No Getting Over This

There are no turning points. Those of us who are old now can’t pinpoint when that happened. There’s no one day when one suddenly turns old. That just happens. But in public life there are turning points where everything changes – Pearl Harbor – the 9/11 attacks – or the day when Trump’s impeachment became certain. A dam burst. Too much happened simultaneously. No one could deny the obvious any longer, but this day opened with a major news story became the minor story of the day:

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, bolstered Democrats’ impeachment inquiry Thursday as he broke sharply from President Donald Trump in testimony before House investigators.

During his nearly nine-hour testimony, Sondland said he reluctantly indulged what he described as the president’s efforts to run Ukraine policy through his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. He indicated that he opposed Trump’s orders to reach out to Giuliani, who was pushing the Ukrainian government to investigate Trump’s political rivals.

He had made his billions developing hyper-chic boutique hotels in the Pacific Northwest and had donated a million dollars to Trump’s inaugural committee and, now, he was finally a player in the big game, and the game was a scam run by thugs – not his words but close enough. And he was a lost little lamb:

In his closed-door testimony, Sondland said he contacted Giuliani anyway at Trump’s direction after a May 23 meeting at the White House, and that Giuliani drew a direct link between scheduling a White House visit for Ukraine’s newly elected president and demands that Ukraine prioritize investigations targeting Trump’s political opponents, including former Vice President Joe Biden.

“Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the president wanted a public statement from President [Volodymyr] Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anti-corruption issues,” Sondland said.

“Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two anti-corruption investigatory topics of importance for the president,” he added.

And that made him sad, because this had nothing to do with diplomacy:

Biden’s son Hunter sat on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that had faced international scrutiny, but there is no evidence that either Biden or his son acted improperly. The “server” Sondland mentioned is a reference to the debunked conspiracy theory, amplified by Trump and Giuliani, that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.

That’s the theory – or the fact – that not only did Donald Trump not collude with Russia during the 2016 campaign, Russia didn’t even interfere in the election at all. Both were framed by a conspiracy between Ukraine and the DNC. The server is the DNC server that the Russians “hacked” but really didn’t. And it’s missing because a cybersecurity firm called CrowdStrike was part of the conspiracy and CrowdStrike made it look like the Russians had hacked the servers when in fact it was an inside job by a disgruntled DNC employee. That would be the late Seth Rich. All evidence suggests he died the victim of a random street crime, but perhaps he was actually murdered by the Clinton people or by Hillary herself – she had murdered Vince Foster after all. In 2015, Bill Maher interviewed Julian Assange – Mister WikiLeaks – who offered, on Mahar’s HBO show, a massive reward for evidence that Hillary Clinton had murdered Seth Rich. Fox News ran endless segments on this mysterious murder. Rich’s parents sued and Fox News stopped doing that, but that didn’t stop the rest. Russia and Trump were framed. The real election interference was a conspiracy between the DNC and Ukraine so masterful that it completely fooled all seventeen of our intelligence services and Robert Mueller too – unless they were in on it too. And that was why the White House held up military aid. Trump explicitly invoked the “CrowdStrike server” in his call with Zelensky. That’s the theory here.

And that’s what Rudy was after, but that’s problematic:

Republicans have maintained that none of the witnesses testifying as part of the impeachment inquiry have corroborated the allegation that Trump held up the military aid for a nefarious purpose. But even the president’s most passionate defenders are indicating that they have grown uneasy with Giuliani’s involvement.

“I would not, on my dime, send a private attorney looking for some server in a foreign country,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a close Trump ally, told Politico, adding that “the question a lot of us are trying to grapple with” is whether Giuliani’s actions were appropriate.

That also seemed to be the issue for the hotelier:

Sondland told congressional investigators he did not realize “until much later” that Giuliani was seeking a Ukrainian-led investigation into Biden and his son – even though Trump himself and Giuliani had been calling publicly for such probes for weeks. He said any effort to solicit foreign assistance in an American election – an allegation central to the House’s impeachment inquiry – “would be wrong,” adding that he was “disappointed by” the May 23 meeting with Trump because he believed a Trump-Zelensky meeting “should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions.”

The White House didn’t need this. They mounted a counteroffensive:

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, threw the Trump administration’s defense against impeachment into disarray on Thursday when he said that the White House withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to further President Trump’s political interests.

That was the counteroffensive. Yeah, we did that. And we’d do it again. Deal with it:

Mr. Mulvaney told journalists in a televised White House briefing that the aid was withheld in part until Ukraine investigated an unsubstantiated theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for hacking Democratic Party emails in 2016 – a theory that would show that Mr. Trump was elected without Russian help.

The declaration by Mr. Mulvaney, which he took back later in the day, undercut Mr. Trump’s repeated denials of a quid pro quo that linked American military aid for Ukraine to an investigation that could help Mr. Trump politically.

But some of the pressure had been removed. This wasn’t about Joe Biden’s son at all:

At the White House, Mr. Mulvaney said that Mr. Trump had demanded that Ukraine investigate the theory, even though a former White House homeland security adviser had told Mr. Trump that the theory had been completely debunked.

“The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation,” Mr. Mulvaney told reporters, referring to Mr. Trump. “And that is absolutely appropriate.”

And if Hillary Clinton had committed murder again, this time she’d be brought to justice, or something. Nothing was clear, but something was clear:

Democrats called Mr. Mulvaney’s comments a potential turning point in their impeachment inquiry. “We have a confession,” said Representative Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California.


By day’s end, after Mr. Trump told aides to clean up the mess, Mr. Mulvaney issued a statement flatly denying what he had earlier said.

“Once again, the media has decided to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump,” Mr. Mulvaney wrote. “Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election. The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server.”

Ah, no:

In his earlier remarks to reporters, Mr. Mulvaney pointed to “three issues” that explained why officials withheld the aid: corruption in Ukraine, frustration that European governments were not  providing more money to Ukraine and the president’s demand that Kiev officials investigate the issue of the Democratic National Committee  server.

“Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server?” Mr. Mulvaney said, referring to Mr. Trump. “Absolutely. No question about that.” He added, “That’s why we held up the money.”

Democrats ridiculed the reversal.

And it was time to hide:

At the White House, staff members recognized that Mr. Mulvaney had created an entirely new controversy with his remarks. Jay Sekulow, one of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers, said Thursday, “The president’s legal counsel was not involved in acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s press briefing.”

But wait, there’s more:

Mr. Mulvaney’s performance was only part of another extraordinary day in Mr. Trump’s presidency. Mr. Mulvaney made his remarks after he stepped before the cameras to announce that the leaders of the Group-of-Seven nations would meet in June at Mr. Trump’s golf resort in South Florida, even as he acknowledged the choice could be seen as self-enrichment.

He may be impeached, but he’s going to make a shitload of money on the way out the door! He gets the last laugh! But that wasn’t what Mulvaney said. Mulvaney said that Trump won’t profit from this because Mulvaney says he won’t profit from this, and Rudy is a fine man:

Mr. Mulvaney was defiant and unapologetic at the suggestion that there was anything wrong with the president’s relying on political loyalists to conduct foreign policy.

“I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy,” he said, adding, “Elections have consequences.”

And extorting foreign governments for help in our elections is fine too:

Asked whether he had admitted to a quid pro quo, Mr. Mulvaney said, “We do that all the time with foreign policy.”

His answer ignored the distinction – raised by many of the president’s critics – between holding up foreign aid to further American interests and holding up foreign aid to further Mr. Trump’s personal interests.

There is that, and the Washington Post’s Toluse Olorunnipa sums things up:

First came the lengthy infomercial touting President Trump’s private golf resort in Florida as “far and away the best” site in the country to host next year’s Group of Seven summit of world leaders. Then, an admission: Trump did, in fact, withhold aid to Ukraine because he wanted the government there to investigate Democrats.

For 39 minutes Thursday, White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney turned the press briefing room into a sort of confession chamber, openly admitting to several acts that could deepen the legal predicament for the president. Trump is facing an impeachment inquiry into whether he has abused his office for personal and political gain.

Mulvaney’s retort to those charges came in a three-word mantra that now forms the central theme of the White House impeachment response: “Get over it.”

That might have been the wrong thing to say:

The reviews for Mulvaney’s performance came in swiftly, and even the president’s allies were unimpressed with his admit-everything approach.

“Totally inexplicable,” said one GOP lawmaker, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “He literally said the thing the president and everyone else said did not happen.”

But that was the plan:

“I think Mulvaney should rethink ever stepping in front of a microphone,” said Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers,” a book about previous White House chiefs of staff…

Whipple said Mulvaney’s strategy has been to try to normalize Trump’s un­or­tho­dox behavior by making the “insane” seem commonplace.

“Trump’s actions are not defendable so the response is ‘Let’s just act like this is normal,'” he said. “There’s nothing normal about it.”

Ah! That’s it! Now they get it:

Few Republicans publicly backed Trump’s move to host the G-7 at his own property, and some actively spoke out against it.

Ari Fleischer, who was a White House press secretary for President George W. Bush, said Trump’s G-7 decision was “unseemly.”

“Holding the G-7 at a Trump property is one of the most foolish, unseemly things the WH could do,” he wrote on Twitter. “The President enjoys waiving red flags in front of bulls, but this fight isn’t worth it.”

And meanwhile, on Fox News:

Immediately after acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney announced Thursday that President Donald Trump’s Doral golf club will host next year’s G7 summit, Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano declared such a move represents a clear emoluments clause violation.

During Thursday’s broadcast of Fox Business Network’s Cavuto: Coast to Coast, host Neil Cavuto noted that the announcement of the G7 location “is effectively saying the president has given himself this contract.”

But other summits took place at Camp David and Sea Island, so Cavuto said that holding the event at the president’s property is not a violation of the emoluments clause, but he let the judge speak:

“I believe the judge has a different notion of that,” Cavuto added, turning to Napolitano.

“It’s not my notion,” the judge replied. “It’s the Constitution’s notion. The Constitution does not address profits. It addresses any present, as in a gift, any emolument as in cash of any kind whatever. I’m quoting the emoluments clause, from any king, prince or foreign state.”

Explaining that this wouldn’t be an issue if this were a meeting of U.S. government officials, Napolitano once again stated that the emoluments clause is to prevent the president from receiving gifts or cash from foreign entities.

“He has bought himself an enormous headache now with the choice of this,” he continued. “This is about as direct and profound a violation of the emoluments clause as one could create.”

But it was that kind of day:

Some Republicans were deeply concerned by Mulvaney’s comments.

“You don’t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative,” said GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. “Period.”

Republican Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida called Mulvaney’s acknowledgment about withholding Ukraine aid “troubling,” saying it is “not a good thing” to do that in connection “with threatening foreign leaders.”

Rooney would not rule out the prospects of supporting impeaching the President.

There were some things Rooney couldn’t get over. None of this was helping Donald Trump. And then, at the same time, it was hard to get over this:

US Vice President Mike Pence announced in Turkey Thursday that he and Turkish President Erdogan agreed to a ceasefire halting Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria, which was launched after President Donald Trump effectively gave Turkey the go ahead on a phone call with Erdogan earlier this month.

The deal appears to secure Turkey most of its military objectives, forcing America’s one-time allies in the fight against ISIS – Kurdish forces – to cede a vast swath of territory, with one senior US official very familiar with operations in Syria telling CNN that the deal meant the US was “validating what Turkey did and allowing them to annex a portion of Syria and displace the Kurdish population.”

The Turkish government is insisting that the agreement is not a ceasefire, but only a “pause” on operations in the region, reflecting Ankara’s views of the status of the Syrian Kurds.

So, this was a five day pause, for us to get the Kurds out of there –-all of them, tens of thousands of them, men and women and children – and then to get the hell out of there ourselves – or putting it nicely:

As part of the deal, Pence said Turkey “will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow for the withdrawal of (Kurdish) YPG forces from the safe zone for 120 hours,” referring to Ankara’s official name for the unilateral military offensive.

“All military operations will be paused, and Operation Peace Spring will be halted entirely on completion of the withdrawal,” Pence said…

Pence said the Turkish operation would end when the YPG forces complete their withdrawal.

Pence said during a press conference announcing the agreement that the US is “going to be using all the leverage that we have of having fought alongside Syrian Democratic Forces in the battle against ISIS to facilitate their safe withdrawal,” adding that the negotiated “outcome will greatly serve the interests of the Kurdish population in Syria.”

They’ll like it in Iran, or Montana, and then there will be peace at last:

Once a permanent ceasefire is achieved, Pence said the President would withdraw the sanctions that were placed on Turkey in the last week.

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a televised press conference Thursday that the agreement “is not a ceasefire.”

Okay, there won’t be peace at last, but don’t tell the president that:

Trump called the agreement “an amazing outcome” and said he was hopeful that the ceasefire would last more than five days.

“The Kurds are very happy. Turkey is very happy. The United States is very happy. And you know what? Civilization is very happy. It’s a great thing for civilization,” Trump remarked after Pence’s press conference.

Not everyone agrees:

A senior US official tells CNN that the deal made with Turkey is essentially validating the Turkish offensive.

“This is essentially the US validating what Turkey did and allowing them to annex a portion of Syria and displace the Kurdish population,” the official said. “This is what Turkey wanted and what POTUS green lighted. I do think one reason Turkey agreed to it is because of the Kurds have put up more of resistance and they could not advance south any further as a result. If we don’t impose sanctions then Turkey wins big time.”

And this:

Republican members of the Senate are also concerned about the deal.

Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, delivered a speech on the Senate floor condemning “the decision to abandon the Kurds.”

“What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history,” he said.

And this:

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that the US delegation “deserves praise” for the agreement, but added that it “doesn’t appear ‘cease-fire’ signals change in Erdogan’s goal. He still plans to rid area of Kurds & create ‘security zone’, but is giving Kurds an ultimatum, they can leave voluntarily or leave dead.”

The New York Times’ David Sanger and Eric Schmitt go deeper than that:

The cease-fire agreement, reached with Turkey by Vice President Mike Pence, amounts to a near-total victory for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gains territory, pays little in penalties and appears to have outmaneuvered President Trump.

The best that can be said for the agreement is that it may stop the killing in the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria. But the cost for Kurds, longtime American allies in the fight against the Islamic State, is severe: Even Pentagon officials were mystified about where tens of thousands of displaced Kurds would go, as they moved south from the Turkey-Syria border as required by the deal – if they agree to go at all.

And the cost to American influence, while hard to quantify, could be frightfully high.

In the 11 days between Mr. Trump’s fateful phone call with Mr. Erdogan and the trip to Ankara by Mr. Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday, the United States has ceded ground in Syria — including American bases – to the Russian-backed Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. And it has shaken the faith of American allies that, in a time of stress, Washington will have their back.


By the end of the day everyone got that:

“This just looks like a complete cave-in by the United States to everything the Turks demanded,” said Eric S. Edelman, a former ambassador to Turkey and a senior Defense Department official in the George W. Bush administration. “I don’t see what the Turks gave up.”

In fact, if the sanctions imposed against Turkey by the Trump administration are lifted, as Mr. Pence said they now would be, the Turkish leader would pay a far lower price than Russia did for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. The sanctions imposed on Moscow then are still in place.

And there’s this:

There are other winners in addition to Mr. Erdogan, who has routed the Kurdish groups he views as terrorists who were living in an American protectorate.

Chief among them is President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who gains vast influence in a strategic corner of the Middle East where, until 2015, he had almost none. Now, he is a player, and already is filling the territorial and political vacuum that Mr. Trump left after he agreed to get out of the way of the Turkish invasion of Syria, which a small contingent of American Special Operations forces were there to prevent by their very presence.

Iran was also a winner. It has long used Syria as a route to send missiles to Hezbollah and flex its muscles across the region. That, in many ways, is the most perplexing part of the president’s decision to withdraw, because it runs so counter to his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran’s clerical leaders and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

And Mr. Assad, who was barely clinging to power after the Arab Spring in 2011, and whose military facilities Mr. Trump bombed in the opening months of his presidency in 2017, has a new lease on life. The Americans are gone from the one corner of his country they once occupied.

And there’s this:

At the Pentagon on Thursday afternoon, senior officials scrambled to understand how they were supposed to carry out the agreement Mr. Pence and Mr. Erdogan had negotiated.

Several civilian and military officials complained that the broadly worded deal left large policy and logistical gaps to fill, with many questions about how to carry out commitments by the two sides that appeared to contradict the fast-moving situation on the ground.

With the withdrawal of about 1,000 Americans already underway, the officials asked, how would those departing forces conduct counterterrorism operations with the Turkish military, as Mr. Pence insisted they would? Would the Syrian Kurds fully comply with a pullback agreement they had little say in drafting, and in which they were the clear losers?

And there’s this too:

The Islamic State is racing to capitalize on the deteriorating security situation in northern Syria, stepping up attacks on prisons as well as on the now-weakened Kurdish militia that served as the vanguard in the U.S.-led war against the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate, intelligence officials and terrorism experts say.

Despite Thursday’s announced cease-fire, Turkey’s week-old incursion into northeast Syria is already proving to be a propaganda windfall for the extremist group, which in recent months had been making faltering attempts at a comeback in parts of eastern Syria controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the analysts said.

The Islamic State’s official ­media arm taunted the SDF on Thursday, calling it an abandoned American ally and warning that further attacks were coming.

Of course they’re coming:

Pro-Islamic State social media sites are exulting over the rapid turn of events, and prominent commentators are calling for fresh attacks on prisons to free thousands of Islamist militants held by Kurdish forces. Hundreds of Islamic State family members and a handful of fighters are believed to have escaped from SDF-run detention camps amid the turmoil of the past week.

“Prison breaks are happening. The imminent return of the Islamic State is assured by the command of Allah,” one commentator declared in a pro-Islamic State forum on the social media site Telegram.

But that commentator got it wrong. The imminent return of the Islamic State has not been assured by the command of Allah. Donald Trump did that. Thank him. Erdogan will. Putin will. Assad will. Iran will. And there’s no getting over that. There are no turning points. Everyone knows that. And then one just comes along. That just happened.

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Another Core Meltdown

The slang term for a nuclear meltdown, like the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, is the “China Syndrome” – reactor components melt through their containment structures and down into the underlying earth, down “all the way to China” – which explains that 1979 disaster movie with the same name. But the concept is absurd. Nothing is going to melt through the planet and pop out on the other side. It would stop in the center, but twelve days after that disaster movie was released there was that Three Mile Island nuclear accident in central Pennsylvania.

That got people thinking, but not too long or too hard. There were other things to think about. Two days earlier, at the White House, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin signed an Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, and Michigan State led by Magic Johnson, had defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana State in the NCAA tournament championship game in Salt Lake City, and three days later, on April Fools’ Day,  Iran’s government became an Islamic Republic, overthrowing our guy, the Shah. The release of one more disaster movie changed nothing. And nuclear meltdowns were rare, and small – back then.

And meltdowns, in general, are rare. People don’t “lose it” emotionally. Most people know better. Most people keep their emotions in check. Self-control is everything. Self-control makes civilization possible. And no one wants to be seen as a fool or a jerk. Well, almost no one, as the New York Times’ Peter Baker and Catie Edmondson demonstrate here:

President Trump faced off against both parties in Congress on Wednesday in an extraordinary confrontation over his decision to abandon America’s Kurdish allies as the vast majority of House Republicans joined Democrats to condemn his policy in an overwhelming vote.

Mr. Trump found himself increasingly isolated after withdrawing troops from Syria and clearing the way for a Turkish offensive against Kurds who had fought alongside the United States. The president all but washed his hands of the conflict, saying that it “has nothing to do with us,” generating withering criticism from Republicans and leading to a stormy clash with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

This did seem like a meltdown:

Mr. Trump spent much of the day defending his decision and lashing out against rivals. He dismissed the Kurds, who until last week shared outposts with American soldiers, saying they were “no angels” and fought for money. And he berated Ms. Pelosi as a “third-grade politician” or “third-rate politician,” depending on the version, prompting Democrats to walk out of a White House meeting.

“I think now we have to pray for his health,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters afterward. “This was a very serious meltdown on the part of the president.” She said Mr. Trump seemed “very shaken-up” by the cascade of criticism.

Mr. Trump said it was the other way around. “Nancy Pelosi needs help fast!” he wrote on Twitter. “She had a total meltdown in the White House today. It was very sad to watch. Pray for her, she is a very sick person!”

Yeah, well, whatever, but he was the one having a bad day:

The collision in the Cabinet Room came shortly after the House voted 354 to 60 for a nonbinding resolution expressing opposition to Mr. Trump’s decision to abandon the Kurds, a measure that drew support from two-thirds of the House Republican caucus and all three of its top leaders. Senate Republicans spoke out individually on Wednesday, warning that Mr. Trump was courting “disaster,” as one put it.

But warnings only outrage him:

The fireworks erupted as Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Robert C. O’Brien, the president’s new national security adviser, left for Turkey in an effort to persuade President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to agree to a cease-fire in Syria.

But Mr. Trump’s commitment to that diplomacy seemed in doubt as he declared that the United States had no real interest in the matter. “That has nothing to do with us,” he said. He said he could understand if Syria and Turkey want territory. “But what does that have to do with the United States of America if they’re fighting over Syria’s land?” he asked.

Mr. Trump dismissed concerns that his decision to pull back had opened the way for Russia, Iran, the Syrian government and the Islamic State to move into the abandoned territory and reassert influence in the area. “I wish them all a lot of luck,” Mr. Trump said of the Russians and Syrians. “If Russia wants to get involved with Syria, that’s really up to them,” he added.

So, none of this is our business at all:

Mr. Trump’s approach upended decades of American policy in the Middle East, a region that presidents of both parties have considered vital to the United States. While many presidents have been reluctant to commit troops to conflicts there, they rarely brushed off the importance of the region’s disputes so dismissively nor accepted the influence of Russia or other hostile players so readily.

But Mr. Trump argued that he ran for president on a platform of ending “endless wars,” a pledge that resonated with many Americans tired of nearly two decades of overseas military operations. “Let them fight their own wars,” he said on Wednesday. “They’ve been fighting for 1,000 years. Let them fight their own wars.”

We will stay right here, within our borders, and let the rest of the world go by, but old ways die hard:

Mr. Trump got into an extended back and forth with Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, normally among his closest allies but one of the sharpest opponents of his Syria decision.

“I hope President Trump is right in his belief that Turkey’s invasion of Syria is of no concern to us, abandoning the Kurds won’t come back to haunt us, ISIS won’t reemerge, and Iran will not fill the vacuum created by this decision,” Mr. Graham wrote on Twitter.

“However,” he added, “I firmly believe that if President Trump continues to make such statements this will be a disaster worse than President Obama’s decision to leave Iraq.”

But that only made the Big Guy angry:

The president pushed back against Mr. Graham later in the day, saying that the senator should be focusing on investigating Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponents, including former President Barack Obama. “The people of South Carolina don’t want us to get into a war with Turkey, a NATO member, or with Syria,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Graham then rebutted Mr. Trump again. “With all due respect for the president, I think I’m elected to have a say about our national security,” he told reporters who relayed Mr. Trump’s remarks. “I will not ever be quiet about matters of national security.”

Graham had his reasons:

Particularly angering critics in both parties on Wednesday was Mr. Trump’s cavalier attitude toward the Kurdish troops who have been America’s most reliable ally against the Islamic State. Seven times during two public appearances on Wednesday, Mr. Trump used some variation of the phrase “no angels” to describe the Kurds and suggested they fought out of their own financial interest.

“We’re making the Kurds look like they’re angels,” he said at one point. “We paid a lot of money to the Kurds. Tremendous amounts of money. We’ve given them massive fortunes.”

Echoing Mr. Erdogan’s talking points, the president compared one faction of the Kurds to the Islamic State and asserted that Kurds intentionally freed some Islamic State prisoners to create a backlash for Mr. Trump…

But he denied that he gave Mr. Erdogan a green light for the incursion when he agreed to remove several dozen troops from the border who had effectively served as a trip wire deterring any Turkish operation.

For some reason, no one believed him, so there was this:

To prove his point, he cited a letter he wrote the Turkish president last week.

“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way,” Mr. Trump said in the Oct. 9 letter to Mr. Erdogan, which was obtained by Fox Business Network on Wednesday and confirmed by a White House official. “It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool! I will call you later.”

That letter, however, seems like documentation of an earlier meltdown:

“Dear Mr. President,” the Oct. 9 letter began, “Let’s work out a good deal! You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy – and I will.”

Trump then referred to economic sanctions his administration used on the country to push for the release of an American pastor who’d been locked up in Turkey, calling it “a little sample” of what could be in store.

“I have worked hard to solve some of your problems. Don’t let the world down. You can make a great deal,” Trump wrote, asserting that the commander of the Kurdish forces is “willing to negotiate with you.”

He made up that last part, and the rest was threats and sneers and patronizing advice-to-a-stupid-little-child stuff:

“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way,” Trump wrote to Erdogan. “It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”

And that was that:

Trump appears to be proud of the missive – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the president handed out copies of it during a heated meeting with Congressional leaders on Wednesday.

“The president is always tough at the wrong times. He should have been tough on the phone with Erdogan, not in a letter after he already green-lit Erdogan’s invasion of Syria,” Schumer said.

Republican-turned-independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan posted a copy of the letter, and said, “This is insane.”

As for the actual meeting, Katie Rogers tells that tale:

You know a White House meeting has gone off the rails when the president of the United States and the speaker of the House cannot agree over the precise insult one called the other.

According to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Trump called her a “third-grade” politician during a combative meeting with congressional leaders of both parties on Wednesday about the worsening situation in northern Syria. The White House and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said Mr. Trump actually called Ms. Pelosi “third-rate.”

At one particularly tense moment, Ms. Pelosi informed the president that “all roads with you lead to Putin,” referring to Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president.

And so, on Day 1,000 of his presidency, that is where things stand between Mr. Trump and Ms. Pelosi, who have a fraught history of derailing meetings shortly after pledging to work together, including one in January, when the president abruptly stood up, said “bye-bye” and stormed out. A meeting in May basically ended before it began.

And there was this meeting:

The roughly 20-minute meeting on Wednesday, the first since Democrats began an impeachment inquiry of Mr. Trump, was a new low, according to the recollections of several Democratic officials who shared details of the meeting. The White House did not dispute their accounts.

Mr. Trump began the proceedings in the Cabinet Room by making it clear that he did not want to be there.

“They said you wanted this meeting,” Mr. Trump told the congressional leaders. “I didn’t want this meeting, but I’m doing it.”

Several lawmakers replied that the White House had reached out to THEM in efforts to brief them on the administration’s Syria policy.

Trump had no response to that other than this:

Mr. Trump then began a speech about a “nasty” letter he had sent to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, which he said was proof that he had not given the Turkish leader a green light to advance Turkish forces into Syria. Mr. Trump then directed Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican minority leader, to pass copies of the letter around the table…

A short time later, Ms. Pelosi told the president that the House had passed a bipartisan resolution with overwhelming Republican support that condemned his acquiescence to a Turkish assault against the Kurds, who have been crucial American allies in the fight against ISIS.

That was the wrong thing to say, but there was no right way to say anything:

Mr. Schumer, for his part, tried to appeal to Mr. Trump as a fellow New Yorker who lived through the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I told the president, being from New York,” Mr. Schumer said to reporters shortly after the meeting, “we’re particularly aware of the problems that terrorism and that an organization like ISIS can create. And the fact that someone no less than General Mattis has said that ISIS has been enhanced, that the danger of ISIS is so much greater, worries all of us.”

That was the wrong thing to say too:

At Mr. Schumer’s mention of Gen. Jim Mattis – who quit last year as Mr. Trump’s secretary of defense to protest the president’s decision to pull American troops out of Syria – Mr. Trump began denigrating the retired four-star general’s approach to combating terrorism in the Middle East.

Mr. Mattis was “the world’s most overrated general,” Mr. Trump told the group. “You know why? He wasn’t tough enough. I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month.”

So, he was the one who captured ISIS – not the Kurds – not our military – all by himself – just him – and that took him only one month.

Imagine stunned silence, and then this:

The conversation, several Democratic officials said, only devolved from there, and reached a fever pitch after Ms. Pelosi told the president that Russia, which has quickly stepped in to fill the void left by American troops in Syria, “has always wanted a foothold in the Middle East.” It was at this point that she told Mr. Trump that all roads with him led to Mr. Putin.

At another point, Mr. Trump told Ms. Pelosi that he cared more about defeating terrorism than she did.

“I hate ISIS more than you do,” the president declared.

“You don’t know that,” the speaker replied.

And so it goes:

“You’re just a politician,” Mr. Trump said to Ms. Pelosi.

“Sometimes I wish you were,” Ms. Pelosi shot back.

Mr. Schumer interjected, telling Mr. Trump that name-calling was not necessary.

“Is that a bad name, Chuck?” Mr. Trump asked, and then turned to Ms. Pelosi. “You’re not a politician. You’re a third-grade politician.” (Or “third-rate,” depending on which politician was doing the retelling.)

And then it was over:

Ms. Pelosi stood up to leave, but then sat back down. At this point Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House majority leader – who later said he was “deeply offended” by the president’s treatment of the speaker – said it was time to go.

“This is not useful,” Mr. Hoyer said as he and Ms. Pelosi made for the door.

“Goodbye,” the president responded. “We’ll see you at the polls.”

And then there was this:

Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, said the president had been completely in control during the meeting with lawmakers.

“The president was measured, factual and decisive, while Speaker Pelosi’s decision to walk out was baffling, but not surprising,” Ms. Grisham said in a statement. “She had no intention of listening or contributing to an important meeting on national security issues. While democratic leadership chose to storm out and get in front of the cameras to whine, everyone else in the meeting chose to stay in the room and work on behalf of this country.”

By early evening, Mr. Trump had posted on Twitter the official White House photos of the meeting. One showed Ms. Pelosi standing up to speak to him, which Mr. Trump characterized as an “unhinged meltdown.”

Or so he said, but there was this – Lawmakers, Social Media Users Praise Photo of Pelosi Confronting Trump – because she was the hero (or heroine) of this particular tale.

The Big Guy wasn’t, as Dana Milbank notes here:

The Italian president visited the White House with rebukes from Europe on Syria, NATO and trade. U.S. officials, defying Trump, continued their damaging testimony to the congressional impeachment inquiry. Authorities arrested a fourth associate of Rudy Giuliani.

And Trump acted the way he increasingly has lately: as if the walls are closing in. Trump lashed out, indiscriminately, in all directions. His unfocused rage was as cogent as a primal scream and as subtle as a column of Turkish tanks.

The Italian president was relaying a message from the nations of Europe, stop this madness, as they say, and the American president was doing this:

He attacked the media and the Democrats, of course, and James Comey, Andrew McCabe, James Clapper, John Brennan and “the two great lovers,” Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. But he also attacked NATO members and the European Union. He attacked Germany, Spain and France. He attacked his guest (“Italy is only paying 1.1 percent” of gross domestic product for defense “instead of the mandated 2 percent”). He attacked Google and Amazon. He attacked those seeking to rename Columbus Day. He floated a new conspiracy theory saying, “I happen to think” 2016 election corruption “goes right up to President Obama.”

Sickeningly, he attacked just-abandoned Kurdish allies as if they deserve the massacre they are now receiving. He portrayed these friends as enemies, saying they’re “not angels,” that it is “natural for them” to fight and that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party is “more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS.”

This was awkward:

Italian President Sergio Mattarella, likely briefed on a similar rant Trump gave while meeting with the Finnish president, listened without expression to Trump’s expansive grievances and said, “I’m not here to judge what other countries do” when asked about Trump’s Syria pullout.

Mattarella gently but firmly restated Italy’s and the democratic world’s position, all at odds with Trump’s utterances: “The Turkish attack on Syria is a serious mistake.” The invasion has “already caused a number of casualties and tens of thousands of refugees and displaced people and there are plenty of victims amongst civilians.” The attack risks “offering new space to ISIS and to its criminal terrorist activities.”

Mattarella also defended Italy’s NATO contributions and the United Nations and counseled against a trade war.

Trump, by way of rejoinder, boasted about new U.S. tariffs and said: “We cannot lose a war of tariffs.”

Dan Zak saw more than that:

“It’s a lot of sand,” Trump said.

He was sitting in the Oval Office next to the president of Italy, and referring to the battleground between the Turkish military and Syrian Kurds.

“They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So there’s a lot of sand they can play with.”

“Thank you for the very interesting remarks you just made,” the Italian president, Sergio Mattarella, said through his interpreter.

“I have so many Italian friends,” Trump said to Mattarella. “I can’t tell you how many Italian friends.”

Mattarella might have felt as if he were in a Felinni movie, and meanwhile:

All day, C-SPAN had an online channel labeled “House Intelligence Committee Stakeout.” It was footage of a stairwell at the Capitol, morgue-like in its yellow dimness. Every now and then, a person walked up or down the stairwell, carrying a binder. Behind closed doors, a 37-year veteran of the State Department was testifying that U.S. diplomacy was being politicized to benefit Trump.

And back to the White House:

“I still ask the FBI: Where is the server?” Trump was saying in the Oval Office, referring to Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election. “How come the FBI never got the server from the DNC? Where is the server? I wanna see the server. Let’s see what’s on the server.”

Trump called the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria a “strategically brilliant” decision that keeps “our soldiers totally safe.”

His former ISIS adviser, veteran national-security official Brett McGurk, took to Twitter with a sharp rebuke: “Trump has no idea what’s happening.”

Perhaps so, but no one else knows what’s happening either:

The joint news conference with President Mattarella began 54 minutes late in the East Room of the White House.

“To me it will always be called ‘Columbus Day,’ ” Trump began, referring to the Italian heritage of the explorer.

“Some people don’t like that. I do.” Then he called his own election “corrupt.” And, for at least the fourth time in as many hours, Trump referred to the Kurds as “no angels.”

“Who is an angel?” he said. “There aren’t too many around.”

That felt like a meltdown, but then there’s Liz Sly, the Washington Post’s Beirut bureau chief, covering Lebanon, Syria and the wider region, who’s been at this for seventeen years, who notes the real consequences now:

The blow to America’s standing in the Middle East was sudden and unexpectedly swift. Within the space of a few hours, advances by Turkish troops in Syria this week had compelled the U.S. military’s Syrian Kurdish allies to switch sides, unraveled years of U.S. Syria policy and recalibrated the balance of power in the Middle East.

As Russia and Syrian troops roll into vacated towns and U.S. bases, the winners are counting the spoils.

The withdrawal delivered a huge victory to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who won back control of an area roughly amounting to a third of the country almost overnight. It affirmed Moscow as the arbiter of Syria’s fate and the rising power in the Middle East. It sent another signal to Iran that Washington has no appetite for the kind of confrontation that its rhetoric suggests and that Iran’s expanded influence in Syria is now likely to go unchallenged.

But there’s more to this:

It sent a message to the wider world that the United States is in the process of a disengagement that could resonate beyond the Middle East, said Hussein Ibish of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

“There’s a sense that the long goodbye has begun and that the long goodbye from the Middle East could become a long goodbye from Asia and everywhere else,” he said.

And that means we’re nothing now:

Images shared on social media underscored the indignity of the retreat. Departing U.S. troops in sophisticated armored vehicles passed Syrian army soldiers riding in open-top trucks on a desert highway. An embedded Russian journalist took selfies on the abandoned U.S. base in Manbij, where U.S. forces had fought alongside their Kurdish allies to drive out the Islamic State in 2015.

“Only yesterday they were here, and now we are here,” said the journalist, panning the camera around the intact infrastructure, including a radio tower and a button-powered traffic-control gate that he showed was still functioning.

“Let’s see how they lived and what they ate,” he said, before ducking into one of the tents and filming the soldiers’ discarded snacks.

We are mere curiosities now, and just not that important:

On Arab news channels, coverage switched from footage of jubilant Syrian troops to scenes of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lavish receptions by the monarchs of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Washington’s most vital Arab allies in the Persian Gulf. The visits had been long planned, but the timing gave them the feel of a victory lap.

“This has left a bad taste for all of America’s friends and allies in the region, not only among the Kurds,” said a former regional minister who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to not embarrass his government, an American ally. “Many will now be looking for new friends. The Russians don’t abandon their allies. They fight for them. And so do the Iranians.”

And of course Trump made fools of our military:

Few had anticipated that the most advanced military in the world would make such a scrambled and hasty departure, even after President Trump signaled he would not endorse a war on behalf of the Kurds against a U.S. NATO ally.

Less than 48 hours before the withdrawal announcement, U.S. Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had given assurances that the troops would remain indefinitely, standing by their Kurdish partners to continue to hunt down the Islamic State.

Milley was made to look like a fool, but all of this was inevitable:

The United States remains overwhelmingly the dominant military power in the Middle East, with around 50,000 troops deployed in the region and a level of technological superiority that will ensure allies covet American weapons and support for years.

But friends and enemies alike are starting to suspect that Trump’s unpredictability is less a cause than a consequence of a broader American reluctance to engage with the world, Ibish said. He dates that to the trauma of the bloody, costly and ultimately unsatisfying wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“People are asking: Could the United States not only be an unreliable power, but could it actually be a weak power as well?” he said. “Not because it lacks the capability but because it lacks the will.”

That may be the case. Trump had his meltdown, and he took the nation with him. The hot core sank. And there may be no possible recovery now.

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Consecutive Multiple Mistakes

The Trump presidency was imploding and the polite and decent Democrats had another debate, chatting about big ideas when it would have been better to step aside and let the nation watch the president rage-tweet his way to oblivion. Never interrupt you enemy when he is making a mistake, and especially when he is making consecutive multiple mistakes, but the debate had been scheduled long ago and it was in Ohio and it was time to win back all those blue-collar voters who were sick and tired of Washington and wanted their manufacturing jobs back. They’d voted for Obama twice, and then Trump – but no jobs ever came back. They were still waiting. The GM plant in Lordstown was still closed. Most everything was still closed. This was an opportunity. But these were Democrats. Politico had the best short assessment of the debate:

The frontrunners – Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders – tangled over healthcare, while other candidates looking to make their mark went after Elizabeth Warren. Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke clashed over guns. The one issue that united all the candidates was impeachment.

That wasn’t going to do the job, but these people were decent and polite:

Biden declined to answer directly a question about why it was okay for his son, Hunter, to serve on the board of a Ukrainian company while Biden was serving as vice president given his recent announcement that no one in his family would be involved in foreign business if he’s elected president next year.

“My son did nothing wrong,” Biden said. “I did nothing wrong.”

Biden instead focused his response on impeaching President Donald Trump, noting that Trump on three separate occasions has invited foreign leaders to get involved in U.S. elections.

And everyone else was fine with that:

Later, in response to another question, Sen. Cory Booker circled back to the issue of Biden and his son, accusing the moderators of doing Trump’s bidding.

“I am having déjà vu all over again,” Booker said. “I saw this play in 2016’s election. We are literally using Donald Trump’s lies and the second issue we cover is elevating a lie and attacking a statesman. That was so offensive. The only person sitting at home that was enjoying that was Donald Trump seeing we are distracting from his malfeasance and selling out of his office.”

Technically, and legally, and ethically, neither Biden did anything wrong. Trump wonders about that and hopes that’s not true. He wants the Ukrainians to help him out with that, but at the debate that wasn’t an issue, and the other disagreements were minor:

One of the central arguments underpinning Joe Biden’s candidacy is his ability to work across the aisle and get things done.

Bernie Sanders wasn’t having it on debate night when Biden again swiped at Medicare-for-All as unworkable.

“Joe, you talked about working with Republicans and getting things done,” Sanders said. “But you know what you also got done — and I say this as a good friend — you got the disastrous war in Iraq done. You got a bankruptcy bill, which is hurting middle class families all over this country. You got trade agreements like NAFTA and PNTR [permanent normal trade relations] with China done, which have cost us 4 million jobs. Let’s get to Medicare-for-All. If we stood together, we could create the greatest health care system in the world.”

Said Biden – “We can do that without Medicare-for-All. We can do that by adding a public option.”

This was an argument about getting to the same place. Build on Obamacare. Start over. Either would get everyone real healthcare. The issue was strategy, not goals, and there was this:

Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard and O’Rourke all went after Warren in the first half of the debate on issues ranging from her support to Medicare for All, trade deals and automation, a wealth tax and foreign policy.

Warren held her own, notably speaking nearly twice as much as the next candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, in the first hour of the debate. But she also got some assistance from Sen. Cory Booker, who warned that the attacks were only benefiting Trump’s reelection campaign.

“We’ve got one shot to make Donald Trump a one-term president, and how we talk about each other in this debate actually really matters,” Booker said. “I’ve had the privilege of working with or being friends with everybody on this stage, and tearing each other down because we have a different plan, to me, is unacceptable.”

In short, stop arguing, and they did stop:

Warren, who first called for Trump’s impeachment this spring after reading Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report about alleged Russian collusion and the obstruction of his inquiry, said she should have been listened to months ago.

“That didn’t happen. Look what happened as a result: Donald Trump broke the law again in the summer. Broke it again this fall. You know, we took a constitutional oath. That is that no one is above the law, and that includes the president of the United States,” she said.

Sanders followed up by calling Trump “the most corrupt president in the history of the country. I think that the house will find him guilty. He is enriching himself while using the oval office.”

Biden echoed those criticisms, while Harris said that Trump has admitted he is guilty.

“He has committed crimes in plain sight. It’s shocking but he told us who he was. Maya Angelou told us, listen to somebody when they tell you who they are,” Harris said. “I don’t think this impeachment process is going to take very long, because as a former prosecutor, I know a confession when I see it.”

That won’t bring GM jobs back to Ohio – nothing will – but at least there was a winner, as Josh Marshall sees it:

Warren is simply operating at two or three times the speed and power of almost everyone else up on the stage. Sanders has receded far to the background of the debate. To a great degree, Biden has too. Biden’s answers have been clearer and crisper than in earlier debates. But he seems peripheral to the debate itself. Warren is setting the pace and everyone is reacting to her…

Warren just has a dynamism and command that isn’t matched by anyone else on the stage.

She may win the nomination, but there’s that other world:

While speaking at the pro-Trump conference in Miami, Florida, at the Trump National Doral Miami, Mark Burns, a pastor, told the crowd multiple times that “we’ve come to declare war.” As he continued, he reportedly asked if anybody was “ready to go to war for Donald J. Trump, this nation?” as the audience reportedly cheered him on.

Additionally, radio host Wayne Allyn Root reportedly boasted about a time in his childhood when, as one of the few white students at a predominantly black high school, he knocked one classmate unconscious and shattered another kid’s teeth. “My buddies and I were high-fiving and laughing,” Root reportedly said during his speech. “Man, it was funny.”

Root reportedly went on to say that “you’ve got to be a natural-born killer” to win in politics.

They want the New Civil War to start soon, a real war, because you’ve got to be a natural-born killer to win in politics – but this might have been metaphor. Who knows? But these certainly aren’t Democrats, and there are those troubling consecutive multiple mistakes, and one particular walking-talking mistake:

Even as House Republicans mount a vigorous defense of President Donald Trump amid the impeachment inquiry, some are growing uneasy about the role that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani played in carrying out US policy with Ukraine – and say there needs to be more investigation about his efforts.

Several Republicans who sit on the key committees say more needs to be learned about Giuliani’s role, while also revealing new concerns about the continuing revelations that are emerging.

“I worry a lot about non-professionals pursuing diplomacy in the name of American diplomacy,” said Rep. Francis Rooney, a Florida Republican and former US ambassador under George W. Bush when asked about Giuliani. Rooney noted “more things keep coming up in the investigation” and the investigation should look at “who else was involved.”

“They called Watergate a witch hunt,” Rooney noted.

They did, and there are echoes of Watergate:

Attorneys for Vice President Pence and Rudolph W. Giuliani informed Congress on Tuesday that neither man will cooperate with the House’s impeachment probe, as Democrats gathered at the Capitol to plan their next moves.

Democrats had subpoenaed Giuliani and requested documents from Pence’s office.

A federal grand jury in New York, meanwhile, has issued a subpoena to former Texas congressman Pete Sessions seeking records and other information on his interactions with Giuliani and two of his associates.

President Trump also complained about a lack of “transparency” in the accelerating inquiry as George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Ukraine, met with lawmakers.

Kent testified about a campaign by Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, to pressure Ukraine into investigating the president’s political rival, former vice president and 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden, and his son Hunter.

That’s not going away:

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney organized a meeting this spring in which officials were determined to take Ukraine policy out of the traditional channels, putting Energy Secretary Rick Perry, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and special U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker in charge instead, a top State Department official told lawmakers Tuesday.

George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Ukraine, told House investigators he was instructed to “lay low,” focus on the five other countries in his portfolio and defer to Volker, Sondland and Perry – who called themselves the “three amigos” – on matters related to Ukraine, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) told reporters Tuesday.

Kent took that as a sign, Connolly added, that having been critical of the plan he was being pushed aside “because what he was saying was not welcome” at high levels of the government.

Professionals and subject-matter experts were not welcome:

The revelations from Kent’s testimony suggest the decision to wrest Ukraine policy away from career diplomats and put it in the hands of officials seen as more sympathetic to the president was taken several weeks before Trump spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In their July 25 call, Trump appeared to pressure the Ukrainian leader to launch probes into the 2016 U.S. election and the son of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden.

Administration officials informed the Ukrainians of their decision to shift authority for Ukraine policy in June, according to two people familiar with Kent’s testimony.

“For some Americans from the embassy, that was news to them,” he added.

The message to the Ukrainians was clear enough. Don’t talk to our diplomats. Don’t talk to anyone. Talk to Rudy. He sets policy:

Giuliani has accused Yovanovitch and Kent, formerly the No. 2 ranking diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, of trying to protect the Bidens from an investigation by Ukrainian prosecutors. Yovanovitch, who was recalled from Kiev in May, adamantly pushed back on those accusations during testimony before House investigators Friday.

Internal documents turned over to Congress by the State Department inspector general in early October showed that Kent suspected beginning in March that Yovanovitch had become the target of a “classic disinformation operation” – and that he raised concerns to his superiors in the hope they would defend their own.

Nope, Rudy runs things now, and the Three Amigos are his henchmen:

Connolly said Kent testified that Giuliani relied on now-former Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko for information damaging to Yovanovitch, which was also shared with John Solomon, a former columnist for the Hill newspaper. Lutsenko wanted to get Yovanovitch out of the way, Connolly recalled Kent as saying, and persuaded Giuliani with disinformation that she would also be a problem. Giuliani then persuaded Trump, Connolly said of Kent’s testimony.

“As he said, the consequence was to undermine 28 years of our efforts to promote the rule of law by actually doing something corrupt ourselves,” Connolly said – noting that Kent himself expressed the stakes as such.

Kent would see that, and now that makes him useful:

Kent joined the State Department in 1992 and has a portfolio that includes Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. From 2015 to 2018, he served as deputy chief of mission in Kiev, and he was previously senior anti-corruption coordinator in the State Department’s Europe Bureau.

Kent is one of more than a half-dozen current and former State officials who have been summoned by Democrats as part of their probe into Trump’s bid to pressure Ukraine into digging up dirt on the Biden family – and sideline State officials who did not take well to that task. Democrats have also requested documents from the White House, Vice President Pence, the Pentagon, and the Office of Management and Budget, issuing several subpoenas that will come due this week.

They keep digging, and the oddest things show up:

Rudolph W. Giuliani privately urged President Trump in 2017 to extradite a Turkish cleric living in exile in the United States, a top priority of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to multiple former administration officials familiar with the discussions.

Giuliani, a Trump ally who later became the president’s personal attorney, repeatedly argued to Trump that the U.S. government should eject Fethullah Gulen from the country, according to the former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

Turkey has demanded that the United States turn over Gulen, a permanent U.S. resident who lives in Pennsylvania, to stand trial on charges of plotting a 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan. Gulen has denied involvement in the plot.

Giuliani is now under scrutiny for his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rivals. His earlier attempts to persuade the president to turn over the Turkish cleric represent another instance in which he appears to have been pushing a shadow foreign policy from his perch outside government.

And this worries people:

The former New York mayor brought up Gulen so frequently with Trump during visits to the White House that one former official described the subject as Giuliani’s “hobby horse.” He was so focused on the issue – “it was all Gulen,” recalled a second former official that White House aides worried that Giuliani was making the case on behalf of the Turkish government, former officials said.

“We’re not going to arrest [Gulen] to do a solid for Erdogan,” the second official said, describing the internal thinking.

However, Trump appeared receptive to the idea, pressing his advisers about Gulen’s status, the people said.

One former senior administration official recalled that Trump asked frequently about why Gulen couldn’t be turned over to Turkey, referring to Erdogan as “my friend.”

Administration officials were overwhelmingly opposed to the idea and told the president that the move could violate the legal process and damage him politically.

General Michael Flynn was a paid agent of the Turkish government until the day he became Trump’s first National Security Advisor. He lasted twenty-six days, and he’s about to be sentenced to prison for lying to the Feds and all the rest, and now it’s Rudy:

Giuliani has had a wide range of foreign clients even as he serves as the president’s personal attorney. In interviews in recent months, Giuliani has acknowledged working with clients in Romania, Brazil, Bahrain, Colombia and Ukraine. He has represented an Iranian dissident group, once so controversial it was placed on the State Department list of terrorist organizations.

But he’s NOT a foreign agent:

Giuliani has said that he does not need to register with the Justice Department for his overseas clients because he does not lobby U.S. officials on their behalf.

“I don’t represent foreign government in front of the U.S. government,” he told The Post earlier this year. “I’ve never registered to lobby.”

However, senior administration officials were so concerned that Giuliani might have been paid to push Turkey’s interests that, at one point in 2017, they confronted him and asked him not to bring up Turkish issues when he met with the president, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

This is a mess:

Lobbying experts said that Giuliani’s private conversations with Trump about policy matters – including his push for Gulen’s extradition – could violate lobbying rules if he were pressing the matters on behalf of a foreign client.

In the case of the cleric, “the principal beneficiary of his work would be the Turkish government,” said Joshua Rosenstein, a Washington lawyer who specializes in foreign lobbying rules.

The conversations Giuliani reportedly had with Trump about Gulen in 2017 came the same year he was representing Reza Zarrab, a Turkish Iranian accused of corruption.

The Democrats might have just let this play out in the news, instead of having a debate about nothing much, because things were much hotter in the White House:

The effort to pressure Ukraine for political help provoked a heated confrontation inside the White House last summer that so alarmed John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, that he told an aide to alert White House lawyers, House investigators were told on Monday.

Mr. Bolton got into a tense exchange on July 10 with Gordon D. Sondland, the Trump donor turned ambassador to the European Union, who was working with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to three people who heard the testimony.

The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar with the testimony.

Notify the chief lawyer. This is illegal nonsense:

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition. (Another person in the room initially said Mr. Bolton referred to Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mulvaney, but two others said he cited Mr. Sondland.)’

It was not the first time Mr. Bolton expressed grave concerns to Ms. Hill about the campaign being run by Mr. Giuliani. “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Ms. Hill quoted Mr. Bolton as saying during an earlier conversation.

Kevin Drum sees this as a big deal:

There are two important things to take away from this. First, as much as we on the left dislike Bolton, he is, in fact, a professional diplomat of longstanding and a very competent player in interagency politics. He also plans to continue his career long beyond Trump’s presidency.

Second, he’s not a Trump man. His joke about the “drug deal” shows his disdain for the Trump inner circle, who he considers little better than dilettantes looking for a big score.

Republicans should be very concerned about this. They almost unanimously respect Bolton and consider him a hawk’s hawk. The fact that he couldn’t get along with the Trump gang for more than a few months is damning.

And that left an opening for the Democrats, as Dana Milbank notes here:

Democrats flipped the script on national security.

For several decades – since the early Cold War, really – Republicans have usually been able to convince the country that they were the ones to be trusted to keep Americans safe. But, as with so much else, President Trump has squandered that durable advantage.

In Ohio on Tuesday, Democrats sounded very much like Republicans of yore in denouncing Trump for jeopardizing national security.

“When I was deployed, I knew one of the things keeping me safe was the flag on my shoulder represented a country that kept its word,” said South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a veteran. “You take away the honor of our soldiers, you might as well go after their body armor next. This president has betrayed American values.”

Former vice president Joe Biden shouted: “This is shameful! Shameful what this man has done!”

Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) said Trump “is basically giving 10,000 ISIS fighters a get-out-of-jail free card.”

Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) declared that “Russia and Putin understand strength, and this president time and time again is showing moral weakness.”

Even. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), no hawk, said that “when you begin to betray people” as Trump had done to Kurdish allies, “tell me what country in the world will trust the word of the president?”

So this fourth debate wasn’t useless after all:

Trump’s Syria debacle has, above all, been a tragedy – for our faithful Kurdish allies, for NATO, for the pride of the U.S. military, for national security and for American leadership. But, combined with Trump placing his political self-dealing above U.S. security concerns in Ukraine, the blunder has left an enormous opening for Democrats to establish themselves as the champions of national security…

And what did Trump do Monday as the outcry built over his Syrian blunder? He tweeted out a plea to “Vote for good guy @seanspicer tonight on Dancing with the Stars.”

He may tweet himself into oblivion, and Milbank saw this happen in Ohio:

Democrats asserted themselves as the defenders of the American military and American security. Though a couple of them (Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and businessman Tom Steyer) went their own ways, the others claimed the moral high ground once ceded to Republicans.

“Soldiers in the field,” the veteran Buttigieg said, “are reporting that for the first time they feel ashamed – ashamed of what their country has done. We saw the spectacle, the horrifying sight of a woman with a lifeless body of her child in her arms asking what the hell happened to American leadership.”

What happened? Trump happened.

And this happened. David Ignatius was there:

At a gathering last Saturday night of military and intelligence veterans, one topic shrouded the room: President Trump’s decision to abandon Kurdish fighters in Syria who had fought and died to help America destroy the Islamic State.

“It’s a dagger to the heart to walk away from people who shed blood for us,” one former top CIA official who attended the black-tie dinner told me later. A retired four-star general who was there said the same thing: Trump’s retreat was an “unsound, morally indefensible act” and a “disgrace” to America and the soldiers who serve this country.

This sense of anguish was pervasive among those attending the event, several attendees said. It was an annual dinner honoring the Office of Strategic Services, the secret World War II commando group that was a forerunner of today’s CIA and Special Operations forces. The event celebrated the military alliances that have always been at the center of American power. It was a bitter anniversary this year.

Ignatius has been reporting on this for years:

It’s last July, and I’m in Kobane meeting with Gen. Mazloum Abdi, the Syrian Kurdish commander. Trump has announced in December that he wants to withdraw all American troops. Mazloum is too polite and loyal to criticize the American president. “We respect any decision made by the U.S., whether they want to stay or leave,” he says in a calm, flat, battle-hardened voice.

American officers tell me later that Mazloum has been criticized for being too trusting of the United States, but Mazloum keeps insisting that he has confidence in his allies. I ask one of the U.S. officers what it was like to tell Mazloum in December that the United States would be leaving. The answer isn’t printable.

What do these American soldiers feel as they watch Trump retreat from the Syrian battlefield and leave their former comrades to die? They feel sick.

It’s last Saturday night at the Trump National Doral Miami, and Pastor Mark Burns asks if anybody was “ready to go to war for Donald J. Trump” as the audience cheers him on. But there are the real soldiers in the real Army and now the Democrats too. And the consecutive multiple mistakes pile up. Things might change now.

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More Frequent Wind

America had never lost a war, and then there was that famous photograph – April 29, 1975, Hubert van Es, working for UPI, Americans crowding on to the roof of the United States Embassy to board a helicopter, a line of desperate people climbing a single ladder to the last helicopter as the United States abandoned Saigon. The North Vietnamese People’s Army of Vietnam had captured the city, all of it, and that was that. This was the opposite of the Joe Rosenthal photograph of the Marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945 – a staged photograph but powerful. That was victory.

This was defeat. That wasn’t actually the roof of our embassy in Saigon. That was 22 Gia Long Street, just an apartment building, but a building that housed employees of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with the top floor reserved for the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy chief of station – and that was close enough. The image said it all.

That was a bad time and Operation Frequent Wind was the final phase in the evacuation of American civilians and “at-risk” Vietnamese from Saigon, the largest helicopter evacuation in history. Some of us are old enough to remember that – flight after flight – perfectly good helicopters pushed off the deck of aircraft carriers into the sea to make room for even more helicopters. We had to get these people out. We did what we could. We lost. And everyone was bitter. Nixon had resigned the year before and was long gone. Gerald Ford oversaw this inevitable defeat determined by the Paris Peace Accords two years earlier – a man who was never elected to the presidency. He could do that. He didn’t have to please anyone. He didn’t have to fear any outrage. He had no constituency. So, he pulled the plug, and Jimmy Carter was president soon enough. It was over.

And that war was “for” nothing. The communist tide, that was going to sweep that part of the world, didn’t sweep that part of the world, and communist Vietnam is a trusted trading partner now, and not all that communist anyway, and a nice buffer to counter the Chinese. But no one knew any of that back then. Everyone only knew we’d lost, for the first time. And that would never happen again. That has driven all of our geopolitical and military policy and strategy since then – never again.

Iraq doesn’t count of course. Obama pulled the plug there. Of course George Bush did that two years earlier. Obama just formalized that. But ask any Republican – we should have never left – we should still be there – if we were still there the Middle East would be a wonderful place of peace and prosperity with a Starbucks on every corner. All those people might even find Jesus. And of course we’re still in Afghanistan. Things suddenly could get much better in our upcoming eighteenth year there. That’s possible. Anything is possible. But of course that’s all nonsense. We keep doing the Vietnam thing.

Donald Trump was going to fix that. No more foreign wars. No more alliances with other nations – both the UN and NATO were stupid and those people were cheating us. So were all our allies, even Canada and Mexico. To hell with them, and as for the rest of the world and their stupid little wars, let them do what they will. None of that is our business or even very interesting. It would be America First now. Maybe we should close our borders too.

This did appall most Republicans in office, but not enough voters. Those who voted for Trump probably remembered Vietnam too, but had the opposite reaction. Yeah, we lost, but we shouldn’t have been over there in the middle of nowhere in the first place. Who cares about such things anyway? And why NOT lose when none of that was our business in the first place?

But not everyone feels that way:

American commandos were working alongside Kurdish forces at an outpost in eastern Syria last year when they were attacked by columns of Syrian government tanks and hundreds of troops, including Russian mercenaries. In the next hours, the Americans threw the Pentagon’s arsenal at them, including B-52 strategic bombers. The attack was stopped.

That operation, in the middle of the American-led campaign against the Islamic State in Syria, showed the extent to which the United States military was willing to protect the Syrian Kurds, its main ally on the ground.

But now, with the White House revoking protection for these Kurdish fighters, some of the Special Forces officers who battled alongside the Kurds say they feel deep remorse at orders to abandon their allies.

“They trusted us and we broke that trust,” one Army officer who has worked alongside the Kurds in northern Syria said last week in a telephone interview. “It’s a stain on the American conscience.”

“I’m ashamed,” said another officer who had also served in northern Syria.

Many felt ashamed on April 29, 1975, when they first saw that Hubert van Es photograph of that last climb up to that last helicopter leaving as we abandoned Saigon, and would recognize this too:

The response from the Kurds themselves was just as stark. “The worst thing in military logic and comrades in the trench is betrayal,” said Shervan Darwish, an official allied with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

And there was this:

A retired four-star Marine general on Sunday bluntly criticized President Donald Trump over the ongoing Turkish military offensive in northern Syria, saying, “There is blood on Trump’s hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies.”

Gen. John Allen, the former commander of American forces in Afghanistan and former special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS under the Obama administration, told CNN the unfolding crisis in Syria was “completely foreseeable” and “the US greenlighted it.”

“There was no chance (Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan) Erdogan would keep his promise, and full blown ethnic cleansing is underway by Turkish supported militias,” he said. “This is what happens when Trump follows his instincts and because of his alignment with autocrats.”

That may be unfair. Trump does seem to like autocrats – the only leaders he respects – but, alternatively, he may not give a shit about anything over there, far away. It’s not that he admires dictators – he does and doesn’t hide that – but it may be more that he just doesn’t care about any of this.

The means there’s a new Operation Frequent Wind in progress:

Kurdish forces long allied with the United States in Syria announced a new deal on Sunday with the government in Damascus, a sworn enemy of Washington that is backed by Russia, as Turkish troops moved deeper into their territory and President Trump ordered the withdrawal of the American military from northern Syria.

That was the big news. We abandoned our allies to die. They chose to join our enemies:

For five years, United States policy relied on collaborating with the Kurdish-led forces both to fight the Islamic State and to limit the influence of Iran and Russia, which support the Syrian government, with a goal of maintaining some leverage over any future settlement of the conflict.

On Sunday – after Mr. Trump abruptly abandoned that approach – American leverage appeared all but gone. That threatened to give President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian and Russian backers a free hand. It also jeopardized hard-won gains against the Islamic State – and potentially opened the door for its return.

The announcement of the deal Sunday evening capped a day of whipsaw developments marked by rapid advances by Turkish-backed forces and the escape of hundreds of women and children linked to the Islamic State from a detention camp.

And now it was time to get the hell out of there, to pull out all our troops, but such things never go well:

 As American troops were redeployed, two American officials said the United States had failed to transfer five dozen “high value” Islamic State detainees out of the country.

Turkish-backed forces advanced so quickly that they seized a key road, complicating the American withdrawal, officials said.

We’d captured some really bad guys, but couldn’t get them out – no time – and the Turks had cut our supply lines – so there was this:

The Turkish incursion has killed scores of people, and left Kurdish fighters accusing the United States of betrayal for leaving them at the Turks’ mercy. That is what led them to strike the deal with Damascus, which said on Sunday that its forces were heading north to take control of two towns and to fight the “Turkish aggression.”

Turkey’s invasion upended a fragile peace in northeastern Syria and risks enabling a resurgence of the Islamic State, which no longer controls territory in Syria but still has sleeper cells and supporters.

Since the Turkish incursion began on Wednesday, ISIS has claimed responsibility for at least two attacks in Syria: One car bomb in the northern city of Qamishli and another on an international military base outside Hasaka, a regional capital further to the south.

Mr. Trump has said repeatedly that the United States has taken the worst ISIS detainees out of Syria to ensure they would not escape. But in fact the American military took custody of only two British detainees, half of a cell dubbed the Beatles that tortured and killed Western hostages, American officials said.

We lost. That’s about it, but Trump spun that the other way:

Previously, Trump administration officials argued that keeping Mr. Assad’s forces out of the territory was key to stemming Iranian and Russian influence and keeping pressure on Mr. Assad.

Mr. Trump says his decision to pull American troops out of the way of the Turkish advance was part of his effort to extricate the United States from “endless wars” in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“The Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

But not to worry:

Mr. Trump also tried to assuage his critics, including Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who broke with him over the Syria decision and is promising bipartisan legislation to slap economic sanctions on Turkey.

The Kurds will die, or stay alive by hooking up with Assad’s Syria and Putin’s Russia. Why do we care? But if the Turks get too nasty we’ll slap a few tariffs on their goods or something. But we won’t fight, not over there, not anywhere. We’ll take care of things here.

The Washington Post  reports on how that notion was received:

President Trump’s order to withdraw essentially all U.S. forces from northern Syria came after the commander in chief privately agitated for days to bring troops home, according to administration officials – even while the Pentagon was making public assurances that the United States was not abandoning its Kurdish allies in the region.

The officials, granted anonymity to describe internal deliberations, described Trump as “doubling down” and “undeterred,” despite vociferous pushback from congressional Republicans who have been loath to challenge the president apart from a few issues, such as national security.

Behind the scenes, Trump has tried to convince advisers and lawmakers that the United States is not to blame for Turkey’s military offensive…

In short, we fight nowhere now, and Turkey was going to do this anyway, so the initial reports of atrocities’ here and there and the coming ethnic cleansing with a bit of genocide have nothing to do with us. We couldn’t stop Erdogan. No one could. How would we? We have no power in this world.

But of course Trump had to check for approval on that:

Trump has closely watched that kind of public criticism in recent days – complaining frequently about comments from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) in particular – but has been encouraged to stay the course by other allies who support a withdrawal, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson, according to administration officials.

The president, one senior administration official said, was particularly heartened by a segment from another Fox News host, Lou Dobbs, defending him last week.

Fox News, however, is not the larger Republican world:

Some Republican donors and officials worried that Trump’s decision would trap them in an untenable situation and have deleterious effects around the world. Furthermore, the significant intraparty rift is coming at a time when Trump particularly needs Republican support as he faces the threat of impeachment.

“Republican senators are going to increasingly resemble a herd of ostriches with their heads in the sand,” said Dan Eberhart, a prominent Republican donor. “They don’t want to break with Trump while simultaneously wanting to disagree with his policy on allowing Turkey to get away with exterminating the Kurds inside Syria.”

Still, Trump has resisted the repeated urging from some of his closest allies to intervene in the situation and has become more convinced that bringing troops home is both the right decision and a key political promise to fulfill ahead of the 2020 ­election.

That’s Operation Frequent Wind again, with this rationale:

The usual argument against removing troops, according to former senior administration officials, would be that doing so would cause widespread deaths and chaos and Trump would be blamed for it.

“Normally, convincing him he would be blamed for death and chaos could keep it from happening at least at that moment,” one former senior administration official said.

But current administration officials say many moderating officials like John Kelly are gone, and longtime friends say the move is consistent with Trump’s worldview – and that he has long wanted to do this.

And thus he got this:

In urgent meetings and telephone conferences, top national security officials studied often-conflicting accounts of what was happening on the ground. In public appearances, Cabinet secretaries denied that the United States had “abandoned” its Syrian Kurdish allies to invading Turkish forces and threatened severe sanctions against Ankara.

“This is total chaos,” a senior administration official said at midday, speaking on the condition of anonymity about the confusing situation in Syria.

It seems that the Turks, our NATO allies, given Trump’s permission to go after the Kurds and wipe them out, might fire on our troops too:

Although “the Turks gave guarantees to us” that U.S. forces would not be harmed, the official said, Syrian militias allied with them “are running up and down roads, ambushing and attacking vehicles,” putting American forces – as well as civilians -in danger even as they withdraw.

At the same time, the official said, the Islamic State is active in the area, and there are reports that Russian and Syrian forces are moving in as well. “We obviously could not continue,” said the official, who called the situation “a total shit-storm.”

Turkey seems to think Trump gave them full permission to fire on our troops and wipe them out too, and that doesn’t sit well with some:

In Congress, criticism of both Turkey and Trump was vocal and bipartisan.

“The weakness and incompetence that this president has shown when it comes to national security is stunning,” Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. Accusing Trump of “bending to autocrats,” Reed said that “instead of telling Erdogan to stand down, President Trump is in full retreat. It’s shameful.”

Trump shrugged:

Trump has played down concerns about the crisis for days, saying Turkey will be responsible for any Islamic State fighters who might break free in the chaos.

On Sunday, he tweeted before departing for his golf course in Virginia that it was “very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border, for a change” and accused “those that mistakenly got us into the Middle East Wars” of pushing the United States to stay in the fight.

Trump added that the Kurds and Turks have been fighting for years, a reference to the decades-long Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.

“Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other,” he said. “Let them!”

He’s fine with that:

After he returned to the White House from the golf course in late afternoon, he tweeted a criticism of the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry, and later tweeted that Islamic State prisoners “will never come to, or be allowed in, the United States!”

Asked about Trump’s decision to play golf while much of his national security team was in crisis mode, the senior administration official said, “I can assure you, the president has been earning his money on the Syrian account in the last eight days.”

He will not allow the bad guys in. That’s why he’s paid the big bucks. He’s rich. Trust him. That’s the frequent wind here, but the world is moved by images, the tattered flag being defiantly shoved into the sky above Iwo Jima – pride and victory – and the last helicopter leaving Saigon – shame and defeat.

And now there’s a third set of images:

A video depicting a macabre scene of a fake President Trump shooting, stabbing and brutally assaulting members of the news media and his political opponents was shown at a conference for his supporters at his Miami resort last week, according to footage obtained by The New York Times.

Several of Mr. Trump’s top surrogates – including his son Donald Trump Jr., his former spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis – were scheduled to speak at the three-day conference, which was held by a pro-Trump group, American Priority, at Trump National Doral Miami.

They all said that they kind of missed that video, but it sure looked official:

The video, which includes the logo for Mr. Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, comprises a series of internet memes. The most violent clip shows Mr. Trump’s head superimposed on the body of a man opening fire inside the “Church of Fake News” on parishioners who have the faces of his critics or the logos of media organizations superimposed on their bodies. It appears to be an edited scene of a church massacre from the 2014 dark comedy film “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”

Mr. Trump has made attacks on the news media a mainstay of his presidency, and he tweeted a similar – but far less violent video – in 2017. In recent weeks as he has confronted impeachment proceedings, he has ramped up his attacks on the news media, repeatedly calling it the “enemy of the people.”

So it all fits together:

The video depicts a scene inside the “Church of Fake News,” where parishioners rise as Mr. Trump – dressed in a black pinstripe suit and tie – walks down the aisle. Many parishioners’ faces have been replaced with the logos of news media organizations, including PBS, NPR, Politico, The Washington Post and NBC.

Mr. Trump stops in the middle of the church, pulls a gun out of his suit jacket pocket and begins a graphic rampage. As the parishioners try to flee, the president fires at them. He shoots Black Lives Matter in the head, and also shoots Vice News.

Some of those in the church try to apprehend Mr. Trump. He fends them off and makes his way toward the altar, knocking over several pews. He wrestles a parishioner with a Vice News logo as a face to the ground and then shoots the person at point blank range. In the background, the former FBI director, James B. Comey, is seen trying to get away.

From there, Mr. Trump attacks a range of his critics. He strikes the late Arizona senator John McCain in the back of the neck. He hits the television personality Rosie O’Donnell in the face and then stabs her in the head. He strikes Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California. He lights the head of Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential rival, on fire.

He takes Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, hostage before throwing him to the ground. Then he strikes former President Barack Obama in the back and throws him against a wall.

The clip ends with Mr. Trump putting a stake into the head of a person with a CNN logo for a face. Mr. Trump then stands on the altar, admiring his rampage, and smiles.

But really, he was just continuing his thought:

The video is similar in style to one Mr. Trump tweeted in July 2017, in which he is shown at a wrestling match body slamming CNN’s logo and beating it up. The president was roundly criticized for encouraging violence against journalists by posting that clip, but his supporters enjoyed it, and helped make the tweet viral.

So choose the iconic image that sums up the nation – the flag above Iwo Jima – pride and victory – the last helicopter leaving Saigon – shame and defeat – or this – sneering contempt for the press, and John McCain, and the previous president, expressed in gleeful murderous sadism. Things have changed from 1945 to 1975 to this. That’s the way the wind is blowing now, frequently.

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An Alternative Ending

The polls show it now – for the first time in the Trump presidency the average of all current polls shows that a majority the nation’s citizens would like the House to write up some articles of impeachment. Something is wrong here. Donald Trump might have been a mistake – that is, electing him president might have been a mistake. He might be good at other things, but he’s not good at this. Some say they always knew this would not end well. Others are just beginning to see that. He might have to go. People could get killed.

This was the week when that became more obvious:

A contingent of U.S. Special Forces was caught up in Turkish shelling against U.S.-backed Kurdish positions in northern Syria, days after President Donald Trump told his Turkish counterpart he would withdraw U.S. troops from certain positions in the area. A senior Pentagon official said shelling by the Turkish forces was so heavy that the U.S. personnel considered firing back in self-defense.

This wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did:

Newsweek has learned through both an Iraqi Kurdish intelligence official and the senior Pentagon official that Special Forces operating on Mashtenour hill in the majority-Kurdish city of Kobani fell under artillery fire from Turkish forces conducting their so-called “Operation Peace Spring” against Kurdish fighters backed by the U.S. but considered terrorist organizations by Turkey. No injuries have been reported.

Instead of returning fire, the Special Forces withdrew once the shelling had ceased. Newsweek previously reported Wednesday that the current rules of engagement for U.S. forces continue to be centered on self-defense, and that no order has been issued by the Pentagon for a complete withdrawal from Syria.

The Pentagon official said that Turkish forces should be aware of U.S. positions “down to the grid.”

Perhaps so, but there seems to be some confusion here:

In its Sunday statement, the White House had said that U.S. troops “will no longer be in the immediate area” as Turkey and allied Syrian rebels commenced their assault. During Friday’s press conference, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army General Mark Milley said that U.S. personnel were “still co-located” save for “two small outposts” near the border with Turkey. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said 50 Special Forces personnel had been repositioned ahead of the Turkish and allied Syrian rebel assault.

It seems that the Turks believed the White House – there were no troops there – and not General Milley. Trump said blast away. Our guys are gone. That’s not what Milley understood – and Brett McGurk, a former ISIS envoy under President Trump, says the shelling was not a mistake:

Turkey knows all of our locations down to the precise grid coordinate as confirmed by SECDEF and CJCS only two hours ago. This was not a mistake. Hard truth: Erdogan knows that Trump wants U.S. forces to leave Syria. Putin knows that Trump wants U.S. forces to leave Syria. Khamenei and Assad know the same thing. Trump himself yesterday (incredibly) said we no longer have forces in Syria. We do, and today they were shot at.

It is dangerous to keep Americans in harm’s way with no support or backing from their commander-in-chief.

With each day this Turkish attack continues, the risks increase for American personnel and our ability to get out safely at all becomes gravely jeopardized. Either Trump changes course rapidly and clearly (ASAP) or else it is necessary to plan a safe exit.

Trump will not change course:

President Donald Trump claimed on Thursday that the United States has no troops in Syria.

Trump was defending his decision to remove American troops from a part of northern Syria that Turkey wanted to attack. Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn, Trump asserted, “We have no soldiers in Syria.”

“We’ve won, we beat ISIS, and we beat ’em badly and decisively. We have no soldiers. The last thing I want to do is bring thousands and thousands of soldiers in and defeat everybody again. We’ve already done that,” Trump said.

He’s made up his mind and now he may have to fire General Milley, but it’s not that simple:

Jonathan Hoffman, chief Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement on Tuesday: “We have made no changes to our force presence in Syria at this time.” Less than an hour after Trump made his Thursday claim that there are “no soldiers in Syria,” a senior State Department official told reporters that the US military mission in Syria is ongoing.

“We had and still have a significant military mission there to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS, also to maintain the stability of northeast Syria and the region given our other critical missions in the Near East,” the official said on a conference call conducted on condition of anonymity.

Less than an hour before the “no soldiers in Syria” claim to reporters, Trump had tweeted that we “no longer have any troops in the area under attack by Turkey, in Syria.” That narrower claim about the particular “area under attack” is correct.

And then it wasn’t correct. But now Erdogan has the perfect defense if he does wipe out a bunch of our troops. Let the Pentagon scream. He can say that never happened. There were no American troops there at all! Your own president said so!

But he says lots of things:

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday giving the Treasury Department “very significant new sanctions authorities” against Turkey, but the US doesn’t have any immediate plans to use them, Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said Friday.

“We are not activating the sanctions,” Mnuchin said. “These are very powerful sanctions. We hope we don’t have to use them, but we could shut down the Turkish economy if we need to.”

News of the potential sanctions, which could be used to target any part of the Turkish government or any person associated with it, fell flat…

Senators and former officials pointed out that Ankara already appears to have blasted through the administration’s threshold for triggering penalties on multiple fronts, from attacks on civilians to undermining counterterrorism operations in northeastern Syria.

So expect nothing:

Some senators questioned Trump’s seeming reluctance to sanction Turkey and raised an eyebrow at his administration’s decision to team up with Russia on Thursday to veto a UN Security Council resolution by European countries condemning Turkey’s actions.

One critic called the gesture “meaningless nonsense” and noted it came on a day when the Pentagon confirmed that US Special Forces had come under fire from Turkish positions.

But maybe it’s not meaningless. Trump and Putin sided with Erdogan at the UN – and those three sided against our troops. That’s the message here, and the man who was once John McCain’s best friend but now says McCain was a fool and a coward, because Donald Trump said so, has decided to sound a bit like his late friend, even if Trump will hurt him for this:

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, issued a statement Friday saying that “conditional sanctions aren’t appropriate for the threat we face. When it comes to dealing with Erdogan and protecting our Kurdish allies, the Trump Administration needs to up their game.” Otherwise, Graham said, “the conditional sanctions will be viewed by Turkey as a tepid response and will embolden Erdogan even more.”

Graham was among those who pointed to abuses that surpassed the administration’s benchmark for levying penalties against Turkey.

The Treasury statement had said that Trump’s threat of sanctions was meant to dissuade Turkey from actions that included “the indiscriminate targeting of civilians, targeting of civilian infrastructure, targeting of ethnic or religious minorities.”

Graham pointed to the fact that Turkey is clearly engaged in targeting ethnic minorities, as the point of its attack on Kurds in northeastern Syria is to target Kurds.

“We are witnessing ethnic cleansing in Syria by Turkey, the destruction of a reliable ally in the Kurds, and the reemergence of ISIS,” he said.

Yeah, but the White House is on that:

On Thursday, a senior State Department official said the US would not stand for “inhumane” and “disproportionate” activity by the Turks, which would “include ethnic cleansing” and “indiscriminate artillery, air and other fires directed at civilian populations.”

But a US official familiar with the situation on the ground said that on Thursday the US was “seeing reports of civilian casualties from what looks like indiscriminate bombing of dense population centers. Tragic imagery of what are clearly civilian men, women and children.”

Mnuchin told reporters that Trump is “concerned” about the Turkish military offensive in Syria and the potential of targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.

He’s concerned? That’s nice, but he has other worries now:

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.

This, too, will not end well:

The investigators are examining Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one of the people said. She was recalled in the spring as part of Mr. Trump’s broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects.

The investigation into Mr. Giuliani is tied to the case against two of his associates who were arrested this week on campaign finance-related charges, the people familiar with the inquiry said. The associates were charged with funneling illegal contributions to a congressman whose help they sought in removing Ms. Yovanovitch.

They actually may have had lots and lots of Russian money to spend on key Republican congressmen, but they did have money and they wanted that woman gone, which made things a bit awkward for Rudy:

Mr. Giuliani has denied wrongdoing, but he acknowledged that he and the associates worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect potentially damaging information about Ms. Yovanovitch and other targets of Mr. Trump and his allies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his younger son, Hunter Biden.

Mr. Giuliani shared that material this year with American government officials and a Trump-friendly columnist in an effort to undermine the ambassador and other Trump targets.

That was a portfolio of newspaper clippings and downloads from obscure conspiracy websites, and ridiculed, and beside the point, and now Giuliani is angry:

Mr. Giuliani said that federal prosecutors had no grounds to charge him with foreign lobbying disclosure violations because he said he was acting on behalf of Mr. Trump, not the Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, when he collected the information on Ms. Yovanovitch and the others and relayed it to the American government and the news media.

“Look, you can try to contort anything into anything, but if they have any degree of objectivity or fairness, it would be kind of ridiculous to say I was doing it on Lutsenko’s behalf when I was representing the president of the United States,” Mr. Giuliani said.

But that can be fixed:

A source close to President Donald Trump’s legal team tells CNN that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is still the President’s attorney but will not be dealing with matters involving Ukraine.

Earlier on Friday, Trump wouldn’t say whether Giuliani was still his personal attorney.

“Well, I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to Rudy. I spoke to him yesterday briefly. He’s a very good attorney and he has been my attorney, yeah, sure,” he said.

When asked later by CNN if he was still Trump’s attorney, Giuliani responded, “Yes.”

Let the two of them disagree, but Trump is beginning to worry:

The skepticism, which is shared by many of Trump’s allies, comes after two of Giuliani’s clients were arrested boarding an international flight and charged for violating campaign finance laws.

As the drama unfolded on television – complete with scowling mug shots paired with photos of the two men posing alongside the President – Trump began expressing concerns about Giuliani’s involvement with the individuals, according to people familiar with the matter.

The White House was informed of the arrest on Wednesday night, according to a law enforcement official.

The development lends a further sense of uncertainty to a White House legal strategy which appears, after only three days, to be unsuccessful in preventing administration officials from cooperating with Congress in its impeachment probe.

Yes, things were going south:

The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine whose abrupt ouster in May has become a focus of House impeachment investigators said Friday in remarks before Congress that her departure came as a direct result of pressure President Trump placed on the State Department to remove her.

The account by Marie Yovanovitch depicts a career Foreign Service officer caught in a storm of unsubstantiated allegations pushed by the president’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and a cast of former Ukrainian officials who viewed her as a threat to their financial and political interests.

Marie Yovanovitch would not be silenced:

In explaining her departure, she acknowledged months of criticisms from Giuliani, who had accused her of privately badmouthing the president and seeking to protect the interests of former vice president Joe Biden and his son who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Yovanovitch denied those allegations and said she was “incredulous” that her superiors decided to remove her based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”

She also took direct aim at Giuliani’s associates, whom she said could have been financially threatened by her anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine.

This will not end well:

Yovanovitch’s testimony could increase calls for the president’s impeachment as she detailed her belief that under Trump’s leadership, U.S. foreign policy has been compromised by self-interested actors who have badly demoralized and depleted America’s diplomatic corps.

“Today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within,” she said in prepared remarks obtained by The Post, warning that U.S. adversaries such as Russia stand to benefit “when bad actors in countries beyond Ukraine see how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system.”

And the rest was in closed session – no other nations should hear what was said – but one thing was obvious:

A new letter that has been signed by 27 former foreign service and high-ranking national security officials calls on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to defend and support the former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

The open letter is signed by a bipartisan list that includes names like Tony Blinken, former deputy secretary of state and former deputy national security adviser; Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy and former US ambassador to Turkey; Nicolas Burns, former undersecretary of state for political affairs and former ambassador to NATO; and Jake Sullivan, a former national security adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden. The letter sent to Pompeo is dated October 1 and is meant to express support for the ambassador and says “her performance and leadership have been exemplary.”

The letter goes on to say, “We are particularly concerned by President Trump’s reported statement that ‘she’s going to go through some things.’ Such language could be interpreted as a threat of some kind.”

That was a threat. Trump did say that. She was going to go through some things. He was going to hurt her, really her. But she had a good day. In the middle of the night, the State Department called her and told her that under no circumstance should she show up and testify. An hour later the House subpoena arrived. She smiled. She had her opening statement prepared all along and released it to the press. She showed up and testified, and let ‘er rip. She had her say, and her evidence. She had a good day. Things went well.

But the other party had a bad day:

Five federal courts dealt blows to President Donald Trump on Friday just as the limits of his legal strategy to block an impeachment inquiry became clear.

It amounted to a challenging end of a challenging week for Trump, who remains consumed by an impeachment crisis that is clouding his presidency.

Within moments of each other, a career diplomat began painting a damning portrait of the President’s foreign policy to lawmakers just as Trump lost his appeal in a federal appeals court to stop a House subpoena of his tax documents, which he’s guarded fiercely since refusing to make them public as a candidate.

Then, in rapid succession, judges in New York, Texas, Washington state and California sided against Trump administration initiatives meant to limit immigrants from entering the country – both through a physical barrier and by raising the requirements on migrants seeking legal status.

Friday night, the man in charge of executing much of Trump’s immigration agenda, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, submitted his resignation to the President as the legal setbacks mounted. Long in the works, and by all accounts unrelated to the court decisions or the impeachment crisis, the move nonetheless fueled a sense of an administration in flux. McAleenan was the fourth person to serve in that post since the Trump presidency began.

Someone must have told Donald Trump that all this immigration stuff would not end well, but he doesn’t believe that:

Trump appeared nonplussed by the immigration setbacks as he departed the White House on Friday afternoon for a rally in Louisiana. He was emerging from a meeting with China’s vice premier, where he announced a “phase one” trade deal he said amounted to a “love fest” after months of friction.

“We lost on immigration?” he asked when questioned about the string of rulings. “I haven’t heard that. We’ll win. You know how many cases I’ve lost and then we win?”

No, how many? He knows this will not end well, and Nancy Gibbs, a former managing editor of Time and now director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, suggests something else may be going on here:

What if the president wants out? There’s much about the job he never liked, which is one reason he spends so much time watching TV rather than actually doing it. Under normal circumstances, it involves any number of things he once avoided; shaking hands with germy people, being talked at by experts who know more than he, sitting still for extended periods, being criticized no matter what he does, empathizing – all important parts of the job. He has gone to considerable lengths to reshape the role, fired the experts, cleared his schedule, kept up his golf game… but still. The campaigning was fun, but the best evidence of how little he likes presiding is how seldom he’s actually done it.

And she does have her suspicions:

I got a glimpse of this before he even reported for duty. It was a few weeks after the 2016 election, and I interviewed him in his Trump Tower aerie. He was jovial, gracious, answered all the questions, and was reveling in his impending power. As we were finishing, I asked if I could come back later and see him in the White House, to see how it was going. “Yes, of course,” he said. But then he paused and asked, “But… what if I don’t like it? What if I don’t want to do it anymore?”

Sometimes half-joking questions are the most serious.

And, if so, he does have options:

Resigning is out; that’s for quitters. Defeat in 2020 is worse; losing is for losers. But being impeached and removed from office is the one outcome that preserves at least some ability to denounce the deep state and the quislings in the Senate, who stabbed him in the back, maintain his bond with his tribe, depart the capital and launch a media business to compete with the ever more flaccid Fox News. (This all presumes that President Pence pardons him, for which there’s some precedent.) Impeachment lets him go down fighting, and he will call it rigged and unfair and illegitimate and a coup, all of which would be harder if the verdict was rendered next November by millions of voters…

When you think about it, with a choice of bad options, impeachment doesn’t look so bad, and gets you home to your gilded tower sooner.

So this could end well for everyone. Impeach him in the House and convict him in the Senate and set him free. Let him sneer from the sidelines and develop a new reality television show. The rest of us have work to do.

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This Absurd King

Getting old is a bother. Health is always an issue. Pause. Catch your breath. But the world races on anyway. And five days later everything has gotten more absurd, in that Camus sort of way – none of it was ever going to make sense. Man’s search for external meaning is kind of stupid. Things just happen. Deal with them with decency and honor, and tell no lies, and accept no lies. And don’t rely on nonsense. But don’t expect meaning. Things just happen.

And things just keep getting more absurd. A few days pass and now it’s this nonsense:

In a series of legal maneuvers that have defied Congress, drawn rebukes from federal judges and tested the country’s foundational system of checks and balances, President Trump has made an expansive declaration of presidential immunity that would essentially place him beyond the reach of the law.

In courts and before Congress, Trump’s legal teams are simultaneously arguing two contradictory points: that the president can’t be investigated or indicted by prosecutors because Congress has the sole responsibility for holding presidents accountable, and that the House’s impeachment inquiry is an unconstitutional effort that the White House can ignore.

No one knew what to make of this – only Congress can investigate the president, and do what’s necessary with what they find, but that’s unconstitutional – all the president has to do is say that what they’re doing is unfair, and then they have to stop. This was a bit odd:

The broad legal effort escalated on Tuesday when the White House counsel sent a letter to House Democratic leaders dismissing Congress’s impeachment inquiry as “illegitimate” and stating that the entire executive branch would refuse to cooperate with it.

In his eight-page letter to Congress on Tuesday, White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone declared that “the President has a country to lead” and claimed that Congress’s attempts at oversight were overly partisan, lacked due ­process and ran afoul of constitutional principles.

Echoing Trump, Cipollone made several political points in his letter, accusing Democrats of trying to overturn the results of the 2016 election.

That’s the Washington Post’s account, but Kevin Drum has a better summary of that letter:

The House impeachment inquiry is not a real impeachment inquiry because no vote has been taken. But just in case you think you can get around this by taking a vote, forget it. The inquiry is also invalid because Democrats “have not established any procedures affording the President even the most basic protections demanded by due process under the Constitution and by fundamental fairness.”

The impeachment inquiry is nothing more than a “naked political strategy” to overturn the 2016 election. It’s totally invalid.

There’s no legitimate basis for the inquiry because President Trump’s call to the president of Ukraine was “completely appropriate” and everyone knows it.

Drum’s quick assessment:

Due process is for the impeachment trial, not the initial inquiry. The political motivation for impeachment is irrelevant. And the whole point of the inquiry is to establish whether Trump did anything wrong. The fact that Trump himself says he did nothing wrong is hardly conclusive evidence.

But this letter was plainly not written with legal arguments in mind. No lawyer would do anything but laugh at it. Rather, it’s aimed at Trump’s base and, especially, Fox News. It provides them with approved talking points going forward.

That’s what the Post reports:

Ilya Somin, a professor at Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, joked in a Facebook post that the Trump administration’s legal reasoning made him wonder “whether the White House counsel was sick the day they taught law at law school.”

So this letter is about something else:

“What’s at stake is losing a position of power,” Somin said. “None of the rights the White House demands” are required by the Constitution.

But the problem is the Constitution:

Trump has long held an expansive view of executive power and has cited Article II of the Constitution, which defines the powers of the executive branch, as a catchall that gives him wide latitude.

“Article II allows me to do whatever I want,” Trump said in a June interview with ABC News.

Well, that was his experience:

The Justice Department has previously taken the position that sitting presidents cannot be criminally charged, a position that former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III said limited his options as he probed Trump’s conduct during a lengthy investigation.

So the two contradictory arguments continue:

Earlier this year, Trump’s private attorneys argued in court that the president is immune from criminal investigation – not just by federal prosecutors, but also local prosecutors. In two other cases seeking to block congressional investigations into his finances, Trump’s lawyers have argued that Congress should not investigate the president’s conduct, claiming that it is a job for prosecutors.

Judges in all three cases have rejected the president’s sweeping arguments as out of step with history and the Constitution.

But wait, there’s more:

“Wow,” Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell said in her courtroom Tuesday after a Justice Department lawyer argued that court rulings in 1974 allowing Congress to review materials from the Watergate grand jury should be viewed as invalid today.

The Justice Department said that the court should deny a House Judiciary Committee request for grand jury materials from Mueller’s investigation, despite the legal precedent set during the impeachment inquiry into President Richard M. Nixon.

“As I said, the department is taking extraordinary positions in this case,” Howell said.

Their argument was that United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974) was wrongly decided – the unanimous decision that “a claim of Presidential privilege as to materials subpoenaed for use in a criminal trial cannot override the needs of the judicial process” was stupid. Congress had no right to any evidence back then and it has no right to any evidence now. Judge Howell was stunned, and then she laughed.

But this was about Fox News:

Former U.S. attorney Joseph E. diGenova turned to European history Tuesday night to describe the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Trump, calling their efforts “regicide,” the act of killing a king.

“What you’re seeing is regicide,” diGenova, a frequent Trump defender, told Fox News host Laura Ingraham. “This is regicide by another name, fake impeachment. The Democrats in the House want to destroy the president.”

But diGenova, a conspiracy theorist Trump wanted on his legal team during the Russia probe, wasn’t finished. In a lengthy interview on “The Ingraham Angle,” the lawyer, who was joined by Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, blasted the two anonymous whistleblowers as “suicide bombers” and accused Democrats of “sedition.”

So, Trump is The King. This is odd. And this was predictable. But the Washington Posts’ Philip Rucker and Robert Costa report that these people are now angry at their king:

President Trump’s decision to suddenly withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria has angered evangelical Christian leaders and Republican hawks – cleaving his political coalition at the very moment he is trying to fortify his standing to survive the intensifying impeachment inquiry in Congress.

Instead of enjoying uncontested GOP support as he plunges into a constitutional showdown with House Democrats and prepares for a bruising reelection campaign, Trump is now fighting on two fronts within his party.

The president simultaneously has been laboring to silence dissent over his conduct in pressing Ukraine to investigate a domestic political rival and over his Syria decision — a move critics blame for Wednesday’s Turkish offensive.

He did give Turkey permission to wipe out our Kurdish allies:

Turkey’s government launched a long-expected offensive into northeastern Syria on Wednesday, with airstrikes and shelling targeting Syrian Kurdish fighters who have played a central role in aiding the U.S.-led battle against the Islamic State militant group.

The operation – with some ground forces crossing the border later – came just days after President Trump’s startling announcement that the United States would not stand in Turkey’s way, bringing sharp rebukes from even the president’s Republican allies.

The Turkish foray threatened to further fracture a war-shattered Syria as Ankara moved to create a “safe zone” after failing to agree on its size and nature during negotiations with the United States.

So they’ll do what they want anyway, and this will create real problems:

Turkey’s goal is to push back the Syrian Kurds – considered enemies by Turkey – from the border region. Turkey also claims the buffer region would be fit for the resettlement of millions of Syrian refugees residing in Turkey.

But aid agencies warned that the offensive could create a new humanitarian crisis, as well as a fresh wave of displaced people and refugees.

An even greater worry was the thousands of Islamic State prisoners and their families held by the Syrian Kurdish forces after the fall of the militant group’s self-declared caliphate. A security breakdown at the detention camps could open the way for the fighters and others to slip away.

In short, they want to send these millions of Syrian refugees back to where they belong and be rid of them, and if the Kurds have to go they have to go, and if that means ten thousand ISIS fighters are freed to do whatever they want and wherever they want, that’s not their problem because their problem is the Kurds:

Ankara views the Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their links to Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a decade-long battle in southeastern Turkey for greater autonomy. Turkey has launched cross-border attacks on PKK bases in northern Iraq since the 1990s.

But these guys aren’t the PKK – there may be ten Kurdish factions. These guys are the Kurds who fight ISIS for us. They don’t want to carve up Turkey, not that any of that matters now. This is a mess and Rucker and Costa note that this is a mess for Trump:

While GOP lawmakers have been skittish about directly engaging the subject at the heart of the impeachment debate – the president’s conduct with his Ukrainian counterpart – many have felt free to loudly condemn Trump’s Syria decision, underscoring the fluidity within GOP ranks

Consider Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s most loyal defenders, whose Twitter feed has neatly illustrated this dynamic this week. In the span of 15 hours, he parroted Trump’s points by accusing House Democrats of “destroying” the Constitution with their impeachment proceedings and condemned the Trump administration for having “shamelessly abandoned” Kurdish allies. “This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS,” Graham added.

Or consider Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a member of her party’s leadership, who backed up the president last week by tweeting that the impeachment probe was “starting to seem like a political set up.” On Wednesday, she issued a scorching statement: “President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria is having sickening and predictable consequences.”

Yes, there’s the possibility of genocide. Russia is coordinating with Turkey on this. They have hundreds of thousands of troops in Syria, supporting Assad. A pincer movement of a Russian division heading up from the south would help the Turks – no more Kurds anywhere. And there’s that flood of new ISIS fighters. And the Kurds did trust us. Who will trust us now?

But who cares? The King said this:

President Trump defended his move to pull out of the Syrian conflict during a lengthy question-and-answer session with reporters at the White House on Wednesday. He argued that Americans had long tired of the “endless wars” overseas and that “eventually somebody was going to have to make the decision.”

So, none of this is our business, but the president was more specific than that:

President Trump said Wednesday that it would be “easy” for the United States to form new alliances if Syrian Kurds leave the fight against the Islamic State to fend off a Turkish attack, noting that “they didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us in Normandy” and were only interested in fighting for “their land.”

“With all of that being said, we like the Kurds,” he said in response to questions about Turkey’s incursion into Syria.

But then again, they didn’t land on the beaches of Normandy with us on June 6, 1944, so really, we owe them nothing at all. But then too, we’re not moral monsters:

In an earlier written statement, Trump urged Turkey to protect civilians and safeguard prisons where Islamic State fighters are being detained, saying the United States would hold its NATO ally responsible for the consequences of its decision to attack a key U.S. counterterrorism partner.

Calling the offensive “a bad idea,” he said in the statement that Turkey had promised to avert a humanitarian crisis and ensure its operation did not allow the Islamic State to regain strength.

In his impromptu news conference, Trump said he expected [Turkish President] Erdogan to conduct the offensive “in as humane a way as possible.”

“We’ll have to define that as we go along,” he said.

Erdogan will just have to guess at what Trump has in mind:

Earlier this week, Trump said he would “obliterate” the Turkish economy if Erdogan misbehaved, although he did not define what would constitute bad behavior. But he has largely dismissed the fight between Turkey and the Kurds as the result of “centuries” of hatred between them, indicating that the United States should not be involved.

That was a shrug – not his problem – not America’s problem – but not everyone agreed:

Behind the scenes, Defense Department and State Department officials have rushed to reassure other U.S. allies operating in Syria – principally France and Britain – that only a handful of U.S. troops were being moved and that the presence and mission of the total force of about 1,000 Americans in northern Syria would remain unchanged.

Trump may have to fire those Defense Department and State Department officials:

In written statements and his White House remarks, Trump linked his decision to withdraw U.S. forces to his goal of ending the insurgent wars that have dominated the U.S. military’s focus for two decades.

“The worst mistake the United States has ever made, in my opinion,” he said at the White House, “was going into” the Middle East. “We’re now acting as police,” he said, “doing jobs that other countries should be doing.”

This is America First! This is Not Our Problem! But then Fox News started running stories like this:

A member of U.S. Special Forces serving alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria told Fox News on Wednesday they were witnessing Turkish atrocities on the frontlines.

“I am ashamed for the first time in my career,” said the distraught soldier, who has been involved in the training of indigenous forces on multiple continents. The hardened service member is among the 1,000 or so U.S. troops who remain in Syria.

“Turkey is not doing what it agreed to. It’s horrible,” the military source on the ground said. “We met every single security agreement. The Kurds met every single agreement [with the Turks]. There was no threat to the Turks – none – from this side of the border.”

“This is insanity,” the concerned U.S. service member said.

Trump may have to call Rupert Murdoch and tell him that Fox News cannot run stories like this ever again, because this is damaging:

U.S. military officials told Fox News the president ordered the military not to get involved in the Turkish strikes, after the Kurds requested air support…

Troops on the ground in Syria and their commanders were “surprised” by Trump’s withdrawal decision Sunday night.

Of the president’s decision, the source said: “He doesn’t understand the problem. He doesn’t understand the repercussions of this. Erdogan is an Islamist, not a level-headed actor.”

“The Kurds are as close to Western thinking in the Middle East as anyone,” said the longtime member of Special Forces. “It’s a shame. We are just watching. It’s horrible.”

“This is not helping the ISIS fight,” the military source said…

“The Kurds are sticking by us,” the Special Forces source stressed to Fox News. “No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us.”

Fox News is committing regicide here, and with this second story:

President Trump “went off script” during his call on Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, before he announced that the U.S. would withdraw all troops from northeast Syria ahead of a Turkish military operation in the region, a well-placed senior U.S. military source told Fox News on Wednesday.

During the phone call, Trump had talking points, according to the source: “Tell Erdogan to stay north of the border.”

“He went off script,” the source said…

What is likely to follow will look like “ethnic cleansing” by the Turks, according to the senior military source.

“I don’t know how many people will die. A lot of people will die,” the source said, adding they were “sick about it.”

This was absurd:

From a military perspective, an investment of 1,000 U.S. troops to keep stability in northern Syria was reasonable, the source maintained. “I can’t imagine where the anti-ISIS mission remains viable.”

While no decision has yet been made, the source said there are concerns about force protection and the inability of U.S. troops to continue their missions of partnering with the SDF to go after ISIS, meaning it could be all but certain the remaining 1,000 U.S. troops will be withdrawn.

And yes, this:

“I can’t see why you would leave U.S. forces there” now, according to the source, who also said no one would partner with the United States in the future.

“How do you get other partners? What would give them a reason to trust us?” the source said.

And then things got really strange:

In 2017, President Donald Trump reportedly pushed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to ask the Justice Department to drop its case against one of Rudy Giuliani’s clients.

According a Bloomberg report on Wednesday, Trump wanted the DOJ to terminate its criminal case against Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader who was charged with evading U.S. sanctions against Iran.

At the time, Zarrab was represented by former U.S. General Attorney Michael Mukasey and Giuliani, a longtime friend of Trump’s (the President had not yet hired Giuliani to be his personal lawyer).

Tillerson reportedly rejected Trump’s request, and others in the meeting were “shocked,” per Bloomberg’s description.

Unnamed sources told Bloomberg that shortly after the meeting, Tillerson told then-Chief of Staff John Kelly about Trump’s request and how carrying it out would be illegal.

Zarrab had set up a money laundering scheme that allowed corporations and rich individuals to do any sort of business with Iran they wanted, in spite of all the international sanctions at the time – and Zarrab was a close friend of Erdogan – and Rudy was his lawyer – and Zarrab was about to go to prison forever, for setting up a way to keep our enemy, Iran, fat and happy. Trump wanted Rex to fix this. Erdogan was outraged and must have called Trump. Do something, damn it! A phone call from the State Department – drop all these charges – can’t tell you why because it’s secret – would do the trick. Tillerson would have none of that. Trump then fired him. Zarrab had to face the music. Erdogan is still pissed off about this.

What is going on here? William Saletan offers this timeline:

Turkey infiltrates the Trump campaign: On July 19, 2016, Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president. Six days later, a Turkish-Dutch businessman opened secret talks with Trump’s foreign policy adviser, Michael Flynn. The businessman’s goal, in collaboration with Turkish officials, was to build support in Washington for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish dissident living in Pennsylvania. On Aug. 9, Flynn signed a $600,000 contract to execute the lobbying operation. He was introduced to Turkish government ministers who supported it. For the rest of the presidential campaign, Flynn worked, in effect, as a Turkish agent.

Flynn spikes a plan to arm the Kurds: In December 2016, President Barack Obama decided to arm Kurdish forces – whom Erdogan regarded as enemies of Turkey – for an allied attack on the ISIS stronghold in Raqqa, Syria. Since Trump was the president-elect, Obama’s aides consulted Trump’s designated national security adviser, Flynn, about the plan. Flynn told them not to proceed. At this point, Flynn was no longer working for his Turkish clients, but they had paid him more than $500,000. A few days later, Flynn met for breakfast with Turkey’s foreign minister.

Flynn is exposed and Trump defends him: In February 2017, Flynn resigned for lying about secret talks with Russia. In March, he filed papers acknowledging his work as an unregistered foreign agent for Turkish interests. Instead of renouncing Flynn, Trump defended his talks with Russia, ignored his foreign-agent disclosure, and called him the victim of a “witch hunt.” When members of Congress condemned Flynn for hiding payments he had received from Turkey and Russia, Trump privately told Flynn to “stay strong.”

Trump congratulates Erdogan on rolling back democracy: On April 16, 2017, Erdogan won a referendum in Turkey to replace the country’s parliamentary system with broad executive powers. European leaders expressed concern, and election observers warned that Turkey was sinking deeper into authoritarianism. But Trump called Erdogan to congratulate him.

Trump accepts Turkish political violence in the United States: On May 16, 2017, Trump welcomed Erdogan to the White House. Afterward, as Erdogan watched from a car outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence, his bodyguards broke through an American police cordon and assaulted protesters. Video showed Erdogan conferring with his head of security just before the attack. Congress and the State Department denounced it, and a grand jury indicted 15 Turkish officers. But Trump said nothing. In private, he consoled Erdogan over the indictments, which were later dropped.

Trump presses the U.S. government to expel Gülen: On Oct. 17, 2018, Turkish officials asked the Trump administration to help them extract Gülen from the United States. The White House responded by ordering the FBI and the Justice Department to investigate grounds for extraditing him. The Justice Department told the White House that the grounds were insufficient and that no new evidence supported reopening the case. But that didn’t satisfy Trump. According to NBC News “Trump administration officials then asked for other options to legally remove” Gülen.

Trump sides with Erdogan against American generals: On Dec. 14, 2018, Erdogan spoke to Trump by phone about U.S. troops in Syria. Erdogan wanted them out of the way so he could attack the Kurds. American officials warned Trump that some U.S. troops should stay, since ISIS was still a guerilla force. But Erdogan made a counteroffer: In place of American troops and the advice Trump was getting from American generals, Turkey would take over. During the call, Trump shocked his advisers by accepting the offer. Defense Secretary James Mattis, dismayed by Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds, submitted his resignation. So did Brett McGurk, the American envoy to the coalition against ISIS. Trump responded by publicly deriding both men. On Dec. 23, Trump announced that he was accelerating Mattis’ departure. The president reported that he had just spoken with Erdogan and that Erdogan would be taking over the job of exterminating ISIS.

And now, Turkey, with Russia, has permission to wipe out our ally, because we’re leaving, and Trump will welcome Erdogan to the White House next month, with full honors. What? What does this all mean?

Who knows? Man’s search for external meaning is kind of stupid. But it might be time to impeach this guy.

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Something Came Up

The guy in the big black Jeep ran that stop sign and clobbered my little Toyota. That was Saturday afternoon. The Toyota’s right rear door was smashed beyond recognition and the rear bumper is a bit of a mess. There may be more damage of course – hidden. The car is drivable – so far – but now it’ll be weeks and weeks of paperwork and arguing this and that. No one was hurt, but such things take time. And of course there are the health issues. Things are not right at all. So let Donald Trump be Donald Trump and the world go on as it always does. Others can comment on that. Here it will be tedious but necessary personal nonsense for a bit – private matters. Expect another column when the insurance and repair stuff is nailed down. That may take a few days. The repairs may take a few weeks, so expect new photography when there’s a rental car to drive around to hunt up what’s cool and colorful and California, for those pages.

But for now…

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