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Impeachment Hearings: Day 4 – Sondland Gets Another Chance

[NB: Updates to this post will appear at the bottom. /~Rayne]

First of the day’s hearings begin at 9:00 a.m. ET and the second at 2:30 p.m. Here’s the schedule according to NPR:

Wednesday, first panel at 9 a.m. ET

  • Gordon Sondland. Once a top donor to the president’s inaugural committee, Sondland has faced intense scrutiny about his closed-door testimony after he sent the committee a three-page amendment reversing his initial account. In that addendum, Sondland said he personally told a top aide to Zelenskiy that the release of U.S. aid to Ukraine was linked to investigations.

Wednesday, second panel at 2:30 p.m. ET

  • Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary at the Defense Department, who in closed-door testimony said that Ukrainians raised the administration’s delay of $391 million in security assistance in August. She said that she spoke to Volker about the issue and that he told her he was working with Ukrainians to make a statement disavowing election interference.
  • David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs at the State Department. He testified behind closed doors on Nov. 6, and Republicans asked for him to appear in the public hearings.

Until now Republicans had been most worried about hotelier Gordon Sondland’s testimony, out of all the witnesses called to testify before the House Intelligence Committee.

New reports say Sondland will admit there was a quid pro quo and implicate then-National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo along with Trump.

The opening of the hearing appears a little disordered even now because the GOP members didn’t appear to know in advance this was the tack Sondland would take.

~ ~ ~

For folks who can stream, catch today’s hearings at:

For folks who can’t stream, you can follow these live Twitter threads:

Marcy’s live twitter thread

Brandi Buchman-Courthouse News’s thread

Looks like Courthouse News’s Adam Klasfeld is also covering this hearing.

Paul McLeod-BuzzFeed is tweeting from the hearing room.

My Trump-Russia Twitter list which includes most of the above folks.

See also CNN’s live update page for today’s hearings.

~ ~ ~

Pam Bondi has already made a boo-boo defending Trump this morning:

Not off to a good start.

Buckle up, Sondland’s begun.

Impeachment Hearings: Day 3 – Witnesses to the July 25 Call [UPDATE-2]

[NB: Updates to this post will appear at the bottom. /~Rayne]

Today’s hearings are already under way, the first scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. ET and the second at 2:30 p.m.

Per NPR, the witnesses for the first panel:

  • Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine specialist on the National Security Council. Vindman listened to the July 25 telephone conversation in the White House Situation Room and reported his concerns about the president’s mention of political investigations to the top NSC attorney, John Eisenberg. He said the attorney decided to move the record of the call onto a highly classified system that few could access. (heard the July 25 phone call)
  • Jennifer Williams, a foreign service aide detailed to Vice President Pence’s office who listened in on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy.(heard the July 25 phone call)

Bold mine.

The witnesses for the second panel:

  • Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, who along with Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry was part of the “three amigos” tasked by the president to handle Ukraine policy. He was on the list of witnesses requested to appear by Republican members of the Intelligence Committee.
  • Tim Morrison, the former National Security Council aide who heard the July 25 call but in closed-door testimony told the committees conducting the impeachment inquiry that he didn’t view the president’s actions as illegal or inappropriate. Republicans say his testimony supports the president’s position that there was nothing improper about the July 25 call, and they included him on a list of witnesses they asked the Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., to call.(heard the July 25 phone call)

Trump supporters whining about hearsay should be treated as just that, whining, given the number of witnesses who have heard the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky directly.

If these same supporters question these witnesses’ testimony about the July 25 call, they could demand the actual word-for-word transcript which had been placed in the secured server in an exception to past practice.

Schiff’s opening statement can be found at this link.

Let’s do this.

UPDATE-1 — 11:00 A.M. ET —

If you’re not able to stream the hearing today you can follow these live Twitter threads in progress:

Marcy’s live twitter thread

Emma Loop-BuzzFeed’s thread

Jennifer Taub’s thread

Brandi Buchman-Courthouse News’s thread

Aaron Rupar-Vox’s thread

My Trump-Russia Twitter list which includes most of the above folks.

UPDATE-2 — 11:23 A.M. ET —

In response to Lt. Col. Vindman’s closing remarks in his written statement, I’m adding to this post a comment I left in another thread:

Vindman’s point about the threat to witnesses in other countries who give testimony against a government shouldn’t be treated as a throw-away.

A Russian journalist and opposition politician died mysteriously this past Saturday while traveling on a train. Nikita Isaev was only 41 years old; in 2017 he’d made some waves insisting Russia release kompromat on Trump after Trump failed to lift sanctions on Russia.

What odd timing of this death from undetermined causes — Isaev looked okay in the last selfie he tweeted from the train.

The risk to witnesses is serious because they are essentially testifying about a continuation of the Russian interference program.

Vindman’s closing remarks, in case you missed them:

Impeachment Hearings: Big, Busy Week Ahead [UPDATE-1]

[NB: Updates will appear at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

Better get all your big tasks done today or hold off until Friday because the week is stacked with hearings and witnesses. These are the folks scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee (HIC):

Tuesday 19-NOV-2019

Jennifer Williams, Special Adviser on EU+Russia to VP Mike Pence (heard the July 25 phone call)
Alexander Vindman, former National Security Council Director for European affairs (heard the July 25 phone call)
Kurt Volker, Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations
Timothy Morrison, Presidential Adviser for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council staff (heard the July 25 phone call)

Wednesday 20-NOV-2019

Gordon Sondland, Ambassador to the EU
Laura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs
David Maclain Hale, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs

Thursday 21-NOV-2019

Fiona Hill, former Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Council’s Senior Director for Europe and Russia
NEW -> David Holmes, Counselor for Political Affairs in Ukraine [Added with UPDATE-1]

You’re going to want to bone up ahead of these hearings with the transcripts released so far:

Jennifer Williams’s transcript
Alexander Vindman’s transcript
Kurt Volker’s transcript
Timothy Morrison’s transcript

Gordon Sondland’s transcript (includes addendum from November 4)
Laura Cooper’s transcript

Fiona Hill’s transcript

Note the witnesses who listened in on the Trump-Zelensky call; the concentration of call observers/participants might explain why Trump has no public appearances scheduled on his calendar tomorrow. Note also I don’t have a transcript yet for David Hale; I’ll furnish a link as soon as I find one, assuming it’s been or will be released.

And do note also two of three witnesses whose depositions Matt Gaetz and other House GOP tried to barge in on are scheduled to testify this week — that’s Fiona Hill and Laura Cooper.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the GOP members of the HIC do something obnoxious and obstructive to these same witnesses again; my suspicion is that they offer particularly damning testimony.

And they’re both women.  Great optics, that, all those suited-up white dudes (except for jacketless Gym Jordan) storming around and barging into closed-door SCIF depositions to intimidate women employees of our federal government.

For the same reason the GOP deployed her against former Ambassdor Marie Yovanovitch, we shouldn’t be surprised if the GOP tasks Elise Stefanik with a substantive portion of their questions to these two and the other female witnesses. It’ll be like siccing a lipsticked pitbull on them; can’t wait to see this because Stefanik’s performance this past week helped her Democratic opponent garner +225,000 new followers on Twitter and a million dollars in campaign donations.

(Really effective program the GOP has in place to increase the number of female GOP representatives in Congress. LOL)

Get reading, get ready.

UPDATE-1 — 10:10 P.M. ET —

Transcript for David Maclain Hale’s deposition has been released — link here. Hale is the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and at present the highest-ranked serving foreign service officer.

HIC has also announced that David Holmes, counselor for political affairs in Ukraine, will testify on Thursday along with Fiona Hill. A transcript of his deposition taken in a closed door session last Friday has been released and it’s colorful (a euphemism referring to its candid language). Holmes’ deposition has ‘shaken’ GOP members, it’s said.

Thanks to community member harpie for the assist with the transcripts.

Thursday’s after-hours cocktail will need a much bigger glass.

History’s Rhyme, Part 4: Contempt Then, Contempt Now

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

I’ve previously looked at example Articles of Impeachment against Trump in this series of posts:

History’s Rhyme: Nixon’s Articles of Impeachment — focus on Obstruction of Justice

History’s Rhyme, Part 2a: ‘Abuse of Power’ Sounds So Familiar — Abuse of Power (may include Public Corruption)

History’s Rhyme, Part 3: How Nixon’s Impeachment Unfolded — Watergate and Nixon’s near-impeachment timeline

I still plan to return to do Part 2b to address more abuses of power in the near future. He’s racking them up faster than I can record and draft the rest of Article 2.

I’m still working on Article 4 and more related to violations of treaties and foreign policy failures, as well as human rights violations.

Let me note at this point the curious coincidence that The New York Times’ editor has published an article today with spiffy graphics comparing Nixon and Clinton Articles of Impeachment to articles Trump might face. What a topic; what amazing timing, six weeks after I began this series…

~ ~ ~

As noted before, the 93rd Congress’ House Judiciary Committee drafted five Articles of Impeachment against Richard M. Nixon in 1974. Only three of the five were passed by the committee; the first two were related to Obstruction of Justice and Abuses of Power. The misuse of government resources to spy on individuals and political opponents combined with Nixon’s efforts to thwart subsequent investigations into these abuses were impeachable on their own.

Nixon, however, doubled down and tried to withhold materials responsive to the Senate Watergate Committee’s, the special prosecutor’s, or the House investigation into the abuses of power which were revealed by the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate break-in.

How very familiar this feels, given how utterly uncooperative Trump and his administration have been in response to House Committee requests and subpoenas.

In July 1973 the Senate Watergate Committee and special prosecutor Archibald Cox both requested tapes recorded in the Oval Office; Nixon refused to comply.

On October 19, Nixon instead offered a compromise: Senator John C. Stennis would listen to the tapes for the special prosecutor’s office. Stennis had a hearing disability making this compromise untenable; Cox refused the offer.

Nixon ordered the Attorney General Eliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. They chose to resign instead. Next at bat was the Solicitor General Robert Bork who fired Cox on October 20, 1973. The resignations and Cox’s firing became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”

Cox’s successor Leon Jaworski subpoenaed the tapes on April 16, 1974. The White House offered only partial compliance by offering edited transcripts of the tapes on April 30.

Jaworski and the House Judiciary Committee insisted unedited actual tapes must be released in full; a deadline of May 31 was set for compliance.

Nixon’s special counsel James D. St. Clair went before Judge John Sirica of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to quash the subpoena. Nixon’s motion was denied. Sirica ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes by May 31, 1974.

Special prosecutor Jaworski and Nixon appealed directly to the Supreme Court in United States v. Nixon. The court began to hear arguments on July 8.

The court delivered a unanimous decision on July 24, affirming the D.C. District Court’s order that subpoenaed materials be transmitted to that court.

Three days after the legal battle over the tapes ends, the House Judiciary Committee drafted and began to pass three of five Articles of Impeachment.

Sixteen days after the United States v. Nixon decision, Nixon resigned rather than face a trial before the Senate.

~ ~ ~

The third Article of Impeachment against Nixon was the simplest of the three the House Judiciary Committee passed. In essence it said Nixon had

…  failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives on April 11, 1974, May 15, 1974, May 30, 1974, and June 24, 1974, and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas. …

This itemization was sandwiched an opening and a closing statement in total, Article 3 was a whopping 281 words long. Short and sweet, it only addressed contempt of Congress and not Nixon’s failure to comply with the special prosecutor’s requests or the Senate Watergate Committee’s requests.

Now compare that to a theoretical Article 3 against Trump:

Article 3 – Contempt of Congress

In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, contrary to his oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce testimony, papers and things as directed by duly authorized requests and subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives.

On the matter of Security Clearance:

The House Oversight Committee, while investigating the White House and Transition Team disregard for established procedures for safeguarding classified information, requested voluntary testimony from U.S. Defense Department’s Carl Kline on four occasions – January 23, 2019, February 11, 2019, March 1, 2019, and March 18, 2019. Mr. Kline failed to respond to these requests, and the White House refused to make him available. After testimony from whistleblower Tricia Newbold on April 1, 2019, the Committee received last-minute letters from Mr. Kline’s lawyer and the White House saying he would voluntarily comply. However, they made clear that he would not answer questions about specific officials, specific security violations, or specific security clearance adjudications, but instead would speak only about general policies and procedures.

On the matter of 2020 Census:

During the House Oversight Committee’s investigation into the Trump Administration’s secret efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, Secretary Ross and other Department of Commerce (DOC) officials asserted multiple times before House Oversight Committee (May 8, 2018), House Committee on Appropriations (March 20, 2018), the House Committee on Ways and Means (March 22, 2018), the Senate Committee on Appropriations (May 10, 2018) that the decision to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census arose from a request from the Department of Justice in December 2017. Internal documents dated March 10, 2017; April 5, 2017; May 2, 2017; July 21, 2017; August 9, 2017; and September 16, 2017 made public show that Secretary Ross took steps to add the citizenship question to the 2020 Census months before the DOJ’s request. The House Oversight Committee identified priority documents, extended deadlines, and offered to review certain documents in camera. The White House continued to avoid compliance with requests for information necessary to determine the real reason Secretary Ross added the citizenship question, obliging the Committee to subpoena Secretary Ross for testimony and documents.

On the matter of Potential Foreign influence on the U.S. Political Process:

As part of their oversight authority and their subsequent investigation into allegations that Russia and other foreign entities influenced the U.S. political process during and since the 2016 U.S. election, both House Committees on Intelligence and on Ways and Means have sought Donald J. Trump’s financial records to determine whether U.S. financial system was used for illicit purposes including unlawful influence through foreign banks operating in the U.S. with longtime relationships with Trump and past ties to Russian money laundering. Subpoenas were served on Deutsche Bank and Capital One for records related to their business transactions with the Trump family and Trump Organization. On April 30, 2019, the Trump family and Trump Organization filed a lawsuit against these financial institutions to prevent them from complying with the Congressional subpoena, thereby obstructing the Committees’ investigation. The D.C. District Court ruled on May 22, 2019 against the Trump family and Trump Organization but they have since filed an appeal.

On the matter of the Special Counsel’s Investigation:

The House Judiciary Committee, while investigating the Trump administration for possible obstruction of the Special Counsel’s investigation into foreign interference with the 2016 election, has subpoenaed former White House counsel Don McGahn to appear before the committee to discuss Donald J. Trump’s attempt to remove Special Counsel Rober Mueller and possible subornation of perjury. Special Counsel had previously interviewed Mr. McGahn while Mr. McGahn was still employed as White House counsel. Mr. McGahn no longer works for the White House and was subpoenaed after his employment ended. Donald J. Trump has since said he does not want his aides to testify before Congress. He also said, “We’re fighting all the subpoenas.” Attempts to obstruct justice and suborn perjury are not reasons for compelling confidentiality.

— TO BE CONTINUED — ]

Donald J. Trump has willfully disobeyed, or directed, or authorized disobedience by executive branch officials of such requests and subpoenas. The requested and subpoenaed testimony, papers, and things were deemed necessary by the Committee in order to resolve by direct evidence fundamental, factual questions relating to Presidential acts, direction, knowledge or approval of actions demonstrated by other evidence to be substantial grounds for impeachment of the President.

In refusing to produce these testimony, papers, and things Donald J. Trump, substituting his judgment as to what materials were necessary for the inquiry, interposed the Article II powers of the Presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, thereby assuming to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the sole power of impeachment vested by Article I of the Constitution in the House of Representatives.

In all of this, Donald J. Trump has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Wherefore, Donald J. Trump, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.

Take careful note: this theoretical article of impeachment is not complete, both because I haven’t fully documented every occasion when Trump and his administration have failed to comply with Congress’s requests and subpoenas, and because noncompliance is ongoing. The itemization of acts of contempt of Congress could be at least twice as long.

What else should be added which would qualify as contempt of Congress by the Trump administration?

~ ~ ~

Now here’s where it gets sticky, before I even look at another theoretical Article of Impeachment as I intend to do. We are at the point right now in the timeline that the Senate Watergate Committee, Special Prosecutors Cox and Jaworski, and the House Judiciary Committee were at in between October 1973 and May 1974, before the House began an impeachment inquiry. Trump and his administration have already ignored or rejected requests for testimony, papers, and things issued by both the Special Counsel’s Office and by Congress.

What Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not do was fight all the way to the Supreme Court to revisit United States v. Nixon.

At this point I want to make very clear what follows is my personal speculation, along with a reminder that I am not a lawyer.

I believe Mueller did not want to take the demand for Trump’s testimony and other papers and things all the way to the Supreme Court because the court’s current composition and its decisions have not instilled confidence in its ability to recognize the United States v. Nixon decision as settled, let alone trust the court will recognize Congress’s Article I powers of oversight and its co-equal status.

I believe Mueller recognized that Trump has no respect for the law or norms; it would be a horrible sacrifice to disturb the court’s decision in United States v. Nixon only to have Trump refuse to recognize the authority of any decision the court made against him.

I believe Mueller may have made an impeachment referral for exactly this reason — the solution isn’t to take this matter to the Supreme Court which is what Trump wants, before a bench which was skewed in 2016 by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to allow former President Obama his nominated choice, Merrick Garland.

The solution is for the House to impeach Trump based on his ample failings to date as president.

Further, I believe it is up to the public to demand the Senate do its duty to try, convict, and remove Trump from office before he does any more damage to the nation including undermining Congress’s Article I powers. As long as Trump remains in office he poses a threat to the Constitutionally-described three co-equal branches of government which have served this nation since ratification of the Constitution 230 years ago.

Some will say that we can remove Trump ourselves as voters at the polls in 2020. Should we really wait that long when we have already made a choice at the polls to elect representatives who are enabled by the Constitution to rectify gross failings of civil officers who have committed High Crimes and Misdemeanors?

~ ~ ~

A republic, if you can keep it,” Ben Franklin explained when asked what form our government would take upon leaving the Constitution Convention.

What will you do to keep it? I’m looking at you, all 538 members of Congress elected to represent us, who swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.

I’m looking at you, the people referred to in the Constitution’s Preamble; will you call your representative and two senators and insist on impeachment and removal?

BREAKING! Romney Surrogate Points to Effects of Republican Budget Cutting as Factor in Benghazi Attack!!

Eli Lake continues to serve as the mouthpiece for a political attack explicitly crafted by close Rove associates. In today’s installment, he repeats Mitt Romney campaign surrogate, UT Congressman Jason Chaffetz’ latest attack: that the State Department cut security after the hot war in Libya ended.

In the six months leading up to the assault on the United States consulate in Benghazi, the State Department reduced the number of trained Americans guarding U.S. facilities in Libya, according to a leading House Republican investigating the Sept. 11 anniversary attacks. The reduction in U.S. security personnel increased America’s reliance on local Libyan guards for the protection of its diplomats.

[snip]

Chaffetz went further Wednesday, saying in an interview that the number of American diplomatic security officers serving in Libya had been reduced in the six months prior to the attacks. “The fully trained Americans who can deal with a volatile situation were reduced in the six months leading up to the attacks,” he said. “When you combine that with the lack of commitment to fortifying the physical facilities, you see a pattern.”

I suppose it would be too much for Lake to acknowledge that Chaffetz is a Romney surrogate and note the repeated admissions that Romney’s team intends to turn the Benghazi attack into Obama’s Jimmy Carter. Doing so might reveal that this outrage is, to some extent, manufactured.

With the help of Eli Lake.

Perhaps he could at least read this article.

Not only does it support the argument that Mike Rogers, the House Intelligence Chair, should be the one to conduct Congress’ investigation, not a Romney surrogate on a committee without the clearances to do so.

Rep. Michael Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, made clear Wednesday that congressional staff will be looking into the attack, in addition to a probe by the State Department’s inspector general and another State Department investigation required by federal law.

But it explains why the surrogate for a candidate running with the House Budget Chair really shouldn’t be squawking about the State Department cutting security after a hot war ends.

Since 2010, Congress cut $296 million from the State Department’s spending request for embassy security and construction, with additional cuts in other State Department security accounts, according to an analysis by a former appropriations committee staffer.

Read more