Monday Morning Impeachment Update

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

Well, let’s start off with Trump’s latest tweet on the subject:

Newsflash: he won’t do this, but the tweet is giving his lawyer’s heartburn, I’m sure.

But the weekend did not mean the end of impeachment news. The Wall Street Journal reported newly revealed emails that show Ambassador Gordon Sondland closely apprised the White House of the scheme throughout — reveal just how untenable the position is that there was nothing whatsoever wrong with his pressure on Ukraine to investigate a domestic political rival.

The latest GOP defense of Trump is that the extortion plot never came to fruition, which means nothing untoward took place. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio pointed out on “Face the Nation” that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky never announced the investigations Trump demanded, and that Ukraine ultimately got its military aid from the U.S.

On July 19, Sondland emailed White House officials — including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — to tell them he had spoken to Zelensky, and that Zelensky had agreed to assure Trump he’d launch the investigations.

This came as officials were coordinating a call between Trump and Zelensky. Sondland told the officials Zelensky “will assure” Trump that he’ll “turn over every stone” in carrying out those investigations.

Mulvaney responded that the call was in the works. It ultimately took place on July 25, of course, and Trump explicitly pressed Zelensky to help validate conspiracy theories and lies absolving Russia of 2016 electoral sabotage and smearing 2020 rival Joe Biden.

It’s important to note here that these emails occurred at almost the same time that Mulvaney, acting at Trump’s direction, froze hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine — that is, one week before the July 25 call.

What this shows is that Mulvaney both froze the military aid and was kept closely apprised of whether Ukraine would give Trump what he demanded.

Do you think maybe, just maybe, Mulvaney might have known Trump intended a connection between the two? Remember, Sondland ultimately confirmed that he communicated to Ukraine that the aid was indeed conditioned in that fashion.

And do you think maybe the White House has blocked Mulvaney from testifying precisely because he can shed light on that link? Mulvaney, of course, actually did confirm that connection to reporters before hastily taking it back.

Meanwhile, in another development, newly released testimony shows that former national security adviser John Bolton directly pressed Trump in August to release the aid, but Trump refused. Bolton, too, has refused to testify, citing the White House’s ongoing refusal to cooperate.

In sum, the new defense from Republicans — that Ukraine got its money and Trump didn’t get his investigations, so nothing bad happened — relies on continuing public silence from the two officials who likely have the most direct knowledge of anybody of Trump’s efforts to use the former to extort the latter.

If nothing untoward happened, then why the need to keep the full extent of Trump’s corrupt intent from seeing the light of day?

Here is the schedule for the public impeachment hearings this week:

Tuesday AM: Lt. Col Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams

  • Vindman is the National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert and a decorated Army veteran. He directly listened into the July call. During the closed-door hearings, he testified that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney “coordinated” a plan to condition a White House meeting for Zelensky on an investigation into the Bidens.
  • Williams is an aide to Vice President Pence. She also listened into the July call, which she said was “unusual” and “shed some light on possible other motivations behind a security assistance hold.”

Tuesday PM: Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison

Wednesday AM: Gordon Sondland

  • Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, is expected to be the week’s biggest witness. He revised his closed-door testimony to state that he told an aide to Zelensky that military assistance would not be released until Zelensky issued a statement agreeing to investigate Burisma, a gas company with ties to Biden’s son.

Wednesday PM: Laura Cooper and David Hale

  • Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense, said in her closed-door testimony that Trump directed the freezing of military aid via the Office of Management and Budget over corruption concerns.
  • Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, spoke to what many officials described as Yovanovitch’s questionable removal as ambassador to Ukraine during his closed-door testimony.

Thursday: Fiona Hill

And now we have some breaking news…

The House of Representatives is now investigating whether President Donald Trump lied to special counsel Robert Mueller in written answers he provided in the Russia investigation, the House’s general counsel said in federal court Monday.

“Did the President lie? Was the President not truthful in his responses to the Mueller investigation?” House general counsel Douglas Letter told the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit about why the House now needs access to grand jury material Mueller collected in his investigation.

Maybe Trump wants to rethink his offer to testify in the Ukraine matter?

Trump’s woes continue beyond L’Affaire Ukraine and L’Affaire Russe. He’s got another whistleblower problem:

Two Senators are looking into a whistleblower’s allegations that at least one political appointee at the Treasury Department may have tried to interfere with an audit of President Trump or Vice President Pence, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, a sign that lawmakers are moving to investigate the complaint lodged by a senior staffer at the Internal Revenue Service.

Staff members for Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (Ore.), the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, met with the IRS whistleblower earlier this month, those people said. Follow-up interviews are being scheduled to further explore the whistleblower’s allegations.

It could not be learned to what extent the senators consider the whistleblower a credible source. Trump administration officials have previously played down the complaint’s significance and suggested that it is politically motivated.

The whistleblower, a career IRS official, initially filed a complaint in July, reporting that he was told that at least one Treasury political appointee attempted to improperly interfere with the annual audit of the president’s or vice president’s tax returns. In recent weeks, the whistleblower filed additional documentation related to the original complaint, which was given to congressional officials in July, the two people said. These people spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the complaint, which pertains to a confidential IRS audit that cannot be disclosed under federal law.

The contents of the additional information provided by the whistleblower were not known.

And now it looks like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who listened in on the infamous July 25 Ukraine call between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is on the outs with Trump. Why? Because the career professionals and seasoned diplomats underneath Pompeo at the State Department, have provided the fodder that has almost certainly nourished the seeds of Trump’s impeachment, if not necessarily his removal from office.

And although Pompeo turned a blind eye to the offenses he was witnessing firsthand, the fact that his underlings refused to do the same has really ticked off Trump, according to NBC News. Never mind that Trump only has himself to blame for his corrupt actions: He has reportedly been ranting about Pompeo’s inability to stem the flow of information from his employees. In particular, Trump has focused on Ambassador Bill Taylor, whom Pompeo personally recruited to take the place of ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Of course, Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and his now-indicted co-conspirators Lev and Igor were responsible for pushing out Yovanovitch, a distinguished diplomat with decades of experience. But Trump being Trump, he was expecting Pompeo to hire some toady who knew nothing about diplomacy and would simply fall in line with Trump’s shadow foreign policy.

Trump’s rage at Pompeo’s uselessness reportedly boiled over during a lunch at the White House on Oct. 29. By then, a string of State Department officials had testified behind closed doors, including special envoy Kurt Volker, Ambassador Yovanovitch, Trump’s Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, Ambassador Taylor, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs George Kent. Volker resigned before giving testimony, but Kent, Sondland, Taylor, and Yovanovitch all remain at the State Department, which has essentially been under attack from the top down ever since Trump was elected. NBC reports that Taylor was greeted by an audience of State Department well-wishers when he dined at the agency cafeteria after providing testimony. One gets the sense that the agency’s career professionals feel like they are finally getting a chance to fight back after the onslaught they’ve endured for the better part of three years.

On a perhaps related note, Pompeo is making a statement to the press at State Department at 2:30 pm today.

UPDATE: Ah, this is what it is probably about–