The Further Adventures of Rudy

This just in — Giuliani was in talks to be paid by Ukraine’s top prosecutor as they together sought damaging information on Democrats.

President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, negotiated earlier this year to represent Ukraine’s top prosecutor for at least $200,000 during the same months that Giuliani was working with the prosecutor to dig up dirt on vice president Joe Biden, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The people said that Giuliani began negotiations with Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko, about a possible agreement in February. In the agreement, Giuliani’s company would receive payment to represent Lutsenko as the Ukrainian sought to recover assets he believed had been stolen from the government in Kyiv, those familiar with the discussions said.

The talks occurred as Giuliani met with Lutsenko in New York in January and then in Warsaw in February while he was also gathering information from Lutsenko on two topics Giuliani believed could prove useful to Trump: the involvement of Biden, and his son, Hunter, in Ukraine and allegations that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 election.

The deal was drawn up but never finalized. Paul Waldman asks,

Why would Giuliani be simultaneously pursuing what former national security official Fiona Hill called a “domestic political errand” on Trump’s behalf — pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation that would smear Joe Biden — while simultaneously looking to cash in himself?

The answer is, why wouldn’t he? It’s the Trump way. Josh Marshall:

If that’s not enough Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing, who were later hooked up for more than a million in legal fees from Dmitry Firtash, were also going to get put on retainer for hundreds of thousands.

If the names Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing look familiar — the married couple and law firm partners were active in the investigations into Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky, and they also were active in the right-wing smearing of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame back in the day. More recently they were all over right-wing media pushing nutty stories about the alleged Benghazi scandal. They are long-time Republican dirty tricks operators, in other words. See Toensing and DiGenova Were Deeply Involved in Giuliani’s Extortion Racket by Nancy LeTourneau at Washington Monthly.

Back to Josh Marshall:

It’s one more piece of a larger story which has already become fairly clear: Giuliani running private diplomacy for the President’s financial and political interests and charging virtually everyone whose path he crossed fees for access to the President and the power Giuliani seemed to have over US policy. The work for the prosecutor’s office would have been nominally for reclaiming looted assets for Ukraine. But given Giuliani’s MO this is likely more properly seen as cover for either protection money or payment for access or at best using access to achieve these ends by access to Trump. Giuliani tried to get one Turkish client out of legal trouble by trying to arrange a diplomatic exchange. So extra-legal assistance made possible by his access to Trump.

Zoom out and you have a broad access scheme in which Giuliani uses his status as the President’s personal lawyer (for which he apparently charges nothing) to charge fees to a international cast of oligarchs, mobsters and crooked politicians for access to the President. All the while US foreign policy becomes a mix of the President’s personal interests and the angles of whoever happens to be paying Giuliani the most at that moment.

Yeah, who is paying Giuliani at the moment? Is it possible Trump expected him to self-finance all this traveling overseas on Trump’s behalf? The oligarchs on the edges of this case have been paying Rudy and DiGenova/Toensing pretty handsomely. For example,

In the case of Mr. [Dmitry] Firtash, an energy tycoon with deep ties to the Kremlin who is facing extradition to the United States on bribery and racketeering charges, one of Mr. Giuliani’s associates has described offering the oligarch help with his Justice Department problems — if Mr. Firtash hired two lawyers who were close to President Trump and were already working with Mr. Giuliani on his dirt-digging mission. Mr. Firtash said the offer was made in late June when he met with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, both Soviet-born businessmen involved in Mr. Giuliani’s Ukraine pursuit.

Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, confirmed that account and added that his client had met with Mr. Firtash at Mr. Giuliani’s direction and encouraged the oligarch to help in the hunt for compromising information “as part of any potential resolution to his extradition matter.”

Mr. Firtash’s relationship to the Trump-allied lawyers — Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova — has led to intense speculation that he is, at least indirectly, helping to finance Mr. Giuliani’s campaign. But until now he has stayed silent, and many of the details of how and why he came to hire the lawyers have remained murky.

In the interview, Mr. Firtash said he had no information about the Bidens and had not financed the search for it. “Without my will and desire,” he said, “I was sucked into this internal U.S. fight.” But to help his legal case, he said, he had paid his new lawyers $1.2 million to date, with a portion set aside as something of a referral fee for Mr. Parnas.

If you watch Rachel Maddow even once in a while, the name “Firtash” ought to be familiar. She brings up the name a lot in her soliloquies. See Robert Mackey/The Intercept, Is a Ukrainian Oligarch Helping Trump Smear Biden to Evade U.S. Corruption Charges? and Dan Friedman/Mother Jones, How an Indicted Oligarch Became a Key Player in Trump’s Ukraine Scandal.

So, while the basic Trump-Ukraine scandal may be relatively simple by itself, it is a piece of a much bigger and more complex pattern of corruption and self-dealing surrounding Trump.

But back to Rudy. Let us remember there is all kinds of credible testiomony that Trump directed his aides and others to go through Rudy Giuliani in dealing with Ukraine. Giuliani came up a lot in the infamous July 25 phone call “transcript” that Trump wants everyone to read, such as this bit, spoken by Trump:

Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney Geneeral. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.

This was after a section in which President Zelensky reassured Trump that an aide had already spoken to Rudy Guiliani and that he and his staff were looking forward to meeting him. So we’re well past the point at which Trump can credibly claim he wasn’t directing Rudy to do something concerning Ukraine. And in the context of the transcript it’s obvious part of that something was an investigation of the Bidens.

But of course, that’s what Trump did.

President Donald Trump has now denied that he directed his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to go to Ukraine and seek out investigations on his behalf, contradicting his own words to the Ukrainian President in the White House-released transcript of the July 25 call.

Trump also contradicted sworn testimony from members of his administration and claims from his own White House acting chief of staff.

Ahead of a Tuesday night rally in Florida, Trump was asked by conservative radio host Bill O’Reilly if the President directed Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine.

“No,” the President said, before launching into a tangent of flattering Giuliani’s credentials, calling him “a great corruption fighter” and “the greatest mayor” of New York City.

We also now have reports that Trump was briefed on the whistleblower complaint in late August, before he ordered the release of the militayr aide. For a recap of the story thus far, I turn to Charles Pierce:

Now we have the whole thing. The president* used military aid money already appropriated by Congress to shakedown the government of Ukraine, an ally, in order to get Ukraine to help him ratfck one of his prospective opponents in the 2020 presidential election. As last week’s testimony confirmed, everyone in this massive loop knew this at the time. Then someone, and we still don’t know who, took a complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general. This was at the end of July. And, by August, they had briefed the president*, who, having been caught borscht-handed, released the aid in early September. Every episode in that chronicle is an impeachable offense, and the entire timeline is one very big one.

Remember what Rep. Adam Schiff said last week, when the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee tried to argue that nothing untoward had happened because the president* eventually released the aid?

“My Republican colleagues, all they seem to be upset about with this is not that the president sought an investigation of his political rival, not that he withheld a White House meeting and $400 million in aid we all passed in a bipartisan basis to pressure Ukraine to do those investigations. Their objection is that he got caught. Their objection is that someone blew the whistle, and they would like this whistleblower identified, and the president wants this whistleblower punished. That’s their objection. Not that the president engaged in this conduct, but that he got caught.”

Now, even that most threadbare irrelevancy is denied to all but the most fervent members of the cult. The president* released the aid because his lawyers told him he’d been caught. On this matter, at least, the case is airtight, and there is no daylight to be found. The president*, among others, is stone busted. That may matter. It may not. But anyone arguing for the defense on the Ukraine matter is bound to look like even more of an idiot than they already do, and those people look like the succulent, ripe fruit of the Stupid Tree already. That’s something, anyway.

Not that any of this will stop Republicans from covering Trump’s ass.

About Mike Bloomberg

I am annoyed with Mike Bloomberg for thinking he is Chosen to save us from Donald Trump, or worse (in his mind) Bernie Sanders or Liz Warren. Not that I think his candidacy is going to go anywhere. He’s currently at 1 percent in the latest Emerson College poll, and I understand his plan is to skip the four early primaries and aim for a big delegate haul on Super Tuesday (March 3).

The Super Tuesday states next year are  Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Democrats abroad. So it’s not mostly southern states this time, but … seriously, Mike Boomberg?

He’s spending $30 million to run television ads this week. I’m seeing his ads on the St. Louis stations; the Missouri and Illinois primaries are later in March. It’s not a bad ad:

Much of this ad is about his tenure as mayor of New York City, from 2001 to 2013. The part about providing affordable housing in New York City jumped out at me, as I have personal experience with not finding affordable housing in New York City. So I checked this out and found that the “affordable” housing he pushed for wasn’t all that affordable.

Bloomberg claims to have built or preserved 165,000 affordable housing units while in office – the largest programme “in the city’s long history”, his website says.

“We’ve been astoundedly impressed by the commitment and energy that’s gone into the affordable housing production,” said Benjamin Dulchin, executive director at the New York-based Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD). “But also disturbed by the problems with it. Much of the housing that was built isn’t actually affordable to the local community.”

According to ANHD, (pdf) only a third of those 165,000 units were affordable to a family earning less than half the median income in the neighbourhood where the housing was built.

See also:

Bloomberg’s administration poured money into redeveloping Manhattan’s far west side, backing a $2.4bn extension of a subway line to carry passengers to projects such as Hudson Yards and Manhattan West, which will take years to complete but will eventually see once-neglected areas turned into developments for businesses and luxury apartments.

The change has been striking, and many areas have undoubtedly been cleaned up and made more desirable. But that has not always been good news for people living in the city.

The reality of New York in 2013 is that 31% of its residents are classified as “severely burdened” by rent – that is, they spend more than 50% of their income simply on having somewhere to live.

The number of people with a severe rent burden has increased under Bloomberg’s reign, with NYU’s Furman Center reporting that, as the median gross rent in the city increased 10% between 2005 and 2011, the median household income fell.

This also:

At the beginning of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s second term, homelessness in his city was at an all-time high: Nearly 40,000 New Yorkers were without homes, which was astronomical considering the city’s homeless population had never reached 30,000 before Bloomberg took office. In response, he laid out an ambitious five-year plan to reduce homelessness by two-thirds.

Eight years later, 48,694 people were homeless, according to the New York City Department of Homeless Services.

And the moral is, if you are a poor person and Mike Bloomberg offers to help you, run like hell. This Gotham Gazette article provides a good analysis of what Bloomberg got wrong. In brief, he’s a free-market guy who thought that tossing a few incentives at the real estate industry would fix everything.

And the moral to that is that the free market is the problem, and fixing the problem is going to take a major systemic ovehaul.

Bloomberg is also associated with the infamous “stop and frisk” policy. Elie Mystal (executive editor of Above the Law and a contributing writer for The Nation) calls Bloomberg the “poster child for the unconstitutional harassment of black and brown bodies.” That he went to a black church in Harlem and apologized shortly before beginning his campaign is not going to fool anybody, I don’t think. Mystal also said that for Bloomberg to ask for votes from racial minorities “is like the scorpion asking to be king of the frogs.” I would like to think that institutional Democrats are finally getting a clue that they can’t take the black and brown vote for granted any more. A Bloomberg nomination would set back the whole party.

Also, too:

Even though campaign cash may not be an issue, his centrist policy positions on key issues like criminal justice and financial regulation, allegations of sexist remarks and a #MeToo blind spot, and his status as a self-funding billionaire could narrow his path to the nomination. And being a 77-year-old wealthy white man won’t help differentiate himself from a group of fellow white septuagenarians leading the 2020 pack.

“For too long the people at the top of the Democratic Party have been wealthier, whiter, more male, and more conservative than the base of the Democratic Party which looks a lot more like [Rep.] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” Waleed Shahid, communications director for Justice Democrats, told Insider earlier this year.

Mike has his authoritarian streak, exhibited with his eviction of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. I was not a big fan of the Occupiers, as I found them to be mostly pretentious, but this was utterly unnecessary:

Early Tuesday morning, New York police raided and evicted the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zucotti Park in southern Manhattan. The behavior of the NYPD and the mayor’s office, in ordering this brazen action while blocking the press and the public from reporting on the eviction, is a disgraceful display of unnecessary force on a protest that for the most part has behaved lawfully and respectfully throughout its two-month existence.

The last time the police planned to clear the park, they had announced the eviction ahead of time and gave people and press time to flood in. This time, the NYPD, clearly intent on avoiding as much scrutiny as possible, made no such “mistake.” According to reporter accounts on news Web sites and on Twitter, at around 1:00 a.m., police moved swiftly to isolate Zucotti from the outside world. The NYPD closed subway stops and streets around the park, and set up barricades to prevent people from joining the protest. Once inside the park, the police tore up the tents, and apparently ruined the belongings of the protesters who had turned the park into a makeshift city over the last two months. (Among other ruined items were 5000 books from the park’s library, the protesters’ Twitter feed points out.) Those who resisted were met with batons and pepper spray, reports Mother Jones’s Josh Harkinson; among others, New York City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez was arrested and bleeding from the head, according to another council member. Protesters were to be allowed back into the park, but the NYPD insisted they’d have to make do without tents, tarps or any other equipment essential to the occupation.

Bloomberg’s brazenness has only increased during the morning. At 6:30 a.m., Judge Lucy Billings issued an injunction “requiring the protesters to be readmitted to Zuccotti Park with their tents,” but Bloomberg has ignored the court order and kept the park closed. Protesters have marched to Zucotti Park, but are being barred from entrance despite displaying that court order to the police on site. At this time, the mayor’s office has not explained why it is ignoring the court order.

Conor Friedersdorf, Here’s What Should Disqualify Michael Bloomberg:

Under Bloomberg, arrests rose steeply in New York City for marijuana possession. The city regulated trans fats, and barred the philanthropic donation of fresh bagels and other foodstuffs to the needy in homeless shelters because the salt, fat, and fiber content could not be assessed by city bureaucrats.

When anti-war protesters wanted to assemble against the impending invasion of Iraq in 2003, New York City, “citing only vague security concerns, refused to grant a permit to march, allowing only a stationary rally and cramming attendees into a narrow penned area,” CityLab recounts. “Hundreds of thousands of protesters were unable to get within earshot.”

I attended that protest; it was worse than this article describes. The crush of bodies in the penned cite was such that it was nearly impossible to move. My son and I decided to leave early, and it took us about an hour to get to a cafe about a half block away.  That much crowding is dangerous. People get trampled to death if anything frightening happens.

And “for at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention,” The New York Times later reported, “teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention, according to police records and interviews.”

Bloomberg favors the use of forcible seizure of private property by the government not only to build vital public infrastructure, but also to facilitate private development deals.

And do on. So, while Bloomberg initiated some redevelopment of the city and is a staunch supporter of gun control, I really, really hope he’s not the nominee. But I am not too worried he will be. Mike is not known for his charm, and he doesn’t have a folksy bone in his body. He’s also very short, which I noticed when he ran into me, literally, at some political gathering I attended back in the aughts. And he sure as hell isn’t going to get the racial minority or progressive vote.

See also The incredible wastefulness of Mike Bloomberg.

FILE PHOTO: Former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg speaks in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo – RC2BBD9AQ9A4

Giuliani, Pompeo, Nunes, et alia: Busted

Guiliani already was pretty much busted, but now he’s even more busted, with Pompeo. From Vox:

A tranche of State Department documents obtained by the advocacy group American Oversight suggest Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani discussed US-Ukraine policy as early as March 2019, further tying Pompeo to the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

The documents — obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request — lay out Giuliani’s efforts to establish direct contact with Pompeo. They alsoseem to support the public testimony of US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, who told lawmakers Wednesday “everyone was in the loop” when it came to Trump’s campaign to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Biden family.

The nearly 100 pages of new documents could point to the beginning of that involvement for Pompeo, who has worked to distance himself from the pressure campaign.

Pompeo is seriously thinking about resigning as SecState to run for a Senate seat. Or maybe to spend more time with his family.

These March conversations seem to have paved the way to a key role for Giuliani in official US-Ukraine policy. Sondland’s testimony suggested that over time, Pompeo began to direct his officials with concerns about US-Ukraine relations to speak not with him, but with Trump’s personal lawyer.

“Even as late as September 24, Secretary Pompeo was directing [former US special representative to Ukraine] Kurt Volker to speak with Rudy Giuliani,” Sondland told lawmakers Wednesday. “In a WhatsApp message, Kurt Volker told me in part: ‘Spoke w Rudy per guidance from S.’” (S is shorthand among State Department officials for the secretary of state.)

All of this suggests Pompeo was made aware of Giuliani’s agenda in Ukraine from the lawyer himself, and that he knew and understood how key Giuliani was to the president’s desires for the investigations. Sondland’s testimony already made it difficult for the secretary of state to claim he didn’t know about the pressure campaign or the efforts to oust Yovanovitch. The documents obtained by American Oversight make this even more difficult for Pompeo to do.

And what more can we say about Devin Nunes, who is as deeply implicated in this scandal as anybody else? I want the House intelligence committee to demand that HE testify. Adam Schiff should nail his ass.

From CNN:

A lawyer for an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani told CNN that his client is willing to tell Congress about meetings the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee had in Vienna last year with a former Ukrainian prosecutor to discuss digging up dirt on Joe Biden.

The attorney, Joseph A. Bondy, represents Lev Parnas, the recently indicted Soviet-born American who worked with Giuliani to push claims of Democratic corruption in Ukraine. Bondy said that Parnas was told directly by the former Ukrainian official that he met last year in Vienna with Rep. Devin Nunes.

“Mr. Parnas learned from former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin that Nunes had met with Shokin in Vienna last December,” said Bondy.

Shokin was ousted from his position in 2016 after pressure from Western leaders, including then-vice president Biden, over concerns that Shokin was not pursuing corruption cases.

Do we want to review some of Nunes’s other, um, projects? Most recently we learned of a Nunes staffer named  Kashyap Patel who went to work in the White House and passed himself off as Trump’s Ukraine expert. I wrote on Halloween

It turns out that an entirely different person had been briefing Trump on Ukraine, and Trump was under the impression that person was his “top Ukrainian expert.” Lt. Col Vindman had not been allowed to brief the “president” on anything, even though he was the real expert on Ukraine and the other guy is not known to have any expertise on Ukraine at all. The other guy, Kashyap Patel, was a longtime staffer of Rep. Devin Nunes who joined the White House staff in February; in what capacity no one seems to know.

Apparently this guy Patel has been feeding Trump wackjob conspiracy theories rather than actual intelligence on Ukraine. Worse, nobody in the White House had the guts to go in and explain to Trump that Patel doesn’t know Ukraine from ukuleles and that his real Ukraine adviser was Lt. Col. Vindman.

I want to know more about how that came about.

Nunes has been at the forefront of covering Trump’s butt regarding the Trump-Russia investigation from the beginning, when Nunes was on the Trump transition team.

As head of the House Intelligence Committee (until this year), Nunes was in a position to put the brakes on investigations, and he did his best. And this happened in 2017:

At least three senior White House officials, including the top lawyer for the National Security Council, were involved in the handling of intelligence files that were shared with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and showed that Trump campaign officials were swept up in U.S. surveillance of foreign nationals, according to U.S. officials.

The White House role in the matter contradicts assertions by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), and adds to mounting concerns that the Trump administration is collaborating with the leader of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

And you might remember the Nunes Memo. Here is the Mahablog Nunes Memo archives, if you need a refresher. In short, Nunes has been part of this scheme since the Trump transition in 2016.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee questions former special counsel Robert Mueller as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Will Senate Republicans Allow a Real Trial?

His Orange Majesty has decided the Senate may go ahead and hold an impeachment trial, as long as they keep it short and he can call whatever witnesses he wants.

At WaPo, Seung Min Kim and Josh Dawsey report,

A group of Republican senators and senior White House officials met privately Thursday to map out a strategy for a potential impeachment trial of President Trump, including rapid proceedings in the Senate that could be limited to about two weeks, according to multiple officials familiar with the talks.

The prospect of an abbreviated trial is viewed by several Senate Republicans as a favorable middle ground — substantial enough to give the proceedings credence without risking greater damage to Trump by dragging on too long.

That’s a “middle ground”? What’s it in the middle of?

Even a two-week trial could run counter to what Trump has expressed privately. The president is “miserable” about the impeachment inquiry and has pushed to dismiss the proceedings right away, according to people familiar with his sentiments, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Trump’s views.

But a president has absolutely no authority over his own impeachment and trial. His views are irrelevant.

Other options, including a longer trial, were also discussed and still could happen, officials said. Ultimately, Trump will make the final call on trial strategy, a senior administration official said.

Let’s review the Constitution, Article I, Section 3, paragraph 6:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Seems to me this is saying Chief Justice Roberts is the one who will decide how long the trial will last. Bill Clinton’s trial lasted five weeks, btw.

Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, said on Fox News on Thursday evening that if the House does impeach Trump, then the president would want proceedings to unfold in the Senate.

That’s big of him.

“He wants to be able to bring up witnesses like Adam Schiff, like the whistleblower, like Hunter Biden, like Joe Biden,” Gidley said. “And he says if the House moves forward with this sham and they continue to push these fake illegitimate proceedings on the American people, then he wants it to go to the Senate, and he wants a trial.”

Seems to me it’s up to the Chief Justice to decide what witnesses are allowed to testify. And of course there will be a trial. The Constitution says so.

Senate Republicans have been divided on how long a Senate trial should be. Some align with Trump’s view, seeking to dismiss it as soon as possible, while others have sought a middle-of-the-road option like two weeks.

Still others have toyed with a more drawn-out trial that has the potential to scramble the schedules of a half-dozen Democratic senators who are running for president but would be jurors in an impeachment trial.

You can see what their priorities are.

Granted, it’s possible Roberts will go along with what the Republicans want. But I think it is also possible he will be sensitive to charges that favoritism shown to Republicans will make him, and his court, illegitimate.

Bruce Ackerman writes at Slate (emphasis added):

The Constitution explicitly states that the chief justice, in this case John Roberts, “shall preside” over presidential impeachment trials. The rules of the Senate, moreover, require McConnell to take this command seriously. In order to prevent the vice president, who formally presides over the Senate, from refusing to allow the chief justice to play his constitutional role, the Senate rules governing impeachment require the vice president to swear in the chief justice immediately after the House’s charges are announced on the floor. The rules then explicitly empower the chief justice to “direct all the forms of proceedings” during the trial. The Senate, in contrast, is granted the “power to enforce obedience” to all these rulings.

This separation of powers between the chief justice and the Senate was at the center of public attention as the country prepared itself for the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, which began on March 4, 1868. At that time, the Senate approved the rules that were later codified and remain in force today. As the New York Times reported on March 3, 1868, Sen. George Williams of Oregon argued “that the intention of the Constitution was to empower the Chief Justice to decide questions … as he would in any court as its presiding officer. To do otherwise would be to act with a sort of jealousy and make him a sort of figure head.” Sen. John Sherman of Ohio agreed that “the usage of all bodies [is] to submit such questions to the presiding officer.”

Plot all they like; assuming Senate Republicans choose to follow the rules, they don’t get to decide how long the trial lasts and what evidence may be presented. However, will they follow the rules?

The current rules are not written in stone. The existing Senate could change them before the trial begins. But it is unlikely, to say the least, that McConnell could gain the majority support required for a revision. Because all Democrats would oppose this move, only three Republican defections would stop the majority leader in his tracks. From his public statements, it’s already clear that Sen. Mitt Romney would never go along. Similarly, Sen. Susan Collins has already said that senators should refuse to voice any opinions on the current battle between the House and the president “since they will be jurors” during the trial. On Friday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski also expressed disapproval of some of the president’s reported actions. Given these positions, it is implausible to suppose that these three senators would support any rule change that, in Williams’ words, would make the chief justice into a “figurehead” for blatant partisan politics.

One never knows about Collins, of course.

Given his deep commitment to professionalism, John Roberts can be counted on to deflect any behind-the-scenes pressures for speed. These inclinations would be reinforced, moreover, by the recent controversy surrounding the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh. Everybody remembers McConnell ramming the nomination through without a full investigation of multiple allegations of misconduct; Roberts cannot allow the same hardball tactics to repeat themselves. Moreover, the reconstituted Roberts court is giving every indication that it will be beginning an assault this term on Roe v. Wade and other fundamental precedents of the past half-century. Given the heated controversies that will be generated by these decisions, the chief justice will be even more reluctant to waste his political capital by enabling a partisan rush to judgment on Trump.

Well, that’s sort of reassuring.

We might also remember that the question of whether Trump can continue to ignore subpoenas for his financial records and tax returns is now in front of SCOTUS. The justices could decide this any time now.  It’s likely we’ll get a decision before the impeachment trial begins, or even before the House votes on articles of impeachment. .

Speaking of subpoenas — some big shots not heard from formally include Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton, Rick Perry, and Rudy Giuliani. The House Dems say they aren’t going to bother issuing subpoenas that will be ignored. Going through courts to get the subpoenas honored could take months.

“They should be coming before us,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday. “They keep taking it to court, and no, we’re not going to wait until the courts decide. That might be information that’s available to the Senate, in terms of how far we go and when we go. But we can’t wait for that because, again, it’s a technique. It’s obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress.”

“That might be information that’s available to the Senate, in terms of how far we go and when we go.” See this post at Talking Points Memo, in which a former federal prosecutor explains that under Senate rules, subpoenas for testimony or documents could be compelled to be honored by the Chief Justice very quickly. It is possible these people will be ordered to testify in the Senate trial.

It’s also possible that if Trump’s taxes are released, Trump will decide he has to make a foreign trip and not come back.

There are a lot of ifs here. A lot hinges on John Roberts. Fingers crossed.


Adam Schiff and the Black Knight

The Republicans are starting to remind me of Monty Python’s black knight.

No matter how much their arguments in support of Trump are shredded, Republicans still holler that no one has proved Trump did anything wrong. We all knew going in that no matter what was proved to have happened, it was unlikely the Republican Senate would remove Trump from office. That certainly hasn’t changed.

I confess I have a hard time watching because I seem to only check in when Republicans are asking questions. As soon as they start on the whistleblower, or Hunter Biden, or anything to do with the bleeping Steele Dossier, I turn it off again. This usually happens within seconds.

See Greg Sargent, The GOP defense of Trump is in slow-motion collapse. It’s about to get worse.

Republicans continue to insist there was no connection between the withheld aid and Trump’s corrupt demand that Ukraine carry out his political dirty deeds. Never mind that Sondland actually did convey that message to Ukraine, and that Sondland has now confirmed that overwhelming evidence persuaded him that this is what Trump intended.

The GOP defense is now this: Trump is exonerated, because it hasn’t yet been nailed down beyond any doubt that Trump directly commanded Sondland to tell Ukraine that the money was withheld for that corrupt purpose.

Like many other GOP defenses, this one is in slow-motion collapse. And it’s about to get worse.

And worse it got. Devin Nunes continues to push the fiction that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election, which Fiona Hill pointedly shot down today.

“I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine — not Russia — attacked us in 2016,” the statement says. “These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes.”

Not that it will make any difference to Nunes. See also Alex Ward, Thursday’s impeachment testimony makes the Burisma-Biden connection undeniable.

I will say one thing for Gordon Sondland — the guy is no fool. Neither is he innocent; he went along willingly with the obvious corruption and tried to shield Trump as long as he could. But he knew when to fold. While he may be persona non grata in Republican circles for some time, he won’t face prosecutions. He’ll keep his money and his businesses and enjoy some celebrity for a while.

About last night’s debate — it was the best one so far, I thought. The questions were sensible. I don’t think any one candidate stood out, but most helped themselves. The exceptions were Joe Biden, who really isn’t as mentally sharp as he probably used to be, and Tulsi Gabbard, who appears to be auditioning for a Fox News gig. Tom Steyer still fails to provide any reason for his being there, other than his money. Everyone else did fine.

Sondland Day

And the answer is … Sondland doesn’t want to risk going the way of Roger Stone. He showed up this morning and threw pretty much the entire Trump administration under the bus.

Updates to come. Comments welcome.

Update: Sondland is still testifying. What a morning, though.

I want to highlight part of Devin Nunes’s opening statement:

When the Democrats can’t get any traction for their allegations of a quid pro quo, they move the goalposts and accuse the President of extortion, then bribery, and as a last resort, obstructing justice.

This was followed by Sondland’s opening statement:

I know that members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a “quid pro quo?” As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.

Sondland says he eventually put two and two together and realized the military aid was also being withheld pending the announcement of investigations into the Bidens and Barisma.

This afternoon, Trump stood on the South Lawn and read from some oversized notes:

Close your eyes and imagine Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas giving this same “speech.”

Nunes’s cross-examination was all whackjob, all the time — Barisma, Bidens, Steele Dossier, a black ledger, and whistleblower whistleblower whistleblower. The purpose of this stuff is, of course, to give partisans an excuse for ignoring the facts. And, sadly, it probably will work.

Update: This is what Trump was referencing in the video above:

“I finally called the president. I believe it was on the 9th of September; I can’t find the records and they won’t provide them to me,” Sondland told the House committee. “But I believe I just asked him an open-ended question, Mr. Chairman. ‘What do you want from Ukraine? I keep hearing all these different ideas and theories and this and that. What do you want?’ ”

“And it was a very short, abrupt conversation,” he continued. “He was not in a good mood. And he just said, ‘I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky’ ” — that is, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — “to do the right thing.’ Something to that effect.”

Speaking to reporters outside the White House on Wednesday, Trump seized on that testimony as exculpatory. Reading from handwritten notes, he reiterated what Sondland had said and declared the testimony the final word on the matter.

So, Trump is quoting himself saying no quid pro quo as proof there was no quid pro quo.

Update: See also Aaron Blake, 5 takeaways from Gordon Sondland’s blockbuster testimony.

Looking Ahead to the Week’s Hearings

So I got up this morning and flipped on the teevee to see today’s hearings. And lo, there on the screen was Devin Nunes, blabbering about Barisma. I turned off the teevee.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, are testifying right now.

Williams’s testimony was being trashed by Donald Trump late last week.

On Sunday, President Donald Trump attacked Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence, calling her a “Never Trumper” just two days before Williams is set to testify before lawmakers in the ongoing impeachment inquiry. …

…The frenetic tweet came a day after lawmakers released a transcript from a closed-door hearing with Williams, who took notes while listening to the president’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president. She described the president’s insistence that Ukraine conduct investigations for the United States as “unusual and inappropriate” and told investigators that she found “specific references to be—to be more specific to the president in nature, to his personal political agenda, as opposed to a broader…foreign policy objective of the United States.”

The tweet:

She doesn’t have to read the transcript, moron; she was in on the original phone call. She has her own notes.

I take it from the various live updates on various sites that Republicans are going all out to trash Lt. Col. Vindman as a “Never Trumper” whose loyalties are divided between the U.S. and Ukraine. This seems not to be going well for the GOP.

There also was this moment:

Greg Sargent:

The game isn’t just to question Vindman’s motives. It’s also to further the underlying idea that Vindman — and, indeed, all the diplomats and professionals who have testified about this plot — have been fundamentally driven by a dispute with Trump over policy, which is indeed ultimately set by the president.

That lie, in turn, is designed to mask the ugly, throbbing truth at the core of this whole affair, which most Republicans refuse to concede in public: Trump was solely driven by corrupt self-interest.

The afternoon witnesses will be Kurt D. Volker and Timothy Morrison, a Europe and Russia expert for the National Security Council. Morrison is the guy who advised White House counsel to keep the July 25 phone records out of public view, but he says he never said the records should be on a top secret server. Volker, of course, resigned from a position at U.S. special representative to Ukraine, whatever that means, in September and appears to have been in the middle of the mess. But these witnesses are expected to be friendlier to the GOP theory of the alleged crime, which is that the only reason anybody does anything is amoral, partisan self-interest, which is only wrong when Democrats do it.

Gordon Sondland will appear Wednesday morning. This should be good. The committee will also hear from Laura Cooper and David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, later in the day.

Thursday’s witnesses will be Fiona Hill and David Holmes, the guy who heard Sondland talk to Trump in th Kiev restaurant.

No Warren Did Not Abandon Medicare for All

This post is a follow up to one I wrote a couple of weeks ago, on Liz Warren’s Health Care Hurdles. Warren has been pressured from Left and Right more than any other candidate to take a firm stand on health care and how she might pay for a Medicare for All plan without raising taxes on the middle class.

So just over two weeks ago she brought out a proposal for paying for Medicare for All without a middle class tax hike. In spite of a few serious people (like Paul Krugman) saying that it was a reasonable effort, the plan has mostly gotten beaten up, rather brutally, in news media.

Further, since mid-October or so her poll numbers have sagged as the “centrist” candidates, especially Biden and Buttigieg, have gone on the attack against Medicare for All. According to Monmouth, Pete Buttigieg just took the lead in Iowa away from Warren. Polls have warned that Medicare for All is massively unpopular in the “swing” states that will determine which candidate wins the Electoral College.

So now, Warren has moved to supporting a transition period before full implementation of Medicare for All.

Warren on Friday proposed a series of steps she said would gradually move the country towards “Medicare for All” over the course of three years….

…While the final version of Medicare for All will eliminate private insurance coverage, the first stage will preserve it, while still giving people the option of joining an expanded Medicare-type plan.

After three years, Warren argued, people will be able to see the full benefits of her Medicare for All system.

“By this point, the American people will have experienced the full benefits of a true Medicare for All option, and they can see for themselves how that experience stacks up against high-priced care that requires them to fight tooth-and-nail against their insurance company,” Warren wrote.

This seems to me to be a good idea. Naturally, today a large part of the Left on social media is throwing fits and sliming Warren with everything they’ve got, calling her a liar and a sellout and nothing but Hillary Clinton 2.0.

So lefties will destroy the best chance we’ve had in years to elect a genuinely progressive president, just as the plutocrats planned it, and assuming Trump isn’t re-elected we’ll end up with Biden or a facsimile thereof.There’s still Bernie Sanders, of course, but I think he’s got a steeper hill to climb for the nomination.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Update: See also Dylan Scott, Elizabeth Warren’s new Medicare-for-all plan starts out with a public option.

As Warren competes with not only Sanders on the left but Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg toward the center for the Democratic nomination, the plan seems like a bit of triangulation on her part. She isn’t backing off her commitment to Medicare-for-all single-payer. But she is putting out a plan that she will argue is more likely to actually pass 18 months from now.

Either bill in Warren’s two-step plan would face serious challenges: The first requires 50 or so Senate Democrats to agree on a health care plan in early 2021 and then the second even more audaciously needs a Senate supermajority to approve single-payer health care (or an end to the Senate filibuster).

This won’t win over many Sanders supporters, who see an unnecessary focus on tactics over strategy. The moderates will still assail her plan as unrealistic and politically toxic. Warren, meanwhile, will make the case she has a plan to both pay for and pass Medicare-for-all.