November 7, 2019

Lots of big stories today, so this is unusually long. Sorry about that.

The day started with Donald Trump Jr. on ABC's TV show The View, defending the fact he retweeted a Breitbart article that identified the name of the person that is allegedly the whistleblower. He defended his actions, then and throughout the day, by saying he was a "private citizen" sharing the information, and that the name had been so widely circulated it was no big deal to retweet it. (The person's identity has not been confirmed, and there are laws protecting whistleblowers.) Then he blamed the New York Times for providing identifying information about the whistleblower. The White House told a reporter that neither “the president nor any senior administration official was aware in advance that the president’s eldest son was going to tweet out the name of the alleged whistleblower," although it is worth noting that the president has repeatedly called for the name of the whistleblower to be made public.

Ironically, Don Jr. was on The View to promote his new book, Triggered, in which he apparently writes about the financial sacrifices the Trump family has made to run the country. It calls to task the "left" for its "victimhood complex," but much attention is already being paid to Don Jr.'s account of a visit to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Listening to the buglers as they approached the tomb, he "thought of all the attacks we’d already suffered as a family, and about all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed — voluntarily giving up a huge chunk of our business and all international deals to avoid the appearance that we were ‘profiting off the office.’” (The Washington Post Fact Checker gave four Pinocchios to statements from Don Jr. and Eric that the family had gotten out of "all international business.") Observers note that few people complain about their financial losses when they approach the Tomb of the Unknowns.

This was also the first day of Roger Stone's trial for lying to Congress about his relationship with Wikileaks and its release of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee before the 2016 election. The fact the federal judge presiding over the case warned the jurors not to watch “The Godfather” indicates just how badly it’s going. Prosecutors revealed Stone’s texted death threats to a colleague (and his dog!) who initially was willing to testify before Mueller’s grand jury about the timeline of Stone’s association with Wikileaks (but who ultimately refused to speak), while Stone’s associate Alex Jones threatened to expose the jurors to his extremist followers. Already, Stone’s lawyers have submitted evidence to the court that suggests Trump may well have known more about Stone’s contacts with Julian Assange than Trump admitted in his written answers to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Also today, the New York Supreme Court ruled that Trump must pay $2 million in damages for taking charity money raised for veterans and using it for his 2016 campaign. This was a lawsuit Trump last year insisted he would not settle, but he did, and the settlement required him to admit wrongdoing, agreeing that he personally misused funds at the Trump Foundation before it was shut down permanently last year for “a shocking pattern of illegality.” He also admitted that the Foundation’s board of directors did not meet, oversee the Foundation, or function according to law. He was the chairman of that board. Further, the settlement requires Don, Jr., Ivanka, and Eric to report for mandatory training, and it requires Trump to submit to state oversight if he ever participates in another charity.

(I find it mind boggling that the United States president is prohibited from doing charitable work without supervision out of concern he will treat any monies raised as a personal piggy bank, but, well... welcome to 2019, I guess.)

Trump responded with a statement saying that he has suffered “4 years of politically motivated harassment,” and complaining that the New York Attorney General refuses to investigate the Clinton Foundation, while “Every penny of the $19 million raised by the Trump Foundation went to hundreds of great charitable causes with almost no expenses.” (Ironically, according to the fact checking site Politifact, this is true of the Clinton Foundation, not of the Trump Foundation.) This statement contradicts the terms of the settlement, and could land Trump back in court.

Also today (whew!) the Washington Post got its hands on an advance copy of “Anonymous,” the book that purports to be written by a White House insider. It apparently portrays Trump as a loose cannon spewing racism, sexism, and craziness, but is vague so the person cannot be outed. This portrayal will infuriate the president, but we have to assume that a vague account by someone hiding in the shadows at the very least has a hidden agenda.

Meanwhile, reports say that former National Security Advisor John Bolton is willing to testify about the pressure on Ukraine coming from the president, Giuliani, and their team, apparently even talking about his conversations with Trump. And the Washington Post ran a story yesterday that Trump had asked Attorney General William Barr to give a news conference saying that he had not broken any laws in the call with Ukraine President Zelensky. Barr allegedly refused. The fact this story leaked now suggests that, for all his support for Trump, Barr sees the need to put daylight between the two of them. This does not bode well for the president.

What holds all these stories together, it seems to me, is that they show men who see the world as a zero sum transaction in which there are winners and losers, and in which the only currency is money and the only way to preserve dominance is with secrets and smears and lies and threats.

But that was not the only theme of the day. Congress also released the transcript of the testimony from George Kent, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eastern Europe. Kent called out the shadow foreign policy actors under Trump and Giuliani, saying that a request to Ukraine “to investigate or prosecute individuals for political reasons... goes against everything that we are trying to promote in post Soviet states for the last 28 years, which is the promotion of the rule of law.” (261)

Kent noted that his appearance before the congressional investigating committees involved “enormous professional and personal cost,” but he did it “in the same spirit that I have brought to my entire career, as a Foreign Service officer and State Department employee, who has sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Outlining a history that offered powerful contrast to that of the people in the other news of the day, Kent continued: “There has been a George Kent sworn to service in defense of the Constitution and U.S. national interests for nearly 60 consecutive years and counting, ever since my father was sworn in as a midshipman at Annapolis in June 1961, commissioned in 1965, after finishing first in his class, and serving honorably for 30 years, including as captain of a ballistic missile nuclear submarine. Principled service to country and community remains an honorable professional choice.” (17-18).


[Notes for these posts are all linked on my Facebook page at Heather Cox Richardson.]