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

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

  1. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
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  20. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  21. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  22. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat
  23. Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat Democrat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go read her post, which is meticulous and convincing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

October 12: Sondland releases a second version of testimony

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

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

October 16: Rick Perry interview with WSJ

October 17: Sondland opening statement, deposition

October 22: William Taylor testifies

Paul Manafort Knew of His Inclusion in the Black Ledger Two Months before NYT Story

In spite of Fiona Hill’s warnings not to peddle in Russian backed disinformation, the seemingly single frothy right talking point today is to embrace the claim that Ukraine, like Russia, tried to tamper in the 2016 election.

None of them have noted the fact that Paul Manafort confessed that he discussed carving up Ukraine and how to win Michigan in a meeting where he talked about how to get back on the gravy train of Ukrainian oligarchs  Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov (as well as Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska).

Instead, they’ve tried to pitch Ukrainians standing up for the territorial integrity of Ukraine as anti-Trump, in contradiction to Trump’s sworn answers to Robert Mueller. They’ve also accused Republican-paid experts doing open source research on Russian and Ukrainian corruption of being Democratic operatives. In particular, they’ve misrepresented sworn testimony to launch a claim that Sergii Leshchenko was a source for the Steele dossier and/or he said something mean about Paul Manafort, the aforementioned confessed recipient of Ukrainian influence peddling during the 2016 election.

The other day, Leshchenko debunked such claims, in part by noting that the version of the Black Ledger he released had had the Manafort related entries stripped from it.

I published the first portion of the “black ledger” on May 31, 2016. I published 22 pages from the secret manuscript of the Party of Regions, which was sent anonymously to my official email address at the parliament’s domain. The document listed under-the-table cash payments to Ukrainian politicians, lawmakers, judges and members of the Central Election Commission. However, Manafort was not mentioned there. His name was not in the 22 pages I obtained.

I did not have any other pages except for these ones, although I now know it was an excerpt from more than 800 pages that the black ledger contained. Believe me, had Manafort’s name been in the pages I obtained, I would have published it, because I think Manafort helped establish one of the most outrageously corrupt regimes in the world, headed by Yanukovych.

I learned that Manafort was featured in the full version of the black ledger only on Aug. 14, 2016 when the New York Times reported it. The day before, I was contacted by a Times’ journalist and asked if I knew anything about Manafort in Yanukovych’s records. I said I didn’t, and it was true. If I had that information, I would have been the first to publish it.

Four days after the New York Times article, on Aug. 18, 2016, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, or NABU, officially confirmed that Manafort’s name appeared in the black ledger. According to it, he received cash payments of more than $12.7 million.

That raises the significance of something else Leshchenko notes (but which has largely escaped notice of the press here).

In a February 14, 2018 interview, member of the far right in good standing Steve Bannon told Robert Mueller that Manafort knew the story of his inclusion in the Black Ledger was coming two months before it came out in the NYT. (PDF 112-113)

Bannon told Trump he would take the position as Campaign Chief Executive.

At the time Trump was 16 points down, the campaign had no organization, no money, 75 % of the population thought the country was in decline, they were working with the “deplorables,” and Bannon had a 100% certitude that they would win . Bannon believed the big task was to give people permission to vote for Trump as commander in chief.

The next day Bannon met with Manafort, which was the same time that the news about the “Black Ledger” was breaking. Bannon was at campaign headquarters when Manafort told Bannon to come up to Trump Tower. When Bannon arrived, Manafort showed him something about a NY Times story about the ”Black Ledger” and $15 million dollars from the Ukraine. Bannon asked when t his story was coming out. Manafort replied that he had known about the story coming out for approximately 2 months and had not gotten involved in it. Bannon subsequently told Trump to keep Manafort, to not fire him, and to keep him around for a couple of weeks. Bannon called Kushner, and asked him to get back in order to do something publicity wise to counteract the negative press surrounding the story. Trump had asked Bannon at one time about “what was this thing with Manafort out of the Ukraine,” and they talked for approximately 15 minutes on it . Trump was never linked with other Russian news stories at the time, and he believed Manafort was a promoter . Trump was more worried about how they story made them look . Bannon believed that Trump talked with Manafort about the story.

There are several implications about this story, starting with the fact that Bannon didn’t think the story required Manafort to resign. Importantly, this means Manafort recognized that he would be implicated by the Black Ledger even though his name was not published in what Leshchenko released.

Significantly: If there was an impact by the story breaking in August 2016 — if it did damage to the Trump campaign — Trump has one person to blame for that. Paul Manafort, both because of his real corruption, but also because he didn’t warn the candidate.

Not Sergii Leshchenko. But Paul Manafort.

The same guy who Russian-backed Ukrainians had targeted for influence just 12 days before the story broke.

Volker

Kurt Volker Makes the Case that Ukraine Tampered in 2016 Election — for Trump

Kurt Volker has spent the last two hours trying to back himself out of the corner he previously put himself in by pretending that Trump didn’t demand improper investigations before he’d meet with Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House or release security assistance.

Effectively, he said that his concern was that Ukrainians would spend money to try to influence US politics.

In fact, we know that occurred.

On August 2, 2016, Trump’s campaign manager had a clandestine meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik where they discussed how Trump planned to win Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, they discussed how Manafort might help Russia carve up Ukraine to his liking, and how he might get back in the employ of two of his former Ukrainian clients — Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov — a well as Oleg Deripaska.

Eight days after that meeting, he told his bookkeeper that he expected a $2.4 million payment, from those Ukrainians, after November.

This is precisely the kind of thing Volker said might justifiably be investigated. Only, it happened on the Trump campaign, not the Hillary campaign.

Effectively, Kurt Volker just made the case that the Mueller investigation was legitimate and justified.

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

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

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

Per NPR, the witnesses for the first panel:

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

Bold mine.

The witnesses for the second panel:

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

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

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

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

Let’s do this.

UPDATE-1 — 11:00 A.M. ET —

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

Marcy’s live twitter thread

Emma Loop-BuzzFeed’s thread

Jennifer Taub’s thread

Brandi Buchman-Courthouse News’s thread

Aaron Rupar-Vox’s thread

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

UPDATE-2 — 11:23 A.M. ET —

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gaping Hole in the Impeachment Investigation Where Bruce Swartz Should Be

In her testimony Friday, Marie Yovanovitch repeatedly said that, if Trump believed that Burisma needed to be investigated, there were official channels to do so.

That’s a part of the impeachment inquiry that hasn’t received enough attention — but is likely to receive a lot more starting tomorrow, when Kurt Volker testifies.

That’s because his story seems to have a big gaping hole where Bruce Swartz, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for International Affairs, should be.

There’s a subtle detail about the efforts to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens that needs more attention — and elucidation: a purported effort by Kurt Volker to get Bruce Swartz to officially ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. He would have been in the loop in any normal requests between the US and Ukraine.

As Trump’s people were pressuring Ukraine to open up an investigations for Trump, Andriy Yermak deferred by asking for an official request from the US government to open such an investigation. As an experienced diplomat, Kurt Volker proposed doing what should happen next, calling Bruce Swartz to put such investigations into formal channels. But according to him, this inexplicably never happened.

A Hi, did you connect with Andriy? Yeah.

Q And then what did You say?

A Not yet. Will talk with Bill and then call him later today. Want to know our status on asking them to investigate.

Q Okay. What did you mean by “our status on asking them to investigate”?

A Whether we had ever made an official request from the Department of Justice.

Q And then skipping down later, you say: Hi — this is August 17th, 2019, at 3:02 — Hi, I’ve got nothing. Bill — meaning Bill Taylor, correct?

A Yes.

Q Had no info on requesting an investigation. Calling a friend at DOJ, Bruce Schwartz (ph). Who is Bruce Schwartz (ph) ?

A Bruce Schwartz is a senior official in the Department of Justice responsible for international affairs, someone I’ve known for many years.

Q Did you reach out to Mr. Schwartz (ph) about mentioning these investigations or whether — I’m sorry, strike that. Did you reach out to Mr. Schwartz (ph) about whether the U.S. had ever requested an official investigation in Ukraine about these two issues that we’ve been talking about?

A I reached out to him and we did not connect.

Q So you never spoke with Bruce Schwartz (ph) ?

A At this — not at this — not in — well

Q Not in this context?

A Not in this context and not since then.

Q Did you speak with anyone at DOJ about whether the U.S. had requested an official investigation?

A No, I did not. I did ask I did ask our Charge to also check. And I later understood that we never had. And because of that was another factor in my advising the Ukrainians then don’t put it in now.

Q You told the Ukrainians don’t put it in the specific investigation?

A Yes, yes.

Q Did you speak with the Ukrainians about whether or not the U.S. had ever requested an official investigation?

A It came up in this conversation with Andriy about the statement, and he asked whether we ever had. I didn’t know the answer. That’s why I wanted to go back and find out. As I found out the answer that we had not, I said, well, let’s just not go there.

Q So Mr. Yermak wanted to know whether the U.S. DOJ

A Yes.

Q had ever made an official request?

A Yes. He said, I think quite appropriately, that if they are responding to an official request, that’s one thing. If there’s no official request, that’s different. And I agree with that.

Q And then Ambassador Sondland then asked: Do we still want Zelensky to give us an unequivocal draft with 2016 and Burisma?

A Yes.

Q And you responded how?

A I said: That’s the clear message so far.

Q That’s the clear message from whom?

A From Giuliani and what we had discussed with Gordon. That’s the clear message so far .

[snip]

Q And, to your knowledge, there never was an official United States Department of Justice request?

A To my knowledge, there never was. And about this time, I stopped pursuing it as well, because I was becoming now here convinced this is going down the wrong road.

For his part, Bill Taylor opposed even calling Swartz, because it was so improper to ask Ukraine to investigate an American in the first place.

Q There was a reference to reaching out Department. You mentioned Deputy Assistant Attorney General, which I assume is Bruce Swartz.

A It is.

Q Did you ask Ambassador Volker to reach out to Bruce Swartz?

A He volunteered to do that.

Q Okay. And what was the feedback from Swartz?

A I don’t know that they ever connected.

Q Okay. And was there any followup effort to close the loop with the Justice Department?

A No. I thought the whole thing was a bad idea.

Q You thought it was a bad idea to reach out to Bruce Swartz?

A No. I thought the idea of the Americans asking the Ukrainians to investigate a violation of Ukrainian law was a bad idea.

Q Okay

A But Kurt, for some reason, wanted to pursue that. And when he volunteered to take that question to Bruce Swartz, that was fine with me.

Q Okay. I mean, is it possible that Swartz’s feedback on that issue would have been compelling to the group? Like, why didn’t anyone fo1low up with Swartz?

A No idea.

State’s Special Adviser for Ukraine Catherine Croft, in attempt to distance herself from any role in pushing investigations, seems to have filled in a key detail here. Or perhaps created a huge void. She says she did reach out to Swartz. She doesn’t know whether he and Volker connected, but doesn’t think so.

But she thinks that Volker didn’t really want to talk to Swartz.

He wanted to speak with Bill Barr.

A No. No. I had no involvement in anything related to — the one exception is, I did send one email to Bruce Swartz at DOJ relaying Ambassador Volker’s request for a meeting with the Attorney General.

Q Okay.

A And when asked what the topic was, I said 2016 elections.

Q Okay.

A But that’s where my involvement in that ended. I just related that, and then I understood those two to be in contact.

Q Do you know if Ambassador Volker had tried to call Bruce Swartz?

A I believe he did.

Q And do you know if Bruce Swartz replied?

A I don’t know.

Q And he instructed you to email Bruce Swartz to see about the viability of Ambassador Volker meeting with the Attorney General?

A He just sort of gave me a vague direction to get him a meeting with the Attorney General, so that was my job.

Q 0kay. So you emailed Bruce Swartz?

A Yes.

Q Did you call Bruce Swartz?

A No, I don’t think so. I think I just — I think I just emailed him.

Q Did he email you back?

A Yes. And then I put him in touch with Kurt and then I was out of the —

Q You put him in touch with who?

A With Ambassador Volker.

Q And did they having a meeting?

A I don’t know.

Q So you don’t know —

A I don’t think so. I don’t think. But not that I’m aware of. [my emphasis]

This should raise all sorts of questions. Because if Volker — by whatever means — bypassed Swartz and instead made the request of Barr, then it would make Barr (yet again) more central to this story. And it might explain how all his narrow denials (he never spoke to Ukraine directly, he never made a request of Ukraine directly, but nevertheless some Ukrainian “volunteers” bearing “evidence” did get to John Durham can be true.

Moreover, it would be consistent with what Barr was doing in the same time period, flying around the world asking foreign countries to invent dirt on Democrats.

There’s a reason this request never got to Bruce Swartz. And that goes to the core of the impropriety of this ask.

And there’s an enormous irony (or one might say, a hypocrisy) about this.

Along the frothy right’s complaints about the contacts that Russian organized crime expert Christopher Steele had with organized crime experts at DOJ like Bruce Ohr, they’ve also complained that Ohr passed Steele’s information (almost certainly pertaining to Paul Manafort) onto other organized crime experts.

Including Bruce Swartz. Here’s John Solomon’s version. Kimberley Strassel’s. Sara Carter’s. Mollie Hemingway’s. And Fox News.

In short, a key complaint about Christopher Steele’s sharing of information is that the ways it got shared at DOJ include the experts and official channels who should handle such things.

Precisely the opposite has occurred with Bill Barr’s witch hunt. And yet none of the frothy right are complaining that Bill Barr’s investigation doesn’t meet the standards that Christopher Steele’s did.

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

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

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

Tuesday 19-NOV-2019

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

Wednesday 20-NOV-2019

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

Thursday 21-NOV-2019

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

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

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

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

Fiona Hill’s transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get reading, get ready.

UPDATE-1 — 10:10 P.M. ET —

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

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

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

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

Why Won’t Sean Hannity Defend Trump against Impeachment Under Oath?

Yesterday, the Republicans released their list of requested witnesses for the public impeachment hearings this week. The list includes:

  • Devon Archer, Hunter Biden’s business partner
  • Hunter Biden
  • Alexandrea Chalupa, the DNC consultant who conducted oppo research on Manafort [corrected] via non-official sources
  • Undersecretary of State David Hale, who gave a private deposition the details of which have not yet leaked
  • Tim Morrison, the NSC staffer who was on the Trump call but has said (in part because saying anything else would implicate him criminally) nothing he heard was a problem
  • Nellie Ohr, whom Nunes falsely accuses of assisting with the Steele dossier, but who collected oppo research on Trump based off leads which were in turn based off open source research
  • Kurt Volker
  • The whistleblower
  • The whistleblower’s sources

I’m amuses me they think Volker will help them, as it reflects their inability to process information as it has come in. In his testimony, Volker made a concerted effort to spin what happened in the least damaging way for Trump. He based much of that defense on the then-operative understanding that Trump had never mentioned Burisma in his conversation with Volodymyr Zelensky, thereby suggesting that that improper request never got beyond Rudy Giuliani to the President. But we now know that Trump did explicitly invoke Burisma in the call, but that it got redacted out by John Eisenberg and others. That is, precisely the detail that Volker used to exonerate the President has now been overtaken by events. Volker will likely spend part of his public testimony backtracking off the stances Republicans believe help the President.

While I assume Schiff will accept the request to call witnesses he himself has asked for depositions, Schiff has already ruled out calling Hunter Biden or the whistleblower.

Still, the most telling part of this list is that the most loyal defender of the President, Sean Hannity, is not on it.

It is now clear that Hannity is a key player in this information operation (unsurprisingly, given what we know about his efforts to coordinate Paul Manafort’s defense). Unlike John Solomon, Hannity’s personal implication in the slimy nest of legal conflicts that the President calls legal representation seem to have ended when Michael Cohen got busted. Unlike Rudy, Hannity’s status as a journalist should protect him from legal liability.

So there’s no reason — besides the fact he’d be under oath — why he shouldn’t be willing to testify about the several key events he played a part in.

For example, Marie Yovanovitch testified that she understands during a period when Hannity was attacking her personally, someone close to Mike Pompeo called Hannity and asked him to either substantiate the charges or stop.

THE CHAIRMAN: And did you ever find out when, you know, the allegations were being made or the attacks were being made by Donald Trump, )r., or Rudy Giuliani, did you ever find out what the Secretary of State’s position, whether the Secretary of State was going to defend you or not, apart from the refusal by the Secretary to issue a statement in your defense?

MS. YOVANOVITCH: What I was told by Phil Reeker was that the Secretary or perhaps somebody around hjm was going to place a call to Mr. Hannity on FOX News to say, you know, what is going on? I mean, do you have proof of these kinds of allegations or not? And if you have proof, you know, telI me, and if not, stop. And I understand that that call was made. I don’t know whether it was the Secretary or somebody else in his inner circle. And for a time, you know, things kind of simmered down.

THE CHAIRMAN: I mean, does that seem extraordinary to you that the Secretary of State or some other high-ranking official would call a talk show host to figure out whether you should be retained as ambassador?

MS . YOVANOVITCH: Wet 1 , I ‘m not sure that’ s exactly what was being asked.

THE CHAIRMAN: Well , they were aski ng i f what basi s they was Hannity one of the people criticizing you?

MS. Y0VANOVITCH: Yes. THE CHAIRMAN: 5o some top administration official was going to him to find out what the basis of this FOX host was attacking you tor?

YOVANOVITCH: Uh- huh.

THE CHAIRMAN: And did you ever get any readout on what the result of that conversation was?

MS. YOVANOVITCH: No, I didn’t, although I was told that it did take place.

Then later in the same deposition, Yovanovitch described how, in an appearance on Hannity’s show, the President pivoted from a question about Russia to focus on Ukraine, which the Ambassador thought might also be targeted at her.

[Dan Goldman] Are you also aware that on the night of April 25th that President Trump went on Sean Hannity’s show and discussed Ukraine?

A Yes. He was asked a question about Russia and he answered by responding about Ukraine.

Q And what was your reaction to that?

A Well, you know, I mean, I was concerned about what this would all mean.

Q In what way?

A Well, obviously, for me personally, not to make it all about me, but for me personally. But also, what does this mean for our policy? Where are we going?

In response, Hannity issued two angry denials on Twitter, not under oath, then linked to a (!!!) now debunked John Solomon piece, as if that did anything but confirm he was part of an information operation.

If Hannity wants to clear his name, surely he’s willing to do so under oath? While there, he can also explain why he keeps bringing Solomon, Joe DiGenova, and Victoria Toensing on his show, and why he doesn’t disclose that the latter two are working for mobbed up Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash.

Hannity has repeatedly hosted Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, lawyers for Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash.

According to a Media Matters database, diGenova has appeared on Hannity’s show at least 37 times in 2018 and 2019. His partner Toensing has appeared on Hannity’s show at least 20 times during the same period.

Additionally, Hannity has hosted conservative writer John Solomon over 100 times in 2018 and 2019. Solomon, now a Fox News contributor, is also a client of Toensing and diGenova, and he coordinated with personal Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani to inject his Ukraine disinformation into the media.

More importantly, when testifying under oath before the impeachment inquiry, Hannity can explain why Rudy’s Ukrainian grifters, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were setting up an interview between him and Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin in Vienna, where Firtash has been bankrolling this entire influence operation.

While questions in Washington swirl around Shokin’s role in this controversy, Giuliani, Parnas, Fruman had specific plans for the former Ukrainian official up until the day of their arrest. According to those four sources, they told others they were headed to Vienna to help with a planned interview the next day: Shokin, they said, was scheduled to do an interview from the Austrian capital with Sean Hannity.

Through a spokesperson, Hannity said that “we never reveal our sources, potential sources, or persons they may or may not request to interview. Sean Hannity takes the first amendment seriously.”

He might even be able to explain whether, in Attorney General Barr’s visit to Rupert Murdoch’s home the night the grifters got arrested trying to flee the country (and so the night before Hannity was supposed to interview Shokin), he tipped off Hannity not to get on any planes?

Sean Hannity is a far more central fact witness on events associated with the impeachment than Biden, Archer, Chalupa, or Ohr. He’s one of Trump’s most loyal fans, so if there’s a defense of the President to be made, surely he’s willing to make it … under oath.

And yet, either Republicans aren’t willing to risk Hannity’s reputation, or Hannity is unwilling to repeat his claims denying involvement under oath.

How Trump Put Volodymyr Zelensky in a Public Box, After All

Some weeks ago, I predicted museums would one day display a copy of John Dowd’s letter describing how Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — who was arraigned the other day, with the latter being represented by Paul Manafort’s lawyer in his NY State case — were in a nest of ethically ridiculous conflicts with Rudy Giuliani, the President, and Dmitry Firtash’s lawyers. Another document that will be displayed as a key record of history, I think, is William Taylor’s statement to Congress Monday, which WaPo managed to obtain and republish.

The whole thing is worthwhile. But I want to pay particular attention to what Taylor said about Trump’s demand that Volodymyr Zelensky state on the record his willingness to investigate the 2016 election and Joe Biden, because it changes the import of Trump’s decision to release the call transcript.

As Taylor describes it, he first learned of Trump’s demands regarding investigations on June 27, when Gordon Sondland told him about it. The next day, Sondland went to some lengths to prevent any contemporaneous transcript of a call with Zelensky, at which Sondland explained Trump wanted “cooperation on investigations to ‘get to the bottom of things'” (a line Trump would use in the July 25 call). Taylor would learn on July 19 that at a July 10 meeting (the one after which John Bolton accused Mick Mulvaney and Volker of setting up a drug deal), Sondland tied “investigations” to an Oval Office meeting with Trump. The same day he learned that, Sondland participated in a 3-way WhatsApp chat where Volker said that on an upcoming call, Zelensky should “say that he will help investigation–and address any specific personnel issues–if there are any” (another line that would appear in the July 25 call, this time parroted, though not as exactly, by Zelensky). The next day, Sondland told Taylor he had scripted Zelensky to say, “I will leave no stone unturned” on investigations (this particular line did not make it into the final call).

All that scripting (as well as more scripting from Sondland for Trump immediately beforehand) happened before the July 25 call.

In the call that Zelensky surely expected would remain private, he repeated much of what the back channel advisors had cued him to say. In addition to scolding Europe for not supporting Ukraine as well as the United States and providing assurances that he would and already had made personnel changes Trump wanted to see, Zelensky repeatedly agreed to cooperate on investigations.

I also plan to surround myself with great people and in addition to that investigation, I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations.will be done openly and candidly. That I can assure you.

[snip]

I wanted to tell ·you about the prosecutor. First of all I understand arid I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament; the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look. into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case. On top of that, I would kindly ask you if you have any additional information that you can provide to us, it would be very helpful for the investigation to make sure that we administer justice in our country with regard to the Ambassador to the United States from Ukraine as far as I recall her name was Ivanovitch. It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%.

[snip]

I also wanted to thank you for your invitation to visit the United States, specifically Washington DC. On the other hand, I also wanted to ensure you that we will be very serious about the case and will work on the investigation.

These assurances came in response to clear demands from Trump. First he asked for an investigation into 2016.

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

Then he made several demands that Zelensky investigate Biden.

The other thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.

He then seems to demand that Zelensky reinstate Viktor Shokin, the corrupt prosecutor Biden (and much of international community) called to be fired.

I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am. also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out. I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor so good luck with everything.

In the following weeks, as Trump’s Attorney General made at least four efforts to cover up a whistleblower complaint about this call, Trump made increasingly alarming (to Taylor) demands from Zelensky, even after he had provided the assurances he thought Trump wanted in this private call.

On August 16 — by which point DOJ had learned of the outlines of the whistleblower complaint from John Demers’ review of the transcript — Taylor learned that Andriy Yermak wanted to ask DOJ to make a formal request that Ukraine investigate Burisma (and, presumably, Hunter Biden).

Then, on September 1, after DOJ had already received the formal whistleblower complaint and as the risk of security cooperation initially withheld in mid-July would become permanent, Mike Pence refused to release it, instead renewing a request that Ukraine “do more to fight corruption.” Taylor also learned that Sondland had told Yermak that security assistance would not be released until Zelensky “committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.”  That’s when Sondland told Taylor that,

President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelenskyy to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Ambassador Sondland also tole me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelenskyy was dependent on a public announcement of investigations–in fact, Ambassador Sondland said, “everything” was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelenskyy “in a public box” by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.

That was one day before Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire should have transmitted the whistleblower complaint to Congress. It was two days before OLC would write a memo, which it overclassified as Top Secret, claiming Maguire could ignore the law and withhold the complaint.

On September 8, Taylor would learn that even after (on Taylor’s request) Sondland tried to push back on Trump’s demands for a public statement from Zelensky, Trump sustained them, and so Sondland passed on that demand.

He said he had talked to President Trump as I had suggested a week earlier, but that President Trump was adamant that President Zelenskyy, himself, had to “clear things up and do it in public.” President Trump said it was not a “quid pro quo.” Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President Zelenskyy and Mr. Yermak and told them that, although this was no a quid pro quo, if President Zelenskyy did not “clear things up” in public, we would be at a “stalemate.” I understood a “stalemate” to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance. Ambassador Sondland said that this conversation concluded with President Zelenskyy agreeing ot make a public statement in an interview with CNN.

[snip]

Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.

Taylor, of course, immediately saw the game and laid a record. “nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance. The Russians love it.”

Taylor, apparently without even knowing about the brewing fight over the whistleblower complaint, sent a text the next day, September 9, making it clear he understood this to be a quid pro quo. “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

That same day, after three bipartisan Congressional requests had already been made to release the assistance, the Committees on Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight wrote to the White House requesting documents related to “the actual or potential suspension of security assistance to Ukraine,” (which would heighten the impoundment risk).  And the next, September 10, Adam Schiff sent the first letter making it clear he knew of the whistleblower complaint DOJ was so actively suppressing.

On September 11, Trump released the funds.

Taylor spent the next several days trying to get assurances from Ukrainians that they would not follow through on the CNN interview they had agreed to, which Oleksandr Danyliuk agreed to on September 13.

And that’s where everyone seems to believe it ended, with Taylor managing to prevent Trump from getting what he wanted, a public announcement from Zelensky that he would carry out Trump’s dirty work, but was doing so willingly.

But that’s an entirely incorrect understanding of what happened. Indeed, Taylor alludes to as much when he describes what happened when Trump — under gathering pressure about the complaint — chose to release the transcript of the call. As Taylor described, it happened as Zelensky went into his meeting with Trump at the UN, and Ukraine got no notice Trump was going to do so.

On September 25, at the UN General Assmebly session in New York City, President Trump met President Zelenskyy face-to-face. He also released the transcript of the July 25 call. The United Staes gave the Ukrainians virtually no notice of the release, and they were livid.

While they were at the UN, Danyliuk, who’d been central to these negotiations, got fired.

The first question at the joint presser after their meeting was about the call, and Zelensky had little choice but to claim, dishonestly, that Trump had put no pressure on him.

We had good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. I think, and you read it, that nobody pushed, pushed me.

By staging it that way — by responding to Congressional demands the way he did — Trump got what he wanted in the first place, and got it in a way that got far more publicity than a CNN interview. By putting Zelensky in this position, Zelensky had not choice but to agree that both the investigations Trump wanted — into 2016 and 2020 — were legitimate investigations and not, themselves, abject corruption.

Corrupt hacks like Trump and Putin make great efforts to undermine any claim that others — the West, the pre-Trump — have greater moral standing than they do. And by ensuring that within months after taking power, someone who won on a platform of reform was publicly humiliated into embracing corruption, it normalizes corruption and undercuts Zelensky’s independent base of authority.

And it was not just Zelensky that Trump displayed as a corrupt hack, either. Bill Barr has spent the last month denying that his own corrupt effort to undermine the Barr investigation had any tie to this call and the President’s extortion. With Barr, it likely doesn’t matter. He would have happily done that anyway. Barr’s effort aims to do precisely what Trump did in that presser, to paint a legitimate investigation into Russian organized crime as, itself, corrupt, all the while undermining the rule of law in this country. But by implicating Barr in his extortion attempt, Trump eliminated Barr’s ability to distance himself from the larger corrupt enterprise.

This was not, as many people imagine, about getting Zelensky to led credence to the claims about Biden, though that’s a side benefit. It was about upending the very notion of corruption.

And Trump got that, without even needing that CNN interview.

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.