How Low Will They Go?

As more and more information becomes available through the release of sworn testimony concerning the shakedown of Ukraine perpetrated by the President of the United States and his minions, the Republicans in Congress have become increasingly desperate in their defense of his actions.

They have used arguments ranging from the ridiculous to the downright dishonest.  Recently, three Senators that I thought were relatively straight shooters, even if I didn’t usually agree with their ideas, grovelled in front of Mr. Trump in public.  At campaign rallies, Rand Paul (KY) and John Kennedy (LA) made speeches demeaning others in terms that would get any fourth grader in trouble as Mr. Trump stood behind them grinning his “look what I’ve made them do” grin.  Lindsey Graham (S.C.) increasingly is getting desperate in his attempts to be Mr. Trump’s bestie.  When asked about the most recent incriminating testimony from witnesses in the House of Representatives, he stated that he refused to read the transcripts.  In other words, a future juror in the president’s trial (should he be impeached which I think he deserves to be) refuses to even look at the evidence, much less give it due consideration.  Appalling.

Next week the public hearings in the impeachment inquiry begin.  After weeks of complaining that it was a secret “Soviet style” proceeding, the president and his underlings now claim that the hearings should not be public.  Because they know that unequivocal evidence exists that an orchestrated shakedown occurred?  Perhaps they fear that the public will continue the trend towards supporting impeachment if they hear the truth?

According to several reports, House Republicans are now contemplating claiming that the president did not know what his flunkeys, specifically Mr. Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Mick Mulvaney, and Ambassador Gordon Sondland, were doing.  They went “rogue.”  Nice try.  Mr. Trump himself released a Memorandum for the Record (MFR) that captures in his own words the  shakedown of the President of Ukraine.  Numerous individuals with direct knowledge, including listening to the phone call, have testified that there was a months long effort to make it clear to the Ukrainian government that to get what they so desperately needed to fend off Russian aggression was a public statement by the Ukrainian president.  According to the sworn testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent that statement must include three words.  “Investigation.” “Biden.” “Clinton.”  No statement, no reward.  A shakedown at the direction of Mr. Trump.  Also known in legal circles as extortion.

In the Senate, it appears that their defense of Mr. Trump will boil down to a three pronged response. “He did it.”  “So what?”  “Get over it.”

Nice.

The evidence will continue to show that the president abused the power of his office.  He probably is used to doing business this way in all of his endeavors.  Additionally, there was a concerted effort, as outlined in sworn testimony, to cover it up.  We all know enough about Mr. Trump that if he gets away with this abrogation of the public trust he will do it again.

The story is not very complicated.  In the coming weeks we will hear it for ourselves.  All Americans believe that no one is above the law.  That is now being put to the test.  Impeachment and removal from office is a sobering responsibility given to the Congress through the Constitution.  It should be approached with the utmost care and with a full understanding of the consequences of such an action.  Trivializing the process with playground epithets and unserious rationalizations should not be a part of the process.  One would expect both Democrats and Republicans to understand the stakes and to live up to their oaths of office.  Undertake due diligence.  Review the evidence.  Treat career diplomats and military officers testifying under oath with respect.  And yes, search their souls for the strength to do what they think is in keeping with our national values and laws.  We should expect nothing less from our elected officials.  Unfortunately, one party is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump, Inc.

He did it so get over it is not a defense.  It is a desperate short-term effort to retain power that is unworthy of American values and our faith in the rule of law.  Politicians should rise to the occasion and reflect our better selves.  Unfortunately, I expect that the road ahead will only get lower and muddier.

 


A Sad Day For America

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted to authorize the rules to continue an impeachment inquiry into the actions of the President of the United States with respect to Ukraine.  It is a sober moment for our nation and it should be a reason for each of us to pause and to think about the ramifications of this action.

Contrary to what some have publicly stated, this was not a vote to impeach.  The vote pertained to the conduct of the public fact gathering portion of the proceeding.  Should the House decide that the president did in fact conduct himself in a manner contrary to the Constitution, they will draft Articles of Impeachment.  The entire House then votes to approve or disapprove each of the Articles.  Should one or more Article pass, the Senate then holds a trial, presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and votes to convict or acquit the president on each Article.

So far, the majority of Republicans in the House have made a mockery of the proceedings.  At the direction of the president, they are spreading lies and misinformation about the investigation.  This included storming a classified conference room to “expose” the “secret” proceedings.  Not mentioned is that over 40 Republican Congressmen already had access to those proceedings and indeed participated in them to the fullest extent.  Yesterday, they went to the House floor to decry the inquiry as akin to secret trials held in the Soviet Union.  It is shameful and dishonest behavior on their part.

Now reports indicate that Mr. Trump will monetarily support the election campaigns of Senators that promise to vote against any Articles of Impeachment.  He will withhold supporting funds from those that do not.  We used to call this bribery.

The Impeachment Inquiry rules incorporate everything that the Republicans asked for with public hearings.  Everything.  And the rules approved yesterday afford the president more leeway and ability to participate than either set of hearings involving President Nixon or President Clinton.

The process should be fair and open.  But here’s the deal.  We all already know the basics of what happened.  The president, his Acting Chief of Staff, and his personal attorney have all been on television telling us exactly what happened.  A long parade of career diplomats and military officers followed with contextual information that indicates just how wide-spread and long-planned the effort to extort the Ukrainian government actually was.  It was an old-fashioned shake down.  The president wanted “dirt” on his main political rival and to have the Ukrainian government fuel a conspiracy theory that the Russians did not really interfere in the 2016 election.  Rather, it was a set up by the Democrats to undermine Mr. Trump’s campaign run from, wait for it, Ukraine.  Both conspiracy theories have been long ago debunked by our entire intelligence service and by several of Mr. Trump’s own political appointees.

In exchange for made-up information fabricated by Mr. Trump and his henchmen, the president would release nearly $400 million in aid that Ukraine needed to fight off Russian backed separatists.  While Mr. Trump ran his crazy mob scam, Ukrainians were dying on the battlefield.  Mr. Trump undermined Ukrainian security and our own national security for his personal domestic political goals.  He used taxpayer money to extort another country to interfere in our domestic elections for his benefit.  This was not a government effort to eliminate corruption generally.  There is no such effort or policy in this administration unless the only country in the world that is corrupt is Ukraine and the only people in Ukraine that were corrupt was the Bidens.

It was not just one “perfect” phone call either.  The parade of witnesses deposed by the House committees (there were three committees involved) described a long-term, many pronged, concerted effort to run the scam.  The phone call was the result of months of heavy pressure outside of normal diplomatic channels to get Ukraine to fabricate lies to help the political fortunes of Mr. Trump.

There is also the little matter of the president standing on the White House lawn and encouraging China to interfere in the 2020 election, just as he publicly asked Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.

We already know all this.  (Although, I suspect that it is only the tip of the ice berg.)

The House of Representatives is focused only on his egregious behavior regarding Ukraine.  They are not considering impeachment based on his status as an unindicted co-conspirator for money laundering and campaign violations regarding payments to a porn star and a Playboy model.  They are not trying to impeach him for the 110 known contacts between his campaign and Russians during the 2016 election.  They are not drawing up Articles for the 10 clear cut unlawful efforts to obstruct justice during the Mueller Investigation.  They are not contemplating impeaching him for the over 13,500 documented lies to the American people.

Equally important, we all know that a president cannot be impeached because we disagree with his policies.  We cannot impeach a president because of an obnoxious personality.  We can impeach a president when our national security is put at risk through an abuse of power.

In my opinion the facts surrounding the Ukraine shakedown are not in dispute.  Please note that the Republicans are not defending Mr. Trump by disputing the facts or by providing an explanation of his actions.  They are only attacking the process, and now that process is of their own design.  If they had a factual basis to defend the president, they would use it.  They have no facts on their side.

If the facts are not in dispute then the only remaining question is whether they meet the standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”  I think that they do, in the context of presidential abuse of power — the major concern of the Founding Fathers — and obstruction of justice by refusing to turn over documents and witnesses lawfully subpoenaed by Congress.

Some argue that with elections about a year away the president should not be impeached but rather the people should decide Mr. Trump’s fate through the ballot box.  I think that argument is illogical.  Mr. Trump was trying to interfere with the 2020 election after we already know that there was interference in the 2016 election.  He knows better.  More to the point, how can we be sure that the 2020 election is legitimate if we already know that Mr. Trump is trying to stack the deck in his own favor?  He is already trying to steal the 2020 election.  We know this.  Why allow it to happen?

Likewise those that argue that this is just the Democrats trying to undo the 2016 election should take another look.  The inquiry is not about the 2016 election.  It is about what is happening now to influence the 2020 election.  It is not about the past, it’s about the future.

For those that argue that Mr. Trump was out of line to extort the Ukrainians, but that his actions did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense I merely ask, where is that line?  How much can a president put national security at risk before we say that it is too much?  How far can a president abuse the power of the office before we say that it was abused too much?  Whether or not the Senate convicts Mr. Trump on any charges — and I believe that inevitably there will be Articles of Impeachment approved in the House — it is important to put a Constitutional marker down that such behavior is not acceptable and that there are consequences to ignoring the law.

It is a sober day when an impeachment proceeding is necessary.  No one should take joy in the process.  It is also a sad day when an entire political party turns into a cult of personality and publicly attacks a Constitutional process while many of those same politicians privately agree that the leader of the cult abused his power.

There is no telling how events will unfold between now and the end of the year.  I only know that it will be a tough time for our country.


A National Embarrassment

On Wednesday, the President of the United States defended his decision to abandon the Kurds in northern Syria as “strategically brilliant.”  With scores of Kurdish fighters and civilians killed and approximately 200,000 people fleeing the fighting as refugees, he went on to say of the situation, “It’s a problem we have very nicely under control.  It’s not our problem.  They’ve got a lot of sand over there… There’s a lot of sand they can play with.”

Brilliant indeed.

Yesterday the president sent Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo to confer with Turkish President Recep Erdogan to stop the slaughter of the Kurds.  Mr. Trump congratulated himself for solving a crisis that he started by giving a “green light” to Turkish plans to conduct an operation perilously close to ethnic cleansing.  In reality, Mr. Trump gave away the farm and tried to make it sound like it was the cows’ fault.

If this is Mr. Trump’s idea of a “great deal” I want to sit down with him because I will walk away with everything that I want.  Our negotiation with the Turks was totally one sided — theirs.  Turkey got everything they set out to achieve when they crossed the border last week and the Kurds got nothing — maybe not even their lives.  Fighting continues today during the supposed “pause” — and the Turks emphasized that it was not a cease fire, merely a pause in an ongoing operation.

In exchange for the Turks’ five day pause in the fighting, the Kurds got a directive to leave their homes and flee or surrender to their fate at the hands of the Turks.  And the United States looks weak and foolish.

The Russians got everything they wanted in Syria.  And we look weak and foolish.

The Syrians got everything they wanted.  And we look weak and foolish.

The Iranians got everything they wanted.  And we look weak and foolish.

Last night this is what the President of the United States said about the abandonment of our Kurdish allies.

“Sometimes you have to let ’em fight.  Like two kids in a lot, you gotta let ’em fight and then you pull them apart.”

It is clear that Mr. Trump has no appreciation for human life or respect for anyone not named Donald Trump Sr.  These callous remarks reflect so much about his outlook on, well, everything.  He even seemed to endorse ethnic cleansing when he said of the Turkish attack on the Kurds that Turkey had to do it, because the Turks “had to clean it out.”

It is a national embarrassment, except that Mr. Trump knows nothing about shame.

Turkey got their “safe zone” in the former autonomous Kurdish region of Syria.  In return, the United States promised to lift all sanctions imposed or threatened.  Syria re-occupied parts of northern Syria without firing a shot after years of not having the ability to go there.  Iran increased their influence in the Middle East and now has an uninterrupted supply line from Tehran to their surrogate Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as access to the Israeli border.  Russia is now the primary power broker in the Middle East.  ISIS is taking advantage of the chaos to make attacks in the region and coming dangerously close to freeing their thousands of fighters from prison camps. (Several hundred are known to have already escaped.  Mr. Trump said that the Kurds released them just to embarrass him.)

Here is what the world saw of some of our country’s best fighters.  Abandoned camps left so hastily that food was left out and personal items forgotten.  Russian television loved showing the videos of their troops surveying that scene.  U.S. troops are holed up waiting to be airlifted out.  U.S. aircraft attacked our own former anti-ISIS headquarters after the troops left so quickly that officials feared useful ammunition, equipment and other assets would fall into the hands of other armed groups.

I am sure Russian President Vladimir Putin is tired of winning.  He certainly is getting a fabulous return on his investment in the 2016 election.

Reasonable people could make a case for a U.S. withdrawal from Syria. It could have been done in a disciplined, methodical and diplomatically sensible way over time that protected the interests of the Kurds as well as our NATO ally Turkey.  It could have included a viable resolution to the fate of thousands of hardened ISIS fighters imprisoned in the region.  Instead we just bugged out and left the world the worse for it.

Other countries certainly took note.  Allies, friends and enemies now know that the United States no longer stands by its word and that the president could wake up any day and undo decades of diplomacy on a whim.

Strategically brilliant?  About as brilliant as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain ceding the Sudetenland to Germany in 1938 and declaring “peace for our time.”

 

 

 


Dangerously Ignorant

As the Turkish military attacked our Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS, yesterday the president attempted to answer questions from the press about his motives in abandoning the Kurds to their fate.  Seeing the results of his whimsical and unilateral decision, made in the dark of a Sunday night, to acquiesce to Turkish demands to allow them to invade Kurdish territory, the president went on the defensive.

Among other things he was asked was if he had any qualms about giving Turkey a green light to attack the Kurds, knowing that it would be a devastating attack with the potential for a huge loss of life.  His response?  Well, all I can say is that it is baffling in its irrelevance and display of total ignorance.  In trying to explain that we do not really owe the Kurds for helping us to fight ISIS, he was dismissive of the alliance.

“Now the Kurds are fighting for their land.  They didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy, for example.”  — Donald J. Trump

It gets better.  When asked if our betrayal of our ally would have an impact on our other alliances, he said, “No it won’t.  Alliances are very easy.”  He then went on to disparage our NATO allies.

And better still.  When asked if he was concerned that the ISIS prisoners, about 16,000 strong, might escape, reconstitute, and once again become a security threat to the U.S. he said that he was not at all concerned.  Or in his words,

“Well they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go.  They want to go back to their homes.  But Europe didn’t want them for months.  They could have had trials, they could have done whatever they wanted, but as usual, it’s not reciprocal.”  — Donald J. Trump

Life and national security are hard.  But it is a lot harder when you are ignorant.  People die.


Abandoned

“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran and the Assad regime (Syria).” Senator Mitch McConnell (Tr-KY)

“ISIS is not defeated.  This is the biggest lie being told by this (Trump) administration.”  Senator Lindsey Graham (Tr-SC)

In case you missed it between all of the president’s Tweets, including calling for the impeachment of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and of Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) for “treason” (for the record, Senators and Representatives cannot be impeached), Mr. Trump impulsively called for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Syria.

The reactions above represent the level of consternation this decision created in Congress and the national security community.

It is worth taking a few minutes to consider the difference between what this is, and what this means.  They are not always the same thing.  Knowing the players makes a difference.  What it is is a military re-deployment.  What it means is a serious blow to our national security and a possible massacre in the making.

For a few years now, roughly 1,000 U.S. uniformed personnel, mostly Special Operations Forces (SOF) have been in northern Syria working with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to defeat ISIS.  The U.S. SOF act primarily as advisers and trained and equipped the SDF to be a very effective light infantry unit.  The SOF also coordinated U.S. artillery and air strikes to support the Kurds in the fight against ISIS.

The SDF is a multi-ethnic force of about 60,000 people that includes Arabs, Christians, Assyrians and Kurds, the largest group of fighters in the SDF.  Roughly 13,000 of them gave their lives in this effort.  They control a large section of Syria in the north along the Turkish border.  They also run and guard a camp of ISIS prisoners and their families that numbers about 16,000 battle-hardened fanatics.

The Kurds are from an area in the Middle East that straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.  They have pushed for an autonomous state since the early part of the 20th century.  None of the countries around them want them to have that state, especially Turkey.  Indeed, Turkey considers the Kurds, specifically a group called the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, a terrorist organization.  They want them gone.  As a result, the Turks intend to move into the Kurdish occupied areas of Syria in order to displace — read militarily defeat — the Kurds and to settle a million Syrian refugees in the area in order to close it to the Kurds.

Since the Turks consider the Kurds to be terrorists, and the Turkish military has heavy weapons and tanks and high tech arms to go against Kurdish rifles, machine guns and low tech weapons, without U.S. air support, the possibility of a massacre is high.

The Turks see Mr. Trump’s decision as a “green light” to invade and destroy the Kurds.

The president decided to abandon the Kurds to their fate late on Sunday night following a phone call from Turkish President Recep Erdogan.  Mr. Trump consulted with no national security advisers — civilian or military — before announcing that we would withdraw.  Everyone was taken by surprise including the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), militarily responsible for Syria, that announced a new security plan to monitor the area between the Kurds and Turks to ensure the security of all involved.  Within 24 hours of the announcement of the new plan, the U.S. was gone from the border.

The Russians, Syrians and Iranians couldn’t be happier to see us bug out.

Remember that the president announced a similar move late last year which caused Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to resign his post.  The president then back-tracked on pulling U.S. forces out.  This time, Mr. Erdogan’s arguments were more persuasive, I suppose, and Mr. Trump did not consult with anyone so that he could not be talked out of it.  All very whimsical with serious consequences.

In a nutshell, here is what this means.

  • We abandoned an ally that did most of the fighting and dying to protect our national interests.  It will be nearly impossible for the U.S. to convince any group or country around the world that we will have their back in the future when we need their help to protect our own people and interests.
  • A foreign leader dictated to our president what actions to take that were counter to our national interests.  (Again?)
  • The president took unilateral action without consulting any adviser knowledgeable of the situation or otherwise able to explain the dire consequences of this action to our friends and allies the Kurds.  The point will be driven home when pictures and video emerge of the loss of Kurdish men, women and children (all are fighters in the SDF).
  • The president assured our country that the Turks will not do anything drastic in a Tweet (of course — foreign policy is now conducted almost exclusively by Tweets).  I, for one, am not assured.  Here is the essence of the rambling Tweet.  “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).”  For a second there I thought maybe the Wizard of Oz was president.  But then I realized I think he actually considers himself to be above the rest of us — in a Biblical sense.  Are you assured?  And what does destroy and obliterate Turkey mean?
  • The Kurds stated that they will no longer guarantee the integrity of the prison camp containing the 16,000 battle-hardened ISIS fighters and families.  The likelihood of a massive prison break is high.  Those ISIS fighters will not go quietly into the night and the result is an immediately reconstituted force that will rejoin other ISIS fighters still scattered throughout the region.  Many are former residents of European and other countries outside the Middle East, thus raising the probability of terrorist attacks around the world.
  • Like every other decision Mr. Trump seems to make, this one was based on money.  Perhaps because he has a Trump Towers in Istanbul?  He stated that it would save the taxpayers money.  One should ask how expensive 1,000 troops in the field leveraging a a non-U.S. fighting force of 60,000 people might be compared to U.S. and other nations’ lives lost when ISIS becomes a viable fighting force again?

The bottom line is that this decision is a major blow to our national security.  It was made without any understanding of the consequences.  It undermines our relationship with every ally we have now and might wish to have in the future.  It allows for the reconstitution of ISIS.  It shows that our national policy making apparatus is broken.  It shows that the president believes himself when he says that Article II of the Constitution allows him “to do whatever I want.”  It shows that he believes himself when he says “I alone can fix it.”  It shows that he believes himself when he says it’s easy to work for him because “I make all the decisions.  They don’t have to work.”  It shows he believes himself when he says “I know more about ISIS than the generals do.”  It shows that he believes himself when he says that he is a “stable genius” with “great and unmatched wisdom.”

It also shows just how dangerous this man is as president.


A Sober Assessment

With Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) decision to open an impeachment inquiry into the actions of the president, a new chapter of American history is about to be written.  This is serious business and it should be approached soberly by all of us.

Recognizing that I have used this space before to call for an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump’s activities, I still caution everyone, Democrat, Republican, Independent or Undecided to pay attention to events as they unfold and not to jump to any conclusions until all of the facts are known and fully understood.  Such an inquiry should not be taken lightly and the full consequences for our democracy should be fully understood and everyone must conduct themselves appropriately.

Please keep in mind, as well, that the inquiry is only the first step of many as the Congress moves forward.  An inquiry determines if the House of Representatives considers there to be sufficient evidence to formulate Articles of Impeachment.  If they so decide that the evidence exists, then through the Judiciary Committee they formulate the Articles and the entire House votes on each Article as to whether it should be referred to the Senate.  The vote is on a simple majority.  Should Articles be approved, the matter is referred to the Senate for a trial.  It takes a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict on any particular Article.  Think of the House as a grand jury.  They investigate and if they find sufficient evidence they refer it to trial in the Senate.  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides at the trial, although the Majority Leader of the Senate can formulate the process by which the trial proceeds.

In my view, the inquiry is fully appropriate.  Forget for the moment (if such is possible) the results of the Mueller Report, the misappropriation of funds, the declarations of National Emergencies where none exist, the violation of campaign laws and the rest of it.  The information that became available in the course of last week concerning Mr. Trump’s interactions with the president of Ukraine is sufficient, in and of itself, to warrant investigation.

If you remember nothing else, note that the Russian interference involved the 2016 election.  Mr. Trump was working to solicit interference in the 2020 election.  After all we learned about the past, Mr. Trump intended to move ahead with a bigger and better plan to throw the next election.  Note that his now famous phone call took place the day after Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller testified before Congress.  In the phone call Mr. Trump is quoted as saying, “As you saw yesterday, that whole performance ended with a poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine.”  In Mr. Trump’s mind there was no consequence to his actions in 2016 so he decided to do it again.

The information in the public domain was released by the Trump Administration itself.  The memorandum for the record of the 25 July conversation (read it here) and the unclassified version of the whistle-blower’s complaint (read it here) were not “leaked” or otherwise released by nefarious means.  Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump have themselves validated that the events occurred as depicted in those documents.  And more.

It is the “and more” that adds context to the matter and illustrates the depth of the alleged abuse of office.  The problem is way more concerning than one phone call, although in itself it is quite serious.

Without going into every twist and turn, the big picture indicates that Mr. Giuliani began working with the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter in late 2018, as soon as it became apparent the Mr. Biden would run for president and be a serious threat to Mr. Trump’s re-election.  He worked with discredited and then current Ukrainian prosecutors of the government of President Poroshenko.  In January, February, and March of this year he continued to pressure them to investigate the Bidens and to promote disproved conspiracy theories concerning the Democratic National Committee emails and servers and the then Ambassador from the U.S. to Ukraine, claiming that they worked to interfere in the 2016 election (not the Russians).

All was going well from Mr. Giuliani’s stand point until on 21 April Volodymyr Zelensky beat all predictions by defeating Mr. Poroshenko in the presidential election.  Mr. Zelensky ran on a platform of eliminating corruption in the Ukrainian government and nearly all new prosecutors were appointed.  Much of Mr. Giuliani’s work went to waste and they needed to start over in trying to co-opt the Ukrainians.  That process began with a congratulatory phone call to the winner.

In May the president permanently recalled U.S. Ambassador Masha Yovanonitch, a career State Department employee, because she was trying to counter Mr. Giuliani’s attempts at co-opting the new government.  She was, in essence, fired for working to protect the national security interests of the United States.

Later in May, Mr. Trump cancelled Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to the Ukrainian president’s inauguration, an embarrassing blow to the new president.  In the whistle-blower’s complaint the reason was to withhold favors for Mr. Zelensky until they could determine if he would “play ball” with Mr. Trump through Mr. Giuliani — presumably meaning that they would work to discredit the Bidens and to support conspiracy theories about former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails.

In July of this year, the Office of Management and Budget, on the direction of the president himself, according to the whistle-blower, withheld much needed military and other aid for Ukraine.  When State Department and Pentagon officials tried to find out the reason, they were stonewalled. On 25 July the president made his phone call and on the 26th, envoys of the U.S. met with President Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials to help them “navigate the demands the president had made” the previous day.

Other outrageous details of improper behavior can be found in the complaint that the Intelligence Community (IC) Inspector General (IG) and the Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) both testified was “credible.”  Both individuals were appointed by Mr. Trump.

It might also be noted quickly that Ukraine is in a fighting war with Russia.  13,000 Ukrainians have died in the fight and the Russians helped to shoot down Malaysian Air Flight 17 with the loss of all 298 people onboard.  Any delay or cancellation of arms to Ukraine helps Russia in its efforts.

In the grand tradition of Washington DC, a cover-up occurred.  As a minimum, the details of the phone call and other activities were over-classified and stored on a computer designed to be used for only the highest classified compartmented information.  This was a decision designed to protect Mr. Trump from embarrassing domestic political activity.  We do not know how many other conversations or documents are improperly classified in order to protect the president from his own actions and words by hiding them from the public and government officials that might object to such activity.

These are serious allegations that cannot be brushed away.  They certainly deserve a full investigation.  One can than decide for oneself whether or not the facts as they are uncovered deserve impeachment or not.

In that discussion, remember that a lot of smoke is going to be blown to try and hide the real transgressions.  Some will take a narrow legal approach that no U.S. laws were actually broken.  Others will argue that a president has the Constitutional right to conduct foreign policy in any manner that they choose.  Some will argue it was “just a phone call” to a country that no one cares about.  Others will argue that we as citizens are naive if we don’t think that this is how it is always done.  Some will simply argue that there is nothing to see here, please move along.

We have a national security interest in Ukraine because if Russia gets away with its aggression, Russia has ambitions concerning other “traditional” Russian areas such as the Baltic states.  As members of NATO, any attack on the Baltic states is an attack on all members of NATO, including the U.S.

I simply say that the President of the United States, by his own admission and corroborated by Mr. Giuliani and others, used his office to involve a foreign government in our national elections in an attempt to personally benefit from another nation’s activities at the expense of our own national security.

To ignore it is to condone it.


A Line In The Sand

Enough!

For those that take even the most cursory notice of events on the daily news, you have no doubt heard that the president once again broke the norms of presidential behavior by, again, using his office for personal gain.  He will stop at nothing if it serves his personal interests.  He has yet to see any consequences to his actions and is increasingly emboldened to do whatever the heck he wants to do — legal or not.

He already moved beyond the boundaries of ethical and moral behavior.  Now that he sees no consequences from the Mueller Report and has an Attorney General that has decreed the president is above the law — any law — while in office, he sees nothing that can slow him down, much less stop him, from pursuing whatever he wants to do.

The only possible way to put a check on his actions is to impeach him, and the Democrats are dithering and wringing their hands in an ineffective effort to provide oversight of Mr. Trump’s presidency.  So far they’ve brought a butter knife to a grenade fight.  Mr. Trump has refused to provide any documents or to allow any testimony from anyone that he deems a possible threat to his reign.  Across the board.  Including hum-drum, every day just-trying-to-do-business subjects.  Total non-cooperation.

That may be about to change.

The latest insult to the office, to our country and to all of us as citizens involves the president’s efforts, aided and abetted by his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani (who has no role in the government or the administration, a fact that will become significant) to get a foreign power to interfere in the 2020 election.  Sound familiar?

As briefly as possible, the entire situation came to light when the president instructed his Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to break the law.  Also known as obstruction of justice.  (Note that Mr. Trump fired the DNI and the Deputy DNI last month.) That came about because an intelligence official turned in a complaint to the Inspector General (IG) of the Intelligence Community — who, by the way, was appointed by Mr. Trump — stating that the president interacted with the head of a foreign government in a way that was detrimental to the interests of the United States.  The specifics of the claim are classified.  The law requires that if the IG finds the complaint credible and urgent that it must (“shall be”) be turned over to the Intelligence Committees of the House and Senate.  The Acting DNI refused based on directions from the Executive Branch.  The IG went to Congress and explained what happened and stood by his initial determination that it should go to Congress.  The Acting DNI continues to refuse to turn it over.

I predict that the president will release a transcript of his conversation that will be spun to show he didn’t do what is alleged.  Firstly, we know we cannot trust Mr. Trump to be truthful, therefore how do we know it is the actual transcript?  Secondly, and more importantly, the transcript is not nearly as important as the original whistle blower complaint.  That document would give a fuller story and put the events in context.  The Administration has no intention of turning that over.  In itself, that to me is evidence that something serious occurred that Mr. Trump does not want us to know about.

In short, since then we have learned from Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani themselves, as well as from wide spread reporting in the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, that the complaint involves the President of Ukraine who Mr. Trump tried to bully (eight times according to reports) into finding “dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.  We learned today that Mr. Trump withheld needed military funding and aid for Ukraine totaling nearly 400 million dollars.  The reporting alleges that Mr. Trump wanted the dirt before he would release the money.  Congress had authorized the money in two different bills early this year.  Over the summer inquiries began to build as to why the money had not been made available to the government of Ukraine, currently locked into a shooting war with Russia.  (Russia!  Again!)

In sum, Mr. Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to interfere in the 2020 election by supplying information (whether true or not, more on that in a minute) on Mr. Biden and his son that the Trump Campaign could use to slime the individual Mr. Trump most fears as his opponent in the election.  In exchange, he would release the money Congress appropriated (yet another presidential abuse of the power invested by the Constitution in the Congress) to help the Ukrainians defend themselves against Russia — who annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and is trying to obtain more Ukrainian territory.

Mr. Trump and his allies are trying to make the focus of the story about Mr. Biden and corruption.  (Kind of hits close to home when the president’s children are trotting around the world doing business with their father’s permission and help, spending taxpayer’s money for Secret Service protection and other expenses.)

The thing is, the Ukrainians already investigated the allegations against the Bidens and guess what?  There is nothing to it.  No corruption.  No undue pressure.  Nothing.  And if you listen closely to Mr. Trump and his lackeys, they present no evidence that anything is amiss.  Just innuendo and questions as to why no one is looking into it.  (BECAUSE THEY ALREADY DID!)  And don’t forget that Mr. Trump is on the record with over 12,000 lies since taking office.

I do not give Mr. Trump or his campaign any slack regarding their involvement with Russia during the 2016 campaign.  (“Russia if you’re listening….”)  But maybe one could make a case that they did not know what they were doing.

That does not fly in this situation.

The President.  Of the United States.  Used the full authority and weight of his office — himself, in his own voice — to try and convince a foreign state to interfere in our election against a specific opponent in exchange for funds desperately needed for their protection.

This alone is an impeachable offense.  Abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

However, add it to the list of other impeachable offenses and one would think that the House of Representatives has to act.  The Mueller Report defines ten times Mr. Trump obstructed the investigation of his involvement with Russia in 2016.  Over one thousand former federal attorneys — Republicans and Democrats — publicly stated that they would have prosecuted any other citizen with that evidence.  The U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York lists him as an unindicted co-conspirator in election campaign fraud when he paid off two mistresses to keep them from speaking up before the election.  And on and on and on.

When do we put a stop to the madness?  The more he gets away with, the more emboldened he is to do more.  We are still over a year from the election.  Anyone that thinks Mr. Trump won’t try every illegal dirty trick in the book to stay in office is not paying attention.  At the risk of sounding like I am hyperventilating, I can envision our very democracy at stake.

The Republicans, led by Senator Mitch McConnell (Tr-KY), a.k,a. “Moscow Mitch” are now a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump, Inc.  Perhaps my biggest disappointment, even shock, is that not one Republican Senator, or Congressman, has said “enough”!  According to multitudes of reports, in private conversations many elected Republicans worry because they do not like the way Mr. Trump operates and see him as a threat to our country.  Yet, not a peep.  To stay silent is to be a co-conspirator.  They are aiding and abetting a president that is out of control.  Not a patriot among them.

As I get ready to publish this, it appears that later today the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will announce a preliminary impeachment inquiry.

At last.

Mr. Trump may not realize he has crossed a line in the sand.  The American people will not stand for his shenanigans forever.

But if we do, God help us all.