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The Whack-a-Mole Cover Story: Bill Barr’s Knowing Complicity Moved a Month Earlier

Attentive readers of yesterday’s NYT Bolton story have noted that Bolton says that by August, Trump’s demand in the quid pro quo was not just the announcement of an investigation, but “all materials they had about the Russia Investigation that related to Mr. Biden and supporters of Mrs. Clinton in Ukraine.”

In his August 2019 discussion with Mr. Bolton, the president appeared focused on the theories Mr. Giuliani had shared with him, replying to Mr. Bolton’s question that he preferred sending no assistance to Ukraine until officials had turned over all materials they had about the Russia investigation that related to Mr. Biden and supporters of Mrs. Clinton in Ukraine.

That is, in August of last year, Trump was extorting Ukraine to obtain materials about 2016.

Some have suggested this is new news. But it’s not. It came up at Mick Mulvaney’s October 17, 2019 press conference. As he told it, the hold was primarily because of corruption and to press the rest of Europe to provide their fair share of funding for Ukraine. Mulvaney made a statement that — given that we now know DOD reviewed how much Europe provided and concluded they were providing more than the US — is fairly breathtaking in retrospect. Mulvaney gets away with this by claiming it’s just about lethal aid.

So we actually looked at that, during that time, before — when we cut the money off, before the money actually flowed, because the money flowed by the end of the fiscal year — we actually did an analysis of what other countries were doing in terms of supporting Ukraine.  And what we found out was that — and I can’t remember if it’s zero or near zero dollars from any European countries for lethal aid.  And you’ve heard the President say this: that we give them tanks and other countries give them pillows.  That’s absolutely right, that the — as vocal as the Europeans are about supporting Ukraine, they are really, really stingy when it comes to lethal aid.  And they weren’t helping Ukraine, and then still to this day are not.

From those two excuses — corruption and European support — Mulvaney then adds, as what he probably intends to be a throwaway comment, that part of this was investigating the DNC server, all the while trying to pretend that an investigation into the DNC server (he can never seem to label this the Crowdstrike conspiracy theory) pertains to corruption.

Did he also mention to me in pass the corruption related to the DNC server?  Absolutely.  No question about that.  But that’s it.  And that’s why we held up the money.

Now, there was a report —

Q    So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered to withhold funding to Ukraine?

MR. MULVANEY:  The look back to what happened in 2016 —

Q    The investigation into Democrats.

MR. MULVANEY: — certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation.  And that is absolutely appropriate.

[snip]

Did he also mention to me in pass the corruption related to the DNC server?  Absolutely.  No question about that.  But that’s it.  And that’s why we held up the money.

Now, there was a report —

Q    So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered to withhold funding to Ukraine?

MR. MULVANEY:  The look back to what happened in 2016 —

Q    The investigation into Democrats.

MR. MULVANEY: — certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation.  And that is absolutely appropriate.

Someone latches on to Mulvaney’s admission that Trump was demanding an investigation into his opponents, and raises “the Bidens.” Someone else notes that even if you’re just talking about the DNC, it still means Trump engaged in a quid pro quo to investigate his prospective opponents, since the DNC is also involved in 2020.

Q    Mr. Mulvaney, what about the Bidens, though, Mr. Mulvaney?  Did that come into consideration when that money was held up?

MR. MULVANEY:  I’m sorry, I don’t know your name, but he’s being very rude.  So go ahead and ask your question.

Q    Just to clarify, and just to follow up on that question: So, when you’re saying that politics is going to be involved —

MR. MULVANEY:  Yeah.

Q    — the question here is not just about political decisions about how you want to run the government.  This is about investigating political opponents.  Are you saying that —

MR. MULVANEY:  No.  The DNC — the DNC server —

[snip]

Q    Mr. Mulvaney, what about the Bidens, though, Mr. Mulvaney?  Did that come into consideration when that money was held up?

MR. MULVANEY:  I’m sorry, I don’t know your name, but he’s being very rude.  So go ahead and ask your question.

Q    Just to clarify, and just to follow up on that question: So, when you’re saying that politics is going to be involved —

MR. MULVANEY:  Yeah.

Q    — the question here is not just about political decisions about how you want to run the government.  This is about investigating political opponents.  Are you saying that —

MR. MULVANEY:  No.  The DNC — the DNC server —

Q    Are you saying that it’s okay for the U.S. government to hold up aid and require a foreign government to investigate political opponents of the President?

MR. MULVANEY:  Now, you’re talking about looking forward to the next election.  We’re talking —

Q    Even the DNC.  The DNC is still involved in this next election.  Is that not correct?

Mulvaney starts to panic, and to get out of that panic, invokes the Durham investigation. To defer from 2020, Mulvaney says Trump was just obtaining information for an ongoing investigation.

MR. MULVANEY:  So, wait a second.  So there’s —

Q    So are you saying —

MR. MULVANEY:  Hold on a second.  No, let me ask you —

Q    But you’re asking to investigate the DNC, right?

MR. MULVANEY:  So, let’s look at this —

Q    Is the DNC political opponents of the President?

MR. MULVANEY:  There’s an ongoing — there’s an ongoing investigation by our Department of Justice into the 2016 election.  I can’t remember that person’s name.

Q    Durham.

MR. MULVANEY:  Durham.  Durham, okay?  That’s an ongoing investigation, right?  So you’re saying the President of the United States, the chief law enforcement person, cannot ask somebody to cooperate with an ongoing public investigation into wrongdoing?  That’s just bizarre to me that you would think that you can’t do that.

In other words, in Mulvaney’s presser, he excused the political aspect of Trump’s quid pro quo by claiming the President was pressing Ukraine to cooperate in the Durham investigation. He claimed that this wasn’t about Biden but instead about 2016.

Of course, that had to have caused all sorts of heartache over at DOJ, because they had been saying for almost a month that Bill Barr had no clue about any of this and here Mulvaney was saying that the quid pro quo was about the investigation Barr set up and was micromanaging.

After DOJ pushed back, the White House adopted the line that this was about Burisma’s corruption.

To be sure, the impeachment witnesses didn’t always support that. Kurt Volker, for example, invented a story that when he pushed Ukraine to investigate Burisma, he meant they should investigate the corrupt company, not Biden and that the request to investigate 2016. He discounted the request for an investigation into 2016 by suggesting Ukrianians might be trying to buy influence.

SCHIFF: Ambassador, let me also ask you about the allegations against Joe Biden, because that has been a continuing refrain from some of my colleagues, as well. Why was it you found the allegations against Joe Biden, related to his son or Burisma, not to be believed?

VOLKER: Simply because I’ve known Vice President — former Vice President Biden for a long time, I know how he respects his duties of higher office and it’s just not credible to me that a Vice President of the United States is going to do anything other than act as how he sees best for the national interest.

[snip]

SCHIFF: I take it since you say that — you acknowledge that asking for an investigation of the Bidens would have been unacceptable and objectionable, that had the President asked you to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, you would have told him so?

VOLKER: I would have objected to that. Yes, sir.

SCHIFF: Mr. Goldman?

GOLDMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just one follow up on that, Ambassador Volker. When — when you say thread the needle, you’re — you mean that you understood the relationship between Vice President Biden’s son on — and Burisma but you were trying to separate the two of them in your mind? Is that right?

VOLKER: Well I believe that they were separate, that — and I — this references the conversation I had with Mr. Giuliani as well, where I think the allegations against Vice President Biden are self-serving and not credible.

A separate question is whether it is appropriate for Ukraine to investigate possible corruption of Ukrainians that may have tried to corrupt things or buy influence. To me, they are very different things. As I said, I think the former is unacceptable, I think the latter in this case is …

[snip]

GOLDMAN: Now he was insisting from a public commitment from President Zelensky to do these investigations, correct?

VOLKER: Now, what do we mean by these investigations?

GOLDMAN: Burisma and the 2016 election.

VOLKER: Burisma and 2016, yes.

GOLDMAN: And, at the time that you were engaged in coordinating for this statement, did you find it unusual that there was such an emphasis on a public statement from President Zelensky to carry out the investigations that the president was seeking?

VOLKER: I didn’t find it that unusual. I think when you’re dealing with a situation where, I believe the president was highly skeptical about President Zelensky being committed to really changing Ukraine after this entirely negative view of the country, that he would want to hear something more from President Zelensky to be convinced that — OK, I’ll give this guy a chance.

GOLDMAN: And he — perhaps he also wanted a public statement because it would lock President Zelensky in to do these investigations that he thought might benefit him?

VOLKER: Well again, we’re — when we say these investigations what I understood us to be talking about was Ukrainian corruption.

GOLDMAN: Well, what we’re talking about is Burisma and the 2016 election, let’s just —

VOLKER: Correct, correct — yes, right.

[snip]

VOLKER: I do remember having seen some of the testimony of Mr. Kent, a conversation in which he had asked me about the conspiracy theories that were out there in Ukraine. I don’t remember what the date of this conversation was.

And my view was, well, if there are things like that, then why not investigate them? I don’t believe that there’s anything to them. If there is — 2016 election interference is what I was thinking of — we would want to know about that. But I didn’t really there was — believe there was anything there to begin with.

It was a thin story, but necessary to explain why Volker did something he knew to be utterly corrupt, and then got caught doing it. While not explicitly, he was endorsing the possibility that Ukraine might have had a corrupt role in 2016.

All that said, Bolton’s certainty that Trump was also asking for Ukraine to provide the US with information on 2016 raises the import of this detail: Bolton claims (and DOJ has been releasing conflicting comments since yesterday) that he warned Bill Barr about this shadow Ukraine policy in July.

Mr. Bolton also said that after the president’s July phone call with the president of Ukraine, he raised with Attorney General William P. Barr his concerns about Mr. Giuliani, who was pursuing a shadow Ukraine policy encouraged by the president, and told Mr. Barr that the president had mentioned him on the call. A spokeswoman for Mr. Barr denied that he learned of the call from Mr. Bolton; the Justice Department has said he learned about it only in mid-August.

After releasing an initial denial yesterday, today DOJ has issued a non-denial confirmation.

A Justice Department official familiar with the matter said Mr. Bolton did call Mr. Barr to express concerns about Mr. Giuliani and his shadow foreign policy in Ukraine. It wasn’t clear what, if anything, the attorney general did with that information.

Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec denied that Mr. Barr learned of the Ukraine call from Mr. Bolton. The department has repeatedly said he learned about it in mid-August.

We don’t know for sure, but the difference in timeline may be utterly critical to Barr’s implication in this conspiracy. For starters, Bolton’s warning to Barr undoubtedly came before Barr stopped into a meeting in September with Rudy Giuliani about the Venezuelan who happened to be funding some of the Ukrainian grift. Bolton’s warning may make DOJ’s efforts to bracket off the Parnas and Fruman investigation, which Barr undoubtedly knew about, from the whistleblower complaint far more suspect.

Most importantly, we don’t know when multiple Ukrainians offered John Durham dirt (much less who they are). But if happened between Bolton’s warning in July and when Barr has previously claimed to have learned that Trump told Zelensky that he, Bill Barr, would happily receive the dirt he was extorting, it would make Durham’s acceptance of that dirt part of the conspiracy itself. That is, it would make Barr’s efforts to use DOJ to investigate Trump’s opponents a key part of both a conspiracy being investigated in SDNY, from which Barr has irresponsibly not recused, as well as an impeachment investigation, from which Barr has also not recused.

Bolton’s certainty that Trump wanted Ukraine to provide materials for a US investigation into Trump’s foes is not at all new. But the fact that Barr should have known he was part of this conspiracy a month earlier than he had previously admitted is.

Charles Cooper’s Letter about Pre-Publication Review Discounts Any Executive Privilege Claims

In the wake of yesterday’s NYT story revealing damning details about John Bolton’s book manuscript, his lawyer, Charles Cooper, released the letter sent on December 30 laying out what they expected from the pre-publication review.

In it, Cooper (who while he was at the Office of Legal Counsel wrote at least one opinion laying the foundation for the unitary executive, one that helped cover up Iran-Contra) suggests there is only one basis on which the White House can object to the content of his client’s manuscript: classification.

I appreciate your assurance that the sole purpose of prepublication security review is to ensure that SCI or other classified information is not publicly disclosed. In keeping with that purpose, it is our understanding that the process of reviewing submitted materials is restricted to those career government officials and employees regularly charged with responsibility for such reviews.

Cooper leaves unstated his assertion that the White House cannot object to material in the book on Executive Privilege grounds, or any Absolute Immunity grounds that Pat Cipollone might dream up.

Such an assertion is wholly inconsistent with Cooper’s previous assertion (made for his other client, Charles Kupperman but which Bolton adopted by association) that the White House has any say over whether Bolton must respond to a dually authorized Congressional subpoena. Normally, a subpoena can overcome Executive Branch demands that the subpoenaed person not testify, if they want to testify. Here, Cooper is suggesting that the only restriction that the White House can impose on Bolton’s non-subpoenaed speech is classification review.

I get why he said it. He was trying to lay the groundwork for the statement he released last night, in which he suggested the White House had circulated Bolton’s manuscript outside those career civil servants who are entitled to review it.

But it will make it far harder to ignore future subpoenas, whether from the Senate, the House, or SDNY (in a Rudy Giuliani investigation).

Dick Cheney’s Apprentice Strikes

John Bolton may lack the courage of Marie Yovanovitch, Jennifer Williams, Fiona Hill, or Alex Vindman. But he learned the art of bureaucratic murder from the master, Dick Cheney. And so it is that after the President’s lawyers have already laid out their defense, it magically happened that NYT learned the damning details about Ukraine in the draft of Bolton’s book that would make his testimony in the impeachment trial monumental.

Apparently, the book describes:

  • In an August meeting about releasing the aid, Trump said he didn’t want to release it until Ukraine sent all documents pertaining to Biden and Hillary
  • Mike Pompeo knew Rudy’s allegations about Marie Yovanovitch were false and believed Rudy may have been working for other clients when he floated them
  • Bolton told Bill Barr that he was mentioned in the call in July; Barr has claimed he only learned that in August
  • Contrary to Mick Mulvaney’s claims, the Chief of Staff was present on at least one call with Rudy
  • Bolton, Pompeo, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper counseled Trump to releasee the aid almost a dozen times

The details I most relish — not least because Dick Cheney hurt the country using his bureaucratic skills but included none of them in his autobiographical novel — are there bureaucratic details.

Mr. Bolton’s explosive account of the matter at the center of Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial, the third in American history, was included in drafts of a manuscript he has circulated in recent weeks to close associates.

[snip]

White House officials … said he took notes that he should have left behind when he departed the administration.

Bolton has notes. And “close associates” of his have drafts of the manuscript.

Bill Barr may be sending FBI agents out to pick up Bolton’s notes as they went to pick up Jim Comey’s memos detailing Trump’s damning behavior, but at this point, I think Bolton could instead send them to NARA to comply with the Presidential Records Act. And if Barr goes after Bolton, I assume his friends will release the drafts.

Plus, there are several other ways this can get out. Bolton has just won himself an invitation to testify to SDNY about Rudy (and Pompeo may have as well). The House could go after Bolton for investigations of everyone else he implicated — Pompeo, Barr, Mulvaney — all of whom deserve to be impeached themselves.

Already, a significant majority of voters want the Senate to call witnesses like Bolton. Now, if they don’t so they can acquit, it will make this a bigger story going forward.

[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

Laura Cooper’s Forgotten Deposition

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

Performance art by a couple dozen GOP House members garnered a lot of media attention last week. Their noisy assault on a House sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF) during a deposition obstructed a House investigation and compromised the security of the SCIF in an attempt to cast doubt upon the House impeachment inquiry process.

Sophomore (sophomorish-?) GOP representative Matt Gaetz stood out as both a leader of the flash mob; this was his second attempt to crash a meeting though this latest one didn’t do as much for his image.

The stunt and the GOP’s whiny little pizza party and follow-up presser drew a lot of media attention with reactions running the gamut. It was pure hypocrisy for the GOP mob to claim the deposition was an attempt to prevent the public from seeing what was going on, since the committee in attendance included both Democrats and Republicans and operated to rules written and implemented by a Republican majority in 2015

But lost in all the hullaballoo was the deposition itself. This may be exactly what the House GOP intended with their performance – not just to derail the deposition, but to prevent the public from actually knowing anything about Laura Cooper’s testimony.

Projection, as always – when the GOP’s crashers said it was about a meeting Democrats were trying to keep secret, it was about secrets the GOP wants kept.

Which should make us wonder what it was that Laura Cooper had to say that was so worrying to both Trump and the GOP that they staged this intervention.

They didn’t intervene in diplomat Bill Taylor’s deposition, after all. We knew it was going to be rough for Trump because we’d already seen some of Taylor’s texts from his side, casting Gordon Sondland and the administration in a bad light.

But the last time Gaetz pulled this stunt, trying to barge into an investigative session closed to all but House Intelligence Committee members, the subject being interviewed was Fiona Hill.

Hill was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs on the National Security Council; she announced on/around June 18 this year that she planned to leave her role at the end of August. She received a subpoena to appear on/around October 10 and appeared last Monday October 14 in a closed-door session for ten hours before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees.

The House parliamentarian ruled Gaetz was not eligible to attend this session; he’s not a member of these three committees. There were other Republican members of these committees in attendance though we don’t know exactly who or how many because the roll call has not been publicized.

The attempt to crash looked like interference at the time. Perhaps Gaetz intended worse, but the deposition went on.

This past week’s deposition of Laura Cooper was much shorter than Hill’s, at only three hours’ duration. It’s not clear whether Cooper’s testimony was not as broad as Hill’s given Hill’s background and role in the administration. It’s possible Cooper’s deposition was interrupted by the GOP flash mob.

This looks not only like an attempt to interfere with the conduct of the House inquiry and obstruct testimony, but witness intimidation and tampering.

Two patterns may be emerging though with only these two depositions be-bothered by GOP stunts it’s not enough data to cinch this.

First, both of these witnesses were women. GOP reps didn’t try to interfere with depositions or hearings of male witnesses like U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Bill Taylor.

Did they pick these two witnesses to intimidate because they were women?

A third woman witness had been harassed but long before she became a witness for the House inquiry; former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch had been through a character assassination by right-wing horde leading up to her recall from her post in Ukraine this past May, before the key Trump-Zelensky phone call on July 25.

Second, both Hill and Cooper were not anticipated as witnesses when the whistleblower complaint became public knowledge. Diplomats and White House personnel who were involved directly in the call were expected as likely witnesses. What was it that emerged during the earliest testimony which compelled the House committees to call Hill and Cooper?

Did Hill’s departure from her role as special adviser trigger questions?

What exactly did Office of Management and Budget tell the Defense Department and when which would have made Cooper a needed witness?

What was it about Cooper’s anticipated testimony which required such a big dog-and-pony show to suck up media attention to propel the GOP’s misdirection while cutting into time alloted for Cooper’s deposition?

Cooper in particular received a letter from the DOD informing Cooper and her counsel that she as Executive Branch personnel couldn’t “participate in [the impeachment] inquiry under these circumstances” according to an administration-wide direction. There were attachments to bolster claims made in the letter with regard to the House Committees’ refusal to allow White House counsel to attend the depositions and the legitimacy of the inquiry. The letter emerged after Reuters reported on October 17 that Cooper wouldn’t testify and before her deposition.

The letter, which looks a bit odd, wasn’t from the Acting Secretary of Defense or the Office of General Counsel for DOD. Instead it was printed on letterhead from the Deputy Secretary of Defense and signed by David L. Norquist, the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Why note this?

1) Because the letter wasn’t dated. It has a date stamp on it – 22 OCT 2019 – but not a date typed on the letter at the time it was printed. The stamp appears to be a Received By date but it may also be the date the letter was sent; it’s not clear who or what government entity may have stamped it, whether the Pentagon, Cooper’s attorney, or the House committee which received it though it’s likely not the committee. Note also that October 22 is the date Taylor testified before the House.

2) Because the signature on the letter is almost illegible; “David L.” is legible but the last name isn’t, save for the letter T at the end. There is no name, title, department beneath the signature. Compare this letter to the first attachment, a letter from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, signed by Robert R. Hood. You’ll see there is a name, title, department beneath his signature.

3) Because there’s no subject line, though not all government-issued letters may have them, and

4) There’s no list of attachments, except in the body of the letter, and they’re referred to as Tab A, B, etc. instead of by document title or by a URL if published and available to the public.

Why are these points important? Because someone seeking this particular communication by FOIA wouldn’t be able to find it by date or by Norquist’s name, title, or department, or by the attachments.

If someone was looking for a letter from DOD’s general counsel telling Cooper not to respond to the House committees’ subpoena, they wouldn’t find it. Ditto if they were looking for a letter from the Acting Defense Secretary. Nor would they find it by date written.

Note also, though it’s probably just a coincidence: David L. Norquist is Grover Norquist’s younger brother. Can’t pick your family.

But you can choose whether to include a date, name, title, department on a letter.

~ ~ ~

The New York Times reported last evening that the National Security Council’s authority on Ukraine, Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, will testify today before the House impeachment investigation that he objected not once but twice to the context of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.

“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,” Colonel Vindman said in his statement. “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.”

Vindman was present during the phone call and remains an active member of White House staff. It’s not just Vindman’s role, though, which shakes up Trump’s supporters. His credentials will be difficult to push back against — Harvard-educated Purple Heart recipient, and a still-active member of the military, who immigrated to the U.S. as a toddler when his parents fled the former Soviet Union. The right-wing horde is already scrambling to discredit Vindman, going so far as to accuse him of being a double agent and a “hostile witness” in a “kangaroo court.”

In his written statement to the House, Vindman said objected to Sondland’s statements during a post-call debriefing session; he was the third person to do so apart from the as-yet unnamed whistleblower.

Fiona Hill, President Donald Trump’s former top Russia adviser, raised concerns about Rudy Giuliani’s role in US foreign policy toward Ukraine, telling lawmakers on Monday that she saw “wrongdoing” in the American foreign policy and tried to report it to officials including the National Security Council’s attorney, according to multiple sources.

“She saw wrongdoing related to the Ukraine policy and reported it,” one source said. …(CNN, 14-OCT-2019)

With Vindman and both Hill and Bolton sharing their objections with NSC’s top legal adviser, John A. Eisenberg has heard from the most senior and most authoritative persons on U.S. policy on Ukraine. Eisenberg’s role was already in question.

It was Eisenberg to whom several alarmed White House officials turned when Trump urged Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. It was Eisenberg who then helped order the record of that call into a system used for ultra-secret classified information. And it was Eisenberg who, several reports said, consulted with political appointees at the Justice Department on how to handle a whistleblower’s complaint about the Ukraine call. (Politico, 26-OCT-2019)

Has Eisenberg also coached others on handling of correspondence related to the quid pro quo investigation, like Norquist’s letter to Cooper? Note that Norquist isn’t an attorney.

We know now that Vindman’s testimony corroborates both Hill’s and Taylor’s, and that Gordon Sondland is exposed to at least one charge of making a false statement.

It’s this corroboration with Vindman’s testimony that Matt Gaetz tried to obstruct with his first attempt at barging into Fiona Hill’s deposition.

Was it also corroboration with Vindman’s testimony that Gaetz and his flock of GOP co-conspirators tried to obstruct with their barging into the House SCIF during Laura Cooper’s testimony last week?

Among the Republicans participating in the protest was Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican. Gaetz and Scalise both suggested they might return at some point to protest further, though they did not do so Wednesday.
The storm-the-room stunt came two days after Trump said that he thought Republicans “have to get tougher and fight.” Many of the Republicans engaged in the protest were at a White House on Tuesday meeting with Trump, and a person familiar with the matter told CNN that Trump had advance knowledge of the plans to enter the space. (CNN, 23-OCT-2019emphasis mine)

Or is there something worse yet ahead which syncs with Cooper’s testimony, something serious enough to warrant Trump conspiring with Gaetz and House GOP members to deter comparison?

Is this why Former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman refused to comply with a House subpoena, filing suit instead with the D.C. district court to determine if he is required to testify? Is this suit a stunt of a more subtle nature, intended to head off the next obstructive parade of House GOP members before John Bolton is subpoenaed?

Gordon Sondland’s Statement Protects, Does Not Break with, Trump

Gordon Sondland is behind closed doors right now, trying to talk his way out of implication in crimes (he is represented, it should be noted, by the same lawyer who helped Karl Rove talk his way out of crimes in Valerie Plame’s outing, Robert Luskin).

But if Congressional staffers are doing their job, he’s going to have a hard job to spin what he did as anything but criminal. That’s true, in part, because his statement is full of obvious contradictions and evasions. But contrary to what many in the press (fed in advance with deceptive claims about his testimony) have claimed, the statement does not break with Trump, it protects him.

Who’s the boss?

Sondland’s first inconsistency pertains to one of the most important issues: why he was in charge of Ukrainian policy when Ukraine isn’t even in the EU. His general explanation for it is bullshit — and also should raise questions about what he has been doing in Georgia, Venezuela, and Iran. He studiously avoids explaining who ordered him to focus on Ukraine (as other testimony has made clear, the answer is because Trump ordered him to).

From my very first days as Ambassador, Ukraine has been a part of my broader work pursuing U.S. national interests. Ukraine’s political and economic development are critical to the long-lasting stability of Europe. Moreover, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which began nearly five years ago, continues as one of the most significant security crises for Europe and the United States. As the U.S. Ambassador to the EU, I have always viewed my Ukraine work as central to advancing U.S.-EU foreign policy. Indeed, for decades, under both Republican and Democrat Administrations, the United States has viewed Ukraine with strategic importance, in part to counter Russian aggression in Europe and to support Ukraine energy independence. My involvement in issues concerning Ukraine, while a small part of my overall portfolio, was nevertheless central to my ambassadorial responsibilities. In this sense, Ukraine is similar to other non-EU countries, such as Venezuela, Iran, and Georgia, with respect to which my Mission and I coordinate closely with our EU partners to promote policies that reflect our common values and interests. I always endeavoured [sic] to keep my State Department and National Security Council colleagues informed of my actions and to seek their input.

But the logistics of it are more interesting, particularly as it pertains to coordinating with Rudy Giuliani.

At times (at both the very beginning, after his description of the July 10 meeting, and again to explain away the July 10 meeting), he emphasizes that Mike Pompeo has approved of all this.

I understand that all my actions involving Ukraine had the blessing of Secretary Pompeo as my work was consistent with long-standing U.S. foreign policy objectives. Indeed, very recently, Secretary Pompeo sent me a congratulatory note that I was doing great work, and he encouraged me to keep banging away.

[snip]

We had regular communications with the NSC about Ukraine, both before and after the July meeting; and neither Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, nor anyone else on the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts, any complaints about coordination between State and the NSC, or, most importantly, any concerns that we were acting improperly.

Furthermore, my boss Secretary Pompeo was very supportive of our Ukraine strategy.

[snip]

While I have not seen Dr. Hill’s testimony, I am surprised and disappointed by the media reports of her critical comments. To put it clearly: Neither she nor Ambassador Bolton shared any critical comments with me, even after our July 10, 2019 White House meeting. And so, I have to view her testimony — if the media reports are accurate — as the product of hindsight and in the context of the widely known tensions between the NSC, on the one hand, and the State Department, on the other hand, which had ultimate responsibility for executing U.S. policy overseas. Again, I took my direction from Secretary Pompeo and have had his consistent support in dealing with our nation’s most sensitive secrets to this very day.

Again, the public record makes it clear he was put in this role by Trump, not Pompeo. And while I’m sure Pompeo knew of what he was doing (his suggestion that Pompeo was “supportive of it” seems most clearly on point), he was reporting directly, via a third channel of authority, directly to Trump.

That said, his suggestion that Pompeo — a former CIA Director but now in charge of diplomacy, which is not supposed to be the realm of utmost secrecy — trusts him “with our nation’s most sensitive secrets,” suggests there’s something else going on here, something about which he’s reassuring Pompeo he’ll remain silent.

The claim that he took his direction from Pompeo, bolded above, is contradicted on the matter of Rudy Giuliani’s involvement.  His description of why Rudy was involved varies slightly over time. Initially, he says he coordinated with Rudy because the Three Amigos, collectively, decided they had to involve Rudy to achieve other diplomatic objectives.

Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing. We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. However, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.

We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us – Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and myself – to be the better alternative.

Later, he claims that “his understanding” is that Trump ordered Rudy’s involvement, as if he didn’t get that order directly.

Mr. Giuliani does not work for me or my Mission and I do not know what official or unofficial role, if any, he has with the State Department. To my knowledge, he is one of the President’s personal lawyers. However, my understanding was that the President directed Mr. Giuliani’s participation, that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the concerns of the President, and that Mr. Giuliani had already spoken with Secretary Perry and Ambassador Volker.

Still later, he strengthens that, suggesting he was “taking direction from the President” directly.

As I stated earlier, I understood from President Trump, at the May 23, 2019 White House debriefing, that he wanted the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani concerning our efforts to arrange a White House meeting for President Zelensky. Taking direction from the President, as I must, I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for that limited purpose.

If he was taking orders from Trump on involving Rudy (which is almost certainly the case), then the claims of Pompeo’s role are just cover.

Sondland is obfuscating on both these issues: why the EU Ambassador was put in charge of Ukraine policy, and why Rudy was allowed to dictate Ukraine policy. While the press thinks Sondland has taken a big break from Trump, he has not on the key issue: that Sondland was taking orders from Trump and doing precisely what the President ordered him to.

The royal we

There are really telling passages in this statement where Sondland slips into the first person plural. Generally, he does so when describing something that he, Rick Perry, and Kurt Volker jointly believe. As noted, he does so is to explain why he and Rick Perry and Kurt Volker coordinated with Rudy.

It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the President’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani. It is my understanding that Energy Secretary Perry and Special Envoy Volker took the lead on reaching out to Mr. Giuliani, as the President had directed.

Indeed, Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing. We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. However, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.

We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us – Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and myself – to be the better alternative.

Another place he does so is to explain why the Three Amigos moved forward on scheduling the July 25 call when John Bolton and Fiona Hill were opposed (he’s utterly silent about the second half of his July 10 meeting with the Ukrainians).

We three favored promptly scheduling a call and meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky; the NSC did not.

He also uses it to describe his meeting with Zelensky on July 26, after Zelensky had delivered on the quid pro quo, where he set up the White House meeting.

During this July 26, 2019 meeting in Kiev, we were able to promote further engagement, including discussions about a future Zelensky visit to the White House.

This is Gordon Sondland’s testimony, remember, not the Three Amigos’ testimony. But in these key passages, he claims — without explaining how he can do so — to speak for all three. He doesn’t explain if they had conversations (or WhatsApp threads) agreeing on all these issues, he just suggests he can speak for all three.

And his denials that he shared this statement with State or White House would not extend to these other people he invokes as “we.”

Perhaps a more interesting invocation of the third person plural comes where he claims that Bill Taylor, along with him and Volker, had no concerns about the push to get to Ukraine to publicly commit to an investigation that would deliver part of a quid pro quo.

First, I knew that a public embrace of anti-corruption reforms by Ukraine was one of the pre-conditions for securing a White House meeting with President Zelensky. My view was, and has always been, that such Western reforms are consistent with U.S. support for rule of law in Ukraine going back decades, under both Republican and Democrat administrations. Nothing about that request raised any red flags for me, Ambassador Volker, or Ambassador Taylor.

Taylor is still with State, so if Sondland is being honest when he says he hasn’t shared his statement, then Taylor has not bought off on this claim. I look forward to seeing whether he backs it when he testifies.

[Update, 11/20: I now believe that some of this use of royal “we” is meant to invoke Trump but not necessarily the other Amigos.]

Schrodinger’s quid pro quo

The press has been most excited about the fact that Sondland claims Trump may have had a quid pro quo, but he was ignorant of it.

But in fact, Sondland does not deny a quid pro quo. In fact, his carefully written statement admitting he knew the quid pro quo involved Burisma (which he claims he had no idea meant Biden) admits that the 2016 ask was part of it.

Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the President wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anticorruption issues. Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two anticorruption investigatory topics of importance for the President.

And his denials about knowing that the quid pro quo involved the 2020 elections are laughable. His first such denial claims he only learned later about the specific nature of (part of) Rudy’s quid pro quo, but he doesn’t describe when he learned of it, either there or later.

I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Later, he denies recalling having any conversations about these aspects of the quid pro quo with 1) Rudy, 2) State, and 3) any “White House official” (does that description include the President?).

Third, given many inaccurate press reports, let me be clear about the following: I do not recall that Mr. Giuliani discussed Former Vice President Biden or his son Hunter Biden with me. Like many of you, I read the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call for the first time when it was released publicly by the White House on September 25, 2019.

[snip]

Again, I recall no discussions with any State Department or White House official about Former Vice President Biden or his son, nor do I recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens.

But he doesn’t deny talking about the nature of the quid pro quo with Volker (who’s not technically a State Department employee), Rick Perry (ditto), or the Ukrainian officials that Fiona Hill saw him discussing Burisma with on July 10.

When he denies Trump’s extortion of Ukraine, he denies only that the quid pro quo involved the 2020 election (and not Naftogaz considerations or claims about what happened in 2016 or, perhaps even more tellingly, Russian help in 2020).

Sixth, to the best of my recollection, I do not recall any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance from Ukraine in return for assistance with the President’s 2020 re-election campaign.

In denying Bill Taylor’s concern about a quid pro quo, he dismisses it as a concern about the appearance of a quid pro quo, rather than the actuality of one.

On September 9, 2019, Acting Charge de Affairs/Ambassador William Taylor raised concerns about the possibility that Ukrainians could perceive a linkage between U.S. security assistance and the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Taking the issue seriously, and given the many versions of speculation that had been circulating about the security aid, I called President Trump directly. I asked the President: “What do you want from Ukraine?” The President responded, “Nothing. There is no quid pro quo.” The President repeated: “no quid pro quo” multiple times. This was a very short call. And I recall the President was in a bad mood.

Sondland here credits Trump’s statements, as if any Trump statement ever had any veracity, as true, even though they came at a time when the White House already knew about the whistleblower complaint, which makes what would already be unreliable outright laughable, if indeed Trump actually said that at all.

But the bigger point is this: Sondland doesn’t deny a quid pro quo. Just that he knew it was the quid pro quo that the House is currently most closely focused on early on in the process.

Gaps in the timeline

Given the way he is protecting Trump in all this, there are notable key gaps in his timeline.

Sondland doesn’t answer two obvious questions: why the Ambassador to the EU was part of the delegation to Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration, and why the inauguration delegation flew back to DC, almost immediately, to brief the President on it.

On May 20, 2019, given the significance of this election, I attended the inauguration of President Zelensky as part of the U.S. delegation led by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, along with Senator Ron Johnson, Special Envoy Volker, and Alex Vindman from the NSC. During this visit, we developed positive views of the new Ukraine President and his desire to promote a stronger relationship between Kiev and Washington, to make reforms necessary to attract Western economic investment, and to address Ukraine’s well-known and longstanding corruption issues.

On May 23, 2019, three days after the Zelensky inauguration, we in the U.S. delegation debriefed President Trump and key aides at the White House. We emphasized the strategic importance of Ukraine and the strengthening relationship with President Zelensky, a reformer who received a strong mandate from the Ukrainian people to fight corruption and pursue greater economic prosperity. We asked the White House to arrange a working phone call from President Trump and a working Oval Office visit. However, President Trump was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those of us present at the meeting to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns.

One reason those players would have flown to DC to debrief Trump is because of the scheme to take over Naftogaz led by Perry, something Sondland doesn’t mention at all.

He also plays games with his antecedent in trying to claim that a June 4 meeting involving Zelensky, Rick Perry, and Ulrich Brechbuhl (where they discussed natural gas, among other things) had been long planned.

Following my return to Brussels and continuing my focus on stronger U.S.-EU ties, my Mission hosted a U.S. Independence Day event on June 4, 2019. Despite press reports, this event was planned months in advance and involved approximately 700 guests from government, the diplomatic corps, the media, business, and civil society. The night featured remarks by the Ambassador and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs. Following the main event, we hosted a smaller, separate dinner for about 30 people. President Zelensky and several other leaders of EU and non-EU member states attended the dinner, along with Secretary Perry, U.S. State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl on behalf of Secretary Pompeo, and numerous other key U.S. and EU officials. Though planned long in advance with the focus on improving transatlantic relations, we also viewed this event as an opportunity to present President Zelensky to various EU and U.S. officials and to build upon the enhanced government ties.

He uses “this event” to refer both to the larger 700 person event and the smaller 30 person meeting, effectively making a claim — that the larger event had been long-planned — that he tries to apply to the smaller one. He also is curiously silent about Jared Kushner’s involvement.

In addition to being silent about the second part of his July 10 meeting — the part that got John Bolton worried about what drug deals he was doing — Sondland is also silent about his pre-call briefing to Trump on July 25, after Bolton’s prep.

I was not on that July 25, 2019 call and I did not see a transcript of that call until September 25, 2019, when the White House publicly released it. None of the brief and general call summaries I received contained any mention of Burisma or former Vice President Biden, nor even suggested that President Trump had made any kind of request of President Zelensky.

And his denials about the post-call summaries mentioning Burisma or Biden do not amount to a denial that his prep did. Nor does that denial address his July 26 conversation with Trump (which he addresses in a different section), which he describes as nonsubstantive without addressing whether Trump mentioned the quid pro quo.

I do recall a brief discussion with President Trump before my visit to Kiev. That call was very short, nonsubstantive, and did not encompass any of the substance of the July 25, 2019 White House call with President Zelensky.

In other words, even where denies talking about the quid pro quo, the denials don’t amount to denials in the most important conversations.

Sondland’s silence about WhatsApp

Finally, Sondland is playing games regarding what communications he has had. With the exception of his July 26 and September 9 calls, doesn’t describe what direct communications with Trump he has had.

Just as key, he is mostly silent about his conduct of diplomacy on WhatsApp, precisely the crime (doing official business on private accounts) Trump accused Hillary of to get elected (though his lawyers wrote a letter claiming that they’re helpless in the face of State’s refusal to share his comms). That’s all the more telling given the structure of Sondland’s denials of extensive comms with Rudy. His statement deals with three different kind of comms. He focuses on in-person meetings and phone calls.

To the best of my recollection, I met Mr. Giuliani in person only once at a reception when I briefly shook his hand in 2016. This was before I became Ambassador to the EU. In contrast, during my time as Ambassador, I do not recall having ever met with Mr. Giuliani in person, and I only spoke with him a few times.

[snip]

My best recollection is that I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for the first time in early August 2019, after the congratulatory phone call from President Trump on July 25, 2019 and after the bilateral meeting with President Zelensky on July 26, 2019 in Kiev. My recollection is that Mr. Giuliani and I actually spoke no more than two or three times by phone, for about a few minutes each time.

[snip]

As I stated earlier, I understood from President Trump, at the May 23, 2019 White House debriefing, that he wanted the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani concerning our efforts to arrange a White House meeting for President Zelensky. Taking direction from the President, as I must, I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for that limited purpose. In these short conversations, Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the President wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anticorruption issues.

[snip]

Ten weeks after the President on May 23, 2019 directed the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani, I had my first phone conversation with him in early August 2019. I listened to Mr. Giuliani’s concerns

But he acknowledges that Volker introduced him to Rudy “electronically.”

Ambassador Volker introduced me to Mr. Giuliani electronically.

Nowhere in his statement does he explain what form of electronic communication this introduction took place over, and nowhere does he deny having WhatsApp (or any other kind of texting) communications with Rudy.

That’s all the more curious given that he claims — ridiculously — that his statements to Bill Taylor to avoid talking about a quid pro quo on WhatsApp were not an attempt to avoid leaving a record.

Fifth, certain media outlets have misinterpreted my text messages where I say “stop texting” or “call me.” Any implication that I was trying to avoid making a record of our conversation is completely false. In my view, diplomacy is best handled through back-and-forth conversation. The complexity of international relations cannot be adequately expressed in cryptic text messages. I simply prefer to talk rather than to text. I do this all the time with family, friends, and former business associates. That is how I most effectively get things done. My text message comments were an invitation to talk more, not to conceal the substance of our communications.

Immediately after saying those WhatsApp texts no not really record the truth, he points to some emails that, he says, show that he truthfully did not want a quid pro quo.

I recall that, in late July 2019, Ambassadors Volker and Taylor and I exchanged emails in which we all agreed that President Zelensky should have no involvement in 2020 U.S. Presidential election politics.

Remember: State is withholding all of Sondland’s electronic comms from the impeachment inquiry (even assuming he turned them all over to State). So his games with phone calls and texts should be assumed to be just that, claims made from the temporary security of believing the comms to check his claims will never be turned over.

Which is to say that Sondland says quite a bit in this statement. But the most important things are his silences.

Update: On November 5, Sondland unforgot some stuff laid out in Bill Taylor and Tim Morrison’s testimony. But many of the holes laid out above remain.

The Significance of Fiona Hill’s Testimony: “Whatever Drug Deal Sondland and Mulvaney Are Cooking Up”

A number of people on Twitter have asked me to elaborate on some comments I’ve made about the significance of Fiona Hill’s testimony before the Ukraine impeachment team yesterday.

It’s unclear whether she shared details of her testimony or whether most of the reporting comes from Jamie Raskin (who notably got the import of the State IG’s urgent briefing utterly wrong). But NYT has thus far offered the key description (citing at least two other people beyond Raskin).

Force Bolton to shit or get off the pot

First, the NYT describes Hill citing the abrasive John Bolton saying two fairly stunning things which were bound to make headlines. First, she described Bolton saying Rudy was a “hand grenade” who would blow everyone up (a quote Rudy has already responded to).

Mr. Bolton expressed grave concerns to Ms. Hill about the campaign being run by Mr. Giuliani. “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Ms. Hill quoted Mr. Bolton as saying during an earlier conversation.

Then, after a July 10 meeting where it became clear Trump was withholding security assistance for campaign propaganda, according to reports of Hill’s testimony, Bolton asked her to tell Deputy White House Counsel John Eisenberg that he was not part of “whatever drug deal” Trump’s flunkies were pursuing.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition.

It was clear even before the July 25 call that kicked off this whole scandal that Bolton was on the outs. Tellingly, Bolton was specifically excluded from the call.

But since then, Bolton has (like James Mattis) been talking about writing a book, telling his story for history, rather than for the present and the sake of the Constitution.

By including these two quotes in her testimony, Hill not only ensured that Bolton will be the target of Trump’s ire (after all, Hill didn’t say these things, Bolton reportedly did). But it will force Bolton to either deny them (if he’s certain Hill didn’t take contemporaneous notes), or take a stand against activities he clearly recognized were wrong.

And if Bolton testifies in the impeachment inquiry about his concerns, it will represent someone about whom there can be no doubts as to Republican partisan loyalty. If Hill’s inclusion of Bolton’s comments leads Trump’s former National Security Advisor to provide damning testimony to the impeachment inquiry, it will change both the profile of the inquiry and the possible response attacks.

Force Sondland to rewrite his ever-evolving testimony

Hill’s testimony about that July 10 meeting also provided damning testimony about Gordon Sondland, who is scheduled to testify on Thursday.

One of the most dramatic moments she described came in the July 10 meeting in Mr. Bolton’s office that included Mr. Sondland; Kurt D. Volker, then the special envoy for Ukraine; Rick Perry, the energy secretary; and two Ukrainian officials.

The purpose of the meeting was to talk about technical assistance to Ukraine’s national security council. The Ukrainians were eager to set up a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky, who was elected on a promise to clean up corruption and resolve the country’s five-year war with Russian-armed separatists.

Mr. Bolton was trying to not commit to a meeting, according to Ms. Hill’s testimony. Mr. Sondland got agitated, Ms. Hill testified, and let out that there was an agreement with Mr. Mulvaney that there would be a meeting if Ukraine opened up the investigations the White House was seeking.

Mr. Bolton immediately ended the meeting abruptly. As the group moved toward the door, Mr. Sondland said he wanted them to come down to the ward room next to the White House mess to discuss next steps. Mr. Bolton pulled Ms. Hill aside to instruct her to go to the ward room and report to him what they talked about.

When she got downstairs, Mr. Sondland was talking with the Ukrainians and specifically mentioned Burisma, the Ukrainian energy firm that had Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, on its board.

Sondland has already test driven two drafts of his intended testimony, much as Michael Cohen did two years ago before he gave false testimony to Congress. Even the most recent of those drafts appears to be rendered inoperative by Hill’s testimony.

I’m sure Adam Schiff would have preferred that Sondland not get another chance to craft his testimony (and I suspect Sondland’s lawyer is trying to convince him that the possibility of being named Secretary of State is not worth perjuring himself for, which is why he’s probably not yet planning on invoking the Fifth).

But thus far, Sondland doesn’t seem to have discovered a story that he can tell that coheres with the other known testimony.

Hill ties Sondland’s actions to Trump

Hill also provided testimony — testimony we know that is backed by other witnesses — that Sondland was playing the role he was playing because the President wanted him to be.

At one point, she confronted Mr. Sondland, who had inserted himself into dealings with Ukraine even though it was not part of his official portfolio, according to the people informed about Ms. Hill’s testimony.

He told her that he was in charge of Ukraine, a moment she compared to Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.’s declaration that he was in charge after the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt, according to those who heard the testimony.

According to whom, she asked.

The president, he answered.

This will tie Trump directly to this scheme and make Sondland’s later denials about whether he knew Trump to be lying about a quid pro quo even more obviously false than they already are. This is not Rudy freelancing, or State ordering him to, but Trump ordering everyone to.

Hill implicates John Eisenberg

I noted the central role of John Eisenberg in attempts to cover this quid pro quo up weeks ago (and noted that he succeeded in preventing any record of an early quid pro quo from being being made).

Eisenberg is the guy who decided to put the transcript of the July 25 call on the Top Secret server. Eisenberg had a role in framing the crimes, as described to DOJ, such that they could shunt them to Public Integrity and dismiss them, rather than open up another Special Counsel investigation into the President’s extortion.

But Hill’s testimony makes it clear Eisenberg was told of what Bolton analogized to crimes well before the call.

Ms. Hill went back upstairs and reported the encounter to Mr. Bolton, who promptly instructed her to report the issue to John A. Eisenberg, a deputy White House counsel and the chief legal adviser for the National Security Council, along with his line about the drug deal, which he meant metaphorically.

Mr. Eisenberg told Ms. Hill he would report it up his chain of command, which would typically mean Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel.

Eisenberg (whose FBI 302 from the last Trump criminal investigation DOJ is trying to withhold) would have been on the hook anyway for a clear attempt to cover up Trump’s crime. But the revelation that he had advance warning that a crime was in process — and apparently did nothing to prevent it — changes his exposure significantly.

It was the OMB Director, misappropriating funds, in the National Security Advisor’s office

Finally, Hill puts Mick Mulvaney at the scene of the crime.

As I’ve said before, one part of this scandal that has gotten far too little attention is that, to extort Ukraine, Trump withheld funds appropriated by Congress, funds about which there was bipartisan agreement.

Last week, CNN and WSJ reported that to do this, OMB changed the way the funds were distributed, putting a political flunkie in charge, also a detail that has gotten far too little attention.

Not only does that raise the Constitutional stakes of the Executive’s refusal to spend the funds Congress had duly appropriated, but it shows consciousness of guilt.

And per Hill’s testimony Mick Mulvaney, serving in the dual role of OMB chief and Chief of Staff, knew that those funds were being withheld for a quid pro quo or (as John Bolton described it) a drug deal.

Senate Republicans might not ever convict Trump for demanding foreign countries invent propaganda on his political allies. They might feel differently once it becomes clear that the crime involves refusing to do what Congress, with its power of the purse, told him to, without even telling Congress he was doing so (or why). They may not care about Trump pressing for any political advantage for their party, but they may care about Trump neutering their most important authority.

Trump Is Being Impeached for Harming America to Extort Campaign Help

There’s a narrative solidifying among journalists that Democrats are conducting an impeachment inquiry (at least as it pertains to Ukraine) into whether Trump solicited foreign help for an election.

Even setting aside that on the call with Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump first asked Ukraine’s president to provide “evidence” backing Russian disinformation about the last election, foreign election assistance is not (all) Trump is being impeached for. Trump is being impeached for pursuing US policies that serve to coerce his foreign partners into helping him win the 2020 election.

His demand that China start an investigation into the Bidens was separated from his assertion that “if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power” by less than 30 seconds.

We’re looking at a lot of things. China’s coming in next week. We’re going to have a meeting with them. We’ll see. But we’re doing very well. Some of the, uh, numbers are being affected by all of the nonsense, all of the politics going on in this country, but the Democrats, I call them the do-nothing Democrats because they do nothing for this country. They don’t care about this country. But, uh, the numbers really are looking very good going into the future. So we’ll see. I have a lot of options on China. But if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.

[comment on how he wants Zelensky to investigate the Bidens]

And by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens. Because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with uh, with Ukraine.

And a key part of the whistleblower’s complaint is that,

On 18 July, an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) official informed Departments and Agencies that the President “earlier that month” had issued instructions to suspend all U.S. security assistance to Ukraine. Neither OMB nor the NSC staff knew why this instruction had been issued. During interagency meetings on 23 July and 26 July, OMB officials again stated explicitly that the instruction to suspend this assistance had come directly from the President, but they still were unaware of a policy rationale. As of early August, I heard from U.S. officials that some Ukrainian officials were aware that U.S. aid might be in jeopardy, but I do not know how or when they learned of it.

Trump held up the money, which had been appropriated by Congress, overruling John Bolton’s and some other national security advisors’ counsel (which may be why Bolton was excluded from the call), as well as that of some Republican Senators. At least some of the Ukrainians in the loop claimed to be blindsided by the freeze and talked about how the freeze made Ukraine more vulnerable vis a vis Russia. Trump restored the aid only after Congress forced him to, even as the whistleblower complaint was breaking.

In short, Trump was defying Congress’ orders, and his excuses (that he was trying to get Ukraine to work on corruption) don’t hold up.

Trump has a lot of leeway to set the foreign policy of the US (but not in defiance of Congressional budgetary guidance). But he has come very close to suggesting that he is setting the foreign policy priorities of the country in such a way as to get leverage over other countries to help him politically.

And DOJ, when receiving this whistleblower complaint, did not review whether this amounts to extortion or bribery, the latter of which is specifically enumerated as an offense demanding impeachment in the Constitution.

This is what impeachment is about: Trump is considering inflicting more damage on farmers and manufacturers and this summer helped an adversary (admittedly the one who helped him get elected the last time), all in an effort to coerce help from foreign leaders.

Update: Fox just obtained encrypted texts showing that temporary Ambassador to Ukraine William Brockenbrough Taylor Jr. said “it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” which would appear to make the intent clear.

[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.

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.

Crowdsource: Build a Timeline on ODNI Whistleblower Complaint [UPDATED-4]

[NB: Updates will appear within the timeline or at the bottom of the text. /~Rayne]

Hey gang, Rayne here.  I have to confess I am completely over my head right now. I have a huge pile of projects and I can’t get through them fast enough to pull a post together. I have family coming to visit, a garden to harvest, laundry to do — the list is a mile long. I could use more hands.

Are you up for crowdsourced investigation into one of the writing projects on my list? Whatever you put in comments I will go through and pull together into a more complete timeline.

The topic: The whistleblower complaint believed to be withheld by acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to prevent investigation.

Point of origin: Schiff accuses top intel official of illegally withholding ‘urgent’ whistleblower complaint, by Kyle Cheney, POLITICO, published 13-SEP-2019, 8:12 p.m. EDT

Note carefully this piece ended up in the news dump zone — a Friday evening after 5:00 p.m.

What could the whistleblower complaint have been about, assuming there are other related matters in the public eye? A timeline might help us piece together the topic, or it may help us prepare for anticipated hearings.

I want to point out again that one of the five drafted Articles of Impeachment against Richard Nixon was about unauthorized activity disclosed by a whistleblower. We may be looking at yet another impeachable offense (as if there haven’t been enough already).

Here’s what I have so far — help me fill in some blanks you think may be relevant to a possible “urgent concern” in a whistleblower complaint, the Office of Director of National Intelligence, the Intelligence Community, and the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence over the last 33 months.

10-MAY-2017 — Trump met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office. [UPDATE-3b]

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. [UPDATE-3b]

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. [UPDATE-3b]

7/8-JUL-2017 — Trump meets Putin at G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.[UPDATE-3b]

________

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

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.

________

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.

24-MAY-2019 — Trump issued a directive allowing Attorney General William Barr to declassify any intelligence that sparked the opening of the Russia investigation. [UPDATE-3c]

20-JUN-2019 — In retaliation for downing a U.S. drone, Trump approved strikes on Iran which were abruptly aborted. [UPDATE-4a]

24-JUL-2019 – The same day that John Ratcliffe used his time to question Robert Mueller before the Judiciary Committee 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.” [UPDATE-2a]

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

02-AUG-2019 — Ratcliffe withdraws from consideration. [UPDATE-2b]

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

12-AUG-19ICdIG received the whistleblower compaint, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter [UPDATE-1]

15-AUG-2019 — Coats’ last day as DNI.

26-AUG-19 — IC IG transmitted the whistleblower complaint to the Acting DNI, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter [UPDATE-1]

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.

01/02-SEP-2o19 — 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.” [UPDATE-4a]

02-SEP-19 — Deadline for ADNI to forward the complaint to Intelligence committees of Congress passes without a referral, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter [UPDATE-1]

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.” [UPDATE-4a]

04-SEP-2019 — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to sign the agreement with the Taliban. [UPDATE-4b]

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…) [UPDATE-3a]

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 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. [UPDATE-4a]

12-SEP-19 — 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 [UPDATE-1]

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.

_____

Future items:

17- SEP-2019 — Deadline, materials responsive to subpoena must be turned over by this date

19- SEP-2019 — Date when Maguire will be compelled to appear before Congress in a public hearing

What a freaking mess. I have nothing here about Mike Pompeo or any other intelligence personnel or issues. The bit about Coats’ departure and Bolton’s termination stick out as well as that insta-declassified intelligence photo, but what might have been an “urgent concern”?

Knock yourselves out — I’ll check in as time permits. Let’s see if a narrative emerges besides the obvious fact the Trump administration has severely damaged our national security apparatus.