Posts

The Ellipses and the Recordings, Plural, of Joe Biden

Before I get into the NYT report on Alexander Vindman’s testimony that the White House removed damning things from the transcript of the July 25 call, I want to note something from his opening statement. At the end of his description of who he is and what he does, Vindman warned that the impeachment inquiry should carefully balance the need for disclosure against national security concerns.

Most of my interactions relate to national security issues and are therefore especially sensitive. I would urge the Committees to carefully balance the need for information against the impact that disclosure would have on our foreign policy and national security.

Then, when discussing the July 25 call, Vindman emphasized that, because the transcript is in the public record, “we are all aware of what was said.”

On July 25, 2019, the call occurred. I listened in on the call in the Situation Room with colleagues from the NSC and the office of the Vice President. As the transcript is in the public record, we are all aware of what was said.

I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine. I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.

Yet immediately following his statement that “we are all aware of what was said,” Vindman asserts that the call was about investigating the Bidens and Burisma. But Burisma doesn’t appear in the TELCON. It is one of the things that, according to the NYT, the White House removed — where it says “the company” in this passage — and he recommended it be put back in.

I understand and I’m knowledgeable .about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament; the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. [my emphasis]

NYCSouthpaw had said once this had to be a reference to Burisma — he was absolutely correct.

According to NYT, the ellipsis in this passage of the TELCON,

Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it …

… Took out a reference to Joe Biden talking about getting Viktor Shokin fired.

The omissions, Colonel Vindman said, included Mr. Trump’s assertion that there were recordings of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. discussing Ukraine corruption,

[snip]

The rough transcript also contains ellipses at three points where Mr. Trump is speaking. Colonel Vindman told investigators that at the point of the transcript where the third set of ellipses appear, Mr. Trump said there were tapes of Mr. Biden.

Mr. Trump’s mention of tapes is an apparent reference to Mr. Biden’s comments at a January 2018 event about his effort to get Ukraine to force out its prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin. [my emphasis]

The NYT and other outlets have asserted that this is a reference to a video that Rudy Giuliani has been publicly shopping for some time, and it undoubtedly is that, at least.

But I want to suggest the possibility that it’s a reference to more.

The NYT goes to absurd lengths to make this appear as innocuous as possible, seemingly offering up the possibility that the words “the company” appeared because of a failure of the voice recognition software (though the TELCON itself notes that such a possibility would be marked by “inaudible” in the transcript).

It is not clear why some of Colonel Vindman’s changes were not made, while others he recommended were, but the decision by a White House lawyer to quickly lock down the reconstructed transcript subverted the normal process of handling such documents.

The note-takers and voice recognition software used during the July 25 call had missed Mr. Zelensky saying the word “Burisma,” but the reconstructed transcript does reference “the company,” and suggests that the Ukrainian president is aware that it is of great interest to Mr. Trump.

Which is one reason I find it notable that the NYT suggests the reference to recordings refers solely to a single publicly known recording of Biden even though both times they refer to Vindman’s testimony, they refer to tapes or recordings, plural.

The thing is, there are undoubtedly are tapes, plural, of Biden talking about firing Shokin. Indeed, in the recording in question, Biden even says that he had already gotten a commitment from Petro Poroshenko to fire Shokin.

I had gotten a commitment from Poroshenko and from Yatsenyuk that they would take action against the state prosecutor. And they didn’t.

So at the very least, there are the US versions of prior communications in which Biden would have emphasized the importance of firing Shokin. And there may well be other recordings reflecting that the ask happened, for example of Poroshenko talking to Arseniy Yatsenyuk about it. Given that getting Poroshenko to act on corruption was a key focus of Obama’s policy, it would have been a key focus of SIGINT collection. So if we had the ability to collect such conversations, we would have done so. And if we did, those recordings would still be sitting at NSA available to anyone with the need to know.

Trump would have legal access to all of that and, given his focus on Ukraine and “corruption,” an excuse to pull it up. Given that this purported concern about “corruption” is part of the official, stated policy of the US, it is not at all crazy to assume that his aides have pulled existing intercepts pertaining to past discussions of corruption and if they did, they would have, by definition, involved Joe Biden, because he was the one Obama tasked to take care of such issues.

And if there were — and if Trump’s comment reflected knowledge of that — it would explain two other details.

First, Vindman clearly doesn’t think all of the details about this call should be aired publicly. It’s certainly possible that he just didn’t want it to become public that Zelensky had parroted Trump’s demand to investigate Burisma. As I noted, by releasing the transcript, Trump has already made it clear that he succeeded in corrupting Zelensky, who ran on a platform of ending corruption. Revealing that Zelensky was literally repeating the script that Gordon Sondland had dictated for him would make that worse.

It’s also possible that whatever the other two ellipses in the TELCON hide are things he believes should remain secret. Vindman certainly would know what those ellipses hide, even if he didn’t recommend adding those details back in, and surely got asked about it yesterday.

But a national security professional like Vindman would also want to keep any details about intercepts classified. Even just the fact — not at all controversial but not something spoken of in polite company — that the US was sitting on records of Poroshenko’s resistance to dealing with corruption would be the kind of thing Vindman might want to keep secret.

Again, it may be that Vindman’s concerns about airing this dirty laundry involve nothing more than an effort to minimize the damage already done to Zelensky. But it may reflect more specific concerns about sources and methods.

And if the original transcript did reflect sources and methods, it might provide an excuse for John Eisenberg to insist it be stored on the Top Secret server. Again, his decision to do so may extend no further than a desire to cover up the President’s crime. But if the call reflected more sensitive collection, then it would need to be stored on a more secure server. That also might explain why everyone else — except the whistleblower, who wasn’t on the call — treated these details as Top Secret.

The existing TELCON does not hide that Trump was discussing right wing propaganda with Zelensky. So there would be no reason to remove Trump’s reference to another piece of right wing propaganda. But the treatment of it suggests that the TELCON as released removed classified information (the document is titled “Unclassified,” suggesting that if the TELCON included the statements reflected in the ellipses, it’d be Classified). In which case, there may be other recordings, recordings that are classified and aren’t known to every frothy right winger spouting propaganda.

For some reason, the NYT thinks Trump referred to more than one recording of Biden talking corruption. It is not at all unreasonable to imagine he knows of classified recordings.

Bill Barr’s (Claimed) Surprise about Being in the Zelensky Transcript Is Irrelevant To His (Non) Recusal

Bill Barr continues to excel at placing carefully worded self-exonerations in the press. Consider this AP story, purportedly telling how helpless little Billy Barr has been put in an uncomfortable situation because Trump treats him the same way he does Rudy Giuliani, as his personal lawyer. You wouldn’t know, from reading it, that Barr is one of the most powerful cabinet members in government, and fairly unique among Trump’s appointees for the breadth of governmental experience he has.

Much of the story describes Barr as the passive object things happen to, not as the agent of his own circumstances. The AP describes him finding himself in a political firestorm and coming under scrutiny rather than acting in scandalous ways that merit such scrutiny.

As Washington plunges into impeachment, Attorney General William Barr finds himself engulfed in the political firestorm, facing questions about his role in President Donald Trump’s outreach to Ukraine and the administration’s attempts to keep a whistleblower complaint from Congress.

[snip]

Barr has come under the scrutiny of congressional Democrats who have accused him of acting on Trump’s personal behalf more than for the justice system. Democrats have also called on Barr to step aside from decisions on the Ukraine matter.

The article does affirmatively say what Barr (claims he) has not done. He has not spoken with Trump about Biden and he has not spoken to Rudy about anything related to Ukraine (which is, notably, different than saying he hasn’t hasn’t had inappropriate conversations with the President’s personal lawyer).

Barr has not spoken with Trump about investigating Biden or Biden’s son Hunter, and Trump has not asked Barr to contact Ukranian officials about the matter, the department said. Barr has also not spoken with Giuliani about anything related to Ukraine, officials have said.

As for Barr’s affirmative actions, they are (like the descriptions of what he did not do) always couched in claims made by some anonymous source. The department — not a named person in the department — “insists” that Barr wasn’t aware of the call until some vague point in mid-August.

The department insists Barr wasn’t made aware of the call with Zelenskiy until at least mid-August.

The money quote, the one everyone is tweeting about, is from someone identifiably close enough to Barr to know he was “surprised and angry” but who claims not to be authorized to speak “publicly.”

When Barr did learn of that call a few weeks later, he was “surprised and angry” to discover he had been lumped in with Giuliani, a person familiar with Barr’s thinking told The Associated Press. This person was not authorized to speak about the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

So, too, are the sources for the really important claims that tell us everything we don’t need to know pertaining to recusal. A person (likely the same one) not authorized to speak “publicly,” says the Department of Justice first learned of the call when CIA General Counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood brought the complaint to National Security Division head John Demers (as described in detail by the NYT). Other DOJ lawyers learned about the complaint after the whistleblower filed a complaint with the Intelligence Community Inspector General.

The Justice Department was first made aware of Trump’s call when a CIA lawyer mentioned the complaint from the unidentified CIA officer on Aug. 14, said a person familiar with the matter who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke anonymously. Some Justice Department lawyers learned about the accusations after the whistleblower filed a complaint with the intelligence community’s internal watchdog.

The watchdog later raised concerns that Trump may have violated campaign finance law. The Justice Department said there was no crime and closed the matter.

Note what’s not described in that passage, or anywhere else in the story? Precisely when Bill Barr himself learned about the substance of the complaint. When Bill Barr himself learned he was named in the transcript. It does not matter at all whether Bill Barr was surprised to hear the President roping him into framing his opponent’s son (though we should not believe he was surprised until the Attorney General says that publicly himself, preferably under oath). It does not matter when Demers learned of the substance of the complaint, it matters when Barr did, and whether it preceded other actions he took.

What matters is whether Barr learned he was named in the transcript before the DOJ made the decision there was no crime there. What matters is whether Barr knew he was implicated before making the decision not to recuse in advance of a prosecutorial decision made while lacking all the facts. What matters is whether Barr knew he was named in the transcript before getting an OLC opinion justifying withholding the complaint. (h/t F for the last point)

The AP story doesn’t tell us that. Instead, it tells us everything we don’t need to know.

How Roger Stone’s Trial Relates to the Ukraine Scandal

The White House released the readout from one (but not all) of the calls involved in the whistleblower complaint. It shows that before Trump asked Volodymyr Zelensky for help framing Joe Biden, he first asked Zelensky for help attacking Crowdstrike.

The President: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has.it. There are a lot. of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you are surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I . would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.

As with the sections involving the request on Biden, this one includes ellipses, hiding part of Trump’s ask. Also like those sections, this one suggests Bill Barr is involved in his improper request.

A request about Crowdstrike more directly addresses matters of intelligence — the attribution of the 2016 operation to Russia — than an effort to frame Joe Biden.

And this Crowdstrike request is what ties the call obviously to the timing — the day after the Mueller testimony gave Trump the belief he had weathered the Russian investigation.

Only, Trump is not clear of the impact of the Mueller investigation. On the contrary, if all goes on schedule, prosecutors will present abundant evidence of what even Mark Meadows calls “collusion,” the campaign’s effort to optimize the WikiLeaks releases, in Roger Stone’s November trial. As I have noted, in addition to Steve Bannon and Erik Prince, the trial will talk about Stone’s texts and calls to four different Donald Trump phone numbers, as well as his aides and bodyguard, Keith Schiller. (This screen cap comes from a list of stipulated phone numbers and emails that has since been sealed.)

The Stone trial (if it goes forward–I still have my doubts) will show that Trump was personally involved in these efforts and got repeated updates directly from Stone.

And a key strand of Stone’s defense is to question the Crowdstrike findings on the hack. Stone has been pursuing this effort for months — it’s what almost got him jailed under his gag. And while Amy Berman Jackson ruled twice this week against Stone getting any further Crowdstrike reports (once in an opinion denying Stone’s efforts to get unredacted Crowdstrike reports as moot since the government doesn’t have them, and once today in his pre-trial hearing when she deemed the remaining unredacted passages to pertain to ongoing Democratic cybersecurity protections and so unrelated to what Stone wants them for), Stone still has several redacted Crowdstrike reports from discovery.

Stone’s defense has focused entirely on discrediting the evidence that Trump partnered with a hostile country to get elected (which presumably is part of his effort to get a pardon). If he can support that effort by releasing currently private Crowdstrike reports he will do so.

Today’s pre-trial hearing — where ABJ also ruled that Stone won’t be able to question the underlying Russian investigation — may have mooted the effort to tie Ukrainian disinformation to Stone’s own disinformation effort. But the two efforts are linked efforts by Trump to deny his own role in “colluding” with Russia.

[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

ODNI Whistleblower Complaint: The Next ConFraudUS? [UPDATE-4]

[NB: Check the byline. A new Ukraine-oriented timeline appears at the bottom of the text. Updates will be noted in the text or at the bottom of the post. /~Rayne]

In my last post about the whistleblower complaint we were left with unresolved questions, including:

Q1 — What constitutes an “urgent concern” validated by the Intelligence Community Inspector General as credible?
Q2 — What constitutes an unlawful act that would compel a whistleblower to file a complaint if the president can declassify information at will?
Q3 — What kind of unlawful act characterized as an “urgent concern” could occur as a “promise” in communications with a foreign leader?
Q4 — How does the existing timeline frame this “promise”?
Q5 — Who is the “higher authority” who ordered the ADNI not to turn over the whistleblower complaint to the HPSCI, obstructing investigatory oversight?

Since then the Washington Post published another article linking the complaint to a phone call about Ukraine. It only partially answered our questions.

A1 — We have to assume the criteria the IC IG used to determine the concern as credible will eventually be revealed; the House is already asking about the determination. We still do not know what about the complaint constituted an “urgent concern” though the use of our foreign policy to further a presidential re-election campaign is definitely a concern.
A2 — The corrupt acts, based on WaPo’s two articles so far, appear to be

    • conspiracy
    • solicitation of bribery or extortion
    • violation of campaign finance laws (receiving a thing of value from a foreign entity)
    • misappropriation of federal funds for personal campaign use
    • self-dealing (not a crime per se but an abuse of power)

De-classification of information doesn’t appear to be involved so far.

A3 — The “promise,” depending on what it is, could foment increased hostilities against a NATO ally or allies, unless there was another quid pro quo involved intended to offset and tamp down friction. If Trump promised to deliver financial aid to Ukraine only on completion of solicited performance by Ukraine’s president, was there another promise between Trump and Putin that Ukraine would not be punished for receiving the financial aid? Did a second promise make this situation a more “urgent concern,” or was it the risk of hostilities that did so?
A4 — The timeline appears flexible but dependent upon Ukraine both delivering to Trump’s agent, Rudy Giuliani, and within a possible budget and/or campaign deadline.
A5 — Obviously the “higher authority” is Trump or someone who reports directly to Trump, now that we know he’s the one who badgered Zelensky eight times in a single phone call. Authority doesn’t go any higher.

We still have open, unresolved questions. An investigation could answer them (although Trump and his henchman Rudy Giuliani appear intent on dumping it all out in the open on their own).

An impeachment inquiry would work best because it would have the constitutional clout necessary to overcome obstruction this administration has repeatedly demonstrated in response to other subpoenas to non-impeachment related inquiries.

And an impeachment inquiry is wholly appropriate to the overarching criminal behavior we see unfolding in this case: yet another conspiracy to defraud the United States, this time by conspiring with Ukraine’s president to obtain illegal foreign aid for campaign purposes using taxpayer money.

There are no more rational, non-corrupt excuses the House Democratic leadership can offer for failing to move directly to an impeachment inquiry.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Timeline this version includes foreign policy items related to Ukraine in indigo blue font; some may reflect the tensions between Ukraine and Russia. This timeline is subject to additions/revisions.

19-AUG_2016 — Ukrainian journalist and member of parliament Serhiy Leshchenko revealed secret payments outlined in the ‘black ledger of the Party of Regions’ showing payments made by the former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych to Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

________

10-MAY-2017 — Trump met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office.

15-MAY-2017 — Washington Post reported Trump revealed code word level classified information to Lavrov and Kislyak during Oval Office meeting. The information covered ISIL’s bomb-making capabilities and may have exposed allies’ intelligence gathering means and methods.

XX-MAY-2017 — Decision made to exfiltrate key Russian asset. Unclear exactly when decision made or when exfiltration occurred, only that it happened after the Oval Office meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak, and before the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

7/8-JUL-2017 — Trump meets Putin at G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

11-JUL-2017 — European Union’s 28 member states formally endorsed the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, effective September 1.

30-OCT-2017 — Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign manager, indicted.

________

09-APR-2018 — John Bolton begins as National Security Adviser.

30-APR-2018 — U.S. State Department confirmed that Washington delivered thirty-five Javelin anti-tank launchers to Ukraine.

02-MAY-2018 — Ukraine had ceased cooperation with the Special Counsel investigation, according to NYT; “‘In every possible way, we will avoid irritating the top American officials,’ one Ukrainian lawmaker says. ‘We shouldn’t spoil relations with the administration.'” Ukraine had also halted its money laundering investigation into former President Viktor Yanukovych, who may have used stolen Ukrainian taxpayer funds to pay convicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to aid him in winning in Ukraine.

15-MAY_2018 — Russia’s President Putin opened a new bridge linking southern Russia to Crimea; Ukraine’s president Poroshenko said it was an attempt to legitimize the occupation of Crimea while Ukrainian critics said the bridge project violates international law. The bridge was built following the illegal 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia.

16-JUL-2018 — U.S.-Russia Summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland; Trump meets with Putin.

XX-JUL-2018 — Coats expressed opinion differing from Trump’s after Helsinki summit. Rumors began about Trump replacing Coats.

09-OCT-2018 — Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced her resignation; effective date 31-DEC-2018. [UPDATE-1]

11-OCT-2018 — Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople recognized the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, praised by Ukraine but protested by Russia. The move by the patriarchate heightened tensions between the two nation-states.

25-NOV-2018 — Russia seized three Ukrainian navy ships, injuring six crew after firing on them in the Kerch Straits of the Black Sea near Crimea. The attack violated a 2003 treaty which designated the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters. US representative Nikki Haley called the incident an “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory” during an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting.

26-NOV-2018 — Ukraine implemented martial law for 30 days in response to the Kerch Straits event, due to concerns over a Russian invasion.

26-DEC-2018 — Martial law in Ukraine ended, to allow adequate time before the country’s elections.

31-DEC-2018 — Volodymyr Zelensky, a TV producer who starred in a series playing the role of President of Ukraine, announced his candidacy for Ukraine’s presidency.

________

29-JAN-2019 — Coats testified before Senate Intelligence Committee; he said North Korea “is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities,” in contrast to Trump’s claims that Kim Jong-un has committed to denuclearization.

XX-FEB-2019 — Trump discussed replacements for DNI.

05-MAR-2019 — U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch criticized Ukraine’s record on corruption; she noted the country’s high court’s decision weakens Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau.

20-MAR-2019 — The Hill’s John Solomon interviewed Ukraine’s prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko; Lutsenko claimed Amb. Yovanovitch gave him a do-not-prosecute list during their first meeting. State Department denied this claim in an email to Radio Free Europe.

~28-MAR-2019 —  In ‘early 2019’, Giuliani met with Ukraine’s prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko in New York (exact date TBD).

31-MAR-2019 — Ukraine’s first run-off presidential election narrowed down the field to the incumbent Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelensky.

21-APR-2019 — Volodymyr Zelensky won Ukraine’s presidential election over Petro Poroshenko, 73.22% to 24.45% of the vote. 12% of the population were unable to vote due to the conflict with Russia in Donbass region.

21-APR-2019 Trump called and congratulated Zelensky; the call was noted in a late evening/early morning tweet by U.S. Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker:

25-APR-2019 — After two years of indecision, former VP Joe Biden formally launched his campaign for POTUS. [UPDATE-4]

07-MAY-2019 — Amb. Yovanovitch was recalledremoved from her position.

09-MAY-2019 — Giuliani said he intended to meet with President-elect Zelensky in Ukraine to push for an investigation into the release of negative information about Paul Manafort as well as former VP Joe Biden’s efforts to remove Ukraine’s general prosecutor. [UPDATE-2 — date and link changed from CNN 10-MAY to NYT 09-MAY (byline: Ken Vogel)]

10-MAY-2019 — Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) made an official request of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to investigate Giuliani’s influence operation in Ukraine. [UPDATE-2]

11-MAY-2019 — Giuliani reverses his decision and says he won’t go to Ukraine to meet with Zelensky.

20-MAY-2019 — Date Zelensky assumes office of presidency. [UPDATE-2]

21-MAY-2019 — Lawyer and film producer Andriy Yermak appointed aide to Ukraine’s Zelensky.

24-MAY-2019 — Trump issued a directive allowing Attorney General William Barr to declassify any intelligence that sparked the opening of the Russia investigation.

11-JUN-2019 — Ukraine’s president Zelensky signed a motion for Ukraine’s parliament to dismiss prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko, an ally of former president Poroshenko. Lutsenko resisted, saying he would step down after the July 21 parlimentary elections.

11-JUN-2019 In an interview released on Thursday, June 13, Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos,

“I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump continued. “If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”

20-JUN-2019 — In retaliation for downing a U.S. drone, Trump approved strikes on Iran which were abruptly aborted.

~11-JUL-2019 — Date TBD. On or about this time, Giuliani had a phone meeting with Zelensky’s adviser, Andriy Yermak.

22-JUL-2019 — Zelensky’s Servant of the People wins Ukraine’s parliamentary elections.

24-JUL-2019 – Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears before House Judiciary Committee. The same day that GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe (TX-4) used his time to question Mueller to accuse Mueller of breaking DOJ regulations; CNN reported that “Ratcliffe has been under consideration for a job within the Trump administration, sources told CNN, including an intelligence or national security role.”

25-JUL-2019Trump talked with Ukraine’s Zelensky on the phone “to congratulate him on his recent election.” Ukraine’s English-language readout of this call said Trump discussed “investigations into corruption cases that have hampered interaction between Ukraine and the U.S.A.” (This call is the subject of whistleblower complaint.)

28-JUL-2019 — Coats’ departure and John Ratcliffe nominated as replacement announced by Trump via Twitter.

02-AUG-2019 — Ratcliffe withdraws from consideration.

~02-AUG-2019 — Trump administration asked ODNI for a list of all ODNI employees at the federal government’s top pay scale who have worked there for 90 days or more. This was believed to be a search for a new Director of ODNI; others speculated there was an impending personnel shakeup. [UPDATE-2]

08-AUG-2019 — Primary Deputy Director DNI Sue Gordon resigned effective 15-AUG-2019, without additional prior notice, as ordered. Resignation letter without handwritten note.

Copy of former PDDNI’s resignation letter with handwritten cover: ODNI_LTR_08AUG2019

11-AUG-2019 — Giuliani debriefing with two State Department diplomats about his meeting with Ukraine’s Zelensky aide in Madrid, Spain.

12-AUG-2019IC IG received the whistleblower compaint, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter.

15-AUG-2019 — Coats’ last day as DNI.

22-AUG-2019 — Giuliani said the U.S. State Department helped set up his meeting(s) with Zelensky’s aide Yermak, assisting “his efforts to press the Ukrainian government to probe two prominent Democratic opponents of the president: former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee.”

26-AUG-2019 — IC IG transmitted the whistleblower complaint to the Acting DNI, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter.

26-AUG-2019 — GOP appointee Matthew Peterson resigned from Federal Election Commission; effective date of resignation 31-AUG-2019. FEC no longer has a quorum with his departure. [UPDATE-1]

27-AUG-2019 — Russia barred a visa for entry to Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) for a trip planned in early September. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) received clearance and a visa, however. Johnson, Murphy and Lee are all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Johnson is the subcommittee chair for Europe & Regional Security Cooperation. The three senators voted in favor of the Russia sanctions bill. [UPDATE-2]

28-AUG-2019 — John Bolton met with Ukraine’s Zelensky (video). [UPDATE-2 – date revised, video link added.]

28-AUG-2019 — Bolton met his counterpart, Oleksandr Danyliuk, Ukraine’s head of the National Defense and Security Council; Bolton told Danyliuk that the U.S. support for Ukraine against Russian-backed separatists in contested eastern Ukraine would ‘intensify’. [UPDATE-2]

Late AUG-2019 — U.S. suspends $250M military aid for Ukraine – exact date TBD. Reuters’ report on 29-AUG-2019 said ‘may’ suspend’. [UPDATE-2 – remove and replace with following item.]

29-AUG-2019 — Trump stalled the $250M military assistance provided under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative by asking Bolton and Defense Secretary Mark Esper to review the package. Defense Department had already reviewed the aid and supported it. [UPDATE-2]

29-AUG-2019 — Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko submitted his resignation.

30-AUG-2019 — Trump tweeted a high-resolution satellite image of Iran’s failed Safir SLV launch while claiming the U.S. was not involved. The image may have been classified and ‘insta-declassified’ by Trump.

01-SEP-2019 — VP Mike Pence flew to Poland and met with Poland’s president Andrzej Duda and Ukraine’s Zelensky, discussing security and energy issues (remarks issued by White House). Per pool reporter, the meeting included National Security Adviser John Bolton and Energy Secretary Rick Perry; Pence avoided answering media questions whether the Trump administration would still allocate $250M for security aid.

01/02-SEP-2019 — US Special Rep. for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalizad met with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in Kabul where the Taliban, Afghan government and the U.S. had “reached an agreement in principle” toward an eventual “total and permanent cease-fire.”

02-SEP-2019 — During news conference after the meeting with Duda and Zelensky in response to a question by AP’s Jill Colvin, Pence denied speaking about Joe Biden with Zelensky:

“Well, on the first question [about Biden], the answer is no. But we — with President Zelensky yesterday, we discussed — we discussed America’s support for Ukraine and the upcoming decision the President will make on the latest tranche of financial support in great detail.”

02-SEP-2019 — Deadline for ADNI to forward the complaint to Intelligence committees of Congress passes without a referral, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter.

03-SEP-2019 — Sen. Murphy and Johnson began a 5-day trip to Serbia, Kosovo, Ukraine, and Germany. [UPDATE-2]

03-SEP-2019 — Russian media outlet Tass reported that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said the U.S. and Taliban “insist that Russia must be present in one capacity or another at the possible signing of the agreements that the parties are working on now.”

04-SEP-2019 — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to sign the agreement with the Taliban.

07-SEP-2019 — Russia and Ukraine completed a major prisoner swap; some of the prisoners included Ukrainian sailors seized during the Kerch straits incident.

09-SEP-2019 — CNN broke story of a CIA asset extracted from Russia in 2017; followed by NYT on the 9th (and then NBC’s Ken Dilanian appears at the asset’s house…)

09-SEP-2019 — Trump asked for Bolton’s resignation and tweeted about it the next morning.

09-SEP-2019 — Intelligence Community Inspector General (IC IG) sent a letter to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, notifying it of a whistleblower complaint which it had determined to be credible and a matter of “urgent concern.”

10-SEP-2019 — Bolton tells Fox’s Brian Kilmeade by text that he’d quit.

10-SEP-2019 — HPSCI Rep. Adam Schiff requested the full, unredacted complaint, the IC IG’s determination about the complaint, and all documentation of ODNI’s action regarding this complaint, including correspondence with the White House.

11-SEP-2019 — Bloomberg reported Bolton pushed back Monday-Tuesday at Trump over Iran sanctions; Bolton wanted maximum pressure while Trump wanted to encourage a meeting with Iran’s Rouhani later in September.

12-SEP-2019 — Schiff and ADNI “discussed at length” the need to protect the whistleblower from any retaliation, including if the whistleblower subsequently comes forward to the committee with his/her concerns, via Schiff’s 13-SEP letter.

13-SEP-2019 — Zelensky said in a press conference that not only was the U.S. going to send $250M in military aid but an additional $140M.

13-SEP-2019 — ODNI declined the request, claiming the request as “it involves confidentially and potentially privileged communications by persons outside the Intelligence Community.”

13-SEP-2019 — HPSCI subpoenaed acting DNI Joseph Maguire for materials declined by ODNI.

17-SEP-2019 — Deadline, materials responsive to subpoena must be turned over by this date; Maguire failed to do so.

19-SEP-2019 — Date Maguire was compelled to appear before Congress in a public hearing. The Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson appeared before the House Intel Committee in a closed door session.

19-SEP-2019 — Giuliani denied asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden moments before admitting that he had done just that.

20-SEP-2019 — Senator Murphy published a press release about the whistleblower complaint, renewing his call for a Senate Foreign Services Committee investigation into Giuliani’s efforts to influence Ukraine. [UPDATE-2]

20-SEP-2019 — Russian armed forces bombarded front along  western edge of contested Donbas territory.

22-SEP-2019 — During an interview on Meet the Press, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin can’t explain where the additional $140M in aid for Ukraine came from.

22-SEP-2019 — In front of press on the White House lawn, Trump said he had spoken with Zelensky about Biden on July 25 in a congratulatory call. Later in the day he indicated he might allow a transcript of the call to be published.

23-SEP-2019 — TK

Future dates:

26-SEP-2019 — Maguire is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in a public hearing.

30-SEP-2019 — Federal fiscal year ends on September 30.

Much of the timeline in black font above is the crowdsourced timeline from September 14-15. Note how much of this latest version is Ukraine-Russia, and how little we saw going on as we considered what a whistleblower might have filed a complaint about after July 25.

Is it at all possible there are other influence operations underway at the same time to which we are equally blind, asking for help from other nation-states to shape the outcome of Trump’s 2020 run for re-election?

If you have any relevant events with dates which should be added to this timeline, please share them in comments. I’m especially interested in dates nailing down Giuliani’s meetings with any Ukrainians including former prosecutor general Lutsenko and Zelensky aide Yermak.

The sad part of all the noise generated by Trump (corruption!-corruption!-corruption!) and Giuliani (Biden!-Biden!-Biden!) is that they are actively trying to corrupt an ally’s president who ran on an anti-corruption platform, possibly unwitting collateral damage.

If Zelensky agreed to a quid pro quo knowing that Trump was using him to further his 2020 re-election, Zelensky is compromised.

_____

UPDATE-1 — items added/changed noted in the timeline.

UPDATE-2 — 3:45 p.m. EDT 24-SEP-2019 — items added/changed noted in the timeline.

UPDATE-3 — items added/changed noted in the timeline.

UPDATE-4 — 12:00 a.m. EDT 25-SEP-2019 — item added, noted in timeline.

The Press Cannot Let Trump Pretend He Gives a Shit about Corruption

I’ve been on an epic road trip with June Bug the Terrorist Foster Dog and my brother (and will be for another week or so); right now I’m sitting in bmaz’s house with JB. So I haven’t followed the story about Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to invent dirt on Joe Biden as closely as I otherwise might have. But one thing is crystal clear: the press is giving Trump way too much room to claim his actions were driven by a concern about corruption, which is how Trump has been trying to justify this rather than deny it.

It’s very important to talk about corruption. If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?…It’s very important that on occasion you speak to somebody about corruption.

Every single report about this should start with a list of things Trump is doing to cover up his own corruption, starting with his numerous lawsuits to try to prevent anyone from reviewing his tax returns and his systematic effort to profit from the presidency.

If Trump claims it’s important to “speak to somebody about corruption,” that conversation should start with full transparency on his own corruption, and there should be no focus on his allegations about Hunter Biden until he has come clean.

ODNI Whistleblower Complaint: Shoes Dropping All Over the Place [UPDATE-2]

[NB: Check the byline. Updates are anticipated and will appear within the timeline or at the bottom of the text. /~Rayne]

In an effort to guess at the likely subject of a whistleblower complaint, the emptywheel community started a crowdsourced timeline of events surrounding the complaint received by the Intelligence Community Office of Inspector General on August 12.

As noted in the timeline, the House Intelligence Committee subpoena issued last Friday required the acting Director of National Intelligence (ADNI) Joseph Maguire to report to Congress about the complaint by Tuesday, September 17; failure to comply would require an appearance before Congress on Thursday, September 19. Maguire did not report as expected.

However dates for the ADNI to testify before the House have now been arranged:

. . .

[emphasis mine]

The Washington Post reported more details Wednesday evening about the whistleblower complaint:

Trump’s communications with foreign leader are part of whistleblower complaint that spurred standoff between spy chief and Congress, former officials say

One bit stood out for me in the lede:

The whistleblower complaint that has triggered a tense showdown between the U.S. intelligence community and Congress involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader, according to two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Emphasis mine. Two former officials.

Speculation about the whistleblower’s identity is rampant across social media. Some suggest Fiona Hill, former Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs, as the whistleblower; her planned departure in August was announced June 18. Others suggest an as-yet unnamed low-level analyst.

Marcy tweeted earlier,

It’s not outside the realm of possibility. Bolton seems in a mood to burn it all down, ‘shanking’ POTUS during a Trumpists-dense luncheon on Wednesday. But given the “two former U.S. officials” and former DNI Dan Coats interruption of a meeting to ask his deputy Sue Gordon to resign, I wonder if both Coats and Gordon resigned so they would be able to testify before Congress while escaping the appearance of being compromised by unethical or unlawful acts?

Important points for consideration:

  • What constitutes an “urgent concern” validated by the Intelligence Community Inspector General as credible?
  • What constitutes an unlawful act that would compel a whistleblower to file a complaint if the president can declassify information at will?
  • What kind of unlawful act characterized as an “urgent concern” could occur as a “promise” in communications with a foreign leader?
  • How does the existing timeline frame this “promise”?
  • Who is the “higher authority” who ordered the ADNI not to turn over the whistleblower complaint to the HPSCI, obstructing investigatory oversight?

Promising to violate or ignore violation of bipartisan sanctions against Russia would be unlawful, but would this be an “urgent concern”?

Was there instead an unlawful act with regard to the doxxing of the exfiltrated Russian asset?

Or was there a promise related to surveillance of North Korea?

Did the tensions between the U.S. and Iran spawn an unlawful promise?

There are probably dozens more scenarios that might fit. They may be related to items we didn’t add to the crowdsourced timeline, like these items directly related to North Korea:

28-FEB-2019 — Trump cut short the two-day summit with North Korea for no clear reason.

11-JUN-2019 — Trump received a “beautiful letter” from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

09-AUG-2019 — Trump received another “very beautiful letter” from Kim.

This one related to Iran:

03-SEP-2019New sanctions were placed on Iran after Trump administration claimed it was developing ballistic missile technology using its communications satellite program as cover.

And these related to Russia:

26-JUN-2019 — Trump told reporters that his anticipated discussion with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Japan was “none of your business.”

31-JUL-2019 — Trump and Putin talked over the phone about Siberian wildfires and trade.

29-AUG-2019 — Trump’s trip to Poland canceled, ostensibly to monitor Hurricane Dorian though he ended up playing golf instead at his N. Virginia course. Was he avoiding conflict over increased Russian troop presence at the administrative border between Russian-occupied South Ossetia and Georgia? (Georgia has been pursuing NATO membership but is not yet a member state.)

Time will tell what other events were needed to pick out the narrative behind the complaint. One more data point may flesh out the nature of the challenge:

Is the complaint about a Trump-Russia issue alone, or does it also include a promise related to one of the other countries in the timeline — like North Korea or Iran?

Share your thoughts in comments with supporting content.

UPDATE — 19-SEP-2019 9:23 A.M. —

The ADNI should be in a closed door session with the House Intelligence Committee at this time.

Important to note that the IC IG is a Trump appointee — Michael Atkinson. He’s responsible for the determination that the unidentified whistleblower’s complaint was credible and an “urgent concern.”

ADNI broke the law as Amee Vanderpool noted here because the complaint was deemed credible:

Very, very odd how CNBC’s website news crawl makes zero mention of this unfolding story even though an NBC story confirmed WaPo’s report last night.

UPDATE — 19-SEP-2019 8:20 P.M. —

This is like a really cheap game of Clue. It wasn’t Professor Plum in the Library with a Lead Pipe.

It was Trump about Ukraine with a phone call to Zelensky, according to the latest report by WaPo.

(Although Trump does look like a crappy version of Colonel Mustard.)

Explains why the suggestions the matter was part of an ongoing investigation; the House was already investigating whether Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani were trying to persuade President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky to help dig up dirt on Joe Biden to help Trump’s 2020 campaign.

Now we need to know if the $250M aid to Ukraine was dependent on this matter, as well as a meeting later this month between Trump and Zelensky — and if Vladimir Putin had been involved in this exchange in any way.

Waiting for the next version of  “No Collusion!” tweets from Team Trump.

May explain why Rudy had been radio silent for three days on Twitter though he’s resumed his brand of trash talking in the last hour.

Biden’s Opposition to Medicare for All: It’s All About the Billionaires, Baby

[Editor’s Note – this is a guest post by a friend of ours here at the Emptywheel Blog, Bob Lord. Bob is a longtime tax and finance attorney with some very salient thoughts on why the centrist Democrats are pushing back so hard on Medicare For All. One other note, we here at Emptywheel have purposefully not engaged on behalf of any particular candidate in the primary process, but the issues in play are fair game.]

By Robert J. Lord

Joe Biden has lots of reasons why he opposes the Medicare for All plan favored by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The cost runs too high, the former vice-president tells us. People will have to give up their private health insurance. People will lose the right to choose their health insurance provider.

The list goes on, but do these reasons reflect Biden’s actual worries? Surely, he’s seen the studies that show Medicare for All would drive costs down, not up, as removing health insurance company profits and administrative costs from American health care totally changes the system’s accounting dynamics. Yes, an expanded Medicare would require administrative expenses, but nowhere close to the expenses that our current system requires.

Biden also knows Americans would welcome the chance to swap their private health insurance for Medicare. Don’t believe me? Speak to someone between the ages of 60 and 64 who’s relatively healthy. Ten to one she has her fingers crossed hoping to make it to age 65 without a major health challenge, so she can qualify for Medicare and never have to confront the insufficiency of her wonderful private insurance plan.

And very few Americans, we must keep in mind, choose their health insurance provider. Most of us get insurance through our employers. Employers choose the least expensive plan for all employees collectively, without regard to the needs and desires of individuals.

Given that Joe Biden’s stated reasons for opposing Medicare for All don’t pass the smell test, what could be the real reason for his opposition?

Could Biden simply be beholden to the health insurance industry and Big Pharma? Perhaps, but I suspect that something larger — the overall wealth of our wealthy — may be at play. After all, it’s not like health insurers and pharmaceutical companies are going to have his back come general election time.

Consider the difference between how Joe Biden, on the one hand, and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, on the other, view the billionaires and centimillionaires who make up America’s super rich. Sanders believes the greed of America’s billionaire class threatens the social fabric of our country and has proposed a significant increase in the federal estate tax on grand fortunes. Warren has proposed a 2 percent annual wealth tax on all fortunes in excess of $50 million.

Biden’s differences with Warren and Sanders go deep. He has assured his rich donors — at big-dollar fundraising events — that their lifestyles will not change if he’s elected. Biden, whose donor list includes at least 13 ten-digit fortunes, has made it clear that he doesn’t think billionaires bear any more responsibility for America’s woes than any of the rest of us.

Just this week, he voiced his opposition to policies that would make it harder to become a billionaire.

But why would billionaires and centimillionaires particularly care whether we have Medicare for All versus the Obamacare-with-a-public-option plan Biden favors?

To answer that question, consider the fundamental difference between Obamacare and Medicare for All: who pays. Under Obamacare, individuals pay for their health care, through the insurance premiums they pay and their out-of-pocket expenses for the charges their insurance policies don’t cover. The government subsidizes insurance for lower income Americans through Medicaid, but the bulk of health insurance costs are paid by individuals or their employers.

The public option, Biden’s proposed fix to Obamacare, won’t change any of this. Even if every American healthcare consumer chose the public option, putting the private health insurance industry out of business in the process, individuals still would be responsible for their own health care costs.

Medicare works differently. Under Medicare, the government insures healthcare costs directly. Individuals don’t pay premiums or co-pays. Instead, tax dollars fund the cost of the program.

All this means that the transition from Obamacare to Medicare for All would transfer the burden of health care costs from health care consumers, who share in costs based on how sick or healthy they happen to be, to taxpayers, who would share in costs based on their respective incomes and tax rates.

The great majority of Americans live their lives as both health care consumers and taxpayers. Under Medicare for All, they would see an elimination of both insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical costs. They would also see a tax increase, but ordinary Americans would save substantially more in health care costs than they’d pay in increased taxes.

But those billionaires and centimillionaires on Joe Biden’s donor list? Their tax increases would dwarf any savings they see in personal healthcare expense. Some could see seven figure tax increases.

Viewed through the billionaire lens, Biden’s loud opposition to Medicare for All makes distinct political sense. He needs billionaires to fund his White House aspirations, which still drive him three decades out from his first presidential run in 1988. He’s not only convinced himself that his billionaire supporters pose no threat to our social fabric, he even seems to believe that any health care reform that puts the squeeze on billionaire fortunes does pose a threat.

All in all, a classic case of why ambition often blinds us. In a 2018 speech, just a sentence or two after saying the billionaires he’s courting aren’t a problem, Biden lamented that the income gap in America is yawning.

What Biden’s ambition won’t let him see: Billionaires don’t exist in isolation. We have approximately 700 billionaires today in the United States. We have a larger number of half-billionaires and a still larger deep-pocket cohort of centimillionaires. And so on. Which leaves our top 1 percent controlling close to half the country’s wealth and the country with an income gap that Biden openly recognizes is “yawning” and, obviously, a problem.

In other words, those billionaires Biden’s won’t let himself see as a worry really are inseparable from the yawning income gap that he knows is a problem.

Sanders and Warren, by comparison, are clear-eyed. They can see that when the gap is so yawning that treatable or preventable injuries and illnesses are killing Americans who can’t afford healthcare and bankrupting millions of others, the only answer is that society — through taxation — must assume the cost of healthcare. Other countries, like Canada, recognized this reality decades ago.

And when America’s billionaires, with Joe Biden as one of their many mouthpieces, stand in the way of that process because they don’t want their taxes to increase, their greed tears at the fabric of American society.

Joe Biden can’t see that. His two leading rivals sure do.

[Robert J. Lord, a tax lawyer and former Congressional candidate, is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Bob previously served as an adjunct faculty member at the Arizona State University School of Law. Bob’s work focuses on the relationship of tax law to inequality. He contributes to both the Inequality.org website and to OtherWords, the Institute’s national syndicated editorial service. Bob also is a staff member at Blog For Arizona, the leading political blog in Arizona.]

Bill Clinton Did Not Win an Election By Getting a Blowjob: The Danger of Lindsey Graham’s Willful Ignorance about Russian Interference

In his statement in Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing yesterday, Lindsey Graham embodied the problem with Republicans’ deliberate ignorance about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

As part of his statement, he raised the time Joe Biden pointed out what a hypocrite Brett Kavanaugh was for believing presidents should not be investigated during their term but nevertheless thought it necessary to ask Bill Clinton the following questions:

If Monica Lewinsky says that you inserted a cigar into her vagina while you were in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?

[snip]

If Monica Lewinsky says that she gave you oral sex in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?

If Monica Lewinsky says that you ejaculated in her mouth on two occasions in the Oval Office, would she be lying?

Lindsey did so to suggest Biden’s comments about the Clinton investigation refute the claim that Trump picked Kavanaugh to protect himself from investigation, as if the investigation of Clinton for a blowjob was as legitimate as Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump cheated to win the election.

To justify such an absurd claim, Lindsey suggests that the Mueller investigation is only about whether Trump acted improperly when he fired Comey.

When it comes to the pillar of political virtue, Comey. Harry Reid: “That he’s been a supporter of Comey, and led the fight to get him confirmed, as he believed Comey was a principled public servant. With the deepest regret, I now see that I was wrong.” Mr. Nadler, from NY. “The President can fire him for cause and ought to. He violated the guidelines and put his thumb on the scale of an election.” Mr. Cohen, from Tennessee, a Democrat. “Call on Comey to resign his position, effective immediately, I’m sureupon reflection of this action he will submit his letter of resignation for the nation’s good.” To my Democratic friends,  you were all for getting rid of this guy. Now all of a sudden the country is turning upside down cause Trump did it.

The same guy who recently endorsed the idea of Trump firing Jeff Sessions once Kavanaugh gets confirmed then claimed he would do everything to protect the Mueller investigation. He says that even while suggesting he agrees with Kavanaugh that the president shouldn’t be investigated.

There’s a process to find out what happened in the 2016 election. It’s called Mr. Mueller. And I will do everything I can to make sure he finishes his job without political interference. And I’m here to tell anybody in the country that listens, that this is so hypocritical of my friends on the other side. When it was their President, Kavanaugh was right. When you’re talking about Roe v. Wade, it’s okay to promise the nation it will never be overturned. It’s okay to pick a Democratic staff member of this committee, but it’s not okay to pick somebody who’s been a lifelong Republican.

Which brings us to the stunning bit. Having just misrepresented the scope of the Mueller investigation — completely ignoring that the primary investigation is about whether Trump conspired with a hostile foreign power to win the election — Lindsey then suggests that Democrats should have no influence over judges because they lost the election the legitimacy of which Mueller continues to investigate (and about which Mueller has already provided evidence that the scope of Russia’s help for Trump went further than initially known).

People see through this. You had a chance, and you lost. If you want to pick judges from your way of thinking, then you better win an election.

After discussing his support for Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, Lindsey then suggests that stripping the last limits on presidential power is just a game (even while admitting he likes Trump best of all for getting two SCOTUS picks).

I hope people in the country understand this game. It’s a game that I’m sad to be part of. It’s gotten really bad. The antidote to our problems in this country when it comes to judges and politics is not to deny you a place on the Supreme Court. This is exactly where you need to be, this is exactly the time you need to be there, and I’m telling President Trump, “You do some things that drive me crazy, you do some great things. You have never done anything better, in my view, than to pick Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.  Cause you had an opportunity to put well-qualified conservatives on the court — men steeped in the rule of law — who will apply analysis not politics to their decision-making, and you knocked it out of the park, and I say to my friends on the other side: you can’t lose the election and pick judges.

Lindsey ends, again, by taunting Democrats that they can’t have any input on Supreme Court justices if they lose an election.

An election the investigation of which Lindsey claims to, but is not, protecting. An election the investigation of which may be stymied by the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.

Of course, this is only possible because of the way four different efforts in Congress — including Lindsey’s own — have served to obscure the matters under investigation. You’ve got Lindsey’s investigation and Bob Goodlatte’s — both more worried about a single FISA order that even a conservative Republican has told me was based on overwhelming evidence — than whether the guy making lifetime appointments cheated to get that authority. You’ve got Devin Nunes’ investigation, better described as an information gathering effort to help Trump get away with any cheating he engaged in than an investigation of whether he did cheat. Finally, there is Richard Burr’s investigation which, while on its face is more credible, nevertheless is not pursuing leads that support a case that Trump conspired with Russia to win the election.

Lindsey Graham is concerned about lies Christopher Steele may have told under oath in the UK, but not lies Don Jr clearly told his own committee. His big rush to stack SCOTUS suggests the reason for that has everything to do with a need to sustain a fiction that those SCOTUS choices are the result of a legitimate election win rather than willfully conspiring with a foreign adversary to get those choices.

Does Vice President Pence Believe He Has Declassification Authority?

It is, as I understand it, fairly customary for each new presidential administration to rewrite the Executive Order on classification. George W Bush didn’t do so right away — he finalized his classification EO on March 23, 2003. Obama moved a bit more quickly, superseding the Bush EO with his own classification EO on December 29, 2009.

But even among the flood of Executive Orders that Trump has signed thus far in his term, I don’t believe he has modified the Obama one.

That means a change made in 2003, which was retained in the Obama EO, remains in place: the inclusion of the Vice President among those who is and can name Original Classification Authorities (here’s Bill Clinton’s EO for comparison). Here’s the language that gave Dick Cheney classification authorities:

Classification Authority. (a) The authority to classify information originally may be exercised only by:

    (1) the President and, in the performance of executive duties, the Vice President;

And here’s how Obama slightly tweaked that language to retain that authority for Joe Biden:

a) The authority to classify information originally may be exercised only by:

(1) the President and the Vice President;

Now, Cheney got this authority at an interesting time. That was a key time for Torture cover-up; in fact, sometime in that period, someone in the White House ordered George Tenet to make torture a Special Access Program. He was already pushing back against the CIA whistleblowers who knew the intelligence behind Iraq was crap, an effort that would lead to Scooter Libby sharing Valerie Plame’s identity with Judy Miller on Cheney’s orders (it remains unclear whether Cheney had Bush’s permission to leak this). Yet for some reason, the new classification rules appear most closely connected with Stellar Wind (I believe this had to do with a change in whom Stellar Wind could target).

In any case, from that moment forward, the Vice President has had the authority to classify things. As you can imagine, given Cheney’s role in the Plame outing, there was a heated and still publicly unresolved debate whether the Vice President also got declassification authorities, including of things that the President or Presidential authority had classified.

I raise this issue because more and more people have started raising questions about whether Mike Pence is sabotaging Donald Trump, especially as leaks like this come out of the White House.

President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”

The conversation, during a May 10 meeting — the day after he fired Mr. Comey — reinforces the notion that Mr. Trump dismissed him primarily because of the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian operatives. Mr. Trump said as much in one televised interview, but the White House has offered changing justifications for the firing.

The White House document that contained Mr. Trump’s comments was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office and has been circulated as the official account of the meeting. One official read quotations to The Times, and a second official confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion.

If Pence believes — perhaps based on knowledge personally imparted by Cheney allies — that he has the ability to declassify anything that the President can, then he can leak details of White House events with utter impunity. Having him insta-declassify things would be a fairly safe way to feed the never-ending stream of embarrassing information coming out of the White House.

Oh, sure. He’d have utterly venal motive to do so. By feeding the Trump Russian scandal, Pence would make it increasingly likely he’d become President without having to expose his regressive views to the review of voters. But there’s nothing Trump could do about it so long as an EO granting Pence the same authorities that Cheney abused to great effect remains on the book.

Pope Francis Nails the Rhetoric of Addressing Congress

Pope Francis just finished his address to Congress. It was a masterful speech from a political standpoint, designed to hold a mirror up to America and provide a moral lesson.

He started with an appeal the most conservative in America would applaud, to the foundation of Judeo-Christian law (CSPAN panned to the Moses relief in the chamber as he spoke).

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

He then couched his lessons in a tribute to four Americans — two uncontroversial, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr — and two more radical, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton (but probably obscure to those who would be most offended).

Several times he nodded towards controversial issues, as when he addressed making peace in terms that might relate to Cuba (controversial but still accepted by most who aren’t Cuban-American) or might relate to Iran.

I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

Similarly, he spoke of the threats to the family in such a way that might include gay marriage, but he then focused on the inability of young people to form new families.

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.

By far the shrewdest rhetorical move the Pope made — standing just feet from the Catholic swing vote on the Supreme Court, Anthony Kennedy, as well as John Roberts (Catholic Justices Sam Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia, all blew off the speech given by the leader of their faith), with the Catholic Vice President and Speaker sitting just behind — calling to “defend life at every stage of its development.” — This brought one of the biggest standing ovations of the speech (though Justices never applaud at these things and did not here), at which point the Pope pivoted immediately to ending the death penalty.

The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

I hope the Pope’s general pro life call, emphasizing the death penalty rather than abortion, will get people who claim to be pro-life to consider all that that entails.

That led — past his expected appeal to stop shitting on Eden and start taking care of the poor — to what was probably the worst received line in the speech, a call to stop trafficking in arms.

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

The Pope went into a Chamber where large numbers are funded by arms merchants and told them they were relying on “money that is drenched in blood.” Very few applauded that line.

Still, the message was about the duty of legislators to serve the common good and on several issues, the Pope avoided directed confrontation, preferring an oblique message that might be interpreted differently by people of all political stripes. Amid the rancor of Congressional debates — about Planned Parenthood, about defunding government (and with it, harming the poor the most), about Iran — it was a remarkably astute message.

Read more