December 9, 2019 / by 

 

Speaker Pelosi Goes from Slow-Walking to Sprinting

This morning, Nancy Pelosi announced she’s asking Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff to draw up articles of impeachment against Donald Trump.

Both reports on scheduling from members of HJC and Congress generally as well as reporting from CNN suggest Pelosi intends a very quick schedule for this process: articles drawn up this weekend, a vote in HJC next week, then a full vote before Christmas.

This is a mistake, in my opinion. I think Pelosi should bump this schedule out to early February. I say this not out of any fondness for delay, but because several things will or are likely to happen in the interim that would make impeachment more thorough.

The first is a ruling on Don McGahn’s testimony. I think the case on impeaching Trump for obstructing the Mueller investigation should most importantly focus on his abuse of the pardon power, not least because preventing a Trump pardon may give Paul Manafort and Roger Stone reason to grow more chatty. But McGahn’s testimony, describing how Trump asked him to falsify a record to cover up the fact that the President asked him to get Mueller fired in summer 2017, would be important for other reasons. Jonathan Turley cited McGahn’s testimony, for example, as the clearest case in the Mueller Report supporting impeachment (though of course he claims it doesn’t reach the level of abuse that Turley claimed lying about a consensual blowjob did back when Clinton did it). It would also be powerful to have a key player in Republican politics — they guy helped Trump stack the courts — play a key role in his impeachment.

While there’s little hope the Democrats could force the testimony of the key witnesses in the Ukraine investigation (including McGahn’s one-time deputy, John Eisenberg) without long delay, they’re more likely to get a ruling requiring McGahn’s testimony.

Then there’s the high likelihood of a superseding indictment in the Lev Parnas case. At a hearing Monday, prosecutors made it clear they’re very likely to supersede the current indictment against Rudy Giuliani’s grifters, possibly including other targets of the probe.

Prosecutor Zolkind signaled that a grand jury would probably level more charges.

“We think a superseding indictment is likely, but no decision has been made, certainly,” Zolkind said.

Repeatedly emphasizing that the government’s investigation is ongoing, the prosecutor referred obliquely to possible other targets by explaining that redactions on search warrants do not relate to the charged case. Zolkind also explained that disclosing witness statements prematurely could risk compromising the probe.

While the judge in the case, Paul Oetken, signaled his willingness to share information from this probe with impeachment investigators, and Parnas and his lawyers indicated that they’d like to comply with HPSCI’s subpoena (probably in an attempt to leverage immunity), that may take some time, perhaps two months. But I think any evidence from this case will be stronger if it comes with a grand jury indictment alleging that more of the underlying activities in this grift were probably a crime.

The next hearing in this case is February 3. That’s why I think Pelosi should hold off on until February.

Those are just two of the reasons I think Pelosi should slow things down a bit — at least on the vote in the entire House — to allow other pieces to fall into place.


Republican Complaints about Phone Records Back Democratic Impeachment Case

Way back in 2001, Victoria Toensing wrote an article justifying the subpoena of phone records of her future client, John Solomon, to find out who leaked details to him that Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli had been picked up on a wiretap of a mob figure. In it, she justified serving limited subpoenas, approved by Robert Mueller, on a third party carrier to find out who had committed a crime. She emphasized there was nothing political about the subpoena of Solomon’s phone records.

By ensuring that journalists not be subpoenaed every time they possess evidence, the department was demonstrating its respect for the press’s constitutional role.

The guidelines set down specific conditions that must be met before a subpoena can be issued for a reporter’s telephone records: There must be reasonable grounds to believe a crime has been committed; the information sought must be essential to a successful investigation; the subpoena must be narrowly drawn; all reasonable alternative steps must have been pursued, and the attorney general must approve the decision. The department has 90 days to notify the reporter of a subpoena to a third party, such as a telephone company.

Were those conditions met in Solomon’s case? Clearly, yes. His articles state that wiretap information was disclosed. The subpoena was limited, asking for home phone records for a period of six days, May 2 through 7. The U.S. attorney, Mary Jo White, certified that all alternative steps had been taken. Then-Acting Deputy Attorney General Robert S. Mueller III (now the FBI director) approved the subpoena — Ashcroft having recused himself. Solomon received his timely notice.

There is one other guideline factor: whether negotiations are required with the reporter before a subpoena is issued. The AP has argued — incorrectly — that the guidelines were violated because there were no negotiations. But negotiations are mandated only when the subpoena goes directly “to the reporter.” The guidelines do not require them if the subpoena is to a third party and the department concludes negotiations might be detrimental to the investigation.

Eighteen years later, Toensing is outraged that her own phone records were collected by the constitutionally appropriate authority in the investigation of multiple crimes.

A table of the April call records described in the report suggests the subpoena apparently targeted Lev Parnas — someone already indicted for crimes related to this investigation — and Rudy Giuliani — who’s a subject of that same investigation. (h/t Kelly for the table)

Nevertheless, in addition to Toensing and Solomon, the subpoena obtained records showing calls with Devin Nunes, several of the staffers most involved in sowing conspiracy theories, and numbers believed to involve the President (who is the subject of this investigation).

Nunes, of course, has made several efforts in recent years to expand the government’s collection of metadata in national security investigations, which this is. Trump also has favored continued, aggressive use of metadata collection in national security contexts.

The apparent fact that Schiff obtained all these records by targeting two suspected criminals hasn’t comforted the GOP, which is trying to claim that he violated the law or norms in issuing a subpoena.

One particularly delectable version of such complaints comes from Byron York. For some inconceivable reason, York decided to contact John Yoo — who, on multiple occasions in the year after Toensing wrote her column justifying a subpoena, wrote legal memos authorizing efforts to collect all phone records in the US with no legal process. York asked Yoo about whether subpoenaing AT&T for the phone records of two people as part of an impeachment investigation was proper.

John Yoo expressed a heretofore unknown respect for privacy. Even while he admitted that this presents no attorney-client problems, he suggested it would be proper for the White House to try to pre-empt any such subpoena.

There is certainly a constitutional privacy issue here, but I don’t think an attorney-client privilege issue. The attorney-client privilege covers the substance of the communication, but it doesn’t protect the fact that a communication took place.

For example, when one party to a lawsuit has to hand over documents to the other party, it can redact the content of the document if it is attorney-client privileged or withhold the document itself, but not the fact of the document’s existence (there is usually a log created that sets out the from, to, date information, etc.).

That is a separate question from whether Giuliani and Nunes had any constitutional rights violated by the House when it obtained these records. I am surprised that Giuliani and the White House did not think this would come up and sue their telecom providers to prevent them from obeying any demands from the House for their calling records.

York then quotes a policy from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that shows this subpoena — which did not target Solomon — does not fall under RCFP’s stated concern for subpoenas used to find out a journalist’s sources.

Courts…have begun to recognize that subpoenas issued to non-media entities that hold a reporter’s telephone records, credit card transactions or similar material may threaten editorial autonomy, and the courts may apply the reporter’s privilege if the records are being subpoenaed in order to discover a reporter’s confidential sources.

The subpoena didn’t discover Solomon’s sources; it just demonstrated Parnas and Rudy’s outlets.

Most remarkable of all, York quotes Rudy providing direct evidence supporting impeachment.

Schiff, Pelosi, Nadler have trashed the U.S. Constitution and are enabled by a pathetic fawning press. They have proceeded without respect for attorney-client privilege, including threats of contempt and imprisonment.

Here’s the thing. Either Rudy Giuliani was acting as a person the President appointed to pursue the foreign policy of the United States — something Republicans have, at times, argued in their attempts to defend the President.

Or, Rudy was acting as the President’s personal lawyer. Here, he asserts he was acting as the President’s lawyer. If that’s the case — and Rudy says it was — it confirms a key allegation made by Democrats: that Trump demanded concessions from Ukraine purely for his own personal benefit.

As Yoo notes, Rudy (and Jay Sekulow and Toensing) would not have an attorney-client claim over metadata in any case. But Rudy nevertheless claims Trump’s privilege has been implicated in these call records.

With that claim, he confirms that his client violated his oath of office.


Impeachment Hearing for December 4, 2019

As you may have heard there is an impeachment hearing in the House Judiciary today. Consider this your all purpose thread for comments and discussion on that. It is set up as a teaching class on “what impeachment is”. There are four witnesses, all Constitutional law professors. Noah Feldman, Pamela Karlan, Michael Gerhardt and Jonathan Turley. The first three are excellent voices, especially Pam Karlan. Pam is brilliant, and if I had my way, she would have been on the Supreme Court instead of Elena Kagan. She is really special. Feldman and Gerhardt are very good too. Turley is the annoying turd in the fishbowl, and that is exactly why the Republican minority is putting him up.

Frankly not sure anything worthwhile will be accomplished today. Doug Collins, Jim Jordan and Louis Gohmert are going to scream and shout. Nadler has never been good at controlling his huge and races committee. It will not be as lame as the Lewandowski hearing, but will likely be as bad or worse than the Mueller session. I’ll also add that the decision to pout up some professors instead of fact witnesses strikes me as silly. Today is also likely to show exactly why Pelosi is still derelict in how she has commanded the process. There should have been a select special impeachment committee in order to avoid this kind of nonsense.

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Links for streaming:

HJC’s site: https://judiciary.house.gov/legislation/hearings/impeachment-inquiry-president-donald-j-trump-constitutional-grounds

C-SPAN: https://www.c-span.org/video/?466833-1/judiciary-hearing-constitutional-framework-impeachment

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Additional documents:

House Intelligence Committee’s report based on their investigation and collected testimony

Just Security has testimony from today’s witnesses:

Noah Feldman — American author and Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.
Michael Gerhardt — Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill.
Pamela Karlan — professor of law at Stanford Law School; former U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Voting Rights in the United States Department of Justice Civil Division from 2014 to 2015.
Jonathan Turley — professor at the George Washington University Law School; legal analyst in broadcast and print journalism.

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Twitter feeds to follow:

Marcy’s Twitter threads:

1) https://twitter.com/emptywheel/status/1202243842394775553

2) https://twitter.com/emptywheel/status/1202313357124083715

Brandi Buchman, Courthouse News: https://twitter.com/BBuchman_CNS/status/1202234420968726528

Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse News: https://twitter.com/KlasfeldReports/status/1202241007800197121

Aaron Rupar, Vox: https://twitter.com/atrupar/status/1202247284551016448

If you come across other journalists live tweeting this hearing, please share in comments.

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Characters to watch:

GOP committee members Doug Collins, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and Louis Gohmert are expected to engage in the worst sorts of performance art to frustrate the hearing process. (<- my $.02 /~Rayne)

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Updates to this post will appear here at the bottom.


Are Kulyk, Lutsenko, and Shokin the Three Ukrainians that Show Bill Barr Is Part of the Conspiracy?

As part of DOJ’s extensive efforts to obstruct any investigation into Trump’s role in the Ukrainian conspiracy, they have made narrow denials that Bill Barr had an active role in the investigation in the wake of the July 25 call, while admitting that three Ukrainians volunteered information to John Durham.

“A Department of Justice team led by U.S. Attorney John Durham is separately exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Wednesday. “While the Attorney General has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating.”

DOJ made that statement on September 25. Yet no reporter has yet obtained the names of the three Ukrainians who offered information to John Durham.

There’s a possible clue in the Impeachment Report released by HPSCI today. It describes three Ukrainians — Yuriy Lutsenko, Viktor Shokin, and Konstantin Kulyk — retaining Victoria Toensing back in April.

Beginning in mid-April, Ms. Toensing signed retainer agreements between diGenova & Toensing LLP and Mr. Lutsenko, Mr. Kulyk, and Mr. Shokin—all of whom feature in Mr. Solomon’s opinion pieces.81 In these retainer agreements, the firm agreed to represent Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Kulyk in meetings with U.S. officials regarding alleged “evidence” of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, and to represent Mr. Shokin “for the purpose of collecting evidence regarding his March 2016 firing as Prosecutor General of Ukraine and the role of Vice President Biden in such firing, and presenting such evidence to U.S. and foreign authorities.”82 On July 25, President Trump would personally press President Zelensky to investigate these very same matters.

While Kulyk is (or was) technically still part of the Ukrainian government at this time — he is reportedly being fired in Volodymyr Zelensky’s efforts to clean up Ukraine’s prosecutors office — Rudy always cites three people to support his conspiracy theories about Ukraine.

If these three men already have shared information with Durham, it would be proof that the investigation is about collecting disinformation, not evidence.

Which is probably part of the reason Barr is claiming to doubt the outcome of the IG investigation. Because without any predicate for an investigation into the origin of the investigation into Trump, it becomes clear that it’s nothing but the use of DOJ resources to further a conspiracy to help Donald Trump get reelected.


The Republican Pre-Buttal Spins Republican and Non-Partisan Facts as a Democratic Plot

I’ll have a bit more to say about the Republican pre-buttal to the HPSCI Impeachment Report put out last night. But a good summary of the report looks like this:

  1. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  2. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
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  8. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
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  10. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  11. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  12. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  13. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  14. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  15. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  16. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  17. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  18. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  19. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  20. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  21. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  22. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  23. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat

The report uses the word “Democrat” 226 times, all part of a ploy to suggest that facts presented in the impeachment hearing were a partisan plot.

It fails to acknowledge, however, that zero of the witnesses who testified were Democrats. Two (Jennifer Williams and Tim Morrison) testified they were partisan Republicans. Gordon Sondland didn’t testify to the point (indeed, in his statement he highlighted his past work with Democrats), but he got his position by dumping $1 million into Trump’s inauguration. The rest testified to being non-partisan.

Three of the witnesses — Kurt Volker, Morrison, and Sondland — were Republican witnesses. The testimony of the three of them, plus that of Bill Taylor, fully substantiates that Trump demanded investigations before he’d release aid to Ukraine.

The facts presented in the impeachment inquiry are not Democratic claims. They are non-partisan or Republican facts.

But in the Republican party in 2019, every fact that is damning to Donald Trump — even those shared by Republicans — is treated as a partisan conspiracy.


The Origin of the Sharpie Quid Pro Quo Denial: An Effort to Craft a Cover Story on the Pages of the WSJ

Before I got caught up in Thanksgiving preparations, I started a post trying to recreate Susan Simpson’s analysis showing that the September 9 “no quid pro quo” call between Trump and Gordon Sondland never actually happened. Thankfully, she was already doing all that work, in a long post at Just Security.

[A]s shown from the testimony of other witnesses, the “no quid pro quo” call did not take place on September 9th. What’s more, the call was not prompted by any text from Bill Taylor. And lastly, Sondland’s testimony about the “no quid pro quo” call omitted the most important part: the part where President Trump informed Sondland that the security assistance would be at a “stalemate” until President Zelenskyy stood in front of a microphone and personally announced that he was opening an investigation into Trump’s political rivals.

Go read her post, which is meticulous and convincing.

Since she’s done that, I’d like to move onto where I had wanted to go from there, to unpack how that less-damning story got seeded.

The story first appears in an October 7 WSJ article purporting to preview Sondland’s testimony. The article was part of a series of articles, all involving Rebecca Balhaus, in which quid pro quo participants Kurt Volker, Sondland, Rick Perry, and Ron Johnson worked out a cover story. (I don’t fault Balhaus, at all, for reporting these stories; she killed the early reporting on this. But it’s quite clear now she was lied to in an effort to coordinate a false story, and she might consider describing how these stories came together given that these sources did lie.)

The stories are designed to take the existing record as reflected in the texts between many of them and come up with a story that denies both that by September 7, Trump had premised aid on investigations into 2016 and Biden, and the following day, Volodymyr Zelensky, agreed to that demand.

Perhaps because he was trying (unsuccessfully) to salvage his position at the McCain Institute, perhaps because he no longer had any legal tie to State, and perhaps because HPSCI got lucky, Kurt Volker testified first, after Mike Pompeo tried and failed to bully the committee into letting State sit in on what its witnesses would say to the committee.

In his statement and testimony, which was bound by the numerous texts he had reflecting discussions relating to the quid pro quo, Volker unconvincingly claimed not to know that when Rudy and the Ukrainians discussed investigating Burisma, everyone involved knew that to be code for Joe Biden. The day after his testimony, HPSCI released the texts he had shared with the committee, showing abundant evidence of a quid pro quo and setting off a bunch of reporting trying to nail down when Trump demanded the quid pro quo.

Ron Johnson then told the WSJ that he had asked Trump whether there was a quid pro quo, and Trump had angrily denied it.

Sen. Ron Johnson said that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, had described to him a quid pro quo involving a commitment by Kyiv to probe matters related to U.S. elections and the status of nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine that the president had ordered to be held up in July.

Alarmed by that information, Mr. Johnson, who supports aid to Ukraine and is the chairman of a Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over the region, said he raised the issue with Mr. Trump the next day, Aug. 31, in a phone call, days before the senator was to meet with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky. In the call, Mr. Trump flatly rejected the notion that he directed aides to make military aid to Ukraine contingent on a new probe by Kyiv, Mr. Johnson said.

“He said, ‘Expletive deleted—No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?” the Wisconsin senator recalled in an interview Friday. Mr. Johnson said he told the president he had learned of the arrangement from Mr. Sondland.

That claim (which I believe Chris Murphy has challenged; I will return to Johnson’s role in this in a follow-up) in some ways necessitated the September 9 story now shown to be false.

Mr. Johnson’s account of Mr. Sondland’s description of the conditions placed on aid to Ukraine runs counter to what Mr. Sondland told another diplomat a little over a week later.

On Sept. 9, Bill Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv, in a text message to Mr. Sondland also linked the hold on aid to the investigations the president was seeking. “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Mr. Taylor wrote.

Then, days later, Sondland released to WSJ what would be the first of at least three versions of testimony before he testified (along with the three versions given as testimony), though the WSJ story appears to rely heavily on leaks from Volker’s camp, too. The story appeared to be an attempt to deal with the problem presented by Volker’s testimony: that there was abundant evidence that the Three Amigos were scripting precisely what Zelensky had to say, and that even after (Volker claimed) Ukraine had hesitated, Sondland and Taylor continued to pursue such a statement.

A draft statement subsequently circulated by Mr. Volker included a line that Ukraine investigate “all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 U.S. elections.”

Mr. Giuliani didn’t respond to a request for comment.

That statement was ultimately scuttled over concerns in Ukraine about being perceived as wading into U.S. elections, among other matters, according to the person familiar with Mr. Volker’s testimony to House lawmakers.

But Mr. Sondland and Bill Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv, continued to discuss the possibility of having Mr. Zelensky give a media interview in which he would make similar commitments about Ukrainian investigations, according to the person familiar with Mr. Volker’s testimony.

The story also tried to clean up a problem created by Johnson’s claim that Trump had denied there was a quid pro quo.

Mr. Sondland has come under fresh scrutiny in recent days after Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) told The Wall Street Journal on Friday that Mr. Sondland had told him in August that the decision to hold up nearly $400 million aid to Ukraine was contingent on an investigation desired by Mr. Trump and his allies. Mr. Johnson said the president denied any quid pro quo.

Mr. Sondland doesn’t remember his conversation with the senator that way, according to a person familiar with his activities. He understood the White House visit was on hold until Ukraine met certain requirements, but he didn’t know of a link to the military aid, this person said.

Most importantly, the story shifted the date of Sondland’s call from September 7 to September 9 to shift Bill Taylor’s role in all this.

Yet text messages released by House lawmakers last week suggest some Trump administration officials believed there was a link between the aid to Ukraine and the investigations Mr. Trump sought.

“The nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance,” Mr. Taylor wrote in a Sept. 8 text message to Mr. Volker and Mr. Sondland, referring to the interview they had discussed Mr. Zelensky giving about investigations.

The next day, Mr. Taylor told Mr. Sondland: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Mr. Sondland called Mr. Trump before texting back less than five hours later, according to the person familiar with his activities.

“The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind,” Mr. Sondland said. He added: “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”

This is when that lie was formed: after the limits imposed by Volker’s texts became clear.

Rick Perry then did an interview with the WSJ where he joined in the feigned ignorance that this was about Biden from the start, presenting the cover story Republicans would use since then, that this was just about Trump believing he was targeted in 2016.

Mr. Perry, in an exclusive interview with The Wall Street Journal, said he contacted Mr. Giuliani in an effort to ease a path to a meeting between Mr. Trump and his new Ukrainian counterpart. He said Mr. Giuliani described to him during their phone call several concerns about Ukraine’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election, concerns that haven’t been substantiated.

Mr. Perry also said he never heard the president, any of his appointees, Mr. Giuliani or the Ukrainian regime discuss the possibility of specifically investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential contender, and his son Hunter Biden. Mr. Trump’s request for a probe of the Bidens in a July 25 call with Ukraine’s president has sparked the impeachment inquiry in the House.

[snip]

“And as I recall the conversation, he said, ‘Look, the president is really concerned that there are people in Ukraine that tried to beat him during this presidential election,’ ” Mr. Perry said. “ ‘He thinks they’re corrupt and…that there are still people over there engaged that are absolutely corrupt.’ ”

Mr. Perry said the president’s lawyer didn’t make any explicit demands on the call. “Rudy didn’t say they gotta do X, Y and Z,” Mr. Perry said. “He just said, ‘You want to know why he ain’t comfortable about letting this guy come in? Here’s the reason.’ ”

In the phone call, Mr. Giuliani blamed Ukraine for the dossier about Mr. Trump’s alleged ties to Russia that was created by a former British intelligence officer, Mr. Perry said, and asserted that Ukraine had Mrs. Clinton’s email server and “dreamed up” evidence that helped send former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to jail.

Perry also floated a version of the July 10 meeting that downplays how aggressively this tied the investigation to any call.

During that meeting, U.S. officials including Mr. Volker and Mr. Perry pushed for a call to be scheduled between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky as a U.S. show of support for the new administration, according to people familiar with the conversation. Also during the meeting, Mr. Sondland brought up investigations the president was interested in Ukraine pursuing, a move that so alarmed Mr. Bolton and Fiona Hill , the top Russia adviser at the time, that Ms. Hill subsequently relayed her concerns to a National Security Council lawyer, Ms. Hill told House committees earlier this week.

After that meeting, Mr. Perry learned that administration aides had been told a call between Messrs. Trump and Zelensky didn’t need to be scheduled until they had something substantive to discuss, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Perry called Mr. Bolton on July 11 and again pressed for the two leaders to speak ahead of parliamentary elections on July 21, stressing that a call was needed to build the relationship and help counter Russian influence in Ukraine. Mr. Perry at that point also brought up investigations, reiterating that Mr. Zelensky was committed to rooting out corruption and wouldn’t prove an obstacle to any probes, the person said.

In the same interview, Perry curiously backed off previous reporting he was about to leave the Administration.

Those are the various narratives into which Sondland tried to squeeze his first sworn statement to Congress, one that he has had to revise twice.

And then Bill Taylor testified, which is when it became clear he had abundant notes that contradicted Sondland’s cover story.


October 3: Volker testimony (opening statement, deposition transcript)

October 4: HPSCI releases Volker texts; Ron Johnson claims to WSJ that Trump told him aid was not premised on an investigation

October 7: Sondland provides advance notice of purported testimony to WSJ and others that includes a fake September 9 call

October 12: Sondland releases a second version of testimony

October 14: Sondland releases a third version of testimony; Fiona Hill testimony

October 15: Leaks of Fiona Hill’s testimony creates problems around the July 10 meeting

October 16: Rick Perry interview with WSJ

October 17: Sondland opening statement, deposition

October 22: William Taylor testifies


Is It Russian Or Is It Real?

Is It Russian Or Is It Real?

This is a question only humans with a sentient brain can answer. An equation that clearly leaves out Matt Taibbi, Senators Graham and Kennedy (not to be confused with the good Senator Kennedys). This Kennedy is an assclown.

So, when you decide what the Russians are doing, constantly, to our elections and democracy, and you should be doing exactly that, ponder this: The Russians and their former bloc can mimic and project almost everything. As the United States heads into 2020, there needs to be an awareness as to exactly how good countries that wish to damage the very basis, i.e. Constitutional, basis that the US is founded on.

Oceans and borders protect the “Homeland”. That long ago became a falsehood that is dangerous to hold on to. And when one particular political party is doing so, in the face of every ounce of their past beliefs, you have to wonder why.

For the record, the musicians on the title cut are Leonid & Friends. If you think that only American music is being taken this competently (and Leonid and Friends is every bit as good as post Terry Kath Chicago), you are fooling yourself. It is about the elections, not the music. Leonid et. al have HiWatts, Marshalls and whatnot. That is not important, how they have American democracy in the balance is what is important.


Moron-Contra and Gordon Sondland’s Venezuela Involvement

The WaPo today clarified that the meeting Criminal Division head Brian Benczkowski took with suspected foreign agent Rudy Giuliani after SDNY started to focus on his influence peddling was not, as I and other suspected, to pitch Dmitry Firtash’s case. But it did have a tie to Rudy’s Ukraine influence peddling.

Rudy was pitching the case of Venezuelan energy executive Alejandro Betancourt López, who is an unindicted co-conspirator in a different money-laundering case.

Giuliani was one of several lawyers representing Betancourt in Washington. The lawyers met with the chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division and other government attorneys to argue that the wealthy Venezuelan should not face criminal charges as part of a $1.2 billion money-laundering case filed in Florida last year, said the people, who, like others in this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

The criminal complaint alleges that top officials of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, elite business leaders and bankers conspired to steal money from the company and then launder it through Miami real estate purchases and other investment schemes.

Betancourt is not one of the eight men charged in the case, a group that includes his cousin. But a person familiar with the matter said that he is referred to in the criminal complaint as a uncharged co-conspirator, as previously reported by the Miami Herald.

And when Rudy and Lev Parnas were in Madrid in early August to coach Yermak on what Volodymyr Zelensky had to do to get Trump to deliver on his promises, Betancourt hosted them.

When Rudolph W. Giuliani went to Madrid in August to confer with a top aide to the Ukrainian president and press for political investigations sought by President Trump, he also met with a previously unidentified client with very different interests.

While in Spain, Giuliani stayed at a historic estate belonging to Venezuelan energy executive Alejandro Betancourt López, who had hired Trump’s personal attorney to help him contend with an investigation by the Justice Department into alleged money laundering and bribery, according to people familiar with the situation.

[snip]

During the trip, Giuliani met with Yermak at a hotel in Madrid, according to people familiar with the trip.

But he — along with Parnas and Fruman — stayed at an expansive estate belonging to Betancourt on the grounds of an ancient castle once used by Spanish royalty, the people said.

Effectively, then, Rudy’s ability to get Benczkowski to take his meeting subsidized Trump’s effort to coerce political benefits out of Ukraine.

As I have noted, Beczkowski’s claims of ignorance of investigations into Rudy might be true, but one way or another, they make it clear DOJ really went out of its way not to investigate the whistleblower complaint involving Rudy, Parnas, and Fruman, because if they had they would have known Rudy was under criminal investigation at the time of the meeting.

This story — in which one corrupt oligarch pays for Rudy to get other corrupt oligarchs to invent dirt on Trump’s enemies — makes the name some have adopted for this scandal — Moron-Contra — even more evocative, as Iran-Contra depended on slushing cash around various countries around the world.

The WaPo’s story notes the comparison to Iran-Contra may go still further. Fiona Hill expressed concern about what the Ukrainian grifters were doing in Venezuela.

In a closed-door deposition given to congressional investigators on Oct. 14, former National Security Council official Fiona Hill alluded to the possibility of a Venezuela tie to the ongoing Ukraine saga.

“I was told that by the directors working on the Western Hemisphere. I didn’t have a chance to look into this in any way. I was told that the same individuals who had been indicted had been interested at different points in energy investments in Venezuela and that this was quite well-known,” she said, referring to Parnas and Fruman, according to a transcript later released.

She did not detail the information she had been given, only that she had learned the two were “notorious in Florida” and involved with “strange things in Venezuela.”

“Well, I was extremely concerned that whatever it was that Mr. Giuliani was doing might not be legal, especially after, you know, people had raised with me these two gentlemen, Parnas and Fruman,” she said.

But there’s still another connection. As I noted when Gordon Sondland released his first of thus far three statements to Congress, he explicitly said that his mandate as Ambassador to the EU extended to (!!!) Georgia, Iran, and Venezuela.

My involvement in issues concerning Ukraine, while a small part of my overall portfolio, was nevertheless central to my ambassadorial responsibilities. In this sense, Ukraine is similar to other non-EU countries, such as Venezuela, Iran, and Georgia, with respect to which my Mission and I coordinate closely with our EU partners to promote policies that reflect our common values and interests.

So the way in which Betancourt ties Venezuela to Moron-Contra should raise further questions about why the Ambassador to the EU has any business in Venezuela.


A Billionaire’s Opportunity Cost

It’s a holiday week — posts here may be slower than usual. Our team of contributors are traveling or preparing for guests and feasts, or just plain in need of a break after the last two weeks.

Here’s something to talk about to launch this open thread: Michael Bloomberg and the opportunity cost of running for the presidency.

Many Democrats are angry with yet another billionaire popping into the primary race. If they sincerely cared about this country’s welfare they would do better things with their money, like fund media outlets so they don’t become husks siphoned dry by vampiric private equity firms (motives of which may not merely be sucking down loose cash).

But this is a problem Democrats have that Republicans don’t — they don’t think like people born to capital or who’ve acquired the separation from society wealth provides.

Take Michael Bloomberg (please, bah-doom-tish!). He already owns a media company. He doesn’t believe he owes the media ecosystem anything further if it doesn’t have his name on it and make a butt load of cash.

He’s worth $54 billion dollars, though, and not running for office has a steep opportunity cost.

Investopedia defines opportunity cost as “the benefit that is missed or given up when an investor, individual or business chooses one alternative over another.”

For Bloomberg, the risk of losing as much as 2% of his accumulated capital to a wealth tax must have looked so likely he felt he had to throw his name in the ring.

The $37 million he spent this past week on advertising was chump change. You see, if Bloomberg was liquid and invested in guaranteed income funds paying 3%, he’d make $1.62 billion a year just sitting there breathing.

He could spend 2% of his wealth — $1.08 billion — over the course of the next year leading up to the election, a burn rate of around $3.08 million a day, and possibly shape tax policy dialog on the left and the right while potentially winning the election against Trump.

And then he’d be able to influence tax policy to his benefit, making up for the money he spent campaigning.

Of course Bloomberg would throw his hat in the ring. It’s the same reason Starbucks’ Howard Schultz got into the ring.

What it tells me is that 2% isn’t a steep enough rate to tax these super wealthy assholes into thinking about something besides protecting their own assets.

This is an open thread. Feel free to share your favorite Thanksgiving Day recipes while you’re bashing billionaires.


Paul Manafort Is the Linchpin in Russia’s Effort to Recorrupt Ukraine

Yesterday, a vague NYT report described Senators and their staffers being briefed that Russia was behind the effort to blame the 2016 hack on Ukraine.

Russian intelligence officers aimed part of their operation at prompting the Ukrainian authorities to investigate the allegations that people in Ukraine tried to tamper with the 2016 American election and to shut down inquiries into corruption by pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, according to a former official.

One target was the leak of a secret ledger disclosed by a Ukrainian law enforcement agency that appeared to show that Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, had taken illicit payments from Ukrainian politicians who were close to Moscow. He was forced to step down from the Trump campaign after the ledger became public in August 2016, and the Russians have since been eager to cast doubt on its authenticity, the former official said.

Intelligence officials believe that one of the people the Kremlin relied on to spread disinformation about Ukrainian interference was Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who had ties to Mr. Manafort. After his ouster from the campaign, Mr. Manafort told his former deputy later in 2016 that Ukrainians, not Russians, stole Democratic emails. Mr. Deripaska has broadly denied any role in election meddling.

The Deripaska role in this may partly explain the vagueness about the briefing. At least per FOIA redactions made in August, there was an ongoing investigation pertaining to Deripaska at the time.

The article is not vague about one thing: the purpose for the disinformation campaign, which (in addition to permitting Trump to deny the role Russia had in getting him elected) has to do with Ukrainian internal politics. Russia wants Ukraine to investigate people that, the conspiracy theories go, “tried to tamper in the 2016 American election and to shut down inquiries into corruption by pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.”

This explains the nature of the campaign: Rudy’s disinformation packet (including the John Solomon articles that come from his efforts) target Sergii Leshchenko, NABU, and the Anti-Corruption Action Centre. None of those entities should be the focus of an American smear campaign, to say nothing of an impeachment defense. But painting Joe Biden’s efforts to combat Ukrainian corruption as the opposite and dropping the name of George Soros was sufficient to recruit Donald Trump into ordering his Administration to pursue the effort and enticing the fragile-minded Devin Nunes into chasing the conspiracy like a puppy. The US had been using the leverage it had over Ukraine to push it to address corruption. This disinformation campaign appealed to Trump’s weaknesses to get him to reverse that policy, creating conditions to expand corruption, even while tainting the newly elected President elected on an anti-corruption platform.

Still, Paul Manafort is a key part of that. That’s partly because Manafort continues to protect Trump and at least one of his associates — in part by lying about a meeting on August 2, 2016 where he discussed his ties with both Deripaska and pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs as well as carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking. It’s also because legitimate concerns raised in 2016 about Manafort’s corruption one of the two main ways Ukrainians commented on the election (the other involves criticism of Trump’s comments on Crimea, comments he has since disavowed under oath). The claim — which is false on several levels — is that because Leshchenko publicized the Black Ledger, it led to Manafort’s resignation (Leshchenko has published a second piece making this clear). And, as I and Leschenko keep noting, Manafort knew he was in the Black Ledger months before it became public. If anyone should be held responsible for any taint the publication of his inclusion in the Black Ledger, it’s him; if it was a problem, he should have disclosed that problem to the candidate.

With all that said, then, I want to note something that happened with Rudy’s disinformation packet, which I unpacked in detail here. As I noted, there are two versions of three sets of notes from January 2016, one of a phone interview with Viktor Shokin conducted on January 23, 2019, and two of an in-person interview with Yuriy Lutsenko conducted in NY on January 25 and 26. The first set appears to be what Rudy gave Pompeo. The second may reflect Pompeo’s notes on them, which include some proofreading, stars for emphasis, remarks on timing.

But as I noted, the original version appears to have come with underlines already included.

The only annotation added to that section was to circle Leshchenko’s name (which is not transliterated as he does it, so this could either be emphasis or one of several really nitpicky notations of errors in the notes).

The reason I’m interested in this is because, while the passage has a bunch of errors (for example, the size of the Black Ledger is wrong, the allegation against Yovanovitch is invented, Leshchenko released something else, that’s not how US media got the story), it does make it clear that Manafort was in the Ledger. That is, even disinformation (which Lutsenko has since recanted) designed to help Trump includes the allegation that Manafort was in the Ledger. It also asserts that Manafort was laundering money through Kyrgyzstan, which is also true.

Furthermore, nothing here refutes the validity of the Ledger more generally.

That might not be clear to someone reading quickly, of course, because of the way the other details were underlined.

Which is why it is all the more inexcusable that Republicans — including but not limited to Rudy and Devin Nunes — continue to suggest that Manafort was unfairly tainted by the ledger, as happened in this exchange between Nunes and David Holmes last week.

Nunes: [Leshchenko] provided widely known as the black ledger, have you ever heard of the black ledger?

Holmes: I have.

Nunes: The black ledger, is that seen as credible information?

Holmes: Yes.

Nunes: The black ledger is credible?

Holmes: Yes.

Nunes: Bob Mueller did not find it credible, do you dispute what Bob Mueller’s findings were? They didn’t use it in the prosecution or in the Report?

Holmes: I’m not aware that Bob Mueller did not find it credible. It was evidence in other criminal proceedings. Its credibility was not questioned in those proceedings.

Even in Rudy’s own disinformation, which is full of easily identifiable lies, it states clearly that Manafort was in the ledger and was laundering money (the latter allegation of which he has pled guilty to). And yet Republicans are still running around ignoring even their own manufactured dirt to pretend the accusations against Manafort were simply made up.

Perhaps that’s because, without Manafort, Trump’s own stakes in this go down substantially.

Copyright © 2018 emptywheel. All rights reserved.
Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/2020-presidential-election/