It’s Going To Get Uglier

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

Greg Sargent talks to Rep. Adam Schiff about what’s coming from the impeachment inquiry:

Public opinion is shifting precipitously against President Trump, with a new Post-Schar School poll showing that 58 percent of Americans support the House’s impeachment inquiry, and 49 percent support outright removal.

But even more ominously for Trump, 62 percent say Trump’s pressure on the Ukrainian president, the topic of the inquiry, was “inappropriate.” This, along with the large majority backing the inquiry, suggests a broad public appetite to learn more about this scandal. If more evidence of related corrupt conduct emerges, support for removal could keep growing.

You can bank on this: The public will learn more. A lot more.

In an interview with me, Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee and is the de facto head of the inquiry, provided a hint as to how more information might emerge.

These include hearing from former Ukraine Ambassador Bill Taylor, who raised alarms about quid pro quo, using those exact words in texts, to Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. From those texts, it is clear that Sondland and Taylor had had a previous phone call which left Taylor with that impression.

On Sept. 1, the day Vice President Pence met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Warsaw, Taylor texted Sondland: “Are we now saying that security assistance and [a White House] meeting are conditioned on investigations?”

Sondland could have said no. Instead, he took the conversation offline. “Call me,” he wrote.

Then, on September 9: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor wrote to Sondland.

Sondland waited more than four-and-a-half hours to respond. Suddenly, what had been chatty language and casual banter in their previous exchanges became stiff and formal. “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions,” Sondland wrote. “The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign.”

Then Trump’s ambassador to the E.U. said that they should “stop the back and forth by text.”

“If you still have concerns,” Sondland added curtly, Taylor should call “S” – which is how people in the department refer to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – or Lisa Kenna, one of the secretary’s top aides. “Thanks.”

So Schiff says they will get Taylor in there. What about Sondland, a Trump appointee (and major donor)? Well, this happened within the past hour:

Trump administration directed a top American diplomat involved in its pressure campaign on Ukraine not to appear Tuesday morning for a scheduled interview in the House’s impeachment inquiry.

The decision to block Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, from speaking with investigators for three House committees is certain to provoke an immediate conflict with potentially profound consequences for the White House and President Trump. House Democrats have repeatedly warned that if the administration tries to interfere with their investigation, it will be construed as obstruction, a charge they see as potentially worthy of impeachment.

And it seems clear that Trump is not willing to cooperate. That is their strategy: obstruction. Here is Trump’s explanation:

Note that he’s not invoking executive privilege or anything else. He just as a problem with the inquiry. So he’s not going to comply.

I think they are worried about Sondland. He’s been a team player, but he’s not going to lie under oath. If he has any intelligence, he can see the writing on the wall.

Sondland reportedly is not pleased with this development.

“Ambassador Sondland is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify,” said a statement from the envoy’s attorney, Robert Luskin. “Ambassador Sondland traveled to Washington from Brussels in order to prepare for his testimony and to be available to answer the Committee’s questions.”

I am scratching my head. Is this the strategy? Just… not comply?

They know (or should know) that this makes them look bad, and public sentiment will turn against them more.

They know (or should know) that the House committees will go to court.

Are they trying to force a legal showdown? Do they actually think the Supreme Court will agree with them on non-compliance? Will they just not comply with a court order, if it comes to that?

Historically, Trump’s strategy in lawsuits is to delay delay delay (I know from first hand experience), and sap the resources of the other side. That way, the case goes away or can be settled (and then he still delays payment). That has worked well for him — I guess.

But this isn’t a vendor suing him in NY State Court. This is the U.S. Congress conducting a serious constitutional duty. The inquiry isn’t just going to go away, no matter how “political” it is, or that he tries to mnake it.

Who on Trump’s team — the lawyers I mean — thinks this is a good strategy? Why drag this out when going into an election season?

It boggles the mind. I keep thinking of the line that Hal Holbrook said in All The President’s Men: “Look, forget the myths the media’s created about the White House–the truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.”

By the way, “kangaroo court” must have been in the distributed talking points today:

It was predictable that the Trump administration would balk at turning over the subpoenaed documents and providing testimony related to the Ukraine matter — including many internal White House communications that any administration would see as covered by executive privilege. But Schiff is right: “The subpoena will likely also allow the House, if it chooses, to link an impeachment article about obstruction directly to the Ukraine scandal.”

Other developments in the impeachment inquiry:

  • The House subpoenaed the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget for documents about the Trump administration’s decision to withhold $391 million in security aid for Ukraine.
  • George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state and Ukraine expert, did not appear for a scheduled deposition with House Democrats, and several other witness interviews scheduled for this week are in doubt. Still, two key figures from the State Department were confirmed for depositions: Gordon Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, on Tuesday, and Marie Yovanovitch, the former American ambassador to Ukraine, on Friday.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo missed a Friday deadline to produce documents, even as the State Department continues talks with the House.
  • More on that note: The Miami Herald reported today that two Florida businessmen who helped connect Rudy Giuliani to Ukrainian politicians would not comply with a request for documents and depositions from the three House committees conducting the impeachment investigation.
  • Over the weekend, we learned that a new whistle-blower with “firsthand knowledge” has provided information related to President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. His lawyers are also representing the first whistle-blower, and say that both are now legally protected from retaliation.

Polls coming out today show public snetiment for impeachment is growing:

And just now….

More from update-land:

Man, they are looking to the BOTTOM of the barrel.