Day 1039 – Spencer Values The Rule Of Law

A lot of strange and troubling news broke over the weekend.

It seems that one of Rudy Giuliani’s indicted stooges in the Ukraine scandal, Lev Parnas, has begun cooperating with Federal officials (presumably because he’s guilty and is looking for leniency) and reports have been surfacing that he had audio, photos and videos of Giuliani and Trump that he turned over to prosecutors.  It’s not clear if his materials contained anything incriminating, but it’s a notable reminder that the impeachment inquiry is not yet over and there may be a few more consequential chapters ahead that nobody foresaw.  In particular, it was apparently claimed by Lev Parnas that Republican Rep Devin Nunes met with officials in Ukraine to try to dig up dirt on Joe Biden for Trump, an allegation which could mushroom into a huge scandal for Nunes if true.

It’s also fair to wonder when Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani is likely to be indicted.  Speculation has been mounting that his indictment must be imminent, especially considering all of last week’s testimony in the impeachment inquiry that put Rudy at the center of a very shady effort to extort Ukraine.

It was reported yesterday that Trump fired the US Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, in the wake of Trump’s pardon of Navy SEAL and war-crimes convict Eddie Gallagher.  Spencer was resisting an effort by Trump to reinstate Gallagher, whose vile crimes were so bad that his own men turned him in.  Spencer penned a termination letter that is as subtly critical as it is courageous.  Here’s an excerpt:

As Secretary of the Navy, one the most important responsibilities I have to our people is to maintain good order and discipline throughout the ranks. I regard this as deadly serious business. The lives of our Sailors, Marines and civilian teammates quite literally depend on the professional execution of our many missions, and they also depend on the ongoing faith and support of the people we serve and the allies we serve alongside.

The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries.  Good order and discipline is what has enables our victory against foreign tyranny time and again, from Captain Lawrence’s famous order “Don’t Give up the Ship”, to the discipline and determination that propelled our flag to the highest point on Iwo Jima.  The Constitution, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, are the shields that set us apart, and the beacons that protect us all.  Through my Title Ten Authority, I have strived to ensure our proceedings are fair, transparent and consistent, from the newest recruit to the Flag and General Officer level.

Unfortunately it has become apparent that in this respect, I no long share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline. I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Full letter:

https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/24/politics/read-navy-secretary-richard-spencer-resignation-letter/index.html

Spencer seems to make the case that Trump does not support the rule of law and is thus no longer congruent with Spencer’s understanding of what makes our military special and our Constitution important.  In other words, “I won’t go along with a guy who pardons vile criminals. It sends a destructive message.”  Indeed.

It was also noted this weekend that billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has officially joined the race for the Democratic nomination.  He’s already flooding certain cable shows with minute-long ads, and hired a former top executive at Facebook to head his social media ad campaign.  It’s been reported that Bloomberg is ready to spend more than a half-a-billion dollars on social media ad buys, a staggering amount, much of which will attack Trump.

In local news, a great crowd turned out last Friday in Kingston for the “Nobody is Above The Law” protest.  Dozens of activists, many with banners, gathered to let commuters and local residents know that many in our area support the impeachment of the most corrupt president in modern US history.

Keep resisting Trump and keep working to “vote his ass out of office.”

Day 1036 – Morally Bankrupt Republicans

It was another blockbuster day of testimony in what might be the final phase of the House impeachment hearing.  NSC Russia expert Fiona Hill and diplomat David Holmes testified before Congress and destroyed any remaining defense of Trump’s actions, other than, “yes Trump did horrible, unAmerican things but they don’t rise to the level of impeachment.”

Holmes relayed the phone conversation he overheard between Ambassador Sondland and Trump where Trump clearly asks if Ukraine will go along with the investigation of Biden, and later Holmes asked Sondland about it.  Sondland replied that Trump will trade a meeting in the Oval Office for an announcement of an investigation into the Bidens, and then noted that Trump didn’t care about the Ukraine, he cared about “big stuff,” clarifying that big stuff meant anything that would help his re-election.

Hill was possibly the most effective and devastating witness of the entire impeachment process. She was clearly more intelligent than all of the Republican Committee members combined, and gave such powerful, credible and incriminating testimony that Republicans stopped using their time to ask her questions and instead used their time to read talking points.  Hill noted that everybody in Trump’s cabinet and the State Department associated with Ukraine knew what Trump wanted–to press Ukraine to investigate Biden in exchange for aid and a White House meeting.  She noted that Giuliani and Sondland were engaged in “a political errand” while she and the other diplomats were engaged in national security.  She also criticized the Committee Republicans for supporting a Russian disinformation myth that Ukraine had some role in 2016 US election interference, calling it a “fictional narrative” and making it clear that Russia was, in fact, responsible for such interference.

If the impeachment inquiry were a court of law, the Democrats would have presented an ironclad case.  They proved that Trump sacrificed our national security, and the security of an ally, for personal political gain.  But impeachment is a political process.  And while the House Democrats will surely forward articles of impeachment to the Senate, it’s unlikely that Senate Republicans will care.  Their constituents watch Fox propaganda and have no idea what really happened in the impeachment inquiry.

Republicans in Congress have sold their souls and our Democracy in the craven pursuit of power, and they destroyed the oversight function of Congress in the process.  They have become a morally bankrupt cult of personality.  Trump’s failure to respond to lawful subpoenas from Congress is, by itself, an impeachable act, and one that Richard Nixon faced.  By failing to hold the most corrupt president in modern history accountable for repeatedly violating his oath of office, the GOP has essentially created an Imperial Presidency that operates above the law.  Because of this and many other grave concerns, we simply cannot allow Trump a second term.  God only knows what horrors he will impose or enact with zero oversight.  The real battle will not be in New York but in one or two battleground states like Wisconsin where Trump is still at around 48% support.  It’s not inconceivable that Trump could lose the popular vote by five or six million votes and still win the electoral college.

So the road ahead will be difficult but not impossible.  We need to rally around whoever the Democratic nominee becomes.  And we need to remind our fellow citizens again and again that Trump and his cabinet are corrupt to the core and make us less safe.  In almost every imaginable way, Trump is the opposite of who we want a president to be.  We implore our children, “don’t be like him!”

Trump was elected, in part, to “shake things up,” but instead has done his best to burn everything down.  The Republicans whine that Democrats have “tried to take this president down since before day one,” and this is true simply because Trump has been unethical, immoral, and downright criminal since before day one.

Keep resisting and keep working to “vote his ass out of office.”

 

1035 – Sondland Detonated A Bomb

Wednesday was a big day in politics.  Several key witnessed appeared before the House impeachment inquiry and gave important testimony, and the Democratic presidential contenders participated in a debate in Atlanta.

EU Ambassador Sondland, who bought his position with a million dollar donation to Trump’s inauguration committee, declined to invoke the Fifth Amendment and instead threw many of Trump’s top cabinet members under the bus regarding the Ukraine shakedown, stating confidently that “everyone was in the loop” including Pence, Mulvaney, Perry and Pompeo.  In particular, Sondland made it clear that Secretary of State Pompeo knew that Trump was conditioning a meeting in the Oval Office by Ukraine announcing an open-ended investigation of Burisma, the company where Hunter Biden worked.  He also stated that all of the Ukraine action, including Giuliani’s involvement, came directly from Trump.  Sondland even stated that, YES, there was a quid pro quo and everybody knew it.  Ukraine desperately wanted a meeting with Trump, who would give it to them if they opened an investigation.  Sondland’s testimony took a wrecking ball to several of the GOP’s main defenses of Trump, including that “there was no quid pro quo” and that Giuliani was somehow a lone wolf.   A glorious video surfaced last night of the moment Sondland finished his opening statement admitting a quid pro quo, showing Rep Devin Nunes and Republican Counsel Steve Castor furiously glaring at each other with clenched jaws, silently commiserating that Sundland had screwed the Republican position in a huge way.

In a later hearing with the No. 3 at the State Department, David Hale, and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Laura Cooper, we learned that early-on Ukraine was aware that their aid was being withheld by the Trump Administration, and both witnesses confirmed that while the entire national security community wanted the aid released, the hold was coming from Mick Mulvaney who runs the Office of Management and Budget and is also Trump’s Chief of Staff. Their testimony destroyed the GOP talking point that Ukraine didn’t even know that aid from the US was being held up–so how could they be extorted??  Ukraine clearly knew their aid was in jeopardy.

Trump tweeted several times during the hearings as he flew to Texas to tour an Apple plant and take credit for the existence of the facility–another of his ludicrous lies.  Trump made the trip with his personal physician, which tells us that he’s still feeling fragile from whatever ailed him over the weekend.  Too much pressure?

The Democratic presidential contenders held a debate last night, notable for relatively little fighting against each other while remaining united against Trump.  You can watch a replay of the debate here:

https://www.nbcnews.com/video/watch-live-msnbc-washington-post-november-democratic-debate-73562693607

Here’s a good recap of the debate by co-host Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/what-happened-in-the-democratic-debate-candidates-argue-over-black-voters-draw-contrasts-with-trump/2019/11/21/2346cac2-0b21-11ea-8397-a955cd542d00_story.html

More testimony in front of the House impeachment inquiry will take place today, including NSC Russia specialist Fiona Hill who complained to her superiors about Giuliani, and State Department aide David Hale, who overheard the disputed restaurant phone conversation between Sondland and Trump.  It should be a fascinating day that continues to corroborate Trump’s corruption.

Keep resisting Trump and keep working to “vote his ass out of office” if he isn’t removed first.

Day 1034 – Dems Keep Chalking Up Wins

Yesterday was a big day in the impeachment inquiry, and the hearings didn’t disappoint.  Lieutenant Colonel Vindman testified yesterday and, despite Republican attempts to smear his service and character, did an exceptional job of remaining above the fray and confirming how inappropriate and concerning the Trump Ukraine call was.  He testified along with Pence aide Jennifer Williams, who also heard the Trump Ukraine call and was alarmed.  Both affirmed that the “summary” of the call released by Trump did not include key details of the phone discussion, including specific mention of Burisma, the firm Biden’s son worked for and Trump wanted investigated.  We need to demand the actual transcript.

Two GOP witnesses also testified yesterday and their testimony actually damaged Trump’s case.  One of them affirmed that Ukraine was well aware that US aid and an Oval Office meeting with Trump was contingent upon their public announcement of an investigation into the Bidens.  Coming from a GOP witness, this was devastating.  Here’s comprehensive coverage in the NY Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/19/us/politics/trump-impeachment-hearing-testimony.html

Today another monumental witness takes the stand in the impeachment inquiry.  EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the man who paid a million dollars to Trump’s campaign for an ambassadorship, will testify, and he will have to tip-toe through a minefield of his own making.  Given his initial closed-door testimony and the subsequent disclosures from multiple witnesses, including two who described Sondland calling Trump from a restaurant and receiving encouragement to continue to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens–a call Sondland never mentioned to investigators, Sondland has a lot of explaining to do.  Rather than incriminate himself in perjury, he might be the first witness thus far to invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer certain questions.

This evening will also feature the latest Democratic debate, and it will be interesting to see if any of them address the impeachment hearings in detail or just gloss over it.

Keep resisting Trump and keep working to “vote his ass out of office” if he isn’t removed first.

Day 1033 – Cracking Under Pressure?

The walls are closing in on Trump. Each day brings a new revelation about the Ukraine scandal, as well as new developments relating to the Mueller probe.  Yes, the Mueller probe.  Recall that instead of testifying to Mueller in person, Trump answered questions in writing. Trump’s answers were sworn testimony.  And Mueller asked questions about Roger Stone and Wikileaks, to which Trump answered that he had no conversation or contact between either.  But the recent Roger Stone trial revealed that Trump apparently did have conversations with Stone about Wikileaks, which if true would constitute another impeachable act–lying to Congress.

Add to that the new witnesses testifying to the House impeachment inquiry saying that Ambassador Sondland made a very public (unsecured) phone call to Trump from Ukraine where Trump was heard asking whether Ukraine would announce an investigation into Biden in exchange for US aid.  This was yet another devastating piece of evidence confirming that Trump and his cadre of Ukraine stooges were conspiring to extort Ukraine for personal gain. And it’s yet another blow to the GOP defense of Trump, which seems to shrink and flip-flop by the hour.  Pretty soon their only remaining response will be, “Yes Trump is corrupt and betrayed his oath and extorted Ukraine.  So what??”

Removing Trump from office will be a nearly impossible task but the impeachment inquiry can have other crucial effects.  If it reduces support for Trump from 41% (as reported by FiveThirtyEight.com yesterday) to 40% or even 39%, it would be a big blow to Trump’s reelection chances.  He only won by a total of 107,000 votes in the three critical states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.  And the 2018 congressional results and 2019 local elections point to a groundswell of voters casting their ballots against Trump. Young voters turned out in record numbers, and independent voters also went big for Democratic candidates. These trends will only get better for us and worse for Trump in 2020.

A lot of important testimony will happen later this week, so the pressure on Trump will continue to rise.  It’s worth wondering if his surprise doctor visit over the weekend was connected to the pressure he felt from the impeachment inquiry. He has still not appeared in public so speculation about the true nature of his malady continues to mount.  If the upcoming testimony is as damning as expected, watch for Trump to have more temper tantrums and attack the witnesses.  Why won’t Mulvaney and Pompeo testify? Former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance gave a very succinct and astute answer yesterday:

No one prevents a witness who can exonerate them from testifying.

Keep resisting and keep working to “vote his ass out of office” if he isn’t removed first.

Day 1032 – Pernicious Lying

Over the weekend, in the wake of the impeachment hearings, millions Americans were wondering how so many members of the Republican party–like our neighbor to the north, Rep Elise Stefanik–could lie so blatantly and persistently about facts that should be obvious to any thinking person.  For example, how could Republicans say Trump didn’t ask Ukraine for a personal favor when the transcript released by Trump’s White House showed him doing it?  How could Republicans claim that Rep Adam Schiff was “gagging the minority” in the impeachment hearings when in fact he was following the long-standing rules passed by Republicans years ago and applying them evenly to both parties?  Why does the Republican party get away with so much shameless and pernicious lying?

In a word, Fox.

Trump and his cult and all the Republican politicians who support him are merely a symptom of a deeper disease.  Beginning at least thirty years ago, AM talk radio began featuring ultra-right-wing “shock jocks” who spewed the most vile, salacious, and false stories, generating attention and earning the broadcasters a lot of money.  People like Limbaugh, Beck, Jones, Savage and Hannity made millions of dollars fearmongering, scapegoating, demonizing and dividing.  And because they were on the fringes, listened to by truck drivers and retirees, they weren’t treated seriously.  But their subject matter and tone were eventually dragged into the mainstream by Roger Ailes at the fledgling Fox network, where Ailes cynically called it “news” even though it was really gossip and uninformed opinion.  For example, Sean Hannity isn’t a journalist, he’s just a guy with a lot of opinions pretending his views have some sort of authority.  He never graduated from college and worked as a house painter before becoming a radio talk show host, eventually discovering that hateful, divisive rhetoric earned him a lot of money.

Fox has been a major source of disinformation and fearmongering for the two decades since, enabling an entire party and its supporters to remain outside the reach of facts and real reporting.  As propaganda, it’s been very effective.  And it’s a cancer at the heart of our Democracy.  As long as a major cable network convinces its viewers that up is down and black is white, our nation will be divided.  As long as Fox employs liars and partisan hacks and industry stooges, its viewers will remain in a bubble of delusion.  Moreover, as long as Fox continues to demonize Democrats and liberals and judges and scientists and journalists and civil servants and women and minorities, we will experience increasing violence and division.

It’s important to protest Trump and climate change and reproductive freedom and immigrant rights, but we’re approaching the inescapable reality that these issues all rest on a foundation of institutional propaganda.  The smarter choice for activists may be to protest Fox in any way they can.  Scorn Fox’s advertisers.  Confront Fox employees on why they support a business of hate and lies.  Picket Fox offices on Sixth Avenue in New York City–a city Fox often demonizes and ridicules.  Until Fox approaches their news network–especially their opinion programs–with a minimum of editorial integrity and journalistic standards our nation will continue to be divided on basic facts–facts ranging from the minor (Trump’s inaugural crowd size) to the major (the connection between human carbon emissions and a rapidly warming planet).

Keep resisting and keep working to “vote his ass out of office” if he isn’t removed first.

Day 1029 – Boring Yet Very Criminal

News broke yesterday that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was under investigation by the Feds for campaign finance violations and possible bribery of foreign officials, probably falling under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  Giuliani has been under a microscope ever since his Ukrainian goons were indicted several weeks ago, and since then it appears that one of them, Lev Parnas, might have decided to cut a deal and work prosecutors.  Parnas was apparently hurt and angered when Trump claimed he didn’t know Parnas, who has reportedly spent much time in Trump’s orbit.  Giuliani is the second of Trump’s personal lawyers to be investigated, the first being Michael Cohen who is serving a three-year term for campaign finance violations. As others have noted, Everything Trump Touches Dies.

The continuing fallout from the impeachment inquiry seemed to land in one of two categories yesterday.  Democrats remained steadfast and serious in their determination to call more witnesses and expose more evidence of a bribery and extortion scheme by Trump and his circle.  Republicans remained committed to a delusional alternate reality where up is down and wrong is right, insisting that Russia had no role in election interference and anyway insisting the impeachment hearings are boring and lack drama.

This last claim is worth of our attention and resistance.  If the standard for justice in our legal system requires drama and pizzazz, our republic is lost.  Crime is often boring, especially white collar crime.  Al Capone wasn’t sent to jail for murder–he was sent away for tax evasion.  So activists have to beat back the notion that a web of extortion and deceit can’t amount to an impeachable offense because it’s too complicated and dull.  Trump enlisted a team of people outside the administration to pressure Ukraine to accept his corrupt demands.  It went beyond a single phone call.  And now we’re learning the details of how this scheme was conducted.

We have to hammer home a simple message.  A president who engages in bribery to help his re-election while hurting our foreign policy and making us less safe is unfit for office.  Trump has exposed his moral bankruptcy and lack of character.  His actions are indefensible and unacceptable. 

The public inquiry continues today with former Ambassador Yovanovitch scheduled to testify, so stay tuned, keep resisting, and keep working to “vote his ass out of office” if he isn’t removed first.