Rudy Corrupting In Real Time

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

So as I wrote before, Rudy is in Ukraine right now, suypposedly doing a documentary for OANN. But even Trump supporters are skeptical.

Rudy tweeted last night:

Giuliani is saying out loud that corruption (1) specifically means Joe Biden, and (2) Ukraine must satisfy Giuliani and Trump by investigating it in order to get “assistance” from the United States. He is literally tweeting out the quid pro quo.

And lest there be any ambiguity as to whether Giuliani is speaking on Trump’s behalf, he has dispelled it. Giuliani called his trip “work being done by a lawyer defending his client” to the Daily Beast, and tells the right-wing news network OANN: “The president of the United States, I can tell you this, is asking for this.”

The Republican argument insists that Trump held up military aid and a presidential meeting in order to vouchsafe that the new Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, was really serious about ending corruption. “The Ukrainian government considered issuing a public anti-corruption statement to convey that President Zelensky was ‘serious and different’ from previous Ukrainian regimes,” argues the report. And once Trump was assured Zelensky really had broken from Ukraine’s corrupt old ways, he released the military aid.

So … since Ukraine apparently satisfied Trump’s concerns, why is Rudy there at all now?

Then Rudy started spilling…

Then this morning (sorry, you need to read in reverse order because Rudy doesn’t know how to thread)

I’m not sure what the $5.38 billion going to favored NGOs has to do with Biden. Yes, the prior administration of Ukraine was corrupt — no doubt about it. But Zelensky ran against corruption and there had been many reforms. Why was he required to investigate old corruption (including Burisma) before he got the military aid that Congress required to have sent?

Anyway, the aid was released. So … since Ukraine apparently satisfied Trump’s concerns, why is Rudy there at all now?

Indeed, at this moment, Giuliani is palling around with some of the most corrupt Ukrainians from the old regime. Giuliani held a confab yesterday with pro-Russian Ukrainian MP Andriy Derkach, a former member of the Party of Regions, which was deposed in a popular uprising against its extravagant corruption:

Giuliani is also meeting with Kostyantyn Kulyk, Yuriy Lutsenko, and Viktor Shokin, three notoriously corrupt Ukrainian officials.

It’s long been perfectly obvious that Trump has not only no interest in reducing Ukrainian corruption, but an active interest in reviving it. Still, Giuliani seems intent on snatching away whatever fig leaf Trump’s allies have tried to maintain. That Zelensky is serious and different from previous regimes is exactly what Trump and Giuliani are afraid of.

And finally, the House Republican report takes great pains to insist Giuliani’s contacts with Ukraine were specifically requested by the latter, not foisted upon it. “President Zelensky did not express any concern about Mayor Giuliani’s engagement — in fact, President Zelensky, not President Trump, first referenced Mayor Giuliani in the conversation,” argues the report, “Evidence shows that the Ukrainian government, and specifically Zelensky adviser Andrey Yermak, initiated contact with Mayor Giuliani — and not the other way around.” Therefore, Republicans suggest, Giuliani (and his shady Russian partners, Parnas and Fruman) provided a welcome service to Zelensky, rather than shaking him down for political favors.

And yet here we have the Ukrainian government openly saying they do not want Giuliani in their country. “An official in Zelensky’s office said the president was caught off guard by Giuliani’s arrival, learning about it from the media,” reports BuzzFeed, “The official emphasized that there are ‘no official meetings’ planned with him.”

The headline on ABC’s report on the trip reads, “Giuliani in Ukraine with conservative news outlet in effort to discredit impeachment probe.” The only impeachment report Giuliani is discrediting is the Republican one. He’s vindicating the Democratic impeachment report.

Trump has openly said he has an “absolute right” to demand any country investigate anybody he doesn’t like for any reason of his choosing. He’s not even bothering to pause briefly for impeachment to end before he resumes. If Republicans allow him to stay in office, he will simply keep doing the same thing over and over, and they will have given him permission to do so.

RELATED:

UPDATE — another Rudy tweet just now:

He just thought of it? He had that planned!

These notes sure sound like something House investigators might want to get their hands on. Too bad the White House is blocking them from accessing thousands of pages of documents and records and at least a dozen witnesses.

Why Move Fast On Impeachment? Because The 2020 Election Rigging Has Already Begun

Ken AshfordElection 2020, L'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

Greg Sargent:

One of the strongest arguments made by experts testifying against President Trump is that he poses a present and continuing threat to our democracy. By adopting the stance that extorting a foreign leader into helping him rig the election was perfectly fine, Trump has confirmed he’ll keep using the levers of government to continue to corrupt it on his behalf.

“If left unchecked, the president will likely continue his pattern of soliciting foreign interference in the next election,” one constitutional scholar called by Democrats testified on Wednesday. “No misconduct is more antithetical to our democracy.”

The latest nefarious doings of none other than William P. Barr and Rudolph W. Giuliani have now forcefully underscored this very point. In so doing, Trump’s attorney general and his personal lawyer — whose roles Trump views as one and the same — have helpfully strengthened the case against Trump.

Two new investigative reports demonstrate that Barr and Giuliani are, in effect, continuing to carry out elements of the very same corrupt scheme for which Trump is currently getting impeached. Their activities have been described as “brazen,” but the truth is worse: They demonstrate with great clarity that Trump’s efforts to corrupt our political system will continue — a reminder of why he’s being impeached in the first place.

The good news is that one prong of those schemes appears to be going badly, for the simple reason that facts elude Barr.

The Post reports that Barr has hit a major snag in his efforts to validate Trump’s claim that the investigation into Russian sabotage of the 2016 election was a hoax. Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, privately asked Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, who’s executing Barr’s review of the origins of that investigation, to validate a key element of Trumpworld’s “theory” of those origins — and he did not.

This is terribly inconvenient for Barr — and Trump and his propagandists. They hope such a review will allow them to cast the whole Russia investigation — and its findings of Russian sabotage and extensive efforts by Trump to coordinate with and benefit from it — as illegitimate.

Central to this is the idea that the Maltese professor who first told a Trump adviser about dirt gathered by Russia on Hillary Clinton — which launched the original FBI probe — was a U.S. agent setting up the Trump campaign. Horowitz, who is also examining the probe’s origins, has reportedly determined that he was not, and asked Durham — and intelligence agencies — to produce evidence to the contrary. They couldn’t.

It’s true that Horowitz will also reportedly announce serious irregularities with the FBI’s original handling of the investigation, and Trump’s propagandists will hype this to the skies. But the bottom line is Horowitz is expected to conclude that the investigation’s basis was legitimate, and while we don’t know what Durham will conclude, it seems clear he’s finding little to validate Trumpworld’s wild theories.

The key point here is that Barr, who is gearing up to cast doubt on Horowitz’s conclusions, is continuing to use the levers of government to carry out Trump’s overall corrupt project — which Trump is actively cheering on. Barr is trying to undercut the legitimacy of the Russia investigation’s conclusions — which would help make Russia’s criminal attack on our political system and Trump’s nefarious reaping of its gains disappear.

That’s exactly what Trump tried to extort Ukraine into helping him do, by announcing an “investigation” into the lie that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered, thus validating that lie — part of the corrupt plot for which he’s being impeached.

And what the hell is Rudy up to?

Giuliani is doing the same as we speak. The New York Times reports that Giuliani has traveled to Budapest and Kyiv, where he’s meeting with shadowy Ukrainian figures to keep building the case that Joe Biden and his son Hunter acted corruptly in Ukraine.

This line of nonsense has been thoroughly debunked, but Giuliani met with one of its key proponents, and is participating in the filming of a fake “documentary” that’s designed to make that narrative seem true.

In other words, Giuliani — who was the ringleader of the scheme to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations that would also make that narrative seem true — has continued to try to achieve the same goals that drove the corrupt plot for which Trump is being impeached.

This, in and of itself, does not necessarily add to the case for impeachment. But, tellingly, when the Times pressed Giuliani to say whether he kept Trump informed of these latest moves, he refused to answer, even though he had previously kept Trump regularly apprised. That means it’s possible Trump has blessed Giuliani’s continued efforts to smear Biden with lies, though without the direct extortion element.

Rudy is doing what Horowitz is not: getting his “facts” from corrupt sources.

But regardless of the outcome, we know what this means.

All of this reinforces the corrupt intent that Trump has exhibited throughout. Republicans still laughably claim Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky only because he cared about “corruption” in Ukraine. But this shows again that Trump’s primary concern has been to achieve announcements of investigations into only the things that would help him politically.

In his July 25 phone call with Zelensky, Trump directed him to talk to Barr and Giuliani, who would, Trump hoped, act as his henchmen in helping Zelensky carry out those investigations. The two have simply continued to carry out this very same effort on Trump’s behalf.

Even as Trump is getting impeached for using the power of his office to falsify the story of his corruption of our last election and to corrupt the next one, he’s still trying to accomplish both goals. And in Barr’s case, he’s cheerfully continuing to rely on the manipulation of the levers of government to do so.

In an ideal world, Barr would go down just as quickly as Trump.

Breaking: Pelosi Announces Drafting Of Articles Of Impeachment

Ken AshfordBreaking News, L'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces drafting of articles of impeachment against President Trump.

Her tone is right. This is a somber occasion.

(I don’t think Trump wrote this. The punctuation and syntax is correct.)

Justice Department IG Likely To Ignore Conspiracy Theories In His Report . . . Because There’s No There There, And Rudy Gets Dirt From The Corrupt Ukrainians

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

The report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on the origins of the investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016 has still not been released, though every indication is that the core report was completed weeks, if not months, ago. But while that report is still getting some final edits around the DOJ, one thing it’s apparently not getting is any information on the conspiracy theory that has kept William Barr and his hand-picked prosecutor, John Durham, on a round-the-world tour. Because it seems there is no information to add.

AsThe Washington Post reports, when Horowitz contacted Durham to see if there was anything he wanted inserted into the report concerning the business that had him and Barr hopping across European capitals, he got back … nothing. Which means that, unless Barr and Durham are deliberately keeping their findings from everyone else in their own department, the biggest—and most ridiculous—conspiracy theory Republicans have been pushing about the 2016 election has come up absolutely dry.

In Wednesday’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Republican Sylvia Garcia took mock umbrage at the idea that Donald Trump’s “I want to ask you a favor, though” comment to the president of Ukraine had anything to do with Joe Biden. She proceeded to read the lines following that one in the “transcript” to prove that Biden wasn’t mentioned—which she accomplished by stopping her recitation right before Biden was mentioned. But what Garcia did read right through, without any apparent concern, was Trump’s demand that Ukraine look into “the 2016 election” and specifically “CrowdStrike.” 

This request is not some amorphous concern about Ukrainian officials who wrote sternly worded op-eds and or made mean posts on their Facebook page.

CrowdStrike is as much a demand for smearing Hillary Clinton as requests for an investigation into Burisma is a demand for smearing Joe Biden. It is just as much an attempt to attack a political opponent for personal gain as anything else Trump was pressing on Ukraine.

CrowdStrike is exactly why Barr has been in Australia, and Rome, and London in his efforts to support a theory that exonerates Russia and puts the blame for 2016 hacking back on Clinton.

Also, getting less attention, Inside Defense published yet another debunking of one of the central Republican defenses of Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine by pointing out that the Defense Department, back in May of this year, certified that Ukraine had made sufficient progress in fighting corruption so that the defense assistance funds designated for Ukraine could be released. Once they later learned that the White House had blocked the funding, they never got a good explanation:

The senior Pentagon official who certified in May that Ukraine should receive $250 million in U.S. military aid because it had made sufficient progress combating corruption said today he never got a “very clear explanation” from the White House as to why the funds were delayed over the summer.

“In the weeks after signing the certification I did become aware that the aid had been held,” John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, told reporters this morning.

“I never received a very clear explanation other than there were concerns about corruption in Ukraine,” he continued.

Rood was the person in charge of determining whether Ukraine had made sufficient progress:

Rood said he learned of the White House hold on the aid, which was part of a larger $400 million assistance package, “significantly after May,” when he certifiedthat Ukraine had made sufficient anti-corruption progress to receive the aid.

“It was a requirement under the law that we certify that and I was the person that certified it,” he said.

Despite the fact that this has been widely known for months, Republicans continued to claim that Trump was very concerned about corruption in Ukraine and that was the only reason he withheld the aid.

And yet, also around the time the hearing started, we also learned of yet another foreign trip for Rudy Giuliani in his world tour aimed at protecting Trump against impeachment. As usual, Marcy was way ahead of this move, asking yesterday if Yuriy Lutsenko, Viktor Shokin, and Konstantin Kulyk were the three former Ukrainian prosecutors who had provided statements to John Durham in Bill Barr’s “investigations” aimed at protecting Trump. In what can only be seen as confirmation of her suggestion, the New York Times told us this morning that Rudy met Lutsenko yesterday in Budapest and was in Kiev today to meet with Shokin and Kulyk:

Even as Democrats intensified their scrutiny this week of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s role in the pressure campaign against the Ukrainian government that is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, Mr. Giuliani has been in Europe continuing his efforts to shift the focus to purported wrongdoing by President Trump’s political rivals.

Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, met in Budapest on Tuesday with a former Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, who has become a key figure in the impeachment inquiry. He then traveled to Kyiv on Wednesday seeking to meet with other former Ukrainian prosecutors whose claims have been embraced by Republicans, including Viktor Shokin and Kostiantyn H. Kulyk, according to people familiar with the effort.

Even Ken Vogel, who had the lead byline on this story, has to admit that these former prosecutors are corrupt:

The former prosecutors, who have faced allegations of corruption, all played some role in promoting claims about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a former United States ambassador to Ukraine and Ukrainians who disseminated damaging information about Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in 2016.

Isn’t that interesting? We are being asked to believe that Trump withheld aid Ukraine desperately needed in its war with Russia because of his concerns about corruption. And yet, as Team Trump is doing its best to protect him, they feel that his best defense lies with some of the most corrupt of those Ukrainian officials who have been removed from office. They have provided statements that Bill Barr is likely depending on in his investigation and we learned in today’s Times article that Rudy was also traveling with a team from a wingnut media organization to film a “documentary” providing a “Republican alternative to the impeachment hearings”.

House Begins Live Impeachment Hearings

Ken AshfordCourts/Law, L'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

Three constitutional scholars invited by Democrats to testify at today’s impeachment hearings will say that President Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine for political gain clearly meet the historical definition of impeachable offenses, according to copies of their opening statements.

The three law professors are appearing in the first impeachment hearing before the House Judiciary Committee as it kicks off a debate about whether to draft articles of impeachment against the president.

Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard, planned to argue that attempts by Trump to withhold a White House meeting and military assistance from Ukraine as leverage for political favors constitute impeachable conduct, as does the act of soliciting foreign assistance on a phone call with Ukraine’s leader.

“President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency,” Mr. Feldman planned to say. “Specifically, President Trump abused his office by corruptly soliciting President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce investigations of his political rivals in order to gain personal advantage, including in the 2020 presidential election.”

Michael J. Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina, planned to argue that Trump “has committed several impeachable offenses” by taking actions regarding Ukraine that were worse than Richard Nixon’s misconduct during Watergate.

“If left unchecked, the president will likely continue his pattern of soliciting foreign interference on his behalf in the next election,” Mr. Gerhardt plans to say, adding that Trump’s actions “are worse than the misconduct of any prior president.”

Pamela S. Karlan, a Stanford law professor, will tell lawmakers that the president’s attempt to “strong arm a foreign leader” would not be considered politics as usual by historical standards.

“It is, instead, a cardinal reason why the Constitution contains an impeachment power,” she planned to say. “Put simply, a candidate for president should resist foreign interference in our elections, not demand it. If we are to keep faith with the Constitution and our Republic, President Trump must be held to account.

Trump campaign manager:

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who was invited to testify at today’s impeachment hearing by the committee’s Republicans, will offer the lone dissent, arguing in his opening statement that Trump should not be impeached.

In a 53-page written statement submitted to the committee, Mr. Turley makes it clear that he is not a supporter of the president and believes that the Ukraine matter warrants investigation. But he plans to say that the Democratic impeachment case is dangerously “slipshod” and premature.

“I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger,” he planned to say. “If the House proceeds solely on the Ukrainian allegations, this impeachment would stand out among modern impeachments as the shortest proceeding, with the thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president.”

Offering an exhaustive and colorful account of the history of impeachment, Mr. Turley will agree with the other panelists that “a quid pro quo to force the investigation of a political rival in exchange for military aid can be impeachable, if proven.”

But for that to be the case, he will say, the evidence has to be stronger. Witnesses like Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, and John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, must be heard from — not just spoken about by other witnesses. He will argue the current case is destined for “collapse in a Senate trial.”

Turley’s position is not so much a rebuttal, as a critique, and it is one shared by the ediotorial board of the Washington Post:

The Democratic report lacks direct testimony of Mr. Trump confirming the quid pro quo he was demanding, though it cites a public statement by acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to that effect. It also acknowledges “unanswered questions.” Among other matters, there are disturbing indications that Mr. Trump may have successfully extorted the previous Ukrainian government. While saying the intelligence committee’s investigation will continue, the Democrats argue that they are unable to wait to refer the impeachment case to the Judiciary Committee because of the “threat of further presidential attempts to solicit foreign interference in our next election.”

While that fear is not unwarranted, the speedy referral smacks of political expediency. The Judiciary Committee may well have enough evidence to draw up articles of impeachment. But the witnesses and documents that Mr. Trump is improperly blocking might well provide a fuller and, to many Americans, more persuasive picture of his guilt — and American democracy cannot afford for Congress to fail to establish its right to obtain them. The fight for them must not be given up.

Updates as needed.

Oh God, the Republicans are trying to make this a circus with lots of gesticulating and nonsensical motions.

Also complains about his chair. Gets no laughs.

He’s now blathering about Louis XIV and the Treaty of Dover in 1670.

Says Johnson is the “outlier” — hard to call Johnson an “outlier” when there are only three historical examples of impeachment.

Ari Melber on Prof. Jonathan Turley’s testimony: “I thought this was extraordinarily weak for the Republicans and for Professor Turley … we heard a lot of Jonathan Turley’s ideas for proposed amendments to the Constitution.”

On break…. and meanwhile…

Back from break…

Gohmert talks for five minutes about ???? without asking a question.

Jim Jordan is yelling again. Same yelling points: unfair process blah blah blah.

Jordan claims that Schiff denied their witnesses. False. One of them even affirmed quid pro quo.

Jordan still claiming Ukrainians didn’t know about the hold on military aid. They did.

Jordan is treating meetings between officials and Ukrainians as the important ones, not the ones involving Rudy. He’s claiming that Ukraine would offer investigation for a meeting with a Democratic Senators, which is odd.

Roby (R) — how can we have experts testify about possible grounds of impeachment until we choose grounds for impeachment? (WTF?)

Oh shit. It’s Matt Gaetz.

Gaetz is bad at this. He tries gotcha questions and the professors are smarter than him. For example, he asks Feldman about words he wrote against impeachment IN MAY. Feldman says, “Yeah, I was against it in May. And then all this evidence came out” (paraphrase).

Swalwell now. Takes it a little to Turley.

Swalwell does clean-up with Feldman. Trump is running out the clock and making court challenges of subpoenas where the law is settled by US v. Nixon.

Kamala Harris Drops Out

Ken AshfordElection 2020Leave a Comment

She was my pick. And she ran strong for a while. But I can see why she dropped out. She plummeted quickly and had fundraising and organizational problems.

This is why I liked her:

At NATO, World Leaders Laugh About — Well, AT — Trump

Ken AshfordForeign Affairs, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

This is embarrassing.

Trump was asked about the video while taking questions from reporters ahead of a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

“Well, he’s two-faced,” the president said. After a long pause, he added, “He’s a nice guy. I find him to be a very nice guy.”

Trump said the comments had stemmed from his pressuring Mr. Trudeau to increase Canada’s military spending to 2 percent of its economic output. (They weren’t)

Butthurt, the president is coming home…

The Triumph

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

Jennifer Rubin:

Some observers of the impeachment hearings conducted under the auspices of the House Intelligence Committee bizarrely concluded that the proceedings lacked “pizzazz.” While that is a ridiculous metric for evaluating an inquiry into gross misconduct by the president, no one will find the report on those hearings and on other evidence boring. It’s got pizzazz to spare.

First, the nuts and bolts from the executive summary:

President Trump’s scheme subverted U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine and undermined our national security in favor of two politically motivated investigations that would help his presidential reelection campaign. The President demanded that the newly-elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, publicly announce investigations into a political rival that he apparently feared the most, former Vice President Joe Biden, and into a discredited theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 presidential election. To compel the Ukrainian President to do his political bidding, President Trump conditioned two official acts on the public announcement of the investigations: a coveted White House visit and critical U.S. military assistance Ukraine needed to fight its Russian adversary.

Those facts have yet to be contradicted. We have Trump’s own words on the July 25 rough transcript (“do us a favor though”), diplomat David Holmes’s account of the president pressing Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about “investigations,” the hold on nearly $400 million in aid, Trump’s public statements inviting China and Ukraine to weigh into the election and the testimony of multiple career civil services that Trump outsourced his scheme primarily to Rudolph W. Giuliani, who publicly bragged that he was talking about Biden with Ukrainians.

What is new are the call records showing ongoing communications between Giuliani and the Office of Management and Budget (which ordered the hold on aid) and, stunningly, between the ranking Republican member of the Intelligence Committee (and conspiracy monger) Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.) and indicted Giuliani associate Lev Parnas. Nunes therefore becomes a fact witness, and his efforts to disrupt the hearings and toss out one red herring after another begin to reek of self-interested obstruction of the committees work.

Constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe comments, “The evidence of those suspicious Giuliani phone calls with [Vladimir] Putin-linked thugs reinforces the overwhelming case that the American president was directing a criminal conspiracy to conscript US military aid and the august powers of his office to benefit himself and his own reelection at the expense of the national security.” He adds, “If this isn’t impeachable and removable conduct, we’re done as a constitutional republic.”

The report also makes clear that Trump’s scheme “was undertaken with the knowledge and approval of senior Administration officials, including the President’s Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.” The report reminds us, “In fact, at a press conference weeks after public revelations about the scheme, Mr. Mulvaney publicly acknowledged that the President directly tied the hold on military aid to his desire to get Ukraine to conduct a political investigation, telling Americans to ‘get over it.’”

Aside from the near-airtight factual case against Trump for having engaged in what amounts to bribery and extortion for political gain, the report makes crystal clear the necessity of obtaining testimony from other witnesses. “The call records the committee obtained make clear there is a treasure trove of evidence lying just beyond their grasp,” says former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller. “Had the White House not obstructed this investigation, they could have obtained testimony about what these people discussed and almost certainly produced even more damning evidence than they already have.” Miller adds, “It also seems to show that Nunes was in the middle of this plot from the beginning, which might explain why he was so mad throughout the hearings.”

For starters, Nunes needs to appear and provide testimony under oath. None of his calls or actions implicate any privilege; he is not immune from subpoenas as a fact witness. Moreover, given the direct communication with the OMB, its senior political appointees must appear and answer questions about their contacts with Giuliani.

Moreover, in view of the conclusion that senior officials knew of the scheme, their testimony becomes all the more vital. As luck would have it, a federal district court just denied a stay on the order former White House counsel Donald McGahn must testify and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit just affirmed a lower-court ruling that Deutsche Bank and Capital One must turn over financial records to the House. Both obliterate Trump’s claims of “absolute immunity.” The report underscores that it is worth a brief pause to pursue witnesses hiding behind bogus immunity claims. The courts now seem to be moving with speed, providing some chance that vital witnesses could be corralled.

“There’s a real difference in hearing the story witness by witness and seeing it all laid out on a timeline,” observes former prosecutor Joyce White Vance. “It’s like watching the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. As Schiff says, the country now has to decide whether what happened is impeachable or whether the country has to ‘get over it’ as Trump’s chief of staff said, and let presidents use the power of their office to cheat in elections.”

The Intelligence Committee’s report is a triumph of clarity and thoroughness. Now to make the best possible case, the House should press to hear from newly revealed witnesses who have knowledge of Trump’s action and potentially participated in wrongdoing. If current Cabinet members such as Pompeo do not appear, the House should consider impeaching them as well. The stonewalling must end.

The Phone Records In The Impeachment Report

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

In addition to summing up the findings from weeks of testimony in the House impeachment inquiry, Intelligence Committee Democrats’ new report has a surprising inclusion — the phone records of several major players involved in the scandal, including President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), a member of the committee, confirmed on CNN that investigators subpoenaed these phone records. And while the records can’t reveal what was actually said during these phone calls, they make clear that Giuliani was in close contact with the White House at key moments.

Giuliani also exchanged several calls with an unknown number identified in the report as “-1” — and though this isn’t confirmed, the report certainly seems to imply that this number is President Trump.

The records also raise further questions about the potential involvement of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the Intelligence Committee’s top Republican, in the Ukraine affair. He has been accused of participating in the push for Ukrainian investigations into Trump’s rivals, and the records show he exchanged calls with Giuliani and his “fixer” Lev Parnas (who was arrested in October for campaign finance violations).

Overall, though, the records serve to remind us that, despite all the text messages and witness testimony we’ve seen so far in the inquiry, there’s a circle of people at the center of this scandal whose actions, and communications, remain mysterious. And more broadly, it’s just rather remarkable that impeachment investigators managed to obtain the phone records of the president’s personal lawyer.

The records shed light on the campaign against Ambassador Yovanovitch

The Democrats’ report refers many times to a “scheme” carried out by President Trump and his allies to try and get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. And in their telling, this scheme began with an effort to oust the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was standing in the way of these demands.

The outlines will be familiar to those who watched Yovanovitch’s testimony: Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Yuri Lutsenko, spoke with Giuliani and Giuliani’s fixer Lev Parnas, making false accusations against Yovanovitch and claiming there were scandals involving the Bidens. John Solomon, a conservative journalist, then wrote up Lutsenko’s claims for the Hill beginning in March. Then, in late April, Yovanovitch suddenly got word she was being recalled from her post, at the White House’s instruction.

The new phone records in the report add further detail to this story, and document contacts between the key players at important moments. For instance, Democrats say:

  • In the 48 hours before Solomon published his first article based on Lutsenko’s claims, Parnas spoke with Solomon at least six times. They spoke another time after the article, which attacked Yovanovitch, went live.
  • Between April 1 and April 7, Parnas exchanged about 16 calls with Giuliani and about 10 with Solomon. On April 7, Solomon published another article attacking Yovanovitch.
  • On April 10, Giuliani or Parnas exchanged calls with Solomon and with two other key players here — conservative lawyer Victoria Toensing, who was reportedly working with Giuliani on the Ukraine dirt-digging operation, and Rep. Devin Nunes.

Then, on April 12, there are a series of calls, each involving either Giuliani or Parnas, and the following other people or numbers:

  • a “White House phone number”
  • an “OMB phone number” (potentially acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who is still the OMB director)
  • “-1” (an unknown number, which may, from context, be President Trump)
  • Victoria Toensing
  • John Solomon
  • Devin Nunes
  • Jay Sekulow, another lawyer for Trump

On April 21, however, outsider reformer Volodymyr Zelensky won the Ukrainian presidential election. In the days after that, Giuliani and his allies moved against Yovanovitch. The phone records for April 23 and 24 show the following:

  • Multiple calls between Giuliani and Parnas
  • A call between Parnas and Solomon
  • Several short Giuliani calls to the White House, followed quickly by a call back for him from an unknown “-1” number
  • A call from Giuliani to a phone associated with then-National Security Adviser John Bolton
  • Three calls from Giuliani to an OMB number (which again, could be Mulvaney), and eight with a White House number

Finally, on the night of April 24, a State Department official called Yovanovitch and told her she had to return to Washington, due to White House “concerns.” Those concerns, another State official later explained to her, were coming from President Trump.

None of this is surprising, exactly — but in filling out the story of what happened, it’s useful to show that Giuliani was calling the White House right before Yovanovitch was recalled.

Giuliani responded by tweeting, “The mere fact I had numerous calls with the White House does not establish any specific topic. Remember, I’m the President’s attorney.” That is true. But the Democrats’ report also cited Giuliani’s tweets and media appearances to establish what may have been on his mind around the time of these calls — and, usually, it was Ukraine.

Why “-1” often appears to be President Trump

While the Democrats’ report doesn’t outright say that the calls coming from the unknown “-1” number are from President Trump, they certainly imply it — and the context shows that’s with good reason.

The key is what happens before the “-1” calls. Take, for instance, these records from on August 8.

In them:

  • Giuliani initially texts the White House
  • A little over an hour later, Giuliani gets a flurry of calls from “-1” to two different cell phones (the calls have very short durations so he appears not to have picked up).
  • But minutes later, Giuliani then calls three numbers in succession — one listed as an “OMB number” (for the White House Office of Management and Budget), one for the Situation Room’s White House Switchboard, and one for the White House Switchboard. On the third, he connects.
  • Then, in a call highlighted in the report, a “-1” unknown number calls Giuliani back and they speak for over four minutes.

So this certainly seems like a series of efforts from Trump and Giuliani to get in touch with each other, eventually succeeding. (The “OMB number” could be for acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who is still technically the director of OMB.)

Obviously, we’d expect Trump to be talking to his lawyer on the phone. That’s not scandalous in and of itself. But the placement and timing of these calls involving “-1” may be informative.

For instance, the series of calls on August 8 happened shortly after Giuliani met an aide to Zelensky in Madrid, and shortly before Giuliani, Gordon Sondland, and Kurt Volker started trying to dictate a statement for Zelensky in which he would commit to the investigations. So a phone call here could suggest that Trump was in the loop — and that Giuliani was speaking for him. (Though, theoretically, it could have been about another topic.)

Finally, one other reason why the “-1” number may be Trump is that we actually know he’s used a blocked number that shows up in other phone records this way. During the recent trial of Trump’s longtime adviser Roger Stone, prosecutors revealed that Trump’s phone had a blocked number in 2016, and showed up on Stone’s phone records as “-1.”

The role of Devin Nunes

Finally, the phone records have also focused renewed attention on the possible role of Nunes, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, in this whole saga.

As mentioned above, Nunes and Giuliani exchanged a series of brief calls on April 10. Theoretically, they could have been talking about any number of matters.

So it’s even more interesting that Nunes was also in contact with Giuliani’s fixer for Ukraine, Lev Parnas. On April 12 — amidst Parnas’s calls with Giuliani, Victoria Toensing, and John Solomon — Parnas also traded calls with Nunes, eventually speaking with him for about eight-and-half minutes.

Giuliani also had a series of contacts with Nunes or people close to Nunes around the time of his aborted trip to Ukraine this May.

  • For instance, on May 8, according to the report, Giuliani separately spoke on the phone with someone at the White House, with Solomon, with Parnas — and Nunes staffer Derek Harvey.
  • Then, on May 9, the New York Times revealed that Giuliani was planning a trip to Kyiv, to urge the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens. “We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Giuliani told the paper.
  • The next day, May 10, Giuliani traded calls with and eventually spoke with Kashyap “Kash” Patel — a former Nunes aide who is now an NSC staffer. A call from the “-1” number went to Giuliani shortly afterward.
  • Shortly afterward, Giuliani spoke with Parnas. And that night, on Fox News, Giuliani announced he was calling off his trip to Ukraine.

Parnas’s attorney has previously claimed Nunes was in the loop for the Ukrainian dirt-digging effort, and these call records could well corroborate that statement. Nunes, of course, did not disclose any of this during the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings on the impeachment inquiry, during which he has argued the president has done nothing wrong with respect to Ukraine.

Views On The Republican Prebuttal

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

The Republican staff report is as predictable as a typical Trump tweet—and as mendacious. It assails and belittles the Democrats’ effort to investigate whether Trump muscled Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to initiate investigations that would dig up dirt on Joe Biden and produce information to back up a nutty conspiracy theory that holds that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the 2016 election. And the GOP report proclaims the Democratic-led probe is “not the organic outgrowth of serious misconduct; it is an orchestrated campaign to upend our political system.”

Even after Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who Trump used as a lieutenant in this caper, testified that there was a quid pro quo—White House action backing Zelensky in return for the Ukrainian government pursuing these investigations—the Republicans claim in this report there was “no quid pro quo, bribery, extortion, or abuse of power.” The report also asserts there was “nothing wrong” with Trump asking Zelensky to investigate Biden’s activities regarding Ukraine and his son Hunter’s involvement with a Ukrainian energy company called Burisma. It’s the product of Deep Spin.

The report echoes many of the rants of distraction and deflection issued by Nunes and Jordan during the intelligence committee’s hearings. And it is chock-full of attempts at gaslighting that are easily challenged or debunked. 

One example: “The evidence does not support the accusation that President Trump obstructed the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry,” the report states. Huh? The Trump White House has blocked key witnesses from testifying, and the State Department has refused to hand over significant documents.

But one spot where the report truly goes off the rails—in a manner illustrating its fundamental crookedness—is its account of that fateful July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky.

It was this conversation that kicked off the Trump-Ukraine scandal, when it caused a whistleblower—now known publicly as a CIA analyst—to submit a complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general asserting that Trump had abused the power of his office to pressure Zelensky to churn up derogatory information on a Trump rival. In September, the White House released a quasi-transcript of the call, noting it was not a verbatim rendering of the conversation, that clearly depicted Trump’s underhanded effort to leverage US assistance to Ukraine for his personal political benefit. When Zelensky expressed his interest in obtaining from the United States anti-tank Javelin missiles—a possible deterrent to Russia, which has seized portions of Ukraine—Trump immediately replied, “I would like you to do us a favor though.” Bingo—that’s linkage, that’s conditionality. Which the GOP report claims never transpired.

In recounting this phone call, the Republican report maintains that the Democrats have distorted the transcript: 

Although Democrats have seized on the President’s phrasing—“I would like you to do us a favor though”—to accuse the President of pressuring President Zelensky to target his 2020 political rival for his political benefit, they omit the remainder of his sentence. The full sentence shows that President Trump was not asking President Zelensky to investigate his political rival, but rather asking him to assist in “get[ting] to the bottom” of potential Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election.

Actually, no. This is an outright lie. There are several sentences between Trump’s request for a “favor” and his reference to getting to “the bottom” of Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election (which was minimal). The Republican reconstruction leaves out an important step: Trump asked Zelensky “to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike…I guess you have one of your wealthy people…The server, they say Ukraine has it.” This word-salad was a reference to crazy conspiracy hogwash that claims Russia did not hack the Democratic National Committee in 2016 and that Ukraine was somehow involved in the hacking or in spiriting away the DNC servers to cover up what really happened (which might be that the Democrats hacked themselves to set up Russia and Trump). This is an absurd notion. The US intelligence community and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation each concluded Russia hacked the DNC as part of its sweeping and systematic plot to disrupt the US election and help Trump win. Even the House Intelligence Committee (when it was led by Republicans) and the GOP-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee also declared Russia was the culprit. But Trump has embraced this idea, despite his top aides telling him it was bunk. Why? Because it absolves Moscow of culpability and removes the very real Russia stain on his electoral triumph. This is an alternative, bizarre reality Trump wanted to make real. 

It’s also what the House Republicans airbrushed out of the picture: Trump muscling Zelensky in pursuit of information to prove a ludicrous conspiracy theory about the DNC servers. After all, it does show their man to be nuts. The report makes no mention of Trump’s fixation on this false server narrative; instead, it depicts him as merely asking Zelensky to investigate Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election. And the meddling that the Republicans reference essentially centers on anti-Trump statements Ukrainian officials publicly made in 2016—remarks that were hardly surprising given that Trump, while campaigning, had indicated he believed it might be fine to let Russia hold on to Crimea, that portion of Ukraine it had illegally occupied and annexed. Republicans also point out that some Ukrainian officials were willing to help Democrats and American reporters researching the Ukrainian activities of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former top campaign aide—without noting that Manafort had pocketed millions of dollars as a consultant for a corrupt and pro-Russian Ukrainian president who had fled to Moscow in 2014 and was a legitimate subject of concern. (Manafort is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence in part because he laundered money and evaded taxes related to his Ukrainian work.) But just as the Republicans did during the hearings, their report casts these Ukrainian actions as major-league intervention—though they pale in comparison to the extensive covert Russian attack ordered directly by Vladimir Putin. Certainly, the GOP’s obsession with Ukrainian meddling serves Trump’s interest by drawing attention from or diminishing the importance of the Russian assault on the 2016 election. 

There is another big whopper in the Republican report about the Trump-Zelensky call. It correctly notes that after Trump referred to the “whole situation” in Ukraine, he told Zelensky there was “the other thing” and raised the issue of Hunter Biden and the unfounded allegation that his father had stopped a prosecution of Burisma by forcing the dismissal of the government’s top prosecutor. Trump, according to the quasi-transcript, said, “So if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.” (Ellipses in the original document.) The report states, “President Zelensky did not reply to President Trump’s reference to the Bidens, and the two did not discuss the topic substantively.”

That is wrong and misleading. Zelensky in fact zeroed in on what Trump was requesting. He responded:

I wanted to tell you about the prosecutor. First of all, I understand and I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case.

Zelensky did the opposite of what the GOP report describes. He told Trump that he would have a prosecutor “look into” the company that Trump mentioned. “We will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case,” Zelensky said, according to that inexact transcript the Trump White House released. It could not be clearer: This was a substantive conversation directly about Trump’s request that the Ukrainians investigate the Bidens and Burisma. Yet the Republicans claim Zelensky did not respond to Trump’s comments about the Bidens. That is, Trump’s remarks about the Bidens were trifling and merited no concern then or now. This telling makes it seem as if nothing would (or could) come of Trump’s reference to the Bidens. In other words, no harm, no foul. But the evidence indicates Zelensky got the message and promised to do what Trump wanted: investigate his political foe. 

Other parts of the report can be dissected in this fashion. Republicans are not just taking the position that Trump’s conduct regarding Ukraine does not merit the ultimate political punishment: impeachment. They are saying that black is white. In a practice reminiscent of Soviet revisionism, they are trying to disappear inconvenient facts and rewrite the story to protect their dear leader. The document they have produced is a reiteration of Nunes, Jordan, and co.’s against-the-facts assertion that there is no scandal here—not even a scintilla of scandal—and that the real scandal is the Democrats’ dastardly attempt to oust Trump from office without cause; the Bidens’ corruption in Ukraine; and Kyiv’s plotting against Trump in 2016. Take your pick. But to mount this crusade, the Republicans have to deny or erase evidence—even evidence provided by the Trump White House. Consequently, they have manufactured a report that literally cannot handle the truth.