January 20, 2020

After a relatively quiet holiday weekend, the frenzy before tomorrow’s Senate impeachment trial has begun. It is important to remember that Trump's people have produced no evidence that the president did not, in fact, do the things of which he has been charged. His supporters are not even trying to dispute the facts; they are just saying that his actions are not impeachable offenses. So in an important sense, what will happen in the Senate is not a normal trial because there will be no actual weighing of evidence. It is simply a fight for control of American popular opinion.

There are a lot of new details from things that happened today, but not really a lot that is new, at least in contour. This afternoon, the president’s lawyers submitted a 110-page brief, arguing that neither of the articles of impeachment passed by the House of Representatives are valid, because neither identifies a law that was broken. They claim, without evidence, that the president’s actions—which they do not dispute—were simply intended to root out corruption and to get other countries to pay more for their military protection. They argue that because the president did nothing wrong, the Senate should “swiftly reject” the charges against him.

This is disingenuous. Impeachment, by definition, does not necessarily involve a broken law, if for no other reason than that there was no federal criminal code when the Founders wrote the Constitution. Less obvious but perhaps more significant, impeachment has always been a political process and not a criminal one, and is intended to protect us from a bad political leader. The Senate trial is not a criminal trial, and conviction has no penalty except removal from office. This argument is solely an attempt to play to Trump’s base by yelling that there was no crime.

But there were crimes, including the breach of federal election laws by soliciting something of value from a foreign entity to provide an advantage in an American election. There is another word for this exchange, too: bribery, which is also illegal. More recently, the General Accountability Office (GAO) has established that the withholding of congressionally approved funds from Ukraine was also illegal.

As conservative lawyer and leader of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project George T. Conway put it in the Washington Post, the “arguments are wrong on the facts and wrong on the law, but that’s not the worst part. At its core, they represent an attack on the impeachment process — and on the Constitution itself.”

Trump’s approach, and that of his team, appears simply to be to attack, and attack, and attack, lying about what happened and blaming the Democrats for our current troubles, muddying the waters just as they did in the House hearings and impeachment vote, to fire up his base and make Americans who oppose him turn away from the events out of disgust. Tonight, Trump added to his legal team some of his most vociferous defenders from the House: Representatives Doug Collins (R-GA), Mike Johnson (R-LA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), Mark Meadows (R-NC), John Ratcliffe (R-TX), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and Lee Zeldin (R-NY). The White House said these lawmakers “have provided guidance to the White House team, which was prohibited from participating in the proceedings concocted by Democrats in the House of Representatives"-- this is flatly untrue, of course-- and would continue to advise as the process moved through the Senate.

Republican senators have wanted to keep the trial from becoming a circus, but the addition of this group guarantees Trump will get the fireworks he wants. Importing attack dog representatives into the Senate, though, also guarantees that it will not be possible to argue convincingly that the trial is anything other than a fight to defend Trump, rather than protecting the office of the presidency from Democrats’ attempt to “permanently weaken” it, as his lawyers tried to argue in their brief.

For his part, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is doing everything he can to make sure the public sees as little of the proceedings as possible. As conservative pundit David Frum put it: “No witnesses… No evidence… No time… No cameras.” As of Sunday night there had been not even “the most basic negotiation or exchange of information,” according to Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), and this evening, less than 24 hours before the trial is supposed to start, McConnell revealed a four-page resolution establishing trial rules.

The rules leave open the possibility of simply ending the case immediately, which is unlikely to happen. They limit the arguments from each side to 24 hours over the course of two days each. This would mean a deluge of information too much for most of us to take in, even if significant argument didn’t happen in the middle of the night… as of course it would. The rules give the Senate the option of refusing to hear new evidence or testimony, and on the chance that the Senate does vote for testimony, the rules are arranged to prevent former National Security Advisor John Bolton—or anyone else-- to testify in public.

Remember that current arrangements will also keep reporters from their laptops and cellphones, and will keep CSpan cameras out of the Senate. One would almost think the Republican leaders don’t want the American people to know what’s going on.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY called the resolution “a national disgrace.” The rules will be debated—angrily, if the news tonight is any indication-- in the Senate on Tuesday. If they stay largely unchanged, the trial could be over by the end of next week.

The GOP position is that even if Trump did the things of which he is accused, it doesn’t matter. Those things are not significant enough to remove him from office. Remember, what he did was not simply to “MAKE A PERFECT PHONE CALL!” as he keeps saying. The president used the power of his office—the power of the American people—to try to get a foreign leader to help him steal the 2020 election by smearing one of Trump’s chief political rivals, quite like what happened in 2016. When caught, Trump tried to cover up what he had done, and stonewalled the investigation, declaring that he did not have to answer congressional subpoenas.

Trump tried to rig a presidential election with the help of a foreign government and then covered up what he had done. And yet, GOP leaders say this is not an impeachable offense.

If permitting the outcome of our elections to be determined by a foreign power isn’t an impeachable offense, one has to wonder… what is?

The Senate trial gets underway at 1:00 tomorrow.

————

Notes:

Trump brief: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Trial-Memorandum-of-President-Donald-J.-Trump.pdf

Reps: https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/479079-white-house-appoints-gop-house-members-to-impeachment-defense-team

Rules: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/20/us/politics/mcconnell-pushes-to-speed-impeachment-trial-as-trump-requests-swift-acquittal.html

https://int.nyt.com/data/documenthelper/6710-mcconnell-rules-package/8befa731d3f337196375/optimized/full.pdf#page=1

https://news.yahoo.com/mc-connell-releases-impeachment-trial-rules-sparking-new-outcry-from-democrats-004023244.html?soc_src=hl-viewer&soc_trk=fb

https://www.npr.org/2020/01/20/798007597/read-mcconnell-lays-out-plan-for-senate-impeachment-trial-procedure

https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/20/politics/senate-organizing-resolution-released/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-lawyers-senate-gop-allies-work-privately-to-ensure-bolton-does-not-testify-publicly/2020/01/20/cbc67ef0-3bae-11ea-8872-5df698785a4e_story.html?fbclid=IwAR3qeiMVFulEe6Vh94fc7G1XqZz99O6xnirVmXwZ5enw9rEjoIB6Ymp504w&utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/01/19/durbin-senate-democrats-dark-impeachment-rules-101009

Schumer:

Frum:

Conway: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/01/20/george-conway-oped-trump-impeachment-answer/

January 19, 2020

You hear sometimes that, now that we know the sordid details of the lives of some of our leading figures, America has no heroes left.

When I was writing a book about the Wounded Knee Massacre, where heroism was pretty thin on the ground, I gave that a lot of thought. And I came to believe that heroism is neither being perfect, nor doing something spectacular. In fact, it’s just the opposite: it’s regular, flawed human beings, choosing to put others before themselves, even at great cost, even if no one will ever know, even as they realize the walls might be closing in around them.

It means sitting down the night before D-Day and writing a letter praising the troops and taking all the blame for the next day’s failure upon yourself, in case things went wrong, as General Dwight D. Eisenhower did.

It means writing in your diary that you “still believe that people are really good at heart,” even while you are hiding in an attic from the men who are shortly going to kill you, as Anne Frank did.

It means signing your name to the bottom of the Declaration of Independence in bold print, even though you know you are signing your own death warrant should the British capture you, as John Hancock did.

It means defending your people’s right to practice a religion you don’t share, even though you know you are becoming a dangerously visible target, as Sitting Bull did.

Sometimes it just means sitting down, even when you are told to stand up, as Rosa Parks did.

None of those people woke up one morning and said to themselves that they were about to do something heroic. It’s just that, when they had to, they did what was right.

On April 3, 1968, the night before the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by a white supremacist, he gave a speech in support of sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. Since 1966, King had tried to broaden the Civil Rights Movement for racial equality into a larger movement for economic justice. He joined the sanitation workers in Memphis, who were on strike after years of bad pay and such dangerous conditions that two men had been crushed to death in garbage compactors.

After his friend Ralph Abernathy introduced King to the crowd, King had something to say about heroes: “As I listened to Ralph Abernathy in his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about.”

Dr. King told the audience that, if God had let him choose any era in which to live, he would have chosen the one in which he had landed. “Now that’s a strange statement to make,” King went on, “because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around…. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.” Dr. King said that he felt blessed to live in an era when people had finally woken up and were working together for freedom and economic justice.

He knew he was in danger as he worked for a racially and economically just America. “I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter… because I've been to the mountaintop…. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life…. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land….”

People are wrong to say that we have no heroes left.

Just as they have always been, they are all around us, choosing to do the right thing, no matter what.

Wishing you all a day of peace for Martin Luther King Day, 2020.

Notes:

Dr. King’s final speech: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/martin-luther-kings-final-speech-ive-mountaintop-full/story?id=18872817

January 18, 2020

Today the impeachment managers for the House of Representatives released their trial memorandum for Trump’s impeachment, getting underway Tuesday. Written in simple language, it begins, “President Donald J. Trump used his official powers to pressure a foreign government to interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain, and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct.”

The managers explain: “The Constitution provides a remedy when the President commits such serious abuses of his office: impeachment and removal,” and points out that “the Senate must use that remedy now to safeguard the 2020 U.S. election, protect our constitutional form of government, and eliminate the threat that the President poses to America’s national security.” It lays out where we now stand: “The House adopted two Articles of Impeachment against President Trump: the first for abuse of power, and the second for obstruction of Congress. The evidence overwhelmingly establishes that he is guilty of both. The only remaining question is whether the members of the Senate will accept and carry out the responsibility placed on them by the Framers of our Constitution and their constitutional Oaths.”

In 111 pages, the document lays out, in detail, with quotations and notes, the timeline of the Ukraine Scandal, making a clear case that Trump has abused the power of the presidency and obstructed Congress.

Trump answered. His lawyers, Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone, slightly cleaned up the same hysterical defenses Trump has been making since the Ukraine Scandal first broke. In just 5 and a half pages, with no footnotes or evidence, Trump argues that the Democrats are attacking “the right of the American people to freely choose their President.” He claims impeachment “is a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election.” He calls the articles of impeachment “constitutionally invalid on their face,” “an affront to the Constitution of the United States, our democratic institutions, and the American people.” The president, he says, “did absolutely nothing wrong.”

So there it is. On the one hand, we have a reasoned argument, based in fact, that can be challenged as we try to get to a shared agreement on what happened. On the other hand, we have our president telling us to accept what he says as true, despite the fact that he has provided no factual evidence and, indeed, much of what he has said is demonstrably false.

In the 1600s, European settlers to North America came from a land dominated by kings and aristocrats. Those men ruled because society was organized around the idea that God had made them to rule, and that the little people, who survived as best they could, had no choice but to be loyal to them. But changes in technology, religion, and the world economy were challenging the belief that society should be organized according to a traditional order, theoretically established by God.

Thinkers began to argue for the power of learning, scientific experiments, and argument to try to discover how the world worked. This “Enlightenment” led to new theories about government. In 1690, political philosopher John Locke argued that humans had an innate ability to learn based on their experience of the world, so all knowledge came from trying out new ideas and facts. As men learned, they would be better able to understand the natural laws that underpinned the real world. If a man’s understanding could change, though, that meant traditional patterns of society did not necessarily reflect natural law. One man was not necessarily better than another by virtue of his birth. Government, then, should not rest on birth or wealth or religion—all of which were arbitrary—but rather on the consent of the governed.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776, he quoted Locke almost exactly. Rather than establishing a new monarchy or even an aristocracy, Jefferson and his colleagues began America’s founding document with a startling new proposition: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” They added another proposition: “To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The Founders’ vision was badly limited. They enslaved native peoples and African captives and their African American neighbors, and they never imagined women could be equal to men. But the idea that all men are created equal, and that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, made the United States of America a shockingly radical step in human governance.

In 1787, the Founders created our Constitution, the body of laws on which our government rests. In it, they tried to bring the Declaration of Independence to life, basing their system on the idea that everyone is equal before the law. And, knowing from personal experience that politicians crave power, they tried to prevent the rise of an autocrat—especially an autocrat who was getting help from a foreign government—by separating power into three different branches. They believed that men (for, of course, they could not imagine women in Congress) would so jealously guard their own power that they would impeach a president who tried to become a king.

But once the government was up and running, what did it mean in practice to say that it depended upon the consent of the governed? It meant that leaders could not simply declare they were in charge. They had to appeal to voters with reasoned arguments, based in facts. For sure, politicians always spun the facts as best they could, but their opponents made their own arguments. It was up to voters to figure out which leader made the most sense
.
Under no circumstances could a leader tell the voters what he was doing in office was none of their business.

It was PRECISELY their business.

Until the rise of talk radio in 1987 and the establishment of the Fox News Channel in 1996, we honored the Enlightenment values on which our government was founded: politicians had to attract voters with fact-based arguments or be voted out of office. But talk radio and FNC pushed a fictional narrative that captivated viewers who felt dispossessed after 1954, as women and people of color began to approach having an equal voice in society. That narrative—of a heroic white man under siege by a government that wants to give his hard-earned money to black and brown people and grasping women—has led us back to where we started in 1776: a conflict between democracy and authoritarianism.

Today, the House managers laid out a fact-based argument that honors our heritage. In contrast, Trump’s statement rejects not only facts but also the need to make a fact-based argument. He rejects the need to be accountable to the American people. He rejects the idea that no one is above the law. He evidently does not believe in American democracy: the great American experiment that says human beings can govern themselves.

What will happen in the Senate trial is unclear. How much it will matter is also unclear. More information is dropping daily that links Trump, members of his administration, and congress people to the Ukraine Scandal. In addition, the Supreme Court will decide in the spring whether Trump’s financial information must go to the House. He is also clearly deteriorating mentally. This administration will continue to surprise us.

But in the most crucial way, what happens in the Senate is important. Do our Senators believe in American democracy or are they willing to rubber stamp an authoritarian? Make no mistake: this is not about partisanship. Reasonable people can—and should—disagree about important policy decisions in our country. That's how we learn new things and gain a better view of how the world really works.

But if we abandon our Enlightenment principles, we will, after almost 250 years, have abandoned the American experiment altogether.

——

Notes:

House memorandum: https://intelligence.house.gov/uploadedfiles/in_re_president_trump_house_impeachment_trial_brief_and_sof_1.18.20.pdf

Trump’s statement: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Answer-of-President-Donald-J.-Trump.pdf

January 17, 2020

Ever since it has become clear that the House would vote to impeach the president, the White House and Senate Republican leaders have struggled over the Senate trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not want the Senate to devolve into the circus that the House did. There, GOP representatives worked hard to please Trump and his base, but they horrified regular voters. McConnell wants to hold the Senate in the 2020 elections, and there is no upside to putting the GOP Senate further into disrepute. He is eager to make this whole trial go away, acquitting the president as quickly and quietly as possible. No witnesses, no debate. Just get it done.

But Trump loves spectacle, and has been tweeting all along about demanding that the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff testify, alongside Hunter Biden, and the whole roster of people that Fox News Channel personalities have identified as the villains in their alternative-fact version of the Ukraine Scandal. His goal seems to be the usual: create such nasty chaos—as GOP leaders like Devin Nunes (R-CA), Doug Collins (R-GA), and Jim Jordan (R-OH) did—that Americans get overwhelmed and tune out, and he gets away with a crime that at this point is ridiculously well established.

Today, Trump took a big step toward creating his ideal scenario. He added Alan Dershowitz, a retired Harvard Law School professor, and Ken Starr, famous both for his role investigating Bill Clinton and in the Baylor University football scandal. Both Dershowitz and Starr were lawyers for pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who recently perished in prison. Two of the girls Epstein trafficked have accused Dershowitz of raping them; he says they are “liars.”

In 1994, Starr was appointed to investigate the Whitewater Scandal. From that, he investigated firing of White House Travel Office personnel, potential abuse of confidential FBI files, whether or not the Clinton’s had hidden money in a failed Arkansas bank, Vince Foster’s death, and eventually the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to Clinton’s impeachment. (Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh worked for Starr digging up dirt on Clinton, by the way. Small world.)

In 2010, Starr became president of Baylor University; three years later, he was also named chancellor, the first person to hold both positions at once. This meant there was no one else to blame when at least six female students accused the university of failing to respond to reports of rape and sexual assault. In the wake of reports, two football players were convicted of rape and the university removed Starr from the presidency. He chose to resign the chancellorship as well.

Trump also added Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who made the news when it came to light that she decided not to pursue dozens of complaints against Trump University in 2013 after her reelection campaign received a $25,000 donation from the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

These three will assist White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump’s personal lawyers Jane Raskin and Jay Sekulow, who will be in charge. Also helping will be Robert Ray, who replaced Starr as the Independent Counsel overseeing Clinton, and who wrote the final report on Clinton’s relationship with Lewinsky.

Media matters notes that the people on Trump’s impeachment team have appeared on the Fox News Channel more than 350 times in the past year.

Trump clearly wants this to be made-for-TV chaos, and Susan Hennessey, executive editor at Lawfare, and a former lawyer for the Intelligence Community, thinks it will backfire. “For everything Starr says to defend Trump, there will be clips of him taking the opposite position against Clinton. It will only underscore the Republican hypocrisy.”

But McConnell is doing his best to keep cameras and recording equipment out of the Senate chamber, and to limit journalists’ access. Today a coalition of 17 transparency and First Amendment groups asked McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and the leaders of the Senate Rules Committee to lift the unprecedented restrictions on the press and to let CSPAN use cameras.

This afternoon, Dershowitz said that his role will simply be to present an hour-long argument against impeachment, arguing that “Abuse of power, even if proved, is not an impeachable offense. That’s what the framers rejected. They didn’t want to give Congress the authority to remove a president because he abused his power.”

This. Is. Absurd.

The Founders designed impeachment precisely to rein in a president run amok. The Founders worried terribly about abuse of power, and in Federalist No. 65, Alexander Hamilton—who was no leveler—actually talked about the Senate’s role in impeachment trials. The Senate must judge “those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”

Perhaps more to the point, the third of the Nixon articles of impeachment explicitly dealt with abuse of power. (The House didn’t vote on these, but they would have passed and he would have been convicted by the Senate if he hadn’t resigned).

It charged that he had willfully ignored subpoenas issued by the House, refusing to produce documents “deemed necessary… to resolve by direct evidence” what the president had done. By refusing to produce the documents, Nixon substituted “his judgment as to what materials were necessary for the inquiry,” for the judgment of Congress. This set “the powers of the Presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, thereby assuming to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the sole power of impeachment vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.” This was, the article said, “subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.”

So abuse of power has not, previously, been seen as acceptable. (Nor has ignoring subpoenas. Just saying.)

Today, more documents were released, and some of them put the spotlight on Devin Nunes. As Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes was particularly scathing of the impeachment investigation and repeatedly tried to derail it. The new documents show his top aide, Derek Harvey, asking Lev Parnas for help gathering information on the Clinton Foundation, among other things, and communicating frequently during the period in which US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was being smeared, as well as asking Parnas to chase down “rumors” that Hillary Clinton and the Ukrainian government worked against Trump in 2016.

For me, today’s news brings into stark relief where we are as a nation. We have a president who is eager to turn into a circus one of the most serious moments of our democracy, and he is aided and abetted by the leaders of his political party, who appear to be willing to condone any activity so long as it means they can hold onto power. Laws don’t matter, reality doesn’t matter. Even using the power of the government to rig the next election—which is what the Ukraine Scandal is about, after all-- doesn’t matter, so long as it keeps the Republicans in office.

This is not democracy. It looks more and more like the oligarchy of Russia.

But the law still holds: today, Chris Collins (R-NY), the first member of Congress to endorse Trump for president, was sentenced to 26 months in prison after pleading guilty to securities fraud. And in the court of popular opinion, Americans are shifting away from the oligarchic takeover of our democracy. Disney, which bought most of Australian-born right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s empire last year, has taken notice. It announced today it will drop the name “Fox,” from the historic film company “Twentieth Century Fox,” a move likely designed to guarantee, as the New York Times put it, that “consumers won’t mistakenly connect the Disney-owned studio with Mr. Murdoch’s polarizing Fox News [Channel].”

Notes

Hennessey:

Dershowitz: https://www.mediaite.com/election-2016/alan-dershowitz-distances-himself-from-trump-legal-team-im-not-really-part-of-it/

https://www.npr.org/2020/01/17/797475291/lawyer-alan-dershowitz-draws-line-on-his-role-in-trump-impeachment-defense?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_term=nprnews&utm_campaign=npr&utm_medium=social

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/trump-names-alan-dershowitz-kenneth-starr-senate-impeachment-trial-epstein-939553/

https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-lists/jeffrey-epstein-political-connections-sex-trafficker-856642/alan-dershowitz-856647/

Watergate: https://watergate.info/impeachment/articles-of-impeachment

Federalist No 65: https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed65.asp

https://www.mediamatters.org/trump-impeachment-inquiry/trumps-new-impeachment-defense-team-has-been-fox-news-over-350-times-past

Disney: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/17/business/media/disney-fox-name.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share

Nunes:

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/01/17/devin-nunes-aide-lev-parnas-100732

Collins: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/chris-collins-jail-sentence_n_5e20cb4cc5b632117610484b?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063&utm_campaign=hp_fb_pages&utm_medium=facebook&section=politics&utm_source=main_fb&fbclid=IwAR3ybNuwensmpDpMgw9BAWbcYoB_xgoxtnXe1G6j6y8oJZo6426AZRdQVPE&guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZmFjZWJvb2suY29tLw&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAK7i5tbiO6VviEmb7Ey4eFBb7pwVizNDLxcTopEZ97fTPJdPokm3ojIjBJOMRixPQP7SNeT4UhUdwtrgPsU2vntygsGfNNnVjjnHePd_4DVxE8mW_hv5-5CpALL-3rithxkUXv6Sbx0Jbro8RhWUtkAH45a80IC2SG2xJic3n2iX

Press:

https://s3.amazonaws.com/demandprogress/documents/Restrictions_on_press_access_during_Senate_impeachment_trial_2020-01-17.pdf

January 16, 2020

Where can you even start today? The weirdest thing is that so much has happened, the opening of the third Senate impeachment trial in our nation’s history seems like one of the day’s little stories.

Last night, on the eve of the opening of the Senate impeachment trial for Trump, indicted political operative Lev Parnas gave an interview to Rachel Maddow on her MSNBC television show. Parnas was not under oath, of course, and has reason to slant things his own way. But he is also eager to cut a deal with the judge assigned to his case, so it is unlikely that he will deliberately lie. He also seems to believe that the president’s men were setting him up to take the fall for them.

With that warning in mind: his allegations were blockbusters. Both his statements and the documents released Tuesday and Wednesday undermine the argument that Trump's friend and sometime lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his team were operating without Trump’s knowledge. A letter from Giuliani to Ukraine President Volodymyr asks for a meeting in Giuliani’s “capacity as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent.” Parnas insisted that there was no reason for anyone to listen to him without the power of Giuliani and Trump behind him, an argument that is quite believable. Trump, he says, “knew exactly what was going on.”

Parnas also implicated Vice President Mike Pence, who, Parnas alleges, was in charge of the Ukraine project—getting Zelensky to announce an investigation into the Bidens—and Attorney General William Barr, who, you will recall, Trump mentioned explicitly as someone that Zelensky should talk to after he asked for a favor in the infamous July 25 phone call. Parnas also implicated California Representative Devin Nunes, Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee (which means he’s the top Republican on the Committee), of being in on the scheme.

Shortly after the Parnas segment aired, Nunes went onto the Fox News Channel to admit that he did, in fact, talk to Lev Parnas, although when records of their calls first came out during the impeachment investigation, he insisted that he had never heard Parnas’s name.

Then, this morning, the Government Accountability Office, the GAO, the nonpartisan government agency that investigates spending, concluded that the White House Office of Management and Budget broke the law when it froze the US aid to Ukraine. Although we know that officials at OMB were concerned they were breaking the law, Trump supporters have repeatedly said that the hold was a lawful exercise of presidential authority. The GAO says it wasn’t, and that the Impoundment Control Act was broken. “Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” it said in its report.

It went further, though noting that the OMB and the State Department had refused “to provide the information we need to perform our duties,” a stance the GAO believes has “constitutional significance.” The Constitution gives Congress—not the Executive—power of the purse, and this attack on that power is an assault on the Constitution, the report concludes.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who took Russian money from Lev Parnas, says that even though withholding the aid broke the law, “I think it was the rightful thing to do.” Despite the GAO report, which spells out in detail that there is no way the funds were withheld to fight corruption (and really, who are we kidding here when we pretend Trump cares about corruption?), McCarthy instead cites a counterargument by OMB (which is, of course, under the control of acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who was in charge of organizing the Ukraine Scandal) that says Trump was just trying to stop corruption. Rather like asking the fox if it was legal to dine on the chickens.

Today, the Senate received the articles of impeachment from the House and began the Senate trial of the president. Chief Justice John Roberts swore in the Senators as jurors.

While the trial was going on, Trump first tweeted, in all caps: I JUST GOT IMPEACHED FOR MAKING A PERFECT PHONE CALL!” then announced a trade deal, and used the time in front of cameras to try to grab headlines away from what had just gotten underway nearby. He called out attendee after attendee, and when he got to a lawyer, he said “I could use some good lawyers, right? Ah, to hell with it. I just have to suffer through it the way I have all my life.”

Trump insists he has no idea who Parnas is, a claim belied by the many, many photos of the two of them together in settings that are clearly not usual meet and greets.

Republican supporters of Trump are trying to pretend that the Parnas information doesn’t matter. Indeed, Susan Collins (R-ME) faulted the House for not uncovering the information during the impeachment hearings, but as conservative commentator Jennifer Rubin pointed out in the Washington Post, the Department of Justice has had those documents since October and has sat on them. It was only earlier this month that a district judge permitted Parnas to share them with the House. So it’s a little unclear exactly what the House should’ve done differently. In any case, it seems a complete no-brainer now to call Parnas as a witness. Nonetheless, Republicans Senators are trying to argue that they have no duty to do anything but hear what the House produced.

But their position isn’t tenable. Sure, they can vote to acquit Trump—and it is still likely they’ll do so—but to what end? There is simply no way that the information dumps are over, and who knows what’s in them? If senators acquit in exchange for Trump’s short-term support (which they need. Did you see how fast he turned on Matt Gaetz over the War Powers vote?), they have to assume they are doomed in the long term, unless Americans just decide we don’t care about the corruption that is now associated with the entire Republican Party.

I don’t think that’s gonna happen.

With all this going on, things are just weirdly out of kilter.

Our Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who has been implicated in the Ukraine Scandal and who refused to defend US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch when she needed official support to push back on the smears coming from Giuliani, Parnas, Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity, and journalist for The Hill, John Solomon, has gone to ground. The cache of texts the House Intelligence Committee released on Tuesday night revealed that operative Robert Hyde, currently running for Senate from Connecticut, appeared to have Yovanovitch under surveillance before she had to be removed abruptly from her position. Today, Ukraine announced it was opening an investigation (ironically!) into the conditions of her apparent surveillance. Yet the Secretary of State, under whom ambassadors work, has said nothing. While Pompeo has gone on Fox News Channel a lot recently to defend the killing of Iranian Qassem Soleimani, he skipped a briefing on that killing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week, and the State Department cancelled two classified briefings yesterday.

And more on that front: the Iranian attack on January 8 did, in fact, result in injury to eleven soldiers, who are being treated for traumatic brain injuries, or what a spokesman for the U.S. military command in Baghdad called “concussion symptoms from the blast.” He said they are “still being assessed” after being medically evacuated to U.S. military hospitals in Kuwait and Germany.

Officers at the office of the Director of National Intelligence do not want their people to go on television and contradict Trump, so they have asked Congress to drop the public portion of the annual briefing on the greatest security threats in the world. Last year’s hearing touched on Russia’s attacks on the 2016 election, and sent Trump to Twitter to call leaders of the Intelligence Community “passive” and “naïve,” and said they “should go back to school!” (we do not have a director right now, but rather an acting Director Joseph Maguire, who took office August 16 and thus was the one who refused to release the whistleblower’s report to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, as required by law).

Tonight the Justice Department announced it is investigating former head of the FBI James B. Comey for the second time, for leaking classified information in 2016, in what appears to be an attempt to calm Trump, who has repeatedly called Comey a “leaker” and says he should be prosecuted for “unlawful conduct.” (There is no evidence for this accusation.)

Today is my first day even vaguely vertical in a week (thanks for all your concern and I do think I’m getting better), and all I can see is a news tornado that looks an awful lot like growing outrage over Trump’s attacks on our democracy, and growing desperation in Trump’s camp. According to MSNBC, last night’s episode of Rachel Maddow was the show’s highest rated show ever, with 4.5 million viewers.

——

Notes:

MSNBC ratings:

Nunes:

Parnas: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/01/16/lev-parnas-revelations-trump-100216

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/giuliani-associate-parnas-says-trump-knew-exactly-what-was-going-n1116731?fbclid=IwAR26skGin7L-8RgKdRpA4WczPOOXPONkuMUym_aAvZ7uNK9qJCiEyOBZ8D8

https://www.newsweek.com/lev-parnas-says-mike-pence-was-tasked-getting-ukraine-president-announce-investigation-bidens-1482456?fbclid=IwAR3j5wv2MeAv4lzI1pFq6FwwSCyChPTEMKHRe5AB7mqtXbnQ5ab2KzYrP8U

https://www.salon.com/2020/01/16/lev-parnas-implicates-mike-pence-bill-barr-and-devin-nunes-in-trump-ukraine-scheme/

GAO https://www.politico.com/news/2020/01/16/white-house-violated-the-law-by-freezing-ukraine-aid-gao-says-099682

GAO report: https://www.politico.com/f/?id=0000016f-aee6-dda2-af6f-efef31580000

Trump on parnas: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/01/16/lev-parnas-trump-relationship-100058

Pompeo: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2020/01/mike-pompeo-masha-yovanovitch-ukraine-state-department?utm_brand=vf&mbid=social_facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_social-type=owned&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR2AILSwjdOgLWi8riBqH-cBh7pdXGBVwlMquHrw9P5xU7-2y9Muu_ekjXU

https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/16/politics/pompeo-state-department-silence-new-evidence/index.html

Ukraine investigation: https://abcnews.go.com/International/ukraine-opens-criminal-investigation-surveillance-marie-yovanovitch/story?id=68324113&cid=social_fb_abcn&fbclid=IwAR2AEnjlSmwZv7gpEAEMe7H5AMKOqAXTnjLmF_LqO00B98udfUjrQkbAMp8

Soldiers: https://www.defenseone.com/threats/2020/01/eleven-us-troops-were-injured-jan-8-iran-missile-strike/162502/?oref=DefenseOneTCO

GOP https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/senate-impeachment-trial-begins-with-rancor-over-witnesses-and-new-evidence-about-trumps-ukraine-dealings/2020/01/16/1a700436-3899-11ea-9541-9107303481a4_story.html

Comey: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/16/us/politics/leak-investigation-james-comey.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share

McCarthy: https://americanindependent.com/kevin-mccarthy-donald-trump-ukraine-gao-investigation-military-aid-house-gop-impeachment/

Intelligence threat hearing: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/01/15/intel-agencies-threats-hearing-trump-099494

Trump transcript: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-signing-u-s-china-phase-one-trade-agreement-2/

Rubin: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/01/16/susan-collinss-willful-blindness-already-looks-awful/

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