I do plan to watch the debate, but I’m not sure I’ll stay awake for much of it. Do comment here if you are moved to do so.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read BOTH transcripts of the presidential calls, & see the just released ststement from Ukraine. Then she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 17, 2019
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.
Vindman relays the story of how and why he received a purple heart. Asked by @jahimes if he is a “Never Trumper” like Trump said he was in a tweet, Vindman says he would describe himself as “Never Partisan.” pic.twitter.com/4V3FoZlxWM
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) November 19, 2019
There also was this moment:
Lt. Col. Vindman corrects Nunes for refusing to acknowledge his military rank. pic.twitter.com/U0JVgmK4ba
— John Aravosis?? (@aravosis) November 19, 2019
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.
Thursday’s witnesses will be Fiona Hill and David Holmes, the guy who heard Sondland talk to Trump in th Kiev restaurant.
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.
The problem with being in the central time zone is that the east coast can go to hell before I’ve had coffee. While Marie Yovanovitch has been testifying this morning, Trump was tweeting insults at her in real time. For example,
Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019
Minutes later, Schiff interrupted questions from Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman to ask Yovanovitch about the tweets.
“Would you like to respond to the president’s attack that everywhere you went turned bad?” Schiff asked after reading parts of the tweets to her.
“I don’t think I have such powers,” Yovanovitch responded. “I actually think that where I served over the years, I and others, have demonstrably made things better.”
Schiff then turned Trump’s motivation in sending the tweets. “What effect do you think that has on other witnesses willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?”
“It’s very intimidating,” Yovanovitch said.
Schiff added, “Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”
Some of you probably saw this; let’s just say I’m not a morning person. MAGA-ites won’t care, but Normals who might be on the fence about impeaching Trump (how can anyone still be on the fence?) are probably not thinking warm, fuzzy thoughts about Trump right now.
See also Trump blows Republicans’ entire Yovanovitch hearing strategy with a single tweet. I can imagine Trump’s lawyers pounding on the bathroom door, yelling DROP THAT CELLPHONE!
Republicans pounced on the inconsistencies to try to discredit Mr. Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and Trump campaign donor who had no diplomatic experience before the president installed him as an ambassador.
“I think that if Ambassador Sondland’s credibility is questioned, it makes it really hard for the Democrats to impeach, because everything is based on Ambassador Sondland,” said Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina.
During a rally on Thursday night in Louisiana, Mr. Trump appeared to be trying to do just that. He read aloud from a news article that included new remarks by Ukraine’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, who said Mr. Sondland had never told him or other officials he knew of a connection between the military aid and the investigations.
So, obviously, they’re throwing Sondland under the bus to discredit his eventual testimony about the phone call. I understand he’s scheduled for Wednesday.
I’m not going to predict what Sondland will do, however. He’s an amateur. I don’t know what motivated him to buy a pass into Trump World, but it probably wasn’t patriotism. But did he notice that Roger Stone was convicted on all counts?
I’ve been reflecting on how how much it must suck to be Gordon Sondland right now. Sondand is a college dropout who made tons of money in real estate and hotels, and eventually he co-founded a bank. He got Trump’s attention by donating $1 million to his inaugural committee. When he was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to the European Union, he appeared to have bought his way into the Masters of the Universe Big Leagues. But now he looks more like a poor schmuck who is in over his head.
The story told by Ambassador William B. Taylor in the open hearing yesterday described Sondland making a call to Trump on a cell phone in a restaurant. Trump was either on speakerphone or was yelling loud enough that everyone at the table could hear him. This phone call, if corroborated, would establish a direct link between Trump and the push to have Ukraine President Zelensky investigate the Bidens. This is kind of a big deal.
Republicans did point out that Taylor’s story — which he got from one of his aides — was second-hand. But then there’s this —
BREAKING: AP source says second US embassy official overheard President Trump’s call with EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland about need for Ukraine investigations. https://t.co/wRKnJOJn48
— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) November 14, 2019
Further, it seems to me that if this call were made on an unsecure cell phone in a public restaurant, it might be possible to obtain a record of it without having to go through Bill Barr. Further, the staffer in question, David Holmes, will testify to a closed door hearing tomorrow. One assumes that if his information seems solid, he’ll be invited to a public hearing.
And, sooner or later, Sondland is going to be asked about it. Keep in mind that the federal statute of limitations for perjury is five years, and if convicted a person could serve up to five years in prison. If he has to testify under oath about that phone call, what will he do? He can always claim he doesn’t remember making the phone call, but no one in the world is going to believe that. If the phone call story is true, Sondland can tell the truth about it and go back to his cushy billionaire life, sadder but wiser. If he chooses to lie for Trump, his future will depend on Trump’s re-election.
We’ll see soon enough how smart this guy really is. His using a cellphone in a restaurant to call Trump tells us that maybe he’s not that smart. But while he’s not exactly Brutus struggling with whether to joint the assasins, and Trump sure ain’t Julius Caesar, Sondland might think on these lines:
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
If all you knew about the Ukraine scandal was what was said in yesterday’s hearing, you might think Republicans made some points. One, that Zelensky said he didn’t feel pressured; and two, that the funds were released without Zelensky announcing an investigation of the Bidens. But we know from the released transcripts of the closed hearings that future witnesses will have those points covered.
In Other News
Matt Bevin has conceded in Kentucky. What I expected.
Trump is preparing to take over private land to build his wall. This could get … interesting.
Two are dead, at least four are wounded in California school shooting.
Stuff to Read
How America Ends (deep)
Tomorrow the open hearings begin. Shit will get real, I hope.
The headline of this post was triggered by a Byron York column headlined “ANALYSIS: Democrats have a Colonel Vindman problem” in the Washington Examiner. I’ll let you search for it if you really want to read it, but it’s full of York’s usual misdirections and dissembling. Just be assured that Lt. Col. Vindman is not a problem.
However, Trump is a problem, on several levels. The first and most obvious problem is that he’s a walking cesspool of ignorance and corruption, and by now anyone who still supports him is (a) being paid to do so; (b) dependant on the Republican party for current or future employment; (c) a hard-core partisan wingnut suffering massive cognitive dissonance; and/or (d) dumber than a bag of hammers. There are no other explanations. Byron York probably is several of the above.
But another problem is that Trump is both undisciplined and extremely stupid as well as corrupt. Those traits got him into the mess he’s in, and they are already undermining efforts to save him. Greg Sargent writes,
Sorta like when he openly confessed to Lester Holt that he was going to fire James Comey, anyway, because of “this Russia thing.” He’s too stupid to understand what is or isn’t out of bounds, and he doesn’t have the sense to know when to keep his mouth shut.
Republicans circulated an 18-page memo laying out their strategy for countering arguments for impeachment. A big part of that strategy is to focus on Trump’s state of mind — seriously — which allegedly was overcome with tender concern for generic corruption in Ukraine, not the Bidens specifically. “The [Republican talking points] memo repeatedly casts doubt on whether Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate Biden,” Greg Sargent writes, in spite of the fact that in the so-called transcript of the July 25 phone call released by the White House, Trump clearly asked President Zelensky to investigate Hunter and Joe Biden. (See page 4.)
The Republicans also plan to argue that the Ukrainians didn’t know the military aid had been held up, a claim already refuted by testimony in the closed hearings. They also point out that the aid was released to Ukraine without any conditions being met, but we’ve learned recently that the State Department went ahead and released it on John Bolton’s order, apparently without Trump’s permission, before Trump says it was released.
The Republicans’ high-minded talking points — with footnotes, even — are pretty much shredded on arrival. Expect Jordan, Gaetz, et al. to do everything possible to turn the hearings into a circus. Because that’s all they’ve got.
This is a hoot. Junior went to UCLA to promote his new book, Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us. I take it he hired Ann Coulter to write the title, if not the rest of it. Anyway, he was heckled and booed off the stage — by right wing hecklers. The young, right-wing audience that filled the venue grew angry when they were told Junior and his girlfriend (why was she on the stage?) were not taking questions.
At the Sunday event, Trump Jr. appeared to think the first shouts of dissent had come from left-leaning counterprotesters.
See also this account of the episode at The Guardian. Junior and girlfriend left the stage after twenty minutes; they were scheduled for two hours.
Yesterday on Meet the Press, the ever-useless Chuck Todd smiled and nodded at inane right-wing talking points from Rand Paul. Paul actually argued that pressuring Ukraine to announce a public investigation of Trump’s political opponent was no different from Joe Biden’s carrying out U.S. foreign policy to get Ukraine to oust a corrupt prosecutor. Then Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) pushed back.
— Jesse Lee (@JesseCharlesLee) November 10, 2019
Over the weekend the New York Times published a long story about exactly what Biden was doing in Ukraine, and why. The short answer, “his job.”
Mr. Giuliani has claimed, without evidence, that Mr. Biden’s push to oust Mr. Shokin was an attempt to block scrutiny of his son’s actions. In fact, Mr. Biden was just one of many officials calling for Mr. Shokin to go. Good-government activists were protesting his actions in the streets, as were eurozone power players like Christine Lagarde, then the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, along with Ms. Nuland and Senate Republicans.
“The position regarding getting rid of Shokin was not Vice President Biden’s position; it was the position of the U.S. government, as well as the European Union and international financial institutions,” said Amos J. Hochstein, former coordinator for international energy affairs at the State Department and one of the few administration officials who directly confronted Mr. Biden at the time about his son.
Biden was carrying out U.S. foreign policy by prodding Ukraine — awash in civil unrest and corruption, getting plundered by oligarchs and under Russian assault — to undertake reforms to bring it in line with Western democratic ideals, as a bulwark against Russia.
Monday will be the 101st anniversary of the Armistice and the 100th anniversary of the first November 11 parade in New York City, called either the Armistice Day Parade (correctly) or Veterans Day Parade (meh). Anyway, I am just now finding out that Trump has agreed to attend the parade and is expected to address the crowd at the beginning of it, which I find absolutely astonishing. If he didn’t like being booed at Nationals Park, what does he expect a crowd of New Yorkers to do?
The address is supposed to happen in or near the small Madison Square Park in the Flatiron district. I haven’t read any further explanations. I’m betting money that the area will be blocked off for considerable distance, and only pre-approved people, e.g. Trump supporters, will be allowed anywhere near the speaker’s podium. I hope the parade itself goes well.
In other news — the elites of American politics are all excited about Michael Bloomberg’s possible entry into the Democratic nomination contest. The rest of the country is looking on and thinking, WTF? I agree with George Conway that if Bloomberg really wants to be useful, he should buy Fox News.
The latest in the threat by Matt Bevin to steal the Kentucky election:
The Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes, declared Andy Beshear the winner of the election late Tuesday night, and when this was reported on CNN Matt Bevin blew a fuse. He accused Grimes of fraud and threw around accusations of voter fraud and “reports” — mysteriously, no one else heard them — of people being turned away from voting.
You might remember that Alison Lundergan Grimes is a Democrat who ran for Mitch McConnell’s Senate seat in 2014. If only. Anyway, one of her functions is to head the state board of elections. The board itself has eight members, four Republicans and four Democrats. As I understand it, once votes are certified by counties those results to go the state board, which then makes the results official. The counties were required to submit their certified forms by this Friday, so it probably is the case that the election hadn’t been officially certified when Grimes declared Beshear the winner.
Bevin requested a recanvass, which will take place November 14. According to CNN,
A recanvass is a reprint of the receipts from voting machines to check for reporting or clerical errors. After ballots are scanned, the machine tabulates those votes and prints out a receipt with the total.During a recanvass, those receipts will be reprinted and checked again to make sure they were reported properly. It’s not uncommon for some clerical errors to occur during the initial vote tabulation.All 120 counties would then fill out and submit the same certification forms again with the recanvass results.
My office has received concerns regarding a call being circulated. This call is not in conjunction with the Kentucky Secretary of State’s Office!
— Alison L. Grimes (@AlisonForKY) November 8, 2019
It also appears that Republicans in the legislature have had second thoughts about giving the governor’s seat back to Bevin.
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers believes Gov. Matt Bevin should concede his loss to Democrat Andy Beshear if next week’s recanvass doesn’t significantly change the vote totals.
“It’s time to call it quits and go home, say he had a good four years and congratulate Gov.-elect Beshear,” Stivers said in a brief Friday interview at the Capitol.
Voiding an election just because they can probably still looks bad even to Republicans. The process on the books for deciding a contested election hasn’t been used since 1899, and according to precedent involves armed militias and the assasination of one of the candidates. So there’s some understandble reluctance to go that route.