Fridays For Future

Ken AshfordEnvironment & Global Warming & EnergyLeave a Comment

Millions of people are expected to join demonstrations demanding action on climate change in scores of cities around the world on Friday, including in hotbeds of the environmental movement such as London, New York, San Francisco and Seattle.

Many groups are involved in organizing the strikes including schoolchildren, trade unions, environmental groups and employees at large tech companies such as Amazon and Google, and their demands are all similar: reducing the use of fossil fuels to try to halt climate change.

In day of coordinated global action:

• Australia saw some of the first protests kick off Friday morning with organizers estimating that upwards of 300,000 students and workers filled the streets of Melbourne, Sydney and other cities in the biggest protests the country has seen in years.

• New Delhi, India, one of the world’s most polluted cities, saw dozens of students and environmental activists chant “we want climate action” while hundreds marched in Thailand’s capital Bangkok, before staging a “die-in” outside the Ministry of Natural Resources

• In London, thousands of people from infants to grandparents blocked traffic outside the Houses of Parliament chanting “save our planet.”

• Crowds had gathered in European capitals including Berlin and Warsaw, African capitals such as Nairobi, Kenya, while organizers say there are some 800 events planned to take places in the U.S. later. New York City’s 1.1 million public school students were told they would be allowed to skip class to attend protests.

Fridays for Future began as a weekly demonstration by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg in August 2018 but has since spread to more than 150 countries.

As of Tuesday, 4,638 events were slated to take place in 139 countries, according to Thunberg.

Here in the US, students — some as young as elementary school-age — have descended on John Marshall Park in Washington, DC.

Many of the students skipped school today despite being told that their absences will be considered unexcused. While some will be excused with a note from their parents, others tell CNN they are willing to accept whatever consequences they receive in order to participate in the worldwide protests. 

Protesters lined up, holding banners that call for action and chanting, “This is what democracy looks like.” 

Organizers say they have been putting this together since mid-July. Some of the children who are suing the government over the issue are at the DC protest. 

“Your Damn Right I Ordered The Code Red!” [With Updates]

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

The Washington Post and The New York Times posted stories within one minute of each other last night reporting that the conversation that caught the ear of an intelligence whistleblower was between Trump and the Ukrainians. WaPo’s posted at 8:04 p.m. and NYT’s at 8:05 p.m.

Now I have to go back and give tags to all the whistleblower posts from this week.

NYT’s story, by Julian Barnes, Nick Fandos, Mike Schmidt and Matthew Rosenberg:

“While the allegation remains shrouded in mystery, it involves at least one instance of Mr. Trump making an unspecified commitment to a foreign leader and includes other actions, according to interviews. At least part of the allegation deals with Ukraine, two people familiar with it said.”

Then Rudy Guiliani went on Chris Cuomo’s CNN show, and Twitter exploded. Asked whether he asked Ukraine to look into Joe Biden, Giuliani first said he didn’t, then reversed himself within seconds and said: “Of course I did.”

His comments come amid House Democrats’ intensifying look at allegations that Giuliani and Trump were squeezing Ukraine’s recently elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to reopen an investigation of a company connected to Biden’s son. The chairmen of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees wrote to White House counsel Pat Cipollone last week demanding all documents that reference the allegations against Biden’s son, as well as the transcript of a July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky.

Ukrainian readout of the call indicates that Trump indicated Ukraine could improve its image in part by completing the “investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA.”

The full interview is interesting in that it shows the meltdown of Giuliani. He tries the “we didn’t do it” route, flips to “yeah we did it and the president can do it”, to the Nixonian “if the president does it, it is by definition legal” route. He tries the “best defense is a good offense” by trying to make it about Hunter Biden, and falls back on “attack the media” as an arm of the Democrats. He fails. Watch:

After Giuliani’s interview, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) recounted a recent meeting with Zelensky in which he characterized the Ukrainian leader as very attuned to Giuliani’s demands and Trump’s handling of Ukraine’s military aid.

“I told him it was best to ignore requests from Trump’s campaign operatives. He agreed,” Murphy said on Twitter

“I don’t know what is in the whistleblower complaint,” he continued, “but it was clear to me that Ukraine officials were worried about the consequences of ignoring Giuliani’s demands. And of course they were. That’s why presidents shouldn’t have their campaigns talking to foreign leaders.”

The Ukrainian revelation isn’t something new. The Washington Post wrote about it on September 5, calling it “collusion in plain sight”:

UKRAINE’S NEOPHYTE president, Volodymyr Zelensky, took a big step this week toward proving that he will be, as he promised, the most pro-reform president in Ukraine’s history. On Monday, he laid out a breathtakingly ambitious five-year plan including virtually every measure the International Monetary Fund and Western governments have urged on Ukraine in recent years, from land reform to the privatization of state companies to a cleansing of the judiciary.

That ought to be cause for celebration in Washington, where successive Democratic and Republican administrations have tried to draw Ukraine away from Vladi­mir Putin’s Russia and into the ranks of Western democracies, only to be frustrated by the fecklessness and corruption of the country’s political leaders. Yet Mr. Zelensky has so far failed to win the backing of President Trump. Not only has Mr. Trump refused to grant the Ukrainian leader a White House visit, but also he has suspended the delivery of $250 million in U.S. military aid to a country still fighting Russian aggression in its eastern provinces.

Some suspect Mr. Trump is once again catering to Mr. Putin, who is dedicated to undermining Ukrainian democracy and independence. But we’re reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.

The strong-arming of Mr. Zelensky was openly reported to the New York Times last month by Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, who said he had met in Madrid with a close associate of the Ukrainian leader and urged that the new government restart an investigation of Mr. Biden and his son. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, while Joe Biden, as vice president, urged the dismissal of Ukraine’s top prosecutor, who investigated the firm.

Mr. Giuliani also wants a probe of claims that revelations of payments by a Ukrainian political party to Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, were part of a plot to wreck Mr. Trump’s candidacy. In other words, Trump associates want the Ukrainian government to prove that Ukraine improperly acted against Mr. Trump in the 2016 election; but they also want it to meddle in his favor for 2020.

Mr. Zelensky is incapable of delivering on either demand. The revelations about Mr. Manafort came from a Ukrainian legislator who was fighting for domestic reform, not Hillary Clinton. And the Biden case, which has already been investigated by Ukrainian authorities, is bogus on its face. The former vice president was one of a host of senior Western officials who pressed for the dismissal of the prosecutor, who was accused of blocking anti-corruption measures.

The White House claims Mr. Trump suspended Ukraine’s military aid in order for it be reviewed. But, as CNN reported, the Pentagon has already completed the study and recommended that the hold be lifted. Yet Mr. Trump has not yet acted. If his recalcitrance has a rationale, other than seeking to compel a foreign government to aid his reelection, the president has yet to reveal it.

At a press conference earlier this month, after Vice President Mike Pence met with Zelensky, a reporter asked Pence, “Did you discuss Joe Biden at all during that meeting yesterday with the Ukrainian president? And No. 2, can you assure Ukraine that the holdup of that money has absolutely nothing to do with efforts, including by Rudy Giuliani, to try to dig up dirt on the Biden family?” Pence flatly denied discussing Biden. But he never answered the second question. A few days later, the Trump administration released the money to Ukraine, and Zelensky thanked Trump.

Today the Daily Beast quoted an aide to the Ukrainian interior minister saying that the country would investigate Biden if asked by the United States.

The President has since released the military aid, perhaps sensing the problem with the whistleblower complaint.

This morning:

The U.S. President is publicly attacking a government whistleblower who went through proper legal channels to report suspected wrongdoing

This morning, except for Trump’s tweet and a few other twitter and TV hits (more below), all remains quiet on both sides. No major announcements. You get the feeling both sides are in a huddle.

But speaking in the Oval Office moments ago to reporters, Trump called the story “ridiculous” and described the whistleblower as partisan. Trump reiterated that his conversations with foreign leaders are appropriate. Asked if he discussed former Vice President Joe Biden with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump said it “doesn’t matter what I discussed” but that someone should look into Biden. When he was asked to confirm whether the conversation that is the subject of the whistleblower’s complaint was his July phone call with Ukraine’s President, Trump responded: “I really don’t know.” Trump said he did not know the identity of the whistleblower.

W-w-w-w-w-hy does White House staff have the whistleblower complaint?

Steve Benen assesses where we are as of 1:00 p.m. today — Trump should be concerned about the quietness coming from GOP ranks:

This morning, again via Twitter, Trump tried again:

“They think I may have had a ‘dicey’ conversation with a certain foreign leader based on a ‘highly partisan’ whistleblowers statement. Strange that with so many other people hearing or knowing of the perfectly fine and respectful conversation, that they would not have also come forward. Do you know the reason why they did not? Because there was nothing said wrong, it was pitch perfect!”

Putting grammatical concerns aside, this doesn’t work as a credible defense, either. For one thing, there’s no evidence the whistleblower is “highly partisan,” and in theory, Trump shouldn’t know who the person who filed the complaint even is.

For another, the president seems unaware of how difficult it is for someone within the intelligence community to put his or her career on the line, facing the very real possibility of White House reprisals, and call out alleged presidential wrongdoing through proper and legal channels.

To hear Trump tell it, if he’d truly crossed any lines, others would’ve also gone to the intelligence community’s inspector general. Reality isn’t nearly that simple: a limited number of people were aware of the conversation – or conversations – in which the president may have gone too far. How many of them are prepared to be lose their jobs? Or be targeted by a White House with an unfortunate reputation for targeting critics?
For that matter, while we’re aware of one whistleblower, we don’t know for sure whether others also spoke to the inspector general about the incident(s).

In the Oval Office this morning, sitting alongside Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Trump went a little further.

The Republican again repeated the claim that the whistleblower is “partisan,” before adding that it “doesn’t matter” what he discussed with the Ukrainian president. Trump went on to say he doesn’t know the identity of the whistleblower, but he “hears” that it’s a “partisan person.”

In apparent reference to the whistleblower’s complaint, which he said he hasn’t read, the president added, “Everybody’s read it; they laughed at it.”

The comments lead to some straightforward questions:

* If Trump doesn’t who the whistleblower is, how does he know the person is “highly partisan”? From whom did he “hear” this?

* If “everybody” has read the whistleblower’s complaint, and people “laugh” at it, why is the administration ignoring the law and hiding it from Congress? Why not just disclose it and move on?

* If Trump’s conversation with Ukraine’s president was, as Trump put it this morning, “beautiful” and appropriate, why not release a transcript and resolve the scandal?

Finally, the American president may be of the opinion that “it doesn’t matter” what he discussed with Ukraine, but he’s mistaken. If Trump, for example, tried to pressure a foreign government to interfere in an American election in order to help keep Trump in power, that’s an outrageous abuse – and very likely the sort of act that falls under the rubric of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy seems willing to stick his neck out.

Same with Matt Gaetz:

Oh… THIS is interesting:

Still, the silence today from the left is discouraging.

Ah, FINALLY a candidate weighs in:

And finally, a statement from Pelosi:

No mention of impeachment.

Whistleblower Issue Blows Up Bigly [With Updates]

Ken AshfordBreaking News, L'Affaire Russe, L'Affaire Ukraine, Political Scandals, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

I’ve been pointing to it the last couple days. Last night, we learned a little about what the whistleblower complaint discussed.

The whistleblower complaint filed on Aug. 12 by an official in the U.S. intelligence community involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader, two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter told The Washington Post yesterday.

During the interaction, Trump made a “promise” to the foreign leader that the whistleblower found so troubling they decided to file the complaint to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson. In turn, Atkinson found the complaint worrisome enough that he marked the matter of “urgent concern” and submitted it to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. Maguire replaced former DNI Dan Coats, who resigned in August.

By law, Maguire was supposed to send the complaint on to Congress, but after asking Justice Department officials for legal guidance, he refused, the Post reports. The House and Senate intelligence committees only learned of the complaint after Atkinson, not Maguire, notified them earlier this month, though he did not say what was in the complaint. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is trying to get intelligence officials to share the details with lawmakers, and Atkinson is scheduled to appear before Schiff’s committee for a private session on Thursday.

One former official told the Post the communication in question was a phone call. It’s not immediately clear which foreign leader Trump was speaking to or what he promised them. In the five weeks before the complaint was filed, White House records show that Trump spoke and interacted with at least five foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

My bet is on Putin. So is everybody else’s.

So let’s figure this out. It seems clear there are two overarching issues:

First. What did the president promise to Putin? Was there a quid pro quo? (If so, that could be a *new* “collusion”). If there was a quid pro quo, was it explicit or implicit? Did the promise given to Putin amount to “compromat” (information that could be used to compromise Trump)? Did Trump promise to do something in contravention of Congress (like slow-walk aid to Ukraine)?

My guess is that it has something to do with Ukraine, and our aid to it. Perhaps Trump promised that if he won the election, he would try to get rid of aid to the Ukraine. Or perhaps ease up on sanctions of Russia.

If he made that “promise” in connection with the next election, is there an implicit quid pro quo — like, “you help me win again, and I’ll do X for you”? Maybe.

I don’t think the issue is that the president in some way gave out classified information. Unfortunately, what is and isn’t classified is within the purview of the president, and he can share it with whoever he wants.

Second. To what extent was the president involved in the (Acting) DNI’s decision not to forward the whistleblower complaint to Congress? Did he order it? If so, this is rather blatant obstruction of justice (18 USC Sec 1512(c)(2))

The second issue seems more of a slam dunk if it can be shown that the president was involved in that decision. It reaks of cover-up.

One result of last night’s blowup is that dates for the (Acting) DNI to testify before the House have now been arranged: He will meet today in a closed session (that, in fact, is happening as I type this), and on September 26 in an open session.

Speculation about the whistleblower’s identity is rampant across social media. Some suggest Fiona Hill, former Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs, as the whistleblower; her planned departure in August was announced June 18. Others suggest an as-yet unnamed low-level analyst.

The WaPo article says that the whistleblower “once worked on the staff of the White House security council, meaning it could be former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon, who resigned a month ago (August 15)…

…or even John Bolton (the recently ousted National Security Adviser) himself.

As for the “promise”, the most interesting speculation I’ve heard connects this to the disclosure of the Russian mole now living in the Washington, DC area. This seems like a strange thing to leak, as it potentially endangers the operative. But, the argument goes, it makes more sense if people in the intelligence community feared Trump was going to, say, deliver the agent to Putin. As CNN reported about a week ago, Trump apparently doesn’t like snitches. Even if they’re working for the United States.

Marcy Wheeler’s take:

Important points for consideration:

What constitutes an “urgent concern” validated by the Intelligence Community Inspector General as credible?

What constitutes an unlawful act that would compel a whistleblower to file a complaint if the president can declassify information at will?

What kind of unlawful act characterized as an “urgent concern” could occur as a “promise” in communications with a foreign leader?

How does the existing timeline frame this “promise”?

Who is the “higher authority” who ordered the ADNI not to turn over the whistleblower complaint to the HPSCI, obstructing investigatory oversight?

Promising to violate or ignore violation of bipartisan sanctions against Russia would be unlawful, but would this be an “urgent concern”?

Was there instead an unlawful act with regard to the doxxing of the exfiltrated Russian asset?

Or was there a promise related to surveillance of North Korea?

Did the tensions between the U.S. and Iran spawn an unlawful promise?

There are probably dozens more scenarios that might fit. They may be related to items we didn’t add to the crowdsourced timeline, like these items directly related to North Korea:

28-FEB-2019 — Trump cut short the two-day summit with North Korea for no clear reason.
11-JUN-2019 — Trump received a “beautiful letter” from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
09-AUG-2019 — Trump received another “very beautiful letter” from Kim.
This one related to Iran:
03-SEP-2019 — New sanctions were placed on Iran after Trump administration claimed it was developing ballistic missile technology using its communications satellite program as cover.
And these related to Russia:
26-JUN-2019 — Trump told reporters that his anticipated discussion with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Japan was “none of your business.”
31-JUL-2019 — Trump and Putin talked over the phone about Siberian wildfires and trade.
29-AUG-2019 — Trump’s trip to Poland canceled, ostensibly to monitor Hurricane Dorian though he ended up playing golf instead at his N. Virginia course. Was he avoiding conflict over increased Russian troop presence at the administrative border between Russian-occupied South Ossetia and Georgia? (Georgia has been pursuing NATO membership but is not yet a member state.)

All good points. We should remember that on July 31,when Trump held a phone call with Putin, the call was first reported by the Russians. The White House didn’t confirm it until late that evening, saying Trump “expressed concern over the vast wildfires afflicting Siberia” and, “The leaders also discussed trade between the two countries.” The Russians, in a much more substantial readout, claimed Trump and Putin also spoke about restoring full relations one day.

Other takes…

Here’s an opposing viewpoint. Goldsmith is a Harvard Law Professor.

Aaaaand now we (finally) have the President weighing in:

I for one believe that the President is that dumb. Trump used to walk into the TV Truck and say “Get a close up on her tits” would talk about “grab ’em by the pussy” while wearing a microphone. He allowed the Russians into the Oval Office without anyone else being there. This is Trump.

Bloomburg New Reporter for the White House:

Just the other day, he almost blabbed about security measures at the border, but he was stopped.

Trump: “They’re wired so that we will know if somebody’s trying to break through.”

He then offered the floor to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, who quickly answered: “Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing that.”

UPDATE: This House Intelligence Committee session with the Inspector General is taking a while.

Aaaand, it looks like the DOJ got involved in the decision not to turn over the complaint to the House Intel Committee…

Why? The NY Times just broke that the IG is refusing to tell what the complaint is about.

During a private session on Capitol Hill, Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, told lawmakers he was unable to confirm or deny anything about the substance of the complaint, including whether it involved the president, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door conversation. 


Watching Schiff now live…

Schiff is saying that DOJ has issued an opinion that the complaint cannot be handed over. The DOJ is asserting a “privilege”, but it is not clear what that privilege. Schiff says there is no privilege involved that the White House has that allows the complaint to be snuffed out.

Schiff says that the IG is in the same position as the whistleblower in that they are both trying to follow the law.

Schiff asks rhetorically “Who is in the position to mandate that the DNI go outside his area to get a legal opinion on whether or not to pass on the complaint to Congress?” (The answer is obviously the President or the President’s people).

Schiff says that the IG says it is “urgent” and that we cannot let this drag on for weeks and months. Says Acting DNI has the sole power to turn over the complaint and hopes he changes his mind.

Just released — letter from 9/9

Looks like the Senate Intel Committee has finally woken up as well….

Aaand is THIS related?

MORE UPDATE: More letters between Schiff and the ICIG, and Schiff and DNI Macguire:

MAJOR UPDATE: New York times just broke this —

A potentially explosive complaint by a whistle-blower in the intelligence community said to involve President Trump was related to a series of actions that goes beyond any single discussion with a foreign leader, according to interviews on Thursday.

The complaint was related to multiple acts, Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for American spy agencies, told lawmakers during a private briefing, two officials familiar with it said. But he declined to discuss specifics, including whether the complaint involved the president, according to committee members.

This is getting bigger and bigger by the hour.

Mysterious Whistleblower Complaint Points To Serious Shenanigans

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Ukraine, Political Scandals, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

The whistleblower thing I mentioned yesterday gets weirder.

This story is about to get a whole lot more media scrutiny, because it involves secretive back-channel maneuvering, a possible threat to national security and potential lawbreaking at the highest levels of the Trump administration, possibly at the direction of President Trump himself — all with a whole lot of cloak-and-dagger intrigue thrown in.

And now the mystery of Rep. Adam Schiff and the whistleblower has taken an ominous new turn, one that should only underscore concerns that serious — and dangerous — lawbreaking might be unfolding.

At the very least, we’re seeing yet another serious erosion in checks on this administration’s norm-shredding — and, as I hope to explain, there are big and important principles at stake here.

The latest development: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has informed Schiff, the California Democrat and chairman of the Intelligence Committee, that he will not forward a whistleblower’s complaint to the committee, as required by law.

Yet the legal rationale for refusing to do this appears specious — and raises further questions as to why this is happening at all.

This all started when Schiff announced that the Inspector General at the ODNI had alerted him to a whistleblower’s complaint that had been submitted to him. Schiff noted that the IG assessed the complaint as “credible.”

But as Schiff noted, the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has not forwarded the complaint to the Intelligence Committee.

There is a process for whistleblowers in such situations, one that has been established by federal law. A whistleblower must first submit a complaint to the IG, who determines whether it’s an “urgent concern” and “credible.” If so, the DNI “shall” forward the complaint to the congressional intelligence committees.

The idea here is that this process allows a member of the intelligence community to raise concerns about potential lawbreaking or other abuses with Congress, so it can exercise oversight over those abuses, while ensuring that classified information remains protected. This is done via the independent inspector general at first, insulating the whistleblower against agency-head retaliation, which is also provided for in the statute.

In this case, Schiff announced, the inspector general notified the committee that this whistleblower’s complaint did constitute an urgent concern and is credible — yet Maguire still hadn’t forwarded the complaint and relevant associated materials to the committee.

So Schiff called on the DNI to forward the materials, and if he failed to do that, to appear before Congress tomorrow.

Maguire has sent a letter to Schiff once again refusing to forward the complaint.

Maguire’s stated rationale for this is that the complaint does not meet the definition of “urgent concern” under the law, because it doesn’t concern conduct by a person in the intelligence community or activity that falls under the DNI’s supervision.

Because we don’t know what the complaint entails, it’s hard to evaluate this claim. But there are reasons for skepticism about this stated rationale.

For one thing, even if the conduct may not be under the DNI’s supervision, the New York Times quotes informed sources saying the complaint itself was filed by a member of the intelligence community. That suggests direct relevance to the DNI.

For another, the inspector general did determine that the appropriate destination for the complaint is Congress’ intelligence committees.

Margaret Taylor, senior editor of the Lawfare Blog, says this is important because the inspector general has his own counsel, who could have determined that this complaint falls in the category of something that should be forwarded to the committees under the statute.

What’s more, Taylor argued, the statute does not give the DNI the authority to decide that something doesn’t count as an urgent concern, once the inspector general has designated it as such.

“The inspector general makes the decision as to whether it’s an urgent concern or not,” Taylor said. “Under the statute as written, the Director of National Intelligence doesn’t have the discretion to not act or get a second opinion. He just has to forward it to the intelligence committees.”

There’s a reason the statute is written this way. As Taylor points out, lawmakers wanted whistleblowers to be able to alert them — that is, Congress, with its oversight authority — to wrongdoing without the threat that agency heads will tamper with that process, say, for nakedly political reasons.

“Lawmakers decided that Congress’ oversight responsibilities could not be effectively carried out if employees are required to obtain the approval of the heads of their agency before exposing wrongdoing,” Taylor says.

The DNI has offered another rationale as well, one that makes this potentially more troubling.

Over the weekend, Schiff told CBS News that he’d been informed by Maguire that he was not forwarding the complaint because he is “being instructed not to” by someone “above” him, a “higher authority.”

This appears to be a reference to the DNI’s suggestion, in a separate letter to the committee, that the complaint involves “confidential and potentially privileged communications by persons outside the Intelligence Community.”

“The executive branch seems to be relying on the potential assertion of executive privilege to not supply the information to Schiff,” Taylor said. One also wonders who outside the intelligence community is being referred to here as enjoying such privileged communications.

Trump’s White House, of course, has asserted various forms of presidential prerogative to block oversight on many fronts, including preventing Judiciary Committee Democrats from questioning multiple direct witnesses to Trump’s extensive corruption and wrongdoing, as documented by the special counsel.

At stake here, then, is whether agency heads can further erode the process by which whistleblowers can report wrongdoing to Congress, and possibly whether presidential prerogative can once again be invoked to prevent Congress from exercising oversight over it.

In other words, we’re looking at still more erosion of checks on executive branch power and, possibly, lawlessness as well.

Chaotic Lewandowsky Hearing Ends With Artful Cross-Examination

Ken AshfordCourts/Law, L'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Jennifer Rubin explains

Corey Lewandowski sneered and dodged and raised phony privileges when questioned by members of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. He did, however, make a fatal error (fatal to President Trump, that is) when he repeatedly said the White House had instructed him not to answer questions.

After the hearing, Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told CNN: “Article 3 of Nixon’s impeachment was obstruction of Congress, refusing to obey defined congressional subpoenas, pleading imaginary privileges. And obviously that’s what the president has been doing.” In short, Lewandowski’s own conduct provided evidence of obstruction.

The real excitement came, however, after the media decided it was all chaos and Democrats had accomplished nothing. Democrats’ counsel Barry Berke got 30 minutes to question Lewandowski and made the most of it

Here’s what he accomplished:

1. Berke forced Lewandowski to acknowledge that when he said on national television multiple times he would “voluntarily” appear before special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, that was false. Berke demonstrated Lewandowski also lied when he said on TV he had not been asked to testify. Lewandowski asserted he had no obligation to tell the media (and the public) the truth.

2. Berke made plain that Lewandowski took the Fifth and refused to testify for the special counsel unless granted immunity. He also showed Lewandowski clips of him publicly stating that when you take the Fifth, you’ve done something wrong.

3. Berke established that before asking Lewandowski to take a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the White House just so happened to dangle a White House job before him.

4. Berke established that Lewandowski was absolutely loyal to Trump yet never delivered the message.

5. Berke also established that Lewandowski wanted to have a private meeting with Sessions so there would be no record.

In short, Berke made perfectly clear that Lewandowski’s actions (refusing to deliver Trump’s instructions, demanding immunity, lying on TV, creating no record) demonstrated he knew he was being asked to do something wrong or illegal.

But take half an hour and see it for yourself:


Berke’s performance us that if competent counsel does the questioning, we can vividly see the impeachable acts that Trump already committed and continues to this day to commit. We learned, although it’s been in the report and played out every day, that the impeachable acts are rather easy to understand. Former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance was more succinct. “The law won,” she said.

It did indeed, which is why lawyers ought to be doing this rather than preening politicians. Elie Mystal at Above the Law writes:

Most people, including me, didn’t see it in real time. The news channels weren’t carrying it live by that time. Berke only got to go after all the Congresspeople had their moments to (largely) mug for the cameras.

Folks, this is a huge problem with the Democrats’ prosecution of the case against Trump. The Democrats want to say that Donald Trump is engaged in an unprecedented level of corruption and obstruction, but they themselves keep behaving like “normal” Congresspeople, which means mugging and jostling for television time, and holding hearings in a way to make it look like they’re doing something, instead of holding hearings in a way that actually accomplishes something.

It is political MALPRACTICE for each and every one of these Congresspeople — with varying levels of preparedness — to waste time in these important hearings while people are paying attention, only letting the real lawyers talk when most people have tuned out.

If Democrats really want to put “country over party,” then they must start with themselves. Congressional oversight of the Trump hearings is not a time for Democrats to run for re-election. Trying to hold a criminal president accountable, and build public support for that accountability, is not a time to get off your packaged one-liner so you have something to put on your official Twitter page. This can’t be Little League Baseball anymore: NOT everybody gets to play. There are more important issues here than making sure each Congressperson has their five minutes to be “seen.”

That hearing should have been designed to make Barry Berke famous, not designed to make sure Congressman Who-the-hell-ever got some screen time on CNN. Berke broke Lewandowski. He made Lewandowski look like the small, weak Trump fluffer that he is. That should have been the overwhelming visual coming out of the hearings, not Jerry Nadler’s exasperated face.

The only reason for the Democrats to structure the hearings the way they were, and the way they were for Robert Mueller, is ego. Their own freaking ego. Congresspeople, many who themselves have legal training, don’t think of themselves as particularly BAD at asking questions of a hostile witness. Their hubris extends to thinking that they ask better questions than “the lawyers,” because they think themselves some kind of political geniuses for winning their districts (districts that in many cases are gerrymandered so hard a braying ass with the D or R after their name could win, just ask Steve King). They’re desperate for the attention a high-profile hearing brings (the reality of fundraising is real), and they’re used to being treated with “respect” by people who need something from them.

For the most part, they’re totally unprepared for what the Trump administration is bringing. Trump witnesses have no respect for Congress, do not fear being held accountable, have PROBABLY been told that they’ll get pardons anyway, and have spent far more time preparing their testimony than Congresspeople have spent trying to figure out how to break them. House Judiciary keeps coming to these things expecting to put on a show for the American people, and the witnesses keep coming preparing to fight to the death.

It takes a lawyer, a real one, one with experience dealing with criminals and hostile witnesses, to get anywhere with these people. Cross-examination is a skill, one they don’t teach you in law school or while working on corporate mergers and acquisitions. You need experience to do it right. AND you need more than five minutes.

Nadler could organize these hearings so that the lawyer went first, and then all his members piled on. He could structure them so that each side had the same amount of time, but in a block, to do with what they wished. He could do a lot, he’s got a lot of power here.

But to wield it correctly, Democrats first need to get over themselves. Nobody is there to hear Congresspeople make speeches and jokes about the goddamned New England Patriots. Everybody is there to see if Trump will be held accountable for crimes. Professionals should question these witnesses, and Nadler should only be there to dangle literal handcuffs if witnesses don’t comply. Everything else, literally everything that doesn’t involve professional cross-examination of Trumpsters, is a useless show.
Democrats must be better.


Lewandowski Testifies

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Why is he relevant? Because according to the Mueller Report, Trump instructed Lewandowski to tell then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself. Lewandowski did not deliver that message.

But a White House letter sent out a couple days ago directed him not to testify to anything beyond the Mueller Report, because of executive privilege.

The obvious problem is that Corey Lewandowski never worked for the White House. He was merely the Trump campaign manager.

Lewandowski is “testifying” right now and invoking the privilege. Well, he is not invoking it “for himself” he keeps saying, but he is respecting the White House directive.

I don’t know why he isn’t being held for contempt.

Can we get some infor out of Corey anyway?