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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Impeachment Failed. So Was It Worth It?

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Image: Wikimedia

I listened to the Senate roll-call votes on the two articles of impeachment. Despite the inevitability of the outcome, there was a solemnity to those moments when each senator went on the record stating “guilty” or “not guilty.”

Has it all been worth it?

I expressed skepticism soon after the inquiry was announced last September. Then I had three misgivings. One, Trump thrives on attention and being the center of attention, and this would give it to him. Two, people outside of Washington are not likely to be much engaged by the whole thing. And third, the norms that made the Nixon impeachment-pressured resignation and opposition from his own party members possible are no longer in place in our culture.

Have I changed my mind? Was impeachment worth it? I think it was. I’ll match my three earlier misgivings with three arguments for the value of the process.

The impeachment process put a stake in the ground. It has put House members, Senators, and many others on record on this President. It has provided information, testimony, and argument that frame the issues and what is at stake here. That has been worth doing, even if the outcome falls short of removal from office.

Ambassador Marie Yovanovich

The impeachment was worth it, second, for a series of “profiles in courage,” (to use the title of a little book by John F. Kennedy). Many names might be listed for their courage in the face Trump’s intimidations and attacks. I cite Congressman Adam Schiff, whose eloquence has been, at least at times, remarkable. Then there were the diplomats, especially Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and military officer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. To this list I would now add Senator Mitt Romney, who bucked party leaders to cast the lone Republican votes of “guilty as charged.” In the present darkness, their light shines. One might compose a corollary list of “failures in courage,” but we’ll leave that for another opinionator.

A third reason I now think the impeachment worth it is that while the outcome of the trial itself is behind us, there will be as Sen. Romney put it, “an appeal to a higher court,” the vote of the American people. It is a least possible that many voters will share the judgment of Senators Portman and Alexander that while conviction and removal from office was not the best choice now, the President did abuse his powers and office. I think everyone really knows that.

One of the biblical texts I hold close as core conviction is Galatians 6: 7. “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.” I believe that. There is, despite all the malice, evil, and injustice, a moral meaning to life and in the universe. God is not mocked. Truth will out. Yes, it may be a long time coming. But it will come. And it will come for Donald Trump and his minions.

I conclude by quoting the larger passage in which this verse is set because it provides a word of encouragement that I, and perhaps you too, need in these days.

“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Galatians 6: 7 – 10, italics added.)

How Democrats Can Best Exploit The Senate’s Failure To Convict Trump

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The Senate’s acquittal of President Trump could flip the Senate to the Democrats.  That is because swing voters could be more negatively influenced by the Republican’s Senate “trial” than the rushed job by Democrats’ House impeachment. Why is that?

Let’s start by comparing each party’s main critique of the other party’s performance. Republicans charge the House Democrats for not proving their case that Trump was guilty of abusing his power or obstructing Congress. The Democrats charge the Republicans in the Senate for not allowing critical new testimony and previously denied documents to be shown in the trial.

For voters, the simplified positions come down to this: the Democrats could have done a better job, like pursuing the courts to get testimony or documents, while the Republicans barred the Senate from receiving additional relevant information.

In my view, Republicans have the weaker message in addressing the issue of fairness because it boils down to “the Democrats needed to do a better job.” That is a charge that all of us have been blamed for at some point in our lives. It is not pointed. It is not a direct accusation of not being fair. The Democrats are accused of rushing the impeachment, but they are also accused of holding the impeachment too near the next presidential election. That’s a confusing attack.

On the other hand, the charge of not allowing witnesses who have spoken directly to the President, is simple to understand as a necessary condition for conducting a fair trial. The Republicans’ defense of why testimonies were not necessary is fractured. Some like Senator Lamar Alexander say no more information is needed. They admit that the President did try to get a foreign power to influence his election, but insist such behavior does not require his removal from office. That explanation undercuts the President’s position that he did nothing wrong.

Republican Senators will be heading into a quagmire of endless explanations of why they voted for no new witnesses as more of John Bolton’s book reveals the President’s involvement. Plus, the courts will likely force the Trump administration to release more damaging documents. As the Republicans’ justifications become more tortured and complex, the public will lose interest in the details and just remember what the Senate failed to do. A simple message always overshadows a complex one, particularly if a simple one is repeated and supported by a unified group.

As Chris Wallace of Fox News said, the Democrats “will be able to argue, … from now until November that this was a cover-up and that all the Republican senators who are up for re-election in 2020 were part of that cover-up.” Democrats just need to remind the public that trials involve “critical” witnesses and the Republican Senators denied their appearance. That decision might have saved the election for Trump, but it might also help the Democrats flip the Senate.

The Democrat House managers in the Senate Trump trial repeatedly stressed the need for Congress to check the growing power of a president. The Senate failed to do so, and in a cavalier manner because they assumed that Trump’s support is critical for winning their primary elections. But is Trump’s support a magic potion for winning their general elections? Not on recent evidence.

Admittedly Trump rallies are huge. As the Iowa caucuses were about to begin, Trump visited the state. As reported by “The Hill,” Trump attracted 7,000 people in Des Moines, twice the number that attended Sen. Bernie Sanders’ rally in Cedar Rapids, which his campaign claimed was the largest held by any Democrat during this political cycle in Iowa.

However, Trump’s ability to get his candidates elected is limited. In the 2019 Alabama Senate race, Trump supported Luther Strange in the Republican primary, who lost to Ray Moore, whom Trump then supported. Moore then lost to Democrat Doug Jones, the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama in 50 years.

A more telling measurement of Trump’s limited ability to help Republicans is to look at Trump’s endorsements of Republican Governor candidates in 2018 and 2019. Seven of his 13 endorsed candidates going for an open seat or challenging an incumbent lost in 2018. Last year he endorsed in only four governor races, and his candidate lost in three of them. In the 2018 US Senate races, Trump did well with incumbents, but horribly with challengers: only four of his 14 endorsed candidates won. (In 2019 there were no Senate races.)

The Brookings Institute also did a study of how candidates fared in 2018 for House and Senate races where Trump and Democratic politicians such as Joe Biden endorsed. Brookings tracked the PVI (partisan voter index) for the states or districts involved. Trump supported candidates in heavy Republican leaning districts that measured R+7.6, whereas Biden choose districts that were swing districts with roughly divided support between the parties. Trump’s endorsed candidates won 56% of the elections, Biden’s won 76%. This is a pattern that could be repeated in statewide races where urban higher-educated voters, who have been steady conservative voters, are upset with Trump’s imperial behavior.

The takeaway is that since 2018 Trump’s ability to sweep other Republicans into office does not match his power to attract people to his rallies. That’s because Trump is a unique phenomenon to watch, but not a force in persuading swing voters to vote for his candidates. It appears that congressional candidates will be judged more on how well they have served or will serve in public office than whether Trump endorses them.

There is another unintended consequence of acquitting Trump that plays to the Democrats’ advantage. It mutes Trump’s image as a victim, which has energized his base of supporters to come out and save him. Now that he is a victor, there will be some relief among his core support and hence they could be less motivated to mobilize folks to get out and vote.

Meanwhile Trump’s acquittal should stimulate Democrats to mobilize voters to do what the Senate refused to do. The public is on the same page as the Democrats. According to a January 28, 2020 poll by Quinnipiac University, 75% of voters favored allowing witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial, and 53% said President Trump was not telling truth about Ukraine. Although this is a national poll for all registered voters, it does show that Democrats have the potential to sweep up swing voters in key states to support senators who would act as a check on Trump from further expanding his executive powers. If the Democrats run solid candidates to beat incumbent Republican senators, they can also campaign on stopping a Republican Senate from appointing one or two more Trump adherents to the Supreme Court.

The Trump Senate trial has provided the Democrats a platform for carrying a simple message: the public needs a functioning Senate — one that is a real government watchdog, not a guard dog for their party leader.
           

This Year’s Clinton Emails Slur – Joe Biden’s Son

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Image: Wikimedia

It’s likely that former Vice President Joe Biden – and his run for president – will be the real casualties of the impeachment and Senate acquittal of President Donald Trump. It comes down to “electability,” elements of which – race, gender, and more – nobody is quite sure how to measure. But the impeachment drama’s focus on Ukraine may turn out to be a body blow – possibly fatal – to the Joe Biden campaign.

To see this, Democrats and their leadership, such as it is, need to look beyond the primaries to the general election campaign. What happens in Biden-Trump matchup? Everyone knows how Trump operates so that’s not hard to figure out.  It goes like this, according to Trump:

“The whole thing was a witch hunt. They didn’t find anything. Look, at the Senate vote. They voted. I didn’t do anything wrong. There was nothing there.”

 And he continues:

“They’ve got to look at Biden. What he did. He was in charge of Ukraine for Obama and his kid got a $50,000-a-month job there with a corrupt natural gas company. How do you suppose that happened? Joe did it. There’s a big conflict there. They’ve got to investigate that.”

This will be repeated over and over and over by Trump and his surrogates if Biden is the Democrat’s candidate. And, no, it doesn’t have to be true. It only needs to create doubt, particularly doubt among the large number of voters who never thought the phone call to the Ukraine president was such a big deal and never quite followed the impeachment process. And this Biden stuff, that looks like a real conflict of interest, influence peddling, right?

By seeding doubt about Biden and opening the way for thoughts like that, Trump likely can destroy a Biden candidacy, convincing voters that Joe and the Democrats don’t have a claim to the moral high ground. That could be enough for Trump to win. And it’s an “electability” cloud over Vice President Biden that Democrats need to ponder.

Already, hoping to somewhat  minimize the problem, Biden’s son, Hunter, has admitted (on “Good Morning, America”) that getting involved with Burisma, the Ukrainian company on whose board he served, was “poor judgment.” 

In Trumpworld, that won’t cut it. Heck, they’re already starting. Sunday Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst suggested to Bloomberg news that if Biden were elected he should be impeached for his past connections to Ukraine, a statement she made citing widely discredited claims about Biden’s actions while Vice President.

The Impeachment Show As Comedy. Very Dark Comedy.

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Rep Hakeem Jeffries presenting impeachment case

A very wise friend has counseled me that President Donald Trump will be defeated when he becomes a laughing stock for public debate, because the ultimate fear of a narcissist is to be made fun of. 

We may have reached that point in Wednesday’s impeachment trial, thanks to the very skillful use of video technology by Rep. Adam Schiff and his team. My takeaway goes something like this:

Schiff used Trump himself to make his case, with brief video clips of the President inviting Russia and then China to help him investigate his political rivals, and also bragging about his power to withhold evidence from Congress. 

Some of those videos were of the President as he prepared to board his helicopter, shouting at hapless reporters forced to resort to this demeaning manner of interacting with the President. After the second or third of these clips, the image of a very large man with a strange haircut and a somewhat-orange face, wearing a very large coat and a yard-long necktie and waving and shouting became, well, comical.

Where else would the Latin term “quid pro quo” wind up determining the fate of a president who possibly had to Google it before using it—over, and over, and over. “No quid pro quo” is the 2020 version of Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” of Nov. 17, 1973. For those of us who speak very little Latin, it is a welcome primer.

We were spared images of the same fellow hunched over his laptop sending out literally dozens of Tweets based on misinformation or lies from sources that most of us would reject as nut cases. Does he wear the same uniform when he tweets at 1 a.m.? Whose book will break that story?

But we did enjoy a very long narrative that resembled a routine from the old Abbott and Costello team of long-ago radio. That was the tag-team dialogue that went something like this:

Three Amigos: You must make an announcement of an investigation into the Bidens.

Zelensky aide: But we can’t make the announcement until we have a date for a White House meeting.

Three Amigos: You go first.

Zelensky aide: No, you go first.

Three Amigos: Please, be our guest, you go first. . . and so on.

Abbott and Costello play Alphonse and Gaston. After you. No, after you. Optional tap dancing. 

The image of these three white guys: Rick Perry, Gordon Sondland, and Kurt Volker—in sombreros, perhaps with a mariachi band, propositioning a suspicious team of Ukrainian diplomats is delicious in itself. A remembrance of Desi Arnaz here?

Somewhere in the realm of humor must be the very weirdness of the president’s public appearance in the midst of what he claims is a laughable attempt to impeach. He shows up at Davos, the annual gathering of the real ruling class of the modern world, plus political leaders and hangers-on. While the group is pretending to place real actions on climate change over quarterly dividends, President Trump is selling American coal and oil and debunking the world’s leading scientists as doomsayers. With a straight face! Now, that’s comedy, albeit of the dark side. 

Maybe Trump was just kidding at Davos; it’s an escape valve he often uses when caught in a particularly egregious insult or lie. The president was just kidding, his minions assure us. Well, if Trump has a sense of humor in any way, I’m the Prince of Sussex. 

I don’t know if Schiff has a sense of humor, but he seems to have a sense of irony. Plenty of that to go around (read Lindsay Graham). My favorite impeachment manager (after Schiff) was Rep. Zoe Lofgren, 72, who is a player in her third presidential impeachment. Lofgren comes across as your favorite older aunt who is also sharp as a whip. I saw her repress a smile in her address to senators, and I saw that twinkle in her eye as she perhaps recalled a time when members of the Congress could address each other civilly and with respect and not be called out for it by their president. 

And then there is Rudy Guiliani.  No, we won’t go there. 

Is it sacrilege to examine impeachment as a theme for a stage show? Perhaps, but if they can make a musical out of Les Miserables, think of what could be done with Trump, Guiliani, and the Three Amigos; with Volodymyr Zelensky as Jean Valjean?

If we can’t get justice from this show, at least we could have a few laughs.

Rules, Rules, Rules: Senate On Trial (Not Just Trump)

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U.S. Senate chamber

Now that President Donald Trump’s Senate trial has begun there are some critical points to keep in mind. All analysis, up to now, is based on the very low probability that 14 Republicans would break party ranks to convict Trump on the two articles of impeachment (Abuse of Power & Obstruction of Congress).

It is not likely they will abandon Trump, despite two recent developments. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded Trump violated the law by withholding Congressionally approved assistance to Ukraine.  And Lev Parnas, an associate of the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, said that Trump approved and directed public tax dollars to influence the election by asking Ukraine to investigate his potential main rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Republican senators won’t break from him because these “facts” don’t matter in their upcoming primary elections. It doesn’t matter if they lose liberal independents, since they never had them, and in most states these independents don’t vote in the primaries. As long as they can keep their core Republican primary voters, who are 90 percent-plus behind Trump, these Republican senators will win the primary.

But then it gets more problematic, since winning their general elections could be severely jeopardized if the public perceives the trial as phony or not taken seriously by the Republicans. More important, the conservative independents, who are more Republican than Trumpers, could be swayed to vote for a Democrat who believes in the rule of law. That doesn’t mean those voters would necessarily opt for liberal candidates, for they could just sit on their hands and not vote. This is what makes the senate Republicans vulnerable in the general election, much more than their Democratic challengers.

For instance, there are 22 Republican senators up for reelection in 2020, while there are only 12 Democrats. Ballotpedia did an analysis of these races using the 2016 presidential election and ratings from three of the top organizations analyzing the races (Cook Political ReportSabato’s Crystal Ball, and Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales) and this analysis identified 12 Republican incumbents and 5 Democratic incumbents as potentially vulnerable. The Republicans have a greater exposure.

The Democrats do not need to win the Senate impeachment trial by convicting Trump, no matter how much evidence that he should be. If the Republicans refuse testimony or admission of documents, polls indicate that would alienate more voters than anything else. A poll taken by ABC News and The Washington Post on December 10, before the House voted for impeachment, showed 70 percent of Americans believe that administration officials should be able to testify. That attitude crossed party lines; 79% of Democrats, 64% of Republicans and 72% of independents agree that Trump should allow them to appear in a Senate trial.

The struggle to control the trial’s image will not be a high drama TV event. The senators do not speak! Their questions or motions are submitted on paper to the presiding officer, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who decides whether to bring them forward. If he refuses, he can be overruled by a simple majority of 51 senators. Almost all of the TV political pundits have made much of the 51-vote rule, which allows the Senate to create its own procedural rules for the trial. It gives narrow control of the trial to the Republicans, since there are 53 of them.

There is a slight wrinkle in that description because the Standing Rules of the Senate detail the rules of order of the United States Senate. Normally it takes a two-thirds vote to alter any of the 43 standing rules that were last adopted in 2000. These rules could serve as a possible hurdle for the Republicans, and they may seek to alter them to protect Trump.

It can be argued that all rules in the Senate trial will be procedural rules. However, there are standing rules, which normally supersede all procedural rules, such as lowering the threshold for appointing judges. There may be an opportunity for Democrats to use them to their advantage and for the Republicans to either accept their interpretation or vote to oppose it – in effect changing the standing rules.

There are two standing rules that could present such a situation, but these two examples would have to be vetted by a parliamentarian to determine if they would apply in the Senate Trial.

The first is the right of any senator to call a closed session as long as the motion is seconded. This could be done by the Democrats after the initial two presentations but before the House Managers give their final presentation (which is what is in the procedural rules). This would allow the Democrats to adjust the timing of their last word for a better TV time to allow the most public to witness it. They could use the closed session to determine which Republican Senators are wavering or what the Democrats best summary might be to persuade them when they return to the full open trial session.

The second, is the right of any senator to place a hold on a motion to prevent it from reaching a vote on the Senate floor. The Democrats could request such a hold if no testimony has been received. They would vote to lift the hold if testimony was allowed.

In the past, both Democratic and Republican Senate majority leaders had employed a “nuclear” option, by using just a majority vote to permanently alter the standing rules. Both actions had to do with eliminating the 60-vote rule for approving federal judicial appointments, including Supreme Court nominations.

This means that the Republicans probably could exercise that authority; with 51 votes they could do anything. But if they they use this nuclear option, it would appear to the public as excessive force in manipulating the senate trial to Trump’s advantage. That could be the straw that breaks the public’s back in seeing the Republican-run senate trial as a fair one.

Most dangerous to the Republican senators seeking reelection this November, is that this move could dampen the support of their traditional conservative constituents to get out and vote for their reelection. Interestingly, one of the few mentions of the two-thirds rule being needed to change the senate’s standing rules was brought up by Fred Lucas, a reporter from the conservative The Daily Signal, which is  funded entirely by The Heritage Foundation.

The conservative tradition is to respect the law and procedures. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejecting the request by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to have four White House officials testify during the impeachment trial is going to hurt the Republicans more than the Democrats. When the Republicans realize that problem, they will likely offer to repeat the process that was used in President Bill Clinton’s trial — having off site testimony videotaped and then selected portions shared with the full senate.

Having live testimony with cross examining would make for a huge TV audience, but given the character of those testifying, the spectacle would likely confuse rather than educate the public on Trump’s guilt. Plus, there is no telling what they will say. In the Clinton senate trial, all of those testifying had done so before, so it was known what they were going to say.

Democrats should propose having Chief Justice Roberts make the final decision on what portions of the videotaped testimony should be shared. Although the Republicans could overrule his decision, that action will be remembered by the public long after what was said in the testimony.

The bottom line for the Democrats, and the Republicans as well, is that their behavior will be judged as much as President Trump’s. Since he will not be  present, the actions of the House Prosecution Managers and the President’s Defense Team will receive the immediate attention of the public watching and the media personalities commentating afterwards.  
 

Cue the Script for Republicans Acting Badly

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Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

One of the aspects of performance art is to induce foolish behavior by those viewing the performance, as by luring exasperated police officers to make fools of themselves in trying to arrest demonstrators. Keep this in mind as you watch the next acts of the impeachment drama.

The Senate impeachment trial is likely to be another dreary parade of focus-group-tested speechifying. The opening round, sparring between Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader McConnell, is an effort to get Senate Republicans acting badly or as one might say, acting McConnelly by rigging the trial. It’s a measure of Pelosi’s shrewdnesss that she has put the Senate Republicans in this spot, and so far they are eagerly playing their assigned bad-guy roles. She probably knows that McConnell is more than ready to suit up as a villain.

Of course, the real point of this play-acting is to influence the 2020 elections, particularly the chances for electing Republicans in Congress, by inducing them to speak whoppers and look like sycophants to Don Donald. Eventually, Pelosi herself will look foolish if she refuses too long in sending over the impeachment charges and allows House Democrats to behave in too naked a political fashion.

Politics now has become a dumb-show, where the point is not to resolve issues but to get others to prance on a stage to a script written by your opponents. The media lap this up, of course, but this can’t be what the Founders had in mind when creating a self-governing Republic.

Republicans’ Rigged Senate Trial? It Might Be Democrats’ Best Option

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Image by kalhh from Pixabay

The Constitution says that the Senate “shall have the sole power to try all impeachments.” The immediate question before us is when? Speaker Nancy Pelosi initially said that she will hold up delivering the two articles of impeachment to the Senate until the Democrats know what the rules will be. Reality is that the rules will be what the Republicans want, no matter how long Pelosi hangs back. Hence the case for getting this charade over with, and soon.

In Bill Clinton’s presidential impeachment Senate trial, leaders of both parties met and hammered out an agreement on the rules, which the Senate passed unanimously even though the Republicans had two more Senators than they do now. It’s not the number of Republicans in the Senate that is shaping this trial, it’s the intensity of loyalty to Trump that is endangering any bipartisan path forward.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News he was “taking my cues”  from the White House and “There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position” in shaping the trial. Trump has tweeted that the effort to remove him from office is an “attempted coup.” That is a pretty strong cue that McConnell will not be reaching an agreement with the Democrats on the Senate’s trial procedures. 

If no agreement is reached, McConnell only needs 51 Senate Republicans to pass  a resolution governing the proceedings, as long as they do not alter the current established Senate rules, which were applied to the Clinton impeachment. Changing those Senate rules would take two-thirds, or 67 votes, to pass. 

Defining the difference between the two sets of rules is up to the trial’s Presiding Officer, which would be Chief Justice John Roberts. According to Adam White, a director at George Mason University’ Law School, Roberts “is very, very wary of the courts being seen as being brought into a political process” and will keep a low profile. But will he be pulled  into the spotlight given the probable intensity that the trial could ignite over any of his rulings? 

An example of how this conflict played out in the last impeachment was when a senator wanted the Senate doors open during their deliberations. The presiding officer then, Chief Justice Rehnquist, ruled that 67 votes would be needed given “consistent practice of the Senate for the last 130 years in impeachment trials.” The motion failed to get the 67- vote majority. The doors remained closed. What would happen if Chief Justice Roberts makes a ruling that a certain motion requires 67 votes and the Republicans strongly disagree? They could insist that only a majority vote is needed to overrule his decision, contending that their motion could be reasonably reconciled with the Senate rules. Would Roberts choose to simply defer to whatever 51 senators wish to do, even if it changes an established Senate rule?

The current Senate rules according to Hilary Hurd and Benjamin Wittes, in a LawFare blog this December, are weirdly detailed, even specifying speeches and specific times of day when things must be said and done, and yet they offer no rules of evidence or standards of proof, which matters could be defined solely by the Republicans. That leaves the Republicans controlling the trial’s content used to determine if Trump violated his oath of office. 

Although the word “trial” is used, this is not a criminal or civil trial. It is a political trial. There does not need to be a violation of a criminal code, only the belief by two-thirds of the Senate members that a president is guilty of the House’s charges. With Republican leaders repeating Trump’s “witch hunt” description of the House impeachment, there is no likely outcome that two-thirds of the Senate will remove Trump from office. 

So why have a trial that isn’t a real trial? Because the real jury is the public not the Senate. In fact, the Senate is not a jury so much as an active player in the trial. While the senators cannot speak and must sit and listen, any member can submit written requests to the Chief Justice, to ask questions of those testifying or to make motions to change procedures. More importantly, the majority of senators (51) can introduce new procedures at any time, as long as they do not change established rules.

Unlike common trials, this historical event will be televised, with the exception of the deliberations, assuring that this will be a “show” trial. Each party will have to calibrate their strategies based on how the public perceives their honesty and diligence in pursuing a just conclusion. The facts supporting or dismissing the two articles of impeachment will influence a far smaller portion of the public than the behavior of the parties. 

And the public has been watching. Throughout the weeks of congressional impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump, 62% of adults in a December Washington Post-ABC News poll said they had closely or somewhat followed it.

McConnell seems to understand this dynamic, even if he did make a critical mistake telling Fox News that he was going to run the trial in accordance with Trump’s interests. That cost him credibility. He tried to salvage it in his reply to Senate Minority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer’s request for live testimony from White House staff that Trump refused to allow to appear before the House Committees. Rather than just swatting Schumer down, McConnell left open the possibility of it occurring later.

McConnell has also opposed Republican suggestions that the Senate immediately dismiss any impeachment articles they receive. That would be a gift to the Democrats and would serve to amplify their characterization of the Senate Republicans as abandoning their responsibilities. The Senate has never declined to hold a trial in the 19 previous cases in which a federal officeholder was impeached, In similar fashion, Pelosi could overplay her hand by indefinitely withholding the delivery of the impeachment articles to the Senate. That would work to the Republicans benefit for the same underlying public perception — the Democrats would be shirking their duty. 

The stakes are high for both parties in how this trial is seen. According to the December Washington Post/ABC poll, the public is evenly divided. Those favoring impeaching Trump and removing him from office are at 49%; those opposed are at 46%. The numbers didn’t move from October’s poll, suggesting that the hearings had practically no influence. A short Senate trial would seem to have the same result.

Could a longer trial with testimony and additional evidence move the dial either way? I doubt it. Unless there is a strong testimony quoting Trump delivering a straightforward command to get information to influence the 2020 election, each side will rely on the same arguments that they have been making for the last three months. 

That poll also revealed a critical difference in the public view of Clinton versus Trump. It showed that only 33% believed Clinton should have been impeached and removed from office, with 64% believing he should not have been . That comparison is comparable to Clinton’s 70% approval rate at the time of his impeachment, with Trump’s steady low 40% approval rate. 

Trump is not popular. However, a lengthy trial without a damning quote from Trump, will allow him to play the victim, at which he is a master of portraying himself. The sympathy vote could turn out critical independent voters, who are less ideologically oriented than either Republicans or Democrats. Following a long trial, they might vote against the “mean” Democrats, thus hurting their chances for winning the Senate and retaining their majority in the House. 

So I end up in favor of letting the Republicans run a quick phony trial. They will satisfy their base, but not sway the independents, because they will be repeating the same boring and unconvincing points they have been making. That will deny Trump the victim role he desperately needs to play. And it will allow the Democrats to characterize the Republicans as being cravenly subservient to an ineffective leader who is more concerned with his political future than the country’s needs.

Impeaching Trump: Is That All There Is?

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One nagging thought (well, one of several) persists as House Democrats move to draft articles of impeachment.

I know Pelosi, Nadler et al. have many good reasons to limit their case to the aid extortion Trump et al. tried to work on Ukraine. This scheme does comprise the most egregious high crimes, with the most serious potential consequences, known to have been undertaken by and at the behest of this president. The Dems want to sustain momentum, keep the public’s attention, and avoid distracting from the primary rounds that begin next month. Past scandals didn’t move the all-important public opinion meter, so better to concentrate on one that might. And since they haven’t a prayer of turning enough Republican senators to get a conviction, the best they can do is establish a record (as Schiff ably did).

But is it wise to put the whole case in this one basket? This scandal seems to have moved that meter only marginally. Trump’s earlier potential crimes and misdemeanors, if less serious, may be easier to understand. Together they establish a modus and motive that support the Ukrainegate case.

The witnesses taking the stand earlier, and committee chair Nadler himself, showed this when they recalled how candidate Trump publicly urged Russia to hack the Democratic National Committee’s emails. What hasn’t been recalled, and was too little noted at the time, was that the only change in the 2016 Republican platform that team Trump demanded was weakening its expression of support for Ukraine against Russian aggression.

Indulge in reverie for a moment and imagine how the hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen MacDougal would sit against a Ukrainegate bribery count. That’s only reverie, of course; even if it had time, this House wouldn’t want to follow the stained-blue-dress precedent and convene hearings on anything so petty and seamy. But it already has a record of multiple past instances of obstruction of justice, complete with convicted henchmen, in the form of the Mueller Report and James Comey’s congressional testimony. The fact that Mueller’s own appearance fell flat doesn’t gainsay the strength of the record his team established.

If you’re going to charge Trump’s latest obstruction of justice, why not charge his past obstructions? If you’re going to call him corrupt, why not include counts for taking foreign emoluments and for self-enrichment by steering federal business to his hotels and resorts?

Republicans would howl that the Democrats are getting desperate and flinging whatever they can find. But if the Dems limit their case the Rs will still call them desperate and holler that all three years of witchhunting could turn up is this so-called Ukrainian nothingburger.

The public, the real arbiter, deserves a refresher course in this president’s outrages. The sum is greater than one of its parts.

The Impeachment Of Donald J Trump: Our Story So Far

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Image: Flickr

Congress’s first round of impeachment hearings wound up largely focused on whether President Trump had offered a quid pro quo for receiving a favor from Ukraine, i.e. Trump would release held-up military aid and other signs of US support only after Ukraine investigated a particular company that employed Joe Biden’s son and the former Vice President for his actions as well.

Aside from trying to determine if an actual bribe had occurred, the basis for impeachment comes down to whether Trump abused his presidential power by asking a Ukraine for a personal gift of campaign assistance or was he merely seeking out whether there was corruption in Ukraine before releasing military assistance to them. Let’s take a look at this critical question.

America’s founders feared foreign governments destabilizing our young democracy. They wrote into the constitution, “And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present… from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” 

The House of Representatives is trying to determine whether Trump was seeking a “present” from Ukraine. Specifically, the charge is that Trump was asking Ukraine’s new president to publicly announce that his country would begin investigating a company for corruption that employed Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden. This would provide Trump an explosive issue that would damage his potential main opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Just this May 2019, Trump’s own polling showed Biden beating Trump in the election. That was followed up in September, when Trump’s reelection campaign, and the Republican National Committee, announced plans to spend $10 million on an ad targeting his potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden and the impeachment proceedings. In October, Trump targeted $1 million, out of an already-existing $8 million ad buy, toward anti-Biden spots in early voting states. A 30-second commercial, titled “Biden Corruption,” attacked the former vice president for pushing the removal of Ukraine’s former corrupt head prosecutor Shokin

Trump would have greatly benefited if he could have convinced Ukraine’s president to announce that he was investigating corruption in Burisma and by extension Hunter Biden, who served on its board. Joe Biden could also be investigated since he was Vice President during that time. No verdict would even be needed; just the investigation could be enough. And that was the message that was sent by his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, not a government employee, to the Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. 

Testifying under oath before the Congress’s impeachment hearing, Sondland clearly identified Giuliani as Trump’s spokesman saying, “Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States …” 

Sondland’s description of Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine as being motivated by personal interest and not national interest, was also the conclusion reached by the state department’s top Ukraine official, George P. Kent. He testified before Congress how Trump sought to manipulate American policy in Ukraine to meet his personal political goals, circumventing career diplomats and policy experts and inserting his personal lawyer Giuliani into the process.

President Trump himself was recorded on the July 25  call to the new Ukrainian President Zelensky asking him for a favor of looking into “Biden’s son … and …that [Joe] Biden stopped the prosecution…”  of Shokin. Investigating Hunter Biden or Joe Biden was never mentioned in any documents provided to the public prior to that call, from any government intelligence agency. Trump’s request was made immediately after Zelensky said his country was “ready to buy more Javelins [anti-tank missiles] from the United States for defense purposes.” Trump made the connection between providing military aid to Ukraine that Congress had already approved and asking Ukraine to conduct an investigation that no one had requested from the US government. That call lead the whistle blower to file a complaint that Trump had used “the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 US election.” How else could it be interpreted?

Well, Trump and Congressional Republicans simply describe it as encouraging Ukraine to conduct those investigations to see if the Bidens had participated in Ukraine’s well-known culture of corruption. Republicans say Trump’s motive was to protect our foreign aid from contributing to a corrupt nation that could waste US tax dollars. 

Curiously, Trump and  Congressional Republicans’ argument ignores that Zelensky’s top prosecutor, Lutsenko, had told Bloomberg News in a report May 16 that there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden. 

No one, to date, has testified that Trump directed any federal employee, (excluding Giuliani, who is not a government employee) to investigate either of the Bidens. However, Trump in public statements and via Twitter has repeatedly suggested that they need to be investigated. By going public with these suggestions, he avoided a paper trail and he can legitimately claim not to have ordered government employees to investigate the Bidens. However, if you work for the executive department and you repeatedly see and hear what Trump wants through the media or through his personal attorney Giuliani, it is likely that you would act accordingly. 

Joe Biden wanted to end corruption in Ukraine. Trump claims he wanted to end corruption in Ukraine. But Biden wanted to change prosecutors in order to pursue a more vigorous attack on corruption, as reflected in Zelensky’s overwhelming electoral victory. Trump wanted an investigation of Burisma for possible corruption, since it had been accused of corruption in the past. Three previous general prosecutors investigated Burisma and did not file any charges. Trump wanted Ukraine’s government to go back and look for some corruption. He also questioned the legitimacy of Hunter Biden being on the Burisma board, although no past Ukrainian prosecutor had found a reason to investigate him, including the two most recent reformist prosecutors. 

Trump did not need to get a conviction of either the Burisma or the Bidens. He just needed a public statement that an investigation had begun. Trump, through Giuliani, rejected the offer that Ukrainian’s general prosecutor make such a statement. Instead, Ambassador Sondland said they were told by Giuliani that Trump wanted Ukraine’s President to make that public statement. 

That would be the favor Trump wanted. Something to use in an anti-Biden media campaign. That is a request to have a foreign government sway our electoral process to benefit a particular candidate.

So, which narrative is to be believed? Hunter got a cushy job, Joe Biden got to be an anti-corruption champion. Neither benefited from US aid to Ukraine. No government official in Ukraine or the US has connected them to corruption in Ukraine. However, Trump’s claimed role as a fighter of corruption has focused solely on just the one company, Burisma, which employed Hunter Biden. Neither Trump nor Giuliani ever pursued investigating any other corrupt company in Ukraine.

Trump unambiguously asked Ukraine, both through public statements and through his personal attorney directing government employees, for an investigation that would have helped him win the 2020 presidential election. Republicans in Congress defend Trump by arguing that no Ukrainian investigation was begun on the Bidens, so Trump did not receive any benefit, i.e., no harm was done. However, Republican defenders of Trump have not shown any effort by Trump to stop corruption other than seeking to investigate the one company that employed his main opponent’s son. 

The president of the United States repeatedly asking Ukraine to investigate a single company, that had already been investigated by the highest prosecutors in Ukraine, was needlessly redundant and served only to benefit his personal political interests.  None of the three ambassadors familiar with Trump’s insistence on an investigation told Congress during their testimonies that it was critical to our national interests.

But will the public understand, and more importantly be concerned, that Trump’s “request” for a favor from Ukraine was an abuse of his presidential power by contorting a national policy of fighting corruption overseas in a way to serve his own political interests? If so, is it grounds for relieving him of his position as the leader of our nation? 

Although only the House of Representatives can decide, it is important for citizens to have thoughtful discussions on this impeachment question. Discuss this issue with friends and foe. And share this piece with your local congressional representative as well. 

Civic Heavyweights, Unite. You Are In Danger Of Losing Our Democracy.

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

American democracy is in serious danger. It’s time for respected civic heavyweights get off the sidelines — that’s retired generals and admirals, former Cabinet officers, corporate executives, university presidents, ex-mayors, governors and members of Congress, religious leaders and even entertainment and sports figures — and band together to defend it.

Individually, some do speak out on this pressing issue or that. Among the most vocal, retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey is often on TV talking geopolitics. Former Defense Secretary and White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta regularly criticizes Trump administration policies. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich appeals for national unity.

Occasionally Bill Gates appears to talk about education and world poverty. Former Defense Secretary William Cohen says the U.S. has lost its place as the world’s moral leader. Former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Shultz have advocated action on climate change. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell opines sporadically. Actor Sacha Baron Cohen has just spoken out about the dangers of social media.

But there have to be hundreds, even thousands, of such leaders who are distressed about and/or disgusted with the increasingly hate-filled tribalization of the U.S. population and inability of the polarized political parties to solve any serious problem.

Most of them are fretting in private. Instead, they should join together and form a powerful organization to systematically criticize bad behavior and praise good; advocate sensible action on pressing issues; raise money to elect moderate candidates and defeat extremists in both parties; and help political reform groups working to combat corruption and polarization.

And, as the growing reform movement shows, there are hundreds of thousands of citizens already active and potentially ready to join them.

The threat to democracy ought to be obvious, but anyone in doubt should read “How Democracies Die” by Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, who’ve devoted their careers to studying examples from 1930s Germany, Italy and Spain to 1970s Chile, 1990s Russia and Peru and current-day Venezuela, Turkey and Hungary.

They trace a consistent pattern that begins with deep polarization (ideological groups ceasing to judge each other as mere rivals, but as menaces to the nation), followed by policy stagnation, popular discontent, and the rise of a demagogue who claims he alone can fix things.

His ascent to power (often by election) leads to a gradual or swift tearing down of democracy’s constitutional and informal guardrails, leading in turn to prosecution or violent suppression of opponents, complete domination of judicial and legislative branches of government and silencing of independent media and civic organizations.

Levitsky and Ziblatt make a convincing case that the process is underway in the U.S. now, with Donald Trump as the guardrail-busting demagogue. The book came out before his current declaration, through his lawyers, that a sitting president has absolute immunity from any legal proceeding, including being charged after shooting someone on Fifth Avenue. Even a Supreme Court dominated by his appointees might not uphold this claim, but it underscores his authoritarian bent. 

Even if he’s not reelected, the underlying threats to democracy remain: deepening polarization, government’s inability to solve serious problems and public distrust of major institutions. Add to that public confusion about what is true: chronic income and wealth inequality, hostile foreign bots (and extremist domestic ones) spreading divisive disinformation; and the failure of schools to prepare young citizens for jobs in the AI future or to critically navigate social media.

The threat cries out for intervention by respected figures — acting together to maximize their influence and encouraging concerned citizens to join them in a movement to safeguard democracy. I once proposed this idea to one of the worthies I cited above. He said, “Ah, you guys in the media would pay no attention.” I think he’s dead wrong — if the movement were big enough, relentless and well-financed.

There’s a historical precedent for such a movement. It’s brilliantly described in Lynne Olson’s 2013 book, “Those Angry Days,” chronicling the late 1930s and early ’40s battle between isolationists and interventionists over whether to provide military aid to Winston Churchill’s beleaguered Britain as it waged a last-ditch struggle against Nazi Germany.

Actually, two groups led the interventionist cause. One was a citizens’ group organized by Kansas editor William Allen White (the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies), which enlisted governors, mayors, college presidents, newspaper editors, writers, businessmen, actors and prizefighter Gene Tunney to serve on its executive board.

The board, in turn, helped organize grassroots groups all over the country. “Our idea,” White wrote, “is to fill the radio and the newspapers and the Congressional mail with the voices of prominent citizens urging America to become the non-belligerent ally of France and England.”

When France fell, White’s group mushroomed to 700 chapters in 47 states. Members sponsored rallies, radio broadcasts and newspaper ads and shipped petitions with millions of signatures to Capitol Hill and the White House.

Franklin Roosevelt privately wanted to aid Britain, but was intimidated into inaction by an isolationist-dominated Congress, public reluctance to again get involved in European conflict, and propagandizing by Charles Lindbergh’s America First Committee. U.S. military leaders also opposed giving scarce arms to Britain, fearing they would be captured by a victorious Hitler and ultimately used against an ill-prepared U.S.

The second group, based in New York’s exclusive Century Club, consisted of internationalist-minded bankers, lawyers including future Secretary of State Dean Acheson, journalists including columnists Joseph Alsop and Walter Lippmann and Time-Life publisher Henry Luce, and, ultimately, retired World War I commander Gen. John Pershing.

This group secretly wanted the U.S. to enter World War II directly, but argued tactically for aid to Britain. It, too, agitated with newspaper columns and stories and radio broadcasts — but its members also applied direct pressure in Washington, where they had close contacts in the Roosevelt administration, the military and Congress.

Ultimately, of course, Adolf Hitler and the heroic Churchill — capped by Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor — decided the issue. But the two groups certainly shifted public and government opinion.

The future of American democracy is at stake again and democrats of all parties should not silently sit by.

A Senate Trial Could Force Key Trumpers to Testify

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Last week, EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified in the House impeachment investigation, that, “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.” He made it clear (with some documentary support) that Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, Acting White House Chief of Staff and OMB Director Mulvaney, and Secretary of Energy Perry were among those “in the loop.” And they all played some role in advancing Trump’s Ukraine bribery scheme. Former National Security Advisor John Bolton also knew what was going on but had the good judgment to distance himself from “whatever drug deal [they’re] cooking up,” as he put it. At the heart of those efforts was Trump consigliere Rudy Giuliani, who Bolton warned was, “a hand grenade who is going to blow us all up.”

But at Trump’s demand, all those key players have refused to testify. Those who did testify (at personal and professional risk) did so in defiance of Trump’s orders (and, even then, were denied access to their emails, texts, and other documents held by the Trump administration). So why aren’t Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi pursuing in the courts subpoenas of these central fact witnesses and documents? The simple answer is that they don’t want to put impeachment on hold while Trump runs out the clock over many months, while the media and the public get bored and move on to a succession of other Trump outrages, absurdities and distractions, and the 2020 campaign ramps up. There is already plenty of evidence on the record and they want to move expeditiously while the narrative is fresh and clear.

Schiff has shown his skill and discipline as a prosecutor and I suspect he abandoned the courts in favor of a more expedient and likely effective approach. But do not abandon hope. Hear me out.

An impeachment trial in the Senate is not conducted by Senators. They are the jury. It is conducted by “House managers” for the prosecution and defense. The Presiding Officer, per the Constitution, would be Chief Justice Roberts. The Senate’s impeachment rules provide that the House managers can issue subpoenas to anyone, presumably including Pence, Pompeo, Mulvaney, Perry, Bolton, and Giuliani. The defense could object that the testimony is irrelevant or covered by privilege. Rule VII provides that a ruling on such questions will usually be made by the Presiding Officer. The Chief Justice would likely decide, in the first instance, claims of executive privilege or attorney-client privilege. He would also likely decide questions such as the crime/fraud exception and the co-conspirator exception to the hearsay rule, as well as questions of waiver of any privilege. Finally, he would rule on subpoenas for the production of documents.

Senate and Supreme Court precedent favors broad discovery. In Nixon’s impeachment, there was never a Senate trial. But at earlier stages in the process, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that he had to turn over Oval Office tapes (about the deepest penetration of presidential immunity imaginable short of actual presidential testimony). And his closest advisors testified: White House Counsel Dean, Attorney General Mitchell,
Chief of Staff Haldeman, Chief Domestic Policy Advisor Erlichman, FBI Director Gray, et al.

While a majority of the Senate could vote to overturn the Chief Justice’s ruling, only a handful of Republican senators would have to vote to uphold the Chief Justice’s ruling to sustain it. And it would be a tough vote to overturn a partisan Republican Chief Justice on matters of law and evidence. In any event, it would be out in the open, in the harsh glare of public opinion.

You might have spotted a flaw in this plan: Maybe Chief Justice John Roberts will prove himself, yet again, to be a Republican partisan and won’t compel the testimony and documents sought by House managers. That certainly wouldn’t be a good look for him – and he would have to own it. But if that is the case, he certainly wouldn’t have provided the fifth vote on the Supreme Court to compel that evidence. In any event, it won’t be hung up in the courts for months, largely out of public view.

Of course, Senate Republicans may adopt rules for a trial that would hobble it and cut it short. There are reports they might try to keep it as short as two weeks. The Clinton impeachment trial lasted more than five weeks. (That was quick compared with the 10 week impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson.) The rules were agreed upon by both parties and adopted by the Senate unanimously. I wouldn’t expect that from McConnell nor would I underestimate his guile and shamelessness.

Still, I think the odds are good we get more damning evidence from some of the key players before this thing is done. But don’t get your hopes up. There is no way (in my opinion) that 20 Republican Senators are going to vote to remove Trump from office. That party has become a cult, concerned only with power for its own sake. Expecting Democrats to reform the Republican Party through shame and sheer moral force is just setting them up to fail. Ultimately, the goal is to get at the truth – and show clearly the depths of corruption and abuse of power Republicans are willing to defend.

So far Pelosi and Schiff have played this perfectly. That is, they have played it straight and stayed focused and disciplined. I assume they know what they’re doing.

A Trump Coup Would Need Military Support. Not Likely After This Week

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If President Donald J. Trump is convicted by the U.S. Senate or if he loses the 2020 election, many liberals and lefties worry he won’t leave office voluntarily. I am not overly concerned. In order to carry out such a coup, Trump would need the active cooperation of the military. And the leadership of the armed services regards the president as a harmful buffoon. Just consider the past few weeks.

Over the past weekend, Trump fired Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer. The termination resulted from the parties disagreeing over Trump’s pardon of Navy SEAL and Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who had been convicted of violating military law. First, Trump pardoned Gallagher, 1st Lieutenant Clint Lorance, another soldier convicted of war crimes, and Major Mathew Golsteyn, who was awaiting trial for a war crime. The military brass made no secret of its unhappiness.

CBS News reported former Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey tweeting, “Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US service members accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the Law of Armed Conflict seriously. Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us. #Leadership.”

In response to Gallagher’s pardon, the Navy leadership went after the sailor’s “Trident Pin,” essentially wanting to boot him out of the SEALs, a special operations force. Trump interfered with military discipline again, ordering that Gallagher be reinstated. Navy Secretary Spencer refused to cave to the president’s orders and was fired.

This is the latest incident in an ongoing war between military leaders and the president.

Retired Marine Corps General John Kelly served first as Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security and then as his chief of staff. It didn’t go well. Kelly recalled telling Trump, “I said, whatever you do — and we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place — I said whatever you do, don’t hire a ‘yes man,’ someone who won’t tell you the truth — don’t do that. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached,” according to CNN.

Retired Army Lt. General H.R. McMaster became Trump’s national security adviser. After McMaster left the Trump administration, he said some of his former colleagues were “a danger to the Constitution,” reported Politico.

From 2017-18, retired Marine Corps General Jim Mattis filled the Secretary of Defense post for Trump. The Atlantic reported that Mattis told his friends that Trump was “of limited cognitive ability and of generally dubious character.”

If the U.S. military must choose sides between a rogue Trump and the rule of law, it’s clear the leaders of the armed forces will support the latter.

Satire: Trump Shoots Three on NYC Street; GOP Apologists Fire Right Back

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Image: Flickr

A day after President Donald J. Trump randomly shot three people on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, leading Replications rallied to his defense. 

“They were terrorists,” Senator Lindsay Graham stated. “We have definite proof that they were all New Yorkers.” Asked if all New Yorkers were terrorists, Graham replied, “Where did 911 happen?”

“When the President shot three proven terrorists, he was not only acting in self-defense. He also foiled their plot to bomb the nearby Trump Tower,” Senator Ted Cruz said. “All three were wearing suicide vests. They deliberately exploded the vests as they were shot to destroy this evidence.”

“Trump courageously fulfilled a campaign promise. Hard-working Americans voted for him understanding that he would shoot people on Fifth Avenue,” Rep. Devin Nunes said. “Trump also demonstrated that he is not afraid to exercise his second amendment rights.”  

“Get over it,” Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney added. 

The President himself tweeted, “Three people in three shots. I was perfect. It was beautiful, incredible, amazing. I hope Vladimir will be impressed”

However, videos of the killings reveal that Trump fired at least 16 shots. “The video is fake news. As Groucho Marx said, ’Who are going to believe? Me or your own eyes?’” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said. “The President is the best marksman since Billy the Kid. The President could have single-handedly won the Vietnam war were he not hobbled by bone spurs.”

Despite the video and Trump’s tweet, Fox News reported that Trump was not even present during the shootings. “Look closely at the video and you will see that killer was Nancy Pelosi in drag,” Tucker Carlson said. “An LGBTQ ISIS cell in Seattle supplied Pelosi with makeup, firearms and an ill-fitting size 50 suit for her mission.”

An hour later Sean Hannity charged that Hunter Biden was the actual killer. “This all goes back to the Ukrainian plot to interfere with our 2016 election and frame Russia, to the DNC server Joe Biden gave to the Burisma Group, the FISA warrant, the Steele Dossier, the savage LGTBQ ISIS militia in Seattle, the Black Sox scandal of 1919, and Cain slaying Abel,” Hannity said. “This is bigger than Watergate. This is bigger than Pearl Harbor. Someone should investigate. Are you listening Attorney General Barr?”

Attorney General William Barr announced that he would immediately investigate reports that  the Third Armored Division of the LGBTQ ISIS Army had invaded West Seattle.

Barr added that he could neither investigate nor indict a sitting President. “The President cannot be distracted by fake news murder allegations. He needs to keep working on another tax cut for the rich that will make all hard-working Americans better off.”

Leading Democrat presidential candidates were quick to criticize Trumps’ actions. Bernie Sanders called the killings, “An inevitable consequence of capitalism,” while Elizabeth Warren issued an $80 billion plan to “deter and impede murder by billionaires through intensive counseling and meditation.” Warren said her plan would not increase taxes on the middle class but would be financed by confiscating Van Cleef & Arpels Vintage Alhambra Brooches and Patek Philippe Nautilus Ladies watches from women whose net worth exceeds $2,775,000.

The Biden campaign said they expected to release a statement within hours after the Vice President awakes from his nap.

No Harm No Foul? Sorry, Damage Has Already Been Done

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It’s eerie how Team Trump’s main defense — hey, the aid was finally delivered to Ukraine and no Biden investigation happened so no harm, no foul — reprises Tim Eyman’s shoplifting defense: hey, I returned the chair to Office Depot so no harm, no foul. By this logic, attempted murder should not be a crime.

In fact, Trump did do plenty of harm to Biden’s prospects simply by associating “Biden” and “investigation” in an endless string of news reports and congressional sound-offs — just as James Comey, perhaps less wittingly did to Hillary Clinton by tagging her with a reopened investigation (which came to nothing) in the last weeks of the 2016 campaign. That, Gordon Sondland strongly suggested in both his closed-door and public testimony, was the point all along: not so much to conduct a trumped-up investigation of the Bidens as to announce that investigation on CNN.

It was gratifying over the past two weeks to see some major media, including Guardian and  NY Times writers, start to consider that distinction and note the announcement Trump sought. A week ago, NPR’s television critic, Eric Deggans, acutely analyzed the importance of such an announcement: “For Trump, if it’s not on TV, it’s not real.” But it’s disheartening to see how many in media, including NPR reporters and newsreaders, continue to refer simply to the “investigations” Trump wanted.

Whoa on Impeachment and Settle for a Censure Vote

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By Kelby D. Fletcher

I wonder whether impeaching the President and trying him in the Senate is wise.  It may be better for the country and for Democrats to vote to censure him for endangering the security of an ally, Ukraine, and the United States, and for obstruction of justice. Allow me to explain.

1.  There is no doubt the votes to impeach are there in the House. But the vote will be along party lines although there could be some Democrats who vote against articles of impeachment.

2.  There can be no doubt that the Senate will not vote to remove the President from office.  The Senate failed, by one vote, to remove Andrew Johnson for his efforts to hamper Reconstruction and to remove cabinet officers favoring a strong Reconstruction after the Civil War.  The Senate refused to remove President Clinton from office for perjury.  While it was about sex, it is certainly the case that he perjured himself. 

3.  The Senate Republicans will want a trial which will have witnesses.  And those may include the Bidens and anyone they can find to corroborate President Trump’s fantasies about Ukraine.  The Chief Justice will preside and will rule on evidentiary and procedural issues. The Republicans will clamor for transparency and due process and they likely will muck things up so much that the issues will appear to be partisan and not criminal or impeachable.

4. If the vote to convict is largely along party lines, which is very likely, what does the country get at the end of that process?  More partisan finger pointing and an even uglier election year. And all of this will be exploited by what we now know to be efforts by Russia to divide us and other democratic nations.

The managers of the impeachment will come from the House of Representatives and the President will have his own counsel.  While it might be interesting to have the President testify, he will serve to rouse his base. And he will be successful.  The Democrats will do the same thing.  But, again, to what end?

5. If there is no impeachment, one might say the House of Representatives is forfeiting its Constitutional duty.  I disagree.  It is fulfilling its duty under the Constitution by investigating and exposing the President.  And it did so on its terms with procedural fairness for the President’s supporters. 

Wouldn’t it be better to have Chairman Schiff’s work be the work of the Congress rather than a trial in the Senate where Rep. Jim Jordan can collaborate with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and disparage the Bidens, President Obama and Ukrainians?

6. If the House censures the President, the motion may draw support from some Republicans.  And, it shows to the American people that Democrats – and reasonable people – are willing to investigate and expose but not to engage in further Washington DC destructive partisanship. 

7. While a Senate trial would put some senators in election contests in the hot seat, the same can occur when the vote to censure moves to the Senate, if Sen. McConnell allows it to go there.  Either way, senators will be asked where they stand on the evidence disclosed in the impeachment inquiry.

In short, a report from the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee setting out the dangers President Trump presents to the American system and security followed by a vote to Censure may accomplish more than a vote to impeach followed by an acquittal in the Senate. 

The work of the House committees in the televised hearings these past few weeks has done more than what could be accomplished in the Senate. Persuadable voters saw and heard how destructive President Trump is and has been.

Kelby D. Fletcher practices law in Seattle at the firm of Stokes Lawrence.

Impeachment: An Acela Corridor Parlor Game for the “Entertainment and Confirmation” Crowd?

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Independent Voters Don’t See Impeachment at All the Way You or I Do

I’m on the record saying Trump has committed a textbook abuse of power and needs to be impeached for his attempt to leverage Ukraine aid and support to develop negative information about the Bidens. I’m also on the record saying that the current round of impeachment hearings aren’t likely to benefit the Democrats politically and that they need to move quickly to get impeachment (which will almost certainly lead to an acquittal in the senate along mostly partisan lines) over and done with. Thankfully, the Dem leadership in the House seems to agree with me, and are moving to wrap this all up quickly and get it out of the way.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve found the impeachment hearings to be riveting, and I am duly shocked by the depths of craven amorality to which the Trump administration has sunk. If you’re reading this, you probably did too. But the way we see impeachment is not the way still persuadable voters — the 15 or 20 percent of the electorate that will decide the 2020 election — see impeachment.

The dribs and drabs of recent polling on impeachment that I’ve seen seem to indicate that the numbers are perhaps starting to shift the wrong way, because less ideological voters see impeachment as a distraction, a partisan squabble divorced from the reality of their everyday lives, and the longer it goes on the more turned off they are by the whole spectacle. Anyway, there’s no indication that these high profile hearings are increasing public support for impeaching Trump. Rather, they are providing grist for the educated elites (like me, and probably you, and membership of the national media) in the “entertainment and confirmation” crowd (as we are characterized in the quote below) who are finding in the proceedings the ratification of deeply held pre-existing political beliefs. In other words, the latest polling appears to support the view that Dems need to get through the impeachment process ASAP, before key segments of the electorate turn on them for overreaching.

Ken Stern of Vanity Fair provides a timely and careful analysis, based on some recent impeachment polling, released on Nov. 19, of how independent voters are reacting to the impeachment proceedings. Here are his key findings:

“Three important factors are driving the views of Independents. The first is that, in their view, impeachment distracts from issues they care about… among the 11 issues that Politico and Morning Consult tested, impeachment ranked last, well below the deficit at 74%, health care at 72%, and infrastructure at 70%. Even Trump’s absurd border wall scored as a higher priority for Independents. Fundamentally, most Independents want Congress to focus on the issues that impact their lives. They have not been convinced that curtailing the bad acts of Donald Trump would have any tangible effect.

“The second factor is the view among Independents that impeachment reflects the agenda of the political establishment and the media. Regardless of what they think about Trump’s behavior, Independents see impeachment as a continuation of the partisan bickering and media excess that began even before his inauguration. By massive margins, Independents say that the impeachment issue is ‘more important to politicians than it is to me’ (62% to 22%) and ‘more important to the media than it is to me’ (61% to 23%). It is hard to read this as anything but a warning to the Democratic leadership and candidates: Stop talking about issues that matter to you, not to me. Impeachment proceedings are viewed as bread and circuses for the anti-Trump crowd in Washington and the media—or, as Stanford political science professor Morris Fiorina described it to me, ‘entertainment and confirmation.’ That’s a dangerous perception as Democrats approach one of the most consequential and fraught elections of our times.

“Third, as other reporting has suggested, Independents suffer from scandal fatigue and overall confusion. They agreed with the statement “[It is] difficult to tell all the investigations in Washington apart” by a roughly two-to-one margin… Confusion has been aggravated by a rating-seeking media, whose credibility has been undermined by the fact that some cable hosts and their guests have consistently predicated, with astonishing stubbornness and inaccuracy, that the next scandal will be the one that topples Trump. It may be that the Democrats finally have the best facts against Trump, and the clearest story line of all. But they face a segment of the public that is jaundiced by what has gone on before.”



This is sobering data, and stands as a warning sign. House Democrat have no choice but to impeach Trump given what he’s done, but they need to do it quickly, so it doesn’t undermine what’s really important: beating Trump in the November 2020 election.

The Credibility Test, Impeachment Edition

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One reason for televising the impeachment hearings is to establish the credibility of witnesses and members of Congress. So how did that all turn out?

Two really strong women, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and Russian expert Fiona Hill, were rock-solid, as was the veteran Ambassador William Taylor. We’ve seen high-profile political appointees in foreign affairs: Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Condoleezza Rice and Madeline Albright; but Yovanovitch and Hill showed the mettle of career foreign service professionals, and should be an inspiration for young women thinking about a similar career. 

This may prove to be of some importance, as the support of female voters may be the deciding factor in 2020 elections. The demonization of Yovanovitch in particular by President Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani and right-wing pundits will not play well with women. 

My takeaway from committee ranks was that we are well represented in this process by Congressman Denny Heck, the former TVW founder and state legislator from Olympia.

Among much hand wringing on both sides as they tried to don a moral cloak for a partisan attack, our Denny made the case for an ethical and moral approach based on the historic duties imposed by the Constitution. It was impressive and one had the sense that colleagues were listening. Heck plays well as the guy next door who can handle this very difficult job without losing his sense of balance. 

Many viewers will simply be looking for witnesses or members who tell them what they want to hear, so no votes will be changed in this committee, probably few on the House floor. But I suspect—and hope—that many Americans will be looking for credibility at a time when it is seriously lacking in the other Washington. Good for our man Heck!

Heroic Civil Servants And The Tribe That Doesn’t Care

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Quite a week  in the House Impeachment Inquiry. I have a couple thoughts about what we’ve been witnessing and hearing, and then one about last night’s Democratic Debate.

First, the good news. I am finding those who have testified, from Kent and Taylor last week to Hill and Holmes today, not just to be revealing but inspiring. (Exception to this would be political appointees, Volker and Sondland. Although their testimony was devastating, they were not cut from the same cloth as the others.)

These are soft-spoken, careful, professional people who are not self-regarding. They are not promoting themselves. They are not “spinning.” They are not counting clicks. And they are speaking clearly and directly in the face of contemporaneous attacks and slurs by the President himself. That takes courage and character.

It’s been a while since I have found much on the American political scene that is inspiring. But these civil servants are just that. I give thanks to God for them and I pray for their safety and that of their families.

Second, the bad news. I’m not sure their courageous testimony is changing anyone’s mind. Clearly not the minds of Republicans on the House Committee. Not the minds of the Trump base. Not the minds of Fox TV viewers or commentators. I do occasionally read/listen to Fox to see how they are handling this and to try to see, if briefly, the world through their lens. What you see is that while the facts seem pretty clear and damning, it does not matter to the people in Trump’s tribe.

That, it seems to me, is one big difference from the Nixon impeachment era and a significant marker of how the U.S. has itself changed in the intervening years. Then facts did matter. At that time people – citizens and politicians – were capable of changing their minds and their positions.

What does it mean that changing one’s mind has now become so unlikely? Here’s my theory. Our political identities and affiliations have become our definitive, ultimate identities. There was a time when politics was serious but not ultimate. It was the realm of compromise. Now, politics and political loyalties have taken on a quasi-religious quality. Correspondingly, whether you are Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or something else doesn’t matter all that much these days. Changing loyalties, dabbling in one then another, are mostly fine, even encouraged. Not so with politics.

In her book Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity Lilliana Mason says that there was a time when our various identities tended to be less rigid and predictable. We might be conservative on some things, liberal on others. Or there might be parts of life where those categories were irrelevant. Someone, like Fred Rogers might be both a liberal Protestant and a lifelong Republican.

Mason adds a warning: “A situation in which partisans on both sides think that they face existential stakes every four years is not sustainable for very long.”

Now for one comment on the fifth Democratic Debate. The effect of the continuing large number of candidates on the stage (some of them more or less a joke, like Steyer and Gabbard) and the tough questioning which the candidates are subject to has been to level the Democrats out.

Against the backdrop of the Impeachment hearings it’s sort of like “Darth Vader and the Ten Dwarves.” In the background, Trump wields his Twitter light-saber, while the Democratic candidates seem to get smaller and increasingly predictable.

After the Hearings, Let’s Hear It For an Emotion-Grabbing Ad Campaign

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Stirring closing argument from Chairman Adam Schiff. Now what?

I hope the Democrats spend everything they have in a smart, effective, emotion-grabbing ad campaign to convince  even Trump’s base that this president represents a clear and present danger to the nation. Some snappy versions of The shoe fits/We can’t acquit – with its resonance of the OJ Simpson trial, as Chuck Todd commented, another case where everyone knew he was guilty but he got away with it. Commercials with the resonance of the little girl and the flower.

Danny Deutsch, are you listening? Tom Steyer, Bloomberg, Yang, put your money where your goals are. Let the branding begin, because that’s how you sway the electorate.

We’ve just concluded Act One. There’s an intermission before Act Two, and then come the holidays — a time when heartstrings are easily tugged. Here comes a great branding opportunity. And I bet Fox would take your advertising dollars.

Another Plot Twist: The Return of the Hawks

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Fiona Hill, a compelling witness in the impeachment hearings, is a Russian expert, and a fully-feathered hawk. In her stern warnings about Republicans swallowing Putin propaganda and thereby letting Russia off the hook for election interference, she once again shifted the impeachment framing from corruption by Trump to patriotism and a warlike footing for American policy. Hill, who constantly expected to be ejected and quit the administration, was all along an unlikely figure in the soft-on-Putin Trumpworld.

This shift to attacking Russia has a tactical advantage as the Democrats seek more Republican defections and more public pressure to impeach. It will help in prying Republicans from their flat-out defense of Trump, since they can appear to be Kremlin stooges. One wonders if the Cold War interests, such as defense contractors and the military, won’t start to put pressure on the GOP. And appealing to patriotism during the 2020 election could help Democrats in many swing districts where church, flag, and military strength play well in the culture wars.

But this martial music could also create some problems for the Democrats, long-term. There are few (if any) hawks in the Democrats running for the presidential nomination, though I almost expect Mayor Pete to show up in uniform any day now. And candidates who jump on the bandwagon of The Russians Are Coming! will risk alienating the dove wing of the party. Joe Biden has the foreign policy experience to flap a few hawk wings, and Buttegieg is always happy to remind voters of his military service. But the others might look too expedient if they follow the Fiona Hill script, at least during the primary.

Still, the opening is there for some good OLD Democratic tunes that might play well in Trump Country.

The Party’s Over, Republicans

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It’s over. Sondland has destroyed every Republican line of defense and confirmed that Trump conditioned official acts on Ukraine announcing that they would perform “investigations” that would benefit Trump personally. This is bribery, and clearly impeachable.

Now Republicans in and out of office must choose: loyalty to the rule of law, or loyalty to Donald Trump. Country or Party. It’s that simple.

Sondland Makes It Crowded Under the Impeachment Bus

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When President Donald Trump proclaims, “Not only did we win today; it’s over,” you know it ain’t over.

That was his take on Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony. We learned things, however, as Sondland fought to keep his reputation with candid (up to an extent) talk about his relationship with Trump. In the Optics War, the headlines were not good for Trump: “Sondland, Defiant, Says He Followed Trump’s Orders to Pressure Ukraine,” was the top headline on the New York Times. 

Republicans will—and did—argue that Trump constantly stated, “no quid pro quo,” and never directly told Sondland there was. But Sondland said he believed there was, and also said that “everybody” in high circles in Trumpworld knew what was afoot. As Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif) pointed out, Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, said Trump speaks “in code” in which incriminating words are avoided, but his intention is clear. Trump’s conversation with Sondland was a classic case of code-speak.

We also learned that Sondland is not afraid to throw some very important people under the impeachment bus; it will be crowded under there. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Vice President Mike Pence all had been alerted by Sondland, and they and chief aides were well aware of the work of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.

The denials are already beginning, but it’s hard to believe that insiders of this rank had no idea what Giuliani and the president were up to, if not all the details.

We also saw a frustrated Sondland who was denied access to papers and calendars that would have avoided at least some of the several “I don’t recall” answers that diminished his testimony. Pompeo and Trump kept the material unavailable, so the case for obstruction of Congress moved up several notches. The president was more careful about disparaging Sondland—after all, he donated a million dollars—than career foreign service officers, but Republican allies were not as dainty.

Sondland, a newcomer to political office, learned the hard way what reporters learn the first day on the beat: take careful and comprehensive notes and keep them. When his testimony differed from that of career diplomats, they had the notes and he had a foggy memory.   

The president’s refusal to release documents and to allow important witnesses to testify simply adds to the comprehensive “obstruction” section of the Mueller Report. It is not as sexy as abuse-of-power, but it is wide, deep, and damning, and could include intimidation of witnesses. Look for an article of impeachment on this matter. 

Impeachment: The Cake Is Baked, So Get on with It

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Post-Sondland, we have heard enough. Let’s get on with it. Rip the band aid off. Impeach Trump already.

To judge from the breathless tone of the media commentary, Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony – “I followed the directions of the president” – is a political game changer. While he certainly shredded many of president’s Republican defenders’ (ludicrous) talking points, I’m skeptical this will change much. Trump supporters will cling to their alternative narrative. Republican senators will brush it all off like lint on a cheap suit.

The reality is that it has been plainly evident to any fair-minded person that President Trump, by pressuring the Ukrainians to launch a dubious investigation of the Bidens, has committed a textbook abuse of power. That close to half our country refuses to admit the obvious is just the way it is in present-day, hyperpolarized America.

The Democrats really have no choice but to impeach him, even if it remains a wholly partisan impeachment with no chance of success in the Republican-controlled Senate. Anything less would set a terrible precedent, legitimizing the sort of corrupt behavior that corrodes our democratic institutions.

So, Democrats, get on with it. We know enough already. Don’t expect the public hearings to change anything politically. Everybody who wants to know already knows all they need to know. The small sliver of the American electorate that remains persuadable on impeachment is a cohort that is largely disengaged from politics; unlike some of us political junkies, they’re not glued to the wall-to-wall CNN or MSNBC coverage. Most of them probably don’t know or care who Sondland is.

Impeachment right now looks to be a political wash. In our tribal environment, about half the country is ready to kick Trump to the curb, and the other are unwilling to accord the proceedings any legitimacy whatsoever. The Democrats — and the media — seem to naively believe that the spectacle of consistent and overlapping public testimony from a parade of witnesses like Sondland (or George Kent or Bill Taylor) is going to convince a meaningful chunk of the public to accept that Trump has abused the power of his office (just as they naively believed that getting Mueller to testify would move public opinion). But rehashing in public the testimony, however convincing, previously given in private is unlikely to do much of anything to change the overarching dueling narratives, or rejigger the partisan divide.

It would take some spectacular new revelations about further, previously secret wrongdoing from Trump and Co. to move the needle at all (and even then, with partisans dug into their political trenches, the impact on public opinion would still probably be minor). I suppose that’s possible — if, say, John Bolton were to testify and if he spilled all he knows, that would be must-watch tv.

But it’s unlikely. The cake is baked. So get on with it. Impeach. Then, as seems inevitable, acquit. And then let’s get on to the 2020 election.

Bipartisan Salutes to Impeachment Witnesses for Public Service. Really?

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Two words pop into my head every time I hear House members – from both parties – thank the impeachment inquiry witnesses for their decorated military service: Bone spurs.

One word comes to mind when Trump tweets or his Republican acolytes question the female career diplomats called as fact witnesses before the Intelligence Committee: misogyny.

It defies credulity that loyalty to President Trump overrides the respect the Republican House members profess to have for Ukraine chief of mission William Taylor and National Security Council European Affairs Director Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

Taylor, who graduated in the top 1% of his class at West Point and was decorated for valor for his combat service in Vietnam, spent 50 years in public service, from the Army to NATO to the State Department.

Vindman was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded by a roadside bomb while patrolling Fallouja during the U.S. “surge” of forces against extremists in Iraq. Trump’s only military involvement was getting five Vietnam War-era deferments.

Republican Rep. Chris Stewart noted his own family tradition of military service in expressing gratitude for Vindman’s. Then he questioned why the career military officer would wear his dress uniform and medals to a civilian hearing. Other GOP members picked up and ran with baseless accusations in right-wing media that Vindman, a naturalized U.S. citizen whose Ukrainian family fled the Soviet Union when he was a toddler, might be compromised by divided loyalties.

Trump’s tweets Friday disparaging the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine he ousted in May, Marie Yovanovitch, were at least a genuine representation of his attitude toward strong, dedicated and accomplished women. He doesn’t like them. That comes through loud and clear, with no insincere thanks for her service.

GOP members’ questioning of Jennifer Williams, the State Department’s foreign policy adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, was less combative during Tuesday’s hearing. But Trump couldn’t stop himself from tweeting a warning ahead of her testimony, calling the woman who served the Bush-Cheney administration a “Never Trumper” and accusing her of collaborating with Democrats to attack his fitness for office.

Doesn’t sound much like gratitude for public service.

Gordon Sondland – The Transactional Witness And His Northwest Power Moves

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President Donald J. Trump flanked by First Lady Melania Trump, U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, U.S. Ambassador to the Belgium Ronald Gidwitz and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland greets Tri- Mission Brussels employees and families in Brussels, Belgium on July 11, 2018. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

If there is a single word that describes both President Donald Trump and Gordon Sondland, his ambassador to the European Union, it would be “transactional.” The art of negotiating a business deal, in which both men are skilled, is all about exchanging promises and delivering support, the art of the deal.

Sondland was quoted by one of the State Department witnesses as explaining that when businessmen close a deal, they don’t sign the check until the goods are delivered. There is always a “deliverable,” such as an investigation of the Bidens. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was prompted to deliver a television statement that such an investigation would take place, but before he could comply, the whole deal collapsed with the whistleblower complaint.

But international relations are not the same as transactions Trump and Sondland carried out in their businesses in hotels and real estate, Sondland in Seattle and Portland. “All diplomacy in some respects is transactional, but Donald Trump is transactional in a way that is not so much about what’s good for American interests, it’s what’s good for Donald Trump personally and financially – and in the case of Ukraine, what’s good for Donald Trump’s personal political interests,” said Bruce Jentleson, a professor of political science and international relations at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, in an excellent analysis by the Christian Science Monitor.

Personal conversations with Oregon contacts and a review of media coverage point to elements that bond Trump and Sondland; despite Trump’s statement that he “hardly knows the gentleman” there is plenty of evidence he does, including Sondland’s ability to dial up the White House and talk to Trump.

But they also tell me Sondland does not share the dark side of Trump: the racism and xenophobia, antagonism to strong women and lack of empathy. Sondland is a better man, and ultimately on Wednesday he will be forced to decide between his human values and the transactional deal that brought him to Trump’s administration. Trump delivered the ambassadorship that Sondland coveted; in turn Sondland strived mightily to deliver the Zelensky deal that Trump coveted. Sondland’s conflicting testimony in two earlier depositions forces him on Wednesday to fess up and tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Will he do that, or attempt to dodge questions and risk perjury? I don’t know the man personally; he appeared in Oregon politics long after I left, but there are reasons to think he will be forthright, at the risk of a massive Trump twitter storm and ruthless Republican pushback.

Like other witnesses in this saga (Alexander Vindman, Marie Yovanovitch), Sondland is a product of the Stalin-Hitler era. His parents, German Jews, fled to Uruguay and eventually wound up in Seattle, where Gordon grew up and started his hotel chain by purchasing the bankrupt Roosevelt Hotel as a 28-year-old University of Washington dropout. He expanded later to Portland, where Provenance Hotels now owns 14 hotels and he is a multi-millionaire.

He became a successful businessman, and married a successful real estate developer (and registered Democrat) Kathryn Durant. They began to move in Oregon political circles in the early 2000s, giving money to Democrats at the state level but Republicans nationally. Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski (2003-2011) appointed Durant to the prestigious and very important Oregon Investment Council, which oversees a $100 billion pension fund for public employees. Sondland was named to the Oregon Film Board, which plays a big role in the state’s work with film producers.

In Oregon political circles, Sondland zeroed in at the top and was close to both Kulogoski and his successor, John Kitzhaber (2011-2015). A large self-confident and successful man, Sondland gravitated toward power. “‘He’s a divining rod for people with political power,” an associate of Kulongoski’s said of Sondland in an interview with Fortune magazine. “If you walk into a crowded room and you’re looking for the most powerful person, look for Gordon, because you know he’s tall and he’ll be within five feet of them.'”

If Oregon’s Democratic politics drew the power couple to Kulongoski and Kitzhaber, at the national level, Sondland’s allegiance was Republican, and he became a supporter of presidential nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney, and in 2016 he backed Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. When Bush failed, Sondland began to help the nominee-apparent, Donald Trump. He signed up as a sponsor for a big Seattle fundraiser that August. But he abruptly withdrew, and that says something about the man.

When Trump savagely attacked the Muslim family of an American soldier killed in Iraq, Sondland split with the candidate. “In light of Mr. Trump’s treatment of the Khan family and the fact that his constantly evolving positions diverge from their personal beliefs and values on so many levels, neither Mr. Sondland nor Bashar Wali can support Trump’s candidacy,” an announcement from Provenance Hotels stated. Wali, a Muslim immigrant from Syria, is president of Provenance and very close to Sondland.

Sondland later contributed a million dollars to Trump’s inaugural and got his ambassadorship; transactional politics at work. The ambassadorship may well be due to Sondland’s relationship with Reince Priebus, Trump’s first chief of staff, with whom Sondland worked as a donor and ‘bundler” for Republican candidates when Prebius was Republican National Committee chair.

Sondland surely must have realized that his withdrawal from the Trump fundraiser would hurt his ambassadorial ambitions if Trump won office. But in the best of transactional politics, he dug down and gave big when Trump was elected. The fundraiser incident is evidence, however, that Sondland does not share much of Trump’s dark side, anti-Muslim prejudice in particular.

The Sondland-Durant duo have also made a mark in Portland public affairs, including large donations to Portland Art Museum and Oregon Harbor of Hope, a program for the homeless. Sondland is not without critics at home; he maintains a Seattle hotel as his official residence for tax purposes, avoiding most of Oregon’s income tax, and he has been known to have sharp elbows in Portland real estate dealings. (Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss is a source for much of this personal history)

His personal demeanor and experience both helps and hurts him in his relationship with Trumpworld. “His mandate from the president was to go make deals,” was the analysis of Tim Morrison, a National Security Council official, in written testimony to Congress. That appears to be the linkage between the two men; both understand the transaction of deals—but until 2017, those deals were always private business deals.

Sondland, like Trump, did not understand or did not concern himself with all the other aspects of international relations and their nuances. Even at home, Sondland was viewed as naïve about the workings of government at large. More of an intellect than Trump, Sondland also carried some of the bluntness and bluster of the world of the deal into his federal appointment. An example would be his infamous cell phone call to the president from a restaurant in Kyiv, now at the center of the investigation.

Several things are emblematic. The very idea of picking up an unsecured telephone in a popular restaurant in Kyiv—where Russian wires and spies are almost underfoot—and calling the president of the United States is mind-boggling. So is the fact that he was patched through to Trump’s private phone. Hello, Putin, how is the reception? This is emblematic of Sondland’s self-confidence and ego. So is holding the phone away from his ear so diplomats at the table could hear Trump—and be impressed. Also emblematic and almost unbelievable is Sondland’s purported greeting of Trump: “He loves your ass,” and will do anything to help. The vulgarism may be typical of both Trump and Sondland, but it staggers the mind and can only be based on what Sondland at least believes is a very close personal connection. Look for that to be dynamited by the White House.

How does a businessman whose image at home has been relatively benign, if at times controversial, find himself in this sort of hot water, with the heat being turned up by both parties? “It’s the nature of the battlefield,” a friend explained, based his knowledge of the man; a nice way to saying that Sondland is way over his head, because he was trying to bring the “deliverables” that Trump wanted as a reward for the ambassadorship.

Sondland is now toast in Washington D.C., so far under the bus that he can see the crankshaft. He still has a salvageable reputation in his native Pacific Northwest if he takes the full plunge and tells everything he knows about Trump and a deal-gone-wrong that he was caught up in while trying to deliver to the transactional president.

Further Reading

Some excellent analysis of Trump’s transactional style

Provenance Hotels

An interview with Sondland

Eleven things about Gordon Sondland

Trump Trashes Yet Another Strong Woman

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Perhaps the needle moved at least a bit when President Donald Trump live-tweeted a direct insult against Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, while she was testifying. Jaws dropped in the room and the country. At first, the ridiculous assertion that Somalia failed at the hands of a junior foreign-service officer, but then, most importantly, at the entire idea of trashing a witness mid-testimony.

Republicans may be correct in scoffing that Yovanovitch is too tough to be deterred by a tweet; that’s probably true. But why should she be forced to endure the running strain of insults from the president at all?

This began with his reference to her in the infamous phone call with President Zelensky, in which he referred to her only as “the former ambassador, the woman, was bad news.” Trump surely knew Yovanovitch’s name after months of efforts by Rudy Giuliani and his Ukranian thugs to destroy her.

As my wife immediately pointed out, use of “the woman” rather than her name is demeaning to someone of Yovanovitch’s stature—and an insult to all women. If that was demeaning, the president’s later statement that she would “go through some things” was flat-out intimidation by any rational standard. And therein lies the heart of charges that Trump threatened and intimidated a witness. That is a federal crime.

If the needle moved, surely it would have been women watching yet another example of Trump trashing strong females, from his profane battering of journalist Megyan Kelly (“blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her, wherever”) to branding Hillary Clinton as “crooked” and “unable to satisfy her husband.” A host of other examples exist, as noted in a column for The Atlantic by journalist Molly Jong-Fast.

Add to that the clear intimidation and threats by Trump against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, whom he basically charged with treason. Should any president now or in the future be allowed to get away with such behavior? It will take a seismic event of some force to breach the great red wall in the House Republican Caucus, but the ground moved just a bit Friday.

The needle may be moving. ABC/Ipsos conducted a weekend poll showing that 70 percent of respondents believed Trump did something wrong in Ukraine (25 percent did not agree). And 51 percent said he should be impeached and removed from office. I didn’t see a breakdown by gender. It might have been a factor in his “thinking about” testifyingy, perhaps in writing (ie by his lawyers), a ploy Congress is not likely to accept. Swear him and question him.

After Day One: Failure To Move The Needle

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While everybody here is pretty much on the mark for the way they and people in the liberal bubble saw and reacted to the marvelous calm decency in the presentations of Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Secretary of State George Kent, my colleagues — and others in my reading of the liberal media — are too hasty in concluding the Democrats made much progress in convincing the public to take their side. In fact, a lot of writers didn’t even see that as the issue, judging the day on who won, like judges on the bench, inside the courtroom.

For one thing, most of we commentators and even major media reporters forget that they already know much, much more about this — in detail — than, really, most everybody else. So my take is that the first day of the public impeachment hearings fell flat. The public was not moved, more likely overwhelmed by competing details, the truth of which, for most, remains uncertain.

On to day two for what’s next.

Want real impact? The House could send a couple of people from the Sergeant-At-Arms’ office in uniform over to Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s house — and the homes of maybe a few other current and ex-White House employees ignoring lawful subpoenas — about 8 p.m. some night next week and arrest them for contempt of Congress.

Of course, they’ll be bailed out right away and Trump will be able scream and Tweet “coup.” Just what he wants.  But in the long run will that be so bad?

Enough Stress Already!

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Our system wasn’t designed to tolerate this level of partisan stress.  A system based on checks and balances, and dependent upon compromise, has no answer when faced with raw determined relentless tribal partisanship.  Republicans – in the House at least – have decided to defend their Chief no matter what the facts say.  In a democracy, one must be willing to lose and still remain loyal to the process.  We crossed that line once before, after the election of 1860.  We have never been closer to it since than we are today.

The Democrats had no choice but to launch this impeachment procedure.  The primacy of the rule of law requires that the law be enforced, and Trump has clearly committed impeachable offenses.  The Democrats are doing the right thing.  That doesn’t make the endeavor any less dangerous.  Pray for America.

What Did the Optics Know, And When Did They Show It?

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In this age of visual journalism and social media, much is decided by “optics,” a new term in the political lexicon. Long ago in Watergate time, the information world was ruled by the three television networks and a few major newspapers. Now it’s optics, defined by Google this way: “North American: (typically in a political context) the way in which an event or course of action is perceived by the public.” 

Democrats on Wednesday offered witnesses who exuded patriotism and professionalism and questioners both sober and coordinated. For a viewer unfamiliar with the impeachment process, it had to be impressive—if you stayed tuned-in for two-plus hours of talking heads. 

Republicans were simply out-gunned and forced to reach beyond the facts of the case in search of rebuttals. Their turn to the dramatic—the histrionics and posturing of Jim Jordan of Ohio—only reminded us of the weakness of the GOP bench, at least on this committee.

But how much difference did this make with the large number of people who did not or could not watch the proceeding, but relied on sound bites from cable or network news? The war rooms on both sides should now be looking at tapes of their spokespersons. Adam Schiff continues to impress, as does Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but no such stars have emerged on the GOP roster; certainly not Devin Nunes or Jordan. Bad optics: sour and posturing.

It was the Republican Howard Baker who provided the optics for the Senate’s Watergate investigation of 1973: “What did the President know and when did he know it?” Thus did a Nixon loyalist open the floodgates that swept Nixon from the White House. If there is a present-day Howard Baker, he or she has yet to emerge. It would be a memorable optic.

Pass Me The Subpoena Colada! And an Essay Book.

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The public hearings of the impeachment inquiry have begun. The Republicans made quite a bit of the fact that both of the civil servants who testified, Bill Taylor and George Kent, were only reporting “hearsay” regarding the President’s alleged attempt at extortion.

This might carry some weight had the President not ordered all those witnesses who could provide first-hand testimony to defy Congressional subpoenas. (By the way, I heard that a bar in D.C. has whipped up a new drink for the occasion, “The Subpoena Colada.” We may need more than one of those to get through this!)

As a counterpoint to all the attempts to dodge, deny and obfuscate in D. C., there’s an interesting story in the Sports Section of the Seattle Times.

Seahawk fans will remember the name of Malik McDowell who was the team’s highest draft choice in 2017. Before he could ever put on a Seahawk’s uniform McDowell was seriously injured in an ATV accident. So it’s a sad story for this guy who had anticipated the wealth and fame of an NFL career.

But it gets worse . . . then better. McDowell has now been found guilty of receiving stolen goods, driving while intoxicated and assault on a police officer. He was sentenced to 11 months in jail. But here’s the interesting part. While incarcerated McDowell has been given a writing assignment by the judge. He is to write four essays on the following topics: “Finding Meaning in Life Other Than Committing Crimes,” “Principles of the Declaration of Independence and How Your Behavior Undermines Them,” “Importance of Respecting the Rule of Law,” and “Importance of Respecting Property Rights.”

Two thoughts about the assignment tendered to McDowell.

First, how many U.S. citizens today could write intelligibly on these topics? Civics education has pretty much gone by the boards in favor of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and other enthusiasms.  I regard understanding of how government works, or is supposed to work, as part of the inheritance of each citizen in a democracy. Not to have been taught about such matters diminishes the proper inheritance of each citizen (not to mention also jeopardizing democracy).

Second, one would like to see President Trump and his minions address such topics themselves. One might start with, “The Importance of Respecting the Rule of Law.” Trump’s rather expansive notion of executive privilege and immunity adds up to this — he holds himself above the law.

After addressing the rule of law, he might move on to “Principles of the Declaration of Independence and How Your Behavior Undermines Them.” His attempts to induce foreign governments to influence our elections, on his behalf, strikes a blow against something elemental to the Declaration, “the consent of the governed.”

It is impossible to know how all this — the impeachment inquiry and possible trial — will turn out. But I’m pretty sure that our casual unfamiliarity with our own form of government and of the core principles the judge has required Malik McDowell to address — all this ignorance and indifference are a big part of what has made Trump even possible.