Thursday, October 31, 2019

Repubs Panic As Impeachment Probe Shifts Into Overdrive With Public Hearings

UPDATE: The House on Thursday voted along nearly party lines to authorize the next phase of the impeachment inquiry. 
It is a sign of the panic among Donald Trump's congressional Republican sycophancy that there are now calls to move away from attacking the process House Democrats are using in their impeachment inquiry to attacking the facts underlying their inquiry -- the smoking gun known as the Ukraine scandal. 
Good luck with that. 
Republican attacks on the process made for tasty sound bites, but little headway beyond the Fox News echo chamber because Democrats, backed by court rulings, have been going by the book and are now moving on to the next phase of the inquiry -- public testimony by many of the 11 witnesses to date who defied the president and have been deposed by impeachment investigators behind closed doors.  At least four more witnesses are scheduled to be deposed.   
The depositions have been devastating, and implicating Trump all over again under the harsh glare of television lights will make mounting an effective Republican defense all the more difficult because the scandal has been so thoroughly documented, including multiple confirmations that Trump made desperately needed military aid to Ukraine to fight Russian aggression contingent upon the beleaguered democracy launching a public probe into Joe Biden and his son.   
Inquiry witnesses have been credible nonpartisan career diplomats, State Department and national security officials while Trump's witnesses lack credibility to speak to the substance of the case against him, notably the perjurious Gordon Sondland, who bought an ambassadorship for a $1 million Trump inauguration contribution and suffers from memory lapses, while other pro-Trump witnesses like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are refusing to testify on the president's orders and would make a further hash of things.   
Then there was the testimony Tuesday of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient and top National Security Council official who gave a devastating firsthand account about Trump's infamous July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, testifying that the president pressured Zelensky to investigate his rivals and undermined national security, while he was not permitted to add key words and phrases that had been omitted from a rough transcript of the call that would have made it even more damaging. 
Republicans were left spluttering about the Iraq war hero's patriotism because his family emigrated from the Soviet Union when he was 3, some called him a Ukrainian spy and the president referred to him as a"Never Trumper." 
Add to all that two other Democratic-driven developments: 
The House committees leading the impeachment inquiry will no longer wait for courts to rule on their various lawsuits, in effect motoring around the stonewall the White House has erected in refusing subpoenas and providing documents in the service of accelerating the inquiry to keep it from extending too far into the 2020 election year. 
And Nancy Pelosi announced that the House will vote on Thursday to formalize the next phase of the inquiry, a step the House speaker said was necessary "to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump Administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing" investigators. 
Under the next phase, interviews being conducted behind closed doors and additional evidence collected by chairman Adam Schiff's Intelligence Committee will be shared with the Judiciary Committee in the form of a report, witness transcripts and the additional evidence.  The Judiciary Committee will weigh all evidence, while Trump's lawyers will be allowed to present a formal defense of him and cross-examine witnesses once the Judiciary Committee begins debate over whether to impeach him and produce articles of impeachment to send to the full House. 
The Judiciary Committee procedures would empower chairman Jerrold Nadler to block Trump's lawyers from cross-examining witnesses if the president continues to try to prevent any of the four committees conducting impeachment-related investigations from gathering information from the executive branch.   
"The evidence we have already collected paints the picture of a president who abused his power by using multiple levers of government to press a foreign country to interfere in the 2020 election," the four House committee chairmen involved in the inquiry wrote in a statement.  "Following in the footsteps of previous impeachment inquiries, the next phase will move from closed depositions to open hearings where the American people will learn firsthand about the president’s misconduct."  
While these developments are poison for Republicans, none will silence the  congressional sycophancy, let alone mute it, although the prattling against a "deep state" conspiracy is wearing exceedingly thin in the face of the growing mountain of evidence against the president, while dithering among the president's advisers about how to fight back beyond stonewalling and profanity-laced tweets is deepening the sense of panic.   
Given the Republican stranglehold on the Senate, where an impeachment trial would be held, these developments will allow the Democrats to submit their powerful case against the president to the public more expeditiously and more directly, further undercutting his claims of absolute authority.  And drawing in undecided voters while energizing the party's base in the run up to the election may be the most important task of all.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Kalev Juri ("K.J.") Linhein (September 14, 1946 ~ October 30, 2019)

A celebration of Juri's life will be held on Sunday, November 24 from 11am to 3pm at VFW Post 5892, 7620 Lancaster Pike in Hockessin, Delaware. 
The first thing you noticed about Juri was how strikingly handsome the guy was. Swashbuckling good looks with a great head of hair and a beard that flourished with his years.  The second thing you noticed about Juri was his voice, a Shakespearean baritone that would resonate from the stage lights to furthest balcony of a theater, which was not surprising when you learned that his life's passion was acting. 
Kalev Juri Linhein, known as K.J. by some and as Juri by most of his many friends, died peacefully after a short illness on the morning of October 30, his beloved English mastiff Dodge nearby, at his retreat deep in the Landenberg woods.  He was 73.   
Juri was born in a refugee camp in Germany 16 months after the end of World War II. His mother Anita had fled Soviet-occupied Estonia, while his father Karl died at Soviet hands, possibly in Siberia.
He and his mother emigrated to the U.S. in 1949 and settled in Little Silver, New Jersey, where she worked as a housekeeper.  He was adopted by Willa and Whitey Muller at age 8 after his mother died.  He went to local schools, often slipping away to nearby Asbury Park to enjoy the ocean, attended a year of college locally and then enlisted in the Army.   
Juri was sent to Vietnam after Officer Candidate and School and as a second and then first lieutenant was assigned as an Artillery Forward Observation Officer in 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery Regiment.  As a so-called Fire Support Officer, he directed artillery fire on enemy positions, an extremely dangerous assignment requiring him to work independently for long periods of time and sometimes behind enemy lines.  Among the medals he received were two Bronze Stars for bravery and although wounded, he turned down a Purple Heart. 
Like many veterans of the horrors of that war, Juri seldom spoke of his time in the Big Muddy save for a few anecdotes, including one about having endured the first several hours of the 1968 Tet Offensive in a whorehouse, where he said he had gone to buy some ice.  Yes, ice. 
Returning stateside, Juri hitchhiked to Woodstock for three days of peace, love and music and then enrolled at the University of Iowa where he received a bachelors degree in general studies, although he already was being drawn toward the theater. 
Over the next several years, Juri worked as a weatherman (the meteorological kind, not the revolutionary kind), storm chaser, used car salesman, and was briefly married.   
It was the late 1970s when Susie Ambry, proprietress of the Malt Shoppe on Main Street in Newark, saw that strikingly handsome guy with swashbuckling good looks and a great head of hair walk by. 
Susie and Juri later met at a party and married in 1982.  They adopted Katherine, their pride and joy, in 1990.  Susie predeceased him in April of this year after a long battle with cancer. 
Juri worked construction and was a proud, card-carrying member of Carpenters Union Local 626, but the siren call of acting grew ever louder.  He appeared in numerous stage productions, Dracula (photo, above) being his favorite role, did some Off Off Broadway acting, and played small parts in several B-movies, including Deer Crossing, a 2012 crime-drama-horror.   He would never compare that with Casablanca, which he was about to watch for the umpteenth time when we last chatted two days before his passing. 
Juri did not go quietly -- quiet was not in his kitbag, although he became more contemplative over the years -- and was properly exercised about the state of the nation that had called him to arms 50 years earlier.   He was proud of his Estonian heritage. 
A crossword fanatic, he could do the Sunday puzzle in under 30 minutes.    
Most of Juri's Facebook posts were well-aimed jeremiads against the Fool on the Hill, but he was adept at making a deeper point while turning a phrase, like this FB entry from the other day: 
Well . . . "well" . . . what a sweet word, "well"; it has many meanings . . . I was jes' gonna say "well" as in well it's been a darn fine day . . . or well the damn dog got caught up in the electric fence and shed a shit load of puppies, himself having been a stud dog before this happened.  He ain't well.  This should have never happened, but I guess the wires got somehow crossed. Oh well . . . Life ain't like this, but it's okay!  The dog is well . . . This did not happen..
I first met Juri not long before Susie espied him from that shop window.  We were fast friends and philosophical soul mates no matter where we went or what cards we were dealt in life.  I will miss him like a brother.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

(UPDATED) Trump's Ridiculous Impeachment Defense Suffers Two New Blows

Let us pause, however briefly, as the impeachment inquiry juggernat rumbles on, to consider the word scum.  Donald Trump has used that epithet freely in the past, but he outdid himself in a recent twofer tweet as the walls continued to close in on him: "The Never Trumper Republicans, though on respirators with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats.  Watch out for them, they are human scum!" 
To be more precise, this epithet-filled outburst came after Trump called the impeachment inquiry a "lynching" with racially-laden sledgehammer subtlety and a courageous William Taylor, one of nine administration officials to defy the president, demolished the remaining tatters of his Ukraine scandal defense for House investigators in describing in visceral terms the extortionate plot to extract a pledge from Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly announce an investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in return for the release of nearly $400 million in desperately needed military aid to fight Russian aggression that already had taken 13,000 Ukrainian lives. 
Which was followed by a plan to tie Hunter Biden to a plan to help a corrupt Romanian business executive that encountered stiff headwinds when it was discovered Trump personal lawyer and fixer Rudy Giuliani was involved in the same plan (oops!), the feds blew the door off a safe of one of Giuliani's mobbed-up henchmen, a Republican flash mob approved by Trump disrupted an impeachment hearing, more judges ruled for impeachment investigators in affirmations of the constitutional separation of powers, and there were further signs that Trump's once solid Vichy Republican congressional support is fraying. 
Or as one Republican close to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put it, "This is shaping up to be a very dark moment for the Trump White House.  It's getting to be a harder choice for more people.  Whether that's enough for enough senators to take decisive action . . . every single move has been in the wrong direction" for Trump. 
But back to the word scum.    
While Trump occasionally has used that epithet in the past, it is notable that scum is a favorite of the authoritarian he most admires -- Vladimir Putin, whose successful efforts to backdoor Trump into the presidency in 2016 were a mere prelude to his behind-the-scenes manipulations in the Ukraine scandal in service of getting him reelected by hook or by crook in 2020.  Scum was a favorite of Hitler and Stalin, as well. 
The president's victories have been few and far between.  His triumphant announcement of the suicide of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a U.S. special operations force closed in on him based on the work of intelligence agencies he has long derided was characterized by dramatic embellishments of what actually happened, misrepresentations of his wretched Mideast record, false comparisons with the death of Osama bin Laden, and sullied by his insinuation that the 9/11 attacks might not have happened had Washington heeded the advice of then-citizen Trump and admission that he had informed his good buddy Putin but not congressional leaders.  And it does not mitigate his abandonment of the Kurds, which has given ISIS a new lease on life, al-Baghdadi or not. 
Trump had been pretty much going it alone in fighting the impeachment inquiry  -- "the worst hoax in the history of our country," as he puts it -- but the belated realization that his defense isn't passing constitutional muster in the courts and that his threats and profanities can't match congressional subpoenas, has provoked a mad scramble to bring aboard legal heavyweights to rearrange the deck chairs around the Chosen One, whom lest we forget is no more tenacious or nasty when his survival is at stake. 
That impeachment defense has evolved through Trump's very own version of Elisabeth Kubler Ross's Five Stages of Grief:
DENIAL: I'm too busy playing golf. 
ANGER: See scum reference. 
BARGAINING: There was no quid pro quo.
DEPRESSION: Why does everybody hate me? 
ACCEPTANCE: Meet my new lawyers. 
That defense, which has been based on attacks on process in the absence of anything substantial to counter the mounting evidence gathered by during impeachment hearings, suffered two setbacks on Monday. 
House Democrats said they will forgo using the courts to try to compel testimony from witnesses Trump has told not to testify and will instead use the lack of cooperation to bolster their case that he has abused his office and obstructed Congress's constitutional right to investigate him.  Then on Thursday, the House will vote to formalize procedures for the next phase of the impeachment inquiry to "ensure transparency and provide a clear path forward," as House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern put it. 
Psychiatrist Kubler Ross postulated her five stages for terminally ill patients and their loved ones.  A month after Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry, the Trump presidency is on life support.  A Senate resolution prepared by Lindsey Graham condemning the inquiry as "illegitimate" had to be watered down before 46 Republicans signed it.  Seven did not, and we can hope the presidency also is terminal.     

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Forget About Watergate & Monica Lewinsky, Trump's Evildoing Is Costing Lives

The endless comparisons to Watergate and Richard Nixon, as well as the Lewinsky scandal and Bill Clinton, as the impeachment inquiry plays out against Donald Trump misses a larger and literally global point.  Nixon was reckless with his powers and Clinton with his personal behavior, while Trump's determination to advance his personal agenda and tilt the 2020 election in his favor by playing politics in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere is costing human lives. 
We, and the news media in particular, have become so numb in the face of the torrent of news gushing from the impeachment inquiry -- witnesses disobeying Trump and testifying before House committees, congressional Republicans pulling a publicity stunt by derailing a closed-door hearing and the latest round of denials, lies and tweeted insults and profanities from Trump -- that the testimony this week of William Taylor was jarring while completely demolishing what remained of the president's tattered defense. 
Stephanie Grisham, who masquerades at the president's press secretary, unintentionally revealed the desperation oozing from the West Wing, declaring following the Freedom Caucus's disruption of the hearing on Wednesday that the impeachment inquiry is part of "a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution." 
Translation: Even Republicans can't defend Trump anymore.  They can only attack the process. 
Taylor, the acting U.S. envoy to Ukraine and a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran who has served under Republican and Democratic presidents, recalled standing on a war-damaged bridge staring across at Russian-backed forces on July 26, the day after Trump's now-infamous extortionate call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was told nearly $400 million in military aid and a promised White House meeting with the Chosen One would be held up until he agreed to make a public pledge to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in a blatant effort to try to skew the 2020 election.  
Taylor said he was standing on the bridge in northern Donbas, the front line of the conflict with Russian-backed separatists, with Zelensky and Kurt Volker, the State Department special envoy for Ukraine, as they were briefed by the commander of Ukrainian forces. 
"More Ukrainians would undoubtedly die," Taylor believed, as Trump held up desperately needed aid to fight Russia's relentless aggression, which began with its 2014 annexation of Crimea by brute force and has cost over 13,000 Ukrainian lives (including nine Ukrainians who were slaughtered in the ambush pictured above). 
President Obama responded to that invasion by imposing increasingly tougher rounds of sanctions on Russia.  Trump, of course, promised Vladimir Putin that he would ease or eliminate those sanctions when he became president with Moscow's considerable help. That Trump has been unable to make good on that deal with the devil is only because even congressional Republicans occasionally have spines.   
"If Ukraine succeeds in breaking free of Russian influence, it is possible for Europe to be whole, free, democratic and at peace," Taylor testified.  "In contrast, if Russia dominates Ukraine, Russia will again become an empire, oppressing its people and threatening its neighbors and the rest of the world." 
"Ukraine is special to me,” Taylor told House investigators, and said what has happened in the five months since he was asked to return to Kiev to replace ousted ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who as an anti-corruption advocate was getting in the way of Trump's scheming, is "crazy," "improper" and "folly" with far-reaching implications.    
"We must support Ukraine in its fight against its bullying neighbor," Taylor added.  "Russian aggression cannot stand." 
Trump, to Taylor's shock, was betraying the Ukraine people by establishing two policymaking channels, one regular channel run by EU ambassador Gordon Sondland and one highly irregular channel to put the fix in primarily run by Rudy Giuliani, who not only is Trump's personal lawyer but has longstanding ties to corrupt Ukrainians and Russians with organized crime connections. 
(Then there is Trump's calculated abandonment of Kurds in northern Syria, who promptly were slaughtered by Turkish soldiers.  This was a sop to Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan and played to the larger geopolitical interests of Russia, Iran and a re-emergent ISIS.  All roads seem to lead back to Putin with Trump's so-called foreign policy.)
Taylor's deeply visceral testimony now makes Trump's impeachment inevitable, and the Republican claims that the Ukraine scandal -- on top of all of the president's other crap, corruption and crimes -- may have been inappropriate but not impeachable have been demolished in part, but only in part, because it so closely mirrors what we have long known about Trump and Russia in 2016 and the Mueller report brought into such sharp focus.   
All of that needs to be put in an historic perspective. 
Nixon's pending impeachment in 1974, which prompted his resignation, was a consequence of the Watergate break-in and his abuse of office in covering up that "third-rate burglary," as he called it, was indeed serious, while the 1998 Clinton impeachment was an overblown Republican-orchestrated political circus growing out of a president's improper personal behavior and his lies about it.   
But both pale in comparison to Trump's evildoing and disregard for that most precious of things -- real lives and real people yearning to be free.       

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Trump Is Cornered, But It's Wishful Thinking To Believe He's At A Breaking Point

Today's riff is on a recurring theme: Has Donald Trump finally reached his breaking point? 
It was inevitable that things would go badly for Trump, a deeply corrupt reality TV star and faux billionaire who scratched the compliant Republican Party tummy and, with considerable help from Russia, social media and quirks of the Electoral College, backed into a presidency for which he is profoundly unqualified. 
Nowhere is Trump's disqualification more apparent than his overarching ignorance of what it takes to be a true leader -- as opposed to being a garden-variety bully -- coupled with a deep disrespect for the Constitution, which is the bedrock of American democracy, and disdain for the institutions that are the glue binding that democracy together.   The surprise is that it has taken nearly three years to reach what, for all the world, looks like his breaking point. 
Trump's greatest concern in being a bully has been projecting strength, but he is weakened on virtually every front and now is in danger of being forced from office.  Writes Philip Rucker at The Washington Post:
Trump now finds himself mired in a season of weakness.  Foreign leaders feel emboldened to reject his pleas or to contradict him.  Officials inside his administration are openly defying his wishes by participating in the impeachment probe.  Federal courts have ruled against him.  Republican lawmakers are criticizing him.  He has lost control over major conservative media organs.  Polling shows that Americans increasingly disapprove of his job performance and support his impeachment.
Does this mean the president finally has reached that breaking point, especially as he slouches into the heart of the third straight week during which his White House of Cards continues to collapse around him?  Sadly, no.  And declarations among the punditocracy that a point of some sort -- breaking, tipping, inflection or name your own point -- has been reached are so much wishful thinking. 
This is because the cracks in the firewall of Republican congressional support are more like hairline fractures, although there is a glimmer of hope here.   
Trump tried to mitigate his disastrous Syria troop withdrawal only when Republicans objected.  And although he blamed Democrats when he reversed course barely 24 hours after awarding the G7 summit meeting in 2020 to his struggling Doral golf resort in Florida, his capitulation was because of Republican outcries over his crass violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits a president from profiting from his office. 
While House impeachment investigators certainly aren't swayed by Trump's latest effort to move the ethical goal posts yet again, let alone Mick Mulvaney's instantly infamous "I have news for everybody: Get over it" imprecation.  The present danger is that while Trump is mindful of Republican disaffection, the White House's fiendishly brazen Ukraine scandal defense is succeeding where it counts in keeping the house of cards from completely collapsing. 
The defense goes something like this: Hey, we're not even bothering to deny that Trump shook down Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky for political gain by withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to fight Russian aggression because that's well within a president's rights, a pretzel-logical legal argument that is central to his impeachment defense.  Republicans are arguing that the Ukraine quid pro quo might have been inappropriate, but is not impeachable. 
The hope here is that as Trump comes under even more pressure and becomes even more paranoid (he called the impeachment inquiry a "lynching" in a racially charged tweet on Tuesday as yet another State Department official disobeyed him and met with House investigators), he will further alienate at least some of his defenders. 
That official, William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, delivered the most explosive testimony yet when he described the quid pro quo the White House continues to deny in stark terms: Diplomats were told the desperately needed aid to fight Russian aggression would not be released nor would Trump meet with Zelensky until he agreed to making a public pledge to investigate Trump challenger Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. 
"Over 13,000 Ukrainians had been killed in the war, one or two a week.  More Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without the U.S. assistance," Taylor wrote in his opening remarks, a necessary and overdue reminder that Trump's ego-tripping dirty work in helping carry Vladimir Putin's toxic water was exacting a human toll.    
The White House did not dispute Taylor, instead renewing its attack on the impeachment process.  Trump is demanding undivided Republican loyalty and pulling stunts like demanding the censure of Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman and impeachment leader, could boomerang.   Then there is the potential impact of forthcoming televised hearings in making the case for impeachment as Democrats prepare to wrap up a series of closed-door depositions on the Ukraine scandal.
And in its own perverse way, the cumulative effect of Trump's brazen corruption-in-plain-view modus operandi as with the Ukraine scandal may end up being the most effective way of turning those hairline fractures into real cracks. 
"When we're dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: In 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?" asked the late, great Elijah Cummings shortly before his death last week. 
House Democrats and the growing number of voters who say they favor removing Trump from office have answered that question.  But congressional Republicans have not, nor do they intend to until when -- and a very big if -- their hand is forced.     

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Devil Is In The White House, But He's Also In The Impeachment Trial Rules

Do you have the feeling that nearly a month after House Democrats announced they were starting a formal impeachment inquiry that things may be going a little too well?  I speak specifically of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's seeming acquiescence to the inevitability of a Senate trial on House-approved articles of impeachment.   
McConnell called together Senate Republicans last week, showed them a PowerPoint presentation replete with quotes from the Constitution and said they should be ready for an impeachment trial of President Trump, possibly working six days a week as early as Thanksgiving and possibly wrapping up a trial by Christmas.  This seemingly was a capitulation to reality as House Democratic-led committees continue to step up the pace in taking testimony underpinning the impeachment articles that would be voted out -- a sure thing since Democrats control the House -- and sent on to the Republican-controlled Senate, where convicting Trump after a trial is a sure thing of another kind -- as in a non-starter -- even as cracks appear in the facade of support for the beleaguered president amidst damning Ukraine scandal revelations.   
In McConnell's greasy hands, reality isn't necessarily reality, just as "truth isn't truth" by the twisted reckoning of Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, fixer and Ukraine scandal bogeyman.   In fact, McConnell's warning to his caucus could be a big, fat misdirection play because Senate rules afford he and his fellow Republicans ample opportunity to not just derail a trial, but to turn the proceedings into a sham. 
An impeachment trial would be governed by the Rules of Procedure and Practice in the Senate When Sitting on Impeachment Trials.  These rules dictate the finer points of a trial with great specificity.  They note, for example, that as soon as House impeachment articles are "presented to the Senate, the Senate shall, at 1 o’clock [on the] afternoon of the day (Sunday excepted) following such presentation, or sooner if ordered, by the Senate, proceed to the consideration of such articles." 
The rules further cite the precise proclamation the sergeant at arms must make once House manager of the impeachment appear in the Senate to present the articles of impeachment and note how the chief justice of the Supreme Court must be told that he or she is to preside over a presidential impeachment and how an impeached official must be notified of his or her impeachment. 
But as David Corn warns at Mother Jones, the possibilities available to Republicans for jiggering the system are considerable:  
During a trial, [the rules] say, the Senate can "make all lawful orders, rules, and regulations which it may deem essential or conducive to the ends of justice." This reads like a blank check for mischief.  A Senate majority possibly could vote to limit testimony or witnesses.  Perhaps it could impose a time limit on the proceedings that would prevent a full airing of the case against Trump. 
But isn’t the chief justice in charge? (Put aside the question of his possible bias for a moment.)  The rules say he is, but on some matters he can be trumped by the party in control.  They state that the chief justice "may rule on all questions of evidence including, but not limited to questions of relevancy, materiality, and redundancy of evidence and incidental questions, which ruling shall stand as the judgment of the Senate, unless some Member of the Senate shall ask that a formal vote be taken thereon, in which case it shall be submitted to the Senate for decision without debate." (Emphasis added.)   
So if there is a debate over the introduction of a certain piece of evidence—say, Trump's legal team raises an objection—the chief justice decides.  Unless the Senate Republicans vote to overturn his ruling.  The final say will go to the GOP. 
The rules also allow the Republicans to keep much -- or even all -- of the proceedings out of the public eye. 
Either the chief justice or a majority of the Senate can order that a committee of senators be established to "receive evidence and take testimony at such times and places as the committee may determine," even behind closed doors.  In other words, the entire trial, including the senators' deliberations after testimony is heard, could be conducted in secrecy. 
It gets worse.   
The presiding judge would be Chief Justice John Roberts, who even in these hyper-partisan times remains a strict constitutionalist who presumably would go by the book. 
But as Corn further notes:
[T]he Senate rules essentially give the Senate the ability to reject key rulings of the presiding judge.  McConnell is renowned for his wily mastering of Senate rules -- and for his willingness to bust norms for political gain.  (See Merrick Garland.)  Though he has recognized the duty of the Senate to address -- and not ignore -- articles of impeachment, he may well have a trick or two in mind about how to conduct the trial -- especially if he is bent on disposing of this controversy in a fast manner during holiday season. 
The conventional wisdom, which has taken repeated beatings over the three years of the Trump nightmare, is that McConnell sees the impeachment proceedings as necessary to protect a half a dozen or so moderates, that nearly extinct Republican subspecies, who face re-election next year and must show voters they are giving the impeachment charges a serious review. 
But McConnell's greatest mission is to protect the president, and it almost certainly is a fool's errand to hope that Senate Republicans set aside loyalty for patriotism in the service of a fair trial.  After all, the outcries from the GOP have been few and far between over Trump's latest outrage in awarding the huge Group of 7 summit next year to one of his struggling golf resorts before he reversed course, let alone his Syria troop withdrawal catastrophe and inevitable unraveling of all his lies surrounding the Ukraine scandal. 
McConnell's entire political career is shot through with the kind of partisan shenanigans that would indeed turn an impeachment trial into a sham.  Sadly, America should expect nothing less. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Trump's Craziness Is Obvious, But There's Nothing To Be Done. So Get Over It.

It wasn't a meltdown. There's nothing left to melt. ~ JIMMY KIMMEL 
It's okay at this stage of the game to call Donald Trump crazy.  As in dangerous crazy.  The only question is whether he's totally dangerous crazy or perhaps only mostly dangerous crazy.  And there are ample historical examples of political leaders whose stability was undoubtedly impaired, including the Roman emperor Caligula, who became infamous for having people killed for his personal amusement; Charles VI of medieval France, who became convinced that he was made of glass and was terrified that he might break; and of course King George III of England, to whom Trump is compared because of his uncontrollable need to speak and penchant for doing so incomprehensibly. 
But now that we've had a good laugh at The Donald's expense, lets briefly review his latest outburst of madness -- known in the current vernacular as a "meltdown" -- which was his explosion at a White House meeting on Wednesday afternoon. 
This was Trump's first sitdown with Speaker Nancy Pelosi since the House's impeachment inquiry began, and by the time Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic congressional leadership had walked out and the spittle on the president's chin had begun to dry, it was obvious that this was no ordinary meltdown for a man who is having them with increasing regularity. 
Trump, who is on the verge of becoming only the third president to be impeached, called Pelosi a "third-rate politician" after she accurately characterized him as a patsy of Vladimir Putin, and fulminated over the day's other events.  Smack dab in the middle of yet another week chockablock with shocking developments, another administration official broke with him to testify before the House impeachment committees, many Republicans joined Democrats as the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing his disastrous  Syria troop withdrawal, ProPublica reported how he routinely scammed New York City tax authorities, and the text of his letter to Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the withdrawal was revealed to be genuine and not a hoax. 
"History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way.  It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don't happen.  Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool!" Trump wrote, signing off incongruously, "I will call you later." 
Trump's unfitness for office was obvious long before he put his (small) hand on the Lincoln Bible and told the first of well over 13,ooo lies and misstatements in swearing to uphold the presidential oath. 
In another symptom of Trump's craziness, he burns through people until he gets what he wants, and then that's still not enough.   
Nearly 50 Cabinet officers and other high-ranking officials have been fired or resigned, often under pressure to do so.  The president is on his third chief of staff, who is only "acting," his fourth national security adviser, his third press secretary, and his third defense secretary, who also is "acting." 
But what is to be done about Trump's dangerous craziness short of convicting him after a Senate impeachment trial and removing him from office, which is a long shot? 
Absolutely nothing.  Or as Mick Mulvaney says, "Get over it."  
This despite there being a constitutional remedy for a crazy president -- the never-used 25th amendment, which allows the vice president and so-called constitutional leaders to remove a president deemed to be unfit.  It seemed like a good idea at the time (in the wake of the JFK assassination), but did not take into account a president as criminal nor as disdainful of institutions as Trump, nor that high officials would be complicitous in those crimes. 
Article IV of the amendment reads: 
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body of Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.. 
The problem, a variation on those intractable Senate Republicans, is that the vice president and majority of Cabinet members, defined as 13 of the 24, aren't merely in the bag for Trump.  They, like Pence, are co-conspirators in a number of the president's crimes, most egregiously the Ukraine scandal, where the attorney general, secretary of state and energy secretary have been principals.
As if that weren't bad enough, Section IV goes on to say that if two-thirds of both houses of Congress don't vote to uphold the decision and keep the vice president in charge within 21 days, then the powers and duties automatically transfer back to the president. 
Crazy, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Dems Pick Up The Pace On Impeachment As Trump's Wall Begins To Crack

So far so good. 
Three weeks after Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would initiate formal impeachment proceedings, the three House committees spearheading the effort are picking up the pace.  But most importantly, the trickle of Trump administration officials, present and past, willing to defy the president threatens to turn into a flood.  And while Senate Republicans who are publicly aghast over Trump's betrayal of the U.S.'s Kurdish allies in Syria and that Russia has quickly filled the power vacuum left by the precipitous U.S. withdrawal,  there are promising cracks in that wall, as well. 
In stark contrast to the Russia scandal investigation, which stretched over two years, House Democrats are moving fast as the Ukraine scandal grows new tentacles by the day. 
The committees already have taken explosive testimony from Kurt Volker, the State Department's special envoy for Ukraine, abruptly dismissed Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovich; Fiona Hill, Trump's former top Russia expert, and senior State official and Ukraine specialist George Kent, all of whom told damning variations on the same story: Trump, with ample assistance from personal lawyer-fixer Rudy Giuliani and his mobbed-up Ukrainian associates, has weaponized foreign policy. 
That they all were deeply concerned by Trump's shadow diplomacy before his now infamous July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymy but were ignored is a significant turn in the impeachment inquiry.   
Kent further testified he had been told at a May 23 meeting called by acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney that he was being pushed aside and should "lay low" because Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Volker and EU ambassador Gordon Sondland were taking over the Ukraine portfolio.  This was such a capital venture that the three began calling themselves the "Three Amigos."    
Central to that shadow diplomacy was an attempt to extort Zelensky into digging dirt on Joe Biden and his son by withholding $400 million in desperately needed military aid to fight Russian aggression in the former Soviet republic, an effort resisted by Yovanovich, whose name Trump didn't even know when he told Zelensky in the July 25 call, that "the former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news."  All he knew is that Giuliani wanted her gone. 
It is extremely important to remember that the Ukraine scandal didn't just happen.   
Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election was directly connected to events in Ukraine in 2014, including the overthrow of a pro-Vladimir Putin president for whom Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort did extensive work, and Russia's invasion of Crimea, which led in part to the crippling U.S. sanctions imposed by the Obama administration that Trump and his surrogates promised but failed to ease when he was "elected." 
These events, in turn, have led to Trump's astonishing claim that there was a "deep state" plot by the FBI, Mueller and the Democratic National Committee in concert with Ukraine to deny him victory in 2016 and Attorney General William Barr's travels to foreign capitals to discredit the Mueller report and bolster Trump's byzantine conspiracy obsessions. 
And you had better believe that he knows Yovanovich's name now.
Among those in the queue to testify before House committees this week in defiance of Trump are Michael McKinley, the now resigned top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Sondland, who bought his ambassador post with a $1 million contribution to Trump's inauguration and whose text messages revealed the Ukraine quid pro quo, and Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense who oversees Russia- and Ukraine-related matters at the Pentagon.  House committees also have issued subpoenas to the White House, Defense Department, budget office and other agencies for documents related to their investigation.
Then there is the intelligence community whistleblower who blew the lid off the Ukraine scandal.  His testimony is uncertain -- and now less urgent because of other testimony -- because of fears he could be put in harm's way if identified by allies of Trump, whose anti-impeachment rhetoric, punctuated by interminable rounds of golf at taxpayers' expense, has been liberally spiced with suggestions that violent things could happen to his perceived enemies. 
But the biggest domino to fall is career partisan John Bolton, whom Trump dismissed as national security adviser after his onetime best buddy objected to the president's go-it-alone foreign adventurism.  
Bolton is not likely to testify.  A deal for a guaranteed bestselling book is more attractive, and Hill ably carried his water in her testimony on Monday.  But Bolton's denunciations, including his description of Giuliani as "a hand grenade who's going to blow everyone up" -- and non-denials when asked about the denunciations -- carry enormous weight in undercutting Trump's house-of-cards defense that shaking down foreign leaders for political gain are within a president's rights. 
"The walls are closing in.  The details we are learning about the shadow foreign policy operation Trump has been running to benefit himself personally are stunning," said Senator Chris Murphy, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  "Why have a democracy, if we allow this to happen without consequence?" 
Senate Republicans might ask themselves the same thing.   
Getting at least 20 of the 53 Senate Republicans to join Democrats to vote to convict the president in a Senate trial on House-generated articles of impeachment seems like the longest of long shots, but many if not most of these Republicans fear Trump and are not necessarily loyal to him.   
Far more chaos and corruption has been revealed in the first two weeks of October than any other administration has experienced over eight years in office.   If public opinion continues to run toward impeachment and enough senators' reelection chances are in jeopardy, a few doses of the kind of political courage exhibited by Yovanovich and Hill could go a long way into a quickly turning tide. 
While I continue to waver on whether House Democrats should move beyond the Ukraine scandal and include Trump's other high crimes and misdemeanors in their investigation, that scandal alone represents at least four areas of impeachable conduct.  These include abuse of power for political gain, undermining federal law, obstructing justice and obstructing Congress. 
As the Democrats' whirlwind investigation gains momentum -- with Axios estimating that they will have interviewed 11 administration officials by the end of next week -- Trump gets more panicked and his aides more demoralized.   
And that, we can agree, is not just a good thing in the here and now, but a great thing for the future of America.