Roberts Sworn In

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

Here we are.

Shoulda said…

Suddenly, it is dawning on Trump…

Well, no, Don….. It’s the withholding of military aid for an ally under siege from Russia, to pressure their newly elected leader into announcing a bogus investigation of your political opponent. The phone call is just a piece of the overwhelming evidence.

GAO: “Trump Broke The Law”

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

The Government Accountability Office said the White House’s Office of Management and Budget violated the Impoundment Control Act when it withheld nearly $400 million for “a policy reason,” even though the funds had been allocated by Congress. The decision was directed by the president himself, and during the House impeachment inquiry, administration officials testified that they had raised concerns about its legality to no avail.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the G.A.O. wrote. “The withholding was not a programmatic delay.”

The impoundment law limits a president’s power to withhold money that has been allocated by Congress, requiring that he secure approval by the legislative branch if he wishes to do so.

The White House budget office promptly rejected the report’s conclusions.

“We disagree with G.A.O.’s opinion,” said Rachel Semmel, a spokeswoman for the budget office. “O.M.B. uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the president’s priorities and with the law.”

The report, on its own, does not result in any action, although its release just as Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial is getting underway is certain to fuel additional questions about the impact of his actions.

Ukraine Investigates Surveillance Scandal And Hacking Of Burisma

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

Ukraine has launched criminal investigations into the possible illegal surveillance of former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, and the reported hacking of Burisma Holdings, the natural gas company at the center of the Trump impeachment.

“Ukraine’s position is not to interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States of America,” the Interior Ministry, which runs the police forces, said in a statement.

However, recent reports pointed to the possible violation of Ukrainian and international law, it said.

“Ukraine cannot ignore such illegal activities on the territory of its own state,” the statement added.

Earlier this week, records released by House Democrats appeared to show that before she was ousted by the Trump administration last spring, Yovanovitch was being closely monitored.

Ukraine said it had asked the F.B.I. for help investigating the reported penetration of Burisma’s computer systems by hackers working for Russian intelligence.

So…. Trump finally got the announcement about a Burisma investigation. It’s just… not the one he wanted.

Parnas Speaks

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

Completing his break from Trump/Giuliani, Lev Parnas, Giuliani’s former “associate”, spoke to Rachel Maddow last night, and his interview made huge waves.

Parnas is a complicated figure in the unfolding Ukraine saga. He worked closely with Giuliani as the former New York City mayor defended Trump against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and he helped lead Giuliani’s monthslong effort to smear and remove Yovanovitch, who stood in the way of the effort to investigate Biden and other Democrats. After Parnas was indicted, he initially resisted cooperating with the House impeachment inquiry but changed his tune shortly after Trump disavowed a relationship with him.

Here are the main points:

1. He claimed Trump threatened to withhold more than just military aid from Ukraine

Parnas claimed that the president threatened to withhold all aid from Ukraine if it did not publicly announce an investigation into the Bidens, and he delivered that “very harsh message” to Ukrainian officials on behalf of Giuliani and Trump.

“The message was: It wasn’t just military aid. It was all aid,” he said. “Basically the relationship would be sour. We would stop giving them any kind of aid.”

The associate to the president’s personal attorney said the aid was clearly contingent on U.S. demands, primarily an investigation into the Bidens. Parnas’s claims counter what Trump has said, which is that there was no explicit quid pro quo between him and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Let’s focus on this more:

PARNAS: The message that I was supposed — that I gave Sergey Shaffer was a very harsh message. I was told to give it to him in a very harsh way, not in a pleasant way.

MADDOW: Who told you to give it to him a harsh way?

PARNAS: Mayor Giuliani, Rudy, told me after, you know, meeting the president at the White House. He called me. The message was, it wasn’t just military aid, it was all aid. Basically their relationships would be sour, that he would — that we would stop giving them any kind of aid that —

MADDOW: Unless?

PARNAS: — unless there was an announcement made.

The important thing here is that Parnas is alleging that Giuliani directly told him to convey the message to Ukraine that the military aid was contingent on announcing the investigations Trump wanted — after talking to Trump about it.

But here’s the thing. We already know for a fact that this message — that Trump made the military aid conditional on announcing investigations that would smear Biden and absolve Russia of 2016 electoral sabotage — actually was delivered to Ukraine, by one of Trump’s top henchmen.

That henchman would be Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who has testified that he told a top Zelensky aide that the money was conditioned on Zelensky announcing those investigations.

Trump’s defenders have seized on Sondland’s insistence that he merely “presumed” this to be the case. Their line is basically that Trump never explicitly commanded Sondland to use the frozen aid to openly strong-arm Zelensky on his behalf.

This argument has always been ridiculous. Sondland acted at Trump’s direction throughout. And Sondland himself testified that Trump actually did tell him to convey to Zelensky that he still had to do Trump’s bidding, at a time when Ukraine was desperate for the money, while absurdly denying any quid pro quo.

Crucially, Parnas is now claiming Giuliani told him to make the same demand, after discussing it with Trump.

The demand from Ukraine is almost certainly solicitation of a bribe. Federal statute makes “bribery” a crime if a public official “demands” or “seeks” anything “of value personally,” in exchange for performing “an official act,” provided this has been done “corruptly.” It defines “of value personally” broadly.

An announcement of these investigations plainly had personal value for Trump. Last spring, Giuliani candidly admitted that they would be “very helpful to my client.”

In this case, though, Parnas is also suggesting that Giuliani and Trump discussed this, and that after that happened, Giuliani instructed him to carry out an element of it.

That strongly suggests a criminal conspiracy to solicit a bribe, according to former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner.

2. He implicated Attorney General Barr, saying he “had to have known everything”

Parnas continued by connecting Attorney General William Barr to the pressure campaign, saying that Giuliani had contacted the attorney general about the attempts to get Ukraine to announce a Biden investigation 

“Barr had to have known everything,” he said. “Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.” 

A Justice Department spokesperson told Maddow that the claim was “100 percent false.” The spokesperson repeated the same statement to The Hill.

3. “Trump knew exactly what was going on”

Parnas also directly connected Trump to the Ukraine pressure campaign to investigate the Bidens, saying the president “knew exactly what was going on.”

Maddow asked Parnas about that “main inaccuracy or the main lie being told” that he felt he could correct.

He responded: “That the president didn’t know what was going on. President Trump knew exactly what was going on.”

Parnas continued, saying that he would not act without “the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president” and added that Trump’s claim that he doesn’t know Parnas is a lie.

4. He alleged Pence skipped Zelensky’s inauguration because of Ukraine pressure campaign

Parnas accused Vice President Pence of being in the know, adding that the vice president’s planned trip to Zelensky’s inauguration was canceled because the country refused to announce a Biden investigation.

“Oh, I know 100 percent,” Parnas said. “It was 100 percent.”

When Maddow asked if the vice president knew his visit was involved in a “quid pro quo,” Parnas quoted U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s comments during the impeachment inquiry: “Everybody was in the loop.”

Marc Short, the chief of staff for Pence’s office, said in a statement to The Hill that Democrats have contradicted Parnas’s statements from his interviews when testifying under oath.

“This is very simple: Lev Parnas is under a multi-count indictment and will say anything to anybody who will listen in hopes of staying out of prison,” Short said. “It’s no surprise that only the liberal media is listening to him.”

5. He asserted that the Ukraine campaign “was never about corruption [but] strictly about Burisma”

Giuliani’s associate also claimed that the White House’s call for a Ukrainian investigation “was never about corruption.” Instead, it was focused solely on Burisma.

“And that was another thing that they were looking into, but it was never about corruption,” Parnas said. “It was never — it was strictly about Burisma, which included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.”

Parnas’s assertion negates the White House’s claims that the administration was attempting to root out corruption when Trump asked Zelensky to examine the Bidens’ past.

There’s also been more documents released from Parnas which spell out, in even clearer terms, Rudy Giuliani’s role in the Ukraine pressure campaign.

Perhaps the clearest example came in March, after the then-prosecutor general of Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko, gave an interview to John Solomon, the conservative journalist then working at The Hill.

After Parnas sent Giuliani a copy of the interview between Solomon and Lutsenko, Giuliani expressed frustration with it.

“I’ve got nothing,” he texted Parnas. “The anti corruption prosecutor made some very weak comments that are equivocal at best. And not consistent with the facts. Story would get blown up. Don’t want to lead with my weakest hand.”

Giuliani told Parnas he needed Ukraine’s then-president, Petro Poroshenko, as well as Lutsenko “on the record about the ambassador and Biden. Can you make it happen?”

All of this of course blows the Trump defense (i.e., that he was making sure the new Ukrainian president Zelensky was tackling corruption) out of the water.

Articles Of Impeachment And Managers To Be Named

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

For only the third time in U.S. history, a select team of House members will now cross over to the Senate side of the Capitol Building to act as prosecutors in the impeachment trial of a sitting president, while Senators listen silently as a jury. These so-called “impeachment managers” have won a rare historical distinction claimed by only 20 House members before them.

Pelosi’s handpicked roster includes:

  • Adam Schiff of California, House Intelligence Chairman
  • Jerrold Nadler of New York, House Judiciary Chairman
  • Zoe Lofgren, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and House Administration Chairwoman
  • Hakeem Jeffries, Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus
  • Val Demings, a member of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees
  • Jason Crow, member of the House Armed Services Committee and former Army Ranger and Iraq War veteran
  • Sylvia Garcia, a member of the House Judiciary Committee

These seven House members will now present the case to the Senate that Trump tried to tilt the 2020 election in his favor by pressuring a foreign country, Ukraine, to announce an investigation of his Democratic rival, former vice president Joe Biden.

They’ll accuse Trump of withholding vital military aid from war-torn Ukraine as a bargaining chip, and then, afterward, trying to cover it all up. Those accusations were distilled into two articles of impeachment, passed by the House in December, which these managers are expected to deliver to the Senate this week: one for abuse of power and a second for obstruction of Congress.

Part of the job of the House impeachment managers will be attempting to convince Senators they need to hear from fresh witnesses, including Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Bolton balked at addressing the House impeachment investigation last year but recently changed his tune and said he’ll testify if the Senate hands him a subpoena.

Since Trump’s removal from office by the Republican-controlled Senate looks all but impossible, the real drama of the situation now revolves around whether new witnesses like Bolton will be called to testify. The Democrats would need at least four Republican senators to join them to make that happen, but it’s not clear they’ve got the votes.

Democrats weren’t exactly jumping out of their chairs to invite Republican-favored witnesses to testify in the House hearings. Dems did grant GOP requests to call three fact witnesses during those proceedings, and one Constitutional scholar. But the first three probably would have been called by Democrats anyway.

In the next phase, if Democrats insist on calling witnesses, they’ll be met with calls from Republicans to bring forward Biden, Biden’s son Hunter, and an anonymous intelligence community whistleblower who got the impeachment ball rolling with a complaint about Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president

In addition to presenting the overall case, the House managers will field questions from the Senators, which, in an unusual quirk of impeachment rules, are supposed to be sent only in writing. The managers are also expected to spar with the lawyers Trump sends to defend him.

More to come later today as House presumably votes to send articles to Senate.

UPDATE: The House debates and votes 228-193 to approve a resolution appointing and authorizing managers for the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump

Parnas Document Dump

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

Last night, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff submitted new impeachment evidence to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler which will be included in the file expected to be turned over to the Senate today.

This evidence has come from Lev Parnas, a close associate of Rudy Giuliani. Parnas was indicted by the SDNY in October 2019 along with Igor Fruman on charges of conspiring to violate straw and foreign donor bans. Parnas and Fruman had been working with Giuliani to push for investigations of the Bidens. The two Florida-based businessmen were also leveraging political connections to Trump and other prominent Republicans to pursue a lucrative natural gas deal.

One piece of evidence includes Parnas’ undated note to himself scribbled on a Ritz Carlton Vienna notepad. It says, “get Zalensky [sic] to Announce that the Biden case will Be Investigated. start commun[icating] with Zalensky [sic] without [Pinchuk or Kolomoisky].” He could have written the notes yesterday for all we know.

The most important document, for the legal impeachment case against Donald Trump, is a letter Rudy sent to Volodymyr Zelensky stating clearly that he was contacting the Ukrainian president as Trump’s personal lawyer, not a government lawyer.

Just to be precise, I represent him as a private citizen, not as President of the United States.

It makes it clear that — contrary to the Republican cover story — Rudy and Zelensky both knew they were negotiating a personal benefit for Trump, not a benefit to the US.

The evidence also includes text messages. One “seemingly showed Parnas’ associates tracking the movements of Marie Yovanovitch.”

In one exchange from March 2019, Robert F. Hyde, a Trump donor and Republican Congressional candidate whose involvement in the Ukraine saga has not been previously detailed, sent a series of texts to Parnas that implied he had access to people tracking Yovanovitch’s movements in Kyiv, according to the newly released documents.

“They know she’s a political puppet,” Hyde texted. “They will let me know when she’s on the move… They are willing to help if you/we would like a price.”

“Guess you can do anything in Ukraine with money… what I was told,” Hyde messaged. Parnas responded: “LOL.”

Shortly after the text exchanges were released Tuesday, a lawyer for Yovanovitch called for an investigation into the “disturbing” claim that she was being stalked while serving in Ukraine.

Reached for comment on the text messages last night, Hyde texted, “Bull Schiff is a giant b*tch.” 

Additionally, Parnas texted with Yuriy Lutsenko, the former Ukrainian prosecutor who pushed discredited theories about Yovanovich’s supposed hostility toward Trump. According to one March 2019 text message, Lutsenko appeared to link Yovanovitch’s removal to a probe into the Bidens.