Tuesday, November 19, 2019

House Democrats Investigate Whether Trump Lied To Mueller

A new aspect of the House impeachment inquiry is an investigation into whether President Trump lied in a written, sworn statement prepared for the Mueller investigation earlier this year. The Washington Post reports that the House general counsel revealed the investigation into Trump’s statement during proceedings in which the House is asking for the release of secret grand jury information from the Mueller investigation.

The House request for grand jury information comes in the wake of Trump crony Roger Stone’s conviction last week. Stone’s conviction stemmed from attempting to cover up his contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. Stone passed along information from WikiLeaks to the Trump campaign and then lied about these communications to investigators.

House investigators say that testimony and evidence at Stone’s trial cast doubt on President Trump’s claims that he was not aware of the contacts between his and WikiLeaks regarding the release of the stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee.

In one particular instance during Stone’s trial, Rick Gates, a longtime partner of Paul Manafort, who was a former Trump campaign manager, testified that Donald Trump took a phone call from Roger Stone in July 2016. Immediately after hanging up, Trump told those in attendance that “more information would be coming” from Wikileaks. Gates’ testimony contradicts Trump’s written statement, which said, “I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with” Stone, “nor do I recall Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with my campaign.”

Gates pled guilty to charges of conspiracy and making false statements as part of a deal with prosecutors. He was the star witness in the trial of both Paul Manafort in addition to testifying against Roger Stone. He is also scheduled to testify against former Obama White House counsel and Manafort associate, Geoffrey Craig, who was also indicted for lying to investigators about Manafort’s work in Ukraine. Gates has not yet been sentenced.

“Did the president lie? Was the president not truthful in his responses to the Mueller investigation?” General Counsel Douglas N. Letter asked rhetorically in the court appearance.

“The House is now trying to determine whether the current president should remain in office,” Letter told the court. “This is something that is unbelievably serious and it’s happening right now, very fast.”

Last month, a federal judge ordered the Department of Justice to turn over grand jury material referenced in redacted portions of the Mueller report to House investigators. In the ruling, Beryl Howell, chief district judge for the DC district court, wrote, “The Department of Justice claims that existing law bars disclosure to the Congress of grand jury information. DOJ is wrong.”

There were hints earlier this year that Mueller suspected that the president’s answers to his team’s questions were not completely honest. The Mueller report called Mr. Trump’s responses “inadequate" and "incomplete or imprecise." The report noted that investigators had considered subpoenaing the president but ultimately decided against it.

President Trump’s statement to Mueller was written, but it was also given under oath. If prosecutors can demonstrate that the president lied under oath to investigators, it would not only be a crime, but there is precedent for impeaching a president for a similar act of perjury. If perjury is added to the Articles of Impeachment against President Trump, it would represent the parties coming full circle in the space of 20 short years.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Guards Face Criminal Charges In Epstein Death

Two prison guards who were supervising Jeffrey Epstein before his death last summer will face criminal charges this week. However, the guards will not be charged with murder and the development sheds no light on Mr. Epstein’s mysterious death.

The Associated Press reports that the two corrections officers will face criminal charges relating to falsifying documents. The pair, who had been working overtime due to staffing shortages, are suspected of failing to carry out the required half-hour checks on Epstein and faking logbook entries to cover up their actions.

The officers were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation by the FBI and Justice Department Inspector General. If the officers are indicted by a grand jury, they will be placed on unpaid suspension until the outcome of the case is determined.

Jeffrey Epstein, a millionaire playboy with connections to the Clintons, Donald Trump, the royal family as well as numerous other celebrities and politicians, was arrested earlier this year on charges of sexually abusing and sex trafficking underage girls. He allegedly attempted suicide on July 23 in his cell and was placed on suicide watch. He was eventually removed from suicide watch at his lawyer’s request and was found dead in his cell on August 10.

Epstein’s death sparked a nationwide conspiracy frenzy, but the coroner reported that the cause of death was suicide. In October, Michael Baden, a private pathologist hired by the Epstein family, said that injuries to Epstein’s body, such as fractures to the larynx and hyoid bone, were "extremely unusual in suicidal hangings" and more consistent with "homicidal strangulation."

However, Barbara Sampson, the chief medical examiner for New York City, stood by her initial determination, noting that Epstein’s injuries were consistent with a hanging death in an older person. Epstein was 66.

"In forensics, it's a general principle that all information from all aspects of an investigation must be considered together," Sampson told US News. "Everything must be consistent and nothing can be inconsistent, and no one finding can be taken in isolation. You can't draw a conclusion from one finding. Everything about the case has to be considered."

While we don’t know exactly what happened to Jeffrey Epstein, the preponderance of the evidence that we currently have points toward suicide. The rub is that much of the evidence also points toward a gray area where murder was at least possible.

The criminal charges against the two guards are another example of evidence that can be viewed through either lens. Under the official view, the neglect of Epstein by the guards allowed the prisoner to seize the opportunity to kill himself. Under the view of the conspiracy theorists, the guards turned their heads while he was murdered. More evidence is required to prove either theory conclusively.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, November 18, 2019

Supreme Court Puts Hold On Release Of Trump Tax Returns

Chief Justice John Roberts has issued a stay to temporarily delay the release of Donald Trump’s tax returns to the House Oversight Committee. House Democrats said that they would not oppose the temporary delay, which would give the Court time to consider arguments from both sides.

CNBC notes that the stay does not require a public vote or dissent. A stay generally requires five justices, but, in some cases, one justice can issue the order pending review by the full Court.

The case before the Court centers on a provision of the IRS Code that stipulates that the agency “shall furnish such committee with any return or return information” for which it submits a written request. The law does not exempt the president’s tax information but does note that tax information “shall be furnished to such committee only when sitting in closed executive session unless such taxpayer otherwise consents in writing.”

While observers wait for the Supreme Court to decide whether it is constitutional for the president to opt out of disclosing his tax information, the president’s lawyers are urging the Court to hear a second case involving presidential tax returns. The president is appealing a decision by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals that requires Mr. Trump to turn over his tax returns to the Manhattan district attorney. If the Supreme Court refuses to take up the appeal. Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, will be required to submit the returns to the DA office.

As I predicted back in May, the law seems to be on the side of the Democrats so the legal battle may only have the effect of pushing the exposure of President Trump’s tax information closer to the election. If the returns don’t contain incriminating information, Mr. Trump would likely be better served to simply drop the lawsuits and fulfill his promise of releasing his tax returns. Otherwise, he may be hit with the leak of embarrassing tax information just when it will hurt him most.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Impeachment Drives Wedge Between Trump And Pompeo

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has emerged as an official staunchly loyal to President Trump. Pompeo has worked to stonewall House Democrats in their impeachment investigation and refused to testify in the inquiry, but that may not be enough to keep him out of trouble with the president. Reports from current and recent administration officials indicate that Mr. Trump is not happy that many of Pompeo’s subordinates are speaking to Congress despite the Secretary’s instructions not to do so.

NBC News reports that “four current and former senior administration officials” have said that the president blames Secretary of State Pompeo for his appointments of several State Department officials who have recently testified about the Trump Administration’s mishandling of the foreign aid package to Ukraine. In particular, Mr. Trump is reportedly upset about the appointment of Bill Taylor, the Chargé d’Affaires Ad Interim For U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine whose testimony to House investigators established a quid pro quo in which the Trump Administration demanded favors from Ukraine to release the congressionally appropriated aid. Taylor was appointed temporary head of the Ukraine embassy last June after Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was recalled.

A senior official said that the opinion inside the White House “just felt like [Pompeo should] ‘rein your people in.’”

The impeachment inquiry has put Pompeo in a difficult position as the head of a federal department that now questions his leadership and as an advisor to a president who demands unflinching loyalty. With State Department officials alleging wrongdoing that Pompeo must have been aware of, the secretary is walking a tightrope.

“He feels like he's getting a bunch of blame from the president and the White House for having hired all these people who are turning against Trump,” an unnamed official said of Pompeo, “and that it's the State Department that is going to bring him down, so it's all Pompeo's fault.”

Back in October, Trump told reporters that Pompeo had made a mistake hiring Taylor, who he called a “Never Trumper.” Two days later, Pompeo was conspicuously absent from the national security team that was present when a US military force launched a raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Pompeo was home in Kansas for a friend’s wedding.

Pompeo reportedly defended himself to the president by saying that the State Department is a large agency where he cannot be expected to know and control every employee. Nevertheless, sources say that “Pompeo feels under siege” and continues to be “iced out.” He is still present for meetings, but Trump listens to him less.

From the other side, Pompeo has lost credibility with State Department employees for not standing up to the unethical behavior of President Trump and his shadow diplomatic team. National Security Advisor Michael Bolton reportedly pushed back on the quid pro quo scheme, but there have been no reports that Pompeo tried to advise the president against the plan. He also stood by while Rudy Giuliani and his cohorts allegedly conducted a disinformation and character assassination campaign against Marie Yovanovitch. Ambassador Mike McKinley resigned over Pompeo’s refusal to defend Yovanovitch.

At its core, the friction between Trump and Pompeo is based on the fact that good people were appointed to positions in the State Department. These good people objected to the unethical conduct of the president, Rudy Giuliani, and others such as Gordon Sondland. If there had been no wrongdoing in Trump’s diplomacy, there would have been no reason for officials in the State Department to blow the whistle, but now Pompeo gets the blame for State Department employees showing disloyalty by blowing the whistle on the president’s scheme.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, November 15, 2019

Roger Stone Found Guilty On All Counts

Trump associate Roger Stone has been found guilty on numerous charges by a federal jury. The guilty verdict includes charges of witness tampering and lying to Congress in connection with the Russia investigation.
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted Stone in connection with his September 2017 testimony before Congress. Texts and emails showed that Stone had lied to congressional investigators about his attempts to communicate with WikiLeaks about leaks of stolen Democratic emails and passing information he gained to the Trump campaign. Stone allegedly also tried to silence the testimony of liberal talk-show host Randy Credico.
Stone is reportedly being released on his own recognizance until his sentencing, but he is still subject to a gag order on the case.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Here’s How Ukraine Got Its Aid Without Investigating Hunter Biden

One of the central Republican talking points in the Ukraine scandal has been that the Ukrainian aid package was ultimately released without President Trump getting his requested announcement from President Zelensky that Ukraine was opening an investigation into Hunter Biden and Burisma. If Ukraine got its aid without submitting to Trump’s demand, the president’s defenders argue, then how could there have been a quid pro quo? The answer was not always readily apparent, but, as more information comes out, the inner workings of the secret deal are becoming known.

For example, at first, it appeared that the quid pro quo for aid might relate solely to the July 25 phone call between the two presidents. After testimony from numerous Trump-appointed State Department officials, however, it now seems that trading aid for political favors had been official Trump Administration policy for weeks, if not months.

Likewise, light is also being shed on the Ukrainian side of the deal. The New York Times reported last week that, after the Ukrainians initially protested to Bill Taylor that they “did not want to be used as a pawn in a U.S. re-election campaign,” they bowed to pressure and became willing to make the announcement to get the US aid they needed to fight Russia-backed rebel forces. Accepting Trump’s demand to make an announcement would have risked jeopardizing future aid by politicizing the Ukrainian war, but the Zelensky government felt that it had no choice.

“I said that resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified to Congress.

Per the Times report, President Trump wanted Zelensky to make the announcement on CNN, but, aware that Trump considered CNN to be “fake news,” the Ukrainians were concerned that an appearance on the network work would further alienate Trump. But Trump had also tweeted in August that Fox News “isn’t working for us anymore.” The Ukrainians finally scheduled an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sept. 13 in which the announcement would have been made.

As Bill Taylor testified last week, “Ambassador Sondland said that this conversation concluded with President Zelensky agreeing to make a public statement in an interview on CNN.”

Zakaria confirmed that an interview agreement was close, saying, “Things picked up around August and September, I went to Kiev to meet with him. It seemed it was confirmed. And then it fell apart.”

But why did the Zelensky interview never happen? On Sept. 9, the inspector general of the intelligence community notified Democrats and Republicans of the House intelligence committee that he had received the whistleblower complaint and found the information credible. The Trump Administration released the aid package two days later on Sept. 11.

Even at that point, it isn’t clear that President Trump authorized release of the aid. Bloomberg reported last week that, because September was the last month of the federal fiscal year, the aid money had to be spent by Sept. 30 or else it would have to be reappropriated by Congress. To spend the money by the end of the month, it had to start moving around the middle of the month because of a two-week notification requirement for Congress.

National Security Advisor John Bolton, an outspoken critic of Trump’s extortion plan, stepped up in early September and authorized the State Department to spend the money. The move reportedly took the White House by surprise. A week later, Bolton resigned.

In the end, the Republican claim of “no harm, no foul” falls apart unless you think that incompetence is an adequate defense for abuse of power. President Trump clearly intended to a quid pro quo that would have benefited his reelection campaign by smearing Joe Biden, the likely Democratic nominee. That the scheme fell apart before it came to fruition is not a credit to the president’s ethics and morality. Rather, the Republican argument that an unsuccessful crime is not a crime at all is reminiscent of Sideshow Bob’s claim that he was imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit.

“Attempted murder,” lamented Bob to the Simpson family way back in season six. “Now honestly what is that? Can you win a Nobel Prize for attempted chemistry?”

The evidence points toward an unethical quid pro quo in which President Trump abused his presidential power to attempt political gain. The attempt almost succeeded, but the fact that it failed does not exonerate the president. If he emerges from the Ukraine scandal unpunished, there is every indication that he will continue to abuse his office as long as he holds it.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

New Poll Shows Mayor Pete Leading In Iowa

There is a first for everything and today was a first Pete Buttigieg. In a Monmouth University poll of Iowa caucus-goers released on Tuesday, Mayor Pete has vaulted to the lead for the first time.

The new poll shows Buttigieg leading the pack with 22 percent support. This represents a shockingly fast surge for a candidate who garnered only eight percent back in August.

The poll shows Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren in a statistical tie with 19 ad 18 percent respectively. Bernie Sanders runs a distant fourth at 13 percent. No other candidate polled above five percent.

While the Monmouth poll may not be enough to establish Mayor Pete as the Iowa frontrunner, other polling does confirm his rise and Elizabeth Warren’s decline. A Quinnipiac poll from last week showed Warren and Buttigieg tied with 20 and 19 percent respectively. That poll put Sanders in third with 17 percent and Joe Biden at 15 percent.

A month ago, a New York Times poll had Warren at 22 percent. The Massachusetts senator was followed by Sanders, Buttigieg, and Biden who were all within one point of each other.

The Iowa polling seems to be following a pattern in which the top four candidates ebb and flow as voters consider their pros and cons. Warren surges for a few weeks and then Buttigieg gets a turn as Warren’s weaknesses are revealed. Biden and Sanders have been more-or-less consistent in their Iowa polling even though both men have suffered setbacks.

The Buttigieg surge comes with both good news and bad for Mayor Pete. The bad news is that there is not much depth to his ground game. While rolling in cash, the Buttigieg campaign is heavily invested in Iowa and has little in the way of infrastructure or support elsewhere. Mayor Pete’s failure to generate excitement among black voters will be particularly problematic as the race moves to the South. In New Hampshire, a recent Quinnipiac poll showed him with 15 percent, competitive with Warren and Sanders for second but behind Joe Biden.

The good news for Mayor Pete is that his surge may not be enough to attract a significant amount of attention from the other Democrats at next week’s debate. National polling still shows Biden as the frontrunner with Elizabeth Warren fading into second place. In national polling, Buttigieg does not even break into double-digits.

To have a sustainable campaign, Buttigieg must look beyond Iowa and broaden his appeal while fending off attacks from his rivals. If Mayor Pete can hold on for three months to pull off an upset victory in Iowa, then he may be able to parley his new frontrunner status into more victories. Not following the examples of Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, who both used their time in the spotlight to crash and burn, may be a bigger problem.

Pete Buttigieg and his supporters have worked hard to be competitive in Iowa. Over the next few weeks, we will see if the effort was worth it or whether he is just another flavor-of-the-month.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Watching The Movies: ‘Midway’ Is Fitting Homage To Heroes

I grew up on the 1976 version of the story of Midway. I didn’t see it on the big screen but, for years afterward, whenever it came on television, I’d always try to watch. As a history buff, I eventually read Gordon W. Prange’s weighty “Miracle At Midway,” which is the definitive account of the battle. If you’re interested in the details of the battle and don’t have problems lifting heavy objects, this is the book you should read. When I saw the previews for the new retelling of the story of Midway, I knew I had to see it and Veteran’s Day seemed like the perfect day to do it, together with my kids.
If you are even a casual student of American history, you know how the battle turned out so I’ll skip the usual warning about spoilers. Instead, I’ll say that the movie takes time to set the stage for the battle, unlike 2017’s “Dunkirk,” which drops viewers into a firefight within seconds. Even though the Battle of Midway occurred only six months into America’s involvement in WWII, those were a busy few months so you might want to forego the extra-large theater Coke if you don’t want to miss anything.
The movie begins with a prelude set in 1937 in which Edwin Layton, then assistant naval attaché in Tokyo met with Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. In real life, the two men met several times but the movie gives a Japanese motive for the Pearl Harbor attack four years later. Yamamoto tells Layton that the US shouldn’t interfere with Japanese access to raw materials. When President Roosevelt froze Japanese assets in July 1941 in retaliation for the Japanese invasion of Indo-China, Japan lost access to 88 percent of its imported oil and the stage was set for a confrontation between the two powers. At least in part, World War II was a war for oil.
“Midway” spends a fair amount of time on the attack on Pearl Harbor and this is appropriate. Modern Americans who have grown up the era of America as the sole superpower probably cannot imagine the fear that Americans felt in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and for good reason. The defeat at Pearl Harbor was not an isolated occurrence in late 1941 and early 1942. American and British outposts across the Pacific were falling like dominoes. The Philippines, including the fortress island of Corregidor, Wake Island, and Guam all fell quickly as well as British Hong Kong and Singapore. At that stage in the war, the Japanese had better ships and aircraft than the Americans and more of them. The faulty American torpedoes depicted in the movie were a real problem that had to be overcome… quickly. Given the shockingly fast string of victories, the Japanese must have seemed invincible.
The graphic depiction of the disaster at Pearl Harbor is much more effective than the 2001 movie that focused on the sneak attack. Although the attack represents only a fraction of the movie, the desperate struggle for survival on what had been a peaceful Sunday morning is among the most disturbing parts of the movie. The skin on a sailor’s hands is burned off and others fall into pools of flaming oil. The human cost of the disaster hits home when the devil-may-care Lieutenant Commander Dick Best (played by Ed Skrein) finds the badly-burned body of his Naval Academy roommate in a makeshift morgue.
From Pearl Harbor, “Midway” walks the viewer through other milestones of early 1942 including the Doolittle raid on Japan in April. The backstory makes the movie somewhat long but is valuable in describing the situation leading up to Midway. For what it’s worth, my children paid rapt attention throughout the whole two-plus hour film, plus long movies mean that you get more entertainment time per ticket dollar.
In a movie where virtually every character is hero, one man who stands out is Commander Edwin Layton (played by Patrick Wilson). Layton was the intelligence officer who blamed himself for the Pearl Harbor attack and who made it his mission to ensure that another such disaster never happened. Although neither Layton nor Best are listed in the cast for the 1976 movie, both figure prominently in the new version. Charlton Heston’s character from 1976 film, Matt Garth, is based in part on Layton.
Layton is central to the telling of the story of how the US Navy cracked the Japanese code, at least partially. Navy codebreakers were able to pinpoint the target of the Japanese attack and turn the enemy offensive into a trap (cue Admiral Ackbar). Codebreaking is difficult to depict onscreen but both movies handle it well, although the focus of the 1976 version is on Commander Joseph Rochefort, the eccentric cryptologist played 40 years ago by Hal Holbrook and this year by Brennan Brown. Both men put distinctive spins on the character, but I’d like to imagine that Brown’s is closer to the truth.
It is interesting to note that Layton wrote an account of breaking the Japanese code that was not declassified until the 1980s. His book, “And I Was There,” was published by his co-authors in 1985, a year after his death. If you’d like to read the book, as I was thinking of doing, be prepared to either pay up or visit the library. It retails on Amazon for $87.
The actual battle scenes do justice to the technological and impersonal violence of battle. Midway was only the second naval battle in history in which the opposing ships were never within sight of each other. The fighting was conducted entirely by airplanes from both fleets as well as the submarine USS Nautilus, which fired torpedoes at the Japanese fleet but missed. Special effects have come a long way since 1976 and CGI is put to good use in the new movie.
While many of the details of the battle are depicted on screen, their importance may not be apparent to viewers not already familiar with the battle. That, however, is a problem of the medium rather than the movie itself. Motion pictures just don’t lend themselves to pointing out arcane trivia without becoming clunky.
As an example, Ensign George Gay (played by Brandon Sklenar in 2019 and Kevin Dobson in 1976) is depicted in the water cheering on the attacking Americans after being shot down in the first wave of torpedo attacks on the Japanese. What the viewer is not told is that Gay’s Torpedo Squadron 8 from the USS Hornet lost every aircraft that morning and Gay, picked up after 30 hours in the water, was the only survivor of his squadron. Torpedo 8’s sacrifice was not in vain, however. Their low-level attack brought the Japanese Zero fighters down to the surface, allowing the American dive bombers to attack from high altitude relatively unmolested.
It is also difficult to communicate through the movie just how easily the battle could have gone the other way. Lieutenant Commander Wade McClusky (played by Luke Evans in 2019 and Christopher George in 1976) and his flight of bombers were running very low on fuel as they searched for the Japanese. McClusky’s decision to order his flight to turn in a direction that turned out to be the correct one allowed the Americans to spot the Japanese destroyer Arashi, which was returning to the fleet after attacking the submarine Nautilus. The submarine’s missed shots ultimately led the American bombers to the Japanese fleet for a devastating attack. The sequence of seemingly random events inspired the title “Miracle At Midway” and is held by many to be evidence of God’s hand on America.
The part of the new movie that had the most profound effect on my children was the depiction of Aviation Machinist Mate First Class Bruno Gaido (played by Nick Jonas). Gaido was absent from the 1976 film and his exploits in the new version had my kids doubting that he was real. A brief Google search later, we determined that Gaido was indeed real as was the incident for which he was given a battlefield promotion by Admiral “Bull” Halsey (played by Dennis Quaid this year and Robert Mitchum in 1976). There were no surviving witnesses to the death of Gaido and his pilot, Ensign Frank O’Flaherty (Russell Dennis Lewis), but the movie depiction may actually be cleaner and quicker than his real-life end.
The cultural difference between the two warring nations is underscored by the fates of Layton and Ryusaku Yanagimoto, captain of the Japanese aircraft carrier Soryu. Where Layton’s superiors gave him the chance to learn from his mistakes at Pearl Harbor, Yanagimoto chose to go down with his ship and deprived his country of his future service.  
In a time of smart bombs and hypersensitivity to casualties on both sides, “Midway” reminds us that things were very different not so long ago. In the fight for survival that was WWII, it was not uncommon for entire units to be virtually wiped out. At Midway, entire squadrons were sacrificed for one or two hits on a carrier. Midway was a victory, but the cost was horrendous.
As with any movie remake, there will be the inevitable comparisons between the versions with proponents of each waging a keyboard assault on the other. I’m not going to do that. They are both fine films and each has points in its favor. My recommendation would be to watch and enjoy them both. In the screening that I watched on Veteran’s Day, veterans, including active-duty soldiers in uniform, were well represented. At the end of the movie, the crowd applauded. A war movie probably can’t get a better endorsement from people who have been there and done that.
Although the movie is not perfect (and what movie is?), it is a fitting vessel to carry the story of the miraculous American victory to a new generation, especially one that has been raised on Hollywood fare that typically depicts the United States as an evil empire. If “Midway” inspires Americans to look more deeply at American history, it will be mission accomplished.
Originally published on The Resurgent

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, Chargé 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