Wednesday, November 27, 2019

May Your Thanksgiving Be Wonderful. Even Republicans & Those Trumpkins.

These are the folks joining us again this Thanksgiving for our annual stuffed turkey, cranberry and brussels sprouts extravaganza  
Before dinner, we all crowd into the living room and listen to Alice's Restaurant for the umpteenth time.  Then there's dinner, touch football in the back yard before pumpkin pie and ice cream for dessert, and brandy for the grown-ups while the kids play video games.  Then we all watch Home Alone for the ump-umpteenth time before passing the Zantac and going our separate ways.  
Despite all the turmoil in the old U.S. of A. and in our own lives, we all have oodles to be thankful for, as our grandson Toby puts it, again this year.  I'd like to introduce each of us and explain why.   
That's Toby on the left.  He had an anxiety disorder that went untreated, and he fell behind in school.  Then President Obama signed the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act, which provides quality health care to kids like him.  Today Toby is a straight-A student.  (Well, maybe not in gym class.)  But Republicans have consistently opposed renewing CHIP, even for children who are uninsured, and President Trump has agreed.  
Next to Toby is Courtney, or Curtsy as her brother Toby calls her.  She went to work as a quality control technician at a pharmaceutical plant straight out of high school and eventually found out that she wasn't making as much as the men in her lab.  She didn't mind the flirting, at least until her boss's boss grabbed her . . . you know, what the president likes to grab, but getting paid less for doing the same work seemed unfair.   Under the Obama administration-supported Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, she's now making the same.  But Republicans continue to oppose the act, and President Trump agrees it should be repealed.   
Next to Adrian is Matt and next to him is Armand.  Matt and Armand are Iraq war veterans who happen to be gay.  They have been living together for years and are very much in love, but weren't permitted to get married because of a state law until President Obama's lawyers argued before the Supreme Court that their union is constitutionally protected like Mom's and mine.  But Republicans adamantly oppose same-sex marriage and predict a social apocalypse.  Never mind that there hasn't been one because Trump's Supreme Court may yet turn back the clock 
Next to Matt and Armand is Kelly.  He struggles with a form of paralysis linked to contaminants from a Reagan era Superfund site where he played as a child.  Then Obama signed the Reeve Paralysis Act, the first piece of comprehensive legislation aimed at improving the lives of Americans living with paralysis and backed embryonic stem-cell research into the causes of paralysis.  But Republicans didn't want to fund the act and continue to oppose anything to do with embryonic stem cells.  President Trump agrees.  
That's Mom and me at the head of the table.  I'll get back to us in just a sec  
Next to us is Adnan.  He was an orphaned refugee from the civil war in Syria when Barbara and Frank adopted him last year.  They were unable to find child care while they worked.  Under an Obama administration program, money was provided for child care and his English teacher's job was saved through the president's Recovery Act.  But Republicans oppose the program and Recovery Act, and oppose even orphaned war refugees being granted asylum.  You can guess where President Trump stands.  
Next to Bart is Beverly, or The Bevster as her brother Toby calls her.  She's asthmatic but couldn't afford health insurance when she decided to work for a veterinarian for a year before attending community college to become a vet tech, but because of the Affordable Care Act she can stay on her mom's policy until she's out on her own.  But Republicans oppose all forms of health-care reform.  You can guess where President Trump stands.   
Next to Beverly is her and her siblings' mom, Barbara.  President Obama's stimulus bill saved her job at the auto assembly plant and she is celebrating a big pay raise because of record sales and profits.  (You may have noticed that she's wearing a new wig, which is the subject of some dinner-table tittering).  But most Republicans opposed bailing out automakers, while you can expect President Trump to eventually deport all those small Fords back to where they were manufactured -- in Mexico.  
And finally there's Barbara's husband, Frank.  He likes to joke that he's the Frank in Dodd-Frank, the financial reform legislation supported by President Obama, and there's actually some truth to that.  The agency created as part of Dodd-Frank to protect Americans against predatory lending saved their house from being taken when they couldn't keep up with usurious mortgage payments.  But Republicans oppose any Wall Street regulation, and President Trump is more than happy to oblige.  
As for Mom and me, we too thank President Obama, warts and all, and have done so every year when we say Grace.  
We know President Obama wasn't perfect, but we sure feel like middle class folks like us finally had a chance again.  And what the heck are conservatives talking about when they claim liberals are trying to destroy the American family?  It's conservatives, gosh darn it, and of course President Trump, because of their tax giveaways for the rich and corporations and opposition to health-care reform and food stamps.  Heck, even people who love assault weapons sometimes nee food stamps.  Sorry!   
The only person missing is our next-door neighbor Leo, who usually sat at the opposite end of the table from Mom and I  
Leo is a widower, poor guy, and lost his wife to cancer in 2008.  It had gone untreated because their darned insurance company refused to write a policy when they found out she was ill.  Leo would never blame the Republicans for that, although his wife once told Mom they were to blame.  Anyhow, Leo said he wouldn't be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner because that darned Toby hurt his feelings.  He asked Leo if he was a racist at the Labor Day picnic because he was wearing a red Make America Great Again baseball cap, flies a Confederate battle flag in his yard and has a Trump sticker on the rifle rack in the back window of his pickup truck.  Toby caught Leo trying to scrape off the Trump sticker the other day, but he's too proud to admit he was wrong.  
You can't choose your family, of course.  Or your president, as it turns out.  But we've been blessed, and hope your Thanksgiving will be as wonderful as ours.  Uncle Frank likes to say that we "mustn't view everything through an ideological prison," so yes, our blessings even go out to the Republicans, Leo and his Trumpkin buddies, and even our . . . uh, president.  Even if the whole bunch of them are against everything we value and stand for. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Trump Upends The Military Justice System To Coddle A War Criminal. Surprised?

We certainly do not need yet another reminder about what an abominable commander in chief Donald Trump has been for our nation's men and women at arms.  It is but a part of his inherent cruelty and incapacity to show compassion, let alone defer to anyone who might know better than him, in this case the all-important military chain of command.  In fact, this beast who golfed his way through the Vietnam war because of a phoneyed -up deferment for bone spurs could care less about the armed forces unless he can turn them to his own selfish ends.   So it is with the saga of Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a war criminal whom the president has embraced because the Navy SEAL has become a cause célèbre of conservative commentators. 
What is different this time is that Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Rear Admiral Collin Green, who commands the SEALs,  threatened to resign or be fired if their plans to expel Gallagher from the elite unit were blocked by Trump, who countermanded an order to demote Gallagher and pardoned two other men convicted of war crimes. 
But in a typical twist in the cruel soap opera known as the Trump presidency, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a Trump flunkey who understands his major responsibility is coddling an impetuous boss and not protecting the military, something that his predecessor Jim Mattis would not do, demanded that Spencer resign after Trump ordered the Pentagon to lay off Gallagher.   
That admission came on Monday after Esper had initially said the reason Spencer had to go was that his private statements about Gallagher's case differed from what he was advocating in public.  Beyond lame, but what matters here is that Esper capitulated to Trump, who was outraged by Spencer's threat to quit, rather than defend his Navy secretary. 
In a parting shot at Trump, Spencer wrote in his "resignation" letter that he regarded good order and discipline throughout the Navy's ranks to be "deadly serious business." 
"The lives of our sailors, Marines and civilian teammates quite literally depend on the professional execution of our many missions, and they also depend on the ongoing faith and support of the people we serve and the allies we serve alongside," he added.  "Unfortunately, it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the commander in chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline.  I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took."    
Before we get too deep into this latest outrage, it must be emphasized that fighting in any war, especially contemporary wars where the rules of engagement can be maddenly and lethally unclear, is almost impossible for chairbound civilians to comprehend, but that is why there is a military justice system to weed out offenders and punish them.   
It must also be emphasized that the horrors of war, including the nightmarish effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, can barely be understood by those who have not been there and done that.  The only reasons I claim to have some understanding is that I have written about PTSD as a journalist and have had several friends who suffered badly from PTSD, including one who died just the other day and had never escaped the hallucinatory nightmare of operating behind enemy lines as an artillery forward observation officer at the height of the Vietnam war.  
Trump, for whom the rule of law and codes of conduct are seen as a bothersome obstacles and not pillars of our democracy, had angered military leaders by intervening in the cases of Gallagher and two other service members accused of war crimes.  
On November 15, over objections from the Pentagon, Trump reversed the demotion of Gallagher and pardoned the two other service members, overruling military leaders who sought to punish the three and siding with conservative commentators who portrayed them as war heroes unfairly prosecuted for actions taken in the heat of battle. 
Gallagher was turned in by his own platoon last spring. 
Several fellow SEALs reported that he had shot civilians and killed a captive teenage Islamic State fighter with a custom hunting knife during a deployment in Iraq in 2017.  He was also charged with obstruction of justice for threatening to kill the SEALs who reported him.   
Heroic, eh? 
At trial, Gallagher was acquitted of all charges, including murder, while being found guilty of  bringing discredit to the armed forces by posing for photos with the teenage captive's dead body.  He was demoted, and since then has trashed-talked his way through interviews on Fox News in which he blames everyone from his commanders to his fellow SEALs for his notoriety.  But not himself. 
Trump, playing to his base while poking the military justice system in the eye, was outraged.  He tweeted that "the Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher's Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!" 
Gallagher will now keep his Trident pin, the symbol of his membership in the SEALs, at Esper's direction because of "concerns" that the events of the past few days would make it impossible for him to get an impartial hearing, according to a Defense Department spokesman. 
As if the case didn't already stink on ice, Trump almost certainly was further moved to exculpate Gallagher because his legal team includes two Trump friends who are former partners of presidential lawyer-fixer Giuliani: Bernard Kerik, a former (and disgraced) New York police commissioner, and Marc Mukasey, whose father, Michael, was an atrocious attorney general for George W, Bush and currently represents Trump as an outside counsel. 
Trump, it should go without saying, has repeatedly dishonored the military. 
He sent troops to the southern border to try to win votes before the 2018 midterms, then stole money earmarked for the military to build his damned wall.  There is the humiliating retreat from northern Syria (since reversed), his callous treatment of the widow of Army Sergeant La David T. Johnson and, in the fallout from that incident, the claim that President Obama had never called former Marine General John Kelly, who by then was his chief of staff, after the battlefield death of his son, Lieutenant Robert Kelly in Afghanistan.  That was true, but Kelly and his wife were invited to the White House by the Obamas where they offered their condolences. 
Americans always have been able to put aside their differences and prejudices when it comes to mourning and honoring our sons and daughters at arms when they fall defending the freedoms Trump would take away.  He has sought not to honor, but to exploit and disparage.
Beyond Gallagher, the biggest criminal here is Trump, who already has done so much to undermine the nation's moral compass.  And yes, there remains a semblance of one, look no further than House impeachment proceedings.  Insofar as the military and human rights, this should come as no surprise as Trump advocated the use of torture and mass executions during the 2016 campaign. 
Maintaining discipline is paramount for the SEALs and other elite units.  SEAL peer-review panels alone reportedly have removed more than 150 Trident pins since 2011. 
Trump is supporting men who committed well-documented war crimes because of the perversely misguided view that to do otherwise would sap them of their confidence to fight.  "We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!" he said in another government-by-tweet moment. 
There was, of course, not a peep from Trump's Republican congressional sycophancy, some of whom actually served in the military, as opposed to a commander in chief who is a chickenhawk.  
Trump's perverse logic, predicated on the view that he alone is morally superior, actually endangers soldiers because it emboldens enemies and further undermines the confidence of America's erstwhile allies. 

Sunday, November 24, 2019

If Character Is Destiny, Then America Was Bound To Find Itself At This Crossroad

Whether Donald Trump goes bye-bye after an impeachment trial in the Senate, which remains extremely unlikely, or after the 2020 election, which is extremely likely, we can credit an individual the president called "a really good man and a great American," who then proceeded to blow the doors off the White House.   
Looking back on two weeks of marathon public testimony before House impeachment investigators there may never have been a public figure who was so bad but did so much good as Gordon Sondland. 
This bullet-headed naïf bought the EU ambassadorship, for which he was utterly unprepared, with a $1 million contribution to Trump's inaugural festivities.  Sondland may have been the last guy in the room to get a joke -- Hey, Burisma is code for Biden, Gordy -- but he was in the right rooms at the right times and pounded the last nail in Trump's coffin in confirming that in a stunning abuse of power, the president of the United States was directing a rogue operation to extort dirt on a 2020 opponent from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in return for nearly $400 million in desperately needed military aid to fight Trump's favorite despot and a coveted visit to the Oval Office.  
"We followed the president's orders," Sondland said in dismantling one of the top talking points incessantly flogged by Trump's apologistas.  "Everyone was in the loop.  It was no secret."   
If character is destiny, then America was bound to find itself at this crossroad as the third year of the most corrupt and evil presidency in history tweets to a conclusion. 
Even Trump's Republican congressional sycophants, in their pathetically flailing efforts to defend the indefensible, understand that he is deeply damaged goods, but they'll stick with him until the bitter end.  To do otherwise would be to invite revenge, be it primary election challenges next spring or more subtle reprisals. 
Still, there is much to feel good about amidst so much awfulness. 
Sondland could have taken the Fifth.  The career publics servants (Trump sneeringly calls them "bureaucrats") who preceded and followed him could have obeyed the president's orders to not comply with congressional subpoenas but believed the country they quietly and patriotically serve is much more important than knuckling under to a mob boss and instead delivered withering rebukes.   
"I believe that those who have information that the Congress deems relevant have a legal and a moral obligation to provide it," said Fiona Hill, who like all of the officials who spoke testified under oath.  While all of the officials who Republicans tried to lead us to believe would exonerate the president refused to testify.  (Memo to Mike Pompeo: Your political career is over.)   
Adam Schiff and his fellow Democrats conducted impeachment hearings with a gravitas befitting so serious a process, their dignity and seriousness of purpose juxtaposed by the absurd arguments of Trump's defenders.  And they nailed Trump in only a few weeks, while it took Robert Mueller two years to produce a big something or other.     
Many Americans were paying attention.  No matter where you went, you could not escape images of the hearings flickering on televisions.  How many viewers came away newly convinced of Trump's unfitness for office and will vote for the Democratic presidential nominee no matter who she is?     
And the wannabe Democratic nominees, debating just hours after Sondland's star turn, put aside their internecine bickering and let Trump have it with both barrels.  Senator Amy Klobuchar, in a subtle nod to Hill and Marie Yovanovich, scoffed at the notion that a woman can't beat Trump, saying "Nancy Pelosi does it every single day."  
But back to the awful stuff.  
Trump is still president even if the drip-drip-drip of disclosures are deeply incriminating. 
As in Russia being involved in a yearslong campaign to blame Ukraine for its own 2016 election interference, which plays astutely into one of the more outrageous defenses propagated by Representative Devin Nunes  and other right-wing conspiracy theory freaks.  As in Nunes secretly meeting with indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas in Vienna to dig up dirt on the Bidens.  As in Giuliani, who as the president's personal lawyer-fixer ran the extortion scheme on the ground in Washington and Kiev, now being the subject of three federal investigations. 
Brett Stephens, a conservative New York Times columnist, opposed impeachment two months ago but is now all in for removing the president. 
He concludes that for all the talk of corruption in Ukraine, because of Trump we've been living in a country undergoing "its own dismal process" of Ukrainianization:
[O]f treating fictions as facts; and propaganda as journalism; and political opponents as criminals; and political offices as business ventures; and personal relatives as diplomatic representatives; and legal fixers as shadow cabinet members; and extortion as foreign policy; and toadyism as patriotism; and fellow citizens as 'human scum'; and mortal enemies as long-lost friends -- and then acting as if all this is perfectly normal.  This is more than a high crime.  It's a clear and present danger to our security, institutions, and moral hygiene.
Trump's criminality notwithstanding, it is possible that not one oath-violating Republican, pretty much all of whom have become not just accomplices but Russian stooges in their cult-like fealty to the Chosen One, will vote to convict him after a circus-like Senate trial at which Joe and Hunter Biden could be called as defense witnesses.  And make no mistake, America, the biggest beneficiary of the legislative and domestic dysfunction that Trump has sown is his favorite autocrat -- Vladimir Putin. 
So if Trump's defenders can't be shamed into accepting what the impeachment hearings have revealed and continue to buy into what Hill called "politically driven falsehoods," perhaps it's time to drop any pretense of winning them over.   
This has prompted Greg Sargent at The Washington Post to propose that Democrats begin treating the president's defenders as criminal accomplices who are actively engaged in keeping the president's corruption from getting fully uncovered, let alone judged fairly as jurors at a Senate trial. 
A great if ultimately impractical idea, but there even is a silver lining here as well.  That is because in November 2020 Trump will be taking down with him many a Republican who couldn't be shamed but can be defeated, marking the beginning of the end of our long national nightmare.                    

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Evidence-Free Flapdoodle: Or Why The GOP's Trump Defense Is Imploding

Devin Nunes is the face of the Republican pushback against President Trump's impeachment, and beyond his sour puss lies the reason they are flailing and failing: Defending the indefensible is impossible given the enormity of the Ukraine scandal evidence presented by career diplomats and White House insiders, leaving Nunes to traffic in his pet conspiracy theories, chief among them that Ukraine and not Russia hacked the damaging Democratic emails that helped tip the 2016 election to Trump. 
Nunes, an eight-term congressman from California's San Joaquin Valley, was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee until the Blue Wave midterm election victories bumped him down to ranking minority member. 
"I guess they fantasize about this at night," Nunes said of what he called Democrats' "Watergate fantasies" shortly before Gordon Sondland blew another door off the White House on Wednesday in throwing Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo, Rick Perry and Mike Pence under the bus.   
Or "underbusing," as one pundit put it.   
Nunes has long promoted the fantastic notion that a "deep state" plot was engineered by former FBI Director James Comey and Hillary Clinton acolytes to deny Trump the Oval Office.  And lest we forget, he was the chief advocate of the discredited notion that President Obama had ordered the phones in Trump Tower to be bugged. 
By Nunes' own admission, he had been secretly admitted to the White House grounds where in an Inspector Clouseau-esque caper he met secretly under the cover of darkness with a "source," who turn out to be three Trump staffers with national security credentials, who showed him a secret report that U.S. spies, in the course of doing their secret jobs, may have incidentally -- but wrongly, of course -- swept up Trump.      
Nunes eventually recused himself from the Republican-controlled Intel Committee's foundering Russia scandal investigation, which was to conclude with no Democratic input that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, except that he really didn't recuse himself and continued to direct the committee sub rosa while running a clandestine parallel probe of his own. 
Meanwhile, it was reported this week that Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, helped Nunes in that parallel probe by setting up meetings in Europe in 2018 where Nunes unsuccessfully tried to shake loose intelligence that would undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia scandal investigation.      
No matter, because desperate Republicans are in the process of throwing Giuliani under that proverbial bus by blaming him for the extortionate Ukraine dirt-for-military aid plot. 
While Nunes' evidence-free flapdoodle like blaming Ukraine for the Russian hacks has been embraced by much of the Fox News commentariat and is gospel to Trump's base, wingnuttery is a lousy substitute for reality when someone with the gravitas of Fiona Hill, Trump's former top Russia expert, tells House impeachment investigators under oath that Nunes' fever dream, so avidly pushed by Trump, is a "fictional narrative." 
"The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions," she said to Nunes' sour puss on Thursday as the second and final week of public testimony came to a conclusion.   
"It is beyond dispute," said Hill, who has written an authoritative book on Vladimir Putin and noted that the GOP fictions on Ukraine help Moscow, which she said is gearing up to repeat its interference in 2020.  Nunes, a useful idiot for Putin in addition to Trump, was not moved. 
"All of us who came here under a legal obligation also felt we had a moral obligation to do so.  We came here as fact witnesses," she added.  "I know this has put a huge cloud over this presidency and over our whole democratic system . . . that's why, as a nonpartisan person, an expert on Russia, I wanted to try to see if I could help."  Nunes still was not moved. 
Which raises up an important point: All the officials whose public testimony has been so damaging to Trump have given that testimony under oath.  And all of those officials who Republicans are trying to lead us to believe would exonerate the president have so far refused to testify. 
Do I detect a pattern here? 
As if that weren't bad enough for Trump's congressional sycophancy, the list of administration insiders willing to disobey the president and testify under oath has grown longer.  Oh, but the president says he's willing to testify.  Just like he was willing to testify in Mueller's investigation, which he of course never did despite repeated assertions that he would. 
Do I detect another pattern here?  
Trump, ever presidential, tweeted prior to Hill's testimony that Democrats were "human scum," while Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, in a nod to Nunes, declared the Democrats "are clearly being motivated by a sick hatred for President Trump and their rabid desire to overturn the 2016 election."
Little noticed as the Republican desperately sought new rabbit holes to go down, former independent counsel Ken Starr, whose prosecutorial excesses resulted in the Bill Clinton impeachment circus, said on Fox News that things looked so bad for the president that Republican leaders should consider going to the White House to ask for Trump's resignation. 
That, of course, is what finally convinced Richard Nixon to quit.       
More than 45 years separate Watergate and the Ukraine scandal, not to mention all of Trump's other crimes.  The Republican Party of 1973 was law abiding, and most Republicans reflexively defended Nixon as the Watergate scandal grew and the attendant constitutional crisis deepened.  And they stuck with him even after Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy AG William Ruckelshaus resigned rather than carry out his order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, the Mueller of those turbulent times.  
But three Republicans -- Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, House Minority Leader John Rhodes and Senator Barry Goldwater -- had the guts to go to the White House and tell Nixon he had lost the support of the country and he soon resigned.  
Can you imagine Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy and Charles Grassley doing that after Sondland's John Dean moment and as one Republican defense after another has been torched?   
How about Devin Nunes?

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Sondland Hammers In The Last Nail In Trump's Coffin, But Hold The Bubbly

One by one the officials, notably including those called by Republicans as they flail and splutter in trying to save Donald Trump, have approached the witness table in the ornate made-for-television committee room in the Longworth Office Building across Independence Avenue from the Capitol to be sworn in.  And one by one they have methodically blown the doors off the White House in the second week of explosive public impeachment hearings that by all rights should be the beginning of the end of Trump's presidency.  But we are bitterly aware of the perils of irrational exuberance in these perilous times, so let's keep the champagne on ice a while longer. 
The show-stopping moment -- a John Dean moment, if you will -- came Wednesday morning during Gordon Sondland's stunning testimony detailing the scheme to extort Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden and son before nearly $400 million in desperately needed military aid to fight Russian aggression was released. 
"I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo?" Sondland said with the clarity of a man who bought his EU ambassadorship for a $1 million contribution to Trump's inaugural events but has now decided that going to prison for perjury is not worth his continuing allegiance to the Chosen One. 
"The answer is yes." 
Sondland, in hammering the last nail into Trump's coffin, directly connected him to the scheme, testifying that the president had personally ordered that the aid and a coveted White House meeting for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky be put on ice, and for good measure dragged in Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Vice President Mike Pence as being players in the extortion campaign.  
Then there is the omnipresent Rudy Giuliani, who Sondland further confirmed not only orchestrated the scheme, but that he and others "followed the president's orders" to talk to Trump's oleaginous lawyer-fixer about anything to do with putting the heat on Zelensky.  There was not a "back channel" on Ukraine policy, he said, there was only one channel. 
"We followed the president's orders.  Everyone was in the loop.  It was no secret," Sondland said.  
The Democrats' star witness then marched on, further undermining the ridiculous idea pushed by Republicans that Trump truly cared about corruption in Ukraine, testifying that there never was a desire for investigations -- just announcements of them.   
"I never heard anyone say that the investigations had to start, or had to be completed," Sondland said.  "The only thing I heard from Mr. Giuliani or otherwise, was that they had to be announced [publicly] in some form and that form kept changing." 
Inconsistencies remained between Sondland's lengthy testimony on Wednesday and on October 17 when he repeatedly said he could not recall if there was a quid pro quo. 
Republicans hammered on these inconsistencies in trying to undercut Sondland's credibility and portray him as a rogue actor and Trump as an innocent, while a House Republican staff lawyer made the opening move in an effort to pin the Ukraine pressure campaign solely on Giuliani.  
Republicans clearly were stunned by Sondland's opening remarks implicating Trump. 
Devin Nunes, ranking House Intelligence Committee Republican and custodian of the most outrageous of the right-wing "deep state" conspiracy theories, was so surprised he failed to alter his prepared testimony in which he treated Sondland as a friendly witness. 
"You are here today to be smeared," he said, even after Sondland had distributed his opening remarks.
Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who has kept a tight rein on the hearings, thus far keeping them from devolving into the Republican circus some had feared, called Sondland's testimony "among the most significant evidence to date. . . . It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery, as well as other potential high crimes and misdemeanors." 
Schiff, rebutting the claims of Trump's Republican defenders, who sought to wear down Sondland during a long afternoon of questioning, said “My colleagues seem to be under the impression that unless the president spoke the words, 'Ambassador Sondland, I am bribing the Ukrainian president,' that there is no evidence of bribery. If he didn’t say, 'Ambassador Sondland, I'm telling you, I'm not going to give the aid unless they do this,' that there's no evidence of a quid pro quo on military aid." 
"They got caught," Schiff added.  "They got caught." 
In brief remarks to reporters outside the White House, Trump predictably sought to distance himself from Sondland, saying, "This is not a man I know well," a walkback from having previously called him "highly respected . . . a great American." 
We should be elated that one of Trump's top henchmen has turned on him in giving such incredibly damning testimony.  Sondland all but assured that the House will approve articles of impeachment, possibly including bribery and obstruction of justice in addition to abuse of power and contempt of Congress.   
But there still is no indication that Senate Republicans will be moved to convict the hands-down most corrupt president in history despite growing public approval for his removal, so hold the bubbly.              

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

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

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