Editors’ Blog

Dangerous When Cornered

Coming off today’s hearing Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing appeared on Lou Dobbs show this evening pushing a noxious set of bananas conspiracy theories about George Soros controlling the State Department and the FBI.

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The Irony Of The GOP Mocking Witnesses Who Didn’t Speak Directly To Trump

House Intelligence Republicans did a lot of mocking the fact that neither of the “two star witnesses” that Democrats called to kick off their public impeachment proceedings spoke directly to President Trump about his Ukraine pressure campaign.

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They Got Caught

This is a critical point and I’m surprised it took this long to surface in the hearing, though I’m heartened that it did. The evidence is circumstantial but overwhelming that the White House finally released the aid because they got caught.

What They’re Talking About

There have been repeated references to President Zelensky confirming that President Trump never pressured him. It is, as I’ve called it, what amounts to a hostage video since he was literally sitting next to him when he was asked. To refresh your memory, here’s the video they’re referring to.

Captures It

I’d say this captures the gist and tone of much of the Republican questioning.


Going back to my point that the career diplomats had a hard time getting their heads around the subterranean world of Trumpian conspiracy theories and crazy, it’s notable here that the top State Department official for Russia and Ukraine had never heard of the Crowdstrike conspiracy theory before the July 25th transcript was released.

Very Damning

Slightly separate matter: One of the most fascinating things about this story is how Trump was pre-defending himself about “quid pro quos” while the plot wasn’t even done yet. Almost certainly that is because he knew the WB complaint was already in play at the same time.

I Think It’s Real

Some of this is certainly benignly feigned naivete. But it’s nonetheless striking and I think real how these career diplomats and civil servants had genuine difficulty grasping the nature of the kind of Trumpian and pre-Trump GOP batshittery that those of us who’ve been covering it for years know as second nature.

Let’s Do This

We are, as you’d expect, all in on today’s hearings. Here’s our staff liveblog of today’s hearings: mainly Tierney Sneed (who is in the room) but also Matt Shuham and Kate Riga.

A Peek Inside The Impeachment Hearing Room

For their first impeachment hearing, House Democrats have picked a room that is TV ready.

The House Intelligence Committee, a relatively small committee that typically meets in private, is gathering in the cavernous Ways and Means hearing room — an upgrade from its typical hearing space and a world away from the underground secure conference room where all these witnesses have been talking to members up into this point.

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What Do The Democrats Have to Prove?

On virtually every talk show and daytime cable news discussion of impeachment, I hear the same question: Will the Democrats be able to make the case to the American people? Will they be able to make it clear enough, understandable enough, convincing enough? There’s often a Perils of Pauline tone about how the question is put to this or that guest, with Democrats on the line just as much as Republicans and perhaps hanging on the cusp of failure. Certainly the case can be made more or less well. I myself have pressed the importance of avoiding confounding obscurities like “quid pro quos” in favor of describing clearly what actually happened: an extortion plot to use a foreign power to sabotage a national election in the President’s favor.

But for all this the question itself misstates the situation in a critical way. What’s really being asked is whether Democrats will be able to convince not the American people but Republican partisans and more specifically congressional Republicans. And that is by design an all but impossible standard because they are deeply and unshakably committed to not being convinced.

This is not only the obvious verdict of the last three years. It’s even more clear with the questions which have emerged since September. Congressional Republicans have hopped from one argument to another: from no evidence of wrongdoing, to the wrongdoing is actually fine, to a rearguard action against a corrupt process. The chaos of arguments has zero logic or consistency beyond the simple and overriding one: of refusing to accept that the President did anything wrong no matter what evidence emerges and simply use whatever argument is available to justify that end.

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Today’s Agenda: The Impeachment Inquiry Goes Public
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 16: Bill Taylor, center, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, arrives to the Capitol for a deposition related to the House's impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call),

Happy Wednesday, November 13. Today marks the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Here’s more on that and the other stories we’re watching.

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What Was Up With Bob Mueller?

Today’s revelations out of the Roger Stone case put just one more weight on the branch of the Mueller probe’s credibility and probably far more weight than it can bear. Credibility in this context is a very fraught and weighty word. I don’t mean that it was crooked or out to whitewash the President’s actions. It’s all too complicated for anything like that. But we have a simple fact: six months out there is lots of new evidence that Mueller either must have known or could have known but didn’t make it anywhere into the report.

It’s hard not to reach the conclusion that Mueller ended up as what we might call the anti-Starr: determinedly refusing to look at anything not narrowly within the confines of his original brief. Just today we learn that there was at least pretty strong evidence that the President lied in written answers to the Special Counsel’s Office about Roger Stone delivering advance word to the campaign about Wikileaks.

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Schrödinger’s Bus #2

Let me draw your attention to this new article in the Times, the subject of which is the range of rivalries, turf wars and personality conflicts which epitomize the Trump White House and are coming to the fore under the Stress Test of impeachment. One of these is the on-going battle between “acting” Chief of Staff and John Bolton, which flared up overnight when Bolton and his protege told Mulvaney to get his own lawsuit against the President and stop trying to glom on to theirs. Mulvaney complied. He first appeared set to file his own lawsuit before — apparently? — giving up on the whole idea.

But note this passage in the Times article which suggests that Mulvaney is telling colleagues he’s all but unfireable since he knows too much damaging information about President Trump.

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Trump Calls Bolton At Home to Cancel Navy Operation
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27:  U.S. President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on the phone in the Oval Office of the White House June 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump congratulated Prime Minister Varadkar to become the new leader of Ireland.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

There’s a jarring passage in the testimony of Christopher Anderson, which was released yesterday by the House Intelligence Committee. Anderson is a Foreign Service Officer who was serving as a special advisor to Kurt Volker while he was the U.S. Special Envoy on Ukraine.

In January of this year, the U.S. Navy was sending a naval vessel into the Black Sea and specifically through the Kerch Strait. Without going too deep into the geography, this is a narrow passageway through which Russia can limit maritime access to parts of Ukraine because Russia now controls Crimea. Here the Navy was asserting its right to unfettered transit to support Ukraine. It’s referred to as a “freedom of navigation operation.”

President Trump saw a CNN report about the mission, thought it was a challenge to Russia and called John Bolton at home one night ordering him to cancel the mission.

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Today’s Agenda: Yet Another Democratic Candidate?

Happy Tuesday, November 12. Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) is weighing an eleventh-hour presidential bid. Here’s more on that and the other stories we are watching.

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The Collusion Never Stopped. The Whole GOP Got on Board.

Republicans have put forward their requests for witnesses at the upcoming public impeachment hearings. A few are quite reasonable. Those are people who testified behind closed doors and were supportive or partially supportive of the President in their opinions and judgments even if they confirmed facts which support the case against him. NSC Senior Director Tim Morrison is in that category as is Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker. But most are in a distinctly different category. They include Hunter Biden, Devon Archer (Biden’s business partner), Andrea Chalupa (a researcher and sometimes consultant for the DNC), Nellie Ohr (a researcher for Fusion GPS and wife of State Department organized crime official Bruce Ohr).

We could get into the specifics of each person in the second category. But each focuses on the same thing: proving or advancing the various conspiracy theories the pursuit of which got President Trump into this impeachment inquiry in the first place. In other words, House Republicans aren’t really defending Trump so much as joining his plot or conspiracy.

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Off Camera

One of the interesting things about reading through the impeachment deposition transcripts is that you get a different view of many of the Republican members in the room. Probably everyone knew some or all of these transcripts would eventually be made public. But not having TV cameras present still makes a big difference.

So one takeaway is that Rep. Mark Meadows is fairly friendly and easygoing, even reasonable seeming. Rep. Jim Jordan is pretty much the guy you see on camera on the Hill or on TV. Rep. Lee Zeldin is about what you’d expect. One that really jumps out to me is Rep. Devin Nunes, who is consistently hostile and angry and pushing the wildest kinds of conspiracy theories. Even away from the cameras he’s pushing the same lines about sham inquiries and the like and, unlike some of his colleagues, his heart seems entirely into it.

Schrödinger’s Bus

On Friday night, lawyers for “acting” Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney sought to join a lawsuit (if not quite a unique one then pretty close) which lists both President Trump and congressional leaders as defendants, asking a federal judge to decide who he and other White House officials must obey. The suit was originally brought by Charles M. Kupperman, the former Deputy National Security Advisor, and is being used, if not formally joined, by John Bolton, former National Security Advisor. (Kupperman and Bolton share the same lawyer, Charles J. Cooper.)

Still with me? Good.

Despite the seeming oddity of a serving White House Chief of Staff suing the President, this may actually be at least in part an effort to help Trump. By joining this lawsuit, Mulvaney not only gives himself a legal safe harbor, he may tie the question up in the courts long enough that it stretches beyond the life of the impeachment inquiry and thus becomes moot. Read More

Backstory on Rudy’s Goodfellas, Parnas and Fruman

I wanted to walk you through some of the backstory and context of this exclusive Josh Kovensky published a short while ago. Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were actually on their way to Kyiv when they were arrested at Dulles Airport last month. But it’s what they were going there to do that is most interesting to me.

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A Bit of Backstory

President Trump made a big show last hour that he may be willing to release a transcript of a “second” call with President Zelensky of Ukraine. He said Congress is “clamoring” for it and he may agree to release it. Just to explain the backstory: This appears to be the brief congratulatory call Trump made to Zelensky in April after he was elected President. (It actually precedes the July 25th call; so it’s actually the first.) It’s come up in various depositions. All evidence suggests it was brief, cordial and unobjectionable. No one has been clamoring for it. I don’t think investigators have even asked for it. This seems to be a simple effort to make a show of transparency out of something that will look innocuous once it’s released. Perhaps it’s also an attempt to have one cordial “perfect” transcript floating around for people who haven’t been following the details. Just more distraction.

‘I Hardly Know the Gentleman’

There it is.

The Battle to Save Trump

I wanted to flag this article in the Post that published overnight, which purports (and I don’t doubt it) to described the House GOP’s latest angle on protecting the President.

Quite simply, Rudy Giuliani, Gordon Sondland and Mick Mulvaney were freelancing this whole caper and the President was not involved. In other words, they’re the fall guys who get Trump off the hook. It’s a curious and entertaining article on a number of levels since by the conventions of newspaper writing dictate that the authors cannot really say the entire premise is absurd. They have to step around it and obliquely suggest it.

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Today’s Agenda: Mulvaney To Ignore Subpoena

Happy Friday, November 8. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was subpoenaed to testify in the impeachment inquiry Thursday night — he is, predictably, ignoring it. Here’s more on that and the other stories we’re watching.

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Some Thoughts on Describing the President’s Crimes

Here are some basic thoughts about what happened in this story, what matters and how to describe it.

The President used extortion to cheat in the 2020 presidential election. He used military aid dollars meant to aid an ally against his Russian patrons in order to force Ukraine to intervene in the 2020 elections, in order to remain in office by corrupt means.

There are various crimes that get committed along the way. But that is the core of it. The President is delegated vast powers to act in the national interest and he has vast discretion to determine what he or she believes the national interest is. But when he uses those powers for his own personal or financial gain they are illegitimate on their face, abuses of power and merit impeachment. The fact that he was doing so to sabotage a national election makes it vastly worse. And the fact that he was getting a foreign power to sabotage a US election makes it worse still. Any talk of “quid pro quos” and this and that minutiae is a distortion of what happened. Quid pro quos are simply exchanges of one thing for another. Presidents will ask for help on one bill in exchange for another. They’ll condition one kind of aid to a country on assistance on another foreign policy goal. In itself it means nothing. The crimes are bribery and extortion, the abuses of power are using presidential power for personal gain and the central offense against the state is the attempt to sabotage a national election, the event on which the legitimacy of the entire system rests.

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Things Get Weird in Kentucky Prime Badge
on January 11, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Just Say No … To Results You Don’t Like

Kentucky Republicans are already considering ways to install Matt Bevin as Governor or call a new election because he lost the first time.

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