“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.