Facebook says it is removing content that mentions any potential name of the whistleblower whose complaint sparked an impeachment probe into President Trump https://t.co/7qdaCQAKfQ pic.twitter.com/u9i1MAQAWL
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) November 8, 2019
White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was subpoenaed last night by the House Impeachment Inquiry Committee for appearance this morning at 9 a.m. To nobody’s surprise, he was a no-show. I do wonder why the quick turn-around time, but I suppose we will find out in time. Last month, Mulvaney told reporters in the White House briefing room that President Donald Trump had held up U.S. military assistance to Ukraine in order to get it to investigate a conspiracy theory involving Ukraine influencing the 2016 presidential election. It was decidedly off-message.
Via an official working on the impeachment inquiry: “This morning, one minute before his scheduled deposition was to start, Mr. Mulvaney’s outside counsel informed us that his client had been directed by the White House not to comply …and asserted ‘absolute immunity'”— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) November 8, 2019
“Absolute immunity” isn’t a thing. It was laughed out of court last week.
Today we are expecting more transcripts of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Dr. Fiona Hill from the closed door sessions. In the meantime….
Here are the House Committee Key Points of Vindman and Hill:
Fiona Hill also confirms that Mulvaney was coordinating the demand for investigations. pic.twitter.com/XWb8wMdbcI— Anthony DeRosa🗽 (@Anthony) November 8, 2019
Should’ve said, as GAETZ crashes the Hill deposition… pic.twitter.com/a4txabDo0V— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) November 8, 2019
Vindman talking about significant omissions from the call record pic.twitter.com/mgAqS5lden— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) November 8, 2019
4 takeaways from Hill/Vindman:— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) November 8, 2019
1) Mulvaney's implication in the quid pro quo is huge
2) Sondland has many inconsistencies to account for
3) There appeared to be no real Ukraine chain of command
4) People apparently didn't have much faith in Sondlandhttps://t.co/OO6o1EX1uq
RELATED: Um….. what’s this???
Curious to see the entire exchange and Trump’s comment, but a Justice spox has said, “The President has not spoken with the Attorney General about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son.” https://t.co/duNesifYql pic.twitter.com/xOhreNOsVS— Matt Zapotosky (@mattzap) November 8, 2019
House Republicans’ latest plan to shield President Trump from impeachment is to focus on at least three deputies — U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, and possibly acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — who they say could have acted on their own to influence Ukraine policy.
All three occupy a special place in the Ukraine narrative as the people in most direct contact with Trump. As Republicans argue that most of the testimony against Trump is based on faulty secondhand information, they are sowing doubts about whether Sondland, Giuliani and Mulvaney were actually representing the president or freelancing to pursue their own agendas. The GOP is effectively offering up the three to be fall guys.
The emerging plan to present Sondland as the true mastermind of the Trump administration’s Ukraine scheme, and Trump as an ignorant bystander, is going to run into several massive problems. The first is that any depiction of Sondland as the brains behind the Ukraine scheme is easily disabused by even a casual familiarity with Gordon Sondland. The hotelier and Republican fanboy is clearly very interested in the perks and access associated with his ambassadorship, and has zero record of deep personal investment in proving various right-wing conspiracy theories about Ukraine framing Russia for the 2016 email theft, or Joe Biden’s alleged corruption. Sondland is a pure functionary who could not possibly have taken over authority for Ukraine — from a post, E.U. ambassador, that does not cover Ukraine — without presidential authority.
Second, it relies on the assumption not only that Sondland was acting alone, but so too were several other Trump officials, all in pursuit of the same extortion plot. Mick Mulvaney, who has publicly admitted a quid pro quo, was not following orders from Gordon Sondland when he held up military aid to Ukraine. Mike Pence was not following orders from Sondland when he publicly affirmed that the aid was tied to Ukraine investigating the Bidens.
And Rudy Giuliani spent months carrying out his work in broad daylight. Giuliani has stated repeatedly that his work was undertaken at Trump’s direction (“I don’t do anything that involves my client without speaking with my client.”) He continues to regularly remind the world on Twitter that he is following Trump’s orders and absolutely not working alone.
Then there is the wee fact that Trump actually has revealed his own involvement. In a series of candid remarks to reporters all the way back in September that have somehow fallen down the memory hole, Trump made clear that “corruption” is his code word for “Biden,” and that he did demand investigations of this to Ukraine (“It’s very important to talk about corruption. If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?”). Then of course there’s the rough transcript of Trump pushing Ukraine’s president to do exactly that.
Trump may be too suspicious to allow his underlings to take notes on his schemes, but he’s also dumb enough to just blurt them out himself. And this points to the greatest risk of the House Republicans’ patsy defense: Trump is very unlikely to go along with it. He cannot tolerate other people taking credit for his decisions, manipulating him in any way, or depicting him as anything other than fully in charge of his own administration. What’s more, he seems unable to grasp the accusation itself. Seeing nothing wrong with using foreign policy for his political ends, he keeps confirming he has demanded investigations of his rivals, and indeed keeps demanding new ones in broad daylight.
Key excerpts from Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent:
The full testimony can be found here.
Trump is a little behind on the process:
Everyday — and I mean every day — we see something from this administration that would never happen in the Obama Administration.
Fraud is still big with Trump — just check out his campaign. A web site called the Popular Information newsletter reports:
A heavily-promoted contest to win breakfast with President Trump in New York City on September 26 was a fraud. The purported winner of the contest, Joanna Kamis, did not have breakfast with Trump. Instead, she was invited to a breakfast at a New York City restaurant that Trump did not attend. Kamis was later permitted to take a photo with Trump.
The promise of breakfast with Trump was used in hundreds of Facebook ads to entice supporters to donate money. The ads were clear that donors would be entered into a contest to share a meal with Trump. “This is your LAST CHANCE to meet me this quarter, and I really want to discuss our Campaign Strategy for the rest of the year with you over breakfast,” Trump said in a Facebook ad in September.
Kamis’s contest is one of fifteen in which winners were promised a meal with the President. The campaign is required by law to provide information regarding the names of the contest winners but has persistently ignored media requests. After the newsletter published the fact yesterday that the campaign had not verified that anyone had won any of these contests, the Daily Caller trotted out Kamis as ostensible “proof” that the allegations were bogus.
In other words, Kamis is not necessarily representative of all contest winners. She’s the best they’ve got — and she wasn’t given what she was promised. The other “winners” might not even exist. Either way, there is, to date, even from a Trump-sympathetic outlet like the Daily Caller, not one shred of evidence that anyone has had a meal with the President after fifteen contests promising one.
If there are no winners — and winners might emerge, but keep in mind Trump’s pattern, as shown when he tried to steal money from veterans during his campaign, of promising things that he has no intention of delivering on — if there are no winners, this may be fraud:
Richard Painter, a former associate counsel in the Bush White House, told Newsweek that the failure to deliver on the promised meals with Trump could be criminal. “You’re raising campaign cash, you’re lying to people. If you obtain money from people through false pretenses that’s a violation of federal mail fraud and wire fraud statutes,” Painter said.
Trumpists will call this petty, as they do with everything Trump-related, even though they would have heart attacks by the dozen if Joe Biden did the same. But it’s dishonest and slimy fraud, typical of this criminal cretin.
NY Times headline reads “Ukraine’s Zelensky Bowed to Trump’s Demands, Until Luck Spared Him”:
Aides to Ukraine’s leader, Volodymyr Zelensky, decided that military aid and support for peace talks outweighed the risks of appearing to take sides in American politics.
It was early September, and Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, faced an agonizing choice: whether to capitulate to President Trump’s demands to publicly announce investigations against his political enemies or to refuse, and lose desperately needed military aid.
Only Mr. Trump could unlock the aid, he had been told by two United States senators, and time was running out. If the money, nearly $400 million, were not unblocked by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, it could be lost in its entirety.
In a flurry of WhatsApp messages and meetings in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, over several days, senior aides debated the point. Avoiding partisan politics in the United States had always been the first rule of Ukrainian foreign policy, but the military aid was vital to the war against Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, a conflict that has cost 13,000 lives since it began in 2014.
By then, however, Mr. Zelensky’s staffers were already conceding to what seemed to be the inevitable, and making plans for a public announcement about the investigations. It was a fateful decision for a fledgling president elected on an anticorruption platform that included putting an end to politically motivated investigations.
Elements of this internal Ukrainian debate have appeared in the Ukrainian news media and seeped into congressional testimony in the United States, as part of an impeachment inquiry undertaken after accusations surfaced of Mr. Trump’s demands.
But interviews in Kiev with government officials, lawmakers and others close to the Zelensky government have revealed new details of how high-level Ukrainian officials ultimately decided to acquiesce to President Trump’s request — and, by a stroke of luck, never had to follow through.
Aides were arguing in favor of “bowing to what was demanded,” said Petro Burkovskiy, a senior fellow at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation who has close ties to the Ukrainian government. They were willing to do so, he said, despite the risk of losing bipartisan support in the United States by appearing to assist Mr. Trump’s re-election bid. “The cost was high.”
As President Trump’s principal envoy to Ukraine, Gordon Sondland, admitted Tuesday in congressional testimony, the Trump administration had withheld the military aid to pressure Mr. Zelensky to make a public statement on the two investigations: one into whether former Vice President President Joseph R. Biden Jr. had pressed for the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating Burisma, a natural gas company where his son served on the board; the other into unproven accusations that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that meddled in the 2016 election to promote the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.\
In the July 25 phone call that provoked a whistle-blower complaint and touched off the impeachment inquiry, Mr. Zelensky offered private assurances that his government would look into those matters.
But a public statement that raised doubts about Russian meddling and Mr. Biden, whom the president regarded as the greatest threat to his re-election, would be far more useful politically to Mr. Trump. Not only would it smear Mr. Biden, it could also appear to undermine the Mueller investigation into Russian electoral interference by pinning some blame on Ukraine.
A tug-of-war ensued between a senior aide to Mr. Zelensky, Andriy Yermak, and another of Mr. Trump’s envoys to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, over the wording of the proposed public statement. Mr. Volker went so far as to draft a statement for Mr. Zelensky that mentioned both investigations.
Mr. Yermak pushed back, suggesting language that mentioned investigations but in general terms, so as not to antagonize the Democrats. Late in the negotiations, the American diplomats consented to dropping mention of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
This is an interesting tidbit, and we need to stick a big ol’ pin in that. The importance of mentioning Biden was greater than the importance of mentioning 2016 election interference.
Even as Mr. Yermak negotiated the wording in August, the stakes were clear. While rumors had been swirling for months about a possible hold on military aid, by early August high-level Ukrainian officials had confirmed the freeze.
The trade soon became explicit. They were approached in September by Mr. Sondland, a major donor to Mr. Trump’s inauguration who had been appointed ambassador to the European Union despite having no diplomatic experience. At that point, he explained in blunt terms to Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Yermak, there was little chance the aid would be forthcoming until they made the public statement on the investigations.
“I said that resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Mr. Sondland said in sworn testimony released Tuesday by the House committees leading the impeachment inquiry.
Mr. Trump wanted the Ukrainian president to speak on CNN, William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, testified.
But aides to Mr. Zelensky, on high alert to avoid any move that might irritate Mr. Trump, wondered if that was such a good idea, in that Mr. Trump habitually called CNN “fake news” in his Twitter posts.
They also uncovered a post from Mr. Trump attacking Fox News as “not working for us anymore!”
Wow. Trump’s tweets got in the way of his own plan!
Nearly all Mr. Zelensky’s top advisers favored his making the public statement, said one of the officials who participated in the debate. United States military aid, they agreed, as well as diplomatic backing for impending peace talks to end the war outweighed the risks of appearing to take sides in American politics.
There was a lone holdout — Alexander Danyliuk, the director of the national security council. Mr. Danyliuk, who resigned in late September, told the Ukrainian news media that the Zelensky administration would now need to “correct the mistakes” in relations with the United States and “in particular their own.”
Finally bending to the White House request, Mr. Zelensky’s staff planned for him to make an announcement in an interview on Sept. 13 with Fareed Zakaria, the host of a weekly news show on CNN.
Though plans were in motion to give the White House the public statement it had sought, events in Washington saved the Ukrainian government from any final decision and eliminated the need to make the statement.
Word of the freeze in military aid had leaked out, and Congress was in an uproar. Two days before the scheduled interview, the Trump administration released the assistance and Mr. Zelensky’s office quickly canceled the interview.
Two days. That is how close they came to pulling this off.
Since then, Trump administration officials including the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, have tried to argue that the security assistance could not have been conditioned on the public statement, because the aid was released without it.
That stance has crumbled as a succession of United States diplomats, capped by Mr. Sondland on Tuesday, have testified in the impeachment inquiry that the freeze on aid was part of a quid pro quo designed to coerce Mr. Zelensky into making the public statement.
In Kiev, there is still a debate about whether Mr. Zelensky caved or held out. “The Zelensky team was ready to make this quid quo pro,” said Mr. Burkovskiy, the analyst. “They were ready to do this.”
But Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s foreign minister until a change of government on Aug. 29, said there was no telling what Mr. Zelensky would have ended up saying in the interview, as there were so many versions of a statement under negotiation.
Isn’t that beside the point? The point is that they were to make a statement about investigating. Which draft hardly matters.
“From the contacts that took place, it’s difficult to say if they led, or did not lead, to concrete deals,” Mr. Klimkin said in an interview. In public, Mr. Zelensky has insisted he would never order a politicized prosecution.
Either way, Mr. Klimkin said, Ukrainian officials were at the least keenly aware of the stakes — a trade of United States assistance for political favors, even as Mr. Trump’s supporters have insisted they should not have viewed relations in this light.
“We are not idiots, or at least not all of us,” Mr. Klimkin said.
In other impeachment news, the Washington Post reports that Trump wanted Attorney General William P. Barr to hold a news conference declaring that the commander in chief had broken no laws during a phone call in which he pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a political rival, though Barr ultimately declined to do so, people familiar with the matter said.
Trump denied this via tweet.
As per my practice, the full testimony is too large to place here, so you get the key excerpts:
As you may recall, Taylor’s testimony, along with Vindman, really cracked the whole thing wide open.
We’re just like a couple pages in and already Taylor is contradicting the picture Sondland laid out. Says Sondland said as early as June 27 that Zelensky had to make clear to Trump his stance on “investigations” pic.twitter.com/OuFi3dtFCb— Miriam Elder (@MiriamElder) November 6, 2019
Asked who was responsible for the “drug deal," Taylor said, “I think the origin of the idea to get President Zelensky to say out loud he’s going to investigate Burisma and the 2016 election…was Mr. Giuliani."— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) November 6, 2019
And he was representing whose interests? Taylor: "President Trump."