's decision to frustrate congressional oversight of his conduct in general by refusing to comply with subpoenas, overbroad and frequently frivolous claims of executive privilege and absolute immunity, all assaults on the very notion of congressional oversight. The relevant conduct includes, but is not limited to, the assertion of executive privilege over the testimony of Corey Lewandowski, absolute immunity over the testimony of former White House employees McGahn, Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson, directing the IRS not to comply with federal law, interfering in efforts to compel third parties to comply with subpoenas regarding tax returns, directing the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to withhold the Ukraine whistleblower report, irregularities in the White House security clearance process, and the refusal of William Barr and Wilbur Ross to comply with congressional subpoenas to produce documents related to the addition of a citizenship question on the census. 
(5.) Lying to the American public. 
The president has outdone all of his predecessors in this area with The Washington Post "Fact Checker" database of presidential dissembling documenting over 12,000 "false or misleading statements" since he took office, which raises the question about whether the president has any obligation to tell the truth about anything -- even while advancing the proposition that the idea of "faithful" execution of the law implies no duty of candor at all. 
Not surprisingly, four of the five major areas outlined above were incorporated into the articles of impeachment being drawn up against Richard Nixon before he resigned. 
Notable in their absence from the Lawfare list are other areas of Trump's criminality and misconduct, including possible tax fraud in the years before he became a candidate, hush money payments he made to women with whom he had affairs as a candidate, multiple violations of the Constitution's emoluments clause as he has used his presidency to enrich family businesses, and disputes over border security, including his draconian family separation policy. 
Those strands of spaghetti also might stick, but for impeachment to succeed, the articles of impeachment must be based on unambiguous conduct and evidence after Trump became president and can be more easily presented to the Senate for its judgment. 
Yes, Republicans maintain an iron grip on the Senate, where a trial would be held on the articles of impeachment approved by the House.  A two-thirds vote after trial would be necessary -- and seems implausible at this juncture -- to convict Trump and force his removal from office.   
The times, to paraphrase American revolutionary Thomas Paine, finally have found us. We have to start somewhere, and drafting articles of impeachment is the place to start.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Has 'The Hour Of The Founders' Come Around Again As Pelosi Finally Blinks?

One way or the other this darkness got to give. ~ ROBERT HUNTER 
Donald Trump's self-impeachment began almost as soon as his nightmare of a presidency did, a never-ending series of scandals that with his blatant efforts to extort the president of Ukraine by withholding nearly $400 million in aid unless he pursued baseless corruption allegations against a leading Democratic challenger to his reelection has now entered a new realm.  Practically speaking, only Nancy Pelosi has stood between Trump's ongoing crime spree and the initiation of impeachment proceedings, but the House speaker finally has blinked. 
Let's be clear that Pelosi's decision to clear the way to Trump becoming only the fourth president in history to face impeachment is fraught in the extreme.   
Her decision, announced after she met with the Democratic caucus on Tuesday afternoon, comes belatedly and is less a Road to Damascus moment than the consequence of a risky political calculus.  
That calculus is balancing her fragile perch atop the restive caucus while trying to put an end to the president's assault on American democracy and belief he can act with impunity, which have been reinforced by the reality that Robert Mueller's Russia scandal investigation, effectively whitewashed by Trump and presidential lawn ornament William Barr, had become a dead end for Democrats seeking to remove him from office.   
Will the attorney general now try to make the Ukraine scandal disappear?  He already is by not investigating Trump's latest spasm of criminality, while two announcements on Tuesday prior to Pelosi's decision -- to allow a whistleblower alarmed by Trump's July 25 call to Ukrainian President to appear before the House Intelligence Committee and release a transcript of the call -- are feints to try to put off impeachment.  
Pelosi long argued that a majority of voters did not support impeachment, it would further energize Trump's mythic political base, the Republican Senate would never vote to convict after an impeachment trial, even if it allowed a trial in the first place, and the best way to deal with the president was to oust him in the 2020 election.   
But a different reality was marching on relentlessly.   
The awfulness of the Ukraine scandal -- the Chosen One demanding that another country help keep him in power as Russia had so obligingly done in 2016 in greasing the skids for his improbable "victory" over Hillary Clinton, as well as relentless attacks on Joe Biden all too reminiscent of the fiendishly successful Lock Her Up Hillary slime campaign -- apparently became too much for even the calculating Pelosi. 
"The president must be held accountable.  No one is above the law.  The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections," Pelosi declared in brief remarks from the Speaker's Balcony of the Capitol, which overlooks the Mall, a location selected to emphasize the significance and grandiosity of the moment. 
On cue, Trump unleashed a tweetstorm savaging Pelosi and House committee chairs that was a foretaste of the vicious White House pushback to impeachment.  
"Such an important day at the United Nations, so much work and so much success, and the Democrats purposely had to ruin and demean it with more breaking news Witch Hunt garbage," Trump tweeted.  "So bad for our Country!" 
Pelosi noted that the chairs of six key House committees already involved in investigating Trump and his administration would make recommendations to the House Judiciary Committee, which has the authority to handle impeachment.  Their reports could help form articles of impeachment brought against the president. 
Impeachment has occurred only twice in U.S. history — against Presidents Andrew Johnson and Clinton, although neither was removed from office.  President Nixon resigned in 1974 after the House initiated impeachment proceedings but he resigned before an official vote.  
Little noticed amidst the impeachment uproar, Senate Republicans join unanimously with their Democratic colleagues on Tuesday to call on Trump to stop stonewalling and to release the Ukraine whistleblower complaint. 
While Pelosi had hinted that Trump's refusal to release the whistleblower's report could push Democrats toward impeachment, much of the credit for breaking the dam must go to Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chair, who all but endorsed impeachment on Sunday.  
This galvanized many more House Democrats to call for impeachment on Monday and Tuesday, bringing to at least 208 the number of the 235-member caucus who now publicly advocate taking that action, while earlier on Tuesday, Biden called for impeachment if the president does not comply with congressional requests for information related to Ukraine and other investigations.  
It is easy to say that we finally have reached the beginning of the end, and as political historian Walter Karp wrote of the drive for impeachment following Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre in 1974, "the hour of the Founders had come around at last."   
Easy, but wrong, because we've been at this point as other scandals engulfed the White House, only to ebb and then disappear into the Washington swamp because of Trump's unrivaled ability to neutralize his foes and play the news media, which most recently has however inadvertently been helping him to slime the Bidens. 
Let us strive to make this time different.

Robert Hunter (June 23, 1941 ~ September 23, 2019)


Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Trump's Ukraine Scandal: If Anything Is An Impeachable Offense, This Is. But . . .

Not that he needed any prompting because of a lifetime of  sleazy and corrupt behavior, but Donald Trump still learned well from the Russia scandal, and elements of that attack on the bedrock of American democracy are all over his brazen efforts to pressure and possibly bribe or extort the president of Ukraine into conducting a witch hunt (there's that word!) against his leading Democratic challenger for the presidency.  If anything is an impeachable offense and demands his immediate removal from office, this certainly is it. 
In a replay of 2016, Trump repeatedly sought the help of a foreign government against an American citizen, but instead of powerful Russia President Vladimir Putin with Hillary Clinton as their target, it is weak Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, as the targets.   
It is an extraordinary mix of ethical, legal and national security issues.   
And in an especially perverse twist, although the crime was far worse than the coverup in 2016, this time the crime is hiding in plain view -- it just look the news media a while to connect the dots -- and not only is there no coverup, but Trump fixer Rudy Giuliani is boasting about the crime and Trump, as is often the case, repeatedly denied discussing Biden with Zelensky until he acknowledged the bleeding obvious on Sunday while continuing to refuse to release a transcript of his July 25 call to Zelensky during which he pressed him no fewer than eight times to work with Giuliani to investigate the Bidens. 
Trump would instinctively try to get dirt on his opponents, let alone Biden, who has not hesitated to call out the president. 
"This appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power,” Biden told reporters while on the stump in Iowa.  "Trump's doing this because he knows I'll beat him like a drum and is using the abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try to do something to smear me." 
The president and his minions claim that as Barack Obama's vice president, Biden tried to sack a Ukrainian prosecutor who was probing his son's energy company, an allegation that is totally baseless.  Hunter Biden's hands are soiled, at best, and certainly not dirty, but that's beside the point.  Biden already has become the Lock Her Up Hillary of the 2020 campaign, the media will fecklessly repeat the Big Lie as they did with Clinton's emails, and every time they do it will stick a little more. 
What is different this time is that Trump has now been in charge for nearly three years, is unrestrained and more convinced of his invincibility than ever although outside of his ever reliable base, he is deeply unpopular, under investigation for a staggering array of crimes and unpresidential behavior, and House Democrats have nominally begun impeachment proceedings.   
Additionally, the July 25 call is part of a whistleblower complaint submitted by Trump appointee Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general.  But Joseph McGuire, acting director of national intelligence, is refusing to turn over the complaint to Congress, as is required by law.  The identity of the whistleblower remains unknown. 
And it should not be forgotten that Trump withheld a bipartisan $250 million appropriation for military assistance for Ukraine urgently needed by the former Soviet republic to fend off Russian aggression, which at first seemed like yet another way to curry favor with Putin until the whistleblower complaint became known and members of Congress, some Republicans included, began breathing down his ugly neck to release the funds.  Then Trump .  
To return to where we began, if anything is an impeachable offense and demands Trump's immediate removal from office, this certainly is it.   This is, in fact, a make or break moment.  But that's not how things work in Trump's America nor on Capitol Hill, where Trump is holding Republicans hostage, Republicans still have a stranglehold on the Senate and would never vote to convict him should the Democratic majority in the House approve articles of impeachment.   
So while calls for impeachment are growing, the House Intelligence Committee has yet more combustibles to investigate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told members of her caucus in a letter on Sunday that if the administration's resistance continues, it "will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation," a formal impeachment vote remains an abstraction. 
More likely is that the whole mess will end up in voters' laps in November 2020.

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Story Of The Birth, Long Life & Awful Death Of The John Evans House

(A POSTSCRIPT: At a meeting on September 17, 2019, Pennsylvania State Representative Andrew Dinniman, meeting with state parks officials and state and Chester County preservationists, pledged that the remains of the John Evans House would not be demolished and will be preserved as an interpretive site for the London Tract settlement of Welsh Baptists if private funding can be secured.)   
The first thing you need to know about the John Evans House is that it was really old, as in 304 years old.  
The second thing you need to know is that I lived in the John Evans House, brought my newborn children home to its welcoming embrace, cherished it in summer heat and winter cold, and worked tirelessly to keep it from the fate that befalls far too many historic structures -- be they grandiose mansions or tarpaper slave quarters -- in a country that neither understands nor values its past. 
The last thing you need to know is that the John Evans House was killed twice over.   
It was first killed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was gifted the house and the verdant lands around it by an act of Congress.  Its response was to willfully neglect a profoundly historic structure that predates the commonwealth itself by nearly 75 years and then list it for demolition.  And then it was killed again by what in all likelihood was an arsonist.  
This then is the story of the birth, long life and awful death of the John Evans House. 
Ca. 1850
John Evans was a Welsh Baptist who, as the story goes, sought a new life in the New World early in the 18th century to escape religious persecution.  He and his brother Thomas sailed to the Pennsylvania colony where they bought land in what would become Chester County in Southeastern Pennsylvania and the northernmost of the three lower Pennsylvania counties that were to become Delaware.  The seller was William Penn.  The nearest neighbors, Lenni Lenapes who had lived in the region for perhaps 2,000 years and had sold much of the valley to Penn in 1683, were not consulted.  
The Evans brothers sailed home, outfitted a ship and returned with their families and servants to the colony in 1715, which as years go, was pretty tumultuous beyond the Evans's tight-knit world and centuries-long legacy of messing with their Welsh Baptist brethren by whomever happened to be in power in the so-called United Kingdom. 
Elsewhere in the U.K. in 1715, Viscount Bolingbroke was secretly negotiating with France, leading to the Treaty of Utrecht, which more or less ended the War of Spanish Succession. There was a rare total solar eclipse in London, the first in almost 900 years, scaring the bejesus out of Believers and Non-Believers alike.  In the young American colonies, the first black slaves were arriving, while to the south in the Province of Carolina, the Tuscarora gave up their war against encroaching settlers and fled through Lenni Lenape country to upstate New York. 
Meanwhile, John Evans had the Flemish bond brick ballast from his ship transported to 400 acres he had been deeded in a secluded valley hard by the confluence of the East and Middle branches of White Clay Creek where he built a two-story gentleman's house of the ballast bricks with touches of what would become known as the Georgian architectural style.  The first floor was an all-purpose room.  There were two small bedrooms on the second floor and servants would have been quartered in the attic. There undoubtedly was a summer kitchen behind the house, while cooking was done in the large fireplace downstairs in cold and inclement weather.   
The valley must have been heaven on earth for the Evanses. 
The White Clay ran high, clear and fast even during the driest summers when its banks were perfumed by wildflowers.  The creek ran deep, as well, as it coursed between boulders that were visitors from the last Ice Age and had stayed put after the big thaw. The verdant woodlands of oak, chestnut, maple, black walnut and sycamore teemed with wildlife, including deer, bear, turkey, mink, beaver and turtle.  There were trout and eel in the creek, and when it flooded its banks in the spring, its deposits further enriched already fertile soil.   
John Evans understood that he was building on a flood plain and the basement was constructed to allow water to run in and drain back out.  I witnessed this at least once a year during my tenure there, and I became adept at being able to quickly remove the motor on the oil furnace as flood waters rose.  
Underlying the valley is a conglomeration of rock formations, including the black granite that was the primary stone in the fieldstone walls of the first of two expansions to the house.  The first expansion was later in the 18th century with the addition of a dining room with a grand fireplace and three more bedrooms upstairs.  The master bedroom, which had a commanding view of the creek and field behind the house, had a smallish, free-standing fireplace. 
The house grew again around 1800 with a story-and-a-half addition containing a kitchen with a large walk-in fireplace, rendering obsolete the summer kitchen behind the house. There also were various small outbuildings probably built of oak and chestnut. 
In 1725, John Evans had begun construction of what became known as the Landmark Primitive Baptist Church (home of the legendary Ticking Tomb) a few hundred feet to the west of his house in thanksgiving for his good fortune.  The area around the house was farmed, but a mill and millrace soon were built nearby.  Later, grist and lumber mills and other businesses began springing up as the colony became a young republic and the nearby village of Landenberg grew and thrived.   
ca. 1930
In one of history's ironies, the White Clay Creek Valley is an oasis today compared to the fouled waters and air of 150 years ago when industry thrived in and around Landenberg and the John Evans House house passed out of the Evans family. 
A succession of other families lived in the house, including the Yeatman family in the mid-1800s.  (The house is referred to as the Yeatman Mill House by the Bureau of State Parks.)  An emigre family from Canada operated a sod farm for some time in the 20th century on the fertile floodplain behind the house.  I know that because I found a son's Army dogtags under an opening in some attic floorboards and traced his ancestry. 
By the early 1960s, the house -- then known as the Woodward House for the Canadian family -- was somewhat in decline but still solid.  It was fronted by a white picket fence when I first discovered it while riding my three-speed English bike into the valley from my family home a few miles away on high school-aged explorations.  I imagined what it would be like to live in this brick-and-stone jewel and fantasized about being able to do so some day. 
Out of college and back from a stint in the Far East a few years later, the house was somewhat seedier but still solid.  The picket fence was gone and the valley and environs had been gobbled up by the DuPont Company, which was headquartered in nearby Wilmington, Delaware.  
The chemical giant, which for 200 years had an outsized presence in the region, intended to dam the White Clay and flood several thousand acres of the valley, submerging the Evans House, the church Evans built, and dozens of other structures.  A magnificent habitate would be wiped out in the service of supplying water from a massive reservoir to a textile manufacturing plant DuPont intended to build at the Milford Crossroad north of Newark, Delaware. 
But in a twist of fate that help seal the career a young politician who was to rise to national prominence, the John Evans House and valley were saved. 
DuPont had consolidated its grip on the valley by secretly razing houses.  One day there would be a house and the next day a newly landscaped and seeded lawn.  Some were simple bungalows, but a few were historically significant, including the magnificent three-story and balconied Elzey/Burns House on Sharpless Road off London Tract Road, with its magnificent 10-foot walk-in fireplace and exquisite 18th century molding, before it was bulldozed and buried in an unspeakable crime against history.  Only the three giant sycamores that shaded the house remain. 
Du Pont's furtive scorched earth policy left the John Evans House as probably the oldest structure still standing in the valley even if George Washington never slept there, and it may have been left standing only because of the efforts of an area resident with an historic bent and artisanal carpentry skills who moved there in 1974, three days before it was to be bulldozed and six years before my own tenancy, and began the task of stabilizing it.  (A cabin made of chestnut logs said to have been built in the 1680s sat uphill on the far side of the White Clay, but it was destroyed in an arson fire well before DuPont big footed onto the scene.)
DuPont began curbing its less altruistic corporate instincts because of furious opposition to the dam and reservoir from an unlikely coalition of foes: Dorothy Miller, a birding enthusiast and devoted environmentalist, a sportsman's club affiliated with the United Auto Workers Union at the Newark Chrysler Assembly Plant, and Sally Rickerman and Jan Kalb, whom I jokingly referred to as Attack Quakers in my admiration for their outspoken faith-based belief in saving the valley, which they happened to love and was where their own historic homes were located.  
I did my part as a young editor at the Wilmington News Journal, where I assigned a reporter to write a series of stories on the mysteriously disappearing houses, which a DuPont mouthpiece initially denied had disappeared at all. 
With the indefatigable Dot Miller leading the charge, the coalition fought DuPont to a standstill and then in 1970 a slate of Democrats was swept into office in New Castle County, Delaware on a reform platform that included opposition to the dam and reservoir, which had been backed by the deeply entrenched DuPont-friendly Republican incumbents.  (The News Journal was a DuPont shill and pro dam and reservoir, and I caught flak for the stories.)    
Among the newly elected reformers was a 28-year-old county councilman by the name of Joseph R. Biden. 

It was not until 1984 that the future of the John Evans House seemed to be assured.  
That was when Biden, by then a two-term U.S. senator, and colleague Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania sponsored legislation under which DuPont would receive a generous one-time tax break, which no one talked about, by deeding the valley to the states of Delaware and Pennsylvania in perpetuity for a preserve -- as opposed to a park -- that beyond rustic trails and the occasional gravel parking lot would remain undeveloped and largely undisturbed.  
Meanwhile, with DuPont as my landlord, my boyhood dream had come true and I had been living in the house since 1981.  With the deed transfer, my rent checks went to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, custodian of the new White Clay Creek Preserve.
But from the start, the Pennsylvania side of the White Clay Creek Preserve was woefully underfunded. 
We made "sweat equity" repairs to the John Evans House in return for reduced rent. These repairs were, for the most part, fairly minor, although we never did get the skid marks out of a corner of the living room floor, which a neighbor who had lived in the valley for years later told us were from the kickstands of motorcycles parked there when bikers had briefly used the house.  Yet for being 270 years old, the house was in good condition and as structurally sound as the day John Evans had opened the front door to his family for the first time. 
The house remained in that condition, if a little rough around the edges, until after the last tenant moved out about 1998 when the inevitable deterioration commenced that befalls old houses that are not kept up. 

Looking back, the fate of the John Evans House was determined when the state did an inadequate job of closing it up.  
Houses like people need to breathe, and this is especially true of old houses as temperatures and humidity cycle up and down.  This house's doors and windows were sealed with plywood boards instead of boards with louvers, which experienced preservationists use.  Louvers would have allowed the house and its floors, walls, ceilings, attic and roof to breathe and not suffocate, checking its deterioration until the state woke up to the treasure in its midst or an angel with deep pockets came along. 
By 2015, the house sat forlorn and very much neglected.   
There was hideous graffiti on some of the first floor plywood boards and the roof and attic dormer windows were collapsing inward.  The floors on the second floor had collapsed from being exposed to the elements because of the roof collapse.  Vegetation had overtaken and seized the back of the house, covering the windows from which I had watched the sun burn off the mist over the creek on many a morning, slowly but surely assisting in a team effort of time and neglect to ravage an irreplaceably beautiful house. 
In 2006, the state Bureau of Parks first listed the house for demolition.  
"The John Evans House was a topic of conversation on many occasions," said Carla Lucas, president of the Friends of the White Clay Preserve, which was founded in 2012 as a chapter of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation.  "Those who visited the Preserve on a regular basis watched the building deteriorate. We'd talk to the park manager, who said the state would do nothing because it would cost at least $600,000 to repair."
More recently, vandals had been breaking into the house although it is only a few hundred feet from the Preserve headquarters.  That has been made easier because the Preserve, which is being slowly starved by the Bureau of Parks, has not had a manager since 2015 and has only a single full-time employee to oversee its 2,072 acres.   
Then on the afternoon of September 20, 2017, the house burned, leaving only the exterior walls standing despite the efforts of volunteer firemen summoned from West Grove, Avondale and Hockessin.   
The cause was almost certainly arson.

Even after the fire -- no, because of what the fire laid bare -- the exterior walls of the John Evans House have an extraordinary story to tell. 
Despite the deterioration of the roof, attic and floors, the walls of the house remain structurally sound and survived the fire pretty much intact, a monument to the built-to-last craftsmanship of the 18th and 19th centuries.  And despite much hankie-wringing in recent years among wannabe preservationists that the house was about to fall down, no such thing was going to happen.
All of the fireplaces are intact, if bare. 
The freestanding fireplace on the second floor wall is largely unscathed although the floor and joists beneath it had given way.  The living room fireplace, on which I did some restoration work during my time in the house, also is substantially intact, as is the kitchen fireplace with its lovely arch.  The magnificent dining room fireplace and hearth are scarred but also intact, as if ready for the next dinner party although it will never come.  
There is a dreary record of historic structures on private land giving way to drug stores, banks and housing developments in history-rich Chester County. But it simply is unheard of that a structure on public land -- your land and mine -- with the three-century lineage of the John Evans House would be allowed to deteriorate to the point where it became easy prey for vandals, giving new meaning to the term willful neglect. 
The trajectory of that neglect becomes shockingly apparent in examining official documents pertaining to the house that I obtained from the Bureau of Parks as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request:
March 1998: A document states that the house is "in need of major repairs [but] due to its historical nature, plans are to keep this structure and improve it as monies allow. There is a project listed in the amount of $100,000 to effect those repairs.  There are no plans to remove this building, nor change its use in the foreseeable future."  
February 22, 2006: The then-director of the Bureau of State Parks states in a letter to a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources administrator that the bureau intends "to dispose of" the house. 
2007~2009: The disposal request wends its way through the state bureaucracy with approvals obtained from the Historical and Museum Commission, Bureau of Engineering and Architecture and Department of General Services, among other agencies.
September 12, 2008: A regional parks manager states without elaboration in a letter that "We have found no documentation that supports the building as historically significant."
2008~2009: The house is stripped of distinctive interior architectural
features, including fireplace surrounds, mantles and molding. 
September 4, 2009: A Historical and Museum Commission review concludes that the White Clay Creek Preserve "has provided no alternative uses for this building at this location and there are no alternative sites within the park to which this building can be moved." 
October 14, 2009: A demolition permit is approved by the Bureau of State Parks, but the house remains standing because of a lack of money to tear it down.    
We can blame the usual whipping boy, the chronic underfunding of state parks for this meant-to-fail strategy, but that rationale has become profoundly disingenuous because it excuses the Bureau of State Parks and the Preserve staff (when it had one) of their responsibilities as stewards of a structure gifted the people of Pennsylvania by Congress. 
"I think it was a failure all around to preserve the John Evans House.  Privately as citizens of the community we could never get organized to find the funding necessary to at least put a decent roof on the building to stop the
deterioration," said Lucas.  "As stewards of the property, the state failed to see the historical value of this house and dedicate funds to preserve it." 
"The state parks system is so underfunded and so understaffed it is hard to blame a specific person but as an organization, they could have done more." 
Following the fire, the office of Governor Tom Wolfe deferred comment on this tragic state of affairs and punted to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the parent department of the Bureau of Parks. 
"There are limited resources to tackle historic structures like this one," said Christina Novak, director of the department's Office of Communications.  "DCNR does maintain one of the largest inventories of historic structures in the commonwealth.  In many cases the department is successful when it finds a partner organization which can find use for the building and generate revenue to facilitate the rehabilitation.  This has not been the case of this structure." 
We live in an era when the Pennsylvania state government opened its lands, including state parks and forests, to rapacious frackers, although Wolfe did ban new drilling on most state lands in 2015. 
Yet only a trickle of the billions of dollars in natural gas that energy companies have extracted since 2005 while polluting streams and rivers ever finds its way back into state coffers and places like the White Clay Creek Preserve, where it could make a difference.   
And might have saved a 304-year-old historic and architectural gem.