Editors’ Blog

Why Did The Rudy Syndicate Want Yovanovitch Fired?

As details emerge out of the Ukraine impeachment drama, we still have no clear explanation for why members of the Giuliani criminal syndicate were so intent on getting Ambassador Maria Yovanovitch removed from her post in Kyiv. In her testimony, even Yovanovitch seemed genuinely mystified about just why they wanted her out. It is still possible there was something specific about Yovanovitch that made her an obstacle to the criminal enterprises or corrupt business deals of Parnas, Giuliani, Lutsenko or others. But that seems unlikely. We lack specific proof. But here I think is the explanation. It is my guess based on piecing together various bits of information generated so far in the impeachment inquiry.

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The Holmes Prepared Testimony Is a Way Bigger Deal Than Expected

Yesterday after the Yovanovitch testimony the House Intelligence Committee went into another closed door session to hear from Foreign Service Office David Holmes. This was the surprise witness referred to earlier in the week by Bill Taylor, the one who had allegedly overheard the conversation between President Trump and Gordon Sondland, the day after the July 25th Trump/Zelensky phone call. But Holmes’ opening statement, which got out to the press yesterday evening, turned out to include quite a bit more. It is a very big deal.

Let me hit the key points.

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What Endemic Corruption Really Means Prime Badge
Roger in the Dock

You have probably heard that a short time ago Roger Stone was convicted on all counts against him, including false statements, witness tampering and obstruction. On its face this is not surprising. Stone clearly and repeatedly lied to investigators and to Congress. His witness tampering and obstruction were fairly well documented in his own hand. I wanted to take a moment to put this into context — not so much the context of the Russia probe, in which he played a key role, but his own career and storyline trajectory in the recent decades of American history.

Roger Stone has been plotting and running schemes, in addition to helping run some campaigns, for going on half a century. This isn’t so much an accusation as a restatement of Stone’s personal brand. It’s hard to think of anyone of any note in politics — and it’s important to remember that he continued to play at the highest levels until the late 1990s — who more openly or eagerly embraced a reputation for bad acting.

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Key Links

As you watch this morning, keep checking our staff live blog of the testimony. You can also check our definitive timeline of events in the scandal, new and updated this morning.

Not Complicated

At the risk of re-covering old ground, the gist of what we just heard was this: The President and his personal lawyer, in a purported effort to fight ‘corruption’, teamed up with the most corrupt figures in Ukraine to lead a campaign of vilification against the US Ambassador. All evidence suggests that their deal with this figures – Lutsenko, Shokin, et al. – was that they would get protection from the US (to stay in office, avoid prosecution, etc) in exchange for sweetheart business deals and agreement to intervene on the President’s side in the 2020 presidential election.

Backdrop

One of the subtexts or backdrops to this part of the impeachment drama is something that doesn’t get discussed much explicitly. President Trump would despise Taylor, Kent, Yovanovitch, et al. regardless simply because they are saying things that are damaging to him. Opponents are all bad people. But it goes beyond that. In Trump’s worldview these people are losers. They are reasonably compensated. But working in the Foreign Service you don’t amass any great wealth, even over a lifetime. You also, by design, don’t become famous, unless something goes terribly wrong. To the President, the idea you’d spend your life like that is totally bizarre. You can hear this in all his comments.

Today’s Agenda: Ousted Ukraine Ambassador Testifies

Happy Friday, November 15. Former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch will testify this morning in the second public hearing of the impeachment inquiry. Here’s more on that and the other stories we’re watching.

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Another Absolute Must Read!

Truly another must-read from the team today. We know the “deliverable” (a Biden investigation announcement) from President Zelensky never got delivered and that has become a key part of the Republican defense. No harm, no foul. But as Matt Shuham explains here Zelensky was no more than 24 hours from recording the interview tarring the Biden’s for “Ukraine corruption” and possibly as little as three or four hours. And what killed it was the chain of events triggered by the whistleblower complaint, the notification to Congress and Trump relenting on releasing the aid since they had in essence gotten caught. Here’s the story.

Absolute Must Read

I can’t recommend this article to you strongly enough. If that’s enough to hear, here’s the link. I have wondered, many of you have asked me, just what the rush of activity was to get Vladimir Zelensky to kick off and publicly announce these investigations. After all, during the key events the US election was well over a year away. The answer comes down to the April election in Ukraine. Trump and Rudy had a deal in place or thought they had a deal in place with the crew around the old President Poroshenko. When Zelensky beat him in a landslide it set off a frenzied, sloppy and ultimate futile effort to get Zelensky to honor the deal. Read it.

Today’s Agenda: Fallout From First Public Impeachment Hearings

Happy Thursday, November 14. Today, both parties will wrestle over the optics war of who “won” the first day of the public impeachment inquiry hearings, featuring top Ukraine diplomat Bill Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent. Here’s more on that and the other stories we’re watching.

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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.

Notable

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.

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