Editors’ Blog

Rudy, Bag Man

We’ve known for months that Rudy Giuliani held some of his Ukraine-related meetings in Spain. What wasn’t clear was what client or work had brought him to Spain in the first place. The Post reports this morning that he was staying at the Spanish estate of a Venezuelan energy magnate facing a money laundering and bribery probe in the US. There’s not anything illegal or even inappropriate about this in itself. But it underscores a clear pattern: Most of Giuliani’s business of late has been has been finding foreign oligarchs and plutocrats with legal trouble in the United States and getting paid to use his connection to Trump and the DOJ to get them off the hook. Read More

Notes on the New CNN Impeachment Poll

Here are a few interesting data points from the just-released CNN poll on impeachment. The topline is pretty bad for the President. 50% of Americans believe the President should be impeached and removed from office. 43% disagree. Slightly more encouraging for the President is that those are the exact numbers CNN/SSRS found in mid-late October, prior to the public hearings. The President’s approval stands at 42% with 54% disapproving. In other words, the numbers are bad. But the hearings didn’t move anyone. We can also note that his approval is basically identical to the number who oppose removal from office. It’s like perfect polarization. You either support President Trump or you think he should be removed from office.

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Today’s Agenda: Judge Issues Blow To Trump’s Witness Gagging
on August 23, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Happy Tuesday, November 26. A federal judge ruled Monday that President Donald Trump does not have the power to stop former White House counsel Don McGahn from obeying a House subpoena. Here’s more on that and the other stories we’re watching.

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Trump’s Blanket Stonewalling Takes A Beating

A quick rundown on a couple of important court actions within the last hour:

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The Big, Big Picture

Along with Josh Kovensky’s big scoop about Trump world lawyer Bud Cummins and the SDNY, there’s been a flurry of news over the last 48 hours about the tangle of corruption connecting Trump and Ukraine, largely but not exclusively through Rudy Giuliani. Most of these stories – and the criminal or semi-criminal networks they’re about – get hard to follow: Ten names you haven’t heard of involved in a corrupt enterprise in a country where corruption is endemic and commonplace. This tends to obscure the real pattern which is most important from a US perspective.

Let me try to explain what that is.

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Today’s Agenda: Drip, Drip, Drip

Happy Monday, November 25. It feels like every day, more subplots connected to the Ukraine pressure campaign come into focus. Today is no exception. Here’s what we’re watching.

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Must Read

Great exclusive here from Josh Kovensky who’s been working this story for several weeks and has more coming on this front. Another Trump-aligned attorney — actually a former U.S. Attorney, Bud Cummins — was pushing the Southern District of New York on investigations of Joe Biden based on clients he was working for in Ukraine. He was trying to serve as an intermediary for Yuriy Lutsenko, the crooked prosecutor who later hooked up or was already working with Rudy Giuliani. Yesterday, Giuliani published a letter to Senator Lindsey Graham, offering new purported evidence for Graham’s investigation into the Biden family. This is what he was talking about.

The big picture here is that when you have a crooked President who puts out word that he’s looking for foreigners to take out his political rivals, a lot of shady people come out of the woodwork — unsurprisingly.

If you’re a TPM member, please remember that your being a member makes exhaustive reporting projects like this possible.

Adam Schiff Seems to Agree

It seems our former AUSA Reader was on to something when they pointed to the logic of trying to deal with subpoenaing recalcitrant witnesses at a Senate trial rather than getting slow rolled for months in the courts and possibly, ultimately getting nothing. You’ll remember that Chief Justice Roberts acts as judge in a senate trial and under Senate rules he makes all decisions on questions of evidence, relevance, subpoenas witnesses – though he can be overruled on those judgments by a majority of the Senate.

Chairman Adam Schiff appeared this morning on both the State of the Union and Meet the Press and he seemed to confirm that this is his thinking too. Read More

Impeachment Podcast

On this week’s podcast, we covered all the twists and turns in the marathon impeachment hearings, from Gordon Sondland’s wisecracks to Fiona Hill’s subtly devastating testimony. Take a listen here, or on your podcast platform of choice.

32,000

A few years back I remember talking on the phone with a skeptical media reporter explaining that over the next two years we planned to build our membership to 20,000 subscribers. Today as I write this we are 51 subscribers short of 32,000 members. 32,000 is our goal for this year’s membership drive. Our whole team would like to thank you for subscribing to TPM and becoming a member. If you haven’t joined us yet, please consider doing so right now.

The last two plus months has been the kind of breakneck torrent of news that is what this organization and the machine of its news reporting was built for. We’ve heard from many of you thanking our team for the coverage they’ve provided over this period. So let us thank you because your membership makes it all possible.

Ukrainian at Center of Trump/Rudes Conspiracy Theory

The Ukrainian at the center of the “Ukraine collusion” conspiracy just posted a picture of himself hanging out with John Voight at the Trump DC hotel. Because of course he did.

Read This

I read through this a number of times before deciding to publish it. But I strongly, strongly recommend it to you. The author of the email is a former federal prosecutor. When I first read it I confess I found it all a bit loopy or improbable. But as I thought about it and read it again I eventually found it quite compelling. Whether this is actually the House strategy I don’t know. But I think the author is correct about the dynamics involved.

I should add that I don’t think this relies on any great civic virtue on Justice Roberts’ part. As I read it, if he wants to shut the whole thing down he’s entirely capable of doing that through the conventional appellate process ending up at the Supreme Court. This just means ruling on these decisions quickly and in the spotlight.

A majority of the Senate can also overrule his rulings. But that means owning overruling a Chief Justice strongly identified as a conservative and a Republican. Read More

It’s A Good Question

TPM Reader SS has a good question …

This is a question I really haven’t seen addressed which given how obvious it is I’m really surprised that no one has addressed it. We know from Cohen that Trump makes a point of never getting himself directly involved in situations that could be illegal or unethical enough to cause himself problems. Instead, he prefers to use intermediaries, and even then he often uses opaque enough language to give himself lots of wiggle room to avoid taking direct responsibility for what happened.

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Trump Accuses Yovanovitch of Not Hanging His Picture At Embassy

“She wouldn’t hang my picture in the embassy. She is in charge of the embassy. She wouldn’t hang it. It look a year-and-a-half, two years to get the picture up. She said bad things about me … This was not an angel this woman, okay?”

Video after the jump … Read More

Today’s Agenda: What A Week
WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 21 2019:David Holmes, U.S. Department of State official who serves as a counsellor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and Fiona Hill, former official at the National Security Council specialising in the former Soviet Union and Russian and European affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine attend the Open Hearings on the Impeachment of President Donald Trump of the House Intelligence Committee in Washington.

Happy Friday, November 22. Whew. After a packed week of impeachment inquiry hearings — not to mention a Democratic debate — there’s a lot to mull over. Here’s what we’re watching.

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The Inquiry’s Ominous Verdict

I wanted to share with you a few thoughts about the impeachment hearings which have just concluded.

1. I have grave misgivings about concluding this inquiry without receiving testimony from Mick Mulvaney, Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Lev Parnas and a number of others. This isn’t to say that I don’t understand the argument for not doing so. It is a strong logic. Doing so could lead to months of slow-rolling before a judiciary at best disinclined to get between the President and Congress and at worst reflexively friendly to President Trump. It’s also true that the evidence of the core wrongdoing is already overwhelming. By any reasonable standard we know more than enough to merit removal from office. But the layers of wrongdoing beneath that surface layer are, I suspect, profound. It’s not an easy question. But ending the factual inquiry here worries me greatly.

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Critical Testimony

GOP staff counsel Steve Castor walked Fiona Hill into this critical portion of testimony. It’s understated in a way but for those who have ears to hear it, this is devastating testimony.

Brick By Brick

Former Trump NSC aide is about to detonate all of Devin Nunes’ bogus conspiracy theories … to his face, no less. Watch here and follow here.

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Perfect

From Daily Beast:

Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, helped arrange meetings and calls in Europe for Rep. Devin Nunes in 2018, Parnas’  lawyer Ed MacMahon told The Daily Beast.

The travel came as Nunes, in his role on the House Intelligence Committee, was working to investigate the origins of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling.

There’s No Honor Under the Bus

There’s been a lot of talk today about Gordon Sondland underbusing the President or the Vice President or the Secretary of State. Only that’s not entirely right. Close but not quite. You’ll notice this in his insistence that he had no recollection of telling Kyiv Embassy official David Holmes that all Trump cared about was “Biden.” Perhaps Holmes misremembered it. But I doubt it. When it came to key conversations with the President his memory seemed to fray, though he generally wouldn’t dispute the recollections of others.

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Quid Pro Quo, The Critical Backstory

Clarifying many points in the Ukraine scandal drama requires simply stating the obvious. And nowhere more so than in this now notorious Trump/Sondland phone call in which the President barked “no quid pro quo” to Sondland multiple times and said he wanted “nothing” from President Zelensky of Ukraine. The President and his supporters have rather implausibly put this forward as total exoneration. After all, in a private call, when asked what he wanted he said “no quid pro quo.”

But of course the timing and even the contextual logic is key.

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When The President Does It, That Means It’s Not Rogue

When everything a government official does is directed and authorized by the president, does that really make it rogue?

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Photos for the Ages

A short time ago President went out on the White House lawn before boarding Marine One and read out selective portions of testimony from Ambassador Gordon Sondland. Photographers were there. Read More

Boom

If you saw this morning’s testimony, I don’t have much to add. It speaks for itself. From every direction, Sondland confirmed the existence of a corrupt enterprise, directed expressly by the President. According to Sondland, everyone was in the loop – the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor, the President, the Vice President, everyone. If you didn’t see or want to review it more closely, here are the prepared remarks. We’ll have more as we go on the key revelations from this morning.

The Testimony

The Sondland testimony seems historic and shattering. We’re all taking it in. Here’s the text to read directly.

There will be much to discuss. It basically seems to be throwing everyone in sight under the bus. Here are some highlights we’ve identified from the prepared remarks.

Today’s Agenda: This Is The Big One

Happy Wednesday, November 20. In perhaps the most highly-anticipated day of the impeachment inquiry hearings so far, Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland will testify this morning. Here’s more on that and the other stories we’re watching.

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We’re All Kurt Volker

The “we” in the title is admittedly doing a lot of work, as they say. “We” applies to some of us more than others. Indeed, I should say I found much of Amb. Volker’s testimony far short of credible. But if we take his claims at face value he found himself, to use his words, trying to “thread the needle.” He could see that the requests from Rudy Giuliani (and the President) were at least problematic, specifically the focus on the company Burisma and what he now says he should have understood was targeting the Bidens. But if he could interpret these demands in such a way that they seemed facially legitimate (just a general restatement of the need to root out corruption in Ukraine) then he could provide what they were asking for in good conscience and advance the policy aims he genuinely seems to have believed in.

Burisma did have a reputation of corruption and even though he thought the claims about the 2016 election were baseless, what harm would there really be in looking into them? In other words, by adopting a kind of willful blindness to what was actually happening he could try to address Giuliani and Co’s demands with a clean conscience.

This is a microcosm of what the whole country is facing, and especially those involved in running the federal government and its national security functions.

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The Underbelly of ‘Unified Executive Authority’
National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, takes a break as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump’s efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

One of the interesting themes of these hearings is the question of who controls US foreign policy: the President or the sum of the “interagency” or bureaucratic policy making process. In a narrow sense it is absolutely right that if all the President’s advisors (in the sense of the sum of everyone at State, DOD, the NSC, Intelligence Community, etc) decide on one policy and the President disagrees, the President’s choice governs. This is elementary. And if you listen to the various testimonies no one who has spoken as a witness has said otherwise. But there’s a part of this that bears closer examination. Because it gets at the underbelly of so-called theories of “unitary executive” power.

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Thoughts

Alexander Vindman’s occasionally halting delivery, slightly nerdy appearance underscores an impression of an essentially guileless individual. He’s an almost unrealistically novelistic player in this drama.

Vindman’s appearance is a not terribly subtle reminder that the US often needs a continuing flow of immigrants committed to American values to counter balance native born Americans who are eager to betray them.

Breaking Impeachment News

Two new deposition transcripts have been released this evening, for David Holmes and David Hale.

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