The Wires

Public Service Announcement

New York Times (September 22): In March the Department of Justice described criminal cases involving nearly $700 million lost [to fraud] in the previous year by about two million people. The ones hit hardest by this kind of fraud are over 70, and they experience an average loss of $41,800, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports.... Some of the newer tactics for defrauding older people focus on Social Security, grandparenting and employment searches." ~~~

~~~ Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: I have received a number of calls recently warning me I was about to lose my Social Security card, an eventuality that is highly unlikely. I have always just hung up on these automated calls, but yesterday, I decided to bite. When the "real person" came on the phone, he identified himself as a Social Security officer, certainly breaking the law right there. "Really?" I said. "How are you going to prove you're a federal government official and not a scammer?" He immediately hung up. Maybe this gang of crooks will stop calling me (tho probably not).

New York Times: "Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo have both won this year’s Booker Prize, it was announced at a ceremony on Monday, after the judges for the literary award rebelled against its rules. 'We were told quite firmly that the rules state you can only have one winner,' Peter Florence, the chairman of the Booker judges, said at a news conference. But the 'consensus was to flout the rules and divide this year’s prize to celebrate two winners.' Evaristo, who won for her novel 'Girl, Woman, Other,' is the first black woman to win the Booker Prize. 'I hope that honor doesn’t last too long,' she said in her acceptance speech. Atwood, who won in 2000 for 'The Blind Assassin,' was considered a front-runner this year for 'The Testaments,' the sequel to her 1985 dystopian classic, 'The Handmaid’s Tale.'”

We are amused:

The Hollywood Reporter has a list of this year's Emmy Award winners.

The End of the Amtrak Dining Car. Washington Post: "Amtrak says it is reinventing its dining service on long-distance trains, killing the traditional dining car to create more 'flexible' and 'contemporary' dining options. The carrier says the change, starting this fall on the one-night routes east of the Mississippi River, is driven by the desire to save money and lure a younger generation of new riders — chiefly, millennials known to be always on the run, glued to their phones and not particularly keen on breaking bread with strangers at a communal table. With the transition, Amtrak is doing away with the traditional onboard kitchen, switching to serving prepackaged meals and easing restrictions on the traditional serving times. The change allows the railroad to cut costs associated with cooking aboard and keeping up with the white-tablecloth service that was once known to rival high-end restaurants and clubs." ~~~

     ~~~ Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: I realize many of you are too young to have experienced this, but once upon a time, traveling by train & plane was glamorous. People dressed up to travel, and those who had train roomettes dressed for dinner. My then-husband & I once had a roomette when we traveled from Juarez to Mexico City, & the experience was absolutely fabulous; so was the cuisine in the dining car. Now, it's sensible to dress in the most comfy clothes in anticipation of getting squished into a teeny "economy class" airline seat. The photos accompanying the WashPo story show people wearing casual dress in the white-tablecloth dining room, & the men are too gauche to remove their billed caps. P.S. to American tourists: nobody more messes up a photo of an historic site than a bunch of yahoo sightseers ambling around in their sloppy travel outfits. Then:

CNN: "The US Navy has finally acknowledged footage purported to show UFOs hurtling through the air. And while officials said they don't know what the objects are, they're not indulging any hints either. The objects seen in three clips of declassified military footage are "unidentified aerial phenomena," Navy spokesperson Joe Gradisher confirmed to CNN.The clips, released between December 2017 and March 2018 by To The Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences, appear to show fast-moving, oblong objects captured by advanced infrared sensors.In footage from 2004, sensors lock on a target as it flies before it accelerates out of the left side of the frame, too quickly for the sensors to relocate it. Two of the videos, both from 2015, contain audio from US fighter pilots attempting to make sense of what they're seeing."

New York Times: "A solid 18-karat gold toilet, titled 'America' by its creator, Maurizio Cattelan, was stolen early Saturday [September 14] from an exhibit at Blenheim Palace, the Oxfordshire birthplace and family home of Winston Churchill.... The artwork is based on a common Kohler toilet and was created by a foundry in Florence. The work’s value was not disclosed, but [Guggenheim artistic director Nancy] Spector described it as 'millions of dollars’ worth of gold.'... The police said in a statement that they were investigating the burglary and that a 66-year-old man had been arrested but not charged. The toilet has not been recovered. Jess Milne, a detective inspector, noted that the toilet had been plumbed to the building, so the theft 'caused significant damage and flooding.' He said the police believed a 'group of offenders' using at least two vehicles was behind the theft." the Hill's story is here.

Modern Art. CNN: "Hillary Clinton's emails ... have become art -- and the former secretary of state herself went to take a look.The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee looked through printed copies of her emails and sat at a replica of the Oval Office's Resolute Desk during a visit Tuesday to an art exhibit in Venice, Italy, titled 'HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails,' according to the exhibit's creator and curators. 'Hillary Clinton spent an hour yesterday reading her emails at my exhibition of all 62,000 pages of them in Venice,' American poet and artist Kenneth Goldsmith tweeted Wednesday. 'She is pictured here at a replica of the Oval Office Resolute Desk, stacked with her emails.' Francesco Urbano Ragazzi -- the collective name for two men who are working as the exhibit's curatorial team -- told CNN that Clinton came in for a private tour of the exhibit Tuesday morning."

... Related Washington Post story here.

     ... Thanks to NJC for the lead.

Constant Comments

 

Editor-in-Chief:
Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. -- H. L. Mencken (probably)

Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. -- A. J. Liebling

Sunday
Oct062019

The Commentariat -- October 7, 2019

Afternoon Update:

Edmund DeMarche, et al., of Fox "News": "The White House announced late Sunday that Turkey will soon move forward with a planned military operation in northeast Syria, as U.S. troops who have been deployed and operating with Kurdish-led forces in the area began pulling back from their positions. The decision sent shockwaves through the region and Washington, with U.S. officials telling Fox News that top Pentagon officials were 'completely blindsided' and 'shocked' by the order to pull back hundreds of U.S. troops, a move that effectively green-lights the Turkey operation." Emphasis added. ~~~

As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I've done before!). They must, with Europe and others, watch over... ....the captured ISIS fighters and families. The U.S. has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT! -- Donald Trump, in two tweets this morning (emphasis added in bold; the caps emphases are all Trump's) ~~~

~~~ Peter Baker of the New York Times: "President Trump vowed on Monday to pull back from military involvement in the Middle East and leave it to others 'to figure the situation out,' even as one of his strongest supporters [Lindsey Graham] condemned him for abandoning allies and emboldening regional enemies. In a series of Twitter messages, the president defended his decision to clear the way for a Turkish military operation that would sweep away America's Kurdish allies near the Syrian border.... 'I held off this fight for almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home,' Mr. Trump wrote. 'WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out.'... 'If I didn't see Donald Trump's name on the tweet, I would have thought it was Obama's rationale for getting out of Iraq,' Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina ... said on Fox News.... The announcement set off a swift and bipartisan backlash from other lawmakers as well, with some of the president's closest allies on Capitol Hill taking to Twitter to denounce the decision, all while carefully avoiding the president's name." The AP story is here. And this Politico story covers remarks by some GOP critics. ~~~

~~~ James Hohmann of the Washington Post: "National security experts warn that Trump abandoning the Kurds in this manner will have a chilling effect not just in the region but around the world, further eroding American credibility against the backdrop of a rising China and a revanchist Russia. 'Well, at least the Trump Administration is consistent. We are about screwing our allies, partners and friends,' said John Sipher, who served 28 years in the Central Intelligence Agency's clandestine service'.... 'Don't trust America, even if you shed blood on their behalf. If you want favors, build a Trump tower.' Other critics of Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria were also quick to note that there is a Trump Tower complex in Istanbul."

David Fahrenthold & Anne Marimow of the Washington Post: "A federal judge on Monday dismissed President Trump's lawsuit seeking to block the Manhattan district attorney from obtaining the president's tax returns as part of an investigation into hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign. U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero rejected Trump's argument that the presidency makes him immune to any investigation by any prosecutor. In his 75-page ruling, Marrero called such a claim 'extraordinary' and wrote, 'This Court cannot endorse such a categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity from judicial process.' The order would allow District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. (D) to enforce a subpoena he sent to Trump's longtime accountants, Mazars USA.... But moments after the ruling Monday, Trump's private attorneys asked the New York-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit to intervene to put the case on hold. The appeals court responded soon after, issuing a temporary stay pending review by a three-judge panel of the court." Politico's story is here.

Cristina Marcos of the Hill: "House Democrats on Monday subpoenaed the heads of the Defense Department and Office of Management and Budget for documents related to the Trump administration's decision to withhold financial aid to Ukraine while the president pushed the allied nation for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. In letters to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) acting director Russell Vought, the three committee chairmen leading the House's impeachment inquiry asked for the documents to be provided by Oct. 15."

Washington Post liveblog at 9 am ET: "George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state in the European and Eurasian Bureau, did not appear for a deposition before three House committees scheduled for Monday morning. 'No, Democrats originally scheduled him for deposition today, but his appearance has not yet been worked out or confirmed,' said a person familiar with the planned deposition...."

Caitlin Oprysko of Politico: "Kurt Volker, the president's former special envoy to Ukraine, has stepped down from yet another post, his executive directorship of the McCain Institute, amid the fallout from House Democrats' impeachment inquiry. Volker resigned from his role at the State Department a little over a week ago, and his resignation as the head of the D.C.-based think tank came days after he appeared as Democrats' first witness in their widening impeachment probe.... In a statement released Monday announcing his departure, Volker specifically referenced the growing Ukraine scandal and the ensuing media frenzy.... Cindy McCain, [who directs the center,] in a statement released in tandem with Volker's, thanked the career diplomat for his service...."

The Grift. Jonathan Chait: "While Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was leaning on the government in Kiev, he was simultaneously running a side hustle trying to extort the Ukrainians [link fixed] into throwing some energy business at his clients.... While he was representing Trump as a lawyer, Giuliani was being paid by two men ... Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman ... who were seeking business with Ukraine's government. Giuliani was wearing two hats: simultaneously representing the president of the United States and his paid clients. The conflict of interest between the two roles is overt. Giuliani's clients could use his name to leverage Ukraine to give them business.... As BuzzFeed reported in July, Parnas and Fruman held at least four meetings with Ukrainian prosecutors to urge investigations of Trump's enemies, and met with both President Trump and Donald Trump Jr.... And at the same time they were doing this, Parnas and Fruman were also pushing Ukraine to throw some natural-gas import business their way. Their efforts to intertwine their business agenda with the Trump political agenda were so successful that Energy Secretary Rick Perry brought up their interests in his negotiations with Ukraine.... The fact that Trump has been casting this campaign as an effort to root out 'corruption' while Rudy's boys were asking for a taste of the action just makes the whole joke funnier." See related stories linked below. ~~~

     ~~~ Mrs. McCrabbie: Chait casts Trump as using Parnas & Fruman Trump "as freelance operators to extort Ukraine because the normal foreign-policy apparatus is not set up to shake down foreign countries for dirt on the president's enemies." But I suspect the money Trump's & Perry's big donor friends would garner from contracts & board positions with Ukraine natural gas firms was just as important to Trump. ~~~

     ~~~ Also too, as Chait notes, "If it were not a sidecar to a historic scandal, the energy scam would itself constitute a large enough scandal to bring most presidencies to their knees." It's so Teapot Dome-y. As historian Robert Cherney noted, "Before the Watergate scandal, Teapot Dome was regarded as the 'greatest and most sensational scandal in the history of American politics.'" Teapot Dome, like UkraineGate, involved a Cabinet Secretary arranging secret non-competitive contracts (oil leases in Teapot Dome) to energy entrepreneurs in exchange for favors (the oil companies bribed the Secretary). One difference: the president back then wasn't privy to the scam. BUT, as a kicker, one consequence of TeaPot Dome was that "Congress subsequently passed legislation, enduring to this day, giving subpoena power to House and Senate for review of tax records of any US citizen without regard to elected or appointed position, nor subject to White House interference."

Kyle Balluck & Aris Folley of the Hill: "President Trump late Sunday suggested that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was guilty of treason and should be 'immediately' impeached. 'Nancy Pelosi knew of all of the many Shifty Adam Schiff lies and massive frauds perpetrated upon Congress and the American people, in the form of a fraudulent speech knowingly delivered as a ruthless con, and the illegal meetings with a highly partisan "Whistleblower" & lawyer,' he tweeted. 'This makes Nervous Nancy every bit as guilty as Liddle’ Adam Schiff for High Crimes and Misdemeanors, and even Treason. I guess that means that they, along with all of those that evilly "Colluded" with them, must all be immediately Impeached!'... Members of Congress cannot be impeached...." Mrs. McC: Somebody should explain impeachment to Trump; despite its prominence in his life, he still doesn't get it. This is the second time Trump has urged somebody (he uses the passive voice) to impeach members of Congress; last week it was Mitt Romney for disagreeing with Trump's solicitation of China to "investigate" the Bidens.

Emma Newberger of CNBC: "Goldman Sachs said the cost of tariffs imposed by ... Donald Trump last year against Chinese goods has fallen 'entirely' on American businesses and households, with a greater impact on consumer prices than previously expected. The bank said in a note that consumer prices are higher partly because Chinese exporters have not lowered their prices to better compete in the US market. Trump has repeatedly -- and inaccurately -- claimed that China will pay for tariffs imposed by the U.S."

Tanya Snyder, et al., of Politico: "In her first 14 months as Transportation secretary, Elaine Chao met with officials from Kentucky, which her husband Mitch McConnell represents in the Senate, vastly more often than those from any other state. In all, 25 percent of Chao's scheduled meetings with local officials [seeking DOT grants] of any state from January 2017 to March 2018 were with Kentuckians, who make up only about 1.3 percent of the U.S. population.... At least five of Chao's 18 meetings with local Kentuckians were requested in emails from McConnell staffers, who alerted Chao's staffers which of the officials were 'friends' or 'loyal supporters,' according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.... The department has long maintained that it, and [Chao], have shown no favoritism to [Kentucky], even while local officials from other states have complained about having trouble getting to see her."

Travis Loller of the AP: "With a bandage above his left eye and a large, red welt below it, former President Jimmy Carter was greeted by a cheering crowd Monday morning as he prepared to help build a home with Habitat for Humanity in Nashville. Carter fell at home on Sunday, requiring 14 stitches, but he did not let his injuries keep him from participating in his 36th building project with the nonprofit Christian housing organization. He turned 95 last Tuesday, becoming the first U.S. president to reach that milestone."

~~~~~~~~~~

** Trump Betrays Kurds, Backs Autocrat Erdogan. Eric Schmitt, et al., of the New York Times: "In a major shift in United States military policy in Syria, the White House said on Sunday that President Trump had given his endorsement for a Turkish military operation that would sweep away American-backed Kurdish forces near the border in Syria. Turkey considers the Kurdish forces to be a terrorist insurgency, and has long sought to end American support for the group. But the Kurdish fighters, which are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, or S.D.F., have been the United States' most reliable partner in fighting the Islamic State in a strategic corner of northern Syria. Now, Mr. Trump's decision goes against the recommendations of top officials in the Pentagon and the State Department who have sought to keep a small troop presence in northeast Syria to continue operations against the Islamic State, or ISIS, and to act as a critical counterweight to Iran and Russia. Administration officials said that Mr. Trump spoke directly with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on the issue on Sunday." Emphasis added. The Guardian's story is here. ~~~

     ~~~ If you're wondering, "But what would Vlad say?" the answer is, "Good boy, Donnie."

~~~ Bassem Mroue of the AP: "U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces said American troops began pulling back Monday from positions along the border in northeast Syria ahead of an expected Turkish invasion that the Syrian Kurds say will overturn five years of achievements in the battle against the Islamic State group. The Syrian Kurdish fighters also accused Washington of failing to abide by its commitments to its key allies in the fight against IS. It's a major shift in U.S. policy." ~~~

~~~ Saphora Smith of NBC News: "The U.S. decision to stand aside and allow Turkey to kick off a military operation in northeast Syria risks further destabilizing the war-torn region, undermining the fight against ISIS and sparking a wider conflict between Turkey and Kurdish fighters, analysts and Kurdish-led forces warned on Monday."

The Plot Thickens -- Grifters Gotta Grift

Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Friday, Politico published a story by Ben Lefebvre & Daniel Lippman with this lede: "Energy Secretary Rick Perry urged Ukraine's president to root out corruption and pushed the new government for changes at its state-run oil and gas company...." Later on, they reminded us of a Politico story published a few days before that Perry was "expected to resign next month." Then, in their recitation of what-all Perry did on his jaunts to Ukraine, they let on that Perry was pushing the new Ukraine government to put his own friends on the board of Naftogaz, Ukraine's state-owned natural gas company. AND there was this: "Among Perry's numerous visits with Zelenksy and other Ukraine officials in the past year was a dinner with Zelensky, Jared Kushner and other officials in June, according to a government photo taken by the U.S. of the event." So I wrote, "AND you know there has to be something in this for the Trump Crime Family[.]" ~~~

~~~ ** Come Now Desmond Butler, et al., of the AP: "As Rudy Giuliani was pushing Ukrainian officials last spring to investigate one of Donald Trump's main political rivals, a group of individuals with ties to [Trump & Giuliani] were also active in Ukraine.... This circle of businessmen and Republican donors touted connections to Giuliani and Trump while trying to install new management at the top of Ukraine's massive state gas company [Naftogaz]. Their plan was to then steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies, according to two people with knowledge of their plans.... After Zelensky's surprise election, "the effort to install a friendlier management team at the helm of the gas company ... would soon be taken up with Ukraine's new president by ... Rick Perry, whose slate of candidates [to run Naftogaz] included a fellow Texan who is one of Perry's past political donors.... The affair shows how those with ties to Trump and his administration were pursuing business deals in Ukraine that went far beyond advancing the president's personal political interests. It also raises questions about whether Trump allies were mixing business and politics just as Republicans were calling for a probe of Biden and ... Hunter, who served five years on the board of another Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.... The Associated Press has interviewed four people with direct knowledge of the attempts to influence Naftogaz, and their accounts show Perry playing a key role in the effort.... The Trump and Giuliani allies driving the attempt to change the senior management at Naftogazt, however, appear to have had inside knowledge of the U.S. government's plans in Ukraine. For example, they told people that Trump would replace the U.S. ambassador there months before she was actually recalled to Washington...." ...

     ... Oh, And "At the center of the Naftogaz plan," were Giuliani's shady "clients" (or whatever) Lev Parnas & Igor Fruman, "and an oil magnate from Boca Raton, Florida, named Harry Sargeant III." Sargent, a big GOP donor, has met with Trump at the White House & at Mar-a-Lago. ~~~

     ~~~ So Then ... Alayna Treene & Jonathan Swan of Axios reported that "President Trump told House Republicans [in a conference call Friday] that he made his now infamous phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the urging of Energy Secretary Rick Perry -- a call Trump claimed he didn't even want to make.... Perry's spokeswoman, Shaylyn Hynes, told Axios: 'Secretary Perry absolutely supported and encouraged the president to speak to the new president of Ukraine to discuss matters related to their energy security and economic development.'" ~~~

     ~~~ Mrs. McCrabbie: That is, Trump was fingering Perry not just for urging him to pick up the phone, but also for being up to his neck in the Ukraine scandal. And in this part of the Ukraine scheme, the cash would flow not from American taxpayers to Ukraine but from Ukraine to Trump's & Perry's backers. Trump & Perry's plan then, was to use Zelensky as the middle man in a scheme to move taxpayer dollars into the pockets of the Trump Gang's oil-and-gas magnates. The Ukraine "corruption" Trump was interested in quashing was not just his political rival Joe Biden & the private gas company Hunter Biden represented, but also the state-owned gas company that wasn't paying tribute to Trump/Perry backers' interests.

** Molly McKew, in a Political Magazine piece, describes the hot war Russia is waging in Ukraine, which "is the necessary context in which Americans should understand the gravity of ... Donald Trump's attempt to strong-arm Ukraine into becoming a subsidiary of his reelection campaign. In one gesture, Trump reduced the survival of Ukraine to a bargaining chip in an utterly petty pursuit; embroiled Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, in scandal and undercut his ability to defend the interests of his nation; and weakened the clout of U.S. leadership on Ukraine, the region and beyond. The biggest beneficiary of this latest Trump-derived scandal is the Kremlin.... Trump is bargaining away U.S. security for conspiracy theories about Ukraine and the Bidens that he hopes will not only strengthen his position for his reelection, but will also erase the evidence that Kremlin intervention helped to elect him president.... It is in our vital contemporary interest, in countless respects, to limit the further expansion of Russia's hold on the Black Sea region, which the Kremlin uses to stage its war in Syria and to project power into the Middle East and Africa, across the Mediterranean on up to the western Arctic, and beyond. It is a pattern of activity that has degraded the security environment in which we and our alliances operate...."


Matt Zapotosky
, et al., of the Washington Post: "Those involved in the FBI investigation [of the origins into possible coordination between the Trump campaign & Russia] said they are mystified by the attorney general's activities and interest in the professor, Joseph Mifsud, and they suspect that [AG Bill] Barr might be using Justice Department resources to validate conjecture that Mifsud was deployed against a Trump adviser by Western intelligence to manufacture a basis to investigate the campaign.... Barr's inquiry has heartened Trump and his conservative allies.... Barr has long harbored suspicions about the Russia probe.... The unproven theory about Mifsud is that the Maltese professor was working to set up the Trump campaign." See also the NYT report, linked yesterday, on Barr's investigation of Trump's international conspiracy theories. (Also linked yesterday.) ~~~

~~~ Bill Barr Is a Threat to National Security. Aruna Viswanatha, et al., of the Wall Street Journal: "Attorney General William Barr is sparking discord in several foreign capitals, going outside usual channels to seek help from allies in reviewing the origins of a U.S. counterintelligence investigation begun during the 2016 presidential campaign. By meeting directly with foreign leaders -- rather than relying on investigator-to-investigator channels -- Mr. Barr has stirred up domestic politics in some of the countries he has tapped for assistance. In Rome, the national-security committee of Italy's Parliament this past week asked Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to appear and answer questions about his contacts with Mr. Barr.... In Canberra, Australian authorities said they were cooperating with Mr. Barr but disputed allegations that one of its diplomats acted inappropriately in 2016 -- an allegation at the center of Mr. Barr's inquiry.... In London, Mr. Barr's personal requests have irked counterintelligence officials over a perceived thwarting of procedural norms.... Mr. Trump has said he expects the review to show that crimes were committed by his political opponents, but no evidence of that has emerged.... 'This could put the Five Eyes relationship in jeopardy,' [Sen. Mark] Warner [D-Va.] said, using the term to describe an intelligence-sharing agreement among the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. 'If Australia starts to feel that their intelligence is being used for American domestic political purposes to smear an opponent of Mr. Trump, then that trust breaks down.'" Firewalled. Mrs. McC: So far (7 pm ET Sunday), I haven't found any summaries of the story." ~~~

~~~ Matt Yglesias of Vox tries, without success, to make some sense of the crazy conspiracy theory that Bill Barr, International P.I., is pursuing around the globe on our dime. As Scott Lemieux puts it in LG&$, the theory "is roughly on a par with 'Sandy Hook was a false flag operation.'" Lemieux, BTW, seems a bit skeptical of "the highly principled anti-corruption crusade of Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani" vis-a-vis the Naftogaz "reform."

We invited the White House on to answer questions on the show this morning, [but] they did not offer a guest. We also invited both of the president's personal lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow. They declined to appear. We invited every member of Senate leadership and the top House Republicans. They all declined or did not even respond. [The Republican no-show happened' 'on one of the most critical news weeks of the last three years.... -- Jake Tapper, on air, Sunday ~~~

~~~ Republicans in Hiding. David Boddiger of Splinter: "With the exception of Chuck Todd, of all people, Sunday saw a lot less shouting.... As several news show hosts pointed out, Republican leaders are in hiding after damning evidence surfaced this week in the Trump impeachment inquiry...." ~~~

~~~ Tim Hains of Real Clear Politics: "During a heated interview on Sunday's 'Meet The Press,' Republican Senator Ron Johnson accused former members of the FBI and CIA of conspiring to frame President Trump. Host Chuck Todd fired back by calling Johnson's accusations 'Fox News conspiracy propaganda stuff.' [There follwed a contentious back & forth, with Todd trying to get Johnson to answer his questions about Ukraine.]... 'So do you not trust the FBI? Do you not trust the CIA?' Todd asked. Johnson replied: 'No, no, I don't. Absolutely not. After Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, after James Comey?!' 'I'm sorry that you chose to come on this way, senator,' Chuck Todd said as he ended the interview." Includes video. (Also linked yesterday.) ~~~

     ... Amber Phillips of the Washington Post: "On Friday..., [Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)] indicated to the Wall Street Journal that he had been concerned this summer that President Trump was creating a quid pro quo with Ukraine by holding up military aid.... It was probably not a coincidence then that on Sunday, Sen. ... Johnson..., chairman of the Homeland Security ... Committee, went on TV to try to defend the president. But arguably, he did more damage to the president's cause by showing just how difficult it is to defend Trump.... Johnson refused to answer basic questions about why he was concerned about Trump, instead bringing up a completely unrelated conspiracy theory about a former FBI official.... To defend Trump...., Republicans ... increasingly have to ignore or ditch the facts altogether.... [Chuck] Todd spends the [the full interview] trying to get Johnson to answer [his first question].... Johnson tries to deflect by throwing out false summaries of the Mueller report...." ~~~

     ~~~ Pema Levy of Mother Jones: "The bizarre interview is a demonstration of how ... Donald Trump's allies have responded to the impeachment inquiry by rallying around debunked theories about Democratic plots and deep state set-ups during the 2016 election, while dismissing the findings of Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference.

     ~~~ Annals of Journalism, Ctd. Chuck Todd Seeks His Inner Walter Cronkite. Peter Wade of Rolling Stone: "Of late Todd has taken a stronger approach on matters concerning the president's controversies. On Thursday, the host opened his show and put aside his propensity for going out his way to come across as unbiased and said, 'I don't say this lightly, but let's be frank. A national nightmare is upon us. The basic rules of our democracy are under attack, from the president.'"

~~~ Rudy Was on the TeeVee, After All. John Amato of Crooks & Liars: "He joined Howard Kurtz on Fox News' Media Buzz and Kurtz asked him about the impeachable crime of investigating a political rival, 'When he [Trump] came on the camera and urged China and Ukraine to investigate the Bidens --- he ... doesn't see anything wrong with it, he admitted it... Didn't he undercut your defense?' Giuliani replied, 'The President of the United States has every right to ask countries to help us in a criminal investigation that should be undertaken.'... It happens to involve a political opponent, Kurtz interjected. 'I can't help that. I mean, suppose the political opponent committed murder. What are we supposed to do if he's a political opponent? Don't investigate them?' Giuliani is presenting this as a extreme hypothetical, but at some point, 'Joe Biden committed murder' will filter through the alt-right sites and become yet another conspiracy theory upon which the GOP will demand investigations (see: Vince Foster, Seth Rich, et al.)" Emphasis added. ~~~

~~~ Aidan McLaughlin of Mediaite: "As Team Trump seeks to expand the eye of their Biden conspiracy to East Asia, the president and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani have wheeled out an absurd new claim: that Hunter Biden was paid $1.5 BILLION by China.... While Republican lawmakers attempt to defend Trump by claiming his China comments were simply a joke, Trump defended his call for China to investigate Biden on Twitter. [Trump tweeted,] 'It is INCREDIBLE to watch and read the Fake News and how they pull out all stops to protect Sleepy Joe Biden and his thrown out of the Military son, Hunter, who was handed $100,000 a month (Plus,Plus) from a Ukrainian based company, even though he had no experience in energy..., and separately got 1.5 Billion Dollars from China despite no experience and for no apparent reason....' Giuliani repeated the false claim during his bitter clash with Fox News host Howard Kurtz. 'The Chinese were paying $1.5 billion to this kid!' he exclaimed. Read The Washington Post's thorough fact check of the Biden-China conspiracy here."

Kathy Gilsinan of the Atlantic: "Military and other security-assistance aid eats up about a third of the U.S. foreign-aid budget, which itself has been a target of Trump's ire. And it has a spotty record -- both in achieving stated American goals when it's offered, and in forcing better behavior when it's withheld.... Ukraine does suffer from corruption, but it's by no means the worst offender among the recipients of American largesse.... U.S. foreign policy relies a great deal on giving military aid, in the form of arms sales and training foreign forces, in an effort to advance security interests without committing large forces overseas. The public should be scrutinizing where it's going and what ends it's achieving -- and at what cost. But in the Ukraine instance, the bigger question now is whether, in the course of a phone call, the president dangled $400 million not in the American interest, but in his own."


Robert Barnes
of the Washington Post: "The Supreme Court has a powerfully controversial docket for its term beginning Monday that will test Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.'s efforts to portray the institution as above the noisy and partisan battles of the moment. Two unknowns -- the health of the court's oldest member, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and whether the court will be drawn into legal controversies arising from the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry into President Trump -- add to the uncertainty. Resolution of the most contentious cases could happen in June, in the heat of a presidential campaign in which the future of the court has emerged as a galvanizing issue for conservatives and liberals." ~~~

~~~ An Umpire Whose Calls Favor His Home Team. Aaron Belkin & Sean McElwee, in a New York Times op-ed: "The term is likely to signal how far the court's conservative majority will go to block the agenda of the next Democratic president and Congress. With the court on the precipice of a dangerous lurch rightward, polling data indicate that Democrats have a positive view of Chief Justice John Roberts, who has expressed regard for precedent and concern for the court's legitimacy, encouraging a view that he will step in to prevent partisan excess. Yet history suggests that Democrats have much to fear. The chief justice is neither a swing vote among his four liberal and four conservative justices, nor a moderate. Expect him to land time and again with the conservatives.... He [has] compiled a voting record that is among the most partisan of any justice in the modern era when it comes to cases overturning precedent, according to our analysis.... Our analysis shows that the chief justice's voting record is as conservative as those of his most extreme current and former colleagues.... The chief justice's strong public defense of the court's integrity has had the effect of camouflaging a subtle, long-game strategy to tilt the court's jurisprudence decidedly to the right."

Anneken Tappe of CNN: "The US economy got off to a rough start this month, with various data pointing at a slowdown. Now economists are saying this trend will only get worse. The National Association for Business Economics said in a survey released Monday that US GDP growth next year will drop below 2% for the first time since 2016. In the previous survey, the consensus expectation for next year was 2.1% -- now it has dropped to 1.8%.... Donald Trump promised as much as 4% GDP growth earlier in his presidency, which the economy achieved in the second quarter of 2018. For the year, however, the economy grew by a more modest 2.8%. Although the 54 economists surveyed by NABE don't yet expect a recession, the dour forecast is the latest example that a slowdown is no longer merely an expectation. It's here now, and it's likely to stay."

Way Beyond the Beltway

Iraq. Bobby Allyn of NPR: "Iraqi authorities say at least seven more people were killed in clashes between protesters and police in eastern Baghdad on Sunday, bringing the death toll from nearly a week of anti-government rallies throughout Iraq to more than 100 with thousands of others injured. Protesters, who took to the streets on Tuesday frustrated over joblessness and corruption, have been met with live ammunition from security forces attempting to break up the mass demonstrations that have convulsed Baghdad and parts of southern Iraq for days. So far, 104 people have been killed and 6,107 have been wounded in the unrest, according to figures released by Iraqi security officials. More than 1,200 security members are among the injured."

News Lede

CNN: "The 2019 Nobel Prize for Medicine has been jointly awarded to William Kaelin Jr., Sir Peter Ratcliffe and Gregg Semenza for their pioneering research into how human cells respond to changing oxygen levels. Announcing the prize at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on Monday, the Nobel committee said that the trio's discoveries have paved the way for 'promising new strategies to fight anaemia, cancer and many other diseases.'"

Saturday
Oct052019

The Commentariat -- October 6, 2019

Late Morning Update:

Matt Zapotosky, et al., of the Washington Post: "Those involved in the FBI investigation [of the origins into possible coordination between the Trump campaign & Russia] said they are mystified by the attorney general's activities and interest in the professor, Joseph Mifsud, and they suspect that [AG Bill] Barr might be using Justice Department resources to validate conjecture that Mifsud was deployed against a Trump adviser by Western intelligence to manufacture a basis to investigate the campaign.... Barr's inquiry has heartened Trump and his conservative allies.... Barr has long harbored suspicions about the Russia probe.... The unproven theory about Mifsud is that the Maltese professor was working to set up the Trump campaign." See also the NYT report, linked below, on Barr's investigation of Trump's conspiracy theories.

Tim Hains of Real Clear Politics: "During a heated interview on Sunday's 'Meet The Press,' Republican Senator Ron Johnson accused former members of the FBI and CIA of conspiring to frame President Trump. Host Chuck Todd fired back by calling Johnson's accusations 'Fox News conspiracy propaganda stuff.' [There follwed a contentious back & forth, with Todd trying to get Johnson to answer his questions about Ukraine.]... 'So do you not trust the FBI? Do you not trust the CIA?' Todd asked. Johnson replied: 'No, no, I don't. Absolutely not. After Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, after James Comey?!' 'I'm sorry that you chose to come on this way, senator,' Chuck Todd said as he ended the interview." Includes video.

~~~~~~~~~~

Corruption Corroboration. Max Burman of NBC News: "... a second whistleblower has now come forward with information. 'I can confirm that my firm and my team represent multiple whistleblowers in connection to the underlying August 12, 2019, disclosure to the Intelligence Community Inspector General,' attorney Andrew Bakaj told NBC News." ~~~

I can confirm this report of a second #whistleblower being represented by our legal team. They also made a protected disclosure under the law and cannot be retaliated against. This WBer has first hand knowledge. -- Mark Zaid, in a tweet @9:37 am ET ~~~

~~~ James Meek & Anne Flaherty of ABC News: "Mark Zaid, the attorney representing the whistleblower who sounded the alarm on ... Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine..., tells ABC News that he is now representing a second whistleblower who has spoken with the inspector general.... While this second official has spoken with the IG -- the internal watchdog office created to handle complaints -- this person has not communicated yet with the congressional committees conducting the investigation. The New York Times on Friday cited anonymous sources in reporting that a second intelligence official was weighing whether to file his own former complaint and testify to Congress." Mrs. McC Note: Zaid & Bakaj are working together "in conjunction with Whistleblower Aid, a nonprofit that exists to support and assist whistleblowers." ~~~

~~~ Annie Karni of the New York Times: "The New York Times reported on Friday that an intelligence official with more direct knowledge of Mr. Trump's dealing with Ukraine than the first whistle-blower ... was weighing whether to come forward. The second official was among those interviewed by the intelligence community inspector general to corroborate the allegations of the original whistle-blower, one of the people briefed on the matter said. The new whistle-blower matches the description of the official that The Times reported on last week. But Mr. Stephanapoulos said that Mark Zaid, one of the lawyers representing the whistle-blower, did not know whether the individual was the same person."

Per @maggieNYT [Maggie Haberman], 'no one from the White House' is booked on the Sunday shows this week. Not for lack of trying. 'And no one in House or Senate GOP leadership,' @JakeTapper [of CNN] adds. Again, not for lack of trying. -- Brian Stelter of CNN, in a tweet

Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: "Since the revelation of an explosive whistleblower complaint that sparked an impeachment crisis for President Trump, he and his Republican allies have coalesced around a central defense: The document was based on secondhand information, mere hearsay riddled with inaccuracies.... Independent evidence now supports the central elements laid out in the seven-page document. Even if they disregarded the complaint, legal experts said lawmakers have obtained dramatic testimony and documents that provide ammunition for the whistleblower's core assertion: that the president of the United States used 'the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.'... In the complaint, the whistleblower described other internal government deliberations that were not public at the time the document was filed.... Despite the growing body of evidence supporting the whistleblower's factual narration, Trump has continued to maintain that the description in the complaint is false or unsubstantiated. 'The so-called Whistleblower's account of my perfect phone call is "way off," not even close,' Trump tweeted Saturday morning, adding that Democratic leaders 'never thought I would release the transcript of the call. Got them by surprise, they got caught. This is a fraud against the American people!'" Helderman compares some of the whistleblower's assertions to facts that later became public.

It's Rick Perry's Fault. Alayna Treene & Jonathan Swan of Axios: "President Trump told House Republicans that he made his now infamous phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the urging of Energy Secretary Rick Perry -- a call Trump claimed he didn't even want to make. Trump made these comments during a conference call with House members on Friday, according to 3 sources on the call.... Text messages released this week between Trump administration officials and Andrey Yermak, a top aide to Zelensky, suggest that Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was a primary advocate for arranging the call. There is no mention in the text messages of Perry playing a role in making this call happen.... Perry's spokeswoman, Shaylyn Hynes, told Axios: 'Secretary Perry absolutely supported and encouraged the president to speak to the new president of Ukraine to discuss matters related to their energy security and economic development.'" ~~~

     ~~~ The Perils of Pence & Perry. Mrs. McCrabbie: As many others have pointed out, Trump will besmirch anyone and everyone it is tangentially plausible (or even implausible) to blame for his "perfect" impeachable shakedown of Zelensky. He had already involved pence & Perry in his own misadventures in Ukraine; now he's tying them to the tracks & running them over with the Trump train. ~~~

     ~~~ Update. Tom Boddiger of Splinter: "This might be Donald Trump's most comedic excuse yet for betraying his oath of office as president of the United States. We all knew Trump couldn't withstand the heat of an impeachment inquiry by Congress without throwing someone under the bus. In fact, he's already blurted out the vice president's involvement, practically ensuring that lawmakers take a hard look at Mike Pence. But it also appears that just a day after Energy Secretary Rick Perry tried to tiptoe out the back door, Trump threw a proverbial ax at the center of his back. Unfortunately, no one feels the least bit sorry about any of this, true or not." ~~~

~~~ Ben Lefebvre & Daniel Lippman of Politico: "Energy Secretary Rick Perry urged Ukraine's president to root out corruption and pushed the new government for changes at its state-run oil and gas company, people familiar with his work said Friday -- indications that he was more deeply involved than previously known in ... Donald Trump's efforts to pressure officials in Kiev.... Perry..., is expected to resign next month, attended [Ukraine President] Zelensky's May inauguration in Kiev in place of Vice President Mike Pence. In addition, he was one of the administration's 'three amigos' on Ukrainian policy, along with Kurt Volker, the U.S. special representative for the Ukraine conflict, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, as Sondland described their relationship in a July broadcast interview." Mrs. McC: It appears from the report that Perry was pushing the new Ukraine government to put his (Perry's) friends on the board of Naftogaz, Ukraine's state-owned natural gas company. "Two long-time energy executives based in Perry's home state of Texas were among those under consideration for that role, one source familiar with the administration's dealings with the company said." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ~~~

     ~~~ AND you know there has to be something in this for the Trump Crime Family: "Among Perry's numerous visits with Zelenksy and other Ukraine officials in the past year was a dinner with Zelensky, Jared Kushner and other officials in June, according to a government photo taken by the U.S. of the event." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Keeping It Classy. Somebody please wake up Mitt Romney and tell him that my conversation with the Ukrainian President was a congenial and very appropriate one, and my statement on China pertained to corruption, not politics. If Mitt worked this hard on Obama, he could have won. Sadly, he choked! Mitt Romney never knew how to win. He is a pompous 'ass' who has been fighting me from the beginning, except when he begged me for my endorsement for his Senate run (I gave it to him), and when he begged me to be Secretary of State (I didn't give it to him). He is so bad for R's! -- Donald Trump, in two tweets Saturday morning ~~~

~~~ Nuts AND Ignorant. Colby Itkowitz of the Washington Post: "Hours later, Trump hit Romney again, this time suggesting Utah voters regretted their choice and that Romney should be impeached. 'I'm hearing that the Great People of Utah are considering their vote for their Pompous Senator, Mitt Romney, to be a big mistake. I agree! He is a fool who is playing right into the hands of the Do Nothing Democrats! #IMPEACHMITTROMNEY,' Trump tweeted. Romney won his Senate seat in 2018, with 62.6 percent of the vote. It is not clear what Romney did in Trump's opinion to deserve impeachment other than condemn the behavior that led to an impeachment inquiry into the president. A U.S. senator cannot be impeached. Instead, the Constitution gives the House or Senate the power to expel one of its own by a two-thirds vote." Politico's story is here. ~~~

~~~ Nick Schroeder of the Bangor Daily News: "U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, joined two other GOP senators in criticizing the president this week after he publicly asked the Chinese government to investigate a political opponent while talking to reporters outside the White House this week. The Maine senator was unequivocal in her statements, which came after a firefighters memorial service in Augusta on Saturday morning, joining Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Ben Sasse, R-Nevada, in breaking rank with GOP support for the president. 'I thought the president made a big mistake by asking China to get involved in investigating a political opponent,' Collins said. 'It's completely inappropriate.'... Collins also said that she was concerned that U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, 'misrepresented and misled people about what was in the transcript in the call,' joining Republican efforts to discredit the congressman."

Mark Mazzetti & others of the New York Times on Bill Barr, International Sleuth: "Mr. Barr and a top federal prosecutor, John H. Durham, who is reviewing the origins of the Russia investigation, [link fixed] [traveled to Rome late last month seeking] evidence that might bolster a conspiracy theory long nurtured by President Trump: that some of America's closest allies plotted with his 'deep state' enemies in 2016 to try to prevent him from winning the presidency. Mr. Trump has embraced the theory in his interactions with world leaders since the days after the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, testified to lawmakers in July that his investigation found insufficient evidence to charge any Trump associates with conspiring with Russia to help subvert the election. An emboldened Mr. Trump — who could benefit politically if Mr. Durham were to unearth facts that undermined Mr. Mueller's investigation -- began pressing close allies to cooperate with the review.... Mr. Barr seems to have embraced his role, signaling that he has made the investigation a priority and is personally overseeing it." ~~~

     ~~~ Mrs. McCrabbie: So what we have for "governance" in this country is a globetrotting gang of crazy old men -- Trump, pence, Barr, Pompeo, Giuliani (Perry??), et al. -- prodding allies & enemies alike to manufacture fake evidence of paranoid conspiracy theories. It isn't the Zelensky call that's so shocking -- it's the whole operation. No wonder Trump thinks his Zelensky call was "perfect"; it was one tiny piece of his insane & costly political conspiracy operation.

Zachary Cohen & Caroline Kelly of CNN: "A House Foreign Affairs Committee aide told CNN that 'Secretary Pompeo has failed to meet the deadline to produce documents required by the subpoena. However, the State Department has contacted the Committees on this matter and we hope the Department will cooperate in full promptly. Apart from the outstanding subpoena, we look forward to hearing from Ambassadors Sondland and Yovanovitch next week.'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ~~~

     ~~~ Update. Karen DeYoung, et al., of the Washington Post: "Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday that he had sent a response to the House committees seeking documents in their impeachment inquiry of President Trump, but congressional investigators are still waiting for their subpoena to be complied with.... At a news conference with the foreign minister of Greece, Pompeo said he had sent a letter to Capitol Hill as 'our initial response to the document request. We'll obviously do all the things we're required to do by law.'... Pompeo repeated charges made a week ago that the congressional inquiries have 'harassed and abused State Department employees' by contacting them directly and failing to go through proper channels to request both testimony and documents.... He also it was 'very reasonable' and 'our duty' to ask other governments to help investigate interference in the 2016 U.S. election, as Trump has." ~~~

     ~~~ AND Mike Pompeo, Professional Gaslighter. "Pompeo Defends Trump's Ukraine Conspiracy Theory." Lara James of the New York Times: "Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defiantly insisted on Saturday in Greece that the Trump administration was right to ask Ukrainian officials to investigate claims of election interference in the 2016 American presidential campaign, bolstering a widely debunked conspiracy theory that had already been dismissed by his own diplomatic envoy. In comments to journalists in Athens, where he was meeting with Greek leaders, Mr. Pompeo said it was the 'duty' of the Trump administration to pursue whether efforts to tamper in the United States election were rooted in Ukraine, even though the American intelligence agencies have long concluded Russia was to blame.... Mr. Pompeo also appeared to try to shift blame for the election interference -- which has overshadowed Mr. Trump and his government since taking office -- onto the Obama administration. 'I only wish that the previous administration had protected our elections back in 2016,' he told journalists. 'You'll recall that the interference that took place took place under the previous administration.'" ~~~

     ~~~ Russia, If You're Listening ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Somehow I think Mikey knows MoscowMitch said nyet to that, and Pompeo might be aware that Trump not only asked Russia for election help, his staff had something like 140 meetings with Russians, many of which were probably to get Russians to do some dastardly deeds to benefit Trump. ~~~

~~~ Nicole Gaouette of CNN: "... Donald Trump's attempts to compel Ukraine to investigate the family of his chief political rival are deepening anger and concern inside the State Department as Secretary Mike Pompeo's role in the drama comes under greater scrutiny. A dozen current and former staff from different areas of the State Department and at different stages of their careers who spoke to CNN said the Ukraine controversy has exacerbated divisions between political appointees and career diplomats, many of whom say the department is being politicized in ways that undermine US ties to other countries. State Department staff also tell CNN that frustration is building as Pompeo tries to steer the currents created by Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who has inserted himself into foreign policy, and the President's expectations of complete loyalty. Pompeo seems to 'lack the backbone' to push back on Trump, one veteran career official said, even as the President appears to use the department to meet his political aims."

Russia Is Already Taking Advantage of Trump/Giuliani/Pompeo Blunders. Will Englund of the Washington Post: "If any country stands to gain from the developing turmoil, analysts and politicians in Kiev say, it is Russia. And they expect President Vladimir Putin' government to exploit every opportunity it can find.... Russian officials are already publicly telling Ukrainians (and the rest of the world) that the United States has proved itself to be an unreliable friend, with the release of the White House account of the embarrassing July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelensky.... Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said on Russian television, '... now everyone understands that it is dangerous to call to Washington, to hold talks and meet with it.'" More important in Ukraine is that Russia will likely use the scandal to portray Zelensky as a minor leaguer and Ukraine as an incorrigibly misgoverned country.... Last month, Zelensky met with Trump in New York. 'I really hope you and President Putin get together and can solve your problem,' Trump told him. 'A tremendous achievement and I know you're trying to do that.' That comment, said Konstantin Batotsky, an analyst [in Kiev], was 'a disaster' for Ukraine. It signaled to Putin, he said, that the United States could not be counted on to always be in Ukraine's corner. It was worse than the phone call, he said.... The loss of Kurt Volker, the special U.S. envoy to Ukraine who resigned following the revelation of the Trump administration's pressure on Kiev, was another blow, Batotsky said. 'He was the gamer' who could have helped Ukraine find a way out of its mess, he said. 'The Russians are extremely happy about this.'"

Jeff Toobin of the New Yorker: "... the Russia and Ukraine scandals are, in fact, one story." Mrs. McC: There's no news in Toobin's column, but he does a fair job of demonstrating that Trump's attempts to manipulate Zelensky are an outgrowth -- and an escalation, because Trump is now putting the power of the U.S. government behind his entreaties -- of his campaign-era courting of Russian assistance.

Chris Hayes did a good dramatic reading of the text messages among U.S. diplomats Kurt Volker, Gordon Sondland & Bill Taylor re: Trump's cash-for-dirt scheme (except I had to listen to the last sentence five times to guess at what he said -- I think it's "Trump releases the aid"). The set-up to the reading starts at about 2:15 min. in, but Hayes' initial remarks are a set-up to the set-up:

Presidential Race 2020

Joe Biden in a Washington Post op-ed: "Enough is enough. Every day -- every few hours, seemingly -- more evidence is uncovered revealing that President Trump is abusing the power of the presidency and is wholly unfit to be president. He is using the highest office in the land to advance his personal political interests instead of the national interest. The president's most recent violation of the rule of law -- openly calling for China to interfere in our elections, as he stood on the South Lawn of the White House -- is so outrageous, it's clear he considers the presidency a free pass to do whatever he wants, with no accountability.... He slanders anyone he sees as a threat. That is why is he is frantically pushing flat-out lies, debunked conspiracy theories and smears against me and my family, no doubt hoping to undermine my candidacy for the presidency." ~~~

~~~ Jonathan Martin, et al., of the New York Times: "... [Joe] Biden looks more vulnerable than at any point since he entered the campaign. Facing one of the greatest challenges of his candidacy, Mr. Biden has plainly struggled to meet the moment, or fully reconcile his own cautious instincts with his protectiveness of his family's privacy and his preference for taking the moral high road against Mr. Trump. Interviews with more than 50 Democratic strategists, lawmakers and lobbyists provide a portrait of a candidacy facing challenges on all sides, and one at risk of losing its core argument that Mr. Biden is the Democrat best able to defeat Mr. Trump in a general election.... David Plouffe, former President Barack Obama's campaign manager, was mystified. Mr. Biden 'should use this moment and become Trump's opponent,' Mr. Plouffe said. 'I don't understand it.'"

News Ledes

AP: "A witness in the murder trial of a white Dallas police officer who fatally shot her black neighbor has been killed in a shooting, the Dallas Morning News reported, citing authorities. The newspaper reported that authorities said Joshua Brown, who lived in the same apartment complex as Amber Guyger and Botham Jean, was shot and killed Friday in Dallas."

AP: "Two men opened fire inside a bar in Kansas City, Kansas, early Sunday, killing four people and wounding five others in a shooting believed to have stemmed from an earlier dispute, police said.Authorities were searching Sunday for the two gunmen, said Officer Thomas Tomasic, a police spokesman."

Friday
Oct042019

The Commentariat -- October 5, 2019

Afternoon Update:

Ben Lefebvre & Daniel Lippman of Politico: "Energy Secretary Rick Perry urged Ukraine's president to root out corruption and pushed the new government for changes at its state-run oil and gas company, people familiar with his work said Friday -- indications that he was more deeply involved than previously known in ... Donald Trump's efforts to pressure officials in Kiev.... Perry..., is expected to resign next month, attended [Ukraine President] Zelensky's May inauguration in Kiev in place of Vice President Mike Pence. In addition, he was one of the administration's 'three amigos' on Ukrainian policy, along with Kurt Volker, the U.S. special representative for the Ukraine conflict, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, as Sondland described their relationship in a July broadcast interview." Mrs. McC: It appears from the report that Perry was pushing the new Ukraine government to put his (Perry's) friends on the board of Naftogaz, Ukraine's state-owned natural gas company. "Two long-time energy executives based in Perry's home state of Texas were among those under consideration for that role, one source familiar with the administration's dealings with the company said." ~~~

     ~~~ AND you know there has to be something in this for the Trump Crime Family: "Among Perry's numerous visits with Zelenksy and other Ukraine officials in the past year was a dinner with Zelensky, Jared Kushner and other officials in June, according to a government photo taken by the U.S. of the event."

Zachary Cohen & Caroline Kelly of CNN: "A House Foreign Affairs Committee aide told CNN that 'Secretary Pompeo has failed to meet the deadline to produce documents required by the subpoena. However, the State Department has contacted the Committees on this matter and we hope the Department will cooperate in full promptly. Apart from the outstanding subpoena, we look forward to hearing from Ambassadors Sondland and Yovanovitch next week.'"

Keeping It Classy. Somebody please wake up Mitt Romney and tell him that my conversation with the Ukrainian President was a congenial and very appropriate one, and my statement on China pertained to corruption, not politics. If Mitt worked this hard on Obama, he could have won. Sadly, he choked! Mitt Romney never knew how to win. He is a pompous 'ass' who has been fighting me from the beginning, except when he begged me for my endorsement for his Senate run (I gave it to him), and when he begged me to be Secretary of State (I didn't give it to him). He is so bad for R's! -- Donald Trump, in two tweets this morning

~~~~~~~~~~

Donald Trump is attacking the sovereignty of our country. -- John Dean on CNN, Friday

Nicholas Fandos of the New York Times: "House impeachment investigators widened the reach of their inquiry on Friday, subpoenaing the White House for a vast trove of documents and requesting more from Vice President Mike Pence to better understand President Trump's attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. The subpoena, addressed to Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, calls for documents and communications that are highly delicate and would typically be subject in almost any White House to claims of executive privilege. If handed over by the Oct. 18 deadline, the records could provide keys to understanding what transpired between the two countries and what steps, if any, the White House has taken to cover it up.... For more than six hours on Friday, the House Intelligence Committee questioned the intelligence community's independent watchdog who first fielded a whistle-blower complaint that has spurred the formal impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump. Michael Atkinson ... had received the complaint and explained his own preliminary investigation into its validity before seeking to deliver it to Congress. 'What the inspector general said last time was, the whistle-blower pulled the fire alarm,' Representative Mike Quigley, Democrat of Illinois, told reporters. 'We have now seen the smoke and the fire.'" This is an update of a story linked yesterday afternoon.

     ~~~ Politico's story is here. The Guardian's story is here.

Uh-oh. Michael Schmidt & Adam Goldman of the New York Times: "A second intelligence official who was alarmed by President Trump's dealings with Ukraine is weighing whether to file his own formal whistle-blower complaint and testify to Congress, according to two people briefed on the matter. The official has more direct information about the events than the first whistle-blower, whose complaint that Mr. Trump was using his power to get Ukraine to investigate his political rivals touched off an impeachment inquiry. The second official is among those interviewed by the intelligence community inspector general to corroborate the allegations of the original whistle-blower, one of the people said.... Whistle-blowers have created a new threat for Mr. Trump. Though the White House has stonewalled Democrats in Congress investigating allegations raised in the special counsel's report that Mr. Trump obstructed justice, the president has little similar ability to stymie whistle-blowers from speaking to Congress." The Hill's summary of the NYT report is here.

Barr, DOJ Ignored CIA Criminal Referral of Trump re: Ukraine. Ken Dilanian of Julia Ainsley of NBC News: "Weeks before the whistleblower's complaint became public, the CIA's top lawyer made what she considered to be a criminal referral to the Justice Department about the whistleblower's allegations that ... Donald Trump abused his office in pressuring the Ukrainian president, U.S. officials familiar with the matter tell NBC News. The move by the CIA's general counsel, Trump appointee Courtney Simmons Elwood, meant she and other senior officials had concluded a potential crime had been committed, raising more questions about why the Justice Department later declined to open an investigation.... Elwood ... participated in a conference call with the top national security lawyer at the White House and the chief of the Justice Department's National Security Division. On that call, Elwood and John Eisenberg, the top legal adviser to the White House National Security Council, told the top Justice Department national security lawyer, John Demers, that the allegations merited examination by the DOJ, officials said.... A DOJ official said Attorney General William Barr was made aware of the conversation with Elwood and Eisenberg, and their concerns about the president's behavior, in the days that followed. Justice Department officials now say they didn't consider the phone conversation a formal criminal referral because it was not in written form.... A separate criminal referral came later from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence which was based solely on the whistleblower's official written complaint." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ~~~

     ~~~ Alex Ward of Vox: "... as NBC News explains, 'Justice Department officials have said they only investigated the president's Ukraine call for violations of campaign finance law because it was the only statute mentioned in the whistleblower's complaint.'... Now here's the kicker: The CIA's criminal referral wasn't about campaign finance law, according to NBC News. This means DOJ essentially ignored the CIA criminal referral -- which apparently included concerns that other laws besides campaign finance law may have been broken -- all because it was made over the phone." ~~~

     ~~~ Mrs. McCrabbie: I should like to point out to Bill Barr that "but it was just a phone call" and "gee, the whistleblower didn't cite all the laws Trump broke" are as valid excuses as "it's Trump being Trump" (see Ron Johnson in yesterday's Commentariat) and "Trump was only joking" (see Marco Rubio below) and "the Constitution made me do it" (Trump's latest).

Quint Forgey of Politico: "... Donald Trump on Friday defended his brazen call for foreign governments to interfere in the 2020 election by launching investigations into the Bidens, repeatedly claiming he is duty-bound to encourage such probes and insisting his motivations are apolitical. 'This is not about politics. This is about corruption,' Trump told reporters outside the White House. 'And if you look and you read our Constitution and many other things, I have an obligation to look at corruption. I have an actual obligation and a duty.'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ~~~

~~~ Caitlin Oprysko of Politico: "... Donald Trump denied he would seek to tie a potential investigation into the Biden family to any trade deal with China, however he again pressed Beijing to investigate unfounded claims against his political rival. Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House Friday, Trump reiterated that he believes he has the authority as president to ask a foreign government to open investigations into anyone he suspects of being corrupt.... His comments come a day after he openly called for President Xi jinping to look into possible corruption by the Bidens, continuing to spread claims that no evidence has supported. Trump first appeared to link the two prospects speaking to reporters Thursday. The president asserted then that he and the U.S. would have the upper hand on China when high-stakes trade talks resume in Washington next week, saying he has 'a lot of options on China' and 'if they don't do what we want, we have tremendous power.'... On Friday, Trump appeared to adopt a new line of defense as he spoke with reporters, repeatedly telling them that his main motivator was rooting out corruption, rather than damaging the electoral prospects of any singular political opponent. Asked by one reporter, however, if he could name any corruption investigations he was pursuing that did not involve a political opponent, the president responded that he 'would have to look.' Moments later, unprompted, he issued his invitation for China to examine whether there was wrongdoing by the Bidens." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ~~~

~~~ From the Washington Post's liveblog @10:30 am ET: "In the midst of several midmorning tweets, Trump identified the purported employer of the whistleblower as the CIA. In the tweet, Trump quoted longtime Republican operative Ed Rollins from an appearance on Fox News. 'I think it's outrages that a Whistleblower is a CIA Agent,' Trump quoted Rollins as saying, misspelling 'outrageous.'" @10 am ET: "Beginning this weekend, the Trump campaign is airing more than $1 million worth of TV ads in early primary states that accuse Joe Biden and his son Hunter of corruption in Ukraine, according to Brad Parscale, Trump's campaign manager. The commercials will air in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, Parscale tweeted." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ~~~

~~~ "Me! Me!" Ashley Parker of the Washington Post: During the chopper chat, Trump started out cocky (Mrs. McC: he was boasting about the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years). But he shifted "into the aggrieved alternate reality that has consumed him since House Democrats launched their impeachment inquiry.... 'I feel there was in the 2016 campaign -- there was tremendous corruption against me,' said Trump, transforming himself -- a man who has now publicly asked no fewer than three foreign countries (Russia, Ukraine and China) to look into his political opponents -- into the victim of corrupt behavior.... 'I was investigated, I was investigated, okay?' he said, before pointing at himself -- two rapid-fire taps to his right breast -- and adding: 'Me! Me!' He barked at the media that it was he who ran, he who won, he who was investigated, before accusing the assembled press: 'You won't say that, will you?'... 'I was investigated. I was investigated. And they think it could have been by U.K. They think it could have been by Australia. They think it could have been by Italy. So when you get down to it, I was investigated by the Obama administration. By the Obama administration,' he concluded, shouting now, and using both hands to point at himself, 'I was investigated.' It was unclear, exactly, to which unfounded, unproven theory Trump was referring."

One Ringy-dingy. Carol Leonnig, et al., of the Washington Post: "Starting long before revelations about Trump's interactions with Ukraine's president rocked Washington, Trump's phone calls with foreign leaders were an anxiety-ridden set of events for his aides and members of the administration, according to former and current officials. They worried that Trump would make promises he shouldn't keep, endorse policies the United States long opposed, commit a diplomatic blunder that jeopardized a critical alliance, or simply pressure a counterpart for a personal favor. 'There was a constant undercurrent in the Trump administration of [senior staff] who were genuinely horrified by the things they saw that were happening on these calls,' said one former White House official.... 'Phone calls that were embarrassing, huge mistakes he made, months and months of work that were upended by one impulsive tweet.'... In one of his first calls with a head of state, President Trump fawned over Russian President Vladimir Putin, telling the man who ordered interference in America's 2016 election that he was a great leader and apologizing profusely for not calling him sooner. He pledged to Saudi officials in another call that he would help the monarchy enter the elite Group of Seven, an alliance of the world's leading democratic economies. He promised the president of Peru that he would deliver to his country a C-130 military cargo plane overnight, a logistical nightmare that set off a herculean scramble in the West Wing and Pentagon."

Jonathan Chait: "Trump is claiming the absolute right to demand investigations of any American by any country. The president exerts unilateral control over the most powerful government on Earth. He is announcing to every foreign state that American relations with his government -- and, should he prevail, every future government -- can and will be influenced by their willingness to put their judicial or quasi-judicial systems at the disposal of his reelection campaign.... The pretext that somehow Trump is advancing the cause of good government by demanding international anti-corruption probes is a morbid joke.... He is pressing notoriously corrupt states to deliver a predetermined outcome.... The favor he is bartering for is the insinuation of guilt. And Trump himself is obviously indulging in corruption on a scale unprecedented in presidential history.... His demands are not intended to clamp down on corruption, but to cheapen the currency of the language, so that he can more easily dismiss his own gross behavior as standard procedure.... The brutally simple choice...[:] Either ... hand the president the absolute right, now and forever, to use American foreign policy as a lever to discredit their political rivals, or ... vote to impeach." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Jordain Carney of the Hill: "Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Friday broke sharply with President Trump's call for China and Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, calling it 'wrong and appalling.' 'When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China&'s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated,' Romney said in a statement, which he also tweeted out. [In a second tweet, Romney wrote,] 'By all appearances, the President's brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Excuse #2. Trump Was Only Kidding. Connor Mannion of Mediaite: When a reporter asked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) what he thought of Donald Trump's asking China to investigate Joe Biden, Rubio said, "I don't think it's a real request, I think he did it to get you guys. I think he did it to provoke you to ask me and others and get outraged by it. Like I said, he plays it like a violin and everyone falls right into it. I don't think it's a real request." Mrs. McC: It's a great argument, of course, but I can't quite picture people falling into violins. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post: "Donald Trump is not a patriot.... Again and again, he has harmed the nation's interests to further his own.... Trump has many undesirable attributes: He lies, he chases conspiracy theories, he's racist, he abuses power, he&'s cruel. The common thread -- a unified theory of Trump, if you will -- is that the man who promised an 'America First' agenda is instead pursuing a 'Trump First' agenda. This is the Me Presidency." Milbank writes a laundry list of Trump's unpatriotic remarks & deeds. Of course the list is longer than Milbank can fit into a newspaper column.

David Frum of the Atlantic: Gerald "Ford's intact reputation enabled Congress and the country to turn the page definitively in August 1974. Nixon's most tainted appointees had been forced from office before him.... Donald Trump may not know much of this history, but he intuits its lessons. From the beginning, he has appeared determined to implicate as many members of his administration as possible in his scandal -- Vice President Mike Pence heading the list.... Pence seems to have been involved up to the eyeballs in the Ukraine plot. His team's messaging -- Yes, he pressed the Ukrainians to investigate corruption, but he never appreciated that Trump's true purpose was to pursue the Bidens -- fails the laugh test.... If the Senate ever could muster the integrity to remove Trump from office, there would be ... a vice president who participated in Trump's dirty schemes, from staying at a remote resort to direct government funds to Trump's failing Irish golf course to extorting an invaded country to fabricate political dirt to help Trump's reelection. Trump's compromised attorney general remains on the job, as does his apparently compromised secretary of state.... Pence betrayed his most important duty as vice president: Be ready to step into the nation&'s highest office should the need arise." ~~~

     ~~~ Nikki Haley Reminds Trump There's an AlterVeep Waiting in the Wings. Molly Prince of Daily Wire: "Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley praised ... Donald Trump on Friday and further commended his record on foreign policy as one that 'every American should be proud of.'" Mrs. McC: Yes, because, as Thomas Pickering -- a Republican diplomat who previously had Haley's U.N. gig -- told the AP (linked below), "We have come into a situation where not only unpredictability is the hallmark of the United States, but unreliability as well. The wisdom and judgment that the United States was known for has been diminished."

I have known former vice president Biden for 24 years, and the suggestion that he would be influenced in his duties as vice president by money for his son simply has no credibility to me. I know him as a man of integrity and dedication to our country. -- Kurt Volker, in his opening statement to the joint House committee, Thursday ~~~

~~~ Paul Sonne & Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post: "Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special representative to Ukraine, defended former vice president Joe Biden in a statement to Congress on Thursday and said he was trying to run interference on information being supplied to President Trump by former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, to secure continued U.S. support for the government in Ukraine. Volker, who as of Thursday was the executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, said he did not believe allegations Giuliani has leveled against Biden, namely that Biden was influenced in his dealings with the Ukrainian leadership by his son's presence on the board of a Ukrainian gas company whose owner was being probed by authorities in Kiev. Cindy McCain, a Biden friend, chairs the McCain Institute.... Volker also pleaded ignorance of Trump's July 25 call in which he raised investigating Burisma and Biden with Zelensky, saying he received a general readout of the conversation from people who described it as a good, congratulatory call.' He said he learned the full details about the call only when it was released late last month." ~~~

     ~~~ Morgan Chalfant of the Hill: "Volker repeatedly emphasized during his remarks he did not believe the allegations against Biden to be credible.... Volker also testified that he told ... Rudy Giuliani that accusations against the former vice president and 2020 Democratic candidate were 'not credible.'" ~~~

~~~ Peter Baker of the New York Times: "The former State Department special envoy for Ukraine told congressional investigators that Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump's personal attorney, insisted that Ukraine specifically commit to investigate involvement in the 2016 election and a firm tied to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. During testimony behind closed doors on Thursday, Kurt D. Volker, the special envoy, said Mr. Giuliani rejected a generic draft statement that Ukraine's government had agreed to issue committing to fighting corruption generally. While Mr. Giuliani's efforts to pressure Ukraine have been known, Mr. Volker's account provides new details about how the president's personal lawyer inserted himself into foreign policy to benefit Mr. Trump politically. Mr. Giuliani 'said that in his view, the statement should include specific reference to "Burisma" and "2016,"' Mr. Volker told the investigators, according to a person who has seen the testimony.... Mr. Volker sought in his testimony to distance himself from the pressure campaign by the president and Mr. Giuliani. 'At no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden,' he told investigators." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ~~~

~~~ Christopher Miller, et al., of BuzzFeed News: "In his prepared testimony Thursday, [Kurt] Volker said he wanted to make five key points clear: His 'efforts were entirely focused on advancing U.S. foreign policy goals with respect to Ukraine.' 'Second, in May of this year, I became concerned that a negative narrative about Ukraine, fueled by assertions made by Ukraine's departing Prosecutor General, was reaching the President of the United States, and impeding our ability to support the new Ukrainian government as robustly as I believed we should. 'Third, at no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden.' Volker said that in the text messages he shared with Congress, 'Vice President Biden was never a topic of discussion.' However, the texts do explicitly mention Burisma, the Ukraine gas company where the presidential candidate's son Hunter Biden served on the board 'Fourth, while executing my duties, I kept my colleagues at the State Department and National Security Council informed, and also briefed Congress, about my actions.' Fifth and finally, I strongly supported the provision of U.S. security assistance, including lethal defensive weapons, to Ukraine throughout my tenure." The reporters elaborate on those points. The report includes a copy of Volker's opening remarks. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Rachel Frazin of the Hill: "U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland is expected to appear for his scheduled House deposition next week, a House committee official confirmed to The Hill.... Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ... said [State Department] officials would not show up for the depositions, although since then, one of the officials [Mrs. McC: -- Kurt Volker --] has been questioned by lawmakers. Mrs. McC: And former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch has agreed to appear Oct. 11. Now read this ~~~

As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign. -- Bill Taylor, U.S. diplomat leading Ukraine Embassy [9/9/19, 12:47:11 AM]

Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign I suggest we stop the back and forth by text If you still have concerns I recommend you give Lisa Kenna or S a call to discuss them directly. Thanks. -- Gordon Sondland [9/9/19, 5:19:35 AM] (Emphasis added.) ~~~

     ~~~ Really, Gordo? This is the message digby IDed as a CYA effort (see yesterday's Commentariat). And think about it. Who thumbs out a text like that? According to Rachel Maddow, during the 4-1/2-hour delay between Taylor's text & Sondland's, Sondland called the White House. BTW, in his chopper chat on Friday, Sondland's manufactured denial of a quid pro quo was the only part of the text exchange among Taylor, Sondland & Volker that Trump cited. Isn't that a surprise -- Mrs. Bea McCrabbie~~~

~~~ ** Epic Fail. Dumbest Senator Tries to Help Trump, but Reveals Proof of Quid Pro Quo. Andrew Prokop & Jen Kirby of Vox: Gordan Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the E.U., told Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) "that the Trump administration was blocking hundreds of millions of dollars in US military aid to Ukraine until the country agreed to launch investigations Trump was demanding.... Johnson [told the Wall Street Journal] that ... Sondland told him in late August that the administration was demanding Ukraine investigate 'what happened in 2016,' and that if President Trump had 'confidence' in the investigation, he'd 'release the military spending.'... [Wait, wait, there's more.] According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Molly Beck [and others]..., Johnson said in a separate interview that Trump did say he was considering withholding the aid because he wanted to find out 'what happened in 2016.' Johnson said he asked Trump whether he could tell Ukraine's president the aid was on the way anyway, to dispel the government's fears, but 'I didn't succeed.'" Emphasis added. The WSJ report is here. ~~~

~~~ ** Greg Miller, et al., of the Washington Post: "By mid-May, the U.S. relationship with Ukraine was unraveling: The U.S. ambassador had been recalled home for no apparent reason, the country's new president was anxious about U.S. support, and President Trump's personal lawyer was hawking Kiev conspiracy theories. Amid this turbulence, an unexpected figure stepped forward to assert that he was now in charge of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship. Gordon Sondland ... had no apparent standing to seize this critical portfolio, nor any apparent qualifications as a diplomat beyond the $1 million he'd given to Trump's inauguration. But when some in the White House and State Department sought to block his power grab, current and former U.S. officials said, he rebuffed their demands to know who had granted him such authority with two words: 'The president.'... Newly released texts exchanged by Sondland, Volker and other U.S. officials ... read like a government-sanctioned shakedown. Again and again, they make clear that Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelensky would not get military aid or the Oval Office invitation he coveted until he committed to investigations that Trump hoped would deliver damaging information on former vice president Joe Biden and undermine the origins of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Rather than official State Department email, the text exchanges between the diplomats took place over WhatsApp, a U.S. official said." Emphasis added. This is a longish read; it's pretty interesting. ~~~

     ~~~ Mrs. McCrabbie: One of the talking points the White House accidentally sent to Democrats last week was, "Let's be clear, there was no quid pro quo for Ukraine to get U.S. aid in exchange for looking into Biden or his son." Quite a few Republicans took to the airwaves & the hinterlands with that fiction. Indeed, after Johnson's revelatory interviews, "... Johnson's office stressed [to NBC News] that the term 'quid pro quo' was not used," as if nothing is true unless expressed in Latin. That is, "IF you smear my opponent, THEN I'll give you $400MM" is not corrupt (and in this case, illegal) because English.

Ben Fox, et al., of the AP: "The State Department has been deeply shaken by the rapidly escalating impeachment inquiry, as revelations that ... Donald Trump enlisted diplomats to dig up dirt on a political rival threaten to tarnish its reputation as a nonpartisan arm of U.S. foreign policy, former senior officials said Friday.... With Washington in tumult over the escalating impeachment inquiry, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo toured southeast Europe on Friday, trying to ignore the furor back home.... His staff steadfastly refused to comment on the latest developments in the rapidly unfolding drama, including at a briefing for reporters at his last stop of the day in Athens.... Trump has had a tense relationship with the State Department since he took office, repeatedly proposing to slash its budget, leaving key posts unfulfilled and choosing political appointees over career foreign service officers for ambassadorships to a greater degree than other recent presidents have. His ouster of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, a respected career officer, and his dismissal of her as 'bad news' in the call left many diplomats dismayed.... 'The Ukraine affair] is only the latest in a large number of very damaging things that have been done to the State Department,' said Thomas Pickering, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Russia under President George H.W. Bush. 'It represents a new low in basically ignoring and indeed punishing the people who have made a professional commitment to the country and Constitution.'"

Just a Coincidence. Rachel Frazin of the Hill: "President Trump has ordered a significant staff cut at the White House National Security Council (NSC),Bloomberg reported late Friday, citing five people familiar with the matter. Some of the individuals reportedly said that the move was part of an effort under new national security adviser Robert O'Brien, who told officials of the reduction alongside acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney this week. Two people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that the change was due to O'Brien's leadership and Trump's wish to increase agency efficiency. The news outlet noted that the NSC grew under former President Obama and about 310 people work there now. However, Bloomberg noted that the changes also come as Trump faces scrutiny over a whistleblower complaint...."

The Oranges of Trump's Ukraine Conspiracy Theory. Ben Collins of NBC News: "An anonymous post from March 2017 on the far-right 4chan message board teased a conspiracy theory that would eventually make its way to the White House. 'Russia could not have been the source of leaked Democrat emails released by Wikileaks,' the post teased, not citing any evidence for the assertion. The post baselessly insinuated that CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm that worked with the Democratic National Committee and had been contracted to investigate a hack of its servers, fabricated a forensics report to frame Russia for election interference.... In the years that followed the original 4chan post, at least three different but related conspiracy theories would warp and combine on the fringes of the internet, eventually coalescing around Ukraine's supposed role in helping Trump's 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton. Ukraine wasn't originally part of the theory, but in July,

Brian Faler of Politico: "An independent watchdog at the Treasury Department is looking into how the agency handled House Democrats'; demands for ... Donald Trump's tax returns. Acting Inspector General Rich Delmar said he will investigate who was consulted on the issue and how the department came to reject Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal's demands for the records, a decision the Massachusetts Democrat is now fighting into court." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ~~~

     ~~~ Update. Alan Rappeport of the New York Times: "The inspector general investigation is in response to a request from Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who has been leading congressional efforts to gain access to Mr. Trump's financial information.... An Internal Revenue Service whistle-blower filed a complaint over the summer claiming that senior Treasury officials tried to exert improper influence over the [mandatory] audit [of Trump's tax returns]. According to a government official familiar with its contents, it claims that political appointees in the Treasury Department were pressuring I.R.S. officials to ignore the requirement to scrutinize Mr. Trum's returns. A person familiar with the complaint said the allegations did not directly implicate [Treasury Secretary Steven] Mnuchin."


No Poor People Allowed. Maria Sacchetti
of the Washington Post: "The White House late Friday issued a proclamation saying it would deny visas to immigrants who 'will financially burden' the U.S. health-care system starting Nov. 3, demanding that foreign nationals prove that they have insurance or can cover their own health care costs before entering the United States." This is a brief breaking story at 10 pm ET Friday. Update: The BuzzFeed News story is here. ~~~

~~~ Scott Bixby of the Daily Beast: "A U.S. Customs and Border Protection official reportedly refused to allow a reporter through customs on Thursday unless he answered the repeated question 'You write propaganda, right?' in the affirmative, at least the third such incident involving harassment of a journalist by a passport official this year. Ben Watson, a news editor at Defense One, was returning to the United States from a reporting assignment in Denmark when a USCBP official, after asking whether Watson was carrying any undeclared foods, inquired into his profession. When Watson responded that he worked in journalism, the official began repeatedly badgering him into 'admitting' that he writes propaganda, Watson wrote of his experience."

Let Them Eat Dirt. Lola Fadulu of the New York Times: "The Agriculture Department moved again this week to cut spending on food stamps, this time proposing changes that would slice $4.5 billion from the program over five years, trimming monthly benefits by as much as $75 for one in five struggling families on nutrition assistance. The latest plan would cut benefits for 19 percent of households on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps, while increasing benefits for 16 percent. Almost 8,000 households would lose benefits entirely. Those cuts would be concentrated in cold northern states that would be most affected by a change in the way heating costs are calculated. The number of families losing benefits is a tiny percentage of the nearly 40 million people who receive benefits, and even $4.5 billion over five years is a trim for a program that cost $68 billion in 2018 alone. But the latest move is the third time the Trump administration has moved to cut food stamps. In December, the Agriculture Department said it sought to place more stringent work requirements on the program. In July, the administration proposed a rule that would strip more than three million people of their benefits. The public comment periods for both those proposals have ended, and final rules are expected soon."

Lying to the Old Folks on Our Dime. Annie Karni & Abby Goodnough of the New York Times: "President Trump on Thursday delivered a campaign-style speech to an audience of elderly voters, pitching a new executive order that aims to improve private Medicare plans as the responsible alternative to the 'Medicare for all' policies supported by some of his Democratic political opponents. 'Standing in solidarity with our nation's seniors, I declare once again that America will never be a socialist country,' Mr. Trump told a crowd at the Villages in Florida, the country's largest retirement community, where the population is overwhelmingly white and conservative and where many residents are veterans.... But while Mr. Trump's speech suggested that the Democratic proposals for expanding coverage put retirees' access to health care in grave danger, the plans would not actually diminish their benefits.... Mr. Trump's speech, delivered from behind a lectern with a presidential seal, was billed as an official White House event and his travel was not paid for by his campaign. But it was almost indistinguishable in much of its content from the remarks Mr. Trump delivers at his 'Make America Great Again' rallies." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

the president tells audience in the east room that john adams - 'no. 6' - was the first president to live in the white house. john adams, for what it's worth, was our nation's second president -- Justin Sink, in a tweet

Some of Sink's Twitter followers stood up for Trump: One said Trump probably doesn't know there were two Presidents Adams. Another was worried: "wait until he hears about grover cleveland!" And a third explained why Trump was absolutely right: "John Adams wore #6 for his high school football team." -- Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

Update: Trump made the remark at an event for young African Americans -- so, ya know, teaching our kids good. And, apparently, he's using a stale lesson plan: David Smith of the Guardian: "Oddly, Trump made the same mistake at the same event last year.

CORRECTION. I'VE BEEN SNOPED! Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: On September 24 & 25, I embedded a tweet with a photo of men climbing over a border wall. The Twitter-user wrote, "... Mexicans have turned Trump's wall into a tourist attraction & are playing a game to see who can climb it the fastest, no ladders or ropes needed. The record is 45 seconds" Trump, in a visit to his wall, had claimed on September 18 that the government had invited 20 "world-class mountain-climbers" to try to scale various border-fence prototypes, and that his "was the one that was hardest to climb." So I found the tweet pretty hilarious (and dismaying, considering all the money that was going to waste on the supposedly-unscalable wall). Well, the tweet and the photo were bunk. ~~~

     ~~~ Dan MacGuill of Snopes (Sept. 24): "... the video footage and still images used to contradict and ridicule the president's claim that 'this wall can't be climbed' were either captured in 2016, before construction began on Trump's long-promised border fence, and even before he became president, or at a section of fencing that is clearly, visibly different from the one the president showed off in September 2019.... [The tweet I republished] showed a stretch of fencing at San Ysidro, California, captured by NBC News in November 2018 ... [and] was clearly different from the one unveiled by Trump in September 2019." Mrs. McC: I apologize. I definitely should have checked Snopes before posting that tweet. ~~~

~~~ Brooke Seipel of the Hill (Oct. 4): "A rock climber plans to hold a border wall climbing competition after President Trump recently declared a new section of his border wall with Mexico 'impossible to climb,' according to a new report from climbing magazine Rock and Ice. Rick Weber -- a 75-year-old retired engineer, and active rock climber certified by American Mountain Guide Association as a Single Pitch Instructor -- writes that he has built a replica of an 18-foot tall section of steel border wall and has invited rock climbers to compete in the climb on Oct. 11 and 12.... Some professionals told The Daily Beast last month that [Trump's] claim was 'preposterous.' Jesse Grupper, a gold medalist in this year's USA Climbing Sport & Speed Open National Championships, said he 'never heard of any climbers ever being recruited to try and climb a border wall.' Weber wrote in the post announcing his competition that 'no one in our climbing community knows any of these 20 mountaineers.'"

Presidential Race 2020

Ali Vitali of NBC News: "Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has raised $24.6 million during the past three months, her campaign said Friday, beating her last quarter haul of $19.1 million and quadrupling her $6 million total from the first quarter of the year. The announcement comes as Warren, who has eschewed high-dollar events in favor of targeting small-dollar donations -- continues to solidify her place at or near the top of the Democratic presidential field in both polling and fundraising. She was outpaced only by fellow progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders -- who leads the pack with $25.3 million raised in the third quarter -- and dwarfed the fundraising totals announced Thursday by former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign. Biden raised $15.2 million in the third quarter." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ~~~

~~~ Ed Kilgore of New York: "At the moment, you could say the Democratic race remains dominated by the Big Three of Warren, Biden, and Sanders (in whatever order you choose to rank them), with fundraising dominating by a Big Four (those three plus Pete Buttigieg, who raised $24 million in the third quarter and $19 million in the fourth). Everyone trailing these candidates in either metric needs to make a move soon as voters prepare to vote." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Adam Kelsey, et al., of ABC News: "The health issue that led to Sen. Bernie Sanders' hospitalization on Tuesday night in Las Vegas has been diagnosed as a heart attack.... A joint statement from the physicians who treated Sanders, Arturo E. Marchand Jr. and Arjun Gururaj, said Sanders suffered from a myocardial infarction and was transferred to Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center. 'The Senator was stable upon arrival and taken immediately to the cardiac catheterization laboratory, at which time two stents were placed in a blocked coronary artery in a timely fashion. All other arteries were normal,' they said. 'His hospital course was uneventful with good expected progress.... Sanders left Desert Springs Hospital on Friday, walking out on his own. The senator waved to reporters and said he felt 'great, great, thank you' before climbing into an awaiting SUV." The New York Times story is here.

Nicole Perlroth of the New York Times: "Iranian hackers have been targeting the email accounts of at least one presidential campaign, as well as those of American journalists and current and former United States government officials, according to Microsoft. In a report released on Friday, Microsoft said the hackers, with apparent backing from Iran&'s government, made more than 2,700 attempts to identify the email accounts of current and former government officials, journalists covering political campaigns and accounts associated with one major presidential campaign. Microsoft would not name the campaign." Mrs. McC: Iran, if you're listening, I hope it's Trump's campaign you're set on hacking. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ~~~

     ~~~ Mrs. McCrabbie: The story has been updated just for me: "Though the company would not identify the presidential campaign involved, two people with knowledge of the hacking ... said it was President Trump'." Thanks, Ken W.!

Beyond the Beltway

Florida Justice. Jessica Campisi of the Hill: "A 21-year-old Florida man [-- Deandre Somerville --] who overslept for jury duty was sentenced to jail for 10 days.... During his hearing, Circuit Civil Judge John Kastrenakes said the trial [Someville missed] had been delayed by 45 minutes because of Somerville, whose conduct 'impeded the due administration of justice.' Kastrenakes convicted Somerville of direct criminal contempt, handing him a 10-day jail sentence as well as 12 months probation, 150 hours of community service and an order to write an apology letter, Fox 6 reported.... Somerville's public defender appealed the sentence, and a judge on Friday lowered his sentence to three months probation and 30 hours of community service." So Somerville, who previously had no criminal record, has one now.

     ~~~ Mrs. McC: Did I mention Somerville is black and Kastrenakes is white? But I'm sure that has nothing to do with the conviction. I was wondering if criminal contempt of court was a felony. According to Florida attorney Damian Zimmerman, "... criminal contempt is actually not a misdemeanor or a felony. Technically, it falls into the category of 'common law crimes.'... Under Florida law, contempt can be punished by a fine of $500 and between 6-12 months in jail depending on if a jury verdict was involved. 12 months is equivalent to the maximum sentence for a first degree misdemeanor. Check out Florida statute 775.02 and Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.830."

Way Beyond

John Leicester & Eileen Ng of the AP: "With subway services shut down, the wearing of face masks criminalized at rallies and Hong Kong's leader reaffirming her determination not to let rioters get the upper hand, anti-government protests that have shaken the city diminished in intensity Saturday but didn't stop. Marchers still came out to defy the new ban on face coverings that the government of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory says have made the identification of violent protesters difficult for police Shielded under umbrellas, many wearing masks, several hundred demonstrators clogged a thoroughfare in the central business district, carrying a yellow banner marked 'Glory to Hong Kong' and shouting, 'Hong Kong, resist!' Scattered gatherings of protesters in masks popped up elsewhere, too, with some holding hands in a human chain. But protester numbers Saturday afternoon appeared down from previous weekends when tens of thousands flooded the streets."

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