The Right Gripes that Impeachment Ain’t Fair

The Right-Wing Noise Machine is making all kinds of absurd noises to discredit the impeachment inquiry. Just an example:

RedState is running a hysterical claim that Nancy Pelosi’s December 2018 Rule Changes Block Republicans From Participating In Impeachment Process.

In December 2018, the soon-to-be Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was busy making changes in the House rules for the incoming 116th Congress. She was actually setting the stage for her anticipated impeachment of President Trump.

Considering that Pelosi opposed the impeachment of Trump, that was mighty prescient of her. But soon RedState stumbles into bigger problems.

Although impeachment is rare, on the few occasions one has been initiated, a full house vote has been taken. However, this is not mandatory. Pelosi has not held a full house vote and there’s a reason for that. A formal vote would give the minority enforceable rights. Without a full vote, the articles of impeachment “can be drawn up without any participation by the minority. This was always the plan that was visible in Pelosi’s changed House rules.”

As near as I can tell, the “full vote” of the House refers to a resolution calling for the formal initiation of impeachment procedings. This is not something mandated by the Consitution, and it’s been handled differently in each of the three impeachments the House passed or almost passed.

In the case of Richard Nixon, the House Judiciary Committee had actually been messing around with pre-impeachment activities for several months before the full House passed a resolution on February 6, 1974, that gave formal authority to the House Judiciary Committee to launch an impeachment inquiry against the president. The pre-impeachment activites included investigations into the Watergate mess and research into how a bleeping presidential impeachment was supposed to happen, since the Constitution says nothing but that the House does it. Records of the Johnson impeachment provided some guidance, but mostly the House back then was making it up as it went along.

The House Judiciary Committee began impeachment proceedings against Nixon on May 9, 1974. By July 30, the Committee had passed three articles of impeachment against Nixon, but he resigned on August 8 before the full House voted on the articles.

In the case of Bill Clinton, the House Judiciary Committee never investigated anything; it just went by the investigations Kenn Starr had conducted. The full House passed a resolution calling for an impeachment inquiry on October 8, 1998. I believe this is it. But whatever “inquiries” the Committee made were perfunctory compared to the lavishly drawn out hearings I remember from the Nixon days. Indeed, nothing much happened until after the November midterm elections, when the Republicans lost five seats, although they were still in the majority. House Speaker Newt the Suit Gingrich had been confident the impeachment show would help the GOP pick up at least 30 House seats, and when the GOP lost seats he announced his resignation. After a lot of shouting on the House floor three articles of impeachment were passed on December 19, 1998. And, of course, the Senate failed to convict.

So in the case of Clinton it’s hard to say whether there was anything approximating a formal “impeachment inquiry.” Basically, the Republicans knew they were going to impeach Clinton, and after some inquiry theater for the folks back home, they impeached him.

As far as Andrew Johnson is concerned, the only impeachment “resolution” I could find was something dated February 21, 1868. Johnson was impeached on February 24, 1868. That didn’t leave them time for much inquiring. Indeed, there is nothing in the Constitutution that says anything about impeachment inquiries or resolutions or even the House Judiciary Committee. The House Judiciary Committee did seem to take the lead in Johnson’s impeachment, which set the precedent, but they were definitely making up their own procedures from scratch.

So, according to precedent, the House Judiciary Committee draws up articles of impeachment, which then are voted on by the full House. The RedState article seems to be complaining that Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee can draw up these articles without input by Republicans on the committee, and that this can be done because Nancy changed the freaking rules.

Here are the current House Rules. They don’t say bleep about impeachment. I found only one mention of the Judiciary Committee, which was something about memorials.

The RedState article is griping that the rules allow House Committees to function without the participation of the minority. In other words, as I understand it, the committees can’t be shut down if the Republicans on the committee refuse to show up. Whether this is the change Pelosi made that they are angry about I do not know, as I don’t know what the rules were before, but if it is a new rule — brava, Nancy. Otherwise, of course the majority party will write and pass whatever articles of impeachment might be passed. They don’t need permission from the minority party to do that. This is why elections matter.

And if the shoe were on the other foot, and a Republican House majority were inquiring into impeaching a Democratic president, I’m sure Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee who objected would be cordially invited to piss into the wind. Because that’s how it always works.

But we aren’t yet at a point at which anyone has said there will be articles of impeachment. This is a point that the righties are confused about. In this case, the “inquiry” is about looking into whether there ought to be articles of impeachment. This was a step that was, in effect, skipped in Clinton’s case, and was definitely skipped in Johnson’s case. Perhaps if the Judiciary Committee announces it is ready to start drawing up articles of impeachment, the House could have a full floor vote giving them authority to do so, if that makes everyone happy. But there is no such step provided for in the Constitution, and it seems rather silly to me. As far as the Constitution is concerned, any member of the House can draw up some articles of impeachment and submit them for a vote. Dennis Kucinich used to do it all the time, as I recall.

And anyone reading this is welcome to read RedState’s article and links to see if I haven’t got their complaints right, because frankly they don’t make a lot of sense to me.

Back to RedState:

Once the articles are drawn up and passed out of committee, they will come before a full house vote. “Once Pelosi achieves a vote of passage on any single article President Trump is considered impeached.”

Well, yes, that’s how it works. That’s how it’s always worked, the few times it has happened. This is not a secret conspiracy against the Republican Party.

Pelosi has deliberately timed the whole sequence of events so that Democrats will have the current two-week recess to return to their districts to convince their constituents that impeachment is necessary.

Except a lot of Dems are staying in Washington to prepare for their inquiring. Further, whatever convincing is done will be done in public committee hearings. Or, at least, that’s how it worked with Nixon, as I well remember. Dem constituents are mostly already chomping at the bit to get rid of Trump, so it’s the nation as a whole that will need convincing. And, oh, look: A CBS News poll finds that 55 percent of Americans approve of the impeachment inquiry.

I understand there is also a lot of screaming that the White House phone call memo is hearsay, which rather stretches the normal definition of hearsay. But impeachment is not a criminal proceeding, so I don’t know if hearsay rules apply.

And many on the Right are hung up on the idea that since there was no (in their minds) quid pro quo with Ukraine, Trump did nothing wrong. Some are claiming that it was Biden who was guilty, because (as an agent of the United State government) he offered aid to Ukraine in exchange for getting rid of the corrupt prosecutor. For the record: For the president of the United States to ask for dirt on a political opponent from a foreign government is a criminal act and an impeachable offense, even without a quid pro quo. And if the government of the United States offers aid to a foreign government in exchange for their canning a corrupt official who is causing problems in the region, that is a quid pro quo but not an illegal one, and not a scandal. However, for those who remain confused about what constitutes a “quid pro quo” and what does not, see Alexandra Petri’s handy guide.

The 737 Max and Late Stage Capitalism

Before any more time goes by I want to call you attention to something not directly Trump related — “Crash Course: How Boeing’s Managerial Revolution Created the 737 Max Disaster” by Maureen Tkacik at New Republic. It’s a bit long, but very much worth reading.

Basically, the 737 Max is the plane built by MBAs and financial experts instead of engineers; the fruit of popular business theory. The flaws are bigger than just glitchy software. The creation of the plane from inception to crash was marked by corner-cutting and disregard for engineering and production skill.

Here, a generation after Boeing’s initial lurch into financialization, was the entirely predictable outcome of the byzantine process by which investment capital becomes completely abstracted from basic protocols of production and oversight: a flight-correction system that was essentially jerry-built to crash a plane. “If you’re looking for an example of late stage capitalism or whatever you want to call it,” said longtime aerospace consultant Richard Aboulafia, “it’s a pretty good one.”

The glitchy software — mostly written in “coding sweatshops” in India by coders making $9 an hour — was necessary to correct the airplane’s awkward build, which was awkward because Boeing refused to pay for a thorough re-design but basically put big new engines on an older plane model designed for smaller engines.

This alteration created a shift in the plane’s center of gravity pronounced enough that it raised a red flag when the MAX was still just a model plane about the size of an eagle, running tests in a wind tunnel. The model kept botching certain extreme maneuvers, because the plane’s new aerodynamic profile was dragging its tail down and causing its nose to pitch up. So the engineers devised a software fix called MCAS, which pushed the nose down in response to an obscure set of circumstances in conjunction with the “speed trim system,” which Boeing had devised in the 1980s to smooth takeoffs.

Why not start over and redesign the plane instead of relying on a patch?

Abuzz with new ideas about factories to sell and components to outsource, Boeing was hemorrhaging market share to Airbus, and even the newest Jack Welch protégé on the board, James McNerney, was pushing for a new plane. Stonecipher and John McDonnell, who seemed almost irrationally intent on the Salieri-style project of seeing Boeing fail at the enterprise that had done in his own family business, issued what Sorscher called a “medieval” ultimatum: Develop the plane for less than 40 percent of what the 777 had cost to develop 13 years earlier, and build each plane out of the gate for less than 60 percent of the 777’s unit costs in 2003. The board ultimately approved a development budget, estimated by those in the industry to be $7 billion, for a project labeled at the time as the 7E7—later to be known as the 787—but that figure came with a huge asterisk, because managers promised the board they would require subcontractors to foot the majority of costs.

As in many other kinds of businesses, the smart guys running Boeing believed in saving money through outsourcing. Functions that used to be in-house were given to lowest bidders. Everything but “design, final assembly, and flight testing and sales” was offshored or sent to non-union shops in the South somewhere.

Down in South Carolina, a nonunion Boeing assembly line that opened in 2011 had for years churned out scores of whistle-blower complaints and wrongful termination lawsuits packed with scenes wherein quality-control documents were regularly forged, employees who enforced standards were sabotaged, and planes were routinely delivered to airlines with loose screws, scratched windows, and random debris everywhere. The MCAS crash was just the latest installment in a broader pattern so thoroughly ingrained in the business news cycle that the muckraking finance blog Naked Capitalism titled its first post about MCAS “Boeing, Crapification and the Lion Air Crash.”

It goes on and on. The people in charge of Boeing knew nothing about airplanes, just money. “Airplane manufacturing is no different from mortgage lending or insulin distribution or make-believe blood analyzing software—another cash cow for the one percent, bound inexorably for the slaughterhouse.” Their big obsession was getting maximum profit out of net assets such as factories, warehouses, office buildings, etc. If a physical asset was seen as a cost, the soluton was to sell it and outsource the functions. Engineering staffs were cut to the bone, then cut some more. The people in charge never seemed to have asked how this would affect the quality of their products. Maybe they didn’t care.

Do I want to ever fly again? Not at the moment. However, nothing in this surprises me. I saw the same thing in the book publishing industry; so many functions are outsourced that it’s now common for books to be published without anyone on the publisher’s full-time staff ever reading them. But bad books are not going to kill people, as a rule.

In response to this article, John Cole wrote,

This blog has been around for awhile, so I inevitably repeat myself from time to time, but I want to say it again. Whenever someone does the whole time travel/kill baby Hitler thing, I always say to myself, “To hell with Hitler, I’d go back and kill whoever was responsible for the first MBA program.” We beat Hitler and recovered nicely, and he never did near as much damage to the country as our current profits over people management.

Beoing is still talking about getting its 737 Maxes back in the air in time for the Christmas travel season. If they do, and you need to fly somewhere, good luck. For that matter, other Boeing 737 planes recently were found to have cracks in the pickle forks, which attach the plane’s body to its wing structure. Amtrak is looking better all the time.

Trump Reacts to the Impeachment Threat

Among other tidbits that have come out this morning is that the White House is talking to Corey Lewandowski about leading Trump’s impeachment defense team. I personally think they’d do better with a border collie. At least it seems to have occurred to them that Rudy Giiuliani probably isn’t the guy they need right now.

I continue to be amused at the depth of stupid coming out of the White House. As I wrote yesterday, Trump seems to have sincerely believed the notes on the phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky would exonerate him, but they most certainly didn’t. Then the White House tried to bluff and say the actual whistleblower complaint was not that big a deal, but then everybody got to read it. See also 5 key takeaways and allegations from the Trump whistleblower complaint and What we learned from Joseph Maguire’s testimony about the whistleblower complaint.

Now Trump wants to know who the whistleblower is, callling that person a “spy.”

“I want to know who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information because that’s close to a spy,” the president said. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

Actually, Donald, you might want to be grateful that it’s really, really difficult to get a treason conviction under U.S. law.

The New York Times is reporting that the whistleblower is a CIA officer detailed to the White House. He or she appears to have witnessed at least some of was going on firsthand. Also,

The whistle-blower, who lodged his concerns with the inspector general for the intelligence community, has identified at least a half-dozen government officials — including several who work for the White House — who he believes can substantiate his claims. The inspector general has interviewed some of them and found the whistle-blower’s claims credible.

So chances are what the complaint says happened is what happened.

Trump’s other reaction, beyond a lot of self-pitying tweets, is that he was going to “end legislative work.” Not that he was doing any. Steve Benen wrote,

… as Roll Call reported, as the impeachment push against Donald Trump gets underway, his White House has “threatened to shut down work on major legislation.” …

…This followed a tweet from the president, who said Democrats in Congress “are so focused on hurting the Republican Party and the President that they are unable to get anything done.” He specifically complained about the lack of legislation on issues such as “gun safety” and the “lowering of prescription drug prices.”

The Democratic-led House has already passed bills on gun safety and lowering prescription drug prices. Both measures were sent to the Republican-led Senate, which has ignored these and other major legislative priorities. Indeed, the White House’s claim that Dems have focused “all their energy on partisan political attacks” is belied by a rather impressive list of legislative priorities the party has already passed.

But Team Trump’s confusion about recent events on Capitol Hill notwithstanding, the idea that the president is going to bring “legislative progress” to a halt is a difficult threat to take seriously.

One reason for that is that, as we all know, the House keeps passing bills that go to the Senate and die. And the only priority bill the House hasn’t passed is NAFTA 2.0, which is more Trump’s pet project that Congress’s.

Further, Trump has threatened to stop cooperating with the legislative process before. He made the same threat in January and again in May. Nobody cares any more.

Trump can’t defend himself because, as I argued yesterday, he doesn’t understand what he did wrong. He doesn’t understand why it’s a scandal for a president to ask a foreign head of state to investigate a political opponent. He doesn’t understand the concept of “honest,” as in “not lying or cheating.” He doesn’t know the Constitution from an artichoke. And he’s getting his advice from the likes of Corey Lewandowski and Sean Hannity.

Let the games begin.

They Call It “Stupid Watergate”

Charles Pierce speaks for America:

Jesus H. Christ on work-release, this is what they thought they could put out there?

More than anything else, the events of this week reveal just how colossally stupid Donald Trump really is. There are not really vertabim transcripts made of White House phone calls, just notes taken as the calls are being made. The White House could have released just about anything and said, “these are the notes.” But what they did release confirms everyone’s worst suspicions.

After President Zelensky gushingly praised Trump for all the United States was doing for Ukraine — much more than the European Union, especially “Merkel” and “Macron,” Zelensky said, “We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.”

To which the Supreme Moron replied,

I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation…I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible. The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it.

Crowdstrike, of course, is one of the cybersecurity companies that investigated the hacking of the DNC servers and connected the hack to Russian intelligence.

The business with Hunter Biden and the Ukrainian prosecutor I’ve written about before. The story I gleaned from earlier news accounts was that the prosecutor being discussed was notoriously corrupt and was causing problems with all the western powers, not just the U.S. Hunter Biden was on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukranian oligarch, and this prosecutor was after the oligarch. But I’ve not seen anything saying that Hunter Biden himself was under any threat of prosecution. Hunter Biden was being paid $50,000 a month because of the name Biden, by all accounts. Whether he actually did anything for the company I do not know.

On a trip to Kiev in March 2016, Vice President Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion in United States loan guarantees if Ukraine did not dismiss this prosecutor. So the guy was dismissed. And if anyone wants to investigate this further I’m fine with that. It was stupid for Hunter Biden to have taken the job, even if he didn’t do anything; the State Department should nave nixed it as a potential conflict of interest. And it would be fine with me if the backstory about the prosecutor being corrupt is investigated. It’s not clear to me what he was doing to cause international aggravation.

However, even if it turns out that Biden got the prosecutor fired only to save his son’s ass, which I very much doubt, that still doesn’t make what Trump did okay. And if Biden’s presidential bid becomes collateral damage in this fight, well, so be it.

Here is President Zelensky’s response:

Yes it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier. For me as a President, it is very important and we are open for any future cooperation. We are ready to open a new page on cooperation in relations between the United States and Ukraine. For that purpose, I just recalled our.ambassador from United States and he will be replaced by a very competent and very experienced ambassador who wtll work hard on making sure that our two nations are getting clciser [sic]. I would also like and hope to see him having your trust and your confidence and have personal relations with you so we can cooperate even more so. I will personally tell you that one of my assistants spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine. I just wanted to assure you once again that you have nobody but friends around us. I will make sure that I surround myself with the best and most experienced people. I also wanted to ·tell you that we are friends. We are great friends and you Mr. President have friends in our country so we can continue our strategic·partnership. I also plan to surround myself with great people and in addition to that investigation, I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly. That I can assure you.

I wanted to include some of the dialogue attributed to Zelensky because I am skeptical that’s what Zelensky said. It sounds too much like what Trump would have wanted Zelensky to say. However, it hardly matters. Trump may be too stupid to understand why this is a big deal, but the transcript clearly has him asking a foreign head of state to dig up dirt on a political opponent.

Skipping over some stuff that’s still pretty juicy — really, everybody should just read the whole thing — we get to Trump saying this:

I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out. I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor so good luck with everything.

Back to Charles Pierce:

And under the bus goes Rudy Giuliani and the Attorney General of the United States. They are shocked to find the president* already had climbed under there himself.

Jesus, these really are the mole people.

Jerry Nadler is calling for Barr to recuse himself from having anything to do with the impeachment inquiries. See also Paul Waldman, William Barr’s role is about to get a lot more scrutiny. The role of the Justice Department in hiding the whistleblower complaint has been noted.

Do also see Giuliani pursued shadow Ukraine agenda as key foreign policy officials were sidelined in today’s WaPo.

President Trump’s attempt to pressure the leader of Ukraine followed a months-long fight inside the administration that sidelined national security officials and empowered political loyalists — including the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani — to exploit the U.S. relationship with Kiev, current and former U.S. officials said.

The sequence, which began early this year, involved the abrupt removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, the circumvention of senior officials on the National Security Council, and the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars of aid administered by the Defense and State departments — all as key officials from these agencies struggled to piece together Giuliani’s activities from news reports.

Several officials described tense meetings on Ukraine among national security officials at the White House leading up to the president’s phone call on July 25, sessions that led some participants to fear that Trump and those close to him appeared prepared to use U.S. leverage with the new leader of Ukraine for Trump’s political gain.

As those worries intensified, some senior officials worked behind the scenes to hold off a Trump meeting or call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky out of concern that Trump would use the conversation to press Kiev for damaging information on Trump’s potential rival in the 2020 race, former vice president Joe Biden, and Biden’s son Hunter.

And their fears were justified; that’s exactly what Trump was doing. And Guiliani should rue the day he didn’t just retire from public life after 9/11.

But it gets better. The White House worked up talking points to be used to defend Trump and then, by mistake, emailed them to Democrats in Congress, one of whom gleefully made the points public.

And CNN is reporting that Trump was “incredulous” that his offer made to Nancy Pelosi yesterday to release the phone “transcript” didn’t nip the impeachment thing in the bud.

He had felt confident after phoning Pelosi earlier that morning. The drive for impeachment in her caucus had ramped up amid reports he pushed the Ukrainian President to investigate Joe Biden, and Trump was hoping to head off a clash. He figured he could de-escalate tensions by speaking with her directly.

It was after that call that Trump made the decision to release an “unredacted” version of the transcript of his July call — against the advice of aides such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who warned him it would set a risky precedent. Trump wanted to undercut the argument from Democrats that he acted inappropriately, he said, and felt he had nothing to hide.

See? I’m telling you he’s too stupid to understand what it was he did wrong.

Now it’s coming out that the White House will issue a redacted version of the whistleblower complaint. I doubt that’s going to fly. Also:

Initially, the White House supported the decision not to send Congress the complaint, but according to the New York Times, officials there have changed their thinking, now believing cooperating with Congress could help negate the House’s official impeachment inquiry. President Trump is said to back the complaint’s release as well, reportedly because he does not believe it contains anything truly incriminating and because he, too, believes it will effectively counter the impeachment inquiry.

The administration may also allow the whistleblower to speak to congressional committees. A lawyer for the whistleblower sent a letter to Maguire Tuesday notifying him the official hoped to give congressional testimony; government lawyers responded with a letter telling the whistleblower the executive branch is working to find ways to make that testimony possible, while also protecting the whistleblowing process and executive privilege.

I don’t see how “executive privilege” can be evoked to quash a whistleblower complaint against the executive, or why the complaint would be redacted, especially if the only people who will see it are the members of the intelligence committees. I would think said members would have security clearances. I anticipate a fight to see the unredacted report and for the whistleblower to testify freely to the committees. Nothing less is going to be accepted, at this point. Robert Costa writes at WaPo,

Several Senate Republicans were stunned Wednesday and questioned the White House’s judgment after it released a rough transcript of President Trump’s call with the Ukraine president that showed Trump offering the help of the U.S. attorney general to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

One Senate Republican, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, said the transcript’s release was a “huge mistake” that the GOP now has to confront, even as they argue that House Democrats are overreaching with their impeachment effort.

There may be limits to how far some of these guys will go to defend Trump. Or maybe there are no limits. Get all the evidence, put it in front of the American people, and let Senate Republicans go on record that they put party over country. That works for me.

DALLAS, TX – SEPTEMBER 14: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the American Airlines Center on September 14, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. More than 20,000 tickets have been distributed for the event. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The Dam Is About to Break

Nancy Pelosi appears to have been worn down. She is expected to announce a formal impeachment inquiry later today.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) is slated to make her announcement later on Tuesday after a closed-door meeting with her Democrat caucus, according to Democratic officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe private deliberations.

“As soon as we have the facts, we’re ready. Now that we have the facts, we’re ready,” Pelosi said at a forum hosted by The Atlantic. “For later today.”

From The Atlantic:

In the hours before Pelosi’s appearance, support for impeachment among House Democrats surged to more than two-thirds of the caucus, including a key group of vulnerable freshman members and veteran leaders such as Representative John Lewis of Georgia, the civil-rights icon. “We cannot delay. We must not wait. Now is the time to act,” Lewis said in a speech on the House floor earlier today.

All eyes were on Pelosi, who joked as she joined Goldberg onstage that she had been “in hiding” from reporters seeking to see if her position on impeachment had changed. During the interview, Trump tweeted from New York, where he was delivering a speech to the United Nations, that he would release a declassified, unredacted transcript of his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump has acknowledged that he pressed Zelensky to launch an investigation into the Biden family’s “corruption” and that he sought to withhold aid to Ukraine, but he has said that it was not a quid pro quo.

Pelosi, however, made clear that might not matter. “There is no requirement there be a quid pro quo in the conversation” for it to have been wrong, the speaker declared.

Trump has announced he has authorized release of the transcript of his phone call with the Ukranian president, but the actual whistleblower complaint that the law said should have been given to Congress some time ago is still being kept hidden.

Back to WaPo:

The acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who held back the whistleblower’s complaint from Congress, is testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

That panel’s chairman, Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), said the whistleblower wants to speak to the committee and is seeking guidance from Maguire about how he could do so.

“We‘re in touch with counsel and look forward to the whistleblower’s testimony as soon as this week,” Schiff tweeted.

That the whistleblower is seeking guidance from Maguire is worrisome. This makes me suspect the whistleblower is another creature of the intellligence/military community, possibly Dan Coats himself, who will not step outside the chain of command.

What else do we know?

House leaders announced they are preparing a resolution for a vote Wednesday, formally disapproving of the Trump administration’s effort to block the release of a whistleblower’s complaint into Trump’s conversations with the president of Ukraine, information the administration and Trump’s acting director of national intelligence have so far kept from Congress.

Pelosi is also considering setting up up a special committee to formally begin an impeachment inquiry — a move that could spark controversy within the Democratic caucus as the House Judiciary Committee is already pursuing an impeachment inquiry of its own. Pelosi is expected to formally make an announcement at the end of the day on Tuesday, after meeting with the full caucus.

Update: It’s on, folks. I thought Nancy Pelosi’s speech announcing the impeachment inquiry was quite good. And the Senate unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution Tuesday calling for the whistleblower complaint to be released to the ingelligence committes. That’s got to have put some fear into the creature.

The Age of Inaction

Once upon a time, leaders were people who would lead. What a quaint idea. Now leaders just seem to clutter up the place.

Today 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the UN. This is a brilliant speech. Just a bit:

“My message is that we’ll be watching you.

“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

Yeah, pretty much. Here’s the transcript, and it’s worth reading all the way through. Science has been predicting global warming for a lot longer than 30 years, but a consensus formed about 30 years ago that human activity was changing the earth’s weather patterns and would eventually have a significant global impact. More recently scientists have been warning that the rates of change are happening faster than they predicted.

And, after all this time, our moronic politicians and media bobbleheads like Laura Ingraham are whining about beef, light bulbs and plastic straws.

Americans want their leaders to do something. Amber Phillips in WaPo:

An April Pew survey found a majority of Americans, 56 percent, say protecting the environment should be the top priority of Congress and the White House and that Republican millennial voters are twice as likely to say humans are causing the Earth’s accelerated warming as their older party members. (Though that high is just 36 percent.)

“Not enough conservative constituents are reaching out,” Backer said, “and not enough lawmakers are willing to extend their hand and say: ‘This is an issue I’m going to prioritize.’ ”

Some Democrats have made climate change a priority (thank you, Jay Inslee). Other Democrats are still in “let’s take our sweet time and just tweak a few things” mode (see Dianne Feinstein). Last May, Joe Biden made some remarks about a “middle ground” on climate change and got so slammed for it that he came out with a more comprehensive plan, largly patched together from other plans. But this is not what we call “leading.” Leaders should not have to be nagged to lead. If Joe becomes president, will he still have to be nagged?

But speaking of Democrats, what’s up with Nancy Pelosi? At the moment, I understand 137 out of 235 House Democrats support impeachment, or at least support beginning a formal impeachment inquiry. Plus since the whistleblower scandal broke, even much of the bobblehead class is climbing on the impeachment train.

See:

Michelle Goldbert, Nancy Pelosi’s Failure to Launch

The House speaker is a master legislator, and by all accounts incomparable at corralling votes. But right now, Democrats need a brawler willing to use every tool at her disposal to stop America’s descent into autocracy, and Pelosi has so far refused to rise to the occasion. As Representative Jared Huffman tweeted, “We are verging on tragic fecklessness.”

James Downie, Begin Impeachment Hearings Now

Rank-and-file Democratic representatives like such as Steve Cohen (Tenn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), as well as the party’s presidential candidates, recognize that impeachment hearings are overdue. Yet House Democratic leaders remain passive. There are no GOP votes for it, goes one excuse. By that standard, Democrats might as well never do anything at all. …

…This is bigger than politics. It’s about upholding the Constitution and the rule of law. “Without consequence” sums up too much of recent American history, as the powerful flout the law and face at most a slap on the wrist. The torturers under the Bush administration. The bankers who broke the economy. The opioid manufacturers who fueled millions’ addictions. And now the ultimate example: A president whose list of high crimes and misdemeanors gets longer by the week.

Start the hearings. Put the fear of God in this president.

Greg Sargent, It’s Time, Speaker Pelosi

Given all this, what happens if Democrats don’t try to use all the tools of accountability at their disposal, and Trump wins reelection? Democrats should seriously ask themselves what would be left of our democracy at that point — and whether they want such an outcome to be part of their legacy.

Yet there stands Nancy like a stone wall. Last week she slammed the Judiciary Committee for daring to use the “I” word without her permission.

Pelosi criticized the panel’s handling of impeachment in harsh terms, complaining committee aides have advanced the push for ousting President Donald Trump far beyond where the House Democratic Caucus stands. Democrats simply don’t have the votes on the floor to impeach Trump, Pelosi said.

Um, isn’t getting the votes kind of your job, Nancy? And here’s another view:

Washington — and most of our state capitals — have turned into places where leadership goes to die.

No Justice, No Freedom

If there will ever be justice for the violations of the Trump Administration, part of that will include William Barr spending the rest of his sorry ass life in a deep, dark hole. I’d call for a firing squad if I weren’t a Buddhist. So the deep, dark hole will have to do.

It was on the advice of Barr’s Justice Department that the Director of National Intelligence refused to pass on a properly filed whistleblower complaint to the intelligence committees in Congress, as required by law. It’s because of Barr’s Justice Department that Corey Lewandowski could get away with being openly contemptuous of the House Judiciary Committee, sneeringly refusing to answer questions and generally behaving like a bratty eight-year-old. He should have been charged with contempt, but he knew William Barr would never prosucute him. Ditto for all the people who have refused to answer subpoenas.

The whistleblower and Lewandowski episodes are related, according to Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare:

What links the Lewandowski testimony to the new whistleblower issue? They both involve allegations of outrageous presidential behavior. And they both feature aggressive efforts by the administration to impede congressional inquiry into those allegations by using claims of executive branch confidentiality. If Congress is to engage the current moment remotely effectively, it needs to think about them together.

In one case—that of Lewandowski—the Mueller report spells out with exquisite precision what the allegations consist of. In the other case, that of the whistleblower, we don’t know precisely what the allegation is, though the contours of the complaint are beginning to take shape. We know that the inspector general of the intelligence community regarded the whistleblower as credible and the matter as raising an issue of “urgent concern.” And thanks to the Washington Post, we know some other stuff as well: that the whistleblower is an intelligence community employee who was working in the White House, that the matter concerns the conduct of President Trump, that it involves a promise of some kind to a foreign leader, and that it involves specifically a call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25.

There is much speculation that the whistleblower is former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who was either fired on resigned on July 28; or else it was former deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon, who resigned on August 8. That was the same day Trump announced that Joseph Maguire, the current director who sat on the whistleblower report, would be the new DNI.

At this point, the story is that in the July 25 phone call, Trump pressured Zelensky to dig up dirt on Joe Biden that Trump could use in his re-election campaign. Trump was sitting on $250 million in military aid to Ukraine that was allocated by Congress, and it’s presumed release of the funds was to be payment for the dirt. Threat of a bipartisan censure inspired Trump to finally release the funds ten days ago.

The particular dirt appears to relate to the time Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden spent on the board of a Ukranian energy company, which I wrote about a few months ago. Unless there is more to the story I don’t know, there doesn’t appear to be a real scandal there, but it’s the sort of thing that could easily be spun to look scandalous. And it appears Trump wanted Ukraine to help him with the spinning in exchange for the $250 million.

The next matter for consideration is, how badly did Trump screw up here? Tom Nichols:

The president of the United States reportedly sought the help of a foreign government against an American citizen who might challenge him for his office. This is the single most important revelation in a scoop by The Wall Street Journal, and if it is true, then President Donald Trump should be impeached and removed from office immediately….

…As the Ukrainian Interior Ministry official Anton Gerashchenko told the Daily Beast when asked about the president’s apparent requests, “Clearly, Trump is now looking for kompromat to discredit his opponent Biden, to take revenge for his friend Paul Manafort, who is serving seven years in prison.”

Clearly.

If this in itself is not impeachable, then the concept has no meaning. Trump’s grubby commandeering of the presidency’s fearsome and nearly uncheckable powers in foreign policy for his own ends is a gross abuse of power and an affront both to our constitutional order and to the integrity of our elections.

The story may even be worse than we know. If Trump tried to use military aid to Ukraine as leverage, as reporters are now investigating, then he held Ukrainian and American security hostage to his political vendettas. It means nothing to say that no such deal was reached; the important point is that Trump abused his position in the Oval Office.

Yes, lots of threats to the constitutional order, in the actions of Donald Trump, aided and abetted by William Barr. Our constitutional order has been helpless to function in the face of people, including Mitch McConnell, who simply refuse to follow it. Donald Trump is immune from everything because he is president. He doesn’t have to answer to anybody because he is president. He can order people who never even worked for the government to not respond to subpoenas, call it “executive privilege,” and Barr will back him up. Because he is president. He can openly accept money from Saudis and divert the military to spend money at his bleeping Scottish golf resort because he is the bleeping president. And nobody can touch him, because Mitch McConnell controls the Senate and Bill Barr controls the Justice Department. They should all spend the rest of their miserables lives in a deep, dark hole.

Next: Suspending the Bill of Rights (except for the 2nd Amendment, of course). Why not? If you can ignore any of the Constitution at will, why not just ignore the whole thing?

And Nancy Pelosi still refuses to consider impeachment.

At Slate, Tom Scocca suggests that somebody should do something.

After seeing the events of the past few days, in the light of the events of the days before those, in relation to the events that took place in the weeks, months, and years before that, I am strongly considering writing something that would address the question of whether Nancy Pelosi is bad at her job. If I did, I would argue that the House of Representatives, under Pelosi’s leadership, has come to function as a necessary complement to the corruption and incompetence of President Donald Trump—that a lawless presidency can only achieve its fullest, ripest degree of lawlessness with the aid of a feckless opposition party, which the Democrats are eager to provide.

My editor thinks that I should write this article. I understand that in a week when one of the president’s most dedicated flunkies went before Congress to openly sneer at the idea that he should answer questions, making a show of obstructing what was supposed to be an investigation into obstruction of justice—a week now ending with reports, confirmed by the president’s jabbering ghoul of a lawyer on television, that the president tried to force a foreign country to act against the Democrats’ leading presidential candidate—there is good reason to feel that something needs to be written. It is certainly the sort of situation that someone could write about: the opposition party sitting on its hands and issuing vague statements of dismay while the entire constitutional order is revealed to be no match for the willingness of a president and his enablers to break the law.

Yes, it is certainly that sort of situation. We should be doing something.

(Credit: www.dailykos.com)

Trump the Mob Boss; Trump the Tool

Mike Pompeo flew to Saudi Arabia for instructions, and today he called the drone attacks on the Saudi oil field and processing plant “an act of war” and “an Iranian attack on Arab soil.”

Now, many of us might think that attacks on Arab soil are the Saudi’s problem. As loathe as I am to agree with a conservative, I think Daniel Larison is right:

The U.S. is not obliged to come to Saudi Arabia’s defense. No matter who was responsible for the attack on their oil installation, the U.S. has no business responding with military action. Saudi Arabia is not an ally in any sense of the word. We have no mutual defense treaty with them, and we are not required to come to their aid when they are attacked. In all likelihood, this attack was the result of Saudi Arabia’s ongoing aggression against Yemen, but even if it wasn’t there is no American commitment to fight on their behalf.

But Trump apparently considers Saudi Arabia to be a U.S. ally and has called them that on occasion. And of course that has nothing to do with relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States but between Saudi Arabia and Trump.

But the Saudi royal family does seem to have a special relationship with Trump, who has repeatedly bucked bipartisan congressional majorities to back the Kingdom on topics ranging from its disastrous war in Yemen to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. … And his official explanation of the need for a cozy relationship with the Saudis — that they are a valuable customer for American arms merchants — makes very little sense, though it does cohere with his larger nonsensical views about international trade as a whole.

And …

And while Saudi Arabia does not pay “us” — in the sense of the American people — any kind of fortune, they do seem to pay Donald Trump a fair amount of money.

The manager of Trump’s hotel in New York credited a timely stay by members of the Saudi Crown Prince’s entourage (though not the prince himself) with lifting revenue there by 13 percent in one quarter last year. Lobbying disclosures showed that Saudi lobbyists spent $260,000 at Trump’s hotel in DC back in December 2016 during the transition. Separately, the Kingdom itself spent $190,273 at Trump’s hotel in early 2017.

At The Nation, Jeet Heer writes that Trump is treating foreign policy like a mafia protection racket. This is hardly news. Trump’s bizarre idea that NATO owes the United States money for protecting Europe indicates this is the only way he understands foreign relations — like a protection racket.

Trump also seems to think that the Saudis make him look good. This is from a White House transcript, September 16.

TRUMP: They’ve been a great ally. They spend $400 billion in our country over the last number of years. Four hundred billion dollars. That’s a million and a half jobs. And they’re not ones that, unlike some countries, where they want terms; they want terms and conditions. They want to say, “Can we borrow the money at zero percent for the next 400 years?” No. No. Saudi Arabia pays cash. They’ve helped us out from the standpoint of jobs and all of the other things. And they’ve actually helped us.

I would call and I would say, “Listen, our oil prices, our gasoline, is too high. You got to let more go.” You know that.

CROWN PRINCE SALMAN: Yeah.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I would call the Crown Prince and I’d say, “You got to help us out. You got to get some more.” And, all of a sudden, the oil starts flowing and the gasoline prices are down. No other President can do that. No other President was able to do that, or maybe they didn’t try. But I’ve done it.

Why Trump was going on about Saudi Arabia with the Crown Prince of Bahrain sitting next to him isn’t clear. But now it appears the Saudis want a favor. And like Enzo the Baker, Trump may think he owes the Godfather …. er, the Saudis, and can’t say no. But this favor is a really big one.

Further, do not lose sight of the fact that it’s only the Trumpies and the Saudis claiming the drone attacks came from Iran. And we should believe them, why? The Houthis have claimed responsibility, and Juan Cole argues that it’s entirely possible the Houthis were indeed the perps.

Back to Jeet Heer:

Saudi Arabia is the nexus between Trump’s personal corruption and his flailing, incoherent foreign policy. As The Washington Post points out, Trump’s response to the latest Middle Eastern crisis has been a divided one because he “is caught between a political imperative to confront Iran—pleasing hawkish Republican supporters and allies Israel and Saudi Arabia—and his own political instincts against foreign intervention and toward cutting a deal.” The uncertainty is whether his desire to please Saudi Arabia, Israel, and hawkish Republicans will override his preference, shown in previous foreign policy disputes, to avoid crossing the line between bluster and open conflict.

Yesterday’s conventional wisdom was that Trump wouldn’t go to war with Iran because his base doesn’t want it.  That may prove to be the winning favor in this mess; that re-election thing is starting to get real. And this may be an issue that voters across the political spectrum will agree on.

Meanwhile, Trump has appointed a new National Security Adviser. If you are in the mood to be frightened to death, read about the new NSA’s friendship with right-wing wackjob Hugh Hewitt.

Robert O’Brien – now the outgoing Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and a longtime corporate lawyer – worked with Hewitt at the Arent Fox law firm and, later, at O’Brien’s own O’Brien Larson firm.

The pair’s friendship extends back years. O’Brien also appears to have benefitted from Hewitt’s praise for their shared, hawkish foreign policy views, while appearing on the conservative talking head’s show dozens of times over the years.

By all accounts, O’Brien (no relation, I’m very sure) is John Bolton without the mustache. Be afraid.

Cokie Roberts, 1943-2019

Someday, when historians document how a once great nation was brought down by corruption and hackery, I do hope some of them note the enabling role played by Cokie Roberts.

The best obituary for Roberts was written by Eric Alterman back in 2002, on the occasion of her supposed retirement:

Call me sentimental, but I’m going to miss the old gal. With no discernible politics save an attachment to her class, no reporting and frequently no clue, she was the perfect source for a progressive media critic: a perpetual font of Beltway conventional wisdom uncomplicated by any collision with messy reality.

Lippmann/Dewey fans will remember that the very idea of a watchdog press breaks down when the watchdog starts acting like–and more important, sympathizing with–the folks upon whom he or she has been hired to keep an eye. With Cokie, this was never much of an issue. Her dad was a Congressman. Her mom was a Congresswoman. Her brother is one of the slickest and wealthiest lobbyists in the city. Her husband, Steve Roberts, holds the dubious honor of being perhaps the only person to give up a plum New York Times job because it interfered with his television career. And together they form a tag-team buck-raking/book-writing enterprise offering up corporate speeches and dime-store “Dear Abby”-style marriage advice to those unfortunates who do not enjoy his-and-her television contracts.

Cokie came to public attention at NPR, where she developed some street cred as a Capitol Hill gumshoe, but apparently grew tired of the hassle of actual reporting, which only helped her career. With no concern for the niceties of conflicts of interest, she and her husband accepted together as much as $45,000 in speaking fees from the very corporations that were affected by the legislation she was allegedly covering in Congress. Moreover, she claimed something akin to a royal prerogative in refusing to address the ethical quandary it obviously raised. (A spokesman responding to a journalist’s inquiry said that Queen Cokie’s corporate speaking fees were “not something that in any way, shape or form should be discussed in public.”)

Apparently, nobody ever told Cokie that the job of the insider pundit is to at least pretend to be conversant with the major political, economic and intellectual issues in question before putting these in the service of a consensually derived story line. The pedantic George Will and the peripatetic Sam Donaldson at least give the impression of having considered their remarks ahead of time, either by memorizing from Bartlett’s or pestering politicians. Not Cokie. Once, when a reporting gig interfered with one of her many social and/or speaking engagements, she donned a trench coat in front of a photo of the Capitol in the ABC studios in the hopes of fooling her viewers. She was not a real journalist; she just played one on TV.

Roberts was nothing but a mass of class privilege. She had no real interest in policy, facts, ordinary people, or anything that happened west of the Potomac. Her brand of gossip-columnist punditry took up space where real information was needed. Do read Alterman’s column all the way through for more examples.

Today, I’m seeing all kinds of headlines identifying Cokie Roberts as a “journalist.” Even in death she’s corrupting the news media. Remarkably, Roberts often was identified by the Right as a “liberal hack,” even though I would argue she helped the Right more than hurt it. She was the sort of content-free spaceholder bobblehead that cable news shows liked to book to “balance” screaming right-wing hacks. But Roberts didn’t represent the Left; she represented class privilege and insiderism. She made the Right look good.

I understand that over the next few days we’re going to be subjected to fervent odes to Roberts’s canny political commentaries and her trailblazing role as a woman in journalism. I suggest stocking up on Pepto Bismol.

Update: Another of Cokie’s Greatest Hits.

The Trump Tax Return Saga

So this just happened

State prosecutors in Manhattan have subpoenaed President Trump’s accounting firm to demand eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns, according to several people with knowledge of the matter.

The subpoena opens a new front in a wide-ranging effort to obtain copies of the president’s tax returns, which Mr. Trump initially said he would make public during the 2016 campaign but has since refused to disclose.

The subpoena was issued by the Manhattan district attorney’s office late last month, soon after it opened a criminal investigationinto the role that the president and his family business played in hush-money payments made in the run-up to the election.  …

… The state prosecutors are seeking a range of tax documents from the accounting firm, Mazars USA, including Mr. Trump’s personal returns and those of his business, the Trump Organization. The subpoena seeks federal and state returns for both the president and the company dating back to 2011, the people said.

At least, William Barr can’t shut down state prosecutors. This tidbit is from TPM:

House Democrats have also subpoenaed Mazars for Trump financial records. Trump’s personal attorneys are fighting that subpoena in court and are awaiting an appeals court decision on the matter, after a federal judge upheld the subpoena.

I’m looking forward to further developments.