Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Bill Taylor Transcript Links Trump Directly To Quid Pro Quo For Aid

Another day brings another transcript of testimony that eviscerates the Trump Administration’s claim that there was no quid pro quo involving foreign aid for Ukraine. The House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees released the transcript of Ambassador William Taylor, ChargĂ© d’Affaires Ad Interim For U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine this afternoon, which filled in details from Taylor’s opening statement, which was released previously.
In a statement accompanying the transcripts, the chairs of the three committees said, “The testimony of Ambassador Taylor—a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran, and nonpartisan diplomat—shows how President Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine and conditioned its release, as well as a vital White House meeting, on the President of Ukraine publicly announcing investigations into debunked conspiracy theories involving the Bidens and the 2016 election.”
The link to the complete testimony can be found here while another link containing select excerpts of the testimony is here.
Among the revelations from Taylor’s testimony, Ambassador Taylor said that there was an official diplomatic channel to Ukraine that included then-Special Envoy Kurt Volker, Ambassador Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and Rudy Giuliani as well as Taylor himself. The “irregular” policy channel eventually began to diverge from official US policy toward Ukraine.
This became obvious to Taylor on July 18 when, on a conference call, he heard “a staff person from the Office of Management and Budget say that there was a hold on security assistance to Ukraine but could not say why. Toward the end of this otherwise normal meeting, a voice on the call, the person who was off-screen, said that she was from OMB and her boss had instructed her not to approve any additional spending of security assistance for Ukraine until further notice.”
Taylor and the other participants in the call were astonished. “The Ukrainians were fighting the Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons but also the assurance of U.S. support,” he explained.
The origin of the order was said by the OMB staffer to come from President Trump. In Taylor’s words, “All that the OMB staff person said was that the directive had come from the President to the Chief of Staff to OMB.”
“In an instant, I realized that one of the key pillars of our strong support for Ukraine was threatened,” Taylor added. “The irregular policy channel was running contrary to the goals of longstanding U.S. policy,” policy that was approved by Congress. That longstanding aid included “weapons, it was training, it was the communications equipment, it was sustainables… [that] allowed Ukrainian soldiers to actually defend themselves.” The aid had been given under both the Obama and Trump Administrations.
Taylor also discussed the text message exchange with Gordon Sondland regarding the delayed aid in which Sondland asked Taylor to call him.
“During that phone call,” Taylor related, “Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations. In fact, Ambassador Sondland said everything was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky in a box by making public statement [sic] about ordering such investigations. In that same September 1st call, I told Ambassador Sondland that President Trump should have more respect for another head of state and that what he described was not in the interest of either President Trump or President Zelensky. At that point, I asked Ambassador Sondland to push back on President Trump’s demand. Ambassador Sondland pledged to try.”
The testimony undercuts Republican claims that there could be no quid pro quo because the Ukrainians were not aware of the hold on the aid by hinting at a prior conversation between Sondland and the Ukrainians that linked “everything” to Zelensky’s public announcement of investigations. The Ukrainians may have been aware of Trump’s demands as early as June 28 when the president held a phone call with Zelensky that cut out the regular diplomatic chain-of-command. This phone call was not monitored or transcribed outside of Trump and the irregulars.
President Trump continued to insist on Ukrainian action before he would release the aid. Taylor describes a conversation with Sondland in which he was told, “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.” Taylor says that both Sondland and Volker used the term “signing the check” in conjunction with discussions about releasing the aid.
And because it always comes back to the Russians, Taylor described why the delay in aid and the pressure on Zelensky was detrimental to national security, telling the committee, “The Russians [are] loving it. The Russians are paying attention. The Russians are paying attention to how much support the Americans are going to provide the Ukrainians.”
“The Russians want to know how much support the Ukrainians are going to get in general, but also what kind of support from the Americans,” Taylor continued. “So the Russians are loving, would love, the humiliation of Zelensky at the hand of the Americans, and would give the Russians a freer hand, and I would quit.”
Ambassador Taylor’s testimony should be devastating to Donald Trump and his defenders. Not only does Taylor link the president directly to a quid pro quo that tied Ukrainian military aid and White House access to investigating a political opponent, he also undercuts claims that the Ukrainians did not know about the delay in aid until much later. The dishonesty of the White House claims about Trump’s phone call with Zelensky are troubling but totally expected but Taylor’s testimony, which has been corroborated by other witnesses, goes further. The ambassador paints a picture of a president who does not listen to advisors and who is willing to stab allies in the back for a momentary political gain, even as the lives of their soldiers are on the line.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Democrats Eke Out Victory In Kentucky Governor Race

One of the most closely watched races last night was the Kentucky gubernatorial race in which Republican Matt Bevin, one of the most unpopular governors in the country, was defending his job against Democrat Andy Beshear. Beshear eked out a victory in the very close election, but the drama may not be over yet.
The vote count currently stands at 709,673 for Beshear, 49.2 percent of the vote versus 704,523 for Bevin, 48.8 percent. A difference of only 5,150 votes separates the two men with 100 percent of precincts reporting.
Matt Bevin has so far refused to concede the election, which means that county clerks will review vote totals to make sure that correct numbers were transmitted to the state Board of Elections. If there is a discrepancy, or if a candidate requests it, the votes can be physically recounted. There is no automatic recount provision under Kentucky law and the candidates have until the Tuesday following Election Day to request a recount.
There were many factors involved in the election. Bevin is one of the most unpopular governors in America due to his policies of cutting teacher pensions, pushing people off Medicaid and picking fights with both parties in the legislature. With Republican supermajorities in both houses of the Kentucky legislature and Republican victories in most other statewide races, the Kentucky election cannot be viewed as simply a rejection of the Republican Party and Donald Trump. At a net of 15 points, Kentucky has one of the highest approval ratings for Donald Trump.
The flip side, however, is that even an Election Eve rally by Donald Trump and Sen. Rand Paul could not save the governor. There were two polls of the race in October. An early October poll showed a tie while a late October poll showed Bevin up by five points. The rally by the president did not help Gov. Bevin and may have hurt him.
There will be a long debate as to the national implications of the Kentucky governor race, but the bottom line is that Donald Trump may not be able to save a weak Republican candidate, even in one of the Trumpiest states in the Union. What this means for a weak Republican presidential candidate remains to be seen.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Swing State Polls Look Bad For Donald Trump

A new round of head-to-head polling from the swing states came in yesterday and the results are somewhat encouraging for Republicans. While Donald Trump trails the leading Democrats in national polling, many of the swing state races are too close to call.

Due to the large number of candidates and states to examine, for clarity, I will present each state separately and give Trump’s net poll rating with each candidate based on the Real Clear Politics average. A negative rating means that Trump is behind and a positive rating means that he is ahead. For reference, I’m also including the latest state-level Trump approval numbers from Morning Consult, which were taken as the Ukraine whistleblower scandal was breaking in late September.
Trump vs. Biden               -10
Trump vs. Warren            -7.3
Trump vs. Sanders           -7.9
Trump vs. Buttigieg         -4.5
Trump vs. Harris               -5.3
Trump approval                -13

Trump vs. Biden               -1.7
Trump vs. Warren            0.7
Trump vs. Sanders           5.3

Trump vs. Biden               -2.0       
Trump vs. Warren            0.3
Trump vs. Sanders           1.0
Trump approval                -2

Trump vs. Biden               1.5
Trump vs. Warren            4.5
Trump vs. Sanders           1.0
Trump vs. Buttigieg         4.0
Trump approval                -14

Trump vs. Biden               -7.7
Trump vs. Warren            -3.0
Trump vs. Sanders           -7.3
Trump approval                -10

North Carolina
Trump vs. Biden               -5.4
Trump vs. Warren            0.2
Trump vs. Sanders           -2.4       
Trump approval                -3          

Ohio (no recent polling)
Trump vs. Biden               -7.0
Trump vs. Warren            -1.5
Trump vs. Sanders           -5.0
Trump approval                -5

Trump vs. Biden               -7.3       
Trump vs. Warren            1.7
Trump vs. Sanders           5.4
Trump approval                -8

Trump vs. Biden               -5.7
Trump vs. Warren            -1.0
Trump vs. Sanders           -2.7
Trump approval                -11

There are a couple of important takeaways from this polling, even though the election is still a year away. The first is that Joe Biden is a stronger candidate in the swing states than Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. In six of the seven swing states with recent head-to-head polling, Biden leads Donald Trump. Warren fares worst of the three top-tier Democrats, but Bernie Sanders is not much better.

Second, Trump approval is a pretty good proxy for how he stacks up in a head-to-head matchup in most cases, although this is dependent on individual candidates as well and the numbers don’t match up exactly. In only one of the states examined, Iowa, does Trump have a negative approval rating but leads in polling.

Finally, as we saw in 2016, it isn’t enough for the Democrats to win the popular vote and expect that to translate into an Electoral College victory. The Democrats must give Donald Trump a 5-10 point shellacking in the popular vote to be assured of winning enough swing states to secure the White House. This is especially true due to the difficulties of state-level polling in swing states.

Based on the current polling presented above (while assuming Ohio stays red), Joe Biden would win the Electoral College by 333-205 and Bernie Sanders would eke out a 273-265 victory. Elizabeth Warren would lose by 258-280, but many states are actually too close to project in a Warren-Trump matchup. Neither side could be confident of victory at this point, although Warren does seem to represent Trump’s best chance at reelection.

The election is a long way away and a lot can happen. In the current cycle, that is even more true than most years due to the breaking Ukraine scandal, impeachment, the slowing economy, and a number of other factors. While the swing states are not looking good for Donald Trump, they are looking much better than the national average, but that’s why they call them battleground states.

While many of the state-level races are not polled frequently, it will be important to watch them for trends over the next year. Significant movement in one direction or the other could represent a changing dynamic within the election.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Good News And Bad News For Joe Biden

If you just read the polling headlines, you would think that Joe Biden is effectively out of the presidential race. However, for those who read beyond the top line to look at the nuts and bolts of the polling and follow polling trends, the picture is much different. In today’s polling update, there is both good news and bad for Team Biden.

First, the bad news. As we reported last week, Biden is slumping in Iowa. In the current Real Clear Politics average of polls, Biden is in a statistical tie for third with Bernie Sanders. The pair trails Elizabeth Warren by seven points and the second-place Pete Buttigieg by two. The rankings are far from set in stone with both Warren and Biden trending down.

As a result of the vice president’s disappointing performance with Hawkeye State Democrats, the Biden campaign is working to lower expectations for the first-in-the-nation caucuses. Biden campaign manager Greg Schultz recently told the Wall Street Journal, “I think we’re the only ones who don’t have to win Iowa, honestly, because our strength is the fact that we have a broad and diverse coalition.”

Schultz went on to point out that, if the current polling trend holds, the results would be a muddled finish with no clear winner as the four candidates all earn delegates.

“Does anybody win? Technically, yes, maybe,” Schultz added. “But does that give you clarity on where the heart of the Democratic Party is? I would say, ‘no,’”

Schultz’s claim is backed up by national polling where Biden remains the clear frontrunner. Real Clear Politics currently shows Biden with an average lead of nine points as Elizabeth Warren, who had previously tied Biden for first in the national average, fades like the colors of a cheap shirt. Nationally, Sanders runs third with an average of 16 percent and Buttigieg is still stuck in single-digits. No one else comes close.

There is also good news for Biden in two new polls from Nevada, where the last polling was done in September and showed a near three-way tie between Biden, Sanders, and Warren. The new polls, from the Nevada Independent and Emerson, show Biden jumping ahead in the state, which will be the third state to vote next year. Both polls give Biden an 8-10-point lead with about 30 percent support. Warren and Sanders are running a close race for second at approximately 20 percent each.

For all of the predictions of doom for Joe Biden, he is hanging in there. Despite his age, his gaffes, and his connection to the ongoing Ukraine scandal, Biden is polling today at 29 percent in the national average, exactly the same level from a year ago and prior to his presidential announcement on April 25. He lost much of the bump from his announcement with a poor first debate performance, but his support has been remarkably steady since then. With Warren in decline, it seems that Biden’s most dangerous competitor for the nomination may have missed her chance.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, November 4, 2019

House Releases Impeachment Transcripts

The House committees investigating President Donald Trump’s actions with respect to a quid pro quo with Ukraine for an investigation into the company that hired Joe Biden’s son have released the full transcripts to the public. In a joint statement, the chairs of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees said, “The American public will begin to see for themselves the evidence that the committees have collected” and that more is being learned “about the President’s attempt to manipulate the levers of power to his personal political benefit.”
The transcripts released so far include the testimonies of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch and former Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State Ambassador P. Michael McKinley. Ms. Yovanovitch’s complete testimony can be viewed here and key excerpts are located here. Mr. McKinley’s complete testimony is here and excerpts can be found here.
Among other things, the excerpts reveal that Ambassador Yovanovitch was the woman that President Trump said was “bad news” and that was “going to go through some things” in the July 25 phone call with Ukrainian officials.
Yovanovitch also learned from staff members that Rudy Giuliani and Ukraine Prosecutor General Lutsenko were allegedly “looking to hurt” her “in the US.” Afterward, she said that Lutsenko began to spread “falsehoods” about her. Minister of Internal Affairs Arson Avakov told Yovanovitch that “Ukrainian officials was [sic] very concerned” about Giuliani and that she should watch her back.
The falsehoods apparently relate to documents sent to Secretary of State Pompeo earlier this year. In addition to targeting Yovanovitch, the documents also referenced Hunter Biden. It is not known precisely what the documents alleged or who sent them to Pompeo.
Yovanovitch said that she communicated her concerns to superiors in the State Department, including Acting Assistant Secretary Phil Reeker of the European Bureau, Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale, Fiona Hill of the NSC, and Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the EU. She said that Sondland recommended that she “tweet out there that you support the President and that all these [disinformation claims from Lutsenko and Giuliani] are lies.”
For his part, McKinley said, “In 37 years in the Foreign Service and different parts of the globe and working on many controversial issues, working 10 years back in Washington, I had never” seen an effort to use the State Department to dig up dirt on a political opponent.
McKinley proposed releasing a statement from the State Department supporting Ambassador Yovanovitch, but Secretary of State Pompeo denied the request, ostensibly to protect Yovanovitch by not drawing “undue attention to her.”
McKinley raised the issue with Pompeo several more times and eventually resigned over the “lack of public support for Department employees.” In a final conversation with Pompeo, McKinley told the Secretary, “This situation isn’t acceptable.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Pregnant Florida Woman Fends Off Home Invasion With AR-15

Proving once again that a legal gun in the hands of a law-abiding citizen can save lives, a pregnant Florida woman used an AR-15 to fight off attackers in her own home last week. Her actions may have saved the life of her husband and pre-teen daughter in addition to her own and the life of her unborn baby.
Tampa’s Spectrum News 9 reported that the wife of Jeremy King saved the family with her quick thinking and courageous action when two assailants broke into the family’s home in Lithia, Fla. at about 9:00 p.m. last Wednesday. The two men, who were armed, broke in and demanded money. The pair attacked King and grabbed his 11-year-old daughter.
“They came in heavily hooded and masked. As soon as they had got the back door opened, they had a pistol on me and was grabbing my 11-year-old daughter,” King said.
“I’m telling them, ‘I have nothing for you,’” King continued. “And they’re like, ‘Give me everything you got.’ It became real violent, real fast.”
The men were beating King when his wife, who is not named in the story, came out of the back bedroom to see what was happening. The home invaders shot at her and she retreated to the bedroom, where she grabbed the family’s AR-15. The eight-months pregnant woman then returned fire, causing the attackers to flee.
“When he came toward the back door in her line of sight, she clipped him,” King said. “He made it from my back door to roughly 200 feet out in the front ditch before the AR did its thing.”
The injured robber was later found dead in a nearby ditch. The second attacker fled the scene and is still at large.
King credits his wife with saving his life, saying, “Them guys came in with two normal pistols and my AR stopped it. (My wife) evened the playing field and kept them from killing me.”
Even with his wife’s intervention, King was severely injured in the attack. “I’ve got a fractured eye socket, a fractured sinus cavity, a concussion, 20 stitches and three staples in my head,” King told reporters. “I took a severe beating.”
Nevertheless, he and his daughter are alive thanks to his wife and the AR-15.
The incident proves once again the old saw that ” God made man, but Sam Colt made men – and pregnant mothers – equal.”

More Republicans Are Admitting To Ukraine Quid Pro Quo

Quite a while back, a wag formulated the stages of Trump scandals. Using the formula that has been proven time and again over the past three years, the Ukraine scandal is now moving into stage three as Republicans begin to acknowledge that President Trump attempted to engage in a quid pro quo arrangement with President Zelensky of Ukraine.

The Trump scandal cycle goes something like this:
1. Denial (“fake news”)
2. Attack the source (“Deep State”)
3. Admit that allegations are true, but say they aren’t serious (“He only attempted a crime unsuccessfully”)
4. Admit that the allegations are serious, but say that Democrats are worse (“What about Hillary”)

Over the past few weeks we have zipped past denials that the whistleblower’s account was false and that it was based on secondhand information. Those claims were shot down by the release of the call summary and corroborating statements and testimony from other members of the Trump Administration.  The destruction of the first line of defense led to…

The claim that the whistleblower was a liberal in league with Adam Schiff and that he had a bias toward the Democrats. Unfortunately for Trump’s defenders, claims of bias could not be credibly applied to members of the Trump Administration such as Bill Taylor, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and the well-known nonliberal John Bolton. When character assassination failed to stop the bleeding, Republicans began to…

Stop denying that there was a quid pro quo and instead argue that it was not illegal. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was one of the first White House insiders to admit to a quid pro quo several weeks ago. However, Mulvaney quickly attempted to walk back his comments to avoid being hung out to dry by the president’s legal team.

Now it seems that Mulvaney was ahead of his time. Yesterday, Trump advisor Kelly Ann Conway told CNN’s Dana Bash, “I don't know whether aid was being held up and for how long” when pressed about whether there was a quid pro quo.

Conway doesn’t seem to be the only Republican unwilling to go very far out on a limb for Donald Trump on the matter. A few Republicans, such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, have long acknowledged that Trump’s actions were bad but not impeachable. Now others are more open to the strategy.

The Washington Post reports that Sens. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are among the Republicans who admit that there was a quid pro quo but deny that it was unethical or illegal. Kennedy reportedly argued at a private Republican luncheon that quid pro quos are common in foreign aid while Cruz held that “corrupt intent” must be present to make such an arrangement illegal.

There are several big problems with this line of reasoning. First, is that it is “illegal to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a US election.” That statement is from Ellen Weintraub, chair of the Federal Election Commission in a tweet from June, more than a month before President Trump’s phone call with President Zelensky.

Weintraub’s tweet came a day after Trump openly told reporters that he would accept campaign help from foreigners. The call summary released by the White House confirms that Trump specifically asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, which would directly aid Trump’s reelection campaign.

The second problem is that Trump himself undercuts Republican efforts to find a middle ground with his own strategy of denying everything. Over the weekend, Trump said in a tweet, “There is no quid pro quo!” The president doesn’t seem to be willing to give an inch on the issue and continues to insist that the call was “perfect.”

The third problem is that most voters don’t see Trump’s actions as being as innocent as congressional Republicans do. A new Fox News poll found that 49 percent want Trump impeached and removed. While voters said that it was inappropriate to ask foreign leaders to dig up dirt on his political opponents by a 64-27 margin, 56 percent of Republican primary voters thought it was okay to do so. Thirty-two percent of Republicans believe that Trump asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens compared to 60 percent overall.

At this point, the evidence is that Donald Trump either acted corruptly or incompetently. If the president was ignorant of the fact that asking a foreign government for help in an election is illegal after years of the Russian investigation, Weintraub’s statement to the contrary, and what must have been numerous discussions by White House lawyers, it must have been a case of willful ignorance. Even more than for an average citizen, to a president who should have known better, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

There is also the possibility that yet another smoking gun will emerge that undercuts the Republican defense that Trump did not have a “culpable state of mind,” as Sen. Kennedy put it. With news breaking quickly and damaging testimonies coming at an alarming pace, it isn’t impossible that Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton or others could testify to Trump’s “corrupt intent,” either purposefully or accidentally.

At that point, the script of the Trump defenders will likely shift to read, “Sure, he broke the law, but he’s still better than [insert Democrat here].” The Trump base will buy that argument but what about the rest of the country?

Originally published on The Resurgent