The White House did not try to block Fiona Hill from testifying yesterday, it did tell Hill’s lawyers about four areas that could potentially fall under executive privilege. Those areas involved direct communications with the president, diplomatic communications, meetings with other heads of state and staffing the president had on calls with foreign heads of state.
Hill’s lawyers wrote back to the White House on Sunday, presenting their argument for why executive privilege did not apply, based in part on the fact that some of the information has already come into the public sphere and thus is no longer confidential.
Yay, Fiona Hill lawyers.
We learned some things about Fiona Hill’s closed door testimony that took place yesterday:
The effort to pressure Ukraine for political help provoked a heated confrontation inside the White House last summer that so alarmed John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, that he told an aide to alert White House lawyers, House investigators were told on Monday.
Mr. Bolton got into a tense exchange on July 10 with Gordon D. Sondland, the Trump donor turned ambassador to the European Union, who was working with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to three people who heard the testimony.
The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar with the testimony.
“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition. (Another person in the room initially said Mr. Bolton referred to Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mulvaney, but two others said he cited Mr. Sondland.)
It was not the first time Mr. Bolton expressed grave concerns to Ms. Hill about the campaign being run by Mr. Giuliani. “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Ms. Hill quoted Mr. Bolton as saying during an earlier conversation.
Fiona Hill described this scene: In a White House meeting, Sondland tells Ukrainians they will get a Trump meeting if they open the investigations Trump wants. Then, Sondland follows the Ukrainians out of the meeting to privately make clear he’s talking about Hunter Biden.
We have heard some about the central role of White House lawyer John Eisenberg in attempts to cover this quid pro quo up weeks ago. Eisenberg is the guy who decided to put the transcript of the July 25 call on the Top Secret server. Eisenberg had a role in framing the crimes, as described to DOJ, such that they could shunt them to Public Integrity and dismiss them, rather than open up another Special Counsel investigation into the President’s extortion.
But Hill’s testimony makes it clear Eisenberg was told of what Bolton analogized to crimes well before the call.
Ms. Hill went back upstairs and reported the encounter to Mr. Bolton, who promptly instructed her to report the issue to John A. Eisenberg, a deputy White House counsel and the chief legal adviser for the National Security Council, along with his line about the drug deal, which he meant metaphorically.
Mr. Eisenberg told Ms. Hill he would report it up his chain of command, which would typically mean Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel.
Eisenberg (whose FBI 302 from the last Trump criminal investigation DOJ is trying to withhold) would have been on the hook anyway for a clear attempt to cover up Trump’s crime. But the revelation that he had advance warning that a crime was in process — and apparently did nothing to prevent it — changes his exposure significantly.
And per Hill’s testimony Mick Mulvaney, serving in the dual role of OMB chief and Chief of Staff, knew that those funds were being withheld for a quid pro quo or (as John Bolton described it) a drug deal.
And according to the Daily Beast, Bolton has Trump paranoid:
President Trump has privately raised suspicions that a spiteful John Bolton, his notoriously hawkish former national security adviser, could be one of the sources behind the flood of leaks against him, three people familiar with the comments said. At one point, one of those sources recalled, Trump guessed that Bolton was behind one of the anonymous accounts that listed the former national security adviser as one of the top officials most disturbed by the Ukraine-related efforts of Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who remains at the center of activities that spurred the impeachment inquiry.
Trump’s problem is that his enemies in the administration are not just one person. That makes targeting hard.
Rudy said this to a reporter this morning about Bolton: “John is a longtime friend. I have no idea why John is doing this. My best guess is that he’s confused and bought into a..narrative without bothering to call me about it.”
Yeah. Rudy is the one making up the narratives.
Speaking of which, Rudy’s troubles get worse too, as Reuters reports that he was paid $500,000 for work he did for a company co-founded by the Ukrainian-American businessman arrested last week on campaign finance charges. Reuters source? Rudy.
Giuliani said Parnas’ company, Boca Raton-based Fraud Guarantee, whose website says it aims to help clients “reduce and mitigate fraud”, engaged Giuliani Partners, a management and security consulting firm, around August 2018. Giuliani said he was hired to consult on Fraud Guarantee’s technologies and provide legal advice on regulatory issues. He said most of the work he did for Fraud Guarantee was completed in 2018 but that he had been doing follow-up for over a year.
This is where it gets confusing for me. Who was Rudy’s client? He claims to have been working free for Trump, yet was paid to work for Fraud Guarantee, a Russian front. What the hell?
It suggests that Rudy was lobbying on behalf of Fraud Guarantee (still hard to type that name without laughing), but then, of course, he would be violating FARA.
Rudy is going to have to prove three things: 1) The half-million really DID come (as he claims) from a US source; 2) He really did any cyber work at all for “Fraud Guarantee”; and 3) He has any cyber expertise to speak of, and not just good connections with Trump.
Going through a divorce doesn’t explain his insanity.
Meanwhile, look at Rassmusson — Trump’s favorite pollster:
Scott Rasmussen/HarrisX Poll: Do you support impeachment *and* removal:— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) October 15, 2019
Sept 2 43-47
Sept 9 42-45
Sept 16 45-45
Sept 23 44-41
Sept 30 46-40
Another poll with rising support not just impeachment, but removal, with support jumping 16 net points since September 2nd.
Greg Sargant has a great column today about Trump’s collapsing defense:
It is striking how many people around Trump did not share his view that this conduct was entirely unobjectionable, or, as Trump keeps putting it, “perfect.” The story now is that those ranks are swelling fast. Let’s review:
1) As the whistleblower detailed, White House officials were “deeply disturbed” by the July 25 call — so much so that they loaded the transcript onto an ultra-classified computer system normally reserved for the most sensitive information in the government’s possession.
2) We subsequently learned that at least four national security officials were so unnerved by this ongoing pressure campaign that they raised concerns with White House legal staff both before and just after the call.
3) And now we know this conduct made Bolton go “ballistic” and fear it would “blow up” the White House, leading him to also alert White House lawyers to it.
Trump’s stance continues to be that this pressure was entirely within his legitimate authority. The White House counsel’s letter, which we now know was largely dictated by Trump, declares that there was “nothing wrong” with the July 25 call as detailed in the rough White House transcript. That transcript shows Trump explicitly naming Joe Biden while demanding investigations.
Thus, Trump’s explicit position is that pressuring Ukraine to help him smear a leading domestic political opponent, not merely to investigate unspecified “corruption,” was absolutely fine. In his own words, Trump has flatly said that Ukraine “should investigate the Bidens.”
As Sargant points out, this puts GOP senator in quite a pickle. When asked if it is “absolutely fine” to ask a foreign government to investigate a political opponent, they simply (and literally) run from the microphone. What can they say if they want to be shown as supporting Trump?
The procession of high-ranking witnesses to the House’s impeachment inquiry continued apace on Tuesday, as George P. Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of Ukraine policy, arrived on Capitol Hill to face questions from investigators about his knowledge of the widening Ukraine scandal.
Mr. Kent, who appeared behind closed doors despite the State Department directing him not to do so, raised concerns to colleagues early this year about the pressure being directed at Ukraine by Mr. Trump and his private lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to pursue investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals, according to people familiar with Mr. Kent’s warnings.
As far back as March, they said, Mr. Kent was pointing to Mr. Giuliani’s role in what he called a “disinformation” campaign intended to use a Ukrainian prosecutor to smear targets of the president. Those included former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Marie L. Yovanovitch, then the United States ambassador to Ukraine, and Ukrainians who disseminated damaging information during the 2016 campaign about Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
Mr. Kent’s appearance followed an emerging pattern. According to officials familiar with the investigation, the State Department directed Mr. Kent not to appear and sought to limit his testimony. The House Intelligence Committee then issued a last-minute subpoena ordering him to appear, and he complied.
He was the second high-ranking State Department official to defy the White House’s wishes and appear for questioning in recent days.
Today is the document deadline for subpoenas set to Giuliani, VP Pence, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and OMB acting Director Russell Vought . The Pentagon and the OMB are expected to respond.