I hope (but also doubt) that Trump voters are reading Ms. Richardson’s essays, they’re concise and insightful. Truth told, I’m jealous of the clarity and nuance she brings to the day’s events. If I may echo @milliefink, I don’t know how she finds the time to write these, but I am glad that she does.
What was new, to my mind, was that although the Republicans kept insisting that those finding fault with the president were simply “TRUMP-HATERS,” as Laura Ingraham announced tonight on her Fox News Channel program, the Democrats quite effectively framed impeachment as a question of patriotism rather than partisanship. . . .That played strongly against the Republicans’ antics.
December 4, 2019 (Wednesday)
Today was the first day of impeachment hearings in the House Committee on the Judiciary. It was a day in which both the contours of today’s crisis in our government and the stakes of that crisis became crystal clear.
The Committee on the Judiciary has received the report of the House Intelligence Committee about its investigation into the Ukraine scandal. It is now considering whether and how to write articles of impeachment. To help make that decision—but really to put the evidence into larger context for Americans watching—it invited four legal scholars to testify about whether or not the evidence gathered by the impeachment committees is sufficient to impeach a president.
Three of the four scholars were invited by Democrats. They included Professor Pamela S. Karlan of Stanford Law School, Professor Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School, and Professor Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina School of Law. The Republicans invited George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley.
The day played out much as we could have expected. There is really no dispute over what took place: Trump tried to rig the 2020 election with the help of a foreign country. He, and those working for him, pressured Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into Burisma, the company on whose board Hunter Biden sat, in order to get the media to run with the story and hurt Biden in the 2020 election, much as rumors of Hillary Clinton’s misuse of email helped to sink her in 2016. Trump withheld both a White House visit and almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine for its fight against Russia to extract an announcement. The evident wavering of US support in the face of Russian pressure weakened Ukraine and strengthened Russia. These things happened. The question is whether or not these actions matter.
Republicans are saying they don’t. They say that the money was eventually released and that Zelensky said in public, repeatedly, that he did not feel pressured. These arguments do not contest the facts; they are simply optics for their base.
More than that, though, Republicans are trying to discredit the impeachment process itself. That effort was on display today with constant interruptions, interjections, and the rudeness of, for example, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins (R-GA) staring at the ceiling in evident boredom rather than paying attention to the proceedings.
Their mockery of the investigation started this morning when Collins claimed the witnesses were there to talk about “things that you probably haven’t had a chance—unless you’re really good on TV of watching the hearings over the last couple of weeks, you couldn’t have possibly actually digested the Adam Schiff report from yesterday or the Republican response in any real way.” Karlan snapped that she was insulted: “I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts.”
And that is how the hearing went. The Republicans insisted it was a sham that they couldn’t be bothered with so they made grandstanding speeches instead; the Democrats took it very seriously indeed.
To my mind, the scholars didn’t add much to what we already know. Turley told sort of weird folksy stories that reminded me of the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, a man for whom Turley has expressed great admiration. He said that impeachment might be reasonable if it could be proved that there had, in fact, been a quid pro quo, but he did not think that proven. He said impeachment required a crime; Democrats turned up that he said the opposite when arguing in favor of the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
The other three scholars said that the evidence that Trump tried to steal the 2020 election with the help of a foreign power was overwhelming, and if that is allowed to stand we will lose American democracy.
None of this is new.
What was new, to my mind, was that although the Republicans kept insisting that those finding fault with the president were simply “TRUMP-HATERS,” as Laura Ingraham announced tonight on her Fox News Channel program, the Democrats quite effectively framed impeachment as a question of patriotism rather than partisanship. They constantly referred to their oaths of office, and noted that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and former ambassador William Taylor, for example, both witnesses against Trump, were both decorated military veterans, and that Taylor was initially appointed by a Republican president (meaning that he is almost certainly a Republican himself). At length, they recalled the war service of their family members, and noted that they, too, had an oath to uphold.
That played strongly against the Republicans’ antics.
Also new to this impeachment inquiry was that Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) suggested that the committee has not yet abandoned its investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Remember, the pressure on Ukraine did not begin with an attempt to smear Biden; it began long before Biden was a presidential candidate, shortly after the 2016 election, with statements by Paul Manafort, among others, that it was Ukraine rather than Russia that attacked us in that election. That narrative would have enabled Trump to remove Russian sanctions despite its invasion of Ukraine. The Russian piece of the puzzle is apparently back on the table, for now, anyway.
Meanwhile, we learned today that Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani is currently in Ukraine working with One America News Network (OANN) to continue to try to publicize the debunked 2016 Ukraine and Biden stories. OANN is the pro-Trump radical right wing pay television news channel started in 2013 and rising in popularity as Trump turns increasingly to it rather than to the Fox News Network, which he often feels is hostile. Giuliani and OANN are apparently filming a television series that pushes the Biden story and the idea that it was Ukraine rather than Russia that attacked us in 2016. Giuliani met yesterday with Yuriy Lutsenko, the corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor who was originally the point man for making the announcement that Ukraine was investigating Hunter Biden. Apparently, he traveled to Kyiv (the Ukrainian name for the city the Russians called Kiev, if that name has confused you) today to film Viktor Shokin, the corrupt prosecutor Joe Biden boasted of getting fired, and Kostiantyn H. Kulyk, another prosecutor who was one of Giuliani’s primary Ukrainian contacts in the fabrication of information against Biden, and then against U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Kulyk was fired a week ago.
Evidently, the Republicans’ willingness to defend Trump has convinced his team that there is no downside to trying to rig the 2020 election. They are still trying to create a false narrative about 2016 and Joe Biden with the help of foreign nationals.
Thank you for continuing to post these. Good stuff, for sure.
Assuming that we make it through the next few years with democracy still somewhat intact, these hearings strike me more and more as the beginning of the end of the Republican Party. They’ve ridden the tiger too far, and it will eat them. In 50 years, history students will be studying this period with the assignment to compare and contrast the dissolution of the GOP to that of the Whigs. The Republican brand will be that toxic.
I don’t know whether what we end up with on the other side will be better or worse, but it does feel like we are watching a slow-motion collapse of the party.
I hope you’re right! And I wish I heard that perspective more often… Their actions these days do seem like the increasingly desperate and cynical flailings of a dying cult (and I often have thought of them as the largest white-identity cult ever formed).
Demographics are definitely moving against them. Instead of pivoting to be more inclusive, they went the other way and doubled-down on the racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Now their only play is dominion, and there’s a pretty chunky cross-section of the populace who will fight that to their dying breath.
Once again, Giuliani couldn’t help tweeting, and once again, he gave away more of the game.
December 5, 2019 (Thursday)
Today encapsulated modern American politics, as the Democrats stood on the Constitution, the Republicans tried to turn everything into theater for their base, and Trump and Giuliani openly continued to try to corrupt the 2020 election.
This morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked the House committee chairs to begin drafting articles of impeachment. She said the president had given Congress “no choice but to act.” He has violated the Constitution. “The facts are uncontested. The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security by withholding military aid and a crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival.” Her speech was measured and seemed understated.
Republican supporters of Trump immediately tried to turn this crisis into theater. James Rosen, a correspondent formerly of FNC and now with the right-wing news organization, Sinclair Broadcasting Group, had come to the conference to “make his own news,” as he told Washington Post writer Dana Milbank. As Pelosi left the room Rosen called out “Do you hate the president, Madam Speaker?”, an apparent reference to the Republican insistence that impeachment is a result of Democrats’ personal dislike of Trump.
Pelosi stopped dead and came back, pointing at Rosen, clearly furious at the word “hate,” which struck deeply at her Catholic religious convictions. Her words were now very clear as she spoke over his interruptions. “I think this president is a coward when it comes to helping our kids who are afraid of gun violence. I think he is cruel when he doesn’t deal with helping our ‘dreamers,’ of which we are very proud. I think he’s in denial about the climate crisis. However, that’s about the election.” Impeachment “is about the Constitution of the United States and the facts that lead to the president’s violation of his oath of office.”
The moment was powerful, but it did not stop the ongoing attempts of Trump loyalists to turn the day’s events into theater for their base. This morning, Trump tweeted “if you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair… trial in the Senate…. We will have Schiff, the Bidens, Pelosi and many more testify….” House Republicans jumped on this suggestion. But Senate Republicans, aware that many of them are up for reelection and eager to avoid as much attention to their own role in the defense of the president (while still planning to defend him), tried to throw cold water on those ideas today, suggesting that they did not want to call witnesses. We’ll see.
The theater was not over. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, who led the attacks on the Democrats throughout the impeachment hearings, and who we just found out is himself implicated in the Ukraine scandal, today did an interview with Fox News anchor Martha MacCalllum. Nunes dismissed the idea that there was anything inappropriate in his newly revealed phone calls with indicted operative Lev Parnas and Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who were trying to get rid of Marie Yovanovitch and smear Joe Biden, as well as arguing that Ukraine rather than Russia attacked our 2016 election. He claimed not to remember if he had ever spoken to Parnas (which almost certainly means he did), and insisted he had no idea who Yovanovitch was until the last couple of months. This is also either a lie or a sign he is entirely derelict in his duties, since he is the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee and until the Democrats took control of the House was its chair. Ukraine is central to their work, and Yovanovitch, a very senior, well-regarded and powerful official, was our ambassador there. If he didn’t know who she was, he was absolutely not doing his job.
Meanwhile, as I noted last night, the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani is now in Ukraine where he is most unwelcome, as Ukraine leaders are days away from peace talks with Russia, in which their hand is weakened by a lack of support from the US government. Zelensky’s officials and William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine since Yovanovitch was recalled, did not know Giuliani was coming and are not planning to see him. He is meeting with Russia-friendly former officials eager to push the narrative that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that attacked our 2016 elections, and to continue to push the Biden story.
Once again, Giuliani couldn’t help tweeting, and once again, he gave away more of the game. Trump’s defenders—including Nunes and the minority of the House Intelligence Committee just this week—have insisted that the president withheld aid to Ukraine not to get Zelensky to smear Biden but because Trump “holds a deep-seated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine due to its history of pervasive corruption.” Giuliani tweeted “The conversation about corruption in Ukraine was based on compelling evidence of criminal conduct by then VP Biden, in 2016, that has not been resolved.” Ooops. There goes that argument.
And, while he is in Ukraine doing precisely what Trump tried to force Zelensky to do, an attempt that now has the House of Representatives preparing articles of impeachment, Giuliani put everything right back on the table. He tweeted: “The American people will learn that Biden & other Obama administration officials, contributed to the increased level of corruption in Ukraine between 2014 to 2016. This evidence will all be released very soon.” By continuing to publicize this false narrative right now, Giuliani and Trump are essentially trying to force the Senate to rubber stamp their efforts to rig the 2020 election. It is shocking in its brazenness.
So, too, is the news that the phone logs revealed: Trump routinely uses his unsecured phone for all sorts of calls, refusing to use the secure land line because he does not want the White House to have a log of his calls. John Sipher, the former deputy chief of Russia operations at the CIA, says that while this means Congress cannot know for sure what is on the calls, “I guarantee the Russians have the actual information.” This means that Russian intelligence knew all about Trump withholding aid and a White House visit from Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, weakening Ukraine’s position and strengthening Russia. White House officials have repeatedly warned Trump that he is definitely being monitored by foreign governments, but he doesn’t seem to care… although he is adamant that he doesn’t want US officials even to know to whom he’s talking.
Finally, today, Trump’s lawyers have appealed to the Supreme Court to block the House subpoena for his financial records from his accountants. The Court is already meeting next week in private to discuss a New York subpoena for Trump’s tax returns in a case involving payments to Stormy Daniels, and the White House would like to add this financial records case to their deliberations. Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, says that the fight is over whether or not “Congress can exercise dominion and control over the Office of the President.” The White House says no. The president, Sekulow says, deserves “special solicitude.”
What did happen today, though, was that the contours of where we are grew clearer, clear enough that they are becoming stark. . . . Trump is consolidating power, and Republican leaders are acquiescing.
December 6, 2019 (Friday)
No big news dump tonight, so if you’re waiting for that, you’re off the hook and can stop reading. What did happen today, though, was that the contours of where we are grew clearer, clear enough that they are becoming stark. Trump and Giuliani and Pence are digging in—tripling down, as House Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) put it— on their insistence that there is nothing wrong with their attempt to rig the 2020 election. Both a new Senate investigation and the new publicity campaign by former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley indicates that their pressure on Republicans to bow to their takeover of the Republican Party is working.
Today, in a scathing two-paragraph letter, Trump’s lawyer Pat A. Cipollone informed Jerrold Nadler, the chair of the Committee on the Judiciary, that, after complaining bitterly that he was not included in the initial impeachment proceedings, Trump will now not participate in the ongoing impeachment proceedings. The letter is worth quoting in its entirety, both because of its attempt to deflect attention from the damning reality of the evidence against the president by accusing Democrats of misdeeds, and because of its utter contempt for Democrats and Congress.
“Dear Chairman Nadler,” it reads. “As you know, your impeachment inquiry is completely baseless and has violated basic principles of due process and fundamental fairness. Nevertheless, the Speaker of the House yesterday ordered House democrats to procced with articles of impeachment before your Committee has heard a single shred of evidence.
“House Democrats have wasted enough of America’s time with this charade. You should end this inquiry now and not waste even more time with additional hearings. Adopting articles of impeachment would be a reckless abuse of power by House Democrats, and would constitute the most unjust, highly partisan, and unconstitutional attempt at impeachment in our Nation’s history. Whatever course you choose, as the President has recently stated: ‘if you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business.’”
Remember that, as Colorado Representative Joe Neguse established on Wednesday when questioning George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, Nixon allowed his White House counsels to testify and that Clinton provided written responses to 81 questions from the impeachment committee.
Meanwhile, in Ukraine, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani continues to try to film a “documentary” spreading the very allegations Trump tried to get Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to make. While there, Giuliani continued to attack the impeachment process at home. Democrats took this as a sign of contempt for Congress.
Jeffrey Edmonds, former Russia director at the National Security Council under both President Barack Obama and Trump said: “It’s unbelievable to me the open way in which the administration and Giuliani are still pursuing this. It is a way of… asserting that everything that we’re doing is perfectly normal, perfectly fine and we’re going to keep doing it.” Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor and Trump supporter, agreed. “The fact that Giuliani is back in Ukraine is like a murder suspect returning to the crime scene to live-stream themselves moon dancing…. Its brazen on a galactic level.”
Today, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff wrote to Vice President Michael Pence to ask him to declassify testimony by his Special Advisor for Europe and Russia, Jennifer Williams, who had added more information to her public testimony about Pence’s own phone calls with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on September 18. Schiff told Pence that, after reading Williams’s new testimony, the committee “strongly believes that there is no legitimate basis… to assert that the information… is classified.” He reminded Pence that “in no case shall information be classified… for the purpose of concealing any violations of the law or preventing embarrassment of any person of entity.”
Trump is consolidating power, and Republican leaders are acquiescing.
In the Senate, Trump’s key supporters are now trying to pursue the idea that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in our 2016 election (once again, this is Russian propaganda that has been thoroughly debunked by our own intelligence agencies). They are also setting out to investigate Hunter Biden, just as Trump tried to strong-arm Zelensky into doing. Today, Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) announced that they intended to interview two people they think can prove that Ukraine plotted in favor of Hillary Clinton in 2016. They are also seeking documents about Hunter Biden and Burisma, the company on whose board he sat.
Nikki Haley, who previously was willing to speak out against Trump, is now doing a circuit of talk shows seemingly designed to enable her to step into a high position either under him or in place of him. Recently she has praised Trump, and today she made it a point to defend the Confederate flag as one that symbolized “service, and sacrifice, and heritage” until Dylann Roof corrupted it with his mass murder at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This is just weird, not only because we well know that the Confederate flag had fallen into disuse and was resurrected after the 1954 Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision to protest desegregating American schools, but also because Haley knows that too. She did an interview on it in 2015.
Today, the House passed a bill to restore the Voting Rights Act, gutted in 2013 by the Supreme Court in Shelby v. Holder. The VRA was always a bipartisan bill because Americans shared a belief that our democracy functioned best when everyone had a say in it, so they made it a priority of the government to try to make sure every voter was equal before the law. First passed in 1965, the VRA won support from 80% of House Republicans and 75% of House Democrats (the vote was 333-85). When it was reauthorized in 2006 the vote was 396-33.
Today the vote was by party lines: only one Republican voted in favor. Even Republican Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) who in March co-authored a bill to update the VRA, voted against it. Republicans recognize that they cannot win in a free and fair vote, so they are openly backing voter suppression and lining up behind Trump’s effort to welcome foreign help in our elections.
How terribly ironic it is that today is the anniversary of the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, an amendment pressed by Republican President Abraham Lincoln and passed by a Republican Congress. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in America except as a punishment for crime. It set into law the principle that all men are created equal.
Ultimately, the struggle between fascism and democracy was the question of equality. Were all men really created equal, or were some born to lead the rest, whom they held subservient to their will? Now, once again, democracy is under attack by those who believe some people are better than others. Will we permit the destruction of American democracy on our watch?
Now, once again, democracy is under attack by those who believe some people are better than others. Will we permit the destruction of American democracy on our watch?
December 7, 2019 (Saturday)
On the sunny Sunday morning of December 7, 1941, Messman Doris Miller had served breakfast aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia, stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and was collecting laundry when the first of nine Japanese torpedoes hit the ship. In the deadly confusion, Miller reported to an officer, who told him to help move the ship’s mortally wounded captain off the bridge. Unable to move him far, Miller sheltered the captain behind the ship’s conning tower. Then another officer ordered Miller to pass ammunition to him as he started up one of the two abandoned anti-aircraft guns in front of the conning tower. Miller had not been trained to use the guns because, as a black man, his naval assignment was to serve the white officers. But while the officer was distracted, Miller began to fire one of the guns. He fired it until he ran out of ammunition. Then he helped to move injured sailors to safety before he and the other survivors abandoned the West Virginia, which sank to the bottom of Pearl Harbor.
That night, America declared war on Japan. Japan declared war on America the next day, and four days later, on December 11, 1941, Italy and Germany both declared war on America. “The powers of the steel pact, Fascist Italy and Nationalist Socialist Germany, ever closely linked, participate from today on the side of heroic Japan against the United States of America,” Italian leader Benito Mussolini said. “We shall win.” Of course they would. Mussolini and Germany’s leader, Adolf Hitler, believed the mongrel Americans had been corrupted by Jews and “Negroes,” and could never conquer their own organized military machine.
The steel pact, as Mussolini called it, was the vanguard of his new political ideology. That ideology was called fascism, and he and Hitler thought it would destroy democracy once and for all.
Mussolini had been a socialist as a young man and had grown terribly frustrated at how hard it was to organize people. No matter how hard socialists tried, they seemed unable to convince ordinary people that they must rise up and take over the country’s means of production.
The efficiency of World War One inspired Mussolini. He gave up on socialism and developed a new political theory that rejected the equality that defined democracy. He came to believe that a few leaders must take a nation toward progress by directing the actions of the rest. These men must organize the people as they had been during wartime, ruthlessly suppressing all opposition and directing the economy so that business and politicians worked together. And, logically, that select group of leaders would elevate a single man, who would become an all-powerful dictator. To weld their followers into an efficient machine, they demonized opponents into an “other” that their followers could hate.
This system of government was called “fascism,” after the Latin word “fasces,” which were a bundle of sticks bound together. The idea is that each stick can be easily broken alone, but as a bundle are unbreakable. (It was a common symbol: in fact, Lincoln’s hand rests on fasces in the statue at the Lincoln Memorial.) Italy adopted fascism, and Mussolini inspired others, notably Germany’s Adolf Hitler. Those leaders came to believe that their system was the ideology of the future, and they set out to destroy the messy, inefficient democracy that stood in their way.
America fought World War Two to defend democracy from fascism. And while fascism preserved hierarchies in society, democracy called on all men as equals. Of the more than 16 million Americans who served in the war, more than 1.2 million were African American men and women, 500,000 were Latinos, and more than 550,000 Jews were part of the military. Among the many ethnic groups who fought, Native Americans served at a higher percentage than any other ethnic group—more than a third of able-bodied men from 18-50 joined the service—and among those 25,000 soldiers were the men who developed the famous “Code Talk,” based in tribal languages, that Hitler’s codebreakers never cracked.
The American president at the time, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, hammered home that the war was about the survival of democracy. Fascists insisted that they were moving their country forward fast and efficiently—claiming the trains ran on time, for example, although in reality they didn’t— but FDR constantly noted that the people in Italy and Germany were begging for food and shelter from the soldiers of democratic countries.
Ultimately, the struggle between fascism and democracy was the question of equality. Were all men really created equal, or were some born to lead the rest, whom they held subservient to their will?
Based in the principle that all men are created equal, democracy, FDR reminded Americans again and again, was the best possible government. Thanks to armies made up of men and women from all races and ethnicities—a mongrel population-- the Allies won the war against fascism, and it seemed that democracy would dominate the world forever.
But as the impulse of WWII pushed Americans toward a more just and inclusive society after it, those determined not to share power warned their supporters that including people of color and women as equals in society would threaten their own liberty. Those reactionary leaders rode that fear into control of our government, and now, once again, democracy is under attack by those who believe some people are better than others.
In June 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that democracy is obsolete. He believes that a few oligarchs should run the world while the rest of us do as we are told, and he is doing his best to destroy both American democracy and the international structures, like NATO, that hold it in place. The interests of reactionary American leaders and Russian president Putin run parallel. Astonishingly, that affinity has recently come out into the open. Some of our leaders are publicly echoing Putin’s propaganda, apparently willing to work with him to undermine the principles on which our nation rests so long as it means they can stay in power.
Will we permit the destruction of American democracy on our watch?
When America came under attack before, people like Doris Miller refused to let that happen. For all that American democracy still discriminated against him, it gave him room to stand up for the concept of human equality. He did so until 1943, when he laid down his life for it. Promoted to cook after the Navy sent him on a publicity tour, Miller was assigned to a new ship, the U. S. S. Liscome Bay, which was struck by a Japanese torpedo on November 24, 1943. It sank in minutes, taking two-thirds of the crew, including Miller, with it.
I hear a lot these days about how American democracy is doomed and the oligarchs will win. Maybe. But the beauty of our system is that it gives us people like Doris Miller.
Even better, it makes us people like Doris Miller.
The IG report did not surprise those of us who have been listening to testimony and reading documents here in the real world, but it evidently shocked those in Trump’s bubble.
December 9, 2019 (Monday)
At today’s impeachment hearing, the counsels for the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee testified. It was immediately clear that the Republicans were not even going to pretend to care about the process at hand. They were playing for sound bites and dramatic moments to construct an alternative reality for their base.
Republicans positioned posters in the room for the cameras, and as soon as the hearing started, a host from the conspiracy theory website InfoWars started yelling that the Democrats were committing treason. He had to be removed.
For the rest of the day, the Republicans made little effort to defend the president, and instead simply performed for the cameras, interrupting, yelling, trying to interrupt the proceedings. Their statements fed their alternative reality rather than dealing with the damning facts at hand. I was interested to see, for example, that according to Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) the document dump I wrote about yesterday was up to 8000 pages today. (There is still no evidence that this document dump ever happened.) There was also a lot of screaming at Democrats because of lack of key witnesses, a bit rich considering the White House is blocking all them from testifying.
One thing about their speeches and questioning of the witnesses jumped out. Republicans focused on the idea that the Democrats had engaged in spying, and demanded to know more about how the House Intelligence Committee had gotten access to phone records (they were subpoenaed). This has come up a lot since the release of the committee report last week; Fox News personality Sean Hannity seems especially worried about such “spying” and asked a guest on air if Congress could, say, get HIS phone records. Those records connect Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes with Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his indicted colleague Lev Parnas. Republicans seem eager to smother that connection with accusations that the records were accessed illegally (they were not).
Judiciary chair Jerrold Nadler has been criticized for letting the Republicans ran amok today, but I’m not sure he made a mistake. The sight of congresspeople treating a congressional hearing with contempt will not play well with people not firmly in their camp. Rather than looking like he was silencing the Republicans, Nadler let them do largely as they wished, and their behavior escalated as they tried to outdo each other. Seeing Matt Gaetz explode, talking out of turn over everyone, might play well on Fox, but lots of Americans don’t like seeing their government treated like a middle-school brawl.
The Republicans’ antics were not what disturbed me most today.
Midmorning, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. For his whole term, Trump has belittled the Russia story by insisting that the FBI illegally spied on him because anti-Trump staffers-- represented in his frequent retellings by Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, who exchanged texts critical of Trump—wanted him to lose the election.
The entire Russia investigation, he said, was a witch hunt inspired by the Steele Dossier, an investigation funded, he insisted, by the Clinton campaign. No matter how many people testified under oath that they did not open the investigation because of the Steele Dossier, that there was good reason to believe certain of Trump’s campaign officials might be Russian assets, and that the FBI was not acting from political motives, Trump could not be shaken from his narrative.
So the Inspector General investigated.
His report criticized the FBI for how it handled four FISA applications, that is, the applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a warrant to wiretap people suspected of being foreign spies.
And it rejected every one of Trump’s claims. The FBI did not base its investigation on the Steele Dossier, but rather on such problematic relations between four Trump campaign officials and Russia—Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Michael Flynn, and George Papadopoulos-- that there was ample reason to believe that at least one of them was a Russian asset. As for the idea that the investigation was instigated by Clinton supporters, the report dismissed that and noted that, in fact, it had turned up a number of texts from FBI agents who were Trump supporters and chatted about their excitement when he was elected. Neither they nor those like Strzok and Page had carried their views into their work, it concluded.
(Just to take this piece off the table, the report also included a letter from FBI Director Christopher Wray explaining how the FBI would improve its performance on FISA applications.)
What happened next suggests we are entering a new phase of disinformation, when leaders no longer try to spin facts but simply make their own and sell their false narrative on state media.
The president and Attorney General William Barr did not dispute the Inspector General’s report. Instead, they announced that it said the exact opposite of what it actually did. Here’s Trump: “It is incredible. Far worse than I ever would’ve thought possible. It’s an embarrassment to our country, it’s dishonest. It’s everything that a lot of people thought it would be, except far worse.” “This was an overthrow of government, this was an attempted overthrow – and a lot of people were in on it.” (Trump was a private citizen when the Russia investigation began in July 2016.)
Attorney General Barr: “The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.”
Barr had been concerned that Horowitz’s report would, in fact, disprove Trump’s conspiracy theory, so he dispatched the US Attorney for Connecticut John Durham to do his own review of the FBI’s Russia investigation last April. Today, Durham issued a statement saying “we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions.” Under federal law, the Justice Department’s Inspector General evaluates US Attorneys, not the other way around. In addition, it is not appropriate to comment on incomplete findings of an on-going investigation. Clearly Durham was under pressure to make this statement.
The IG report did not surprise those of us who have been listening to testimony and reading documents here in the real world, but it evidently shocked those in Trump’s bubble. The FNC show “Fox & Friends” had booked James Comey to appear on the show Tuesday morning to talk about the report, but cancelled as soon as it came out.
Instead, on his radio show, Sean Hannity simply followed Trump’s lead. “Everything we said, everything we reported, everything we told you was dead-on-center accurate. And the mob and the media has missed what is the biggest abuse of power [and] corruption scandal in the history of the country.”
This. Is. The. Exact. Opposite. Of. What. The. Report. Says.
Things in Washington are going to get worse as the Judiciary Committee unveils articles of impeachment tomorrow, on the same day that Trump is meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the second time. The first time the two met was right after Comey was fired and Trump horrified national security officials by sharing classified information with Lavrov and his team.
One way or another, tomorrow will make the history books.
I’d like to think the blatant denial of reality is a sign that the Republicans in general are just getting desperate, but no . . . the constant, flatout, DGAF lying mostly strikes me as truly ominous.
Especially in combination with the continued bland fecklessness of the Dems. Why the fuck aren’t they calling out all this lying more strongly??
“The best way to describe the situation is a term from Star Trek. Steve has a reality distortion field.”
“A reality distortion field. In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he’s not around, but it makes it hard to have realistic schedules. And there’s a couple of other things you should know about working with Steve.”
“Well, just because he tells you that something is awful or great, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll feel that way tomorrow. You have to low-pass filter his input. And then, he’s really funny about ideas. If you tell him a new idea, he’ll usually tell you that he thinks it’s stupid. But then, if he actually likes it, exactly one week later, he’ll come back to you and propose your idea to you, as if he thought of it.”
I thought Bud was surely exaggerating, until I observed Steve in action over the next few weeks. The reality distortion field was a confounding melange of a charismatic rhetorical style, an indomitable will, and an eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand. If one line of argument failed to persuade, he would deftly switch to another. Sometimes, he would throw you off balance by suddenly adopting your position as his own, without acknowledging that he ever thought differently.
Where is that from?
I got it from folklore.org, referring to Steve Jobs, but it’s been published and discussed all over the place.
I see, thanks. It was vaguely familiar. And it is a good analogy and term/label for what Repubs are trying to do now.
It’s just that in our current social media and corporate media and political environment, this form of charisma that individuals can deploy is happening on a much larger scale. It’s not convincing to people who would never vote Republican, but it is working for a lot of true believers. And what’s more frightening, to me, is that it’s sounding more and more like other forms of authoritarian, fascist insistence on whatever absolute bullshit fits their agenda. With too little calling out of it from the other side, and from respected, well-platformed journalists.
The Judiciary Committee will vote on these articles later this week. Then they will go before the House itself, which can either accept or reject them. If the House passes either of them (and it seems likely they will), the case goes to the Senate. And that poses a huge problem for the Republicans. It’s a pickle.
December 10, 2019 (Tuesday)
Four big stories today-- impeachment, control of the Senate, the trade deal, and Trump’s meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister-- so this is longer than usual. Sorry about that.
This morning, the House Committee on the Judiciary unveiled articles of impeachment against President Donald John Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors. The resolution is quite short-- just 9 pages, double spaced-- clear, and simple. Rather than delving back into the evidence gathered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, it lays out only two articles of impeachment, both related to the Ukraine scandal. They impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The first article lays out that Trump “solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election.” He withheld “acts of significant value” in order to pressure Ukraine’s leaders “to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage.” He “used the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process.”
The second article charges that Trump violated his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. It explains that the Constitution gives the House of Representatives “the sole Power of Impeachment,” and that to execute that duty, House committees served subpoenas to Executive Branch agencies, offices, and officials. “Without lawful cause or excuse,” Trump ordered those agencies, offices, and officials not to comply with those subpoenas. He used the powers of the presidency against the lawful powers of the House of Representatives. “In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively” an impeachment inquiry, trying “to seize and control the power of impeachment—and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives.”
The articles lay out the case against Trump quite briefly and clearly. I will link to them in the notes, here, and urge you to read them for yourselves.
It is also worth noting that these articles are not coming from the Democrats, but from the House Committee on the Judiciary, a key congressional committee which is controlled by Democrats because voters gave them that control in 2018.
The Judiciary Committee will vote on these articles later this week. Then they will go before the House itself, which can either accept or reject them. If the House passes either of them (and it seems likely they will), the case goes to the Senate.
And that poses a huge problem for the Republicans. Trump has made it clear that he wants to make a Senate trial into a spectacle with witnesses and shouting and drama, much as his supporters have done in House hearings in the past weeks. He feels he is best served by big rallies and extreme statements and absurd antics that dominate the news, and he wants to see that approach in the Senate. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone appears to agree with that decision. Their hope is to make the whole impeachment process seem so farcical and make it so painful to watch that it blows up in the Democrats’ face and helps Trump get reelected.
Senators, meanwhile, have warned Cipollone not to “turn the Senate into a circus.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants Republicans to keep control of the Senate. He knows that the crazy antics of Trump and his supporters puts that control at risk: even The American Conservative said today that “the case for impeachment is overwhelming.”
Unlike Trump, who can win by gaming the Electoral College, or Representatives, who can win by gerrymandering, Senators have to compete in their entire state. So while Trump and Republican Representatives can rely on ginning up their base, Senators cannot afford to alienate more moderate voters. If there is a trial, they want it quick and quiet.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has kept the articles simple to make the issue easy to understand and moved them quickly to keep the nation’s attention. An early vote in the Senate will also force Senators to declare their support (or lack of support) for Trump while there is still time for primary challengers to jump into the 2020 race. Senators who vote to convict Trump can expect to have pro-Trump challengers, whom Trump has already made it clear he will support over those who turn on him, while those who vote to exonerate him will have a terrible time in a general election. It’s a pickle.
Then, less than an hour after the unveiling of the impeachment articles, Pelosi announced a new trade deal to replace NAFTA. The USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) was a top priority for the White House, but was negotiated largely by Pelosi’s team, and has crucial labor protections in it, demanded by the Democrats. The AFL-CIO labor organization has endorsed the agreement, which is huge. Trump tried to spin the announcement of this deal as a sign that Pelosi was trying to bury the impeachment story, which he insists is hurting the Democrats (polls say the opposite), but in fact the announcement of the first victory for workers since Trump took office undercuts Republican arguments that Democrats have ignored the country’s business to focus on impeachment (which is not true; the House has passed tons of legislation, but McConnell kills it in the Senate).
And over all this—Ukraine, impeachment, the 2020 election—the elephant in the room remains. Why is Trump so cozy with Russia, and why are Republican leaders enabling that coziness as it undermines our own geopolitical interests?
Trump’s service on the side of Russia continues even in the midst of this crisis in his own government. Today, he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in what was an unprecedented second visit between the two. Also today, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky met in Paris with Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron in the first day of talks to end the six-year Ukraine war. That war started when Ukraine tried to break away from Russian oligarchs and align with Europe, prompting Russia to invade eastern Ukraine and start a war that has caused 13,000 deaths.
America took the side of democracy in Ukraine, which was why it was such a shock when the Republicans bowed to Trump’s wishes and weakened the plank supporting Ukraine in their 2016 platform. America’s support for Ukrainian democracy in the face of Putin’s aggression is also why State Department officials were so horrified by Trump’s withholding of almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, and why, for Zelensky, a meeting with the American president was so very important. It would show to Ukrainians and Russians both that America stood firmly with democracy in Ukraine.
Now, on the very day that talks began between Zelensky and Putin, Trump met not with a Ukrainian but with Lavrov, in a meeting reports say Lavrov wanted. This sends an unmistakable sign that Ukrainians rank lower with Trump than Russia does, and the relative positions of the two countries in peace talks will shift accordingly. American is siding with Russian oligarchy rather than Ukrainian democracy.
At the meeting with Trump, Lavrov denied that Russia had attacked the 2016 US election and asked for more documents for proof.
Reading his words, it hit me: he sounds like a Republican.
It’s really bizarre, the denial of reality. I just went back to review it. Yup. It’s right there in black and white. Even without any context or supporting testimony, just the transcript that Trump keeps telling everyone to read proves he committed a felony violation of the Federal Campaign Finance Reform Act of 1971. (52 U.S.C. § 30121(a)(2)) He was reminded on June 18 by the Chair of the FEC, Ellen Weintraub, about the law, just weeks prior to the phone call where he solicited campaign aid from a foreign person. If the value is above $25k, that makes it a felony.
What’s the value of the president of a foreign country doing on interview on CNN announcing an investigation into your political opponent? $250k? Or over a million dollars?
Anyone but the President would be in jail right now, facing felony charges in federal court.
Maybe THAT’S why Trump wanted to be president. It’s turning out to be a way of escaping punishment for his past crimes, and for current and probably future ones too.
That he has pretty much an entire political party backing him up on that is just . . . frightening beyond words, I think.
In the midst of all the Republican antics, people and institutions are emphasizing that the rule of law still matters. Today, the Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Board added its voice to that of the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post to support impeachment.
December 11, 2019 (Wednesday)
Even as I write this, members of the Judiciary are “debating” the articles of impeachment the committee has prepared against Trump. I put that word in quotation marks because there is no debate going on. Democrats are reiterating the surprisingly consistent facts established over the last several weeks of investigations and hearings, while Republicans, led by Doug Collins (R-GA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Dan Ratcliffe (R-TX) are simply yelling, once again trying to create an emotional—and false—narrative for their supporters, while sapping the energy of those who disapprove of the president.
The tone of the hearing was clear from the start. Committee chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said to his Republican colleagues: “I know you. I have worked with many of you for years. I consider you to be good and decent public servants. I know this moment must be difficult, but you still have a choice…. I hope that none of us attempt to justify behavior that we know in our heart is wrong. I hope that we are able to work together to hold this president—or any president—accountable for breaking his most basic obligations to the country and to its citizens.”
Ranking Member of the Committee on the Judiciary Doug Collins (R-GA) answered by comparing Democrats to Adolf Hitler.
In Mein Kampf, his autobiography, Hitler talked about the power of what he called “the big lie.” He wrote that people were more likely to believe a giant lie than a little one, because they were willing to tell small lies in their own lives, but they “would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. Since they could not conceive of telling “colossal untruths, they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” He went on: “Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.”
The US Office of Strategic Services picked up on this when it described Hitler’s psychological profile. It said “His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”
Tonight, Collins accused the Democrats of using the techniques of the big lie. “What’s the Big Lie?” he asked. “It’s the one Democrats have told the American people for the last three years. The Big Lie is that the ends justify the means. The Big Lie is that a sham impeachment is okay because the threat is so great. The Big Lie is that political expedience is honorable and justifiable.”
His description of the big lie does not, of course, meet the definition of a big lie, suggesting that it is just a signal to Trump’s base equating the Democrats with Nazis. Jim Jordan (R-OH) continued the hate-fest, telling the base that “they hate us.” Sitting in front of a poster calling the Democrats who drew up the impeachment articles the “Coastal Impeachment Squad,” he said again and again that Trump’s elitist opponents were simply voicing their hatred for Trump’s regular-guy supporters.
This idea originated with Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, who developed it quite deliberately to try to rally people around Nixon when his popularity began to plummet in 1969. It has become a stock Republican idea at this point, but it is worth noting that it is pushed by Republicans, not by Democrats, who are constantly self-flagellating about reaching out to Trump voters, while there is no corresponding impulse for Republicans.
While Democrats are talking about the promise of America and the need to hold a president to our laws, Republicans are hostile and inflammatory, inciting hatred of Democrats. It will play well with Trump, but it is irresponsible and dangerous.
Louie Gohmert (R-TX) made it clear just how irresponsible Republicans are willing to be. He read out what is allegedly the name of the whistleblower. While Donald Trump, Jr., has tweeted the name, this is the first time it has been made public by an official. There is no reason to do this except to punish this individual and silence others.
The person did as we would hope all officials would do: s/he was concerned about what s/he was hearing from others about the July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and reported those concerns to the proper authority (rather than, say, leaking to the press). That authority, the Intelligence Community’s Inspector General, deemed the threat credible and urgent, and passed the complaint on to the acting Director of National Intelligence, who broke the law by refusing to turn it over to the congressional intelligence committees. That’s what broke this whole scandal open. Since then, we have heard testimony from people who actually were on the call—which the whistleblower was not—so there is zero legitimate reason to hear any more from this person. Republicans are hoping to tar the person as a Democrat, taking pressure away from the damning evidence provided by actual witnesses to the phone call itself. And to do that, they are willing to put the person in grave danger.
Republicans are pushing the idea that we are on the verge of a war with each other. CBS News posted a video of Trump supporters at Trump’s rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania last night saying they would start a “second Civil War” if Trump were removed from office. The video seems to be of “regular folks,” but an astute observer noted that one of the men was activist Will Johnson, not from Pennsylvania but from San Francisco, who runs a prominent MAGA website, and who Trump has invited to the White House twice.
The Russians have pushed the idea of another American civil war since at least 2018. Since 2016, they have actively worked to drive us to attack each other.
And as long as we’re looking at Russians… Federal prosecutors in New York asked a judge to revoke bail for Giuliani’s associate Lev Parnas, who failed to disclose a $1 million transfer from a Russian bank account to his wife in September, along with his plans to buy a $4.3 million house in Boca Raton, Florida. Parnas was in significant debt until recently, and he disclosed to federal officials only $43,000 in cash. So, while he was working with Giuliani, Parnas took at least $1 million from a Russian source.
Parnas, you will recall, donated $325,000 to Trump’s superPAC. He also donated money to various Republican officials, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Parnas was arrested as he was leaving the country, and was charged with breaking campaign finance laws. Prosecutors say he is an extreme flight risk.
In the midst of all the Republican antics, people and institutions are emphasizing that the rule of law still matters. Today, the Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Board added its voice to that of the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post to support impeachment.
And Time Magazine, which has an uncanny knack for sensing societal trends, honored public servants today as its “Guardians of the Year.” It honored those 363,000 people in general, but singled out the whistleblower, as well as former US. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, Russia expert Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Russia expert Fiona Hill, and former Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, all witnesses against Trump in the Ukraine scandal.
It said: “In shouldering the 241-year principle of speaking truth before the American people, each performed a duty. The first day on the job, every federal employee takes an oath, swearing to the same promise the President-elect pledges on the West Front of the Capitol-: to defend the Constitution. The courage they summoned was not to break the law, but to follow it.”