Three Things: One Is Not a Transcript

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

“This thing, what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material? And what its causal nature (or form)? And what is it doing in the world? And how long does it subsist?”

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book VIII, sect. XI

I relied on Marcus Aurelius more than two years ago when looking at what we knew about the relationship between Michael Flynn and Donald Trump.

This same meditation provides a nice starting point after the release of a document purported by many to be a transcript (pdf) of the July 25 phone call by Trump to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.

~ 3 ~

What is this thing?

It says right there in black-and-white that it is a memorandum. It is NOT a transcript.

There’s a caveat at the bottom of the same page, too, explaining that it is NOT a transcript:

~ 2 ~

We’re told there was no quid pro quo. But what is this thing?

Zelensky said his country is ready for more military aid, and Trump said he wants a favor, though.

That’s a quid pro quo. It’s right there again, in print, something (like military aid) for something (like a favor).

~ 1 ~

This last thing to be examined is a little more tricky. It does whatever it can to avoid being taken at face value.


This is a member of Trump’s legal team, Rudy Giuliani. He’s been a member since April 2018.

He is not an ambassador to Ukraine. There is no current ambassador as one has not been nominated by Trump and approved with the advice and consent of the Senate according to Article II, section 2 of the Constitution.

Nor is he the Chargé d’Affaires as that role has been filled William B. Taylor, Jr. since June 2018. He is not the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv; that role has been filled by Kristina A. Kvien since May 2019.

Nor is he a State Department employee in some other capacity besides ambassador.

He is not an employee of the Department of Justice or Federal Bureau of Investigation, which are responsible for criminal investigations. He was not a member of the Special Counsel’s Office.

He is not the White House Counsel; that role has been filled since December 2018 by Pat Cipollone.

Nor is he a member of Congress or a congressional staffer yet he says someone read to him the ‘transcript’ before any member of Congress received it.

Who or what is this thing? What is it doing? How does it subsist?

Because he’s not working for the American public though he’s been pushing for investigations into American citizens overseas.

Because he’s not furthering the investigation into Paul Manafort or the hacking of the DNC in 2016 as part of the Special Counsel’s Office investigation or as an employee of any other U.S. law enforcement.

Because he’s not representing broader American ties with Ukraine, only whatever it is his client and the rest of his legal team have assigned to him.

We can’t rule out that he’s working for Trump’s campaign in some capacity. It’s not clear any news media outlet has asked him if he is.

What is he really?

~ 0 ~

This is an open thread, but bring your comments about the whistleblower complaint and U.S.-Ukraine here.

Whip It Good: Time Has Come Today [UPDATE-3]

[NB: Update at the bottom, thanks! /~Rayne]

I’m working on a new whip list right now. I’ll update this post with a refreshed whip list at the bottom of the page once I’ve collected the freshest batch. Last I checked we were between 138-148 House Democrats in favor of an impeachment inquiry or impeachment. The magic number is 218.

If you haven’t called your representative and asked them to support impeachment inquiry, please do so. If your representative already supports a formal inquiry, thank them to maintain their perception of public support.

Stress the urgency to take action — we can all see the Trump administration is degrading before our eyes. The whistleblower complaint needs investigation and only a formal impeachment inquiry will have the legal clout to override any attempts to obstruct investigation.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121 or use Resistbot.

Please make the effort to look up your representative’s local office for the phone number. Some constituents have reported their rep’s voicemail is full; having the local number will provide a fallback to contact them.

Recruit like-minded constituents, even kids, to call their representatives. Yes, youngsters who are too young to vote are still constituents entitled to representation.

It’s time.

. . .

UPDATE — 2:50 P.M. EDT —

I can’t update my own list fast enough right now. Here’s where three news outlets stand on their whip counts:

NBC: ‘over 160’ House Dems as of their last update Sept. 24, 2019, 8:51 AM EDT

Huffington Post: ‘at least 166’ House Dems as of their last update 05/23/2019 02:33 pm ET

POLITICO: ‘173 Democrats support impeachment or impeachment inquiry’ as of 2:48 p.m. today.

Washington Post has also reported:

Announcement expected at 5:00 p.m. after the 4:00 p.m. House Democratic Caucus meeting.

If POLITICO’s headcount is accurate, we still need 45 more House Dems to get behind a bill authorizing a formal impeachment inquiry.

Keep calling and recruiting other callers.

Need a script? See @celeste_p’s:

UPDATE — 10:15 A.M. EDT 25-SEP-2019 —

Here’s the latest numbers at the three outlets posted yesterday before the snowball effect really kicked in:

NBC: 211 House Democrats favor some action on Trump impeachment: Full list as of last update Sept. 24, 2019, 4:29 PM EDT

HuffPo: 177 House Members Have Called For Congress To Start Trump Impeachment Proceedings as of 05/23/2019 02:33 pm ET

POLITICO: Who supports impeachment? 211 Democrats support impeachment or impeachment inquiry, 28 Democrats who don’t support impeachment or impeachment inquiry — yet as of last update 9/24/19

Looks like NBC and Politico caught up to each other. If this is accurate, we only need 8-9 Democrats yet to sign on to secure an authorizing resolution.

This is the current list I have of Dems who are not yet in support of an impeachment inquiry. Some are no surprise like Tulsi Gabbard, this general election’s Jill Stein. Or Henry Cuellar, who is far more conservative than his district — just asking for a primary to take him out.

Anthony Brindisi NY-22 R+6
Cheri Bustos IL-17 D+3
Henry Cuellar TX-28 D+9
Joe Cunningham SC-1 R+10
Sharice Davids KS-3 R+4
Rosa DeLauro CT-3 D+9
Tulsi Gabbard HI-2 D+19
Jared Golden ME-2 R+2
Vicente Gonzalez TX-15 D+7
Ron Kind WI-3 EVEN
Conor Lamb PA-17 (R+2.5 under 2016 map, may change)
Al Lawson Jr. FL-5 D+12
Dan Lipinski IL-3 D+6
Ben McAdams UT-4 R+13
Stephanie Murphy FL-7 EVEN
Tom O’Halleran AZ-1 R+2
Collin Peterson MN-7 (House Ag committee chair) R+12
Max Rose NY-11 R+3
Linda Sánchez CA-38 D+17
Kurt Schrader OR-5 EVEN
Terri Sewell AL-7 D+20
Donna Shalala FL-27 D+5
Xochitl Torres Small NM-2 R+6
Jeff Van Drew NJ-2 R+1
Susan Wild PA-7 (D+1.1 under 2016 map, may change)
Frederica Wilson FL-24 D+34

But Wilson, whose district is rated D+34? or Sánchez, who’s served for 16 years in a D+17 district?

Especially under a continuing blue wave, when the 2020 vote will be a referendum on Trump?

If one of these representatives are yours, call them and ask them to get behind a formal impeachment inquiry. Contact info above in this post.

UPDATE — 3:45 P.M. 25-SEP-2019 —

We are soooo close! Thank you to these Democrats who’ve finally stepped over to the right side of history:

Cheri Bustos IL-17 D+3
Henry Cuellar TX-28 D+9
Rosa DeLauro CT-3 D+9
Dan Lipinski IL-3 D+6
Stephanie Murphy FL-7 EVEN
Linda Sánchez CA-38 D+17
Terri Sewell AL-7 D+20
Donna Shalala FL-27 D+5

According to NBC’s list these eight representatives now bring the total number to 216 in support of a formal impeachment inquiry.

These folks are still Undecided or No votes:

Anthony Brindisi NY-22 R+6
Joe Cunningham SC-1 R+10
Sharice Davids KS-3 R+4
Tulsi Gabbard HI-2 D+19
Jared Golden ME-2 R+2
Vicente Gonzalez TX-15 D+7
Ron Kind WI-3 EVEN
Conor Lamb PA-17 (R+2.5 under 2016 map, may change)
Al Lawson Jr. FL-5 D+12
Ben McAdams UT-4 R+13
Tom O’Halleran AZ-1 R+2
Collin Peterson MN-7 (House Ag committee chair) R+12
Max Rose NY-11 R+3
Kurt Schrader OR-5 EVEN
Xochitl Torres Small NM-2 R+6
Jeff Van Drew NJ-2 R+1
Susan Wild PA-7 (D+1.1 under 2016 map, may change)
Frederica Wilson FL-24 D+34

What the heck is going on with the Ag Committee chair? As if Trump’s disastrous handling of trade hasn’t been enough reason to seek impeachment before this solicitation for foreign assistance to cheat his way into re-election.

And what’s going on with the lingering holdouts who are in D+ districts? This is a blue wave; the House was won in 2018 because the people wanted the White House restrained. They still want him restrained. Get on the right side of this.

If one of the holdouts is your representative, you know what to do.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

 

[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.

[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

Something Smells — and It’s Not Burning Oil

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

Others have offered more trenchant responses after Trump’s tweets as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham’s warmongering, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s drivel about the apparent attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing facility this weekend. Let me offer my two cents about the attack.

This is an early assessment of what happened by a Bloomberg correspondent:

Do open the tweet to look at both images in it; this is the one on the right in the tweet.

Here’s a another image of a portion of the damage from a Bloomberg article (click to expand):

Note carefully this color image as it appears on Bloomberg’s site is an expanded, rotated view of the damage shown in the black-and-white marked up photo on the left in the Bloomberg correspondent’s tweet. The pond at the right hand of the area under smoke is the point of reference.

Now note the detail from the color satellite photo. The color image is attributed to Planet Labs, Inc. at the Bloomberg article while the black-and-white ones are attributed to Digital Globe. The detail is pretty good but not as good as the image taken of the Iranian launch site explosion Trump tweeted on August 30.

I’ll be the first to admit I am not an expert on missiles, munitions, explosions, or oil processing systems. But something about these images doesn’t make sense to me. They don’t look like what I’d expect from missile damage targeting oil facilities.

Below is an image of a BP refinery explosion in Texas from 2005; the cause was blamed on exposure of flammable vapors to a spark from a running motor.

No missile involved. No drone dropping an explosive, either. Some leak and a spark and *FWOOM* (love the technical term).

Granted, the satellite imagery didn’t catch the Abqaiq facility immediately after the explosion when there would have been more flames. But the damage afterward doesn’t look as extensive as the BP refinery explosion.

Note the size of the holes in the rounded tanks in the second black-and-white satellite image to the right in the Bloomberg correspondent’s tweet. Awfully small, more like something used on an automobile-sized target, in my uninformed opinion.

Now note the shadows in the images. These were taken before solar noon over the location; shadows appear on the north-northwest side of any object with adequate profile above ground.

What ever hit the tank-like features came from the northwest and not from the east.

Iran is to the northeast of Saudi Arabia across the gulf.

One more wrinkle — check this map from the Indian Defence Review circa February 2015, analyzing Saudi Arabia’s defenses.

The Abqaiq oil processing facility is located between Riyadh and Dammam.

How would 17 separate missiles or drones from either Iran or Yemen get by the defense network to hit the facility from the northwest?

Pompeo has now said the attack didn’t come from Iraq’s direction.

A whole cascade of questions arises from there on out if you think about it. For grins use Twitter’s search tool and look for “abqaiq.” If you scroll through you’ll see many people are noting similar issues and posing similar questions.

Recommended additional reading: Connecticut’s Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted a thread last night related to the other culture issues involved in the regional tensions. It’s worth your time.

Treat this as an open thread.

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.

History’s Rhyme, Part 5: Bad Faith, Unauthorized Acts and Crimes Against Humanity

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

It’s time to revisit the ongoing comparison of Nixon’s Articles of Impeachment with possible Articles against Donald Trump. Previous posts in this series:

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

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

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

History’s Rhyme, Part 4: Contempt Then, Contempt Now — focus on comparing charges of Contempt of Congress between Nixon and Trump.

An expansion of Part 2 into 2b addressing more abuses of power is planned in the near future. Trump continues to rack them up.

As noted in previous posts in this series, the House Judiciary Committee prepared five Articles of Impeachment against Richard M. Nixon during the course of its impeachment inquiry. Only three of the five were passed out of committee and approved by Congress. We all know Nixon resigned before the House could vote on the three approved articles.

The fourth article which was not approved pertained to Nixon’s Operation Menu — the covert bombing of Cambodia. Congress, which has the sole power to declare war, had not expressly approved this in its 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution. The bombings went unreported for four years and contributed to the destabilization of Cambodia.

A fundamental problem with this Article was that Congress bore some of the blame for the bombing; the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was written in such a way that it didn’t expressly preclude bombing of neighboring nations along the border with Vietnam. The resolution also did not constitute a declaration of war against North Vietnam, authorizing instead the use of military force to meet its obligations under the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty. The legality of the military action in Vietnam was on thin ground, making action on any neighboring country even more questionable.

~ ~ ~

It’s not impossible this very same challenges will form the basis for another Article of Impeachment against Trump should he pursue military action against Iran without adequate approval from Congress.

But we already have seen Trump take action without Congressional approval and without the support of existing legislation behind him, beginning with his first week in office. His Executive Order 13769 to begin a Muslim travel ban was illegal; he persisted in pushing a ban focusing on Muslims with subsequent Executive Order 13780 and Presidential Proclamation 9645 until his Departments of Justice and Homeland Security arrived at restrictions which met the letter of existing law according to a now-stacked and partisan Supreme Court after several lawsuits. This is not a faithful execution of the law — 8 U.S. Code § 1158.Asylum — it’s whack-a-mole with innocent humans as collateral damage for no constructive reason or benefit to this country.

The sole benefit of the persecution of asylum seekers has been to curry favor with Trump’s voting base with campaign promises to stop them — and that’s corrupt.

When acting Attorney General Sally Yates announced the Department of Justice would not enforce the Muslim travel ban three days after Trump signed Executive Order 13769, she explained that the ban was not lawful. Trump rejected this opinion and fired her instead of relying on her expert opinion. He had to be told repeatedly by federal judges his executive order was not enforceable because it was unlawful.

People were detained unlawfully. People were unable to travel freely. The primary reason for their restriction was their religious identity — a violation of the First Amendment and its protections of religious freedom. It was a fundamental human rights violation under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which the U.S. is a signatory.

Trump’s introduction of a “zero tolerance” policy implemented during the first months of his term in office has also denied freedom of movement to persons seeking asylum at the border. The policy’s implementation resulted in systematic crimes against humanity including enslavement; deportation; imprisonment; torture; sexual assault including rape; persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds; other inhumane acts.

None of this was authorized by Congress; none of this is in 8 U.S. Code § 1158. These acts also violate numerous U.S. laws as well as treaties. While there is not currently a treaty on crimes against humanity, Trump’s bad faith execution of U.S. law and existing treaties like the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the U.N. Convention Against Torture spell out many of these crimes.

Again, Congress did not authorize acts like:

— separating children from parents or guardians;

— holding children in cages;

— trafficking separated children into unauthorized adoptions without parental or guardian consent;

— deportation of minors without parent or guardian;

— failure to track minors so they can be reunited with parents and/or guardians;

— failing to provide reasonable care including adequate food and water, bedding, hygiene, heat and cooling, health care;

— transporting detained persons without notification to parents, guardians, family members;

— refoulement – deporting asylum seekers back to the place they fled;

— forced labor.

Nothing in U.S. law or treaties to which the U.S. has been a party or signatory authorizes this kind of treatment.

Further, Trump’s bad faith execution exacerbates a long-term problem with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — too many U.S. citizens have been denied their rights, stopped, interrogated, detained, and treated like aliens simply because they were not white.

Trump also systematically defies a court order issued in June 2018 prohibiting further separations of minors from their families at the border and instructing the Department of Homeland security to return minors to their families. The Trump administration weaseled around the court order, detaining entire families at military facilities — new concentration camps — while DHS continued to separate families on an irregular basis.

We’ve seen evidence of this systematic lawlessness based on inspections by Congressional tours of detention facilities — concentration camps in which asylum seeking minors were denied reasonable “safe and sanitary” conditions.

The number of illnesses and deaths attributable to Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy may never be fully known because the administration has done so much to avoid monitoring and oversight.

~ ~ ~

Other deaths which can be wholly attributed to Trump’s bad faith in executing his office are those of 2,975 Americans who lived in Puerto Rico (pdf) when Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017.

He had to be shamed into dispatching a U.S. Navy hospital ship to provide emergency health care even though the vessel had been waiting well in advance of the hurricane’s strike. It took nearly six weeks after it was dispatched for the vessel to berth and begin delivering care, though the Navy knew in advance of the hurricane that Puerto Rico might need medical support.

The manner in which the emergency aid was provided to the island was grossly negligent when not outright malignant — like the bottles of water left to sit on a tarmac for a year after the storm, or the recall of the hospital vessel U.S.S. Comfort long before its services were no longer needed, or the lack of effort on the White House’s part to work with Congress to assure aid money would be allocated and distributed in a timely basis.

Puerto Ricans were denied their right to equal protection under the law; they were not accorded the same access to federal aid as mainland citizens, in contrast to the assistance received by other Americans after Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Michael in 2017-2018.

And none of this had the imprimatur of Congress.

~ ~ ~

Unlike Nixon’s Operation Menu which only lasted 14 months, Trump’s derogation of Congress’s authority through his bad faith execution of laws is now into its 33 month. His malign acts increase in depth and breadth, now including the wretched refusal of Bahamians fleeing their hurricane devastated country, continued separation of families including Bahamian children.

And now an even more evil effort has begun: Trump wants to round up homeless people regardless of their citizenship and house them in unused Federal Aviation Administration facilities (read: place them in concentration camps).

There are homeless who work in Silicon Valley, homeless only because there isn’t affordable housing. Will he stop at them? Is he doing this to line his pockets in some way or as a campaign promise not shared with the public?

How has his effort combined with that of his cabinet secretary Ben Carson done anything to improve access to affordable housing when they are undermining civil rights protections for marginalized groups?

None of this effort targeting California’s homeless has been adequately debated by Congress let alone codified by law.

Will Congress do nothing at all to stop this creeping and inhuman fascism, these sustained attacks on human rights of citizens and non-citizens alike?

The 93rd Congress may not have passed the fourth Article of Impeachment against Nixon, but at least they understood and grasped the executive could and must be removed with the three articles they passed. It’d be nice if the 116th Congress was less supine.

Scotland: A Nexus for Trouble?

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

I started writing this post back in early 2018. Might even have been very late 2017, I can’t tell now. Something about Scotland bothered me at the time even though I’m a keen fan of the country.

Now I’m even more bothered than I was when I first started putting words together about Scotland.

~ ~ ~

There is an old maxim for which I can’t find attribution: “He who holds Stirling, holds Scotland.” Stirling is smack between the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands, on the Central Belt of Scotland — the country’s heart. The saying may once have referred to Stirling Castle, but one might wonder if it means something more today.

The University of Stirling, eighth largest in Scotland, is built on the grounds of a different castle. A public school founded in 1967 by royal charter, the school is relatively young compared to University of St. Andrews (1410) and University of Glasgow (1451). It’s comparable in size to small American state universities. It reorganized in 2016 into four faculties and two schools — faculties of Social Science, Arts and Humanities, Natural Science, Health Sciences and Sport, Stirling School of Management and Stirling Graduate School.

It’s the Faculty of Arts and Humanities to which I want to draw attention, as it includes the London Academy of Diplomacy.

You may also know this as the school which employed Professor Joseph Mifsud, the Russian agent who told Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos that Russia had Hillary Clinton emails.

You probably read reporting on Mifsud’s mid-2017 disappearance. If you haven’t, check out the detailed profile on this archived page and the University of Stirling’s student newspaper online. Read them while you can; our fellow contributor Jim White noted in January 2018 how Mifsud’s profile online was being scrubbed (indeed, the underlying source for the archived site above has an odd habit of going offline erratically).

What puzzles me after reading quite a lot about Mifsud: how did the London Academy of Diplomacy end up at Stirling — who suggested it, set up the curriculum, funded it?

Why does LAD look like a clone of DAL — the Diplomatic Academy of London — but located in Stirling instead of London?

And why Stirling, Scotland, located a mere 17 miles from Gleneagles Hotel, far away from the United Kingdom’s diplomatic action? Its population is around 36,000, it’s located inland away from an ocean port, and it doesn’t even have an airport.

Even smaller Gleneagles is an interesting location; the site is beautifully rural and easy to secure. It’s been used for a G8 meeting for this reason.

Mifsud is very little less of a mystery now than he was 18 months ago, but there’s more not quite right about Scotland when it comes to U.S. politics.

~ ~ ~

Why, for instance, did Steve Bannon show up at a “secret” meeting hosted by think tank Scotland International Ltd. (SIL) at Gleneagles in early December 2017? SIL was founded and funded by investment banker Sir Angus Grossart; the think tank hosts a “secret” meeting each year.

Bannon also met with former Ukip leader Nigel Farage and Tory MP Jacob Rees Mogg that same trip — both of whom are staunch Brexit supporters.

Scottish papers didn’t stint when labeling Bannon and his presentation; he was called “dangerous” and a “far right agitator” and his reception was described as chilly.

Bannon’s appearance at SIL also hasn’t aged well; his host Grossart received the Pushkin medal from Putin in October 2018, which didn’t agree with Scotland and the rest of the UK after the Skripals’ poisoning. Why does Bannon’s circle have so few degrees of separation from Russia and Putin, even in Scotland?

It may be the relationship between the so-called “economic nationalism” Bannon claims he espouses and Putin’s desire to destabilize the EU and NATO. Grossart is also the chairman of Charlotte Street Partners (CSP), a lobbying group which sought to disrupt education reform:

“… Proposals from the Scottish Government sought to expand democratic decision making in higher education, following previous conflict over departmental cuts and excessive salaries for top university officials.

While the proposals gained support from staff trade unions and student groups, universities management representatives criticised the plans and claimed that the bill threatens the charitable status of universities. …”

Why was there such invested effort in mucking up government and organized labor and student groups? CSP’s work looks like that of the U.S. right-wing think tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy, funded in part by the DeVos family. Mackinac Center has been intent on shaking out government funding to redirect to private charter schools (school choice), undermining collective bargaining power, while promoting hijacking teachers’ union retirement funds to private investment management.

Is Grossart looking to sink his chops into management of Scottish teachers’ pension funds if Scotland’s government is rattled by whatever happens after Brexit?

~ ~ ~

It was our illustrious Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin who first triggered my spider senses about Scotland, what with his sketchy request for a military plane for his vacation, including his honeymoon with Scottish actress Louise Linton during early August 2017. A subsequent investigation by the Office of the Inspector General for the Treasury Department indicates Mnuchin’s office requested the plane on August 1 for a trip beginning August 3, and that the request was withdrawn.

That trip and any others Mnuchin took using military planes should be the subject of a House Oversight Committee hearing if not House Armed Services Committee if they investigate military aircraft flying to airports or bases near Trump hotels or resorts.

What I want to know now, though:

— Did he conduct any U.S. Treasury business while on this August 2017 trip? If so,

— Did this trip take him to the airport closest to his in-laws’ digs near Edinburgh, Melville Castle?

— Or did Mnuchin’s trip in August 2017 fly into Glasgow Prestwick Airport near Trump’s Turnberry golf course, whether or not he flew on a military aircraft?

— Were any accommodations during this trip paid for by Mnuchin or were they charged to the U.S. government, and were those charges audited against any U.S. government business conducted during his trip?

Assuming he did U.S. government business I’d expect no less from Mnuchin’s expense reporting than I would at a Fortune 500 company — all government business fully documented and accounted for with receipts.

Mnuchin’s first trip requesting and using a military aircraft was in March 2017 for the G-20 event; the routing on the aircraft request was for London/Berlin/Baden-Baden. But did this military aircraft stop at Prestwick?

Was Mnuchin’s second flight using a military aircraft in May 2017 to Bari, Italy a direct flight from the U.S., or did it stop at Prestwick?

It’s odd that both trips were so close in total amount of aircraft time — 18.83 hours for the first trip, 19.66 hours for the second trip. Very odd.

Odder yet: for Mnuchin’s eighth trip using a military aircraft, this time to the Middle East in October 2017, there’s no reported total aircraft time in the memorandum from the Treasury’s OIG (pdf). The investigation into the previous seven flights was conducted before the Middle East trip.

How convenient.

~ ~ ~

Glasgow Prestwick Airport, of course, is the one that U.S. military planes have been stopping at for refueling while their crews and passengers stay at nearby pricey Trump golf resort, on the Department of Defense’s dime. Our dime.


If you follow the tweet above you’ll note someone determined the date of this Google Earth photo — June 17, 2018 — which means the U.S. military had been boosting Glasgow Prestwick Airport and possibly Trump Turnberry as well. The House is now looking into this.

When was the first U.S. military plane refueling visit to Prestwick, though? Was it August 2017?

No, it looks even earlier, and on Jim Mattis‘ watch as then-Secretary of Defense (note the date, description, and content on the photo at the top of this article). But this doesn’t answer whether Mnuchin’s borrowed planes also sponged off taxpayers to line Trump’s pockets.

We don’t know what other executive branch departments have borrowed military aircraft and/or stayed at Trump hotels and resorts yet, either.

There also doesn’t seem to be a good explanation for why U.S. government aircraft have increasingly stopped at Glasgow Prestwick Airport before Trump was inaugurated.

… The Air Force’s use of the Prestwick airport has also steadily grown. Indeed, the use of the facility has nearly tripled — and overnights in the area increased more than five-fold, the Air Force acknowledged Sunday.

From 2015 to 2019, they said, Air Mobility Command aircraft stopped at the civil airport 936 times. Of those, crews stayed overnight in the area 659 times.

The frequency of the stops and overnight stays has increased steadily each year, from 95 stops and 40 overnights in 2015; 145 and 75 in 2016; 180 and 116 in 2017; 257 and 208 in 2018; and 259 stops and 220 overnights through August 2019. …

This doesn’t help appearances whatsoever:

~ ~ ~

This post is a bit clunky because I’ve strung together bits and pieces accumulated for nearly 18 months.

But whatever is going on in Scotland is just as clunky and badly in need of sorting.

Three Things: Corrupt, More Corrupt, and Stumbling Naifs

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

I’ve got a couple of posts s-l-o-w-l-y brewing but there’s plenty to chew on in the mean time. There may be some all-caps yelling, I must warn.

~ 3 ~

Utah’s Senator Mike Lee went to Moscow this week to talk about lifting the sanctions. Because of course he did, being utterly insensitive to the ongoing attacks by Russia on U.S. elections ahead. The sanctions Russia placed against the U.S. are pure bullshit and shouldn’t be seen as anything more than that; a member of Congress negotiating with them only legitimizes them.

Curiously, Lee is one of the same Class III GOP senators whose terms end in January 2023. What a coincidence that eight of 22 Class III GOP senators have now made a visit to Moscow.

You’ll recall that last year GOP Senators Richard Shelby (AL), Steve Daines (MT), John Hoeven (ND), John Neely Kennedy (LA), Jerry Moran (KS), Ron Johnson (SD), and John Thune (SD) — all Class III senators except for Daines who is in Class II — made a visit to Moscow on July 4 last year ostensibly to ask Russia to stop meddling in our elections.

Ha. More likely to ask for help when they run for re-election.

~ 2 ~

Speaking of sketchy GOP senators, 26 of 53 GOP senators have now visited and used the Trump Hotel in Washington DC. Purely innocent use of a convenient facility, right? Except these senators never used any Trump hotel until after he was elected.

Last Name

First Name

State

Term Ends

Went to Russia

Barrasso

John

WY

2025

Blackburn

Marsha

TN

2025

Blunt

Roy

AR

2023

Cornyn

John

TX

2021

Cotton

Tom

AR

2021

Crapo

Mike

ID

2023

Cruz

Ted

TX

2025

Ernst

Joni

IA

2021

Gardner

Cory

CO

2021

Graham

Lindsey

SC

2021

Grassley

Chuck

IA

2023

Hawley

Josh

MO

2025

Hoeven

John

ND

2023

Moscow 2018

Inhofe

James

OK

2021

Johnson

Ron

WI

2023

Moscow 2018

Kennedy

John

LA

2023

Moscow 2018

McConnell

Mitch

KY

2021

Murkowski

Lisa

AK

2023

Paul

Rand

KY

2023

Rounds

Mike

SD

2021

Rubio

Marco

FL

2023

Sasse

Ben

NE

2021

Scott

Tim

SC

2023

Thune

John

SD

2023

Moscow 2018

Tillis

Thom

NC

2021

Kind of disgusting to see Lisa Murkowski on this list; she’s been more independent of the GOP than most of the rest of her caucus. The RNC has spent $400,000 at Trump hotels since the 2016 election, setting a great example of corruption for the rest of its ranks.

Don’t even get me started on spineless Ben Sasse, he of all talk and no cattle when it comes to doing the right thing.

Have to wonder what the state of play in Louisiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin for these four GOP senators to not only call on Russia on America’s holiday of independence last year but to suck up to their mobster party boss at his overpriced hotels.

One thing I couldn’t find readily: the name of the lone Democratic senator who visited a Trump hotel. Name and shame them, people. Democrats need to clearly differentiate themselves from corruption.

~ 1 ~

Meanwhile, some Democratic freshmen can’t find their butts with both hands when it comes to an impeachment inquiry. These representatives so far have resisted supporting an inquiry in spite of being elected to office in a blue wave — they were chosen to fix Trump’s Washington, in short. Most of them are holding out for more facts, a stronger case before they support impeachment.

And now a direct message to those freshmen holdouts:

WHAT PART OF MULTIPLE COUNTS OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE DON’T YOU GET, FRESHMEN??

It’s right there in the Special Counsel’s Report which every member of Congress has had more than ample time and at least one lengthy break to read.

Not to mention the ongoing daily abuses of power and gross negligence which speak for themselves and in some cases have cost human lives (ask Puerto Rico and the untold numbers of asylum-seeking children still in cages).

Take notes from California frosh Rep. Katie Porter on an impeachment inquiry. Nobody is above the law and you members of Congress have a constitutional duty to uphold and defend it — you’re given the power to deal with an intransigent executive by the Constitution.

You’ve read the Constitution’s Article I, haven’t you? You understood your oath of office, yes? Bloody well do what you were hired to do which is outlined in the Constitution and your oath, neither of which prescribe winning popularity contests or fundraising.

These are the representatives I’ve seen named in several reports* as reluctant to get behind an impeachment inquiry:

Susan Wild PA-7 D+1.1 (redistricted from pivot districts, doesn’t believe there’s enough evidence for impeachment)

Gil Cisneros CA-39 EVEN R+0/D+0
TJ Cox CA-21 EVEN R+0/D+0
Josh Harder CA-10 EVEN R+0/D+0
Katie Hill CA-25 EVEN R+0/D+0

Jared Golden ME-2 R+2 (called impeachment nonsense, isn’t hearing from constituents about supporting impeachment)
Angie Craig MN-2 R+2
Andrew Kim NJ-3 R+2
Conor Lamb PA-17 R+2.5 (redistricted)

Haley Stevens MI-11 R+4
Elissa Slotkin MI-8 R+4

Being from Michigan I can almost understand the concerns of the last two, BUT…they were elected in districts which have been strongly GOP for at least a decade, as a direct rebuttal of Trump policies. Trump’s bullshit trade war with China has hurt both businesses and investments of their constituents greatly (unless they’re accountants who are raking in big bucks from all the new tax code changes). They’ve also got a Democratic governor, attorney general, and secretary of state who are women and going to do their best to get their backs and assure a fair election in 2020. The excuses they have for waffling in R+4 districts are nominal, especially after Trump’s egregious behavior on so many topics this week. How badly does Trump have to meltdown before they will get behind a formal inquiry?

And that’s what should be pounded into the rest of the freshmen who are holding out ‘because we don’t have all the facts’ or ‘we need the strongest case’ or ‘I don’t jump on a bandwagon’: DO THE RIGHT THING BY SUPPORTING AN IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY.

We will get all the facts and make the strongest case with a formal inquiry which has Constitutional support.

And the bandwagon is to DO THE RIGHT THING, not worry about re-election, Rep. Wild. None of your bills are going anywhere so long as Senate Majority Leader #MoscowMitch McConnell is in thrall to both Trump and Russia. Quit dragging your feet and get the hell on board.

~ 0 ~

I’ve got a post in progress on the Epstein-MIT Media Lab scandal and another on Scotland. Later this week we’ll have to do another whip count now that I’ve laid out the problem with freshmen Democrats.

If you haven’t called your representative lately, do so — Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121 — and ask them to support an impeachment inquiry. Thank them if they already have committed to supporting an inquiry. They count calls, I can see it reflected in media reports.

Let’s get back to school, people. Treat this as an open thread.
________

* Sources:
31-AUG-2019 – House Democrats in Trump districts resist liberal pressure on impeachment (WaPo)

02-SEP-2019 – Impeachment Summer Passes By, Without A Breakthrough (HuffPo)

07-SEP-2019 – Impeachment fight looms over freshmen Democrats at home in California (CNN)

Commuting Blago’s Wildly Excessive Sentence Would Be Right For Trump To Do

Another poster at the Emptywheel blog, okay, it may be Emptywheel herself, has today posted a very interesting take, and I think a good one, on the intersection of Jim Comey, Pat Fitzgerald and Rod Blagojevich.

If Trump were to commute Blago’s sentence…..it would be one of the few pardon power actions he has taken that would be justified.

The other was, obviously, the woman Kim Kardashian talked him into commuting.

Don’t get me started about governance by reality show/sex tape idiots like Kimye, but still that was good.

Here is the thing though. Hate on Rod Blagojevich all you want. Laugh at him all you want. Sure, all that is good and proper.

What was not, however, was his sentence. Judge James Zagel got a bug up his ass and sentenced Blago to twice as much time as was possibly appropriate for his purported offenses. There is a long history of Illinois Governors, criminal charges, and prison. But no sentence remotely like Zagel gave Blago.

Then there was Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who ended up not ever serving a day on things that were, mostly, more obvious pay to play corruption than Blago. Also, there was Don Siegelman, who arguably met potential charging elements, even if they were mostly innocuous acts, and who was only ever charged because of a Rove/Cheney effort to insure the same. Siegelman got just over six years.

Don’t get me started about Bob Menendez. The point being, even if Blago was corrupt, needed to be found guilty, and needed to be sentenced…..The sentence of 14 years Zagel gave Mr. Blagojevich was insane and ludicrous.

As big of a narcissistic and useless asshole as Trump is, he would be right to commute the insanely over sentenced punishment Zagel gave to Rod Blagojevich.

People, especially the more liberal than not among us, constantly scream for criminal justice reform. Abolish cash bail (a good thought, but one with far different and deeper implications than you think as Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice has noted), less incarceration, shorter sentences, better programs for those incarcerated. End the death penalty. Less solitary confinement. Etc. All good things.

But part and parcel of all of it is recognizing crazy stupid sentences too. Blago is pretty much a joke of a historical character. Fine. He was never Public Enemy Number One either. His sentence from Zagel was outrageous. If Trump is willing to commute it, he should, and that should be cheered.

But, because of pushback from the very same people that usually scream and squawk, and rightfully so, about criminal justice reform when it is not one of their pet pariahs, i.e. people on the left and, here, Blago, Trump will certainly chicken out from doing the right thing. Because Trump doesn’t know the facts, and he is a pussy that is too easily grabbed by Republicans and, in this case, bullshit liberals too.

Free Blago. It needs to be done.

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