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Member since: Mon Sep 6, 2004, 09:54 PM
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Democrats claim new momentum from intelligence watchdog testimony

Democrats claim new momentum from intelligence watchdog testimony
By Cristina Marcos,Mike Lillis and Maggie Miller - 10/04/19 07:16 PM EDT

Democrats claimed to find new momentum Friday in their impeachment inquiry into President Trump after the top watchdog of the nation's intelligence community briefed lawmakers on his investigation into allegations that Trump sought foreign help to boost his 2020 campaign.

During nearly seven hours of testimony to members of the House Intelligence Committee, Michael Atkinson, the inspector general (IG) of the intelligence community, outlined the details of his probe into the complaint from an anonymous government whistleblower at the heart of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

The whistleblower alleged that Trump had threatened to withhold U.S. military assistance to Ukraine unless President Volodymyr Zelensky launched an anti-corruption investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s chief political adversaries heading into next year’s election.

Democrats on the Intelligence panel provided few details of Atkinson’s testimony, but said it confirmed crucial — and damning — components of the July 25 Trump-Zelensky phone call, a summary of which was released last week by the White House.

"While we cannot get into the substance, we explored with the IG through documents and testimony the reasons why he found the whistleblower complaint to be both urgent and credible,” Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said afterward in a statement. “Now that we have all seen the call record, we can see that the IG’s determination was correct in both respects."


Posted by babylonsister | Sat Oct 5, 2019, 09:41 AM (3 replies)

Josh Marshall: The Rush to Testify is Bad News for the White House


The Rush to Testify is Bad News for the White House
By Josh Marshall
October 5, 2019 12:14 am

This afternoon we learned that Gordon Sondland, Ambassador to the EU and GOP megadonor, will appear for a closed door deposition before House committees on Tuesday, October 8th. According to CBS News it will be the “same format” as Ukraine Envoy Kurt Volker’s testimony yesterday. (I take this to mean that he will appear without a government lawyer.) This seems to me to be a development of great importance.

The White House is putting up a strong bluff. They say they won’t comply with subpoenas. They are even hinting at a challenge to the House’s internal governance, arguing that there actually is no impeachment inquiry because Speaker Pelosi has not held a vote of the whole House to authorize it. It’s the same brash, aggressive and total defiance that has served them so well for the last nine months. The President says he has every right to do what he’s done and his top lieutenants are lining up to agree.

But the people closest to the action, the ones with the most at stake are belying that confidence not with their words but their actions. Secretary Pompeo threatened a dogged fight against any attempt to depose State Department officials or get documents for the House inquiry. Volker, Yovanovitch, Sondland and others could have used that shield Pompeo threw up around them to refuse or at least delay or negotiate over testifying. That was clearly the intention. But they haven’t. Volker resigned his appointment and quickly testified. Now Sondland, much more of a Trump partisan and apparently much more of a driving force in the extortion scheme, is doing the same.

Take it as a given that everyone here will act in their own interests. If the President’s position was strong and he had the ability to protect or threaten these secondary players they’d almost certainly be following his lead. But they’re not. They’re moving quickly, if not to make deals with the Congress then at least to share what they know and hand over documents in their possession. In other words, they’re protecting themselves. We don’t know for certain Sondland is doing this yet. But if he weren’t it would be folly to submit to a deposition without a government lawyer present and without trying to negotiate protective ground rules.

One of the things we learned over the last nine months is that a posture of total defiance can be quite effective. If no one talks or produces any records it’s almost impossible for an investigation to get traction or build momentum. By cooperating they are significantly undermining the administration’s strategy and creating incentives and pressures for others to come forward as well. For a White House where law means little and loyalty means everything that is total betrayal. But that does not appear to be stopping them.

Again, everyone will act in their own interests. The White House is telegraphing a cavalier defiance meant to tell everyone they still hold all the cards. But these underlings’ actions speak louder than words. They know much more than we do and they have much more on the line. So we should listen closely to what their actions are telling us.
Posted by babylonsister | Sat Oct 5, 2019, 08:56 AM (19 replies)

Trump Orders Cut to National Security Staff After Whistle-Blower

Trump Orders Cut to National Security Staff After Whistle-Blower
By Jennifer Jacobs and Justin Sink
October 4, 2019, 11:30 PM EDT Updated on October 4, 2019, 11:41 PM EDT

President Donald Trump has ordered a substantial reduction in the staff of the National Security Council, according to five people familiar with the plans, as the White House confronts an impeachment inquiry touched off by a whistle-blower complaint related to the agency’s work.

Some of the people described the staff cuts as part of a White House effort to make its foreign policy arm leaner under new National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.

The request to limit the size of the NSC staff was conveyed to senior agency officials by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and O’Brien this week. The whistle-blower complaint, focused on Trump’s conduct in a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has been followed by damaging reports on the president’s private conversations with other world leaders.

The New York Times has reported that the whistle-blower was a CIA officer who was at one point detailed to the White House. The complaint has become the driving motivation behind House Democrats’ impeachment effort, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi began last week.

Two of the people familiar with the decision to shrink the NSC insisted it was largely rooted in both the transition to O’Brien’s leadership as well as Trump’s desire to increase efficiency at the agency, which grew under former President Barack Obama. About 310 people currently work at the NSC.

All of the people asked not to be identified because the plan to reduce the NSC’s size hasn’t been made public.


Posted by babylonsister | Sat Oct 5, 2019, 07:25 AM (10 replies)

Tucker Carlson Signals Shift In Trump Defense

Indefensible he is.


Tucker Carlson Signals Shift In Trump Defense
October 4, 2019 at 9:59 pm EDT By Taegan Goddard

Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel: “Donald Trump should not have been on the phone with a foreign head of state encouraging another country to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden. Some Republicans are trying, but there’s no way to spin this as a good idea.”

“Like a lot of things Trump does, it was pretty over-the-top. Our leaders’ official actions should not be about politics. Those two things need to remain separate. Once those in control of our government use it to advance their political goals, we become just another of the world’s many corrupt countries. America is better than that.”

Benjy Sarlin: “There’s a pretty massive tactical signal here, which is to pivot away from defending the behavior (which has been a brutal slog so far for those who’ve tried) and instead toward arguing impeachment goes too far.
Posted by babylonsister | Sat Oct 5, 2019, 07:10 AM (15 replies)

Spiro Agnew's Lawyer: Mike Pence Should Be Worried About Impeachment Too


Spiro Agnew's Lawyer: Mike Pence Should Be Worried About Impeachment Too
By Martin London October 4, 2019

London is a retired partner for the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and the author of The Client Decides; he was a principal lawyer for Vice President Spiro Agnew.


While we do not know precisely what Pence knew about Trump’s conversation with Biden or what he said to Zelensky when they met last month, there’s a lot we do know – and it doesn’t look good. Pence was not on the call in which Trump asked Zelensky for a “favor” — a Ukrainian investigation of Joe Biden and his son Hunter — at a time when the U.S. was withholding hundreds of millions of dollars of aid, but one of his top advisers was, and according to the Washington Post, “the vice president should have had access to the transcript within hours.” It was in this context that he flew to Poland in September and reinforced to Zelensky the Trump message that U.S. aid was still being withheld because of concerns about “corruption.”

In the nations’ history, two Presidents have thus far been impeached, but not convicted. No Vice Presidents have ever been impeached.

But not for trying.

In 1973, I was a member of Vice President Spiro Agnew’s legal team defending him against bribery charges being considered by the U.S. Attorney in Maryland. We posited a Constitutional objection to that criminal investigation. We urged that impeachment was the only remedy available against a sitting Vice President — a legal argument that to this day has never been addressed by any court. Accordingly, we urged Carl Albert, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to commence an impeachment inquiry into the Agnew bribery charges, and offered to cooperate fully with the Congress.

In doing so, we ignored the advice President Nixon’s legal advisor Chuck Colson, who told us he feared that given the state of the ongoing Watergate inquiry, once the House had started up the impeachment machinery, they might decide to impeach both Nixon and Agnew. A Senate conviction of both would have sent Albert to the White House.

Agnew ended up resigning and Nixon replaced him with Gerald Ford as his vice president, but as an article in the Washington Post points out, it was far from impossible that the charges against Vice President Agnew that led to his resignation, taken together President Nixon’s subsequent resignation under threat of impeachment, could have led to the Speaker’s succeeding the pair. Subsequent to Agnew’s resignation, Albert actually considered the possibility and asked my law partner Theodore Sorensen to advise on first steps on assuming the mantle of Presidency. Sorensen obliged with an historic secret 19-page response.

Today, with information quickly emerging that suggests both the President and Vice President may have abused their Constitutional powers, it becomes reasonable to consider that it could be President Pelosi who will deliver the next State of the Union address.
Posted by babylonsister | Fri Oct 4, 2019, 08:15 PM (4 replies)

Brett Kavanaugh Is About to Get His Hands on His First Abortion Case


Brett Kavanaugh Is About to Get His Hands on His First Abortion Case
We knew this day would come. Susan Collins should have known, too.
By Elie Mystal
Today 1:14 pm

Brett Kavanaugh is about to make Susan Collins look ridiculous. Many people remember Senator Collins’s stomach-turning defense of an alleged attempted rapist on the Senate floor. But her defense of Kavanaugh’s character somewhat masked her equally ludicrous defense of Kavanaugh’s judicial record.

She said of Kavanaugh, “He believes that precedent is not just a judicial policy, it is constitutionally dictated to pay attention and pay heed to rules of precedent.”

That was a lie. Kavanaugh does not respect precedent. And now, he gets a chance to prove it.

Earlier today, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case called June Medical Services v. Gee. At issue is a Louisiana law that requires physicians who provide abortion services to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. We call these kinds of laws Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers laws, or “TRAP” laws. The anti-abortion advocates who support them argue that they are trying to make abortions “safer,” but they are really designed to restrict access to abortions to the point where no one can functionally get one.


The fact that the Supreme Court did not summarily reject the Fifth Circuit’s opinion is why abortion rights advocates, and rule of law advocates, are so troubled. The only significant change in the legal conversation around TRAP laws is that in 2016 Anthony Kennedy was on the court, while now we have Kavanaugh.

That one change should not lead to the reversal of Supreme Court precedent established only a few years ago. But it will. It is because Susan Collins was always lying about Brett Kavanaugh. He doesn’t respect precedent. Louisiana knows it, the Fifth Circuit knows it, and women who want autonomy over their bodies know it all too well. Susan Collins either knew that Kavanaugh would do exactly this, and is therefore a liar, or she was the only person who didn’t know, and is therefore a fool.
Posted by babylonsister | Fri Oct 4, 2019, 07:29 PM (0 replies)

The real issue isn't Donald Trump. It's his party.


The real issue isn't Donald Trump. It's his party.
Chris Cillizza
Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
Updated 12:34 PM ET, Fri October 4, 2019


As Tim Alberta, who wrote the seminal book on how the Republican Party reacted to Trump's hostile takeover, put it on Twitter Friday morning:

"Barack Obama stands in front of the White House.
"With the entire world watching, he declares, 'China should start an investigation into the Romneys.'
"Republicans wouldn't just call for impeachment. They would call for charges of treason."

Yeah, that about covers it. And speaks to one of the most underplayed narratives of the first three-ish years of Trump's presidency: The total and complete capitulation of the Republican Party's elected leaders to the cult of personality that is Donald Trump.

Trump's brand of conservatism -- as I've noted many times -- is hugely far afield from the vision of the movement most Republican elected officials once espoused. Trump cares little for debts and deficits, and his protectionist view on trade runs directly counter to the free trade policies advocated by Republicans in the not-at-all distant past. His turbulent personal life -- and coarseness in communication -- stand in stark contrast to the once-proud evangelical wing of the party.

And yet, even as his actions in office grow more and more erratic and without historical precedent, the party stays united behind him.

Why? Simple! Fear.

Every GOP elected official lives in fear of becoming the next Jeff Flake or Justin Amash -- conservative Republicans in good standing with the party until they decided to publicly criticize Trump for something or other. The President pounced, his base attacked and both men found themselves in deeply precarious political predicaments.

Fear of being "Flaked" explains, for example, Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-South Carolina) absolute and total about-face on Trump. Ditto Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. And dozens and dozens of other Republican elected officials who voiced deep concern about the idea of Trump even being their party's nominee in 2016 -- much less the President of the United States.

If political survival is your only goal, then what Republicans are doing vis a vis Trump is not only fine, but right. Of course, leadership is a very different thing than what we are seeing out of Republican elected officials at the moment.

And there is the very real possibility that the damage Trump is doing to the party (let alone the country) will have impacts that last well after he is gone from office -- and come back to haunt those Republicans who stood silently by.
Posted by babylonsister | Fri Oct 4, 2019, 07:19 PM (5 replies)

Angry Constituent Confronts Joni Ernst: 'Where Is The Line?'


10/04/19 4:53am
Angry Constituent Confronts Joni Ernst: 'Where Is The Line?'
If you've lost your faith in people, watch this. It reminds that ordinary people have a basic sense of right and wrong, morals and ethics. But not Joni Ernst.
By Karoli Kuns

Oh boy, this constituent at a Joni Ernst town hall in Templeton, Iowa really nailed the issue on the head, leaving the Iowa senator flailing with no good answers.

This lady got right to the point, summarizing Trump's public call for China to dig up dirt on Biden before she asked, "How is that helping anybody?"

"Where is the line? When are you guys going to say enough?" she pressed. "And stand up and say I'm not backing any of this."

She went on to mock the current Republicans, saying "it's not this, it's not that or everything else. Yet you still stand there silent. And your silence is supporting him and not standing up."

As others applauded, she continued, "You didn't pledge an oath to the President. You pledged an oath to our country, you pledged it to our Constitution."

"When are you guys going to start standing up and actually be there for us?" she concluded.

Senator Ernst's answer was so incomplete, so insulting, so utterly cynical that it's hard to even imagine. Here we go.

"So, President Trump. I can say yea, nay, whatever. The president is going to say what the president is going to do," she shrugged. "It's up to us as members of Congress to continue working with our allies making sure that we are staying strong in the face of adversity. That's what we have to do is continue to encourage those other countries so that's what we will continue to do."

See no evil, hear no evil, do no right, eh, Joni Ernst?

After that non-answer, there's another back and forth which is wholly unsatisfactory for the questioner, where Ernst ducks any accountability for her oath. Later, the Washington Post reporter gets her on a one on one where she parrots the same talking points we've all seen. Bottom line: She's fine with Trump extorting foreign countries if they'll interfere in our elections on his behalf.

Joni Ernst has a strong Democratic 2020 challenger in Theresa Greenfield. Let's hope SHE can answer that constituent's question better than Ernst did. What a sycophant Ernst is.
Posted by babylonsister | Fri Oct 4, 2019, 05:34 PM (16 replies)

David Frum: Mike Pence Failed in His Most Important Duty


Mike Pence Failed in His Most Important Duty
The vice president is supposed to be prepared to step into the nation’s highest office if necessary.
11:03 AM ET
David Frum


At a press conference at the United Nations on September 25, Trump delivered a warning message. “The word is, they’re going to ask for the first phone conversation. You can have it any time you need it. And also Mike Pence’s conversations, which were, I think, one or two of them. They were perfect. They were all perfect.”

Indeed, Pence seems to have been involved up to the eyeballs in the Ukraine plot. His team’s messaging—Yes, he pressed the Ukrainians to investigate corruption, but he never appreciated that Trump’s true purpose was to pursue the Bidens—fails the laugh test. Pence’s taint presents a political problem for him, but raises a much graver question for the country. If the Senate ever could muster the integrity to remove Trump from office, there would be no Ford to put in his place, only a vice president who participated in Trump’s dirty schemes, from staying at a remote resort to direct government funds to Trump’s failing Irish golf course to extorting an invaded country to fabricate political dirt to help Trump’s reelection.

Trump’s compromised attorney general remains on the job, as does his apparently compromised secretary of state. As the text messages from Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, confirm, the corruption permeates Trump’s second- and third-level appointments, too.

Not only is this scandal worse than Watergate—the break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices did not betray the national-security interests of the United States—but the outlook for the country is worse, too. There is no easy exit from the scandal by removing the president. Nixon’s party broke with him after the release of the “smoking gun” tape in August 1974 removed any possibility of honest belief in Nixon’s innocence. Trump’s guilt has now passed that point—and Trump’s party protects him anyway.

The political scientists can explain the structural reasons why the Republican Party has submitted to Trump, but structures are inhabited by people who make moral choices. The country needed Pence to keep himself clean, as Ford did, and instead—whether out of raw ambition or some weak personal impulse to subservience—Pence plunged into the deepest ooze of the mud. Maybe he struggled to keep his distance, maybe he obeyed only reluctantly, or maybe he eagerly volunteered to ingratiate himself with his crooked boss. That part of the story will all come out.

For now, all we need to say is that Pence betrayed his most important duty as vice president: Be ready to step into the nation’s highest office should the need arise. He’s as much a part of the problem as Trump is, and Pence’s personal choices ensure that the scandal of the century will continue to rip apart U.S. politics even if the impeachment process somehow succeeds.

Posted by babylonsister | Fri Oct 4, 2019, 03:34 PM (30 replies)

Frank Rich: Trump's Wrecking-Ball Impeachment Defense

Trump’s Wrecking-Ball Impeachment Defense
By Frank Rich

A week in, Trump’s defense to the growing impeachment proceedings seems to be tantrums and denial. Is there a cost to failing to develop a more focused plan, or will this strategy help him slip out of trouble, as it has in the past?

We can safely assume that even Trump’s most ardent fans would not put him and “focused plan” or “strategy” in the same sentence. His brand is chaos, and his default position is human (or more often inhuman) wrecking ball. That will never change, nor does he want it to change. The question is less whether Trump’s malevolence will allow him to escape impeachment than whether American governance, already on the ropes, will tumble into a coma before he leaves office and allow opportunistic American enemies like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un to pounce. An ancillary question is whether Trump will in fact leave the Oval Office voluntarily if he is convicted in an impeachment trial or defeated in the election that’s now 13 months away. A president who finds new constitutional norms to violate daily can hardly be counted upon to respect the verdicts of either Congress or the voters.

A third question is his sanity. Even by his standards, yesterday’s #TrumpMeltdown was wild. The nation saw him tossing around a jockstrap insult (aimed at Adam Schiff) in an ornate White House setting as the Finnish president trapped beside him tried, with mixed results, to maintain a poker-faced dignity. We watched Trump in desperation cite abject GOP lapdogs like Lindsey Graham, Rick Scott, and Rob Portman as character witnesses. We watched him lie with his usual heedlessness and velocity, but as often as not his fictions undermined his own craven self-interest: By referring to the White House’s readout of his fateful July 25 call with the Ukrainian president as a “word-for-word, comma-for-comma” transcript, he was attempting to further the cover-up in plain sight. All you need is eyes to see that this document is not labeled a “transcript” and is too brief to be the entirety of what was officially listed as a 30-minute presidential conversation. (Interns in the office of one senator, Angus King of Maine, read the released version aloud and clocked it at roughly ten minutes.) Not to mention that the “comma-for-comma” White House readout contains ellipses — which may yet prove to be tantamount to the notorious 18-and-a-half-minute gap on an incriminating Nixon White House tape.

Trump retains enough animal cunning to know he’s in jeopardy. New Deep Throats are surfacing in the press (especially at the Washington Post) daily. The polls are starting to shift. Members of Congress are home talking to their constituents over recess. Even Mitch McConnell budged a tiny bit, letting the release of the whistle-blower complaint proceed without senatorial interference and going on record that he cannot prevent impeachment from being taken up by his chamber. At the height of yesterday’s #TrumpMeltdown, the Dow was plummeting 500 points on trade-war fears. And Trump is running low on rhetorical ammunition to fight back. His repeated characterization of the July 25 phone conversation as “perfect” and “beautiful” is not just false but adjectivally weird. Writing “BULLSHIT” in a tweet attacking his opponents is an indicator of desperation as well as his usual vulgarity. Running out of words, he is more dependent than ever on the feedback loop of Fox News for fresh gambits: His new claim to be the victim of a “coup” originated there, as did his threat that his impeachment would lead to “civil war.”

Could he and his country sink even lower while impeachment is adjudicated? Quite possibly; there seems to be no bottom. If this historical moment echoes Watergate in some regards, it also echoes the rise of toxic anti-government rhetoric and right-wing American terrorist militias and cults in the period leading up to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Back then it was the likes of NRA chief Wayne LaPierre who were railing against “jack-booted government thugs.” Now it’s the president of the United States who is doing so, relentlessly suggesting that Schiff, the whistle-blower, and members of the press (among others) be punished for committing treason. And he is doing so in a society that is, if anything, even more gun-crazy and gun-saturated now than it was in the 1990s.

Let’s be clear here: As he retreats more and more into his bunker, Trump is not being careful about what he wishes for, and what he is wishing for is violence. Yet the Vichy Republicans — even those senators up for reelection like Susan Collins and Cory Gardner — remain silent. Be assured that they’ll be among the first to offer their thoughts and prayers on camera if this dam breaks.


Posted by babylonsister | Fri Oct 4, 2019, 08:42 AM (3 replies)
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