Wednesday, October 30, 2019

BTRTN: Too Many Ironies in the Fire...Trump Implicitly Defines "Impeachable Offense," and Officials Line Up to Accuse Him of It

The Dems are going to have a feast as the rank and file of the supposed “Deep State” step forward and testify in public about Ukraine. Revenge may be a meal best served cold, but Steve points out that it is rich in irony.  

Ah, Republicans.

They govern with a fist of irony

They swear their party allegiance by taking the hypocritical oath.

Pity that they are insufficiently self-aware to see the Sybil war within their own party and, indeed, within their own psyches.

Exhibit A: Donald Trump takes credit for the successful military and intelligence operation that took out ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi within days after his Attorney General turned the apparatus of the nation’s investigative service upon its own intelligence operations in an attempt to discredit its leaders, soil their reputations, and potentially bring criminal charges against them.

How about this? Claiming that he is honoring a campaign promise to “bring our soldiers home,” Trump goes limp and allows Turkish President Erdo─čan to steamroll into Syria, a decision Trump makes about as casually and impulsively as most people choose between Italian or Mexican take-out. (Indeed, most people weigh the consequences of that culinary trade-off more extensively than Trump did the potential ethnic cleansing of the Kurds.) Days later, the President wants to redeploy troops to Syria when he is told that an amount of oil (inconsequential in the global equation) is now at risk of falling into enemy hands. Who cares about honoring our sacred commitment to defend our allies, but weigh the Kurds against oil and guess who wins?

Wait, there’s more. Republicans, staunch stewards of hypocrisy, decide that this betrayal of the Kurds is simply too much! People like Lindsay Graham, who had donated his testicles to science when John McCain died, actually protested Trump’s decision. Mitt Romney suddenly grasps that history is patiently waiting to elevate him to the pantheon of politicians who chose patriotism over partisanship. Mitt of Amnesia finally springs into action, condemning Trump roundly.

Don’t get me wrong, I am pleased that Republicans have finally judged one policy decision of this President to be sufficiently egregious and despicable to cause them to test out their long dormant vocal chords and express protest. And I am as disgusted as anyone by our nation’s feckless abandonment of the Kurdish troops who fought – and won – the ground war with ISIS.

But why did the betrayal of the Kurds inspire Republican outrage, and not the locking up of children in cages right here in the United States? Why did separating children from their parents on our Southern border not rise to their standard? Why was Trump’s assertion of an equivalency between neo-Nazis and peaceful protesters perfectly fine? Why was Trump’s brag that he is such a big star that he can “grab women by the pussy” perfectly acceptable to Republicans? Why was it o.k. for Trump to tell Congressional women of color to “go back to where they came from?” Why did Republicans think it was just fine for Trump to casually invoke to the term “lynching” in a heinous spasm of self-pity?

How about Trump’s attempt to strangle a newly elected Ukrainian president mob-style by threatening that his “protection” would disappear if he didn’t do the big bad boss a “favor?” Are Republicans really content to stand by as a President withholds desperately-needed military aid until the President of Ukraine knuckles under and agrees to manufacture dirt on Trump's political opponent?

How about the fact that Trump has now invited at least three countries (that would be Ukraine, Russia, and China if you've lost count) to meddle with our elections?
Hey, Republican leadership, exactly what is it about the Kurd atrocity that so clearly topped your list? What was it that finally navigated your elaborate ethical labyrinth and located your dormant conscience?

Here’s my theory: in the quiet of your lonely rooms, you brood in shame that you don’t have the guts to come out against Trump. You know he is a criminal. You know his behavior in Ukraine – and in many instances before -- constitute an impeachable offense.

But you don’t have the guts to challenge him on the issue that is existential to his presidency. You are afraid to challenge him on Ukraine, because you know that his base will abandon you if Trump instructs them to.

You don’t have the courage to challenge him on the domestic issues that thrill his base. You know that when he rails against immigrants, minorities, and demeans women that he is stoking the seething resentment of his faithful flock, fanning them into a frenzy. Trump’s base is just fine with white supremacists, misogynists, racists, and anti-immigration vigilantes, so you are afraid to protest when Trump spews his unique venom on any of his go-to topics.

Yes, you are afraid to challenge him on these issues, because you will get primaried. You will lose your seat in Congress. So you cower and hide.

But the Kurds? Who cares about the Kurds?

As Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump so cravenly summarized it on Fox News, "I think we should start with the fact that if you ask the average American out there, I think they would have to google ‘Who are the Kurds, and why is America even over there fighting this war?’”

Perfect, Lara! Thank you for explaining to all why Republican Congressmen decided to slam Donald Trump for betraying the Kurds.

Because they figured that nobody in Trump’s base really cares about the Kurds.

The Kurds are not immigrants “invading” our border. They are not accused of taking American jobs. They are not fundamentally changing the demographic composition of the United States of America. Why, as Trump pointed out, they did not even help us storm Normandy Beach!! Who gives a crap about the Kurds?

Yeah, condemning the betrayal of the Kurds was a low-risk way for Republicans to feel good about themselves that they finally stood up and took a grandstanding stand against the craven corruption and amoral actions of this President.

As we move into the next phase of impeachment, however, it is good that the Republicans got a chance to test their vocal chords. Because in the coming months, the moral arc of the universe is about to take a hard angle toward justice, and people are no longer going to be able to duck and cover. They are going to have to take stands.

And if you want to talk about irony, well, we are about to witness what could well be the final voyage of Old Ironysides.

It began right after the whistleblower blew.

Donald Trump began walking around blurting into any microphone he could find that there was “no quid pro quo.” 

The essential question of the moment was this: had Donald Trump overtly demanded dirt on a political opponent in exchange for the release of American military aid to an ally? Donald Trump seemed to immediately understand and fully grasp that overtly holding military aid hostage in return for requiring a foreign government to commit character assassination on Trump’s political rival was wrong. He apparently understood that such a “quid pro quo” would be anybody and everybody’s idea of a “high crime or misdemeanor.”

Because he spent the next days screaming from the mountaintop that there was “no quid pro quo.”

Out on the South Lawn helicopter briefings, during the rallies of the faithful, and an all-cap favorite on Twitter, NO QUID PRO QUO was it. It became the official White House stance. The phone call was “perfect,” because there was no quid pro quo. There’s nothing wrong here, because there was no quid pro quo.

Consider this quote from Trump during his pre-chopper chat with reporters on October 3:

“You know, when this came out, it was ‘quid pro quo.’  Well, there was none.  Also, yesterday, the Ambassador — who I heard was tremendous and a tremendous person — he was 100 percent for what we’re saying.  A hundred percent.  And, if you look, he also said there was no quid pro quo.  That’s the whole ballgame.
But now the Democrats don’t bring that up anymore because they lost.  Look, they never thought I was going to release the phone call between the Ukrainian President and myself.  When I released that call, they were — they were jumping around like you wouldn’t believe.  They didn’t know how to respond.  And then they found out — and then they found out that the call itself was so bad for them.  It was a perfect call.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper neatly pointed out that “No quid pro quo” had become the White House’s newest denial mantra, replacing “No collusion, no obstruction.” These phrases seem destined to take their place in history alongside Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook.”

The New York Times counted fifteen different Trump supporters – including Mike Pence, Steve Mnuchin, Kellyanne Conway, Larry Kudlow, Jim Jordan, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley – who had all been quoted as squarely claiming there was “no quid pro quo.”

Donald Trump so aggressively championed the idea that there was “no quid pro quo” because he wanted to set the bar for defining an “impeachable offense.” Trump intended that this phrase would be the exact same firewall that “no collusion” was for the Mueller probe.  

For Mueller, it was this: If you can’t prove collusion, you cannot impeach.

For Ukraine, Trump wants this: If you cannot prove a quid pro quo, then you cannot impeach.

Ah, but what if you can?

Ukraine is the cancer on Trump’s Presidency. Career public servants like William Taylor, Fiona Hill, and Marie Yovanovitch are every bit as compelling as a reel-to-reel tape recording of a smoking gun.

Rank and file Republicans may have a hard time believing the White House's contention that Taylor -- a West Pointer, Vietnam vet, and career foreign service officer -- is a “radical unelected bureaucrat waging war on the Constitution.” Taylor made clear that the administration officials involved in the Ukraine phone call knew that there was a quid pro quo. 

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House Chief of Staff, rather casually acknowledged the withholding of military funding in exchange for political cooperation in Trump’s dealings with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, noting “we do that all the time with foreign policy.” He would add, “And I have news for everybody. Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.” Many thought Mulvaney’s press briefing was an unintended gaffe. I’m not so sure. I wonder whether Mulvaney was sent out by the White House to test a new “Hail Mary” – seeing if they could get away with acknowledging the existence of the quid pro quo while attempting to pass it off as an ordinary, routine matter of diplomacy. If so, Mulvaney’s “Hail Mary” pass was intercepted and returned for a Democratic touchdown. It suddenly became the most overt and proximate evidence of a true quid pro quo thus far.
Reports circulated on Monday that Gordon Sondland – the big donor who scored the ambassadorship to the E.U. for his largesse to the Trump inauguration – acknowledged in his Congressional testimony that he understood that Trump was demanding a quid pro quo.

And just yesterday, Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the most senior expert on Ukraine on the National Security Council, issued a statement which added yet more concrete evidence of the existence of the “quid pro quo.” Vindman's testimony is critical because he is the first person to testify who actually listened in on the Trump/Zelensky phone call of July 25. Vindman's testimony also made clear that the quid pro quo was openly discussed well before the fateful phone call with Zelensky. This portion of the statement pertains to a meeting held on July 10:

“Following this meeting, there was a scheduled debriefing during which Amb. Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma. I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push. Dr. Hill then entered the room and asserted to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.
Following the debriefing meeting, I reported my concerns to the NSC's lead counsel. Dr. Hill also reported the incident to the NSC's lead counsel.”

The walls are closing in on Donald Trump and his administration.

And do you want to talk about irony? 

Last year, Washington insiders on both sides were startled when Trump hired super-hawk John Bolton to be his National Security Advisor. Democrats were worried that Bolton would finally get to wage those wars he had always wanted to initiate in Korea and Iran, and Republicans were scratching their heads why the “bring our soldiers home” President was bringing in such an aggressive advocate of military intervention.

News flash from the irony factory: John Bolton could well be the voice of truth and patriotism that levels Donald Trump’s presidency.  Should John Bolton testify, the impact of that testimony is going to be an 8.0 on the truth Richter Scale. Conservatives do not think John Bolton is a “radical unelected bureaucrat waging war on the Constitution.” When Bolton stands up, swears an oath, and tells Congress that there was a quid pro quo, that he did call Rudy Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy a “drug deal” and that he did call Rudy a “hand grenade that would blow us all up,” conservatives will have to listen.

Bolton, Taylor, Vindman, Sondland, Hill, and Yovanovitch were, for all intents and purposes, in the “room where it happened.” When this testimony is finally made public, it will score a hit below the waterline of Trump's presidency... precisely because it takes President’s own criteria for impeachment and crushes him on it.

Yes, Mr. President, there was a quid pro quo. The very thing that you hoped would insulate you from impeachment – the absence of a specific, literal, tit-for-tat linkage in the summary of a phone call – is going to come back and land on you like a ton of bricks.

Which brings us to the irony-clad stance that Republicans in Congress have taken toward the impeachment inquiry. 

The reason House Republicans threw their infantile temper tantrum last week, storming the deposition room of the House Intelligence Committee, was in protest of the fact that witness testimony was being taken “in secret,” supposedly denying the President his rights under due process. This contention is utterly specious on three grounds. First, every Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee is entitled to attend any deposition, and allowed to question the witness. Additionally, there is a vitally important legal role played by closed door hearings… witnesses do not have access to the testimony of others, thereby limiting the possibility that malevolent actors could align their versions of events. Finally,Trump will have all the “due process” to which he is entitled at the appropriate time: if and when formal charges are levied and the Senate begins an impeachment trial. 

But no, the House Republicans demanded open hearings. And now they are going to get them. Nancy Pelosi’s decision to have a formal vote on Thursday ratifying the House impeachment inquiry will empower the House to conduct public testimony.

Do you really want open, public testimony, Republicans? Because it was the open testimony in the Watergate hearings that led to John Dean, Alexander Butterfield, and the collapse of public support for Richard Nixon.

Yes, the Republicans are demanding that all of this damning testimony of the President be conducted in plain sight, broadcast on National Cable News 24x7. Thank heaven. Let's get this whole sordid business out in the open in front of the American people and then we will see what happens.

Yes, it could be that the moral arc of the universe is indeed about to take a sharp turn toward justice.

President Trump and his Republican sycophants are soon going to sweat under the white-hot heat of well-credentialed and highly credible career public servants testifying under oath to a nationally televised audience about the existence of a quid pro quo that Donald Trump himself considers to be the bar by which we should judge an impeachable offense.

Bring on the cameras. Bring on the lights. Lux et veritas

Are we finally witnessing the power of our institutions rising to put an end of our long national nightmare?

Finally, are we turning a corner in this long dark passage, and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?

Is that light merely the incandescence as years of Republican deceit, corruption, ethical abdication, and moral bankruptcy finally burn out of control?

Perhaps that blaze now rages because there are just too many ironies in the fire.

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