Trump Openly Violates Emoluments Clause

Ken AshfordEmoluments Violation, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

As if his Syrian blunder wasn’t enough, and his Ukraine telephone call extortion wasn’t enough, Trump is now violating the Constitution brazenly.

He has announced that next year’s G7 meeting will be held at the Trump National Doral in Miami. His acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney explains that there’s nothing wrong with this:

This was the same disastrous press conference in which Mulvaney admitted the quid pro quo extortion of Ukraine.,

Oh and Trump is inviting Putin, who was kicked out of the G7 because of Russia hacking and killing people.

Trump’s Doral resort is not a primo resort fit for hosting world leaders:

Trump’s prized Doral golf resort in Miami is crucial to his overall finances, says David Fahrenthold, who covers the Trump Organization for The Post. But, according to company documents and exclusive video obtained by The Post, the Doral resort is in steep decline.

“They are severely underperforming,” tax consultant Jessica Vachiratevanurak told a Miami-Dade County official in a bid to lower the property’s tax bill. The reason, she said: “There is some negative connotation that is associated with the brand.”

“He’s entwined his business more than any modern president with his presidency,” Fahrenthold says. “And it’s not going well.”

The Florida Health Dept shut down pools at Trump properties at least 10 times last year for health violations. There have been no inspections over the past 12 months, even though regulations require all public pools to be inspected at least twice a year.

UPDATE:

Mulvaney Says It Out Loud

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Ukraine, Polls, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

Yesterday marked the day when even Donald Trump’s own people placed him squarely at the center of the impeachment inquiry into his efforts to extort Ukraine for personal political gain.

White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney made a stunning admission of a quid pro quo by confirming that President Donald Trump froze nearly $400 million in U.S. security aid to Ukraine in part to pressure that country into investigating Democrats.

Mulvaney told reporters that Trump wanted the government in Kyiv to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory that a hacked Democratic National Committee computer server was taken to Ukraine in 2016 to hide evidence that it was that country, not Russia, that interfered in the presidential election.

“Did [Trump] also mention to me in the past the corruption related to the DNC server?” he said. “Absolutely, no question about that. But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.”

Later, after Trump’s lawyer and other Republicans distanced themselves from Mulvaney, the White House scrambled to walk back his comments, issuing an official statement blaming the media for misconstruing his words “to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump.”

“Let me be clear,” Mulvaney’s written statement said, “there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election. There was never any connection between the funds and the Ukrainians doing anything with the server . . . there was never any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.”

Yeah. We were misconstruing his words that he said on tape for all to see.

In all seriousness, thinks took a turn yesterday when Mick Mulvaney concocted the worst cover story in the history of mankind.

Somehow, the president has been convinced that CrowdStrike is a Ukrainian company, founded by a Ukrainian, financed by a different rich Ukrainian and that they have secretly shipped a solitary server to Ukraine that holds evidence that Ukraine was responsible for hacking the DNC.

None of this is true, but this did not prevent Trump from putting his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in charge of an effort to prove that these things are true. To accomplish this, Giuliani, who is not a government employee and holds no security clearance, was put in charge of America’s foreign policy in Ukraine. State Department employees were forced to do his bidding and an esteemed ambassador was defamed and then unceremoniously recalled from Kiev because she wasn’t a team-player.

This is supposed to be a defense for the president. It’s all okay because it wasn’t about winning the 2020 election.

Except, that’s also a lie.

That was the worst of Mulvaney’s explanation, but he went further by admitting that Trump held up military aid to Ukraine in an effort to extort the new administration in Kiev. People were kind of stunned that Mulvaney copped to the most egregious and highest of the crimes and misdemeanors that have been alleged, but the president initially said he was happy with his chief of staff’s comments. Now he is privately saying otherwise. As for Mulvaney, he had to try to put the toothpaste back in the tube, but we all know how that works out in the end.

Several Fox News hosts embarked on a large cleanup effort Thursday night.

“I just think half these people — Republicans, too. What is Mulvaney even talking about?” Fox News host Sean Hannity, who also acts as an informal adviser to the president, said on his radio show. “I just think he’s dumb. I really do. I don’t even think he knows what he’s talking about. That’s my take on it.”

“I guess the truth is complicated. This is what — you know, this is why, I think, some of these people are so stupid . . . You don’t need a chief of staff’s idiotic interpretation of things,” he added.

Laura Ingraham, the “Ingraham Angle” host, who is also one of the president’s most outspoken media defenders, argued that Mulvaney’s remarks should not be taken seriously because he is not a lawyer. (In fact, Mulvaney is a lawyer.)

“But when you have a legal issue before a lot of people who aren’t lawyers, the last thing you want to do is try to get out there and say a whole bunch of things really fast and then say, ‘Well, the context was, and going back and the reach back was,’ — and then there’s not enough of a pause between one thought and another, and then they could say, ‘Aha, see, you did,’ and then have to go back and clean it up afterward,” she continued.

That’s all they got. Mulvaney is s stoopid poopy-head.

In other impeachment news, Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, told House impeachment investigators on Thursday that Trump delegated American foreign policy on Ukraine to his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, a directive he said he disagreed with but nonetheless followed.

Mr. Sondland, a Trump campaign donor who has emerged as a central figure in the Ukraine scandal, testified under subpoena that he did not understand until later that Mr. Giuliani’s goal may have been an effort “to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the president’s 2020 re-election campaign.”

According to a copy of his opening statement to investigators, Sondland said Trump refused the counsel of his top diplomats, who recommended that he meet with the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, without any preconditions. The president said the diplomats needed to satisfy concerns that both he and Mr. Giuliani had related to corruption in Ukraine, Sondland asserted.

“We were also disappointed by the president’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani,” Sondland said. “Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine.”

There are two possibilities here. Either Sondland was wildly, almost inconceivably ignorant about what was going on around him, or in trying to salvage his reputation, he just lied to Congress.

By May 23, everyone knew that Giuliani wanted the Ukrainians to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden. On May 9, The New York Times ran an article headlined, “Rudy Giuliani Plans Ukraine Trip to Push for Inquiries That Could Help Trump,” which described his search for dirt on the Bidens. (“There’s nothing illegal about it,” Giuliani told The Times. “Somebody could say it’s improper.”) The next day a CNN piece was headlined, “Giuliani Defends Going to Ukraine to Press for Investigations Connected to Biden.”As the controversy grew, Giuliani canceled the trip.

So while it may be a mistake to overestimate the acuity of Trump appointees, it’s probably safe to say that Sondland knew exactly what he was involved with.

It should be remembered that once Trump won the election, Sondland donated $1 million to his inauguration to buy himself his ambassadorship, and then worked slavishly for the president’s approval

George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, testified yesterday as part of the House impeachment inquiry that he had raised concerns in 2015 about then-Vice President Joe Biden’s son being on the board of a Ukrainian energy company but was turned away by a Biden staffer, according to the Washington Post.

All told, the wheels are off the bus. Here is a University of Maryland poll, taken before the Mulvaney statement:

So, while two thirds of respondents say the offense of asking foreign leaders to intervene in our election is impeachable, only 52 percent agree the president committed such an offense. But there is reason to believe this gap will continue to narrow, including among Republicans and Independents. In fact, Independents are more than four times as likely as partisans to express uncertainty about whether the president invited foreign interference into a U.S. election.

So people are changing their mind based on new evidence. Especially Republicans.

But most haven’t read the memo of the telephone conversation:

The good news is… those that have see a clear quid pro quo.

That includes Republicans:

Overall, those who had either read the memo or extensively followed coverage of the scandal, were also more likely to have a worsening opinion of President Trump, whereas those with less familiarity were less likely to have a change in opinion.

And that includes some Republicans.

This gives some relief to Dems. In fact, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is circulating a memo saying, in effect, not to worry.

“The numbers do not back up Republicans’ posture that impeachment worsens the political environment for House Democrats,” a pollster for the House Democrats’ campaign arm wrote. “National polling conducted by the DCCC finds voters back a Democrat who supports an impeachment investigation over a Republican who opposes an impeachment investigation by 11 points. Even in the 57 most competitive battleground districts, moving the inquiry forward is slightly favorable at 49-48. Additionally, Democrats’ lead in the generic ballot remains steady in national polling (+8 average) and in battleground districts (+3 average).”

In swing districts, those numbers might feel uncomfortably tight.

An hour ago, the House announced it has postponed testimony in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry,perhaps because fallout might be coming from the acting White House chief of staff’s on-again, off-again quid pro quo admission.

Another update:

He says if he were a House member and asked to vote for impeachment to move forward he would be a “yes”. He adds that he wants to read articles and how Democrats make their case in regards to removal.

Another update — FINALLY, we are getting into the courts:

I’m not sure the plaintiff, American Oversight, has standing, but this is the right move.

UPDATE: The Trump campaign is actually embracing what Mulvaney said (his “Get over it”) comment. This is real merch…

The new “lock her up”??

The Cease Fire That Wasn’t

Ken AshfordMiddle East, Russia, Syria, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

So Trump sent this embarrassing letter a couple days ago:

Oh my God. A “deal”???

It didn’t go over well in Turkey either

but despite that, Pence went over there, and we got…. A CEASE-FIRE DEAL!

Trump did and continues to do victory laps about it. About a five-day ceasefire, which allows the Kurds to leave without getting slaughtered.

But the cease-fire agreement reached with Turkey by Vice President Mike Pence amounts to a near-total victory for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gains territory, pays little in penalties and appears to have outmaneuvered Trump.

The best that can be said for the agreement is that it may stop the killing in the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria. But the cost for Kurds, longtime American allies in the fight against the Islamic State, is severe: Even Pentagon officials were mystified about where tens of thousands of displaced Kurds would go, as they moved south from the Turkey-Syria border as required by the deal — if they agree to go at all.

And the cost to American influence, while hard to quantify, could be frightfully high. ISIS fighters are allowed to escape, there is still the displacement of tens of thousands, barbaric war crimes, and the US powdering its own military infrastructure.

And then today:

Turkish-led bombardment Friday killed 14 civilians in northeastern Syria, as Turkey’s president threatened to broaden his assault and an hours-old US-brokered deal already appeared to crumble.

A war monitor said Turkish air strikes and mortar fire by its Syrian proxies killed 14 civilians, appearing to dash the ceasefire announced late Thursday.

That deal was meant to provide a five-day pause for the evacuation of Kurdish fighters from the battleground border town of Ras al-Ain and other areas Turkey wants to control along its border with Syria.

“If the promises are kept until Tuesday evening, the safe zone issue will be resolved,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul.

“If it fails, the operation… will start the minute 120 hours are over,” he said.
The suspension looked designed to help Turkey achieve its main territorial goals without fighting, but its Syrian proxies continued to clash with Kurdish fighters Friday.

The 14 civilians were killed in Turkish air strikes and mortar fire by allied Syrian fighters on and around the village of Bab al-Kheir, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based war monitor said eight fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces — the de facto army of the embattled Kurdish autonomous region — were killed in the strikes, it said.

Trump’s response? Downplaying it with a heavy does of I-meant-to-do-that:

In a fiery Oval Office meeting with Trump, Nancy Pelosi chided Trump that all his decisions seemed to benefit Russia.

After the meeting, Schumer, Pelosi and Hoyer said Trump appeared unhinged by a House vote condemning the Syria withdrawal, and the meeting quickly degenerated into a name-calling session led by the president, according to the Democrats. The trio walked out of the meeting before it was over, they told reporters afterward.

“[Trump] was insulting, particularly to the speaker,” Schumer said. “She kept her cool completely, but he called her a third-rate politician. And he said there are communists involved [in ISIS], and you guys might like that. This was not a dialogue; this was sort of a diatribe, a nasty diatribe not focused on the facts.”

When asked earlier this week what she was saying to Trump in the photo he posted on Twitter (which she subsequently used as the background photo on her own Twitter page), Pelosi said she was probably asking why “all roads lead to Putin.”

UPDATE FORM LINDSAY GRAHAM:

The July 25 Phone Call Was Act Two

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

Today, The Washington Post reported that it wasn’t just Rudy Giuliani and his merry band of international criminals who were running U.S. policy in Ukraine. Instead, that role was also shared by Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Special Envoy Kurt Volker, and—as earlier head-scratching statements had suggested—Energy Secretary Rick Perry. And all of them were apparently assigned their roles not via direct contact with Donald Trump, but by acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

And with half a dozen layers of isolation now established, Trump is more than ready to start feeding associates to the wood chipper.

The news that Trump and Mulvaney moved control of Ukraine policy out of traditional channels was apparently provided through the testimony of one of those traditional channels, in the form of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent, who would normally have been at the center of policy planning regarding Ukraine. Instead, Kent reportedly testified on Tuesday that he was instructed to “lay low,” check out what was happening elsewhere, and just leave Ukraine to the “three amigos”—Sondland, Volker, and Perry.

When Kent—who has worked as a foreign service officer since 1992, was previously the deputy chief of the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, and is regarded as one of the top experts on Ukraine—tried to inject some reality into the situation and push back against the conspiracy-theory-based policy being imposed, he was told he was not welcome and should stay away.

All of this happened weeks before Trump was on the phone to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and it all plays into a still unfolding narrative showing that what Trump did on that phone call wasn’t an isolated incident, but part of a play that began months earlier and continued right up until the release of the whistleblower complaint and the beginning of the impeachment inquiry. 

Trump continues the conspiracy theory, planted by his own people, about Clinton’s emails on a server in Ukraine today:

UPDATE: Another press conference with Trump, where he spouts the (Kremlin) party line:

Graham will probably respond with “Thank you sir. Can I have some more?” Nobody knows better how to get thrown under a bus than Lindsay Graham.

The Case Against Rudy And How Citizens United Got Us Here

Ken AshfordCampaign Finance Reform, L'Affaire Ukraine, Supreme Court, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

Since the NYT revealed that SDNY is investigating Rudy Giuliani for what they call “lobbying” laws,

Mr. Lutsenko initially asked Mr. Giuliani to represent him, according to the former mayor, who said he declined because it would have posed a conflict with his work for the president. Instead, Mr. Giuliani said, he interviewed Mr. Lutsenko for hours, then had one of his employees — a “professional investigator who works for my company” — write memos detailing the Ukrainian prosecutors’ claims about Ms. Yovanovitch, Mr. Biden and others.

Mr. Giuliani said he provided those memos to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this year and was told that the State Department passed the memos to the F.B.I. He did not say who told him.

Mr. Giuliani said he also gave the memos to the columnist, John Solomon, who worked at the time for The Hill newspaper and published articles and videos critical of Ms. Yovanovitch, the Bidens and other Trump targets. It was unclear to what degree Mr. Giuliani’s memos served as fodder for Mr. Solomon, who independently interviewed Mr. Lutsenko and other sources.

Mr. Solomon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lobbying disclosure law contains an exemption for legal work, and Mr. Giuliani said his efforts to unearth information and push both for investigations in Ukraine and for news coverage of his findings originated with his defense of Mr. Trump in the special counsel’s investigation.

He acknowledged that his work morphed into a more general dragnet for dirt on Mr. Trump’s targets but said that it was difficult to separate those lines of inquiry from his original mission of discrediting the origins of the special counsel’s investigation.

Mr. Giuliani said Mr. Lutsenko never specifically asked him to try to force Ms. Yovanovitch’s recall, saying he concluded himself that Mr. Lutsenko probably wanted her fired because he had complained that she was stifling his investigations.

“He didn’t say to me, ‘I came here to get Yovanovitch fired.’ He came here because he said he had been trying to transmit this information to your government for the past year, and had been unable to do it,” Mr. Giuliani said of his meeting in New York with Mr. Lutsenko. “I transmitted the information to the right people.”

And since the WSJ reported that Pete Sessions — named as Congressman 1 in the Lev Parnas/Igor Fruman indictment — was cooperating with a grand jury subpoena targeting Rudy,

A grand jury has issued a subpoena related to Manhattan federal prosecutors’ investigation into Rudy Giuliani, seeking documents from former Rep. Pete Sessions about his dealings with President Trump’s personal lawyer and associates, according to people familiar with the matter.

The subpoena seeks documents related to Mr. Giuliani’s business dealings with Ukraine and his involvement in efforts to oust the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, as well as any interactions between Mr. Sessions, Mr. Giuliani and four men who were indicted last week on campaign-finance and conspiracy accounts, the people said.

Mr. Sessions’ knowledge of Mr. Giuliani’s dealings is a primary focus of the subpoena, the people said.

There has been a closer review of whether it would be possible to indict the President’s personal lawyer under foreign agent laws, with broad consensus that what Rudy is doing is actually covered by FARA — and not just his work for Ukraine, but also (among other places) for Turkey.

Oh, by the way, this just happened:

All this shows, by the way, how wrong-headed the Citizen’s United case was.

E.J. Dionne suggests that the indictment is worth reading in its totality as “a road map to how the system can be gamed” after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

Trevor Potter, the [Campaign Legal Center’s] president, said in an interview that his group noticed a May 17, 2018, contribution of $325,000 from a limited liability corporation, Global Energy Producers (GEP) to America First Action, Inc., a pro-Trump super PAC. GEP seemed to have no real business purpose, and Potter and his colleagues suspected it was a shell company, which is what it turned out to be. The indictment charges that Parnas, Fruman and two other defendants used GEP to make political donations funded by an unidentified Russian businessman.

In the Citizens United ruling, a majority on the Supreme Court ruled that money equals speech, and therefore, the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures by corporations and associations. It would be interesting to know whether they envisioned that the First Amendment protected the free speech rights of unidentified Russian businessmen.

Here is how Dionne concludes.

It is a supreme irony that Trump triumphed by exploiting public disaffection with a political system so many Americans see as infested with sleaze and controlled by forces operating entirely for their own benefit.

Rather than being the cure for such maladies, he is their apotheosis, the culmination of all that has gone wrong in our politics. The task of the impeachment inquiry is to use his Ukrainian misadventure to bring home the breadth of the president’s venality and self-dealing. The goal should be not only to rid the country of a dangerous leader but also to show how desperately our system needs repair.

Document Dump — the indictment:

It’s always a good thing to add Marcy Wheeler’s take, even if it is non-conclusive:

Breaking — So Fruity-G is a Russian agent too?

Kenneth McCallion, a New York attorney, says that investigators first approached him earlier this year to ask about Giuliani’s ties to Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Giuliani associates indicted last week on campaign-finance related charges.

McCallion says FBI counterintelligence agents in February or March asked questions about some of Giuliani’s Ukrainian business dealings.

The counterintelligence probe hinges in part on whether a foreign influence operation was trying to take advantage of Giuliani’s business ties in Ukraine and with wealthy foreigners to make inroads with the White House, according to one person briefed on the matter.

Former FBI agent and lawyer:

Giuliani hasn’t made himself out to be anything but an easy mark for foreign intelligence services. He practices poor counterintelligence hygiene from start to finish.

Trump’s “America First” Means We Have No Influence Anymore

Ken AshfordMiddle East, Syria, Trump & Administration, War on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

Donald Trump sure has made the rest of the world respect us:

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected a U.S. offer to mediate a cease-firebetween Turkish forces and Kurdish militants in northeastern Syria….“The terrorists should drop their weapons and leave the area that we have identified as the safe zone,” he said in a speech Wednesday to the Turkish parliament. He vowed to press forward with the campaign to rout Kurdish-led fighters,known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, from a wide swath of territory along the border.

For better or worse, the US has no influence in Syria anymore. Turkey does. Russia does. Syria itself does. But not us.

And now he’s dumping on our former allies, the Kurds, who took the hits and got rid of ISIS, using words that could have come from Erdogon’s mouth.

UPDATE:

Trump Orchestrates Disgusting Reality TV Moment

Ken AshfordTrump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

This is vile and bizarre, even for Trump. A 19-year-old British motorcyclist, Harry Dunn, was killed in August by an American wrong-way driver who subsequently fled the country under cover of diplomatic immunity. Dunn’s grieving parents are in the U.S. trying to get justice for their son, and Trump lured them to the White House for a mind-bogglingly gross reality TV show surprise:

The Dunn family, now in the United States to drum up support to send [Anne] Sacoolas back to the U.K. to face justice, had accepted an “urgent” invitation by the White House from National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, to visit Donald Trump in Washington, D.C. Trump, it seems, thought he could convince the Dunns to meet the woman who killed their son, and would do so by opening a side door through which she would walk. The whole scene would be captured by a pool of photographers who had been summoned for the meeting.

The Dunns refused to meet Sacoolas and said they felt “ambushed” when Trump told them the woman who killed their son was in the next room.

Yes. I would to.

It’s long been obvious that Trump is incapable of experiencing normal human emotions, so it’s easy enough to believe he’d regard the Dunn’s tragic situation as an opportunity to gain good press for himself, much as he and his horrible wife grabbed a photo op in Texas using an infant who’d been orphaned by a Trump-supporting white nationalist.

But the Dunn incident signals there’s no one left in the building who can recognize a disaster in the making and talk Trump out of these ghoulish impulses, if only to avoid the PR fallout. It’s sociopaths, all the way down.

ProPublica: Trump Businesses Lied On Finances

Ken AshfordPolitical Scandals, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

It’snot that we didn’t suspect this, but ProPublica has the receipts…. literally.

ProPublica obtained the property tax documents using New York’s Freedom of Information Law. The documents were public because Trump appealed his property tax bill for the buildings every year for nine years in a row, the extent of the available records. Thney compared the tax records with loan records that became public when Trump’s lender, Ladder Capital, sold the debt on his properties as part of mortgage-backed securities.

ProPublica reviewed records for four properties: 40 Wall Street, the Trump International Hotel and Tower, 1290 Avenue of the Americas and Trump Tower. Discrepancies involving two of them — 40 Wall Street and the Trump International Hotel and Tower — stood out.

For instance, Trump told the lender that he took in twice as much rent from one building as he reported to tax authorities during the same year, 2017. He also gave conflicting occupancy figures for one of his signature skyscrapers, located at 40 Wall Street.

Lenders like to see a rising occupancy level as a sign of what they call “leasing momentum.” Sure enough, the company told a lender that 40 Wall Street had been 58.9% leased on Dec. 31, 2012, and then rose to 95% a few years later. The company told tax officials the building was 81% rented as of Jan. 5, 2013.

A dozen real estate professionals told ProPublica they saw no clear explanation for multiple inconsistencies in the documents. The discrepancies are “versions of fraud,” said Nancy Wallace, a professor of finance and real estate at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. “This kind of stuff is not OK.”

Cohen told Congress in February, “It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes … and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.”

There’s more, of course, including nine years’ worth of omissions of revenues from leasing roof space for television antennas for which there is a specific line on tax forms.

Trump has an easement to lease the roof space; he doesn’t own it. But three tax experts, including Melanie Brock, an appraiser and paralegal who has worked on hundreds of New York City tax cases, told ProPublica that the income should still be reported on the tax appeals forms.

It’s hard to guess what might explain every inconsistency, said David Wilkes, a New York City tax lawyer who is chair of the National Association of Property Tax Attorneys. But, he added, “My gut reaction is it seems like there’s something amiss there.”

There can be legitimate reasons for numbers to diverge between tax and loan documents, the experts noted, but some of the gaps seemed to have no reasonable justification. “It really feels like there’s two sets of books — it feels like a set of books for the tax guy and a set for the lender,” said Kevin Riordan, a financing expert and real estate professor at Montclair State University who reviewed the records. “It’s hard to argue numbers. That’s black and white.”

Dem Debate Review

Ken AshfordDemocrats, Election 2020Leave a Comment

I didn’t watch it. I learned from watching the last few debates that ten is too many candidates to have on a stage at one time. Here’s the NY Times summary:

Here are six takeaways from the debate:

Warren draws fire, for a change

For the first time this year, Ms. Warren was frequently called out and criticized by her rivals:

Mr. Biden called her health care plans “vague” and argued that she had never accomplished anything big.

Mr. Buttigieg implied that she didn’t trust the American people to decide whether they wanted to remain on private health insurance plans.

Senator Amy Klobuchar denounced Ms. Warren’s plans as a “pipe dream.”

Senator Kamala Harris wanted to know why Ms. Warren didn’t join her call for Twitter to bar President Trump from its social media platform.

For a candidate who has risen in the polls based on her policy acumen and specifics, Ms. Warren’s unwillingness to address the question of whether her “Medicare for all” plan would require higher taxes on the middle class was striking. And her opponents put her on the defensive.

Ms. Warren in large part survived the attacks, though she never did answer questions about whether she’d raise those middle-class taxes. Nor did she explain to Ms. Harris why she thought Mr. Trump should remain on Twitter. But she did present a concise counterargument, saying that only her ambitious ideas could produce an electoral mandate from disaffected Americans to defeat Mr. Trump.

In all, the debate served as a certification of Ms. Warren’s status as one of two front-runners in the race, alongside Mr. Biden. It also crystallized much of the 19-way race as a contest to be the Biden alternative. The candidates sparring with Ms. Warren were auditioning to Democratic voters not just how they would go toe-to-toe with President Trump, but also how they would stack up against Ms. Warren as the campaign narrows to just a few candidates.

Biden shrinks

Unlike in the previous three debates, nobody instigated a fight with Mr. Biden. It was both a sign of his diminished status in the race — he’s no longer the solo front-runner, having ceded ground to Ms. Warren — as well as evidence that attacking Mr. Biden hasn’t served his rivals well when they’ve tried.

The toughest moment for Mr. Biden came when the moderators pressed him on his son Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine. When no candidate pressed him on the topic, it faded from the discussion after Mr. Biden delivered a garbled and wobbly explanation.

Mr. Biden, as is his custom, at times wandered away from the question at hand. During a monologue about tax rates, he bemoaned the size of the field and the relatively brief amount of time allotted candidates to answer questions.

He was strongest when on offense against Ms. Warren. But it was a telling sign that his rivals tried to present themselves as a Biden alternative by contrasting themselves with Ms. Warren instead of Mr. Biden. She, not the former vice president, looked like the candidate to beat on Tuesday night.

Sanders calms concerns post-heart attack

He railed against billionaires. He pitched “Medicare for all.” He tossed out his campaign URL. He said “damn” — twice.

It was vintage Bernie Sanders on Tuesday — and that was a relief to his supporters and advisers two weeks after Mr. Sanders, 78, suffered a heart attack.

“I’m healthy, I’m feeling great,” Mr. Sanders said as the debate approached the two-hour mark. But by then he had made that case with his performance, dueling with Mr. Biden over their ideological differences and thrusting his arm into the air to seek more airtime.

“We are going to be mounting a vigorous campaign all over this country. That is how I think I can reassure the American people,” Mr. Sanders said when asked about his health.

When Senator Cory Booker interjected with a joke that Mr. Sanders also supports medical marijuana, Mr. Sanders did not hesitate with the retort, “I’m not on it tonight.”
He may not have won over new supporters, but he looked like the same old Bernie Sanders. For this debate, that was more than enough.

Buttigieg’s biggest night yet

For months, Mr. Buttigieg has been satisfied to make most of his points at the debates without scoring them at the expense of his rivals. That ended Tuesday.

Mr. Buttigieg sparred sharply with former Representative Beto O’Rourke on guns. He rebuked Representative Tulsi Gabbard on foreign policy. And, most notably, he engaged in the most substantive and sustained contrast of any candidate yet with Ms. Warren.

It was Mr. Buttigieg’s exchange with Ms. Warren over “Medicare for all” that was most memorable, pressing her as she declined to say, yet again, whether her plan would require a middle-class tax increase. (She says her plan would curb middle-class “costs.”)

“A yes-or-no question that did not get a yes-or-no answer,” Mr. Buttigieg said, adding, “Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything. Except this.” He rattled off how her plan would “obliterate” the private health insurance of 150 million Americans while pitching his “Medicare for all who want it” alternative.

Mr. Buttigieg’s rebuke of Mr. O’Rourke — “I don’t need lessons from you on courage” — may lend itself more to a viral moment. But the bigger leap was to be seen as a foil to Ms. Warren.

It felt at times on Tuesday as if the sprawling 12-person stage had actually narrowed to a four-person debate, with Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders representing the left, and Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg representing the center-left. The occasional television shot of just those four served to hammer home the point.

Booker and Harris settle for staying out of fray

Mr. Booker and Ms. Harris were not the main course on Tuesday. They were the palate cleansers. They came into the debate struggling for support and attention. And it was apparent by the end of the first hour that they had adopted a similar game plan: seeking to rise above the fray and food fight unfolding around them while punching at President Trump.

“Tearing each other down because we have a different plan is unacceptable,” Mr. Booker said. He had been the first candidate to castigate the media for asking Mr. Biden questions about his son’s work in Ukraine.

At one point, Ms. Harris aired a complaint that women’s advocates have pressed for months: the lack of questions about abortion. “This is the sixth debate we have had in this presidential cycle. Not one word with all of these discussions about health care, on women’s access to health care. It’s outrageous,” Ms. Harris said.

On Tuesday, both Ms. Harris and Mr. Booker hit Mr. Trump harder on foreign affairs than any rivals onstage. This is not a new strategy. Ms. Harris focused on Mr. Trump during the last debate, too. And for two candidates who have punched their ticket to November, this was a bloodless way to sell themselves without much risk on a crowded stage.

No game-changing moments for low-polling candidates

The sixth night of Democratic presidential debates delivered three hours of discussion but no signature moments and little likely to be remembered when the primaries and caucuses begin in February.

The most contentious exchanges — between Ms. Warren and Mr. Buttigieg, and then again between Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren — were intermittent, spaced throughout a debate that by obligation had to include seven candidates who haven’t sniffed 5 percent in a poll in months.

With so many low-polling candidates obligated to get speaking time, too, the debate meandered through exchanges with Ms. Klobuchar, Mr. O’Rourke and the former housing secretary Julián Castro, each of whom faces long odds to appear at the party’s next debate on Nov. 20 in Atlanta. The billionaire investor Tom Steyer was there, too, though in his first debate appearance, he spent more time introducing himself to

Democratic voters than he did making a case for why he’d be better than anyone else onstage.

While exposing the divisions between the party’s factions, the most taut moments of contrast served more as an example of what is to come once the field shrinks.

It seems to me that we can winnow the field to six. Biden, Warren and Sanders are in the top tier. Buttigieg, Harris, and Booker are the lower tier. Everyone else needs to go home and stop sucking up air.

Hill Testifies; Rudy In Deeper Trouble (And Other Impeachment Updates)

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

The White House did not try to block Fiona Hill from testifying yesterday, it did tell Hill’s lawyers about four areas that could potentially fall under executive privilege. Those areas involved direct communications with the president, diplomatic communications, meetings with other heads of state and staffing the president had on calls with foreign heads of state.

Hill’s lawyers wrote back to the White House on Sunday, presenting their argument for why executive privilege did not apply, based in part on the fact that some of the information has already come into the public sphere and thus is no longer confidential.

Yay, Fiona Hill lawyers.

We learned some things about Fiona Hill’s closed door testimony that took place yesterday:

The effort to pressure Ukraine for political help provoked a heated confrontation inside the White House last summer that so alarmed John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, that he told an aide to alert White House lawyers, House investigators were told on Monday.

Mr. Bolton got into a tense exchange on July 10 with Gordon D. Sondland, the Trump donor turned ambassador to the European Union, who was working with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to three people who heard the testimony.

The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar with the testimony.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition. (Another person in the room initially said Mr. Bolton referred to Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mulvaney, but two others said he cited Mr. Sondland.)

It was not the first time Mr. Bolton expressed grave concerns to Ms. Hill about the campaign being run by Mr. Giuliani. “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Ms. Hill quoted Mr. Bolton as saying during an earlier conversation.

Fiona Hill described this scene: In a White House meeting, Sondland tells Ukrainians they will get a Trump meeting if they open the investigations Trump wants. Then, Sondland follows the Ukrainians out of the meeting to privately make clear he’s talking about Hunter Biden.

We have heard some about the central role of White House lawyer John Eisenberg in attempts to cover this quid pro quo up weeks ago. Eisenberg is the guy who decided to put the transcript of the July 25 call on the Top Secret server. Eisenberg had a role in framing the crimes, as described to DOJ, such that they could shunt them to Public Integrity and dismiss them, rather than open up another Special Counsel investigation into the President’s extortion.

But Hill’s testimony makes it clear Eisenberg was told of what Bolton analogized to crimes well before the call.

Ms. Hill went back upstairs and reported the encounter to Mr. Bolton, who promptly instructed her to report the issue to John A. Eisenberg, a deputy White House counsel and the chief legal adviser for the National Security Council, along with his line about the drug deal, which he meant metaphorically.

Mr. Eisenberg told Ms. Hill he would report it up his chain of command, which would typically mean Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel.

Eisenberg (whose FBI 302 from the last Trump criminal investigation DOJ is trying to withhold) would have been on the hook anyway for a clear attempt to cover up Trump’s crime. But the revelation that he had advance warning that a crime was in process — and apparently did nothing to prevent it — changes his exposure significantly.

And per Hill’s testimony Mick Mulvaney, serving in the dual role of OMB chief and Chief of Staff, knew that those funds were being withheld for a quid pro quo or (as John Bolton described it) a drug deal.

And according to the Daily Beast, Bolton has Trump paranoid:

President Trump has privately raised suspicions that a spiteful John Bolton, his notoriously hawkish former national security adviser, could be one of the sources behind the flood of leaks against him, three people familiar with the comments said. At one point, one of those sources recalled, Trump guessed that Bolton was behind one of the anonymous accounts that listed the former national security adviser as one of the top officials most disturbed by the Ukraine-related efforts of Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who remains at the center of activities that spurred the impeachment inquiry.

Trump’s problem is that his enemies in the administration are not just one person. That makes targeting hard.

Rudy said this to a reporter this morning about Bolton: “John is a longtime friend. I have no idea why John is doing this. My best guess is that he’s confused and bought into a..narrative without bothering to call me about it.”

Yeah. Rudy is the one making up the narratives.

Speaking of which, Rudy’s troubles get worse too, as Reuters reports that he was paid $500,000 for work he did for a company co-founded by the Ukrainian-American businessman arrested last week on campaign finance charges. Reuters source? Rudy.

Giuliani said Parnas’ company, Boca Raton-based Fraud Guarantee, whose website says it aims to help clients “reduce and mitigate fraud”, engaged Giuliani Partners, a management and security consulting firm, around August 2018. Giuliani said he was hired to consult on Fraud Guarantee’s technologies and provide legal advice on regulatory issues. He said most of the work he did for Fraud Guarantee was completed in 2018 but that he had been doing follow-up for over a year.

This is where it gets confusing for me. Who was Rudy’s client? He claims to have been working free for Trump, yet was paid to work for Fraud Guarantee, a Russian front. What the hell?

It suggests that Rudy was lobbying on behalf of Fraud Guarantee (still hard to type that name without laughing), but then, of course, he would be violating FARA.

Rudy is going to have to prove three things: 1) The half-million really DID come (as he claims) from a US source; 2) He really did any cyber work at all for “Fraud Guarantee”; and 3) He has any cyber expertise to speak of, and not just good connections with Trump.

Going through a divorce doesn’t explain his insanity.

Meanwhile, look at Rassmusson — Trump’s favorite pollster:

Greg Sargant has a great column today about Trump’s collapsing defense:

It is striking how many people around Trump did not share his view that this conduct was entirely unobjectionable, or, as Trump keeps putting it, “perfect.” The story now is that those ranks are swelling fast. Let’s review:

1) As the whistleblower detailed, White House officials were “deeply disturbed” by the July 25 call — so much so that they loaded the transcript onto an ultra-classified computer system normally reserved for the most sensitive information in the government’s possession.

2) We subsequently learned that at least four national security officials were so unnerved by this ongoing pressure campaign that they raised concerns with White House legal staff both before and just after the call.

3) And now we know this conduct made Bolton go “ballistic” and fear it would “blow up” the White House, leading him to also alert White House lawyers to it.

Trump’s stance continues to be that this pressure was entirely within his legitimate authority. The White House counsel’s letter, which we now know was largely dictated by Trump, declares that there was “nothing wrong” with the July 25 call as detailed in the rough White House transcript. That transcript shows Trump explicitly naming Joe Biden while demanding investigations.

Thus, Trump’s explicit position is that pressuring Ukraine to help him smear a leading domestic political opponent, not merely to investigate unspecified “corruption,” was absolutely fine. In his own words, Trump has flatly said that Ukraine “should investigate the Bidens.”

As Sargant points out, this puts GOP senator in quite a pickle. When asked if it is “absolutely fine” to ask a foreign government to investigate a political opponent, they simply (and literally) run from the microphone. What can they say if they want to be shown as supporting Trump?

Today’s impeachment hearings guest witness — George Kent:

The procession of high-ranking witnesses to the House’s impeachment inquiry continued apace on Tuesday, as George P. Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of Ukraine policy, arrived on Capitol Hill to face questions from investigators about his knowledge of the widening Ukraine scandal.

Mr. Kent, who appeared behind closed doors despite the State Department directing him not to do so, raised concerns to colleagues early this year about the pressure being directed at Ukraine by Mr. Trump and his private lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to pursue investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals, according to people familiar with Mr. Kent’s warnings.

As far back as March, they said, Mr. Kent was pointing to Mr. Giuliani’s role in what he called a “disinformation” campaign intended to use a Ukrainian prosecutor to smear targets of the president. Those included former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Marie L. Yovanovitch, then the United States ambassador to Ukraine, and Ukrainians who disseminated damaging information during the 2016 campaign about Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

***

Mr. Kent’s appearance followed an emerging pattern. According to officials familiar with the investigation, the State Department directed Mr. Kent not to appear and sought to limit his testimony. The House Intelligence Committee then issued a last-minute subpoena ordering him to appear, and he complied.

He was the second high-ranking State Department official to defy the White House’s wishes and appear for questioning in recent days. 

Today is the document deadline for subpoenas set to Giuliani, VP Pence, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and OMB acting Director Russell Vought . The Pentagon and the OMB are expected to respond.

The Sickness Of Trump Supporters

Ken AshfordRight Wing Punditry/Idiocy, Rightwing Extremism/Violence, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

President Trump is facing calls to condemn a parody video shown at a conference of his supporters that featured him massacring members of the media and his political rivals.

The New York Times first reported the video — played at a conference at the Trump National Doral resort featuring Donald Trump Jr. and Sarah Huckabee Sanders — that shows Trump violently murdering an array of his perceived foes in a church, from John McCain to Mika Brzezinski to CNN to Black Lives Matter to George Soros. The parody uses a famous scene from 2014 film Kingsman: The Secret Service.

ABC News reporter and White House Correspondents Association president Jonathan Karl called the video “vile and dangerous” and issued a statement on behalf of the group:

The WHCA is horrified by a video reportedly shown over the weekend at a political conference organized by the President’s supporters at the Trump National Doral in Miami. All Americans should condemn this depiction of violence directed toward journalists and the President’s political opponents. We have previously told the President his rhetoric could incite violence. Now we call on him and everybody associated with this conference to denounce this video and affirm that violence has no place in our society.

The White House Press Secretary has responded:

I suspect that’s that last we will hear from the White House.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: it’s only a matter of time till a journalist is murdered by a MAGA type. This is sick stuff from the pro-Trump brigade

Fiona Hill Testifies Today

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top adviser on Russia, arrived on Capitol Hill this morning to testify in the ongoing impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump’s criminal enterprise currently operating out of the Oval Office. It is being reported that Hill’s testimony “has caused concern among those close to Trump because she played a central role in the administration’s Russian and Ukrainian policy.” 

Hill plans to tell Congress that Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland circumvented the administration to pursue a shadow foreign policy on Ukraine, a person familiar with her expected testimony told NBC News last week. 

Yes, that should be concerning to everybody.

As reported by The Washington Post, Hill has an interesting history with Trump. During one of her first meetings with him, “Trump appeared to mistake Hill for a member of the clerical staff, handing her a memo he had marked up and instructing her to rewrite it,” and when she didn’t, “Trump became irritated with what he interpreted as insubordination. … As she walked away in confusion, Trump exploded …” Between that and Trump’s suspicion that Hill’s staff leaked the fact that he gave highly classified information to his Russian pals during an Oval Office meeting, Hill was soon left out of any meetings related to Russia. Hill resigned in August 2019. 

Today’s testimony could be interesting. 

And the rest of the as well….

Here’s who we’re expecting will be interviewed next in the probe:

  • October 14: Dr. Fiona Hill, Trump’s former Russia adviser
  • October 15: George Kent, US State Department deputy assistant secretary
  • October 17: Gordon Sondland, ambassador for the European Union
  • October 17: T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, US State Department counselor

The House committees have also requested to talk to top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor. CNN reported earlier this month that Sondland sent text messages to Taylor about Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the center of the impeachment inquiry. Taylor expressed serious misgivings about foreign policy moves being tied to political motives, calling a potential quid pro quo over military assistance to Ukraine “crazy” and suggested he would quit if that assistance was not released.

UPDATE — it already is interesting.

I suspect there is concern that Gaetz entered the room to be Trump’s eyes and ears.

Trump’s Inexplicable Turkey Policy Raises Questions Of Loyalty To America

Ken AshfordSyria, Trump & Administration, War on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds will likely go down as the greatest American foreign policy disaster since the invasion of Iraq. While the cost, destruction, death toll and moral miasma of the invasion of Iraq are unparalleled, the Kurdish betrayal is uniquely bad in a key way: America’s imperialist misadventures against perceived enemies are sadly commonplace, but rarely have we abandoned a longtime ally in such a shameful manner. The repercussions of doing so will resonate to the benefit of America’s foes for decades to come.

Even now the Kurds, facing a genocide by the Turks and abandoned by us, have been forced to take up an alliance with Russia, Iran and Syrian butcher Assad:

Kurdish forces long allied with the United States in Syria announced a new deal on Sunday with the government in Damascus, a sworn enemy of Washington that is backed by Russia, as Turkish troops moved deeper into their territory and President Trump ordered the withdrawal of the American military from northern Syria.

The sudden shift marked a major turning point in Syria’s long war.

For five years, United States policy relied on collaborating with the Kurdish-led forces both to fight the Islamic State and to limit the influence of Iran and Russia, which support the Syrian government, with a goal of maintaining some leverage over any future settlement of the conflict.

On Sunday, after Mr. Trump abruptly abandoned that approach, American leverage appeared all but gone. That threatened to give President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian and Russian backers a free hand. It also jeopardized hard-won gains against the Islamic State — and potentially opened the door for its return.

If that story reads like a tragic funeral dirge, it should.

One has to wonder, too, at Trump’s motivations in making this decision. It jeopardizes his standing with the jury of Republican senators who will be deciding on impeachment. It functionally saves the American taxpayer very little money. And what does Trump care about saving taxpayer money, anyway? This fiscally profligate president is running a trillion dollar annual deficit.

Is it the Trump Towers in Istanbul? Did Turkish authoritarian tyrant Erdogan promise Trump a special deal? Was it to please the Saudis somehow (though it doesn’t make sense that the Saudis would want to see a Kurdish-Iranian alliance)? Or was it explicitly to benefit the Russians?

We still don’t know, no one on the inside is talking and the president isn’t answering honestly.

We have to start asking who the president is working for, exactly. It’s not hyperbole to suspect that Trump may literally be compromised either by greed or blackmail, serving either as a knowing or unwitting asset of a hostile foreign power. Because nothing about this decision to betray the Kurds is on behalf of any American constituency.

The troops are angry and ashamed. Both Republicans and Democrats are furious. The Israeli government, including the far right, is apoplectic. So who, exactly, is Trump doing this for? And what is the payoff?

Americans deserve to know, and quickly. Before this “president” can do any further damage.

So we have sent troups to THIS GUY’S country….

Oh look. Cleanup in aisle 5. Of course, Trump might try to hold those sanctions back, since he often proclaims one thing and does another. (Also, since Kurds are already dying, this all comes a little late)

The statement comes less than an hour after tweeting… ” After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria. Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land. I said to my Generals, why should we be fighting for Syria….”

Still, This isn’t going as Erdogan (or Trump) planned.

From the NY Times:

The President’s Joint Defense Agreement With The Russian Mob

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, L'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

Marcy Wheeler wrote all of this:

If we survive Trump and there are still things called museums around that display artifacts that present things called facts about historic events, I suspect John Dowd’s October 3 letter to the House Intelligence Committee will be displayed there, in all its Comic Sans glory.

In it, Dowd memorializes a conversation he had with HPSCI Investigation Counsel Nicholas Mitchell on September 30, before he was officially the lawyer for Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, now placed in writing because he had since officially become their lawyer. He describes that there is no way he and his clients can comply with an October 7 document request and even if he could — this is the key part — much of it would be covered by some kind of privilege.

Be advised  that Messrs. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman have also been represented by Mr. Giuliani in connection with their personal and business affairs. They also assisted Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing in their law practice. Thus, certain information you seek in your September 30, 2019, letter is protected by the attorney-client, attorney work product and other privileges.

Once that letter was sent, under penalty of prosecution for false statements to Congress, it became fact: Parnas and Fruman do work for Rudy Giuliani in the service of the President of the United States covered by privilege, Rudy does work for them covered by privilege, and they also do work for Joseph Di Genova and Victoria Toensing about this matter that is covered by privilege.

Dowd might be forgiven if he immediately adopted the strategy that worked so well in guiding Trump through the Mueller investigation: just engage in a 37-person conspiracy to obstruct justice and name it a Joint Defense Agreement. Indeed, there are even similarities with current events. Then, John Dowd, Jay Sekulow, and Rudy Giuliani offered things of value to the others in the JDA — pardons — in exchange for their silence or even lies. Conspicuously, Toensing represented two people that — the Mueller Report seems to suggest — weren’t entirely candid in their testimony, Erik Prince (who managed to lose texts that explained why he was taking back channel meetings with Russians) and Sam Clovis (who sustained his lack of memory of being told that Russians were offering emails long enough for George Papadopoulos to change his mind on that front). Papadopoulos even managed to call Marc Kasowitz, when he still represented the President, to ask if he also wanted to represent a coffee boy with an inclination to lie to the FBI. The strategy all built to its successful crescendo when, instead of cooperating with prosecutors as he signed up to do, Paul Manafort instead figured out what they did and didn’t know, lied to keep them confused, and reported it all back through his own attorney, Kevin Downing, and Rudy to the President.

It was never really clear who was paying the lawyers (aside from the RNC paying Hope Hicks’ lawyers and some other key staffers). And as details of Manafort’s lies came out, it became clear there was some kind of kick-back system to keep the lawyers paid.

Still, Mueller never tied Manafort’s trading of campaign strategy for considerations on Ukraine and payment by Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs to the President. And so it may have seemed sensible for Dowd, in a bit of a pinch, to adopt the same strategy, with Rudy representing everyone, Dowd representing the Ukrainian grifters, and Kevin Downing even filling in in a pinch.

It all might have worked, too, if Parnas and Fruman hadn’t gotten arrested before they managed to flee the country, headed for what seems to have been a planned meeting a day later with their sometime attorney Rudy Giuliani in Vienna, just one day after a lunch meeting with him at Trump Hotel across the street from the Department of Justice that was busy inking an indictment against the Ukrainians even as they paid money to Trump Organization for their meal.

I mean, it still could work. Trump is still the President and DOJ, at least, will give some consideration to the attorney-client claims, so long as Rudy and Trump can maintain the illusion that Rudy is and was really doing legal work for the President.

But something that Dowd may not have considered, before he sent a letter to Congress laying out an incestuous nest of ethical atrocities, is that by the time he sent the letter, DiGenova and Toensing were on the record as representing Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch who was named in some of the early search warrantstargeting Paul Manafort. And in March, Rudy Giuliani went on the record to explain that Firtash was, “one of the close associates of [Semion] Mogilevich, who is the head of Russian organized crime, who is Putin’s best friend.” Yesterday, Reuters closed the circle, making it clear that Parnas and Fruman work for Firtash, the former as a translator for DiGenova and Toensing’s representation of Firtash.

Firtash, by the way, is in Vienna, where Parnas and Fruman attempted to flee and where the President’s lawyer was planning to meet them a day later.

Thus, when Dowd wrote Congress, explaining that Rudy worked for both Trump and the Ukrainian grifters, and the Ukrainian grifters worked for DiGenova and Toensing, he was asserting that the President is a participant in an ethical thicket of legal representation with a mob-linked Ukrainian oligarch fighting extradition (for bribery) to the United States. And all of that, Dowd helpfully made clear, related to this Ukraine scandal (otherwise he could not have invoked privilege for it).

In other words, the President’s former lawyer asserted to Congress that the President and his current lawyer are in some kind of JDA from hell with the Russian mob, almost certainly along with the President’s former campaign manager, who apparently gets consulted (via Kevin Downing) on these matters in prison.

If that weren’t all overwhelming enough, there’s one more twist.

The reason Rudy was emphasizing the mob ties of his current partner in crime lawyering, Dmitry Firtash, back in March is because the President’s former former lawyer, Michael Cohen, shared a lawyer at the time with Firtash, Lanny Davis. Davis, the Democratic version of Paul Manafort, is every bit as sleazy as him (which should have been a huge red flag when Davis was parading Cohen around as a big hero). Curiously, at a time when Davis was also representing Firtash and Cohen was furiously trying to come up with some incriminating evidence he could tell prosecutors that might keep him out of jail, Cohen apparently didn’t mention Ukraine at all. Now, the lawyer that Cohen used to but no longer shares with Firtash claims he has some insight onto these Ukrainian dealings. That’s likely just a desperate effort to stay relevant. But who knows?

Until then, John Dowd’s desperate attempt to make this scandal go away the same way he made the Russia scandal go away (if you pretend they’re not actually all the same scandal and thus even the past JDA strategy may end up failing) at the same time involved admitting, in a letter to Congress, that his former client and his then current not-yet-but-soon-to-be-indicted clients are in a Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian mob.

Don’t take my word for it. Take John Dowd’s legal representation to Congress.