Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Trump Just Threw Giuliani Under The Bus

That thumping sound that you just heard was Donald Trump tossing his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, under the wheels of the presidential limo. Yesterday, the president denied that Giuliani was working in Ukraine on his behalf.

When asked by Bill O’Reilly on his radio program what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine on his behalf, President Trump answered, “Well, you have to ask that to Rudy, but Rudy, I don't, I don't even know. I know he was going to go to Ukraine and I think he canceled a trip. But, you know, Rudy has other clients other than me. I'm one person.”

“So, you didn't direct him to go there on your behalf?” O’Reilly probed.

“No, but you have to understand, Rudy is a great corruption fighter,” Trump responded. “He's one of the greatest in the last 50 years.”

The president went on to suggest that Giuliani “felt personally insulted by what happened during my campaign because there were a lot of bad things happening.”

O’Reilly pushed further, saying, “Rudy Giuliani, he's your personal lawyer. Giuliani's your personal lawyer. So, you didn't direct him to go to Ukraine to do anything or put any heat on them?”

Trump continued to deny coordinating with Giuliani, answering, “No, I didn't direct him, but he's a warrior, Rudy's a warrior. Rudy went, he possibly saw something.”

President Trump’s denials are at odds with the facts. Back in May, Giuliani told the New York Times that he was traveling to Ukraine to investigate the “origin of the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election” and “the involvement of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son in a gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch.”

At the time, Giuliani said that Trump “basically knows what I’m doing, sure, as his lawyer.”

The call summary released by the White House of President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky also undercuts Trump’s attempt to distance himself from Mr. Giuliani. Zelensky tells Trump that “one of my assistants spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine.”

Trump seems totally unsurprised that his lawyer has been in touch with the Ukrainian president. Responding to Zelensky, he says, “Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you.”

Further, when the whistleblower scandal first broke, Giuliani claimed that his efforts were aided by the State Department. While the State Department denies that Giuliani worked for them, texts and emails released last week show that Giuliani was in contact with Secretary of State Pompeo as well as Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker.

During last week’s impeachment hearings, witnesses testified that the president’s team instructed diplomats to “talk to Rudy.” Ambassador George Kent also testified that Giuliani vetoed a proposed “anti-corruption statement” to be presented by President Zelensky because it did not mention the Bidens or Burisma.

Mr. Giuliani is currently the subject of three different federal investigations. In addition to both counterintelligence and criminal investigations into his activities in Ukraine, the US attorney in Manhattan and DOJ are investigating his business activities and the FBI is investigating whether he may have been influenced by a foreign government. Additionally, four of Giuliani’s associates have already been charged with campaign finance violations.

The prospect of Trump throwing Giuliani to the wolves raises interesting possibilities. If Giuliani senses that he is being hung out to dry, he has already hinted that he has damaging information about Donald Trump. Just last week, Giuliani said in an interview with Fox News, “I've seen things written like he's going to throw me under the bus. When they say that, I say he isn't, but I have insurance.”

Later, Giuliani tried to walk back his comment, tweeting that it was “sarcastic” and claiming it related to the “Biden Family’s 4 decade [sic] monetizing of his office.” Logically, it hardly makes sense that dirt on Biden would prevent Trump from throwing Giuliani under the bus.

President Trump’s move to distance himself from Giuliani is strange, considering that Republicans say that the impeachment hearings are going nowhere. It may signal that federal investigators are closer to indicting Giuliani than was previously known. If Giuliani believes that he is being abandoned by Donald Trump, he may cooperate with House investigators and agree to testify in the impeachment hearings to protect himself.

Whatever happened between President Trump and Ukraine, Rudy Giuliani was in the middle of it. For the nation to learn the truth, Giuliani needs to testify.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Judge: Former WH Counsel McGahn Must Comply With House Subpoena

In a blow to the White House impeachment defense strategy, a federal judge has ruled that former White House Counsel Don McGahn cannot ignore a congressional subpoena. “No one is above the law,” the judge wrote in the ruling.
U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of Washington disagreed with the White House claim that McGhan was “absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony.” The ruling by Jackson, an Obama appointee, is already being appealed in a case that could quickly wind its way to the Supreme Court.
Per the Washington Post, the case originated in August when Democratic House members filed suit to compel McGahn to testify regarding allegations in the Mueller report that President Trump obstructed justice by ordering subordinates to interfere with the Russia investigation. The Trump Administration claimed executive privilege and argued that McGahn could not be forced to testify or turn over documents. Judge Jackson rejected this claim, saying that if McGahn wants to invoke executive privilege, he must do so in person and on a question-by-question basis.
In the ruling, Jackson said that the government claim of “unreviewable absolute testimonial immunity” was “baseless, and as such, cannot be sustained.” She said that a subpoena was part of the legal process, not a political instrument, and that, “per the Constitution, no one is above the law.”
The ruling now raises the possibility that McGahn will be called as a witness in the ongoing impeachment inquiry. It also has implications for other Administration officials who have refused to comply with House subpoenas. Under the precedent, if upheld on appeal, Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and former National Security Advisor John Bolton could be compelled to testify.
A big question is how long the legal question will take to be resolved. With less than a year to go before the election, it is possible that the courts will not issue a final decision until shortly before the election. The other Administration officials might also fight the subpoenas individually in hopes of delaying testimony until after the election.
For their part, Democrats have adopted a strategy of “adverse inference” and announced their plans not to subpoena witnesses who have refused to testify, reports Roll Call. Under the doctrine, which is used in civil lawsuits, if a witness refuses to testify or destroys documents, a judge can order jurors to presume that the evidence would have been bad for the side that refused to provide it or destroyed it. In the context of impeachment, the Administration’s failure to allow witnesses that could present exculpatory evidence is viewed as a tacit admission that their testimony would support the version of events given by witnesses who testified against the president.
The Democratic strategy is aimed at moving impeachment forward quickly and not allowing the Administration’s refusal to cooperate to drag out the process. Democrats would prefer to wrap up the impeachment before the primaries begin early next year.
However, the ruling against the Administration in the McGahn case means that Democrats now have a choice to make. They can either press forward with impeachment based on current evidence or they can sue to force testimony from Trump’s inner circle and gamble that courts will resolve the issue quickly.
The nation is closely divided on impeachment and further incriminating testimony from witnesses with direct knowledge of Trump’s orders could help to build support for impeaching and removing the president. The clock is ticking, however, and voters deserve a resolution to the impeachment crisis before they go to the polls next November. The best solution would be for the White House to read the writing on the wall and allow staffers to testify, especially if they have testimony that would exonerate Mr. Trump.
In a statement announcing its appeal, the Department of Justice said the ruling “contradicts longstanding legal precedent established by Administrations of both political parties. We will appeal and are confident that the important constitutional principle advanced by the Administration will be vindicated.”
However, Judge Jackson’s ruling is compelling. “Stated simply,” she wrote, “The primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that presidents are not kings.”
Originally published on the resurgent

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

White House Locked Down Due To Airspace Violation

The White House and Capitol Building were subject to a lockdown this morning for about half an hour. The cause of the security measure was apparently a small airplane that had wandered into restricted areas around the District of Columbia.
“The White House was locked down this morning due to a potential violation of the restricted airspace in the National Capital Region,” a Secret Service spokesman told CNBC in a statement. “The lockdown has been lifted at this time.”
The North American Aerospace Defense Command said that the airplane was not considered hostile, but the Aerotime Hub reported that fighter jets were scrambled shortly before 9:00 a.m. local time to intercept the errant plane, which was traveling eastward across Washington, DC as federal employees were told to shelter in place.
General aviation operations have been restricted around the District of Columbia since the September 11 attacks in 2001. Under current FAA rules, there is a flight restricted zone (FRZ) within 15 miles of Reagan National airport that extends to 18,000 feet. Civilian operations within the FRZ are limited to scheduled airline and charter flights or air ambulance flights. All civilian flights within the FRZ require special authorization.
An Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) surrounds the FRZ and extends to a 30-mile radius. This airspace is similar to the airspace around the US border and requires special flight plans with a prior clearance. Aircraft operating within the ADIZ are also required to be in contact with air traffic control.
There are several civilian general aviation airports located in Northern Virginia and Maryland that are located near the ADIZ. These airports were present long before the new security rules were established.
In the years after the ADIZ was first established, it was not uncommon for pilots unfamiliar with the area to violate the airspace. These pilots were often punished with suspensions of their pilot licenses and fines. As local and transient pilots were educated about the ADIZ, incursions into the airspace became less common.
Similarly, in the post-9/11 world, Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) are often posted to restrict flight around occurrences such as presidential appearances and sporting events. TFRs have resulted in many pilot violations, especially since they are often posted with little notice.
This morning’s alert is most likely the result of transient pilot who failed to check the notices to airmen (NOTAMs) that detail the restrictions for flying around the District of Columbia. Federal law military and law enforcement takes such transgressions seriously, however, until the perpetrator is shown not to be a threat.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, November 25, 2019

Black Voters Not Sold On Biden

So far, Joe Biden holds the lead among black Democratic voters, but there are signs that members of the demographic, which makes up a large share of Democratic primary voters, are not thrilled with the candidacy of Barack Obama’s vice president. However, the several minority candidates in the Democratic field have nonetheless failed to catch fire with voters.

In a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 39 percent of black Democrats favored Biden. Elizabeth Warren, another white candidate, ran a distant second in the poll at 22 percent. The other candidates, including Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg as well as the minority candidates, all polled at less than 10 percent.

Still, there are concerns about Biden, especially regarding his propensity for gaffes. For example, in last week’s debate, Biden claimed, “I come out of the black community in terms of my support” and said that he had the support of “the only black African American woman who had ever been elected to the United States Senate,” referring to Carol Mosely Braun.

That was news to Kamala Harris, who laughed back, “Nope. That's not true. The other one is here.”

Biden quickly corrected himself, saying, “I said the first.”

Another source of uncertainty surrounding Biden is his age. The 76-year-old candidate is viewed as healthy by almost as many voters (74 percent) as the 70-year-old Warren (80 percent) and more than Bernie Sanders (48 percent), age 78 and the victim of a recent heart attack. That doesn’t mean that voters are not concerned, however.

"Well, I was sort of leaning toward Joe Biden," said Elsie Just-Buddy, member of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta when asked by ABC News about her candidate preference. When asked about her hesitation, the member of the church once pastored by Martin Luther King, Jr. cited Biden’s age.

ABC reported that, after interviewing dozens of congregants at Ebenezer, black voters trusted and liked Biden due to familiarity with him from his years in the Obama Administration but weren’t very excited about his candidacy. They were open to a more exciting candidate, but, so far, that candidate has not emerged.

Another member of Ebenezer, Ernest Fry, said, “I think that he’d be a good candidate as well as the rest of them. But, you know, I don’t think anyone got it locked unless you got a good program for the people.”

Nevertheless, Elizabeth Warren, once renowned for her plans and currently smarting from a health plan so unrealistic that it was even mocked by Democrats, fares much worse than Biden. The very white woman from Massachusetts pleaded her case to minority voters in the Atlanta debate, saying, “As a white woman, I will never fully understand the discrimination, pain, and harm that black Americans have experienced just because of the color of their skin. When I am president of the United States, the lessons of black history will not be lost.”

Black Democratic candidates Corey Booker and Kamala Harris were critical of the fact that white Democrats top the polls. Both glossed over their own dearth of support from black voters when they made their complaints, however.  

Booker warned that black voters are “p-ss-d off because the only time our issues seem to be really paid attention to by politicians is when people are looking for their vote. And they're worried because, in the Democratic Party, we don't want to see people miss this opportunity and lose because we are nominating someone that … isn't trusted, doesn't have authentic connection.”

In a speech to the NAACP in Detroit last May, Harris complained that the notion of electability to Midwest voters led to prejudice against minority candidates, saying, “Too often, the definition of the Midwest leaves people out.” However, during Harris’ brief flirtation with frontrunner status, it was white voters and not blacks who rallied behind her.

Black support for Biden also comes as a surprise to many on the right who predicted that the Democratic Party would rally behind an intersectional candidate rather than another old white man. The fact that the top two choices of black voters are a white man and a white woman, even though there are prominent black candidates in the running, has exploded stereotypes on both sides.

For all the uneasiness and lack of excitement surrounding his campaign, Steady Joe Biden remains the candidate to beat. While others, including Kamala Harris, have flashed in the pan and quickly burned out, Biden’s position atop the polls with the support of a quarter to a third of Democratic voters has been very consistent since he entered the race.

Elizabeth Warren, who is currently plummeting in the polls, is the only other candidate with any significant support in the black community, and other potential frontrunners such as Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg have shown almost no minority appeal. Due to the lack of exciting alternatives, it seems almost certain that, barring a major gaffe or health problem, Joe Biden will emerge as the Democratic candidate at the end of the day. If so, he will have black voters to thank.
Originally published on The Resurgent

Don’t Hold Your Breath For Deep State Bombshells In IG Report On FBI

The DOJ inspector general report on allegations of corruption in the investigations into members of the Trump campaign in 2016 is due out on December 9. The report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz has been eagerly anticipated by both sides in the debate over the origins of the Russia investigation, but the early signs indicate that proponents of the Deep State conspiracy theory may be disappointed.

Over the weekend, CNN reported the IG found evidence that an FBI employee altered a document connected with the surveillance warrant application for Carter Page, a former Trump campaign advisor. The CNN report did not detail what changes were made to the document and it is not known what role the document played in obtaining the warrant, but the alterations were reportedly significant enough to change the meaning of the document. The Washington Post cited US officials who said that the employee falsely claimed he had supporting evidence to back up the changes.

On the surface, the report seemed damning for the FBI, but, reading beyond the headline, the incident is much less sinister than it first appeared. The employee in question was a low-level attorney rather than an FBI agent or manager and, after the deception was discovered, the employee was forced out of the bureau. The incident became public as Horowitz turned over evidence of the alteration to federal prosecutor John Durham.

The Post reported that Horowitz found that the incident did not undermine the legal and factual basis of the federal investigation into Carter Page. The finding that the incident did not compromise the probable cause for the investigation undermines Republican claims that the counterintelligence investigations into members of the Trump campaign were begun in bad faith. Sources with knowledge of the report say that Horowitz found the FBI’s work to be sloppy but not indicative of a Deep State conspiracy against Trump.

Several Republicans have raised expectations for the IG report in recent weeks. President Trump, who said that he is “waiting for the report like everybody else,” told Fox News several weeks ago, “I predict you will see things that you don’t even believe, the level of corruption — whether it’s [James] Comey; whether it’s [Peter] Strzok and his lover [Lisa] Page; whether it’s so many other people — [Andrew] McCabe; whether it’s President Obama himself. Let’s see whether or not it’s President Obama. Let’s see whether or not they put that in.”

Likewise, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) said, “It doesn’t take 500 pages to tell the inspector general that everything was done properly. The IG report is going to find that there were problems.”

The question is how big the problems were and whether there was intentional abuse. Some of the problems are discussed in an assessment by the IG released last week that found "numerous issues" with FBI handling of secret sources The Washington Times reported that that the issues including failing to vet sources in a timely manner and insufficiently clear guidance from FBI headquarters. The assessment made 16 recommendations which were reportedly being implemented by the FBI.

"Ineffective management and oversight of confidential sources can result in jeopardizing FBI operations and placing FBI agents, sources, subjects of investigation, and the public in harm's way," Horowitz said in a two-minute video accompanying release of the assessment.

In the wake of the assessment and revelation about the FBI lawyer, Carter Page is among those trying to tamp down expectations. In an interview with CNN’s Michael Smerconish over the weekend, Page said, “The keyword that you just said is sloppiness, right? And unfortunately, the way that this inspector general report has been assembled and completed over the last couple of years and particularly over the last few months, is completely sloppy. It’s only one side’s perspective.”

Indeed, the fact that the draft report was submitted to Attorney General Barr in September but the only hint of a prosecution is the unnamed former FBI lawyer is a strong indication that there was little unethical or criminal activity for Horowitz to find. The lack of criminal referrals to Durham or leaks trumpeting Obama-era FBI corruption is a strong hint that the conspiracy claims are duds.

While the report has not yet been released to the public, insiders say that the report paints an objective picture that is critical of the FBI but does not support the claim that there was a high-level conspiracy to undermine the Trump campaign. However, because the report does criticize the FBI, sources within the government say that it will give ammunition to both sides.

“You can see how the warring factions will seize on the various parts of this to advance their respective narratives,” a person familiar with the report told the Washington Post.

That will be particularly true for those who rely on cherry-picked passages cited by pundits without looking at the entire report.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Let The People Vote… After Trump Is Impeached

“Let the people vote” has become a rallying cry for Republican apologists during the impeachment. Their argument goes that what Trump did was bad (or maybe it was perfect, depending on the pundit), but it wasn’t impeachable. Since we’re close to an election anyway, Trump’s defenders say, we should just let the voters decide whether Trump should be fired for his transgressions rather than going through the impeachment process.

The Republican defense breaks down almost immediately because every last one of the Republicans making this argument, even the ones who say that he behaved poorly, are endorsing Trump for re-election. Put simply, Republicans believe that Trump abused his office and that voters should reward him with a second term. The Republican argument is simply the first step of a two-part plan in which President Trump escapes all consequences for his actions.

The reality is that Donald Trump is the most lawless president that most of us have ever seen, inclusive of Barack Obama with his pen and phone. The grounds for impeaching Trump do not begin and end with the whistleblower and the Ukrainian quid pro quo. President Trump has a long history of flouting the law and the Constitution that he swore an oath to uphold. The Mueller report’s allegations of obstruction painted a picture of a president who valued personal loyalty over adherence to the law. His use of national emergencies to subvert the will of Congress was a blatant attempt to escape the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections. The president’s frequent and repeated attempts to intimidate witnesses are evidence that the president is either ignorant of traditional legal norms or willfully disregards them entirely. Finally, the Ukraine whistleblower scandal represents a naked attempt to use his own version of a Deep State to take military aid earmarked for an ally at war with Russia and leverage it for his own personal benefit.

The common thread among these and other actions by President Trump is that they represent a pattern of abusing his position as president for personal gain. To ignore such a lengthy list of offenses and reward the offender with a second term would be to invite further abuse, not only from this president but from future executives of both parties. Given the flagrant and unprecedented abuses by Donald Trump, Congress had no real choice but to take action against the president. To do otherwise would be to accept a diminished constitutional role as the president usurps Congress’ authority. Of course, the House should impeach Donald Trump.

Impeachment does not overturn an election and it is not a coup. Donald Trump will still be president unless and until he is removed by the Senate. If President Trump is removed, Mike Pence will become president, not Hillary Clinton. It would be a poor excuse for a coup that left the president’s own party in power.

What impeachment does mean is that history will record that Americans found Donald Trump’s behavior to be inappropriate. Impeachment will be a black mark against Trump’s name that will stand as a warning to future presidents that such abuses of power will not be tolerated.

That President Trump is deserving of impeachment is underscored by the fact that Republicans have not offered exculpatory evidence or witnesses to refute the allegations of abuses of power. Instead, witnesses from the president’s inner circle have been ordered not to testify and the White House has not cooperated with subpoenas for White House emails and documents. Republican defenses have largely been limited to attacking the character and motives of witnesses, most of whom are Trump appointees, a tactic that does not dispute the facts of the case.

The Republicans in the Senate are unlikely to vote to convict and remove Donald Trump from office, however. And that’s okay. After the impeachment, after President Trump has been punished by the House, is the appropriate time for the people to vote.

After impeachment, voters will have their say on whether Democrats overstepped or whether their actions were within reason. Voters can decide whether President Trump’s behavior over the past four years was a series of abuses of power or whether they want four more years of Twitter diplomacy.

Over the next few weeks, I expect to see de facto proof that the Republicans who say that Trump’s actions were not impeachable were wrong. That proof will come when the House votes to impeach the president for his cumulative abuses of power, of which, the Ukraine whistleblower scandal is only the most recent and well-known example. President Trump should be punished for his abuses of power and impeachment is an appropriate reaction.

However, after impeachment, it will be up to the people to decide whether President Trump should be removed from office. If voters want to reject the politics of deceit and division, they should send a strong message at the polls next November and fire not only Donald Trump but his Republican enablers. Then they should keep sending messages in subsequent elections and hold other politicians accountable for their behavior as well.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Evidence Against Trump (So Far)

After a week of public testimony in the impeachment inquiry, there are now mountains of transcripts regarding President Trump’s handling of relations with Ukraine. The argument for impeachment boils down to a comparatively few nuggets of information, however, and there is much chaff mixed with the grains of wheat. To that end, I thought it would be useful to identify some of the main pieces of evidence against the president.

So far, it is Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, who has emerged as the key witness against the president. Sondland, a Seattle millionaire who made his money in the hotel industry, was a Trump supporter in 2016 but canceled a fundraiser for the Republican nominee after Trump attacked the Khan family, Muslim-American parents of a fallen US soldier. Sondland later donated $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee and was subsequently appointed ambassador to the EU in March 2018.

In his public testimony, Sondland, who said that he did not have “access to all of my phone records, State Department e-mails and many, many other State Department documents” and was “told I could not work with my E.U. staff to pull together the relevant files and information,” said that Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker “worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the expressed direction of the president of the United States.” Together, Perry, Volker, and Sondland are referred to as “the Three Amigos.”

“We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani,” Sondland said, but “We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose a very important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So, we followed the president's orders.”

“Mr. Giuliani's requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky,” according to Sondland. “Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew these investigations were important to the president.”

“In July and August of 2019, we learned that the White House had also suspended security aid to Ukraine. I was adamantly opposed to any suspension of aid,” Sondland continued. “I tried diligently to ask why the aid was suspended, but I never received a clear answer; still haven't to this day.”

After President Trump told the Three Amigos to “talk with Rudy,” Sondland says that the group kept other members of the Cabinet and White House staff in the loop, stressing that they believed that they were pursuing legitimate policy goals and were not a rogue operation. Specifically, Sondland named Secretary of State Pompeo, his Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl, his Executive Secretary Lisa Kenna, Ambassador John Bolton, Dr. Fiona Hill, Tim Morrison, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and Mr. Mulvaney's Senior Advisor Rob Blair. Sondland also said that he raised his concerns about the delayed aid in a meeting with Vice President Pence that included several other people. So far, all of the people named by Sondland have refused to testify with the exceptions of Hill and Morrison.

“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland said.

As it turns out, Rudy Giuliani had been working on the Ukrainians for a while already. The New York Times reported last May that Giuliani was headed to Ukraine in hopes of pushing the Ukrainians into investigating two matters that could benefit Trump in his quest for reelection. “One is the origin of the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election,” The Times said. “The other is the involvement of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son in a gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch.”

Sondland said he remembered the July 10 meeting with Ukrainians and recalled “mentioning the prerequisite of investigations before any White House call or meeting.” However, he disputed the accounts of NSC staffer Fiona Hill and Lt. Col. Vindman that John Bolton abruptly terminated the meeting at that point.

Over the course of the negotiations, the prerequisite for an investigation evolved into the mere announcement of an investigation. “He had to announce the investigations,” Sondland testified. “He didn't actually have to do them, as I understood it.”

In an answer to Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent made clear the nature of the statement that Zelensky was being asked to present. “That was not an anti-corruption statement, sir,” Kent said. The Three Amigos “shared a draft with Rudy Giuliani and Rudy Giuliani said it would not be acceptable if it didn't mention Biden, Burisma, and 2016.”

Sondland did not dispute David Holmes’ account of a phone call between Sondland and the president on July 26. He also said that he had no reason to believe that investigations were not discussed as Holmes testified. He said that the subject of the Burisma investigation likely came up because “because we had been hearing about it from Rudy and we presumed Rudy was getting it from the president.”

Sondland said that he first learned about the hold on the Ukrainian aid package on July 18. It was in this conference call that Ambassador Taylor testified that a White House Office of Management and Budget employee had said “her boss had instructed her not to approve any additional spending of security assistance for Ukraine until further notice.” The direct “boss” of the OMB is Mick Mulvaney, who also serves as chief of staff and reports directly to the president, but the term also could have referred to President Trump himself.

Negotiations had been in process with Ukraine since May regarding the phone call between Presidents Trump and Zelensky. Sondland said that the White House requests began as “very generic for an investigation of corruption in a very vanilla sense” but “as time went on, more specific items got added to the menu, including the Burisma and 2016 election meddling, specifically -- the DNC server, specifically.”

While Sondland says that he was not specifically told that the aid package was subject to the same conditions as the White House meeting, he says that was the implication. Indeed, Sondland said that he relayed that belief to Andriy Yernak, a top advisor to Zelensky, just after a meeting that included Pence during the vice president’s trip to Warsaw for the Sept. 1 anniversary of the beginning of World War II. Sondland also expressed his belief that release of the aid was connected to the announcement of investigations to Taylor and Lt. Col. Vindman.

Sondland also said around Sept. 9 that he finally asked the president “an open-ended question… what do you want from Ukraine?”

He said that Trump answered, “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.” However, it should be noted that Trump’s denial came as the scheme was falling apart and the White House was gearing up for damage control.

The witnesses provide important background to the summary of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky. Several of the witnesses were present for the call and reported that they concerned enough to talk to legal counsel. The summary itself backs up the claims of the witnesses and is itself important evidence against President Trump.

On the call, Trump first laments that the relationship between Ukraine and the US is not “reciprocal.” Zelensky then says that Ukraine would like to buy more Javelin missiles from the US. Trump immediately responds by asking for a “favor.” Trump then specifically cites Crowdstrike, the company that investigated the DNC hack in 2016 and cites a discredited conspiracy theory that the DNC server was sent to Ukraine. Zelensky then responds that his administration has already been in contact with Rudy Giuliani on the matter. Trump next asks that Zelensky “look into” Burisma but specifically mentions “Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution… and Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution.” Zelensky promises that the new Ukrainian prosecutor “will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned….”

Ambassador Sondland was not on the July 25 call and said that he only read the transcript when it was publicly released. “Looking back, I find it very odd -- very odd that neither I, nor Ambassador Taylor, nor Ambassador Volker ever received a detailed read-out of that call with the Biden references,” he mused.

If any doubt as to the motives of Trump and Giuliani remained, Giuliani admitted in a CNN interview on Sept. 20 that he asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and on Oct. 17 Mick Mulvaney told reporters at a press conference that “corruption related to the DNC server” was “why we held up the money.” Back in June, as negotiations were underway on the “anti-corruption statement,” President Trump told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, “ I think I'd take it” if a foreign country offered him dirt on a political opponent.

While it is true that no one has yet testified that President Trump directly ordered that the aid be exchanged for the Ukrainian announcement, there seems to have been no doubt among White House staff as to the president’s intent. There is an abundance of circumstantial evidence as well as the words of President Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Mick Mulvaney that supports the understanding of the witnesses. There are also problems with the Republican denials.

First, only the president had the authority to delay the aid package. This is not a decision that could have been made by low-level staffers. Testimony indicates that the State, Defense, and NSC were unanimous in their disapproval of the delay even if they had the power to enact it. Even Mulvaney would not have made a call of this sort without presidential approval.

Second, the Trump Administration claimed that the aid was delayed due to concerns about corruption. In reality, the Defense Department had certified that Ukraine had met the congressional standards placed on the aid not once but twice. The first certification was in May, not long after the Times reported on Rudy Giuliani’s trip to Ukraine. The second was in July just prior to the conference call in which Sondler and Vindman learned of the hold placed by “the boss.”

Even though Ukraine had been certified as meeting the standards to receive the aid, the money was not released until more than two months later. The hold was finally removed from the aid package on Sept. 11, two days after 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.

Finally, the Republican stonewalling lends credence to the claims of the witnesses against the Administration. So far, senior Trump Administration officials have denied the witness allegations, but have declined to do so under oath. The Administration has also refused congressional requests for documents and information. Failure to answer a congressional subpoena is itself grounds for impeachment per Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and it is fair to assume that if the Administration possessed exculpatory evidence that it would make it public.

The evidence that Donald Trump abused his office as president and bartered aid approved by Congress for an announcement of an investigation into Joe Biden that would benefit him personally is strong. The case is made stronger by the fact that Republicans who have direct knowledge of the President’s actions refuse to testify and provide exculpatory evidence. However, the president cannot escape the consequences of his actions by ordering his subordinates not to cooperate with Congress.

The Trump Administration should provide any information that could prove the president’s innocence to congressional investigators. At a minimum, Bolton, Mulvaney, and Pompeo should testify under oath so that the country can learn the truth.

To justify the president’s actions, the Trump Administration must explain why the aid to Ukraine was delayed for months and why it was not released until after the scandal broke.

If not, it’s time to impeach.

Originally published on The Resurgent

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 ChargĂ© 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