Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Orange Meltdown, Con't

Today, we were supposed to have a deposition by Pentagon official Laura Cooper about how Trump delayed military aid to the Ukraine unless President Volodymyr Zelensksy announced a corruption investigation into Hunter Biden. 

Laura Cooper -- the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia -- is set to appear even though the Defense Department told Congress that it would not comply with a House subpoena to provide documents related to the freezing of US security aid to Ukraine
Cooper is currently believed to be voluntarily appearing before the three House committees leading the Democratic impeachment inquiry and the Pentagon has not yet sought to block her testimony. She will be accompanied by a personal lawyer, according to defense officials. 
As a top official overseeing US policy towards Ukraine, Cooper would have been involved with overseeing US military assistance to Kiev, assistance such as the $250 million aid package that was frozen by the Trump Administration despite the Pentagon's recommendation that it go forward. 
What motivated the White House to order that freeze has formed a central part of the impeachment inquiry into Trump. 

And I say supposed to hear from Cooper because a couple dozen House Republicans, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, stormed the hearing in a banana republic playbook move ordered by Donald Trump.

A protest by a group of Republican lawmakers temporarily put on hold the impeachment hearing testimony of a Pentagon official who oversaw military assistance to Ukraine.

About two dozen GOP House members, who are objecting to the closed-door hearings led by Democrats, barged into the secure hearing room, some of them “shouting, screaming” at the “injustice being done to the president,” said Democratic Representative Gerald Connolly, a member of the Oversight panel.

“It’s like a protest movement,” said Lacy Clay of Missouri, a Democrat on the Oversight Committee, who likened the protest to a sit-in and said the GOP members remained inside.

Only members of the three House committees -- Democrats and Republicans -- are allowed in the “sensitive compartmented information facility,” known as a SCIF. Access is limited to people with security clearances to discuss classified material that isn’t open to public view.

“We kept demanding they let us in, and they said no,” said Representative Debbie Lesko, an Arizona Republican.

Republicans have repeatedly complained that the closed-door hearings are unfair to Trump. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff has said that following the initial investigation stage, he plans to call some of the witnesses back for public hearings.

Connolly said the Republicans entered the secure area and walked into the room where a Pentagon official, Laura Cooper, was scheduled to testify. The GOP members were carrying electronic devices, which are barred from the secure area, he said.

“That SCIF is used by Congress for a lot of highly classified purposes. To compromise that to make a point is deeply troubling,” said Connolly. “They literally stormed the door when it was open.”

To recap, House Republicans broke the law by doing this.  And of course, Donald Trump blessed the move and coordinated it with House GOP minority leader Kevin McCarthy.
Trump had advance knowledge and supported a protest by Republicans who told him they planned to barge into a secure hearing room on Capitol Hill where Democrats are holding impeachment testimonies, according to four people familiar with the matter.

Trump on Tuesday met with about 30 House Republicans at the White House to talk about the situation in Syria and the impeachment inquiry. During a nearly two-hour meeting, which focused mostly on the impeachment inquiry, lawmakers shared their plans to storm into the secure room, the people said. Trump supported the action, saying he wanted the transcripts released because they will exonerate him, the people said.

So Cooper's deposition has been delayed for who knows how long, Trump basically ordered literal obstruction of justice by disrupting legal testimony against him, and Republicans now know they can bring everything to a crashing halt.  And all this happened as Nancy Pelosi was in Baltimore for her older brother Tommy's funeral.

If you had any doubts that yesterday's testimony from Bill Taylor was the smoking impeachment gun, this response proves it was.  Democrats say they will continue the deposition later today, so we'll see what the Insane Clown Caucus does in response.

The Reach To Impeach, Con't

Yesterday's back-breaking testimony by acting Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor was so utterly daming that even the awful John Podhoretz is freely admitting that Donald Trump's impeachment is now assured.

There were three defenses of Trump following the revelations of the “whistleblower” and the phone-call transcript of the conversation between the presidents of the United States and Ukraine. The first was that he is only interested in investigating corruption relating to the 2016 election. The second is that even though Trump himself said he wanted the Ukranian to do him a favor, there was no quid pro quo. The third is that the only thing Trump was trading for was a White House visit, which is no great shakes. 
There’s no need to talk about the “whistleblower” and his findings any longer, and there’s no need for the whistleblower to be heard any further. We have a veteran U.S. diplomat on the record saying that a Trump intimate told him Trump was holding up Congressionally authorized and appropriated military aid to Ukraine because he wanted a public statement from the Zelensky government that it was investigating Joe Biden’s son. 
Taylor said this of a September 1 phone call with Gordon Sondland, our ambassador to the European Union about the $275 million in U.S. security assistance to Ukraine as well as a possible meeting between Trump and Ukranian president Zelensky: 
“Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelenskyy was dependent on a public announcement of investigations—in fact, Ambassador Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelenskyy ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.” 
So that’s it. Unless Trump and Sondland deny this, and offer evidence that Taylor is wrong or lying, we now have contemporaneous confirmation that the president intended to hold up military aid to the Ukranians to secure domestic political advantage. 
That’s the ballgame. That’s impeachment. In doing this Trump was contravening U.S. law, which does not give the president the right to deny Ukraine the money appropriated by Congress for Ukraine
Whether what Trump does obliges the Senate to remove him from the presidency will be up to Republicans in the Senate to decide at the trial that will follow what I think is the now-inevitable impeachment. The fact that the aid to Ukraine has in fact gone through despite Trump’s illegitimate temporary suspension may be the straw the GOP will grasp to prevent his conviction in that trial. But that’s no defense of Trump’s actions. If I’m right, they will, in effect, have to concede the wrongdoing and say it is too minor to lead to such an extreme sanction. So Trump won’t be the first president to be removed from office. He will, however, be the third to be impeached. And, as I said, that will be bad enough.

The shift from "will he be impeached" to "will he leave office" is no small feat, but that's where I think we're at this week, a corner turned and a path now chosen.  If Bill Barr has some surprise sealed indictments of Obama-era intelligence officials up his sleeve, we'll see them soon, I'd reckon.


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Last Call For Ukraine In The Membrane

Today's impeachment inquiry deposition from Acting US Ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, is the most devastating yet to the Trump regime, and essentially confirms everything we've been discussing here at ZVTS for the last four weeks.

The senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine said Tuesday he was told release of military aid was contingent on public declarations from Ukraine that it would investigate the Bidens and the 2016 election, contradicting President Trump’s denial that he used the money as leverage for political gain.

Acting ambassador William B. Taylor Jr. testified behind closed doors in the House impeachment probe of Trump that he stands by his characterization that it was “crazy” to make the assistance contingent on investigations he found troubling.

Upon arriving in Kyiv last spring he became alarmed by secondary diplomatic channels involving U.S. officials that he called “weird,” Taylor said, according to a copy of his lengthy opening statement obtained by The Washington Post.

Taylor walked lawmakers through a series of conversations he had with other U.S. diplomats who were trying to obtain what one called the “deliverable” of Ukrainian help investigating Trump’s political rivals.

Taylor said he spoke to Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the U.S. envoy to the European Union.

“During that phone call, Amb. Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President [Volodymyr] Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election,” Taylor said in the statement.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter had been a board member of Burisma, a large Ukrainian gas company. Joe Biden is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

“Amb. Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations — in fact, Amb. Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance,’” Taylor told House investigators.

He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.’

Taylor was called to testify before committees considering whether to impeach Trump because he had raised alarms about Trump administration interactions with Zelensky.

It was just the most damning testimony I’ve heard,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said in an interview partway into Taylor’s testimony.

Donald Trump wanted Ukrainian President Zelensky to publicly announce an investigation into Joe Biden's son in order to get military aid approved by Congress.

Straight up quid pro quo.  Straight up mobster shakedown.  Straight up impeachable.  Giuliani is the side show, the undercard.  This is the acting ambassador to Ukraine saying the quid pro quo was real and demanded by Donald Trump himself.

The NY Times lays it out in six key statements:

1. Taylor described an explicit quid pro quo.
2. The White House had two channels on Ukraine policy: official and unofficial. The unofficial one included Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer.
3. Taylor was told Ukraine had to ‘pay up’ before the president would ‘sign a check.’
4. Taylor said Ukrainians would die at the hands of Russian led-forces as a result of the delay in American military aid.
5. Bolton fought the effort to hijack the policy toward Ukraine and Pompeo did not respond directly to complaints, Taylor said.
6. Demands were made for secrecy and career officials, including Taylor, were left in the dark about key events.

Gordon Sondland?  He's getting the Manafort special after this.  I hope he enjoys a box.  This is an outright engineered conspiracy from step one.  The goal was to get Zelensky to announce Biden was being investigated in order to help Trump win, and it was 100% pay-for-play with the billions in military aid.

And yes, I'm predicting it now after this.

Donald Trump is going to be impeached.


Stay tuned.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

The Trump regime continues to be breathtakingly, cartoonishly evil from the word go and the country will not survive a second term intact as America.

President Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale reportedly discussed using facial recognition technology at Trump’s campaign rallies to analyze reactions from supporters in event crowds, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Parscale discussed the move with political operatives, but he was told by at least one company that the technology is not reliable yet, according to people familiar with the conversations, the Journal reported.

A campaign spokesperson denied that Parscale ever pursued the technology.

The Trump administration has utilized other technology at campaign rallies, including collecting millions of phone numbers, email addresses and other personal information from rally attendants when they register for tickets or sign up for text alerts.

The Trump team reportedly uses the data to look up the rally attendees’ political registrations and the elections in which they have voted. They cross-reference it with the data on the attendee’s consumer habits, which is collected by the Republican Party to forecast how likely each attendee is to vote in 2020 and who they may support campaign officials told the Journal.

That's bad enough, and today's impeachable offense:

The Journal also reported that Trump himself lobbied to bring cabinet members to his June rally in Orlando, Florida. The outlet said that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney warned the president about potential violations of the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from participating in political activities under their official titles.

Trump responded “I’m in charge of the Hatch Act” in a meeting with top aides and accused Mulvaney of being “weak,” according to the Journal.

"The enforcement of the law is whatever I say it is, and it doesn't apply to me" should again, be the immediate end of this regime, but of course it's normal behavior for the Chief Executive now, isn't it?  Oh, and "weak" Mulvaney is reportedly being replaced soon by either Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin or WH Advisor Kellyanne Conway.

Fun times all around.

The Fight For Oversight Might Be Right Slight

With the death of Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is looking to quickly name a new House Oversight and Reform Committee chair in order to continue the House's work on the Trump impeachment inquiry, but that still means some long-time, powerful Democrats are going to be passed over for arguably the strongest committee gavel in the House.

In any other year, the race to lead the House Oversight and Reform Committee would be a full-out caucus brawl. But amid the Democrats’ impeachment push, it could end up being a coronation.

Passed over for the top Oversight post nearly a decade ago, New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney could soon become the panel’s permanent chairwoman and a leading face of Democrats’ impeachment probe.

Maloney, the panel’s most senior Democrat, was tapped last week as interim head after the unexpected death of the beloved chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). A handful of other Democrats both on and off the committee have been floated as potential replacements since then, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Reps. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.).

But several House Democrats are quietly signaling they’re hoping to avoid a messy public grab for the chairmanship that would divert attention away from their impeachment probe and spotlight long-festering fissures within the caucus. And that could put Maloney in prime position to assume the gavel, according to lawmakers and aides.

“Obviously, no one is going to be able to fill the shoes of Elijah Cummings,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who is in his second term on the panel, said Monday, without expressing support for a specific member. “I think what’s important in the position is that they’re also going to be able to work closely with [House Intelligence Committee Chairman] Adam Schiff and with the speaker.”

Democrats must hold an election for the chairmanship within 30 days of the vacancy, according to the caucus rules. But no public announcements on timing are expected until after Cummings’ funeral services at the end of this week.

The opening on the Oversight panel puts Democrats in a difficult position: multiple lawmakers and aides acknowledge that the committee lacks a deep bench of battle-hardened lawmakers ready to take on Trump.

But most also realize that a caucus-wide contest could expose ugly divisions across generational and racial lines — drowning out the Democratic Party’s message on impeachment in what could be the final weeks of their inquiry.

Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus have privately said they are willing to accept Maloney, even if it means losing one of their five chairmanships. But if anyone else wins the post — jumping over two of their own members — “all hell’s gonna break loose,” one aide said.

We'll see.  Pelosi's pretty shrewd and Maloney is already interim chair, and she thought she had the ranking member position sewn up nine years ago with Charlie Rangel's backing, but the CBC indeed backed Cummings and he won the post.  If Pelosi dumps her, it's going to get nasty.

She won't, though.  Too smart.  Maloney will be fine.


Monday, October 21, 2019

Last Call For Trump State TV

As Greg Sargent discusses, FOX News is Trump State TV and his personal propaganda network, and if it was shut down, America would be a much nicer place.

A new study just out from the Public Religion Research Institute sheds light on this dynamic in a remarkable way: It shows that rank-and-file Republicans who watch Fox are far more loyal to Trump than those who do not.

The poll, which surveyed more than 2,000 Americans, finds that an astonishing 55 percent of Republicans who watch Fox News as their primary news source say there is almost nothing Trump could do to lose their approval. By contrast, only 29 percent of Republicans who don’t cite Fox as their primary source say this.

What’s more, 98 percent of Fox-citing Republicans oppose impeaching and removing Trump -- opposition that’s “essentially unanimous,” as PRRI puts it. By contrast, 90 percent of non-Fox-citing Republicans oppose impeaching and removing him --
which is overwhelmingly high, but suggests that among this group, at least, Trump could suffer losses on the margins as the inquiry turns up worse revelations.

And here’s another real doozy: In response to my inquiry, PRRI tells me that 71 percent of Fox-citing Republicans strongly approve of Trump, while only 39 percent of non-Fox-citing Republicans strongly approve of him.

“The numbers show that Republicans who watch Fox News tend to be much more pro-Trump,” Natalie Jackson, the research director for PRRI, told me. “Fox seems to be a powerful vehicle for Trump support.”

Of Republicans overall, 44 percent say Fox is their primary source -- meaning we’re talking about a very large chunk of the GOP base. “What Fox is putting out there is really impacting Republicans’ opinions,” Jackson said.

On impeachment, Fox News figures have put out nonstop disinformation. They regularly claim the inquiry is invalid absent a full House vote (which is baseless); that Trump did nothing wrong in the Ukraine scandal (he pressured a foreign leader to help him rig our election by investigating potential opponent Joe Biden); that the whistleblower has been discredited (his complaint perfectly anticipated what Trump actually did); and that Biden did the same or worse (which is based on a fabricated narrative).

It’s difficult to say whether Republicans watch Fox because they’re already in lockstep with Trump, or whether they’re inclined that way because of what Fox tells them. But these things seem to reinforce one another -- and that may prove a significant factor in keeping GOP lawmakers in line behind him.

“His core constituency seems to be these Fox-watching Republicans,” Jackson told me, adding that such strong numbers among those voters mean that “Republicans in Congress are going to be less likely to turn against Trump.”

Of course, some GOP lawmakers will remain behind Trump because they actively approve of his efforts in this matter. But this is probably related to the Fox effect as well. Trump has adopted the unabashed posture that demanding the sham investigation of Biden is the affirmatively correct thing to do under the circumstances, and some GOP lawmakers are with him on this.

Fox is pushing similar messages -- Trump is absolutely within his authority to call for an investigation of Biden, the truly corrupt figure in this situation; Trump is the real victim here (of the “deep state”). This hermetically sealed off universe has created a space in which Republicans are backing Trump because he’s only done right.

It's a wonder that impeachment has gotten this far, frankly.  Nixon never would have resigned if FOX had been around, and Trump has used it to build an army of racist assholes to keep him in power.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

Donald Trump finally found the one criminal, unconstitutional, impeachable act the GOP couldn't enable him on: naming his own Doral resort in Florida as the site for next year's G-7 summit on Thursday.  The move blew up in his face so badly that he abandoned it Saturday night.  The Washington Post:

Trump blamed his G-7 reversal on critics, saying on Twitter that his decision to scrap plans for a summit at the Doral club was “based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility.”

But behind closed doors, several aides and allies said, Trump changed his mind in response to pressure and frustration from his own party.

In the month since Democrats announced their impeachment inquiry, Republicans have struggled to offer a coherent response. With no White House war room, GOP lawmakers have seized on process-related responses.

At the same time, they’re being asked to defend the president’s erratic approach to policymaking, including his abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. troops and abandon Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria. That announcement was roundly condemned by Republicans, including some of his staunchest defenders. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), in a rare public rebuke of Trump, wrote a withering op-ed in The Washington Post on Friday, just days after 129 House Republicans backed a resolution criticizing the president’s move.

Trump’s decision to host next year’s G-7 meeting at his private golf club only increased the anxiety among GOP lawmakers, some of whom have grown weary of having to develop new talking points almost daily.

Privately, and occasionally in public, several Republicans said they were not prepared to defend the president from charges that he was engaged in self-dealing on the G-7 site selection.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) said Friday that Trump should avoid even the appearance of impropriety that comes with holding a global summit at his private property. “I think that would be better if he would not use his hotel for this kind of stuff,” he said.

Rooney, who announced his retirement the day after his comments, also said he was considering backing Trump’s impeachment over his handling of Ukraine policy.

Trump has been closely watching Republicans and their comments about impeachment, according to one administration official. The president was told repeatedly his G-7 decision made it more difficult to keep Senate Republicans in a unified front against impeachment proceedings, the official said. Before he changed course, Trump had waved off concerns from advisers who said hosting world leaders at his club would not play well.

The NY Times confirmed the story as well, and the speed at which both papers had these insider accounts by Sunday night tells you just how serious this is.

By late Saturday afternoon, Mr. Trump had made his decision, but he waited to announce the reversal until that night in two tweets that were separated by a break he took to watch the opening of Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News program.

“I thought I was doing something very good for our country by using Trump National Doral, in Miami, for hosting the G-7 leaders,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter before again promoting the resort’s amenities. “But, as usual, the Hostile Media & their Democrat Partners went CRAZY!”

Mr. Trump added, “Therefore, based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility, we will no longer consider Trump National Doral, Miami, as the Host Site for the G-7 in 2020.”

Mr. Trump suggested as a possibility Camp David, the rustic, official presidential retreat that Mr. Mulvaney had denigrated as an option when he announced the choice of Doral. But Mr. Mulvaney said the president was candid in his disappointment.

The president’s reaction “out in the tweet was real,” Mr. Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The president isn’t one for holding back his feelings and his emotions about something. He was honestly surprised at the level of pushback.”

Mr. Trump’s unhappiness may also extend to Mr. Mulvaney, who at his Thursday news conference — whose intended subject was the summit hotel choice — essentially acknowledged that the president had a quid pro quo in mind in discussions with Ukrainian officials.

But advisers to Mr. Trump were stunned. The president has frequently expressed unhappiness with Mr. Mulvaney to others, and he recently reached out to Nick Ayers, a former aide to Vice President Mike Pence, to see if he had interest in returning, according to two people close to the president. Mr. Ayers is unlikely to return to Washington, but the conversation speaks to Mr. Trump’s mindset at a time when he is being urged by some advisers to make a change, and several people close to the president said Mr. Mulvaney did not help himself in the past week.

Mr. Mulvaney conceded on Fox News that this was all avoidable. “It’s not lost on me that if we made the decision on Thursday” not to proceed with the Doral, “we wouldn’t have had the news conference on Thursday regarding everything else, but that’s fine,” Mr. Mulvaney said. At another point, he acknowledged his press briefing was not “perfect.”

Other than that unfortunate press conference, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

We've reached the point now where we know that there is a limit to how many Republicans will follow Trump over the cliff.  It took nearly three years and a brazenly impeachable crime committed on live television in order to do it, but there is a limit.  It's the first actual glimmer of hope in a long time, frankly.

Up until now, there was no bottom to the depths of which the GOP would sink to cover for Trump.  Now?  We've found it.  It's covered in rhinoceros crap and under 75 feet of hydrochloric acid, but the bottom is there.

And if there's a bottom, it means that maybe we can finally get rid of the asshole.  Will Bunch:

My rough estimate is that it will ultimately take the involvement of about 50 GOP members of Congress to turn things around and bring this national nightmare to its rightful climax. Right now, a narrow majority of Americans support the president’s impeachment and removal from office, but a real sense of justice and momentum would come from gaining a sliver of Republican votes for impeachment in the House — maybe 30 or so.

Those 30 votes would mean a solid majority for charging Trump — say 260-175 or so — but more importantly that would certainly persuade some Senate Republicans to support removal. How many? If every Democrat backed Trump’s ouster, it would still take 20 Republican senators to reach the necessary 67 votes. That would mean the group that’s so far made only measured critiques of our unworthy president (Romney, Sasse, Murkowski) would need to team up with the politically vulnerable in 2020 (Collins, Ernst, etc.) to oppose the president. But only 66 votes out of 100 and Trump can coolly put the smoking gun back in its holster and strut down Fifth Avenue knowing he got away with it.

There's a theory that if enough GOP senators abstain on the final vote to convict, that the remaining Democrats could be enough to get a two-thirds vote.

This rule could become relevant in a variety of ways. The most significant is the number of Republicans actually required to “jump the fence,” as Democrats hope. Twenty Republicans is a tall order: Even for Republicans who are shielded from reelection in 2020, a vote to convict Trump is obviously hazardous. If a few Republicans didn’t appear, that would reduce the number of Republicans required to vote with Democrats.

There’s also a more stark scenario. Recently, former Senator Jeff Flake speculated that at least 30 Republican senators would cast their vote for impeachment against Trump—but only if it were held on a secret ballot. (Flake went further, suggesting the number might be as high as 35.)

But suppose those 30 senators were seeking a way, as Flake suggested, to remove Trump while avoiding the rage of his base. They might boycott the proceedings—or, when the big day of the vote arrived, mysteriously not show up. With 70 members now present, the number of senators required to convict Trump is no longer 67. It’s 47: exactly the number of seats Democrats and independents currently hold in the Senate

It's the longest of shots.  But at this point, it's better than the zero chance of Trump's removal that I would have told you existed even a few weeks ago.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Trump may be running rampant on 2020 Democratic hopefuls with millions in online disinformation ads, but it's coming at the direct expense of House and Senate races.  Any Republican not named Trump is facing extinction in 2020 and both sides know it.  In the House, the GOP has already given up trying to take the chamber back, and even grouchy scold Josh Kraushaar is admitting that Dems can take back the Senate in 2020.

Four Republican senators were outraised by their Democratic challengers in the third fundraising quarter, with three of them representing battleground states (Iowa, Maine, and Arizona) that Republicans will need to win to maintain power. And in North Carolina, Sen. Thom Tillis raised only $1.2 million, an underwhelming sum for a senator facing a credible primary threat and an expensive general election ahead. All four swing-state senators also are viewed unfavorably by their constituents according to new quarterly Morning Consult polling, underscoring the sudden shift in support away from Republicans. 
In Iowa, Sen. Joni Ernst failed even to hit the million-dollar mark in fundraising, a financial baseline of sorts for senators running for reelection. She was outraised by a Democratic outsider, businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, who raised $1.1 million despite facing a contested Democratic primary and refusing donations from corporate PACs. 
As her fundraising has slowed, Ernst’s support back home has also declined. The Morning Consult tracking poll found Ernst with an underwater job-approval rating of 39/43, with more independents viewing her unfavorably than favorably. That’s a shift from her net-positive job approval over the spring, which stood at 42/38. 
Donald Trump comfortably carried her state in 2016, but since then, Iowa farmers have taken a serious hit from the president’s trade war. Both Gallup and Morning Consult have found his support sinking in the state, with a March Des Moines Register poll showing even 28 percent of Iowa Republicans believing the tariffs have hurt the state’s agribusiness. 
These are all major red flags suggesting Iowa is a much bigger battleground than Republicans anticipated at the beginning of the year. 
The GOP’s outlook in Arizona and North Carolina is also looking gloomier. Both Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina are facing nuisance primary challengers, which makes it harder for the incumbents to consolidate their base. But the more they try to protect their right flank, the tougher it becomes to win over the suburban moderates who decide races in these swing states. 
McSally, who lost last year’s election before being appointed to her seat, trailed Democratic challenger Mark Kelly by 5 points, 46 to 41 percent, in a poll taken in August. She’s been outraised in all three of the fundraising quarters by significant margins—an unusual disadvantage for a sitting senator. She already lags Kelly in campaign cash by nearly $4 million
Tillis holds the lowest approval rating (33 percent) of any sitting senator, according to the Morning Consult survey. A Democratic poll conducted in September found him trailing his little-known Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham, 45 to 43 percent. But before he even faces Cunningham, he’ll have to get past self-funded businessman Garland Tucker in the primary. Tucker has poured $1.2 million of his own money into the campaign—around the same amount Tillis raised in the last three months. Tucker has already been using that money on anti-Tillis campaign ads, forcing the senator to respond in kind. 
Cunningham wasn’t the Democrats’ top recruit, but this race is turning more into a referendum on Tillis. If Cunningham wins the nomination and runs a competent race, Tillis will face major hurdles in winning a second term.
In Maine, a race that Republicans consider the nation’s biggest bellwether, Sen. Susan Collins is suddenly facing a real fight. State House Speaker Sara Gideon raised a whopping $3.2 million in the third quarter, outpacing Collins by more than $1 million. More significantly, Collins’ once-golden image back home has continued to slip, according to the Morning Consult numbers. Her popularity has hit an all-time low in the tracking survey, down to 43/49 job approval. 
Collins has already gone up with an early advertisement, a sign that her team recognizes this race will be the toughest campaign that the senator has faced. 
Here’s the big picture: If Trump doesn’t win a second term, Democrats need to net only three seats to win back the majority. Assuming they can’t hang onto Sen. Doug Jones’ seat in ruby-red Alabama (but hold Sen. Gary Peters’ seat in traditionally blue Michigan), the magic number is four. And when you add Sen. Cory Gardner’s tough race in Colorado to the toss-up list, they’ve got five promising opportunities to defeat Republican senators.

In other words, Dems are in a prime position to flip the Senate now.  Collins, Tillis, Ernst, McSally and Gardner are all in real, real trouble, and defending Trump to the end as they have may very well be their end as well.

I know I'm acting snakebit on Trump's reelection chances, as underestimating the Democratic party's chances to snatch defeat away from the jaws of victory remains the surest way to end up with a second Trump term, especially if there's a third party spoiler that takes 2-4% of the anti-Trump vote away.

But no matter who the Democratic candidate is, nothing will get done as long as Mitch McConnell remains majority leader, and I'm glad to see the Dems taking flipping the Senate seriously.


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Last Call For A Syria's Fold

And GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham has now completely reversed his position on Syria in order to bend the knee to Dear Leader, because he was told to do so.

In an interview with Fox News Channel, Graham said a conversation he had with Trump over the weekend had fueled his optimism that a solution could be reached where the security of Turkey and the Kurds was guaranteed and fighters from Islamic State contained.

“I am increasingly optimistic that we can have some historic solutions in Syria that have eluded us for years if we play our cards right,” Graham said.

Graham said Trump was prepared to use U.S. air power over a demilitarized zone occupied by international forces, adding that the use of air power could help ensure Islamic State fighters who had been held in the area did not “break out.”

Senator Jim Inhofe, a Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Saturday that Trump understood the need for the United States to maintain air power in the region.

“The U.S. must retain air power to keep the pressure on ISIS, prevent our adversaries Russia and Iran from exploiting this situation and protect our partners on the ground,” he said in a statement. ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State.

Graham also said he believed the United States and Kurdish forces long allied with Washington could establish a venture to modernize Syrian oil fields, with the revenue flowing to the Kurds. “President Trump is thinking outside the box,” Graham said of Trump’s thinking on oil.

The president appreciates what the Kurds have done,” Graham added. “He wants to make sure ISIS does not come back. I expect we will continue to partner with the Kurds in Eastern Syria to make sure ISIS does not re-emerge.”

So now the reality is "We helped the Syrian Kurds by abandoning them to the tender mercies of Assad and Erdogan" because it's "outside the box".  And we'll "continue to partner with them" because I guess we figure they have no choice or something.

Lovely arrangement, yes?

And the Republican opposition to Trump's Syria debacle vanishes like a fart in a tornado.

Trump's Tech Tall Tale Tornado

Donald Trump is drowning right now in his own criminality, under a quadrillion tons of pigeons coming home to roost and facing impeachment, but the reality is he most likely won't be removed from office, will remain the GOP's candidate for 2020, and he already is burying 2020 Democrats with the same digital ad dirty tricks that won the election in 2016, and Dems have done absolutely nothing to counter him.

On any given day, the Trump campaign is plastering ads all over Facebook, YouTube and the millions of sites served by Google, hitting the kind of incendiary themes — immigrant invaders, the corrupt media — that play best on platforms where algorithms favor outrage and political campaigns are free to disregard facts.

Even seemingly ominous developments for Mr. Trump become fodder for his campaign. When news broke last month that congressional Democrats were opening an impeachment inquiry, the campaign responded with an advertising blitz aimed at firing up the president’s base. 
The campaign slapped together an “Impeachment Poll” (sample question: “Do you agree that President Trump has done nothing wrong?”). It invited supporters to join the Official Impeachment Defense Task Force (“All you need to do is DONATE NOW!”). It produced a slick video laying out the debunked conspiracy theory about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Ukraine that is now at the center of the impeachment battle (“Learn the truth. Watch Now!”). 
The onslaught overwhelmed the limited Democratic response. Mr. Biden’s campaign put up the stiffest resistance: It demanded Facebook take down the ad, only to be rebuffed. It then proceeded with plans to slash its online advertising budget in favor of more television ads. 
That campaigns are now being fought largely online is hardly a revelation, yet only one political party seems to have gotten the message. While the Trump campaign has put its digital operation firmly at the center of the president’s re-election effort, Democrats are struggling to internalize the lessons of the 2016 race and adapt to a political landscape shaped by social media
Mr. Trump’s first campaign took far better advantage of Facebook and other platforms that reward narrowly targeted — and, arguably, nastier — messages. And while the president is now embattled on multiple fronts and disfavored by a majority of Americans in most polls, he has one big advantage: His 2020 campaign, flush with cash, is poised to dominate online again, according to experts on both ends of the political spectrum, independent researchers and tech executives. The difference between the parties’ digital efforts, they said, runs far deeper than the distinction between an incumbent’s general-election operation and challengers’ primary campaigns
The Trump team has spent the past three years building out its web operation. As a sign of its priorities, the 2016 digital director, Brad Parscale, is now leading the entire campaign. He is at the helm of what experts described as a sophisticated digital marketing effort, one that befits a relentlessly self-promoting candidate who honed his image, and broadcast it into national consciousness, on reality television.

The campaign under Mr. Parscale is focused on pushing its product — Mr. Trump — by churning out targeted ads, aggressively testing the content and collecting data to further refine its messages. It is selling hats, shirts and other gear, a strategy that yields yet more data, along with cash and, of course, walking campaign billboards.

“We see much less of that kind of experimentation with the Democratic candidates,” said Laura Edelson, a researcher at New York University who tracks political advertising on Facebook. “They’re running fewer ads. We don’t see the wide array of targeting.”
The Trump campaign, she said, “is like a supercar racing a little Volkswagen Bug

The Dems are betting impeachment will break Trump.  Trump is betting their digital bullshit flood and Russian manipulation ops will win for them again.

There's zero reason to believe Dems will prevail.  None.  Democrats are losing this fight completely and they're only now starting to vaguely realize that no matter who the 2020 candidate is, Trump will have a year-plus head start on them.

If this keeps up, a second Trump term is all but assured and America is through.

Sunday Long Read: Extremely Rural Broadband

Our Sunday Long Read this week recalls that Kentucky's experiment with a statewide program to expand rural broadband turned into a multi-billion dollar disaster after Matt Bevin got through with it.  But as Austin Carr at Bloomberg recounts for us, probably the only state where rural broadband has been a worse deal for taxpayers has been Alaska, whose rural broadband scam by convicted fraudster Elizabeth Pierce was so ridiculous it made Kentucky look brilliant.

When he discovered that the ship’s underwater plow was stuck at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, 50 miles off Alaska’s coast, Frank Cuccio thought of Ernest Shackleton. In October 1915, the British explorer was forced to make a desperate escape from the Antarctic after pack ice and floes crushed his ship, the Endurance. The vessel Cuccio was aboard, the Ile de Batz, had been laying fiber-optic cable along the inhospitable route known as the Northwest Passage. But the Ile de Batz’s 55-ton excavator, which had been cutting a trench for the cable, had dug too deep in the hard-clay seabed. If they didn’t unclench it fast, the ocean surrounding them would soon freeze. “I realized we don’t have time to fool around, or we’re going to get trapped in a Shackleton situation,” Cuccio recalls. “The weather was getting uglier, and other ships had been gone for weeks.”

Cuccio worked for Quintillion Subsea Holdings LLC, a telecommunications startup in Anchorage that was trying to build a trans-Arctic data cable it said would improve web speeds for much of the planet. This idea captivated the public, but by the time the Ile de Batz’s plow got stuck, in September 2017, the company was struggling. Co-founder Elizabeth Pierce had resigned as chief executive officer a couple months earlier amid allegations of fraud. 
Pierce had raised more than $270 million from investors, who had been impressed by her ability to rack up major telecom-services contracts. The problem was that the other people whose names were on those deals didn’t remember agreeing to pay so much—or, in some cases, agreeing to anything at all. An internal investigation and subsequent federal court case would eventually reveal forged signatures on contracts worth more than $1 billion. In a statement about the controversy, a Quintillion spokesman says, “The alleged actions of Ms. Pierce are not aligned with how Quintillion conducts business. Quintillion has been cooperating fully with the authorities.” Pierce, through her lawyer, declined to comment.

The company resolved the Ile de Batz crisis, coordinating with Cuccio and dozens of partner engineers and divers to hoist the plow from the depths. But it’s unclear whether Quintillion’s business will find momentum again. Last week, Pierce began serving a five-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to one count of wire fraud and eight counts of aggravated identity theft. The U.S. Department of Justice has said it believes nearly all the investment capital she secured was acquired fraudulently. The company is trying to repair its reputation while planning the extension of its internet pipeline from Asia to Europe. “I don’t care what Elizabeth’s original plan was,” says George Tronsrue, the company’s interim CEO. “Short of the headlines she grabbed with her bad behavior, she’s irrelevant to Quintillion’s future.”

Much of Pierce’s behavior, though, wasn’t so different from that of other tech founders and CEOs promising financiers vast rewards right over the horizon. A Bloomberg Businessweek review of hundreds of pages of court documents, as well as interviews with three dozen people familiar with Pierce’s Quintillion fraud, suggest that her ability to conjure up a Shackleton-esque vision of achieving the impossible proved as captivating as her forged signatures. “Elizabeth was so committed to making Quintillion successful that she just dreamt all this shit up,” says a former company executive, who, like many sources, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “The question is not why Elizabeth did it, but rather, how did she think she’d get away with it?” 
Arctic fiber has been an entrepreneurial fantasy for decades. Soaring demand for broadband helped drive companies, including Google, Facebook, and, to spend tons on high-speed underwater cables that keep customers watching Netflix and YouTube with minimal delay. But many of those lines run in parallel in the Atlantic and Pacific along well-established ocean routes, leaving the world’s internet vulnerable to earthquakes, sabotage, and other disasters both natural and human-made. A trans-Arctic route would help protect against that while offering a more direct path, potentially making internet speeds much faster. 
From Quintillion’s inception in 2012, Pierce focused her ambitions on her home state of Alaska. The state’s satellite internet was slow and expensive. In the lower 48, connections approaching 1 gigabit per second hover around $70 a month. Rural Alaska customers could pay double that for dial-up speeds. “If you wanted to watch Game of Thrones, you’d be better off getting a friend to record it on a CD and mail it,” says Quintillion engineer Daniel Kerschbaum. 
In theory, this meant a big opportunity, particularly as climate change warmed open more paths for construction in the Arctic. Pierce and her co-founders, who all had experience working at Alaskan telecom companies, figured they could develop faster, fiber-based broadband and then sell it wholesale to local internet service providers. The team spent most of 2013 conducting research, assessing environmental concerns, and negotiating cable routes with indigenous tribes. Even without completing any intercontinental routes, wiring Alaska for fiber would end up requiring 14 ships and 275 government permits and rights-of-way authorizations. “The dream of a Northwest Passage makes sense on paper,” says Tim Stronge, vice president of research at the consulting company TeleGeography. “But it’s so hard to get funding.” 

Not so hard to get funding when you sign billions in fraudulent contracts and create a massive Ponzi scheme using them to pay off other players.  Kentucky's failure was just mismanagement, although a massive mess that Dinosaur Staeve started and Matt Bevin made worse every day of his term.  But Liz Pierce defrauded everyone, everywhere, and it's amazing how she only got five years instead of the fifty she deserved.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Reach To Impeach, Con't

Lawrence Hogan, Sr., the late father of current Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, was the House Judiciary's only Republican who voted to advance all three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon out of committee.  It essentially cost him his House seat and his political career. He famously said about Nixon:

The thing that's so appalling to me is that the President, when this whole idea was suggested to him, didn't, in righteous indignation, rise up and say, 'Get out of here, you're in the office of the President of the United States. How can you talk about blackmail and bribery and keeping witnesses silent? This is the Presidency of the United States.' But my President didn't do that. He sat there and he worked and worked to try to cover this thing up so it wouldn't come to light.

I bring up Hogan, who died in 2017, because the Republican party needs a person like him right now to say the same about Trump. It might...might...have found one.

Rep. Francis Rooney is one of the few Republicans in the House of Representatives who seems open to the impeachment of President Donald Trump
Rooney, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the center of the inquiry, said Friday that he had not yet come to a conclusion on whether the President committed a crime that compels his removal from office, a striking view among House Republicans defensive of Trump. 
The Florida Republican said that Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, confirmed Thursday what Trump had denied, that the President engaged in a quid pro quo with Ukraine. Rooney also said he was eager to learn from the witnesses coming in next week. 
"Every time one of these ambassadors comes and talks, we learn a lot more," the congressman said. 
Rooney is not a typical rank-and-file House Republican. Before winning his first election in 2016, the 65-year-old wealthy businessman's company oversaw construction projects including not only the presidential libraries for both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, and the stadiums for the Texas Rangers, Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans, but the Capitol Visitor's Center, where the witnesses of the investigation dash to enter a secure facility and give their testimonies. He is on now at least his third career, after serving as the US ambassador to the Holy See under the last GOP president. 
He knows that speaking out against Trump may end his career as a Republican in Congress, but he wants to see where the investigation leads. The President has gone after other critics from his own party, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, whom Trump in one Twitter post called "a pompous 'ass.'" He added "#IMPEACHMITTROMNEY" on another. But Rooney doesn't seem to be concerned. 
"What's he going to do to me? He can say bad things but it's -- it just is what it is," said the congressman. "Let's just let the facts speak." 
Rooney did acknowledge that some Republicans might be afraid of being rebuked by the party if they expressed skepticism about the President, saying "it might be the end of things for me...depending on how things go." 
"I didn't take this job to keep it," he said. 

Rooney's still a lifelong Republican and a terrible human being because of it, but in order to get rid of Trump, some Republicans have to come along.  The more who toss him overboard, whether through a cynical redemption arc or enlightened self-interest, the more Trump is in trouble.  To make this all the more interesting, Rooney now says he's retiring.

Expecting Republicans, any Republicans, to do the right thing at this point after enabling Trump's crimes for three years is too much to ask.  But at some point, these bastards are going to want to save themselves at the very least.

We'll see.

It's All About Revenge Now, Con't

Attorney General William Barr has been nearly invisible for the last month or so, except for a speech last week at Notre Dame in which he railed against "secularists" and all but promised that the Justice Department's top priority was to transform America into a white supremacist Christian Dominionist theocracy.

In a speech at University of Notre Dame’s law school Friday, Barr blamed “secularists” and “so-called progressives” for wreaking havoc on American society. Barr’s depiction of a war between the non-religious and people of faith shocked legal experts, who saw Barr’s defense of religious freedom as an assault on the First Amendment’s protection against the government’s establishment of any religion.

This is not decay,” Barr said. “This is organized destruction. Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion & traditional values.” (Barr spent years profiting off of these same industries he is attacking. He served as general counsel at Verizon for eight years, held a had a paid position on the board of Time Warner for nine, and represented telecoms giant GTE in the 1990s.) 
In his address Friday, Barr thundered against what he described as a “moral upheaval.” “Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground,” he said. “Along with the wreckage of the family we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and the deadly drug epidemic.” 
Barr pointed particularly to public schools, according to an account of the speech from the Indianapolis Star. “Ground zero for these attacks on religion are the schools,” Barr said. “To me this is the most serious challenge to religious liberty today.” There is decades of Supreme Court caselaw removing religion from public schools because the First Amendment bans the government from establishing or giving primacy to a religion.

It's terrifying enough for America's top legal officer to spout nonsense about religion in schools and declare separation of church and state to be all but dead.  But first, it seems his investigation into the Mueller probe is much further along than previously thought.

Federal prosecutors reviewing the origins of the Russia investigation have asked witnesses pointed questions about any anti-Trump bias among former F.B.I. officials who are frequent targets of President Trump and about the earliest steps they took in the Russia inquiry, according to former officials and other people familiar with the review.

The prosecutors, led by John H. Durham, the United States attorney in Connecticut, have interviewed about two dozen former and current F.B.I. officials, the people said. Two former senior F.B.I. agents are assisting with the review, the people said.

The number of interviews shows that Mr. Durham’s review is further along than previously known. It has served as a political flash point since Attorney General William P. Barr revealed in the spring that he planned to scrutinize the beginnings of the Russia investigation, which Mr. Trump and his allies have attacked without evidence as a plot by law enforcement and intelligence officials to prevent him from winning the 2016 election.

Closely overseen by Mr. Barr, Mr. Durham and his investigators have sought help from governments in countries that figure into right-wing attacks and unfounded conspiracy theories about the Russia investigation, stirring criticism that they are trying to deliver Mr. Trump a political victory rather than conducting an independent review.

This is the wild card in any impeachment inquiry by the Democrats.  Barr's counter-attack is this move to undermine the Mueller probe and the impeachment inquiry in one fell swoop.  Certainly Republican partisans have visions of dozens of FBI, CIA, and State Department "deep state" agents led off in cuffs for a "huge conspiracy against Donald Trump", arrests that would include former Obama administration officials and "evidence" that would fatally taint the House and Senate investigations as well.

It's a race to see which side can present their case the best, I fear.  So far the arrests haven't come, and they may never will, Barr may be defeated well before his plan can come to fruition, or maybe he's waiting for the Senate acquittal of Trump to make his move.

But it's definitely in motion.  Of all the Trump regime, Barr is definitely the most dangerous.

Ukraine In The Membrane

One Trump/Ukraine quid pro quo has led to another, it seems, and it's a big one: remember our old Russian fixer friend, Dmitri Firtash?  He's been hiding out in Vienna for years, trying to avoid extradition to the US on conspiracy charges.  He's also the guy behind all the fabricated dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden. Josh Marshall:

As I noted yesterday, material that has been surfacing from The Hill’s ‘opinion’ reporter John Solomon and then echoed by Giuliani seems to originate with one of Ukraine’s richest and most powerful oligarchs who is a former business partner of Paul Manafort and had to flee Ukraine after the overthrow of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. He is in Austria, fighting extradition to the United States to face bribery charges.

His name is Dimtry Firtash.
Viktor Shokin is the ‘fired prosecutor’ at the center of all these stories. As part of Firtash’s effort to avoid extradition from Austria to the United States, he asked Shokin to swear out the affidavit in which Shokin accuses Biden of getting him fired to protect his son Hunter. (There is no evidence any of this happened. There was no investigation of Hunter Biden or the company on whose board he sat at the time Shokin was fired.) 
So to review, former Manafort business partner Firtash asks Shokin to swear out an affidavit in which he accuses Biden. The affidavit quickly gets into the hands of Giuliani and Solomon. And who just recently went to work for Firtash’s legal team? None other than diGenova and Toensing, as reported just this week by the Kyiv Post and other publications
So the duo who we now learned has been working on behalf of the President with Rudy Giuliani to extort the Ukrainian government just signed on to represent the oligarch behind the affidavit in which the disgraced prosecutor says Joe Biden got him fired. And yes, the oligarch who got booted from Ukraine in 2014 and is a former business partner of Paul Manafort.

So, bottom line Giuliani is working with Firtash, and has retained the services of Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, all to create stuff on the Bidens.

Got it?  Good, because it gets much worse.

Associates of a Ukrainian oligarch fighting extradition to the U.S. were working to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden last summer in an effort to get Rudy Giuliani’s help in the oligarch’s legal case, according to three people familiar with the exchanges.

Dmitry Firtash, charged with conspiracy by the U.S. and living in Vienna, shuffled lawyers in July to add Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, vocal supporters of President Donald Trump who had worked with Giuliani. Around that time, some of Firtash’s associates began to use his broad network of Ukraine contacts to get damaging information on Biden, the people said.

DiGenova and Toensing have billed Firtash about $1 million for their work, one of the people said. That includes costs for Lev Parnas, a Giuliani associate, as a translator and important contact, the person said. Parnas was arrested last week along with several associates and accused of conspiring to violate campaign-finance laws.

People working on Firtash’s behalf collected a witness statement from Viktor Shokin, a former Ukrainian prosecutor-general. The statement, dated early September, helped Giuliani renew an assertion that he’d been advancing for months -- that Biden had tried in 2016 to sway Ukrainian politics to help his son. U.S. and Ukrainian officials have disputed Shokin’s account.

Shokin, though, had been promised his statement wouldn’t be made public, according to the people. Giuliani went on to cite it repeatedly, waving it around on cable news as evidence of Biden’s alleged corruption. The Hill and other media outlets provided links to it, with Giuliani later suggesting he had a role in making it public. “This is the affidavit I put out,” he said during a Fox News interview this month.

As a result of the publicity Giuliani generated with Shokin’s statement, two of the people said they believe the odds of the Justice Department dropping the case against Firtash have plummeted, because it would look like a quid pro quo. Others connected to the case agreed.

U.S. lawmakers conducting a presidential impeachment inquiry are bearing down on whether favors were traded for influence. They are examining Giuliani’s efforts to turn up evidence in Ukraine and allegations that the Trump administration withheld crucial aid until the country’s president agreed to investigate the Bidens.

In other words, Firtash cooperated because he expected the Justice Department to drop the case...but then Giuliani double-crossed him by making his false statement public.  On top of that, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the Giuliani associates that tried to flee the country last week when they were arrested, were headed to Vienna in order to meet with Firtash.

Along with Giuliani.

This is going to be fun.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Last Call For But Her Emails

After nearly four years, the internal State Department investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails found that no deliberate wrongdoing occurred.

A multiyear State Department probe of emails that were sent to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s private computer server concluded there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information by department employees, according to a report submitted to Congress this month.

The report appears to represent a final and anticlimactic chapter in a controversy that overshadowed the 2016 presidential campaign and exposed Clinton to fierce criticism that she later cited as a major factor in her loss to President Trump.

In the end, State Department investigators found 38 current or former employees “culpable” of violating security procedures — none involving material that had been marked classified — in a review of roughly 33,000 emails that had been sent to or from the personal computer system Clinton used.

Overall, investigators said, “there was no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.” The report cited “instances of classified information being inappropriately” transmitted, but noted that the vast majority of those scrutinized “were aware of security policies and did their best to implement them.”

The release comes as Trump continues to raise the Clinton email issue to attack Democrats, even as new evidence has emerged of apparent security lapses by senior officials in his own administration.

Diplomats involved in pressuring Ukraine to pursue investigations that would politically benefit Trump used private phones and texting apps to trade messages about their efforts, according to records released by leaders of the House impeachment inquiry.

The State Department probe focused on internal communications that were up to nine years old.

So, that's it.  Four wasted years, three under the Trump regime, and they couldn't find any reason to lock her up.  Of course, it cost her the election anyway, as I've said multiple times, thanks to our worthless media, but she didn't do anything wrong.

Oh well.

The Blue Wall Rises

Democrats are ready to defend their 2018 House gains in Trump districts and they have the resources to win even more in 2020.

Democrats are building a financial bulwark around their House majority that’s going to be tough for Republicans to breach in 2020.

Thirty-three of the 44 most vulnerable House Democrats have stashed an impressive $1 million or more in the bank well before the election year even begins. And their fundraising pace is not slowing down as they gear up to defend the chamber.

Federal Election Commission reports filed this week illustrate Democrats’ formidable advantage: The 44 Democrats in the most competitive seats banked a collective $59 million so far. Nearly 30 raised $500,000 or more in the third quarter, according to a POLITICO analysis of the fundraising filings. And all but six of the so-called “frontliners” have at least half a million more banked than their challengers, if they have any challenger at all.

Last cycle, there were a lot of people talking about this massive Democratic online fundraising as if it was somewhat of an aberration," said Cam Savage, a veteran GOP operative. "I think it’s the new normal.

The GOP is struggling to adapt to a changing landscape; They can no longer dismiss the strong fundraising as an anomaly when it has remained steady throughout the first three quarters of 2019. And while operatives insist the disparity is not insurmountable, Democrats have undoubtedly amassed a head start in a battle that will be waged in suburban districts that lie in the most expensive media markets in the country.

For comparison, only nine the 30 Republican incumbents who lost reelection last November had more than $1 million in the bank after the third quarter of 2017.

Still, top Republican strategists remain undaunted, citing the potential for impeachment backlash to motivate voters and lessen the potency of their opponents’ cash advantage. They acknowledged the Democratic cash influx may continue but brushed aside concerns it would derail their shot at taking back the House.

“Their base is fired up, and ActBlue has done a brilliant job. But I think we’re going to close that gap,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman. “People know it’s going to be a very consequential election so there’s going to be plenty of money moved behind our challengers.”

The GOP isn't giving up of course, but it's about time that Democrats realized that they didn't have to reinvent the wheel every two years either.  And impeachment is going to hurt Trump in the suburbs, not the Dems.

It's starting to come together for Team Blue here.

A Syria's Mistake

Bloomberg's Eli Lake doesn't beat around the bush, calling the phony "ceasefire" deal negotiated by VP Mike Pence and Turkish President Erdogan as "total capitulation" by Trump, and oh yeah, it opens the door to the ethnic cleansing and genocide of millions of Syrian Kurds.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been open about this. Just this week, he outlined his plans: “We will secure the area extending from Manbij to the Iraqi border and then facilitate 1 million Syrian refugees’ return home in the first phase and, later on, the return of 2 million people.”

But this safe zone is an area that is for the most part historically Kurdish. If the Turkish military and its allied militias are allowed to dominate the area, then it is a near certainty that Kurdish civilians will suffer
And while it’s hard to confirm early reports in the fog of war, that appears to be exactly what is happening. New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi tweeted the grisly autopsy report of a murdered Kurdish politician. Public violence like this is meant to send a message that all civilians are targets. In essence, America has agreed to let Turkey solve its Syrian refugee problem by creating a new Kurdish refugee problem
Then there is the message this sends to Erdogan himself. The Turkish leader has humiliated Trump and the U.S. in recent weeks and months. He went ahead with the purchase of a Russian S-400 air defense system this summer, over several U.S. objections, and has faced no sanctions. He ordered his military to violate an earlier safe-haven agreement that to which Turkey had previously agreed. His forces fired artillery on a U.S. outpost last week. And he has metaphorically — and literally, according to the BBC — thrown Trump’s “Don’t be a tough guy” letter into the trash. 
In exchange for this disrespect and petulance, Erdogan got what he has wanted all along. He started a war to create a buffer zone in northern Syria, then got the U.S. to agree that he be allowed to keep it. Trump is even now repeating Erdogan’s talking points, claiming (without evidence) that the Syrian Kurds have launched attacks into Turkey. “In all fairness they’ve had a legitimate problem with it,” Trump said Thursday, referring to the safe zone. “They had to have it cleaned out. But once you start that, it gets to a point where a tremendous amount of bad things can happen.” 
That point has already been reached. Bad things are indeed happening, and will continue to happen. And there’s little reason to believe Trump’s capitulation in Ankara will do much to stop them.

And let's remember, Trump is doing this because Vladimir Putin has told him to do it.  We're firmly on the side of Putin, Erdogan, Bashar al-Assad, and other dictators and strongman.

America is no longer the good guys, folks.

And the rest of the world will eventually stop tolerating us.


Thursday, October 17, 2019

Last Call For Making A Buck

President Trump has awarded the 2020 Group of Seven summit of world leaders to his private company, scheduling the summit for June at his Trump Doral golf resort outside Miami, the White House announced Thursday.

That decision is without precedent in modern American history: The president used his public office to direct a massive contract to himself
. The G-7 summit draws hundreds of diplomats, journalists and security personnel and provides a worldwide spotlight.

The announcement that the president’s club would host the international summit comes as Trump is in the midst of twin crises that are consuming his presidency — a hasty and confused American retreat in Syria and a growing impeachment inquiry in Congress.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who announced the decision, said the administration was not worried about the appearance of a conflict of interest, while he touted what the president’s resort has to offer.

Doral was far and away the best physical facility for this meeting,” Mulvaney said. He said that the administration examined 10 sites before choosing this one. Mulvaney quoted an anonymous site selection official who he said told him, “It’s almost like they built this facility to host this type of event.” Mulvaney did not say what other sites were vetted.

Mulvaney said it was Trump’s idea to pursue the idea of hosting the event at his resort.

What about Doral?” he said, recounting the president’s comments in the White House dining room.

And so Trump has awarded a massive, multi-million dollar government contract to his own resort, openly, in public, says there's no conflict of interest despite the Constitution making it clear that it's a violation of the Emoluments Clause and that's that.

In fact, if Trump gets away with this, he knows he'll never be removed from office.  He's daring the GOP to defend him now.  And I'll bet not one Republican senator complains about it.
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