Thursday, January 2, 2020

Last Call For Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

One of the big advantages to Nancy Pelosi's strategy to delay sending over Trump's impeachment to the Senate is that white Trump and McConnell are busy complaining and lying, vulnerable GOP senators are sweating while more information about Ukraine is coming out as investigations continue.

One of the GOP’s chief talking points in its impeachment defense of President Trump has been this: The U.S. military aid to Ukraine was withheld, yes, but it was released without any quid pro quo being satisfied. Ipso facto, nothing to see here.

That already-strained talking point suffered a significant blow on Thursday.

Just Security’s Kate Brannen was able to view unredacted emails in which the Office of Management and Budget and the Defense Department discussed the withholding of military aid. The big new takeaway is that there was significant concern within the Pentagon about the legality and sustainability of the hold. Despite that, according to one email from top OMB official Michael Duffey on Aug. 30, there was “clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold.”

The even-bigger takeaway, though, may be how much this fact was obscured. The emails were previously released in redacted form, but many of the redaction choices are puzzling and even suspicious. The redactions include repeated references to legal problems with withholding the aid, basic questions about that subject, and warnings that waiting until too late in the fiscal year (which ended Sept. 30) might mean that some of the funds would never get to Ukraine.

That latter fact appears to have been doubly obscured — including in an official communication. OMB general counsel Mark Paoletta wrote a letter to the Government Accountability Office on Dec. 11 that suggested that the Defense Department hadn’t flagged such a risk.

“In fact, at no point during the pause in obligations did DOD [Office of General Counsel] indicate to OMB that, as a matter of law, the apportionments would prevent DOD from being able to obligate the funds before the end of the fiscal year,” Paoletta wrote. 
In fact, though, there are at least three concrete examples of a Defense Department official flagging something similar to OMB: 
On Aug. 12, with the hold being renewed, acting Defense Department comptroller Elaine McCusker offered proposed language for the hold to Duffey. It stated that “this additional pause in obligations may not preclude DOD’s timely execution of the final policy direction but that execution risk increases with continued delays.”

On Aug. 27, McCusker sent Duffey a draft letter that the Pentagon was preparing to send OMB. In the letter, the deputy defense secretary was to say, “As a result, we have repeatedly advised OMB officials that pauses beyond Aug. 19, 2019 jeopardize the Department’s ability to obligate USAI funding prudently and fully, consistent with the Impoundment Control Act.”

After Politico on Aug. 28 broke the story that the funds were being withheld, emails were exchanged establishing talking points, including one similar to the statement that eventually found its way into Paoletta’s letter: “No action has been taken by OMB that would preclude the obligation of these funds before the end of the fiscal year.” McCusker, though, explicitly told Duffey that wasn’t the case. “I don’t agree to the revised TPs — the last one is just not accurate from a financial execution standpoint, something we have been consistently conveying for a few weeks,” she said. 
All three of these were redacted from the initially released emails by the Justice Department, according to Just Security, and the proposed language from No. 1 wasn’t used by OMB for some reason. Another redaction came in an Aug. 26 email, in which McCusker told Duffey that Paoletta “appears to continue to consistently misunderstand the process and the timelines we have provided for funds execution.” McCusker also told Defense Department officials internally in an email that “OMB continues to ignore our repeated explanation regarding how the process works.”

The coverup of the Ukraine "favor" and Trump's withheld aid was impossible because it involved the White House, the State Department, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Justice, and the Pentagon.  There's too much paper trail there to bury, and it was only a matter of time before the documents the White House is trying to bury came to light like they did today.

And what these documents prove is that Trump ordered the Ukraine aid block personally.

It's going to get harder and harder for the Senate not to call witnesses, and it's pressure and leverage that Pelosi should continue to use until she gets them.  I don't believe it'll make a micron's difference in the guaranteed outcome of a Senate acquittal of Trump, but it'll sure be some nasty footage for campaign ads in 2020.

Another Hat Leaves The Ring

Former Obama HUD Secretary Julian Castro is the latest to fold up his tent as 2020 opens and the Democratic primary arena becomes smaller.

Throughout his campaign, Mr. Castro, 45, a native of San Antonio who spent five years as its mayor, portrayed himself as an unapologetic liberal who was shaped by his humble beginnings and had been overlooked by the press. Though he created some memorable moments as he championed progressive policy and challenged his rivals on the campaign trail, Mr. Castro did not catch on with voters and was unable to break into the upper tier of a crowded primary field. His exit is the latest departure of a candidate of color from a field that began as the most racially diverse ever in a Democratic primary.

“I’ve determined that it simply isn’t our time,” Mr. Castro said in a nearly four-minute video message released by his campaign, which included a montage from his year on the trail, including visits to the border and a homeless encampment in Oakland. “Today it’s with a heavy heart, and profound gratitude, that I will suspend my campaign for president.”

“I’m not done fighting," Mr. Castro continued, though he gave no indication of his immediate plans. “I’ll keep working towards a nation where everyone counts, a nation where everyone can get a good job, good health care and a decent place to live.”

The video also features Mr. Castro listing the names of African Americans and Latinos who were killed by police or died in police custody in recent years, something he did often during debates and on the trail.

Mr. Castro’s departure shrinks the field of Democratic candidates to 14. He was viewed as a potential vice presidential pick by Hillary Clinton in 2016 and could be a valuable running mate this year, with Democrats eager to court Latino voters.

Castro and his twin brother Joaquin really do have a bright political future ahead of them, but the 2020 Oval Office isn't in the cards.  I'm hoping that the two of them will be a major force going forward in a Democratic cabinet and House in 2021. Joaquin Castro is currently in TX-20 representing the brothers' home turf of San Antonio, and I think both of them will go far.

For now though, as the NY Times article says, there's still 14 primary candidates in this little shindig.

The Drums Of War, Con't

The siege of the US embassy in Baghdad by Iranian-controlled militia militants is over, for now. But Tehran has made it clear that they can hurt the US if they want to, and they're giving Trump a chance to back off.  Trump of course won't take it.

The siege by supporters of an Iranian-backed militia at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad appeared to have ended Wednesday, after the militia ordered them to withdraw, bringing relief to the diplomats trapped inside and averting a potential showdown between the United States and Iran.

Supporters of the Kataib Hezbollah militia who had spent the night camped outside the embassy dismantled their tents and marched out of the area, saying they would instead continue to press for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in the nation’s parliament.

Their retreat signaled an end to a crisis that had seen thousands of angry militia supporters attempt to storm the embassy on Tuesday in protest at the deaths of 25 militia members in U.S. airstrikes on Sunday. The strikes were in turn conducted in retaliation for the death of a U.S. contractor in a rocket attack which the U.S. military blamed on Kataib Hezbollah.

The Pentagon dispatched additional troop reinforcements to the region as President Trump in a tweet blamed Iran for the assault on the embassy, raising fears of an escalating conflict.

The departure of the demonstrators was welcomed by the diplomats and embassy staffers who had been holed up in safe rooms for more than 24 hours.

Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief,” said Maj. Charlie Dietz, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad. “A situation that could have easily escalated out of control was handled with tactical restraint and everyone was able to walk away.”
An embassy official said he most looked forward to the opportunity to catch up on sleep.

Kataib Hezbollah agreed to end the siege of the embassy after receiving guarantees from the Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi that he would lend his support to efforts in parliament to pass a law calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, according to a senior official with the group.

Mohammed Mohyee, Kataib Hezbollah’s political spokesman, said that the prime minister, whose candidacy the militia had supported, had also threatened to vacate his post if the protest continued, deepening turmoil in the already chaotic country, which has been wracked by separate, anti-government protests for months.

Representatives of the prime minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

So Abdul-Mahdi is facing ouster, Iran is essentially running things inside Baghdad, and the militias are waiting for their next offensive.  Meanwhile, Trump will almost certainly turn up the economic and military heat on Tehran this month, only making the situation worse with rising retaliatory pressure.

And yes, this is being done to get impeachment off the front page.  It could very easily turn into the collapse of Iraq's government or war with Iran or both, but hey, Trump's never miscalculated before, right?


We're back in business for the new year and here's to all of us.

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