Tuesday, October 29, 2019

House To Hold Vote On Impeachment Inquiry This Thursday

If things go according to plan, House Republicans will their wish for a vote on the impeachment inquiry as early as Thursday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced yesterday that the House would vote later this week to set up rules for the next phase of the impeachment process.

The text of the resolution has not yet been released and may not be finalized, but Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Rules Committee, told The Hill that he will introduce a resolution that will "ensure transparency" and "provide a clear path forward" in the impeachment inquiry.

In a letter to House Democrats, Speaker Pelosi said, "We are taking this step to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump Administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives.” Several members of the Trump Administration have refused to comply with House subpoenas, citing the fact that no vote on the impeachment inquiry had been taken by the House.

Republicans seemed somewhat taken aback by the Democratic decision to hold a vote this week. The Republican defense of President Trump has centered on attacking the House Democratic process rather than contesting the facts of the case. Multiple witnesses have accused the president of abusing his executive authority in pressuring Ukraine to investigate business dealings by Joe Biden’s son in exchange for a meeting with Donald Trump and the release of military aid that Ukraine needed to fight off a Russia-backed insurgency.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told Politico that the Democratic move represented a “fig leaf” and that he still backed a Republican resolution that would condemn the House’s handling of the impeachment.

“It’s not just the lack of initial authorization,” Hawley said, “The closed-door sessions, the denial of subpoena rights to the minority, the denial of access to the president’s counsel. All of that stuff is historically atypical.”

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) disagreed, calling the upcoming vote a victory for Republicans.

“I’m glad the House has responded, and they're going to have transparent proceedings,” Fischer said. “We’ve seen what we’ve wanted to see.”

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) adopted a wait and see attitude, saying, “I read her letter and it could mean not very much or maybe it will be more than ‘we’re just going to formalize the unfair way we’ve been doing things.’ It does mean we should see what she says.”

Rather than representing a Democratic concession, the vote may just mean that the House investigation is proceeding ahead of schedule. As I wrote last week, Democrats have maintained all along that after the initial investigation was complete, the process would include open hearings and more opportunities for Republicans to mount a defense of the president. While the depositions taken so far have not been public, statements by witnesses Bill Taylor and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman have severely damaged Donald Trump’s claims of innocence, as did an embarrassing and incriminating public statement by Mick Mulvaney.

Regardless of the reason for the shift in Democratic strategy, it will now be incumbent upon Republicans to mount a substantive defense of the Trump Administration against the testimony of his own staffers. Prior attempts to defend the president have left his supporters scrambling after new information was revealed. So far, the insistence that there was no quid pro quo, that Ukraine was not aware of the hold placed on the aid, that the investigation was about Ukraine corruption in general rather than the Bidens specifically, and that the call was “perfect” have all been undermined by new facts.

Very soon, Republicans will get their wish for open hearings with cross-examinations and opportunities to present corroborating evidence. If they want to protect President Trump from public opinion that supports impeachment, congressional Republicans need to find a strong argument that what the president did was not an abuse of power. If the GOP cannot start persuading independent voters that Trump acted ethically and reasonably, he will not only soon become the third president to be impeached, but the Republicans will face an electoral bloodbath next November.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Another Day, More Damaging Testimony In Ukraine Scandal

More damaging testimony is expected today in Congress as part of the House’s Ukraine probe. Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, is scheduled to testify about his concerns regarding President Trump’s July 25th phone call to Ukrainian President Zelensky. Vindman listened in on the call and promptly reported his concerns to NSC lawyers.

As with other depositions so far, Lt. Col. Vindman’s testimony will be given behind closed doors, but Republican members of committees investigating the scandal will be present and have the opportunity to ask questions. Vindman’s opening statement was released last night, however, and is available here.

Lt. Col. Vindman is a career army officer who fled the Soviet Union with his family as a child. He has served in the US Army for more than 20 years, including a combat tour in Iraq where he received a Purple Heart after being wounded by an IED. He has also been posted at the US embassies to Ukraine and Russia. He has been a staff member on the National Security Council since July 2018.

Vindman listened in on an April 2019 call between President Trump and then-President-elect Zelensky, which he called “positive,” and then was part of the US delegation that attended Zelensky’s inauguration in May.

The first sign that Vindman saw that something was wrong occurred on July 10 when Oleksandr Danylyuk, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council for Ukraine, visited Washington, D.C. for a meeting with National Security Advisor John Bolton that included Ambassadors Volker and Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

“Amb. Sondland started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President, at which time Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short,” Vindman says in his statement.

“Following this meeting, there was a scheduled debriefing during which Amb. Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma,” Vindman continues. “I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push. Dr. Hill then entered the room and asserted to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.”

“Following the debriefing meeting, I reported my concerns to the NSC's lead counsel. Dr. Hill also reported the incident to the NSC's lead counsel,” the colonel added.

On July 25, Vindman says that he listened in on the now-infamous phone call between Trump and Zelensky from the White House Situation Room. Regarding that conversation, Vindman says, “I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine. I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security. Following the call, I again reported my concerns to NSC's lead counsel.”

Vindman also discusses the high stakes of foreign policy involving Ukraine and Russia, noting that Ukraine has been “under assault from Russia for more than five years” but has still “taken major steps towards integrating with the West.”

“Absent a deterrent to dissuade Russia from such aggression, there is an increased risk of further confrontations with the West,” Vindman says. If left unchecked, Russian aggression could lead to more direct conflict with NATO and the United States.

Interestingly, the allegation that Donald Trump linked a meeting with Ukraine's president to performance of the personal favor of investigating the Bidens is similar to accusations against the Clintons. The Clintons allegedly linked donations to the Clinton Foundation to access to Hillary Clinton in her position as secretary of state for Barack Obama.

In summary, Lt. Col. Vindman, who is not the whistleblower but says he knows that person’s identity, heard disturbing demand placed on Ukrainian officials on two separate occasions. On both occasions, he raised red flags with his superiors. Vindman also corroborates other testimony that John Bolton also resisted the Trump Administration’s attempts to link Ukraine aid to investigations of Hunter Biden and Burisma.

Vindman, a military veteran who was wounded in the service of America, is no liberal Deep State member. As a refugee from the Soviet Union, he probably also understands better than most the danger of politicizing national security and law enforcement. While certain members of Republican media, such as Fox News host Laura Ingraham, are attacking Vindman as a traitor and a spy, there is no evidence that this spurious charge is true.

Instead, Lt. Col. Vindman seems to be one of many honorable Americans who have raised red flags about President Trump’s actions. Those Americans who oppose the president’s abuses of power cut across party and ideological lines with the common belief that American presidents are not above the law.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, October 28, 2019

Al-Bagdadi’s Death Does Not Mean War Against ISIS Is Over

The US raid that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi over the weekend was a victory in the War on Terror, but winning the battle should not be confused with winning the war. Both ISIS and al Qaeda are still active threats and the victory should not be taken as an opportunity to leave the Middle East on a high note.

One person who is concerned that the US will declare victory and leave in the aftermath of the raid is Iraqi President Barham Salih. Salih, a pro-American leader, spoke with Axios last week, six days prior to the al-Bagdadi raid, and was already sounding the alarm.

"The staying power of the United States is being questioned in a very, very serious way," Salih said. "And allies of the United States are worried about the dependability of the United States."

“I'm worried about ethnic cleansing,” President Salih, who is an Iraqi Kurd, said, “And this has been the history, tragic history of the Kurdish people and this [is] dangerous and tragic. The humanitarian cost is just awful.”

Although President Salih was not aware of al-Bagdadi’s impending departure from life, he was well aware of President Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds and equivocations on whether to keep American soldiers in Syria at all. The Iraqis must be quite plausibly wondering if the American commitment to their country will be discarded as quickly as our commitment to the Kurds.

They have good reason to wonder since America has already abandoned Iraq once. In 2011, the Obama Administration failed to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement to maintain a small security force there. Three years later, the US had to send troops back to help the Iraqis beat back ISIS. It’s entirely possible that President Trump may be about to make a similar mistake.

Several reports have indicated that the timing of the al-Bagdadi raid was influenced by President Trump’s decision to leave northern Syria. Rukmini Callimachi, a Middle East correspondent for the New York Times, reported that al-Bagdadi’s location was determined “back in the summer” but the raid was deemed too risky because it was in Syrian and Russian airspace. With the US pullout looming, commanders decided to rush the raid. Their gamble paid off.

There is also the irony that the raid would not have been possible, or at least would have been much more difficult, if President Trump’s policies had been seen through to fruition. Axios also reported that the raid was based at least partially on intelligence received from Syrian Kurds and depended on having American forces in the region to carry out the attack. Jimmy Carter’s Desert One debacle from 1980 is an example of how long-range missions are far more complex and risky than raids that can be staged locally.

President Salih stressed that, despite the concerns of some Americans about “endless wars,” the US should not leave while ISIS and al-Qaeda are still threats, saying, “The military defeat of ISIS is an important victory, but not incomplete [sic] and precarious too as well. It can easily unravel. And this is what I'm worried about.”

“Five years of blood, treasure, effort — a lot of human misery went into defeating ISIS,” Salih added. “This victory was [not] easy, and for anyone to become complacent about it is terrible, reckless, dangerous, tragic.”

The Iraqi president also cautioned Americans about Iraq’s role in a possible war with Iran. “The United States is an important ally, partner. … We want this to continue and we definitely don't want our territory to be used,” he said. “We should try and stop it because Iraq cannot sustain it, cannot survive it.”

Salih’s misgivings about the US using bases in Iraq to attack Iran goes back to the question of whether America would stand by its ally. Iraq is undoubtedly concerned that the US would launch its limited number of airstrikes and then go home, leaving Iraq to deal with the fallout from Iran. Americans may not remember, but Salih definitely does, that Iran and Iraq fought a decade-long war in the 1980s. The Iraqi president does not want to repeat that experience.

President Trump’s decision to authorize the raid to kill al-Bagdadi was a good one and it led to a great triumph. The big question is what course Mr. Trump will take next. Will he follow President Obama’s example and bring the troops home prematurely or will he stick it out until they win?

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, October 25, 2019

Are Democrats Really Running A Sham Impeachment Inquiry?

The main defense of Republicans in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump has been to attack what they call the secrecy of the impeachment inquiry. Trump’s defenders point to closed-door hearings and the fact that the House has not yet been allowed to vote on whether to conduct the impeachment inquiry itself. There is some truth to the charges against the way the Democrats are conducting the inquiry, but there are also examples of Republican criticisms being off base.

The fact that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not allowed a House vote on whether to begin an impeachment inquiry has been a major complaint of Republicans. On Sept. 24, Pelosi merely said, “I am announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry” and the ball started rolling.

Republicans seem to be correct that no other impeachment inquiry has ever been launched without a House vote, but the bottom line is that neither the Constitution nor House rules require a vote to begin an impeachment investigation. As Keith Whittington of Lawfare pointed out, the House leadership chose to use standing committees to investigate Mr. Trump’s alleged abuses of power and were entirely within House rules to do so.

Further, neither the Constitution nor House rules require an impeachment inquiry at all. If the House wanted to bring up an impeachment vote with no investigation at all, it could do so. Such a scenario might happen if a president’s actions were either obvious to the most members of Congress or if the president openly admitted to impeachable acts.

Republicans have also complained about how they are being treated in committee. There have been claims that Republicans were shut out of committee meetings and were not allowed to be present and ask questions at depositions. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff explained the need for some secrecy to Roll Call, stressing that the current inquiry is different from the impeachment investigations into Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon where special prosecutors had already investigated the incidents that led to the impeachment.

“In each of those cases, there were either independent counsels or special prosecutors doing the investigation, doing the initial investigative work, and that was all done behind closed doors,” Schiff said.  

Schiff explained that if witnesses were aware of what other witnesses had said, they could tailor their own testimony “either to hide the truth or color the truth or know just how much they can give and how much they can conceal.” It is a basic investigative technique to separate witnesses and to get their individual testimony without having it tainted by hearing others.

“Now, I should tell you, notwithstanding those good and sound reasons, at each of these committee interviews and depositions and when we get to open hearings — and we will get to open hearings — the Republicans are completely represented,” Schiff said.

Schiff said that all members of the Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees and their staffs can attend depositions and ask questions. Republicans are provided equal time for questioning with the sides alternating every 45 minutes to an hour.

“They have been largely staff-conducted interviews. They have been very professionally done, although members, too, get to ask questions and we go until the questions are exhausted so they get to ask all the questions they want,” Schiff said.

In one publicized case, Rep. Matt Gaetz was ejected from a meeting of the joint committee investigating impeachment, but Gaetz was not a member of the committees holding the meeting. Gaetz is a member of the Judiciary Committee but it is the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight Committees that are conducting the impeachment hearings. There is no evidence that Republicans who serve on those three committees have been excluded. In fact, Axios pointed out that, when Republicans raided an impeachment hearing this week, 13 of the Republican protesters already had access to the hearing because they were members of the committees holding the hearing.  

Republicans such as Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) don’t buy Schiff’s explanations. “We’re talking about impeaching the president of the United States in secret, based on an anonymous whistleblower with no first-hand knowledge, [who] has a bias against the president, has been reported that he worked with Joe Biden, who when he hears about the call, the next day writes a memo using all kinds of descriptors like crazy, scary, but then waits 18 days before he files a complaint,” Jordan complained. “And who does he run up to see in that interim? Adam Schiff’s staff. And now that guy says, ‘Now I’m going to be the special counsel and the independent counsel.’ That is laughable.”

Jordan’s rant actually undercuts another Republican complaint, namely that the whistleblower has not been called to testify. But if, as Jordan concedes, the whistleblower had no direct knowledge of Trump’s actions, he or she has little to add to the testimony of State Department officials who were in the loop and privy to Trump’s decision-making.

The answer is similar for Republican complaints about being denied access to transcripts of witness testimony. Republicans say that only members of applicable committees have access to the transcripts and then only under the watchful eye of Democratic minders. Democrats answer that the transcripts will be made public after the investigative phase is finished. Left unsaid is that they will be released when the possibility of witness tampering is reduced.  

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries also pointed to the 1998 House resolution authorizing subpoena power for the Clinton impeachment investigation, noting that Democrats did not have the power to independently subpoena their own witnesses as some Republicans have claimed but had to get approval from either the chairman or the full committee. Jeffries says that the current subpoena rules for the Intelligence Committee are no different.

Many members of the Trump Administration have used their complaints about the impeachment proceedings to justify failing to comply with subpoenas from House committees. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword since some Republicans, including Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), are on record that refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas is itself an impeachable offense.

A further claim by Republicans is that impeachment requires a criminal act. While the Constitution specifies treason, bribery, and “high crimes and misdemeanors” as grounds for impeachment, the original intent of the phrase included acts that were not explicit crimes. A list of impeachments on the House website reveals that, of 19 impeachments from throughout US history, eight were for noncriminal acts including three cases that specifically cited abuse of power.

A charge by Jack Langer, a spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) that, “There are no established rules or parameters at all, the Democrats are just inventing them as they go” seems to be untrue. Democrats argue that all of the normal committee rules protecting minority rights are still in effect for impeachment-related hearings.

In fact, it was only four years ago in 2015 when the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), personally dismissed Rep Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) from a hearing during the Benghazi investigation. The reason? Issa was not a member of the committee. The Democrats are following the same rules.

Republicans do have a stronger case in their complaints about not being able to call their own witnesses and present exculpatory evidence, but the test as to whether those claims will stand up will only come when the House moves beyond the investigative phase. Democrats say that there will be open sessions and transcripts will be released after the facts have been gathered. Current indications are the impeachment proceedings might move into the open phase as early as mid-November.

“We do anticipate a time when we'll be releasing transcripts, and we do anticipate there will be a time when we will hold back some of these witnesses for open session, and we may call witnesses in open session that we haven't called in closed session. But we will do so giving the GOP members every opportunity to ask questions,” Schiff said. “We want to make sure that we get to the truth, and this is the process, I think, early in an investigation that makes the most sense.”

Democrats seem to be following established congressional guidelines for congressional hearings, even if the decision to use standing committees rather than a select impeachment committee is not how impeachments have traditionally been handled. Before an impeachment vote is taken, critics of the president should make their case to the public. Supporters of the president do deserve a chance to present their side of the story as well. Indications are that the time for public hearings is coming within the next few weeks.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Biden Has The Big Donors But Not The Big Bucks

Joe Biden has been much maligned as a Democratic candidate, but despite the gaffes and lackluster debate performances, the former vice president has proven to be resilient. Even though rumors of Biden’s ebb have persisted as long as he has been in the race, he remains the candidate to beat in the Democratic field, but a closer look at his campaign finances points out where his weakness lies.

Third-quarter fundraising data shows Biden running a distant fourth in campaign contributions. Bernie Sanders had the largest haul with $25.3 million followed closely by Elizabeth Warren with $24.6 million. Pete Buttigieg placed third in the money race with $19.1 million, trailed by Biden with $15.2 million. In all, the top 12 Democrats hauled in $128.5 million. By way of comparison, Donald Trump and the RNC raised $125 million over the same time period.

Disturbingly for the Biden campaign, the vice president’s third-quarter fundraising was down from $21.5 million in the second quarter. In contrast with the other leading candidates, Biden benefitted from Democratic big-money donors who previously supported Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Politico reported that Biden earned $20.7 million from contributions of at least $500. This was more than $1.5 million more than his nearest competitor. However, Biden’s big-money advantage was still not enough to overcome the small donors who gave to his rivals.

In the third quarter, 96 percent of Biden’s contributions came in amounts less than $200 with an average donation of $44. In contrast, Bernie Sanders received $10 million more with an average amount of $18. Elizabeth Warren’s average donation was $26 while Pete Buttigieg received an average of $32 from his donors. Even a quick look at the math reveals that more people are giving to Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg than to Biden.

Yet despite the fundraising slump and months of predictions of doom, Joe Biden still sits atop the Democratic primary polls. Why would that be?

The answer is probably what I’ve been saying for months, namely that Biden is benefitting from a scenario similar to the situation that allowed Donald Trump to best 16 other Republicans for the nomination in 2016. Most of the Democrats are competing for a share of the woke, progressive Democratic base while Biden commands the largest part of the smaller share of moderate Democrats.

The progressive wing of the Democrats is more engaged and willing to send in contributions, giving the other candidates a fundraising edge, but Biden still commands the largest number of voters. Money matters but votes are what really count. The question is whether Biden can maintain his advantage in voters.

Originally published on The Resurgent

In Storming House Committee, GOP Became Occupy Wall Street

It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of the direction that the Republican Party has taken since Donald Trump became president. As a small government, social and national security conservative, I’ve had plenty to complain about from the current version of the GOP but, by any standard, Trump-era Republicans sank to a new low yesterday when then stormed into a House committee meeting and proceeded to act like Occupy Wall Street.
Yesterday, about 25-30 Republican congressmen led by Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) staged what has been mockingly referred to as a “panty raid” on the House committee that was holding impeachment hearings. The group of legislators from the “rule of law” party stormed into a secure facility where the House Intelligence Committee was interviewing Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper.
The Republicans had their panties in a wad because Democrats were holding a closed committee hearing that, by definition, did not allow people who were not members of the committee to take part. Trump supporters are upset that the House is using standing committees to investigate President Trump’s behavior rather than holding a vote and forming a select impeachment committee.
Reports from the Capitol say that the Republican interlopers got into yelling matches with Democrats on the committee. Members of the group of trespassers stayed for hours, delaying the hearing. At one point, they even ordered pizza, prompting Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) to complain, “They’re a bunch of brave freedom fighters having pizza in a secure conference room.”
Reps. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), Val Demings (R-Fla.), and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) were singled out in press reports for their behavior. The trio were described as yelling complaints about the process with Byrne getting into committee chairman Adam Schiff’s (D-Mass.) face. Schiff reportedly did not respond.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) were named as two of the additional congressmen who stayed in the room for about five hours. A comprehensive list of Republican lawmakers who took part in the occupation is not available, but I called my congressman’s office this morning to ask whether he took part. He didn’t and I congratulated him on his good judgment.
The basic premise of the Republican complaint, that the party is being unfairly shut out of impeachment hearings, does not stand up to scrutiny. There is no evidence that Republican members of the Intelligence Committee were barred from the hearing. Only people who were not on the committee were kept out.
In addition to the faulty premise, the Republican raiders violated national security policy by taking cell phones into the sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF). As Wired explains, cell phones and other electronic devices are prohibited within the SCIF because they can contain malware that could infect other computers inside the facility, where some of the most sensitive and secret conversations within the government take place. Some of the Republicans apparently tweeted from their phones while in the SCIF, another violation.
Members of Congress are likely to be prime targets for hackers. Taking a phone into a SCIF would be similar to setting up your government email account on a private server, for example.
So why was the impeachment hearing being held in a secure facility? Because the topic involved secret discussions about foreign governments and foreign aid, including military aid to a country that is at war with Russia.
In broader terms, the hearing was closed to outsiders because it is common practice to not let future witnesses hear other witnesses testify. Hearing someone else’s version of events can change one’s own testimony subtly even if the witness strives for honesty and accuracy. If a witness has something to hide, they can tailor their testimony based on what others have said.
The current hearings are unlike the Clinton impeachment or the congressional Russia hearings because there was no special prosecutor to investigate Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. House investigators are questioning witnesses for the first time and establishing the facts of the case. Democrats have said repeatedly that transcripts will be released and open hearings will be held after the investigative phase is complete, possibly by mid-November.
Political occupations aren’t totally unprecedented even discounting the Occupy movement. In 2011, Democratic protesters occupied the Wisconsin capitol. In 2016, congressional Democrats staged a sit-in in the US House. None of these are good models for conservatives, but even the Democrats did not storm a secure facility and violate national security policy. So, modern Republicans are not only acting like Democrats, they actually one-upped them.
I was a Republican for years, in part because the party represented law and order. Under Donald Trump, however, the party has come to stand against the rule of law when it suits their purpose, which is primarily to protect Donald Trump from the consequences of his bad decisions.
The Republican raiders under Matt Gaetz are actively trying to undermine the legislative process that is aimed at getting to the truth about Trump’s actions with respect to Ukraine. Gaetz and his crowd are a distraction from the fact that the president apparently abused his office for personal gain.
A flagrant disruption and violation of the rules like yesterday’s raid should not go unpunished. The House should censure those who took part and the Republican Party should take the lead if it wants to have any credibility with voters who respect the rule of law. If these actions persist, those who take part in them should be voted out.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

A Trump Ukraine Appointee Just Testified To Quid Pro Quo For Military Aid

The White House and Republicans in Congress have spent weeks denying a quid pro quo. Those denials were undercut by text messages between State Department officials and again by last week’s Mick Mulvaney press conference. Those revelations pale in comparison to yesterday’s testimony by President Trump’s second-highest ranking diplomat in Ukraine.

The testimony of the second-in-command of the US embassy in the Ukraine was not open to the public, but Taylor’s opening statement has been released and it appears to be damning. Among the revelations that we know about from Taylor’s testimony, which was under oath, are that:

·        President Trump withheld aid to Ukraine even though there was reportedly no change in Ukraine policy
·        Rudy Giuliani’s “irregular policy channel was running contrary to goals of longstanding U.S. policy"
·        “Everything,” including military aid, was contingent upon Ukrainian President Zelensky making a public statement that “he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference”
·        Ambassador to Europe Gordon Sondland allegedly told Taylor, “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.”

As Erick Erickson pointed out, Taylor had pushed for a phone call between Trump and Zelensky, but his testimony indicates that he did not find out about the July 25 phone call until a month after it occurred. The transcript of the call was apparently quickly locked away with even a high-level diplomat such as Taylor not being deemed to have a need to know. This backs up the whistleblower’s claim that the record of the call was secured because the contents were incriminating.

As Erickson also pointed on Twitter, Taylor’s testimony is damning, especially if it can be backed up by both more supporting documents and additional witness testimony. The only real option for the White House is to attack the diplomat’s credibility. But that may be easier said than done.

While he is a career diplomat, Bill Taylor is not someone who can be easily dismissed as a liberal member of the Deep State. A graduate of West Point, Taylor served with the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne during his six years in the army. He served under both Democrats and Republicans in a variety of military and diplomatic roles before being appointed ambassador to Ukraine by George W. Bush in 2006. He served there until 2009 when he was replaced by an Obama appointee. He was subsequently appointed as Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions and vice president of the US Institute of Peace by Obama. Taylor was appointed by President Trump to be the chargĂ© d'affaires, the diplomat who runs the embassy in the ambassador’s absence, in the Ukraine in June 2019.

Bill Taylor’s testimony and the revelations yet to come put Republican senators in a bind. In words that he may quickly live to regret, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has already said that he would consider impeachment if a quid pro quo could be established. Graham has not commented publicly on Taylor’s testimony.

Others, such as the Senate majority leader, seem to be distancing themselves from the president. When asked about Trump’s call with Zelensky, McConnell denied everything, saying, “We've not had any conversations on that subject.” When pressed, McConnell deflected, “You have to ask him. I don't recall any conversations with the President about that phone call.”

Other Republicans may take up the strategy of former Acting Attorney General Mathew Whitaker, who was reduced to telling Fox News that “Abuse of power is not a crime.” That actually depends on how power has been abused.

Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) seems to be taking a similar hear-no-evil tack, telling reporters, “I don't see anything that has advanced, the quid pro quo or the promise of anything with foreign aid. There's no one who can be intellectually honest and come out of that deposition and suggest otherwise."

While the Constitution does not require a criminal act for impeachment, Whitaker’s reasoning may give Republicans enough cover to acquit President Trump in the eventual impeachment trial in the Senate. An acquittal would not get the Republicans out of trouble with voters, however.

Polling has shown a sharp increase in the number of Americans who believe that impeaching President Trump and removing him from office is justified and that number is likely to continue to rise as more revelations about the president’s activities are brought to light. If Trump is acquitted by the Senate, then, given his persistent popularity within the Republican Party, he will be the GOP candidate in 2020.

If Trump is not removed from office, the Republicans will be saddled with an unpopular nominee who they will be forced to admit abused his presidential powers but, according to them, stopped short of criminal behavior, a candidate who half the country believed should have been impeached. Running a candidate who is widely known to be corrupt would be akin to running a candidate who was actively under FBI investigation. It would be setting Republicans up for an electoral disaster.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, October 21, 2019

October 21st, 2019 Chris Wallace: Top Republican Puts Chances Of Trump’s Removal At 20 Percent

While speaking with Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace said that a "well-connected" Republican source in Washington had put the chances of enough Republicans voting to remove Donald Trump at 20 percent. The revelation calls into question the conventional wisdom that Republicans will vote to protect Trump in a Senate trial.

During the interview, Wallace cited Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s op-ed in the Washington Post calling President Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds in Syria “a grave mistake” and last week’s House vote rebuking the president in which 129 Republicans crossed the aisle to vote against Trump’s Syria policy. Wallace then said that he had “talked to a very well-connected Republican in Washington, someone whose name you would know well, who says that if the House votes to impeach and it gets to a trial in the Senate, there's now a 20 percent chance enough Republicans would vote with Democrats to impeach the president.”

When asked to respond, Mulvaney said, "That’s just absurd. The comment about the 20 percent is just a person who clearly doesn't know what they're talking about."

Mulvaney added that the president recognized that it was “not politically popular in this town to make the decision that he made to move the troops out of Syria. He ran on it. He told people he would do it if he won and he’s doing it now.”

When Wallace asked if there was concern that the president was losing support in Congress, Mulvaney responded, “The president is extraordinarily popular back home, more popular in the swing districts now that impeachment has started.”

Wallace did not say which Republican had given him the estimate, but Republican elected officials seem more likely to criticize the president in the wake of Trump’s Syria decision and the subsequent Turkish invasion of Kurdish territory. In addition to Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and others have spoken out against President Trump’s policy of retreat.

To remove Trump from office, the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate. If all 45 Democrats vote to convict in the Senate trial, it would take at least 22 Republican votes, more than 40 percent of the Republican caucus, to remove Mr. Trump. While that seems like long odds, if the president’s behavior continues to become more worrisome to his own party, the chances of removal could continue to increase.

If Republicans continue to desert the president, it also increases the chances that Mr. Trump will be pressured to resign and leave office under his own terms rather than submit to a Senate trial with its possible humiliating result. Two other presidents have been impeached, but, if convicted by the Senate, Donald Trump would be the first and only president to have been forcibly removed from office.

Recent Gallup polling shows that 52 percent of Americans support Trump’s impeachment and removal from office. In 1998, only 32 percent agreed that Bill Clinton should be impeached and removed. The share of Americans who though Richard Nixon should be impeached and removed was 38 percent in 1974 before he resigned.

In the same interview, Wallace also confronted Mulvaney about his claim and subsequent walk-back that the Trump Administration withheld aid from Ukraine as part of a three-part quid pro quo. Mulvaney first denied making the statement, saying, “That’s what people are saying that I said, but I didn’t say that.”

When confronted with the tape of his words, Mulvaney insisted, “I never said there was a quid pro quo, because there isn’t.”
Originally published on the Resurgent

Buttigieg Gets A Leg Up In Iowa

Recent polling of the Democratic primary in Iowa shows that the state is up for grabs and the most recent candidate to surge is… Pete Buttigieg? According to a new poll, Buttigieg has jumped to third place, surpassing Bernie Sanders.

The USA Today/Suffolk poll of 500 likely Democratic caucus-goers showed Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren in a statistical tie at 18 and 17 percent respectively, but the big surprise was a strong showing from the South Bend mayor. Buttigieg polled at 13 percent in the survey while Bernie Sanders dropped to nine percent.

Looking at the big picture, the Real Clear Politics average does show a long, show rise in Iowa polling for Buttigieg. The upward trend started in early September and coincides with drops for both Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders. The average of polls currently shows statistical ties for both Biden and Warren at 21 percent and Buttigieg and Sanders at 14 percent.

Buttigieg is likely benefitting from multiple factors in the race. Both Biden and Warren have given weak debate performances while Bernie Sanders has been saddled with health concerns after a recent heart attack. Kamala Harris, once considered a strong contender, has plummeted in the polls since the early debates.

The mayor has also made some important friends. Bloomberg reported that Buttigieg was advised by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg on hiring certain campaign officials. Buttigieg and Zuckerberg both attended Harvard where their tenures overlapped and they shared mutual friends. Buttigieg was one of the first 300 users of Facebook. While Zuckerberg has not endorsed Buttigieg, the Facebook founder is an important connection.

The Iowa caucuses are tentatively scheduled for Feb. 3, 2020, only about four months away. Unlike the primaries that most states hold, the caucuses require candidate supporters to attend local caucus meetings to vote for their candidate. The process is a bigger commitment than just voting so excitement over a candidate can be a game-changing factor.

The caucuses are not winner-take-all but candidates do have to meet a threshold, typically 15 percent, at caucus sites to be considered viable. If a candidate is not viable, their supporters can switch to a different candidate and still participate. Under this system, it is very possible that Buttigieg could win delegates in Iowa if his surge continues.

Nationally, however, Buttigieg has not caught on. He has remained at about five percent in the Real Clear Politics national average throughout the summer. However, if either Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren falters (or both), Pete Buttigieg seems to be positioned to be the next candidate to catch the wave of Democratic dissatisfaction with the frontrunners.   

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Mulvaney Admits Quid Pro Quo For Ukraine Aid

Remember the scandal before the abandonment of the Kurds to Turkey’s tender mercies? The one in which Trump Administration officials spent weeks denying that there was a quid pro quo Donald Trump’s request for Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden? You can hardly be blamed if the Ukraine scandal seems like ancient history, but Mick Mulvaney just blew the Ukraine denials out of the water.

At a press conference today, White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was asked why Ukraine aid funding was held up over the summer. Mulvaney gave a long, rambling answer (you can see his full answer here) that began by sticking to the party line that President Trump was concerned about Ukrainian corruption. But then Mulvaney dropped a bombshell.

“Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server?” Mulvaney asked rhetorically. “Absolutely! No question about that. But that’s it and that’s why we held up the money.”

“So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason he wanted to withhold funding to Ukraine,” a reporter prodded.

“The look back to what happened in 2016 was certainly part of the thing he was worried about in corruption with that nation,” Mulvaney confirmed, adding, “And that was absolutely appropriate.”

The aid “ultimately, then, flowed,” Mulvaney continued.

“By the way, there was a report that we were worried that, if we didn’t pay out the money, that it would be illegal, it would be unlawful,” Mulvaney continued. “That is one of those things that has a little shred of truth in it that makes it look a lot worse than it really is.”

“We were concerned over at OMB about an impoundment,” Mulvaney explained. “The Budget Control Act of 1974 says that if Congress appropriates money, you have to spend it…. We knew that money had to go out the door by the end of September or we had to have a really, really good reason not to do it, and that was the legality.”

“Let’s be clear: what you just described is a quid pro quo,” another reporter said, returning to the main issue. “It is [that] funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democrat server happened as well.”

“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney answered. “We were holding up money at the same time for the Northern Triangle countries so that they would change their policies on immigration.”

Referring to congressional testimony in which a witness said that he was “upset about the political influence in foreign policy,” Mulvaney shot back, “I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy. That is going to happen. Elections have consequences and foreign policy is going to change from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration.”

Mulvaney blamed the uproar over the phone call on “a group of mostly career bureaucrats who are saying, ‘I don’t like President Trump’s politics so I’m going to participate in this witch hunt.”

Mr. Mulvaney apparently doesn’t see the difference between advocating for policy changes and pushing foreign governments to investigate domestic political opponents. In essence, Mr. Mulvaney just copped to doing the same thing that Republicans have spent the last three years accusing the Obama Administration of doing.

Other members of the Trump Administration do not seem to take the possibility of withholding aid appropriated by Congress as cavalierly as Mr. Mulvaney. In a statement, the Justice Department said, “If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation of any investigation at the Department of Justice, that is news to us.”

Jay Sekulow, part of President Trump’s legal team, told CNN, “The legal team was not involved in the acting chief of staff’s press briefing.”

After his brash statements, which will undoubtedly add fuel to the drive to impeach the president, Mr. Mulvaney’s own future may be in doubt as well. President Trump may have to fire the acting chief of staff to distance himself from Mulvaney’s comments.

With friends such as Mulvaney and Rudy Giuliani, both of whom have now undercut the president’s defense with incriminating statements on camera, Donald Trump hardly needs any enemies.

Originally published on The Resurgent