Heather Cox Richardson

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Heather Cox Richardson has been providing a valuable service lately by writing crystal-clear summaries of each day’s impeachment events. I highly recommend her daily recaps, just as a way of keeping track of everything, but also because it’s kind of thrilling to see someone do so with such clarity.

I reposted below an example, her summary of yesterday’s “historic” reversal by Sondland, the hotel magnate who bought himself an ambassadorship. I’m sure Cox Richardson wouldn’t mind this reposting; she posts these summaries nightly on Facebook and as a newsletter.

Heather H C is a historian at Boston College. I honestly know nothing about her several books and other writings, but I find reading her nightly postings (I don’t know how she does this 7 nights a week!) a great way to stay on top of the dozens of characters involved in this fight to bring down the tangerine-colored monster. She also helps me keep in mind how each day’s hearings and related events fit into the larger picture.


November 20, 2019

Today was a day for the history books.

Gordon Sondland, the Ambassador to the European Union who became Trump’s point man for pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation into the Bidens, took the floor at the impeachment hearings. The testimony of other witnesses has made it clear that they were setting up Sondland to be the fall guy for whatever trouble came from the Ukraine scandal, and today Sondland set out to protect himself by burning it all down. He flipped from an administration man to a witness for those trying to figure out what really happened, and in the process, he implicated Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and, of course, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Everyone was “in the loop” on the scheme to force the Ukrainians to declare they were opening an investigation into the Bidens, he said, and it was understood that Ukraine would not get a visit to the White House—a vital signal of American support in the face of Russian aggression—until that declaration was made. When asked if the deal was a “quid pro quo,” Sondland answered “yes.”

The Republican defenders of the president did not know Sondland’s dramatic flip was coming. They had asked Sondland’s legal team for information about what he was planning to say and had been rebuffed. So they assumed he was still on board with the administration, leaving Devin Nunes (R-CA), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, to deliver an opening statement commiserating with Sondland. “Ambassador Sondland, you are here today to be smeared,” he said. “But you’ll make it through it and I appreciate your service to this country and I am sorry that you’ve had to go through this.” Nunes was right, of course. Sondland absolutely was smeared during the course of the day. But, after his opening statement, the smearing was not by Democrats, but by Nunes and his colleagues.

When Sondland began to read his statement, the shock around the country was palpable. In all of American history, we have never before heard a high-ranking member of an administration implicate the top members of that administration in a criminal scheme. In the hearing room, as Sondland read his statement, Republicans filed out until their seats in the chamber were notably vacant, likely to plan their next moves. And they needed them. Nunes was visibly shaken by the statement, and Republican counsel, Steve Castor, was so blindsided that at one point during questioning ran out of things to say and had to yield back his time. Some of his questions elicited yet more damning information.

In the course of the day, Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo both released statements denying the allegations, although the statements were notable for their careful wording. Trump, too, spoke to reporters with a list of talking points, helpfully caught by a photographer, that echoed the wording of his statement to Sondland after former Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor flagged what they were doing. Democrats noted that that Trump’s declaration stating he wanted “no quid pro quo” (when the heck did everyone start speaking Latin?!) was on September 9, the day the House Intelligence Committee learned there was a whistleblower complaint that was illegally being withheld from it; that is, he was caught.

And Giuliani handled today’s disastrous testimony by angrily tweeting at the TV.

In the end, to try to refute Sondland, the Republicans were left relying on the antics of Ohio’s Jim Jordan and Texas’s John Ratcliffe. They yelled carefully cherry-picked pieces of evidence at Sondland and hammered on the fact that Trump had never explicitly said to Sondland that he was extorting the Ukrainians. As Trump fixer Michael Cohen (now in prison) pointed out, Trump has always applied pressure with suggestions that allow him plausible deniability, first of all, and second, Sondland repeated again and again that Trump told him to “Talk to Rudy,” and that Giuliani was quite clear that Ukraine must make the announcement of an investigation into Burisma before it got either a White House visit or the money Congress had appropriated for it. The Republicans’ yelling was a sign of desperation and it was designed to frame this disaster to snow Fox News Channel viewers. It will not convince anyone else.

Sondland implicated the leaders of the administration in a criminal conspiracy. But while his story is damning, the investigation is not yet over. Sondland has changed his testimony three times now, and is clearly motivated by a keen desire to stay out of jail. He is an extraordinarily wealthy hotel owner who evidently so wanted to add the cachet of an ambassadorship to his resume that he was willing to dump $1 million into Trump’s inauguration fund, and also clearly loved the idea he was playing with world leaders, but he is not really an insider. He has no need to fall on his sword, so is willing to spill anything that will help his case. But while he sure scored hits today, he was also clearly being very careful with his wording over some issues, and there is no reason to take his testimony as gospel truth. Certainly his claim that Ukraine fell within his portfolio is wrong and self-serving. Ukraine is not part of the European Union, and at the time he began his shenanigans, Ukraine had an ambassador, and a very good one: Marie Yovanovitch.

Still, my long-standing prediction that this administration ends in a resignation is looking stronger than it did a day ago. (Aside from anything else, Republicans’ attempts to defend Trump by blaming Giuliani for everything could spark Giuliani’s self-preservation instincts, just as Sondland’s kicked in, and Giuliani undoubtedly knows a great deal that Trump would like to keep hidden.)

If we cannot assume that Sondland will take down the entire Trump administration, though, there was a larger story behind today’s scorched earth testimony that we can bank on, and it’s the whole game: America is now being run by leaders who are so determined to stay in power that they are willing to sell out America in exchange for foreign help rigging an election.

Never forget, among all the talk of meetings and statements and texts, and who knew what when, the Ukraine scandal was about undermining Trump’s leading Democratic challenger by starting rumors that he was under investigation for a crime, exactly as happened in 2016 with Trump’s constant refrain about Hillary Clinton’s emails. He is afraid he cannot win in a free and fair election, so he wants to rig it. To do that, he was willing to sell out America. Congress members did not appropriate money for Ukraine out of the goodness of their hearts; they believed that Russia is a dire threat to America and that shoring up Ukraine in its fight to stop Russian expansion was crucial for our national security. Trump’s plot weakened Ukraine and strengthened Russia. Indeed, if he hadn’t been caught and had managed to run the clock out for just a few more weeks, the fiscal year would’ve ended on September 30 and the money would never have gotten released. This would have left Ukraine, and our interest in keeping it pro-democracy, at Russia’s mercy.

All of this is illegal of course, but it is also something much more profound. It is an attack on American democracy itself, taking away our right to choose our own leaders. And it was not just one rogue president and his aides in on the scheme, but also the vice president, secretary of state, and a slew of other top officials.

We are in a profound crisis, but I am hopeful. With today’s revelations, the stakes are finally quite clear. This is not about Republicans or Democrats, but about America, and those of us who care about democracy now have a fighting chance of keeping it.

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In case I wasn’t clear, I follow her on Fbook (yeah yeah, F Fbook), and you can subscribe to a daily emailed version instead. Both are linked above.

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Thanks for this link! I’ve only been able to hear bits and pieces of the hearings. This will be helpful!

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You’re welcome!

I don’t understand how she finds the time and energy to do this, and do it every single day!

But yes, I do find her posts helpful for making sense of this mess. Sometimes I find myself lying awake waiting for her to post the next one. :eyes:

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That is an amazing summary, thanks for posting it. I’m glad that there’s an access option that doesn’t involve Facebook.

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RIght? And it’s pretty much that good seven nights a week.

Yeah. I do read it there, between my relatives’ dopey-dog, sportsball and birthday party posts.

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And tonight she wrote (in case you’re not following or subscribed yet) –

November 22, 2019 (Friday)

Today began with evidence that impeachment is getting to Trump. He launched an epic 53-minute tirade this morning on a phone call to Fox and Friends, in which he ranted against Marie Yovanovitch for not hanging up his portrait in the embassy (her lawyers promptly said this was untrue), and said that he fired FBI Director James Comey to protect himself (a crime, by the way). The hosts were clearly uncomfortable, but they couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

Then things got quiet enough that I took it easy, then spent a couple of hours cooking an elaborate dinner, and then settled in early to write an informative letter over here on how media uses data to sell political ads. But it was not to be. I opened up Twitter just as news broke that Lev Parnas, the recently indicted political operative, is willing to testify before Congress to say that he helped Republican Congressman Devin Nunes meet with the corrupt former Ukraine prosecutor Victor Shokin in Austria last December. The purpose of their meeting: to talk about smearing the Bidens. Shokin is the prosecutor Biden helped to oust, and Nunes is currently the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

You all are going to have to wait for that piece on media, money, and politics. Tonight, I’d better unpack this news.

First off, remember that Parnas is an untrustworthy reporter: he is himself under indictment, is mad that Trump has pretended not to know him, and is undoubtedly eager to cut a deal. But that eagerness cuts both ways. If he is trying to make a deal, he would likely not claim something that he couldn’t prove. We’ll see.

Anyway, the story, dropped by CNN, is this:

Lev Parnas was an associate of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani….

Wait. We have another breaking story. Tonight, a little after 10:30, the State Department released documents under the Freedom of Information Act, after being sued for them. The documents suggest that Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani worked with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and the Oval Office, to smear our own US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

Oh, lordy.

OK. That implicates Pompeo in the Ukraine scandal, but since Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Russia expert Fiona Hill had already both implicated him in their testimony, it is not as big as the original story I was unrolling.

So, back to it: … Lev Parnas is an American citizen who was born in Ukraine in 1972, when it was part of the USSR, and he has worked with Giuliani on Ukraine matters. He and his associate Igor Fruman were arrested in October as they were trying to flee the country to travel to Vienna, Austria, likely to meet with Ukrainian oligarch Dymytro Firtash. Firtash is believed to be involved with Russian organized crime, and was once a partner of Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager. Parnas and Fruman were arrested as they tried to leave the United States because they have been charged with funneling money from Russian oligarchs to American political figures (including House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy). They are currently under house arrest.

Through his lawyer, Parnas says he is willing to testify that after the Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives last year, Devin Nunes traveled to Vienna to meet with dismissed Ukraine prosecutor Victor Shokin. He timed it during the congressional recess so he would not have to report it to his Democratic colleagues. About that time, according to Parnas, he and Nunes began to work together, and Parnas put Nunes in touch with Ukrainians who could help him smear Biden.

We already knew that Parnas and Shokin were working with Giuliani to do the same thing, starting in about November 2018 (again, right after the Republicans lost the midterm elections), because Giuliani said so on national TV (!). Their efforts are the origin of the rumor that Joe Biden got Shokin fired to keep him from investigating Hunter Biden (there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of either of the Bidens). The story they were pushing was that it was Ukraine rather than Russia that hacked the 2016 election, and that Burisma and the Bidens were corrupt and must be investigated. That should sound familiar.

But it gets worse. Parnas alleges that he and Nunes, or Nunes’s proxy, met several times a week in the Trump Hotel, along with Giuliani, and John Solomon, former reporter for The Hill, who pushed anti-Yovanovitch stories and whose reporting is now under review. Also included were married attorneys Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, the Trump defenders who are often on Fox News Channel programs. They represent Firtash, who needs American lawyers because he is wanted in America for bribery and racketeering. He is currently in Vienna, Austria—where an awful lot of things seem to happen-- challenging his extradition (although, honestly, I can’t believe he doesn’t have better lawyers than these two, and is simply employing them as a way to have inroads with Trump). Also at those meetings was Derek Harvey, who works for Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee, and who, according to Parnas, was understood to be Nunes’s agent.

This is the first time a member of Congress has been implicated in the Ukraine scandal. But Nunes has been hovering on the edges. At the very beginning of Trump’s term, he appeared to be working with the White House when, as chair of the House Intelligence Committee, he took directly to Trump what he said was evidence the Obama administration was spying on the Trump campaign. Those days were more innocent than these (which is saying something); he was forced to give a public apology for cutting ranking member Adam Schiff out of access to the information he claimed to have.

His blurring of lines with the White House continues. When Trump blurted out a few weeks ago that he had no idea who Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was even though Vindman was on the National Security Council, Trump was apparently confused because he believed that the Ukraine expert on the National Security Council was not Vindman but rather Kashyap Patel (known as Kash), a Nunes staffer who joined the White House in February and had no Ukraine experience at all. Patel had been muscling Vindman out of meetings and talking to Trump about Ukraine in Vindman’s place, seemingly with Nunes’s backing.

The story that Nunes might have been working to push disinformation to affect the 2016 election is terribly troubling, especially because Nunes is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. For the first two years of Trump’s presidency, he was the chairman. His finger is on the pulse of our national security.

Nunes refused to comment on this CNN story. (Or, rather, he commented: “I don’t talk to you in this lifetime or the next lifetime,” to a CNN reporter. “At any time…. On any question.”) Giuliani refused to comment. DiGenova and Victoria Toensing refused to comment. Harvey refused to comment. Solomon confirmed that the meetings happened, and said he was only there as a journalist to report a story.

If this story is true, it troubles me on another level, too. You all know I think Trump’s effort to win an election by poisoning the media with a smear against the Bidens was simply a replay of what happened in 2016. If so… why did Nunes have the same instinct?

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Phew!

I always learn several things from these.

November 23, 2019 (Saturday)

Today was a relatively quiet day in the ongoing Ukraine scandal saga… except for Rudy Giuliani, the man who bills himself as Trump’s lawyer. Today, he went onto the Fox News Channel to give an interview and, when asked if he worried about his future with the president, asserted that “I’ve seen things written like ‘he is going to throw me under the bus.’ When they say that, I say ‘he isn’t, but I have insurance.” Then he reiterated that he and the president are on good terms.

And then, several hours later, he tweeted: “TRUTH ALERT: The statement I’ve made several times of having an insurance policy, if thrown under bus, is sarcastic & relates to the files in my safe about the Biden Family’s 4 decade monetizing of his office. If I disappear, it will appear immediately along with my RICO chart.”

Huh? This sounds nuts, but it’s actually interesting. (I mean, it is nuts, too, but it seems to be part of an interesting story about truth).

Giuliani also tweeted pictures of a letter, dated yesterday, he wrote to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who announced Thursday he is opening an investigation into the Bidens and their dealings in Ukraine. Giuliani’s letter is unhinged, a four-page mashup of various buzz words calling the impeachment investigation “the Schiff Frameup,” for example, based on “double-hearsay rumors, guesses, surmises, questionable overhears, and a hysterical Trump-hating media.” But it puts together the argument that he has “three (3) witnesses” who, he claims “have direct (non-hearsay) evidence of Democrat criminal conspiracy with Ukrainians to prevent Donald J. Trump from being President, with the alternative to remove him from office based on contrived charges.” He goes on to say that the witnesses “have oral, documentary, and recorded evidence of the Biden Family’s involvement in bribery, money laundering,… extortion, and other possible crimes.” Acting Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor is refusing to issue visas for these “witnesses,” and Giuliani was writing to Graham to see if he would facilitate their visit to America to testify.

Also yesterday, in the midst of all the other breaking stories, the New York Times ran a story echoing Dr. Fiona Hill’s testimony from Thursday, saying that the idea that it was Ukraine and not Russia that attacked us in 2016 is part of a Russian disinformation campaign and Republicans have been taken in by it. So now we have powerful testimony from Russia expert Hill warning us that Russia attacked us in 2016 and is doing so again, and that we simply must stop spreading stories that it was not Russia but rather was Ukraine because such stories weaken America, and we also have a story from the New York Times further debunking the Ukraine story. And yet, we continue to have key figures in the Trump administration pushing that very story. Indeed, much of Trump’s rant to Fox and Friends yesterday morning was about how Ukraine tried to prevent his election in 2016.

So why is Giuliani harping on this topic today? I think Trump’s folks are desperate not only to keep voters thinking that Ukraine and not Russia is our enemy, but also to continue to exercise dominance by making people believe things that are not true. If you can force people to accept as reality something that is demonstrably false, you prove to both of you that you, the liar, is the one in charge and that the listener will submit. That’s why it’s so darned important to Trump to be right about everything, so important that he’ll alter a weather chart with a Sharpie.

So how do we figure out what’s real?

First of all, look at what people DO, not what they SAY. So, for example, after CNN broke the story that the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-CA) was in on the attempt to smear the Bidens, right-wing noisemaker Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire ran a story saying: “Devin Nunes To Take Swift Legal Action Against CNN For ‘Demonstrably False’ Story.” Note that Nunes did not actually take action, he just said he would later. Maybe, but if he does, CNN would get access to tons of information. If the story really is “demonstrably false,” Nunes, who sues people a lot, would absolutely sue. But so far he hasn’t. He just SAID he was going to, which got headlines and convinced some people that the CNN story was false.

The conditions under which people talk also matter. Witnesses in the hearings last week testified under oath, and lying under oath is a crime. After Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland implicated Energy Secretary Rick Perry in the Ukraine scandal, Perry gave an outraged interview to a Fox News show vehemently denying it. But Perry was not under oath, and there is no penalty for lying to the media, as Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski helpfully told the House Judiciary Committee in September. It is notable that most of the key figures in the Ukraine scandal are refusing to testify under oath, and are attacking the public servants who are.

News sources should have actual evidence in them, like documents, testimony under oath, independent experts, or film clips that have not been deceptively edited. For example, activist Charlie Kirk tweeted today, “Did you know: the largest single donor to the Clinton Foundation is Ukraine with $10 MILLION in contributions How may Obama-era officials are complicit in Ukranian corruption? Both Biden & Clinton need to testify This is a massive scandal Trump is bringing it all to light.” This tweet reinforces Russian propaganda, of course, and it is also a straight up, easily checkable, lie.

These distinctions are going to matter more and more in the days to come. As pressure on the president and his people mounts, the disinformation campaign against Ukraine and the Bidens is going to get intense. Yesterday, the New York Times published information about the upcoming Department of Justice Inspector General’s report into the origins of the investigation into Trump’s campaign, which Republicans have called an illegitimate Democratic witch hunt because, they said, it started with the Steele Dossier, which they insist was a Democratic operation. The IG apparently will conclude the opposite: that the investigation was legitimate, and that it did not start with the Steele Dossier (as the facts have established all along). Apparently, an FBI attorney did falsify a document, but the IG says that did not affect the legitimacy of the investigation.

Nonetheless, Trump’s rant to Fox and Friends yesterday echoed the debunked story that Democrats framed Russia for interfering in the 2016 election, and that there is a DNC server hidden in Ukraine. And Trump claimed the investigation Attorney General William Barr has tapped John Durham to undertake, rather than relying on the Department of Justice’s IG report, is going to break the story wide open.


Added at 9:35 Sunday morning:

A response to a reader just made me realize that this desperately needs a tl;dnr. The point of this post was deliberately vague in hopes it might reach some folks who might otherwise not read it, but the central argument is this: We are 100% sure the Ukraine story is BS, and is planted by Putin, but some people are now pushing it even harder, which should make you suspicious. Here’s some ways to judge what you hear, because it’s going to get worse. They’re already setting up a way to tear down the DOJ report that reiterates that they’re spouting BS.

Edit at 11:00, Sunday morning. Murky sentence clarified. I changed “If you can force people to accept as reality something that is demonstrably false, you prove to both of you that they are the ones in charge and you will submit” to “If you can force people to accept as reality something that is demonstrably false, you prove to both of you that you, the liar, is the one in charge and that the listener will submit.”

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Rudy learned from Donnie that if you do your blackmail and extortion publicly it’s legal!

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A letter in comic san font! (and much more)

November 24, 2019 (Sunday)

As the news came fast and furious today, I could not help thinking of the famous quotation, “The old world is dying, and the New World struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”

We had plenty of monsters today as old ideas began their death rattle and new ones began to peep.

There was lots more on the Ukraine scandal, as leaders formerly in control tried to stay that way. Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes (R-CA), who has been accused of trying to smear the Bidens and down play the Russian attack, was asked point-blank if he had been in Vienna with Shokin, the corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor that Biden helped to fire, as a participant alleged on Friday. Nunes’s answer was illuminating: he simply refused to answer, saying: “Everyone’s going to know the truth…. I can’t compete trying to debate this out with the public media when 90% of the media are totally corrupt.” He added: “We’ve got all the facts on our side.”

All the facts on his side, but he couldn’t tell us any of them, because… the media asked him about them? Remember, yesterday I said to watch what he does, not what he says. The same man who said the tale of his trip to meet Shokin was “demonstrably false” and that he was going to sue CNN for breaking the story is now not talking. We also learned today that Nunes did in fact go to Austria at exactly the time Giuliani’s associate Lev Parnas said he went, with a number of aides. The trip cost almost $57,000 of taxpayers’ money.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) was also toeing the Trump party line when he insisted on Fox News Sunday that we do not know that it was Russia that hacked the Democratic National Committee; it could have been Ukraine. We do know, of course. Our intelligence experts all say it was Russia. It is Russia’s leaders—and a number of Republican politicians– that are pushing the Ukraine story. Kennedy, remember, was one of the eight GOP leaders who spent last July 4 in Moscow. Even FNC’s Chris Wallace, who was conducting the interview, pushed back against Kennedy, and reiterated, once again, the story of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The whole line of argument from Trump supporters has become so absurd that they clearly think of they are on the ropes. Today on the Fox News Channel, personality Jeanine Pirro dismissed ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s testimony against Trump by saying “that he, like many Deep State bureaucrats, Is not a fan of the president.” Sondland is a hotel magnate with no diplomatic experience at all, who got his job by literally giving Trump a million dollars. The argument that he is a hostile bureaucrat sounds desperate.

This morning, we also learned that when the Ukraine scandal broke, White House scrambled to construct a justification for the decision to withhold money from our ally. Another word for this kind of activity is cover-up, and in the end, a cover-up is what sank Richard Nixon. Also significant is that the story was leaked by three people in the White House, so Trump’s control over his people continues to erode.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post came out and said it: Republicans are guilty not only for violating their oath of office by supporting a criminal president, but also for broadcasting Russian propaganda. Remember that Jennifer Rubin is a conservative commentator.

We also learned that the House intelligence committee is reviewing audio and video tapes and photographs provided by Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Parnas’s lawyer insists that Parnas is “non-partisan,” and wants to do “what is in the best interests of our nation.” Parnas is the same man who refused to honor a subpoena to testify in front of Congress, and his lawyer wrote an incredibly insulting letter to Congress in comic sans font. Their tone has changed in the last month.

It is likely that this change of tone reflects a power shift in Washington. We learned today that Trump is no longer using the Oval Office but instead is working from the private residence. The Politico story that broke the news suggests he is doing so because he fears spies and is more comfortable in the private residence, but this does not pass the smell test. Presidents work in the Oval Office unless they are ill. Either he is retreating out of fear of the impeachment proceedings, or the cognitive problems that we have all noticed are becoming severe enough that he is no longer comfortable being in public.

Finally, perhaps the biggest story today was the firing of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer over the case of Edward Gallagher, a Navy seal accused of committing war crimes, and that story highlighted that Trump is both trying cement is power and is being challenged over it. Gallagher was acquitted of murder but convicted of posing with the body of a prisoner. For that, he was demoted. From the first, this case has bothered Trump. On Twitter, he accused the Navy of mistreating Gallagher, and he reinstated Gallagher’s rank. It is extraordinary for a president to get involved in an individual disciplinary cases, and Pentagon officials asked the president not to, because it would hurt military discipline and weaken our standing in the world. In the midst of this wrangling, Spencer announced publicly that Gallagher would have to go before a review board to see if he could stay in the elite Navy SEALs. This afternoon, Spencer announced that “I hereby acknowledge my termination as United States Secretary of the Navy.” The White House offered a complicated story about him being fired for being insubordinate, but it was clear from his carefully written resignation letter that he had been contemplating leaving over the Gallagher case for a while. Today’s date on the letter was clearly written later, by hand, and in a hurry. When he heard of the resignation, Gallagher’s lawyer told a reporter: “This case is bananas. You can quote me on that.”

And the letter is a doozy. Spencer says, “I cannot in good conscience obey in order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of United States.”

Guess who took the same oath.

Spencer called out Trump for violating his oath to defend the Constitution, but it is worth noting that right now it is Spencer, not Donald Trump, who is out of a job.

“The old world is dying, and the New World struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”

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Can what Americans think of as their democracy survive all of this shit?

November 25, 2019 (Monday)

Today’s theme was the rule of law.

This question is playing out over Trump’s recent overruling of the Pentagon in the case of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher. Gallagher was court-martialed for allegations of murdering a civilian and threatening his own squadron for reporting him, but was acquitted in a surprise twist after another SEAL admitted to murdering the wounded man in what he claimed was a mercy killing. Gallagher was, though, convicted of posing with the body, which is actually a really big deal in the military. For doing so, he was demoted, and the process started for a review that could have led to his expulsion from the Navy SEALs, an elite unit.

Personalities on the Fox News Channel made a big deal of Gallagher, who appeared often on the network, and of two other soldiers convicted or charged with murder of civilians, railing that they were heroes persecuted by an overly nice military justice system. Over the wishes and advice of his military advisors, Trump pardoned the two soldiers and overruled Gallagher’s demotion and upcoming review, permitting him to retire at full rank. The secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, had insisted that Gallagher’s review must go forward to protect the idea of process, and Trump ordered Defense Secretary Mark Esper to stop the review and then to fire Spencer, who released a letter saying “I hereby acknowledge my termination.”

The military has to work on a strict legal system to prevent ranking officers from enforcing justice according to their own whims. For Trump to short circuit that system by declaration led the Navy Secretary to issue this letter, citing the “deadly serious business” of maintaining “good order and discipline.” He wrote that “the rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries” and that “it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me.” He went on: “I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Trump has floated the idea of having the pardoned men and Gallagher at campaign rallies for the 2020 election.

The rule of law was also in the news today as U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson shot down the argument, made by White House lawyers, that White House officials enjoy “absolute immunity” from compelled congressional testimony. The White House is resisting a subpoena for testimony from former White House counsel Donald McGahn, but Judge Jackson ruled that “per the Constitution, no one is above the law.” The Department of Justice immediately appealed, but Judge Jackson’s forceful opinion might open the door for willing witnesses to come forward. House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff said, “We would encourage witnesses to demonstrate the same courage and patriotism of public servants like Dr. Hill, Lt. Col. Vindman, Ambassador Taylor and others who have come forward to fulfill their duty.” We’ll see.

The Supreme Court also stopped the enforcement of a House subpoena requiring Trump’s accounting firm to turn over his taxes, which they need to investigate the payments to Stormy Daniels, whom he paid to keep quiet before the election about their sexual encounter. That payment might well be a violation of campaign laws, so the House wants to see Trump’s records about it. His lawyers have until December 5 to file a petition asking the Supreme Court to review the case. This is an administrative stay, so it is unclear if the Court will take up the issue. If it does, thanks to the two new Trump appointees on the Court who believe in a strong executive, it is unlikely to be as harsh on the president as the lower courts have been.

And that brings up the other way in which today was about the rule of law. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) boasted on Twitter that the Senate as confirmed more than 160 new federal judges since Trump took office-- that’s one out of every four—and they have more coming up. These people, who are overwhelmingly male and white, are generally extreme defenders of property and opponents of the administrative state that protects regular Americans. Today, in an opinion on the Supreme Court’s refusal to rehear a case called Gundy v. United States (its details don’t matter much), Judge Brett Kavanaugh sided with Judge Neil Gorsuch-- Trump appointees both-- to say the Court should reexamine whether or not Congress can delegate authority to administrative agencies. They believe that the Constitution forbids such delegation. If that doctrine holds, it would destroy the administrative state and take our federal government back to that of the 1920s, before FDR’s New Deal regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure.

McConnell’s boasting is an illuminating view into what is really going on in these battles. Are we all equal before the law, or does a minority get to stack the deck against the rest of us?

Ultimately, the fight over the rule of law is really a fight to preserve democracy.

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Round and round the toilet we go.

And now, ladies and gentleman, fasten your seatbelts for another round of The Vicious Repubs Versus The Feckless Dems!!

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Sir stories, the slock rocket (a slur story), Fucker Carlson, and Ukraine-Russia background.

November 26, 2019 (Tuesday)

The wrap up of today should start with tonight, with Trump’s 1:26 minute “rally” in Broward, Florida. It was his usual rant against the media, impeachment, socialism, and so on, but there was an interesting new interlude when the president talked about health issues. He said he had always thought Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was heavy, but when he saw the governor without his shirt on (which almost certainly never happened), he saw that DeSantis was actually strong.

Then he launched into some “Sir” stories—“Sir” is his tell that he is about to tell a whopper—about how after his surprise visit to Walter Reed hospital on November 18 one White House guard after another asked him “Sir, are you all right?” because they had heard he had a massive heart attack, an idea he ridiculed. Since Trump is a master at spewing whatever is uppermost in his mind, it seems likely that his hospital visit was due to something that made him think he was having a heart attack, and that the doctors told him at least that he was overweight. (Since then, by the way, it has been notable how empty his schedule has been.) For a rally in which he boasted of his health, Trump was in bad shape tonight, slurring his words so badly that “stock market” came out “slock rocket.”

The president is under tremendous pressure, with more details of the Ukraine scandal emerging daily. Today Trump denied that he had directed Giuliani to try to find dirt on Biden by working with Ukrainians, despite much evidence to the contrary, including Trump’s own comment to Ukraine president Zelensky on the infamous call of July 25 that he should talk to Giuliani about investigating the Bidens. An association with Giuliiani has become a liability, and Trump does not like liabilities, especially now that the scandal is becoming clearer.

Today we also learned that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) withheld aid money from Ukraine on July 25, the day of the infamous phone call between Trump and the new Ukraine president, Volodymyr Zelensky a fact which sure suggests that military assistance hinged on Trump getting the public statement he wanted of Ukraine‘s investigation of Hunter Biden and that the connection was crystal clear to Zelensky. We also learned that two members of the OMB resigned in protest of the withholding of aid, and we also got more confirmation that Trump knew of the whistleblower complaint when he released the money.

Altogether, the stories seemed to solidify the narrative that Trump withheld money Congress had appropriated to help Ukraine fight off attacks from Russia, intending to pressure newly elected Ukraine President Zelensky into making a public announcement that his government was opening an investigation into the company on whose board Joe Biden’s son sat. Such an announcement would’ve tanked Biden’s candidacy, much as the constant stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails tanked hers in 2016.

We really already knew all this. The lines are just getting filled in.

But why should we care about the story at all? Yesterday, Fox media personality and strong Trump supporter Tucker Carlson said on his show: “Why do I care what is going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia? I’m serious. Why shouldn’t I root for Russia? Which by the way I am.”

Carlson’s declaration was extraordinary. Aside from anything else, Americans care about Ukraine because what is happening there is a proxy war between oligarchy and democracy.

Ukraine was part of the USSR until it fell apart in 1991. After that, Ukraine remained under the sway of the Russian oligarchs who rose to replace the region’s communist leaders monopolizing formerly publicly held industries as those industries were privatized. American journalist Paul Klebnikov, the chief editor of Forbes in Russia, was murdered in 2004 trying to call attention to what the oligarchs were doing.

In that same year, a Russian-backed politician, Viktor Yanukovych, appeared to be elected president of Ukraine. But Yanukovych was rumored to have ties to organized crime, and the election was so full of fraud—including the poisoning of a key rival who wanted to break ties with Russia and align Ukraine with Europe—the government voided the election and called for a do-over. Yanukovych needed a makeover fast, and for that he called on a political consultant with a reputation for making unsavory characters palatable to the media: Paul Manafort.

Yeah, that Paul Manafort, the man the Trump campaign called in to resurrect Trump’s floundering campaign in June 2016.

For ten years, from 2004-2014, Manafort worked for Yanukovych and his party, trying to make what the US State Department called a party of “mobsters and oligarchs” look legitimate. He made a fortune thanks to his new friends. In 2010, Yanukovych finally won the presidency on a platform of rejecting NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization through which Europe joined together to oppose first the USSR, and then the rising threat of Russia. Immediately, Yanukovych turned Ukraine toward Russia. In 2014, after months of popular protests, Ukrainians ousted Yanukovych from power in what is known as the Revolution of Dignity. He fled to Russia.

Shortly after Yanukovych’s ouster, Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimea and annexed it, prompting the United States and the European Union to impose economic sanctions on Russia itself and also on specific Russian businesses and oligarchs, prohibiting them from doing business in United States territories. These sanctions have crippled Russia and frozen the assets of key Russian oligarchs, including Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Now without his main source of income, Manafort owed about $17 million to allies of Yanukovych and Putin. His longtime friend and business partner Roger Stone was advising the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, and Manafort was happy to step in to help. He did not take a salary. He began as an advisor in March 2016, and became the campaign chairman in late June, after the June 9 meeting between Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Manafort with a number of people, including a Russian lawyer associated with Putin’s intelligence services (that is, a spy). Remember that Trump tried to explain away that meeting as being about “adoptions,” because the Russian response to sanctions was to shut down American adoptions of Russian children.

Manafort had to step back in August 2016, after a Ukrainian member of parliament and journalist revealed a secret ledger from Yanukovych’s headquarters detailing illegal secret payments to members of his inner circle, including Manafort (who was later convicted of tax evasion on some of that money). Manafort officially left the campaign, although documents have since shown that he continued to advise the campaign unofficially. This is the origin of the “black ledger” story, and Trump’s insistence that Ukrainians had it in for his campaign. As David Holmes testified before the House Intelligence Committee last week, this ledger is indeed believed to be legitimate.

Desperate to get the sanctions lifted, Putin helped get Trump elected, and since then American policy has swung his way. Trump has attacked NATO and the European Union, weakened our ties to our traditional European allies, ceded Syria to Putin, worked to get rid of Russian sanctions, and threatened to withdraw our support for Ukraine. It sure looks like American democracy is a great deal weaker than it was before Trump took office.

Putin’s corrupt oligarchy, in which a few rich men carve up their country and any other countries they can grab to pocket huge amounts of money, is fighting Ukraine because its people want a democracy based in the rule of law.

Until Trump became president, America was firmly on the side of democracy in Ukraine. Now, not so much.

And that is why the Ukraine scandal is so very important, and why the public announcement of a major Republican media figure that he sides with Russia was chilling.

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On the surprising (to me) origins of Thanksgiving, with an implied parallel to today’s imperilled republic.

November 27, 2019 (Wednesday)

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. . . but not for the reasons we remember.

Everyone generally knows that the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags shared a feast in fall 1621, and that early colonial leaders periodically declared days of thanksgiving when settlers were supposed to give their thanks for continued life and-- with luck-- prosperity.

But this is not why we celebrate Thanksgiving.

We celebrate thanks to President Abraham Lincoln and his defense of American democracy during the Civil War.

Northerners elected Lincoln to the presidency in 1860 to stop rich southern slaveholders from taking over the government and using it to cement their own wealth and power. When voters elected Lincoln, those same southern leaders pulled their states out of the Union and set out to create their own nation, the Confederate States of America, based in slavery and codifying the idea that some men were better than others and that this small elite group should rule the country. Under Lincoln, the United States government set out to end this slaveholders’ rebellion and bring the South back into a Union in which the government worked for people at the bottom, not just those at the top.

The early years of the war did not go well for the Union. By the end of 1862, the armies still held, but people on the home front were losing faith. Leaders recognized the need both to acknowledge the suffering, and yet to keep Americans loyal to the cause. In November and December, seventeen state governors declared state thanksgiving holidays. New York governor Edwin Morgan’s widely reprinted proclamation about the holiday reflected that the previous year “is numbered among the dark periods of history, and its sorrowful records are graven on many hearthstones.” But this was nonetheless a time for giving thanks, he wrote, because “the precious blood shed in the cause of our country will hallow and strengthen our love and our reverence for it and its institutions…. Our Government and institutions placed in jeopardy have brought us to a more just appreciation of their value.”

The next year Lincoln got ahead of the state proclamations. On July 15, he declared a national day of Thanksgiving, and the relief in his proclamation was almost palpable. After two years of disasters, the Union army was finally winning. Bloody, yes; battered, yes; but winning. At Gettysburg in early July, Union troops had sent Confederates reeling back southward. Then, on July 4, Vicksburg had finally fallen to U. S. Grant’s army. The military tide was turning.

President Lincoln set Thursday, August 6, 1863, for the national day of thanksgiving. On that day, ministers across the country listed the signal victories of the U.S. Army and Navy in the past year, and reassured their congregations that it was only a matter of time until the United States government put down the southern rebellion. Their predictions acknowledged the dead and reinforced the idea that their sacrifice had not been in vain, as Lincoln himself did just three months later in the Gettysburg Address.

But this is not why we celebrate a national Thanksgiving.

In October 1863, President Lincoln declared the second national day of Thanksgiving. In the past year, he declared, the nation had been blessed.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, he wrote, Americans had maintained their laws and their institutions, and kept foreign countries from meddling with their nation. They had paid for the war as they went, refusing to permit the destruction to cripple the economy. Instead, as they funded the war, they had also advanced farming, industry, mining, and shipping. Immigrants had poured in to replace the men lost on the battlefield, and the economy was booming. And Lincoln had recently promised that the government would end slavery once and for all. The country, he predicted, “with a large increase of freedom,” would survive, stronger and more prosperous, than ever. The President invited Americans “in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands” to observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving.

THIS is why we celebrate a national Thanksgiving.

Americans went to war to keep a cabal of slave owners from taking control of the government and turning it into an oligarchy. The fight against that rebellion seemed at first to be too much for the nation to survive. But Americans rallied and threw their hearts into the cause on the battlefields even as they continued to work on the home front for a government that promoted the common good.

And they won.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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A pause for how this impeachment thing works. Or, how it’s supposed to work.

November 30, 2019 (Saturday)

So where are we now with the impeachment proceedings against Trump?

I’ve written about impeachment at length here before if you want a deep dive into how this works, but there are a few things to keep in mind. The United States Constitution, the fundamental law on which our nation rests, lays out how impeachment of a president works.

It establishes that the House of Representatives alone has the power of impeachment. It can run the process of impeaching a president however it wishes, no matter how much the president (or anyone else) complains. Generally, the House investigates the offenses of which the president is accused-- it is important to remember that those offenses do not have to be actual criminal offenses (although they usually are). The Constitution lays them out as “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” but it does not define high crimes and misdemeanors. (It would be entirely reasonable to impeach a president who played video games all day and refused to do any work, for example, even though it is not illegal to play video games all day.)

At this investigatory stage, the president does not participate because it is still a matter within the House. Once the investigation is complete, either the House drops the matter (as it has done on a few occasions) or it hands the issue over to a committee—generally the Judiciary Committee—to prepare articles of impeachment. Once the committee has done so, those articles go before the House, which votes on whether or not its members think the president has committed the offenses outlined in the articles. Generally, in the past, some articles have passed and some have not. Then, if and when the House has voted to impeach a president by a simple majority vote, the matter goes to the Senate.

The Senate then holds a trial in which Senators act as a jury to decide whether or not the president has committed the offenses of which the House has accused him. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court-- in this case, Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by President George W. Bush-- presides over the trial, generally deciding procedural questions (although his decisions can be overturned by two-thirds of the Senate).

At this point, the president is expected to mount a defense. He has legal counsel and can call and cross-examine witnesses. Both presidents who have been impeached—Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton—have won at this stage, beating back the accusations against them (although in Johnson’s case there was a lot more going on than just his own behavior). Richard Nixon resigned rather than have his case go to the Senate after senators from his own party warned him that he would be convicted.

Two-thirds of senators must vote to convict. Today, that means 67 senators.

In the case of Donald Trump, we are still close to the beginning of the impeachment process, the part where the House investigates the president’s behavior.

After the Ukraine scandal blew up in September, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put the House Intelligence Committee in charge of holding hearings to try to figure out what had gone on in the White House and Ukraine in summer 2019, as Trump withheld $400 million Congress had approved to help Ukraine in its war against Russia until Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky announced an investigation into Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden, who was a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Under chairman Adam Schiff, the committee has held hearings, both private and public, and they have turned up damning information. Witnesses have claimed that the president and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, together with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, ran a shadow foreign policy toward Ukraine with the goal of rigging the 2020 election for Trump.

Throughout the hearings, Trump and his supporters have attacked the Democrats and the impeachment process, rather than defending the president. They insist they are being shut out of the process, and that the impeachment inquiry is therefore illegitimate. In fact, Republicans on the main committees investigating impeachment have had as much access to the hearings and to questioning witnesses as Democrats have, but they often chose not to attend. Nonetheless, a key aspect of their public opposition to impeachment has been their insistence that they are being excluded from it.

The Intelligence Committee is now pulling together a report of its findings, which will give Schiff the opportunity to lay out what he has called “‘a months-long effort in which President Trump again sought foreign interference in our elections for his personal and political benefit at the expense of our national interest,’” and to show that Trump has engaged in “an unprecedented campaign of obstruction in an effort to prevent the Committees from obtaining documentary evidence and testimony.” They are preparing to give the report to the House Committee on the Judiciary, chaired by Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), which has been itself looking into whether or not Trump had obstructed justice as laid out in the Mueller Report. The committee will hold its own hearings as it starts the process of writing articles of impeachment.

On Friday, November 29, Nadler wrote to Trump in advance of the first committee hearing on Wednesday, December 4. Nadler reminded the president that the House rules for impeachment passed at the end of October allowed for Trump and his counsel to request witnesses, attend committee hearings, and question those testifying. He asked Trump if he and his lawyers plan to participate in the impeachment proceedings and gave him until 5:00 on December 6 to inform Nadler of his decision. “The President has a choice to make,” Nadler said. “He can take this opportunity to be represented in the impeachment hearings, or he can stop complaining about the process. I hope that he chooses to participate in the inquiry, directly or through counsel, as other Presidents have done before him.”

This raises a quandary for Trump. Does he send his lawyers to defend him, or does he continue to insist the whole process is illegitimate? Trump has said in public that he would “love” to have Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testify, and would “strongly consider” testifying himself (he won’t, by the way-- his lawyers would never let him). And the idea that he is being railroaded will be harder to sell if he has publicly rejected the chance to be part of the process. But it’s hard to see what he will gain by participating, since there seems to be so very little evidence that he did not withhold aid to pressure Zelensky into doing what Trump needed, which is damning. My guess is that he will continue to refuse to participate, and continue to rail against the process, hoping that most people will miss that he is rejecting a chance to participate in it.

Interestingly, Nadler has chosen to start the Judiciary Committee hearings with legal scholars exploring the “Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment.” As part of their attack on process, Republicans have insisted that impeachment is unconstitutional; it is, they argue, simply a way for Democrats to overrule the 2016 election. Nadler is taking that issue head on, pointing out that impeachment could not be more constitutional. Far from being an illegitimate attempt to nullify an election, impeachment is outlined in the Constitution itself as a remedy for a dangerous president.


Also available, without notes, at https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/, where you can sign up to receive these posts as a newsletter.

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"It continues to feel as if the tide is turning, and Trump’s supporters are being called out. . . . It’s going to be quite a week, folks. Buckle up."

December 1, 2019 (Sunday)

I hope you all enjoyed the quiet of the holiday weekend… because it’s over.

This morning, on Meet the Press, Trump supporter John Kennedy (R-LA) defended the idea that Ukraine had interfered in our 2016 election, an allegation which has no basis in fact (that is, it’s a lie). This is significant because, for all his “aw shucks, I’m just a country boy” demeanor, Kennedy is actually a smart man, educated at Vanderbilt for his undergraduate degree, then the University of Virginia School of Law, then University of Oxford. Lawmakers have been briefed on the Intelligence Community’s findings that the idea that Ukraine attacked our elections is actually being pushed by Russians. Chuck Todd called him out on his disinformation, pointing out that he was doing exactly what Fiona Hill warned about: spreading Russian propaganda. But when he asked Kennedy if he had heard the briefings on Russian interference, Kennedy said he had not gone to them. And then he went on to say that former Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko had been actively working for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. This is lunacy and, again, its chief proponent is Russian president Vladimir Putin.

It was pretty clear that Kennedy was simply echoing what Republicans were doing during the public hearings over the past few weeks: salting phrases and ideas into the public conversation so that they could pull them into a narrative for their base. But here’s what is pulling me up short with Kennedy: his performance was lunacy that comes directly from Russian propaganda. Kennedy is a smart man. Why is he doing this?

Also interesting in this exchange was that Todd was pushing back against lies, rather than simply providing a platform for disinformation. It continues to feel as if the tide is turning, and Trump’s supporters are being called out.

Tonight, the Daily Beast dropped a piece by Molly Jong-Fast about Lisa Page, the former FBI agent whom Trump continually references, along with Peter Strzok, as his proof that the FBI was working against him. Page has been silent until now, but apparently Trump’s obscene imitation of Page and Strzok having sex convinced her that there was no point in staying silent and hoping she would fade into obscurity. Her interview with Jong-Fast details the effects of Trump’s attacks on a woman who was simply doing her job for the country, and who suddenly found herself at the mercy of Trump’s vicious tweets.

Perhaps even more interesting in her interview was that the FBI did not consider her affair with Strzok to be material to the question of her approach to her work, and had kept it from reports. It was Sarah Flores, spokesperson for Trump’s Department of Justice, who detailed that story to reporters, even as she insisted they must not identify where they had gotten that information. As early as 2017, then, as soon as Trump took office, the Justice Department was politicized, attacking private citizens perceived to be Trump’s enemies.

This afternoon, as I guessed would happen, Trump’s lawyers declined to take part in the impeachment hearings beginning Wednesday in the House Committee on the Judiciary, although they left open the option that they might participate in the future. His lawyer’s letter continued to lay out their complaints about the impeachment process in the House, calling the “purported ‘impeachment inquiry’” “baseless” and “highly partisan.” The argument that they have not had access to the process so they will refuse to participate in the process is… interesting. It suggests that they have little to offer by way of actual defense, and so are continuing to rail against the process.

Their weakness was evident today, as Judge Andrew Napolitano, the Fox News Channel’s senior judicial analyst, said that so far as he can see, the House Intelligence Committee turned up plenty of evidence to impeach Trump on charges of bribery, violation of federal election law, obstruction of justice, and tampering with a witness. Napolitano said: “He hasn’t presented a defense and I don’t know if he plans to. The evidence of his impeachable behavior at this point, in my view, is overwhelming.”

So far, the only new thing in all this is the degree to which people are starting to push back against Trump and his people. But a reader (hi Cathy!) pointed out to me this afternoon Robert Reich’s argument today in The Guardian, saying that, if the House votes to impeach Trump, he cannot be pardoned. This argument is based on Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives the president the power to pardon anyone convicted of crimes against the United States, “except in cases of impeachment.” While most scholars believe that Trump cannot pardon himself, Reich’s interpretation would mean that, once the House votes to impeach Trump, he cannot be pardoned by a successor either.

I am not a constitutional lawyer, but Reich’s article is intriguing. Few people realize that Richard Nixon was never actually impeached by the House. In his case, the Judiciary Committee approved various articles of impeachment, but the vote never went to the full House. I have always thought that lack of a House vote was because everyone knew the House would vote to impeach, and all eyes were on the Senate. But Reich’s interpretation makes me wonder if perhaps Nixon really did cut a deal to resign while he could still get a pardon from his replacement, Gerald Ford. That thought makes me note just how frantic Trump has been to avoid impeachment, a stance which has always stumped me. Why should he care about that particular slap when he has seemed impervious to everything else?

Until constitutional lawyers weigh in, I will be an agnostic on Reich’s argument. But I will note that the pressure of this moment increases dramatically if Trump loses the chance for a pardon if the House votes to impeach him.

It’s going to be quite a week, folks. Buckle up.

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“Why is the Republican Party… willingly repeating Russian talking points made up by an ex-KGB officer?” That, if you will pardon the profanity, is one hell of a good question.

December 2, 2019 (Monday)

As Dana Milbank put it today in the Washington Post, “this is the White House that can’t take ‘yes’ for an answer.” Republicans complained impeachment hearings were secret, so the Democrats made them public, and then Republicans complained they were illegitimate. After complaining that there were no “first-hand” reports of the events surrounding the Ukraine scandal, Trump refused to let anyone who had that knowledge testify (some did despite his order). Republicans complained that hearing transcripts were secret, so Democrats released them. Republicans complained that Trump’s lawyers couldn’t be present at the hearings; now House Judiciary Committee chair Jerrold Nadler has invited them and they have declined to attend. And my favorite, after repeatedly saying that Democrats should hurry up with impeachment and move on, Republicans are now complaining that the Democrats are rushing the process.

It is clear that Republicans cannot defend Trump on the merits, so they are going to attack the impeachment process. In USA Today, Maine Senator Angus King, an Independent, excoriated the officials in Trump’s administration who are not speaking up about the Ukraine scandal. They could exonerate the president with a few short statements under oath, King points out. The fact they are resolutely refusing to testify suggests they cannot defend him. King also notes that Trump is actively obstructing the process of fact-finding and attempting to intimidate witnesses. “If the president is innocent,” King writes, “he should want—no, he should demand—that the above mentioned officials appear in a public forum, under oath and subject to examination, to set the matter straight, as soon as possible.” Their silence, he concludes, speaks for itself.

But while it is clear Republicans are trying to gum up the works, it is also increasingly clear that they are no longer trying to argue there was “no quid pro quo”—the evidence is overwhelming—and are instead going to try to argue that the reason Trump went after Ukraine was because it tried to interfere in the 2016 election in favor of Hillary Clinton. This is hogwash, but more than that, it is Russian propaganda that has been utterly disproven by American intelligence services. As Trump supporters try to push this line of argument over that of our own intelligence, more and more people are asking why the Republican Party is echoing Putin.

Devin Nunes (R-CA) who is now under a cloud because Lev Parnas, the associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani who was arrested trying to flee the country, claims that he helped to arrange for Nunes to work with corrupt pro-Russia Ukraine officials to smear Hunter Biden, laid out the argument in the Intelligence Committee hearings. Nunes asked “What is the full extent of Ukraine’s election meddling against the Trump campaign?”

The evidence for this claim is a 2016 op-ed from the Ukrainian ambassador to the US criticizing Trump’s apparent willingness to let Russia keep Ukraine’s Crimea, and a single article in Politico in January 2017 that outlined local opposition primarily to Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, who had promoted a deeply unpopular pro-Russian politician in Ukraine for a decade (and who is now, of course, in prison, convicted of tax evasion on monies taken from that politician and revealed in what is now known as the “black ledger,” among other things.)

The Senate Intelligence Committee investigated this story, and quickly concluded there was nothing to it. When asked about Ukraine’s involvement in 2016, Senator Angus King, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, answered that he had “probably been to between 20-30 briefings and hearings on this subject of election interference in 2016, and I have never heard one word about any culpability on the part of Ukraine.” In her powerful testimony before Congress, Fiona Hill, formerly Trump’s top Russia advisor on the National Security Council, said that claims of Ukrainian attacks on our elections are “a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian Security systems themselves.”

In contrast, Russian interference in our election has been widely documented by our intelligence agencies, by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Report, and by a bi-partisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The evidence is clear and incontrovertible.

But GOP leaders continue to spout the Russian Ukraine lie. There was more notice today of Louisiana Senator John Kennedy’s statement on Meet the Press that there is “a lot of evidence” that Ukraine tried to influence the 2016 elections. When host Chuck Todd noted that Intelligence Community officers had told the Senate in a recent briefing that this story was Russian propaganda, and said, “You realize the only other person selling this argument outside the United States is… Vladimir Putin,” Kennedy answered: “I was not briefed.”

Kennedy is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of the most important committees at the very top of our government. If he was unaware of this Russian propaganda effort, he is so utterly derelict in his duty he should be immediately impeached himself. For my part, though, I don’t buy it.

Kennedy is not a lone voice. Today, the GOP members of Congress released their own report of the impeachment hearings so far, and concluded that the Democrats are simply trying to overturn the 2016 election, and that Trump withheld money from Ukraine not to pressure Zelensky, but out of “a deepseated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine due to its history of pervasive corruption….” (This is so obviously laughable it offends me.) It went on to insist that “Publicly available—and irrefutable—evidence shows how senior Ukrainian government officials sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election in opposition to President Trump’s candidacy, and that some in the Ukrainian embassy in Washington worked with a Democrat operative to achieve that goal.”

The narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in our elections would let Russia off the hook and would make it easier to lift the sanctions against the country and its oligarchs that Putin so desperately wants lifted. The attempt to whitewash Russia’s attack on our elections is running in tandem with the idea that Ukraine was the real culprit.

We learned tonight that Attorney General William Barr, who famously downplayed the findings of the Mueller Report on Russian attacks on the 2016 election, plans to dispute the forthcoming report of his own Department of Justice’s Inspector General on the FBI’s opening of the investigation into Russian interference in that election. The IG is said to be preparing a report establishing that the FBI’s investigation was proper; Barr has his own investigator, John Durham, preparing his own report into the same question, prompting UK officials to express surprise at his attempt to undermine the determinations of our own intelligence agencies.

Today Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman from Florida turned television host, branded the entire GOP as a Russian asset. “You have Republicans going on national television, repeating Putin talking points. The United States Senate even got a warning from the intel agencies, Donald Trump’s intel agencies, that this is propaganda that Vladimir Putin has been trying to push for the past several years.” Scarborough concluded with the question on all of our minds: “Why is the Republican Party… willingly repeating Russian talking points made up by an ex-KGB officer?”

That, if you will pardon the profanity, is one hell of a good question.

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"Wow," she wrote. "Just wow."

December 3, 2019 (Tuesday)

The big news today was that the House Intelligence Committee released its report on its investigation into the Ukraine scandal that is at the heart of the impeachment case against Trump. Although the report was long, it had two very clear points: the facts against Trump prove that he solicited a bribe—wording designed to show that the scandal meets the Constitution’s threshold for impeachment—and that Trump obstructed justice in his attempts to stonewall Congress and intimidate witnesses. Obstruction of justice is a crime; it is what took Nixon down in 1974.

The report lays out that the Ukraine scandal is at heart an attempt to rig the 2020 election and destroy our democracy with the help of a foreign country. It points out that this is a pattern for Trump, who benefited from Russian aid in 2016 and who has openly called for help from China as well as Ukraine before the upcoming election. The report notes that Trump’s call with Zelensky took place the day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified in public, apparently convincing Trump he was no longer in danger of being nabbed for working with Russia in 2016, and was willing to try a similar scheme again.

The report also notes that the Founders worried about precisely this behavior, and that if it is not checked, democracy is over. The House Intelligence Committee report is a remarkably clear, concise, and powerful document.

For their part, the White House ignored all the facts and relied instead on disinformation. Yesterday, House Republicans released their own report about the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment investigations, and that long document exonerated Trump of any wrongdoing at all. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham (who has never held a press conference, but regularly talks to the Fox News Channel) said that the Democrats had “utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump…. Chairman Schiff’s report reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing.”

This is a dramatically willful blindness to the fact that all the witnesses, including those called by the Republicans, were in essential agreement that Trump pressured Ukraine president Zelensky to announce an investigation into Burisma and Joe Biden’s son with the intention of sinking Biden’s presidential candidacy. Those facts are really not at all in dispute except within the Fox News bubble.

But the really big news from the report was its information about California Representative Devin Nunes. Nunes has grandstanded against the impeachment hearings since they began, and has embraced the idea that it was Ukraine rather than Russia that attacked our 2016 elections. So it was a surprise—for him, presumably, as well as us-- to find out that the Intelligence Committee had gotten access to records of the telephone calls on the phones of Lev Parnas, the associate of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani who was arrested for funneling money from Russian oligarchs to Republican candidates as he tried to flee the country, as well as on Giuliani’s. Together, those records show a high degree of coordination between the White House; the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where Mick Mulvaney was withholding Ukraine’s aid; Giuliani, and conservative reporter John Solomon, who pushed media stories attacking Marie Yovanovich and suggesting that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that attacked us in 2016. Also on the calls were an aid to John Bolton, and an unidentified number “-1” in the White House. That doesn’t look good for Trump, although that number is not yet clearly identified with him.

What really jumps out, though, is that Nunes, along with a couple of his aides, appears to have been deeply involved in the attempt to pressure Ukraine’s Zelensky to make a public announcement of an investigation into the company on whose board Hunter Biden sat. Nunes was listed on a number of calls in the newly released records.

Nunes is the ranking member—that is, the top Republican member—of the House Intelligence Committee, and before Democrats took control of the House in 2018 he was the chair of that committee, making him the person in charge of national intelligence in the House of Representatives. During the impeachment hearings, he has constantly attacked the investigation and tried to undercut the process. Now, it turns out that he, himself, is deeply implicated in the scandal. At the very least, he should have told the committee that he was implicated. Instead, he tried to sabotage the committee’s efforts to figure out what happened. This is simply stunning.

For his part, Nunes sued CNN for a minimum of $785,000 today over its story that Lev Parnas’s lawyer claimed that Parnas would be willing to testify that he set up a meeting between Nunes and a Ukrainian official to get dirt on Hunter Biden. But it’s a really weird document, seemingly designed for consumption by those in the Fox News Channel bubble.

Its first statement reads: “CNN is the mother of fake news. It is the least trusted name. CNN is eroding the fabric of America, proselytizing, sowing distrust and disharmony. It must be held accountable.” Then it goes on to say that it should have been obvious to CNN “that Parnas was a fraudster and a hustler,” an unfortunate observation to make on the day it was revealed that Nunes was communicating with Parnas in the midst of a national crisis.

The complaint goes on to attack Joe Biden and Adam Schiff. It reads entirely like a press release, but I can’t figure out Nunes’s angle, because once this suit was filed, he is open to the process of discovery, in which CNN could demand testimony and documents, which would expose Nunes quite badly. I can’t figure out the angle here, but I am entirely convinced he is simply playing to the optics of the situation and has no intention of going through with anything that would lead to discovery. The document repeatedly says that CNN published the Parnas story to get Nunes taken off the impeachment hearing… perhaps he was trying to get ahead of today’s bombshell and argue that it is all a CNN conspiracy? I am intrigued…

Today’s information may have created its own backlash. Notably, Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been echoing pro-Trump propaganda, came out today to say that he was 1,000% confident that it was Russia, not Ukraine, that meddled in the 2016 election, and the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution to disapprove of readmitting Russia to the G7 economic group. Both of these things show cracks in the GOP lockstep behind Trump.

Things look bad for Trump on other fronts, too. Yesterday, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson denied the stay order on her decision that former White House counsel Donald McGahn must testify before Congress. The White House had argued that Congress had no right to demand testimony from high-ranking White House officials; Brown demolished that argument, saying no one is above the law. Today, the president lost his appeal to block Deutsche Bank from handing over his financial records. While he argues that the subpoenas are invalid and will undoubtedly appeal to the Supreme Court, it is not good for him that the decisions against him are piling up.

Again, the big news today is that Nunes was involved in the very action he was charged with investigation, an investigation he tried to sabotage. Wow. Just wow.

I’d like to say it’ll be hard to top that for breaking news, but these days, the universe seems to take that as a challenge….

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I’m glad there’s an access option that DOES involve Facebook, because that’s the only way to get Trump voters’ eyes on it.

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