In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today,
And that gent today
You gave a cent today
Once had several chateaux.
That was the 1934 Cole Porter song about the normalization of what was once not normal at all – a good thing in the song. Puritans and Boy Scouts had ruined the world. Don’t be a sour prude. Don’t be a scold. Get off your high horse. Everyone does it, whatever it is. Don’t be a fool.
It’s hard to imagine Mike Pence humming that tune as he goes about doing whatever it is that vice president’s do each day. Jesus would weep. But it’s easy enough to imagine Donald Trump whistling that tune while he works. The New York Times’ Peter Baker and Eileen Sullivan report on his latest bold normalization of what was once not normal at all:
President Trump, already facing impeachment for pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, publicly called on China on Thursday to examine former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as well – an extraordinary request for help from a foreign power that could benefit him in next year’s election.
“China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Mr. Trump told reporters as he left the White House to travel to Florida. His request came just moments after he discussed upcoming trade talks with China and said that “if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.”
That seemed to be a signal that, unless the Chinese come up with some dirt on Biden and his son, the tariffs will last forever and there will be more of them every day. Trade between the two nations will end, forever, unless… well, he didn’t have to spell that out, did he? They know what he wants.
Everyone knows what he wants:
The president’s call for Chinese intervention means that Mr. Trump and his attorney general have now solicited assistance in discrediting the president’s political opponents from Ukraine, Australia, Italy, and, according to one report, Britain. In speaking so publicly on Thursday, a defiant Mr. Trump pushed back against critics who have called such requests an abuse of power, essentially arguing that there was nothing wrong with seeking foreign help to fight corruption.
There’s a law against that but it seems that law is for wimps and fools. The world changed. Anything goes:
Throughout his presidency, Mr. Trump has made little effort to hide actions or statements that critics called outrageous violations of norms and standards. And yet because he does them in public, they seem to stir less blowback than if they had been done behind closed doors. Among other things, he repeatedly called on his own Justice Department to investigate his Democratic foes and eventually fired his first attorney general for not protecting him from the Russia investigation.
But this time is a bit different:
By boldly repeating the action at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, Mr. Trump almost appeared to dare House Democrats to impeach him. But he left his own party in an increasingly uncomfortable position. Republican lawmakers largely stayed silent on Thursday, neither criticizing the president’s latest comments nor defending them, as they nervously awaited other developments that they worried could change the complexion of the case.
But the other side wasn’t waiting for anything else:
Mr. Trump’s comments on Thursday set off a wave of criticism from Democrats, who said he brazenly implicated himself.
“What Donald Trump just said on the South Lawn of the White House was this election’s equivalent of his infamous ‘Russia, if you’re listening’ moment from 2016 – a grotesque choice of lies over truth and self over the country,” Kate Bedingfield, Mr. Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said in a statement.
Ms. Bedingfield was referring to a news conference during the 2016 campaign when Mr. Trump on camera called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email servers. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said. The investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III later determined that just hours later Russian hackers made their first effort to break into servers used by Mrs. Clinton’s personal office.
Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the House Intelligence Committee chairman leading the impeachment inquiry, said the president’s latest comments were further evidence of his betrayal of duty.
“The president of the United States encouraging a foreign nation to interfere and help his campaign by investigating a rival is a fundamental breach of the president’s oath of office,” he told reporters.
Hillary Clinton weighed in as well. “Someone should inform the president that impeachable offenses committed on national television still count,” she wrote on Twitter.
No, they don’t count:
Attorney General William P. Barr himself has been in touch with foreign officials seeking help for an investigation into the origin of Mr. Mueller’s inquiry to determine if it was generated by an illegitimate “hoax” undertaken for partisan reasons, as Mr. Trump has contended.
That was, of course, supposed to be business as usual, now that anything goes, but other legal minds disagreed:
Sally Yates, an Obama administration holdover who served as acting attorney general until she was fired by Mr. Trump, said the president behaved as if acting in the light of day would transform corrupt actions into innocent ones. “The president is trying to hypnotize the American people into believing that it can’t be wrong if he says it out loud,” she said.
“The White House counsel in a case like this would find the nearest window and jump out,” said Robert F. Bauer, who served as President Barack Obama’s top lawyer and supports Mr. Biden. “There’s no way to defend it. No way. None.”
Trump proved Bauer wrong:
Left to defend himself, Mr. Trump weighed back in Thursday night, asserting he was allowed to seek foreign help. “As the President of the United States, I have an absolute right, perhaps even a duty, to investigate, or have investigated, CORRUPTION, and that would include asking, or suggesting, other Countries to help us out!” he wrote on Twitter.
That this is about Joe Biden and his son is a coincidence of course, or maybe not:
Mr. Trump has insisted that his July conversation with Mr. Zelensky was “perfect” even after a reconstructed transcript of the call released by the White House showed him imploring the newly inaugurated Ukrainian leader to “do us a favor” by investigating the Bidens and other Democrats shortly after Mr. Zelensky discussed his need for more American aid to counter Russian aggression.
Undaunted by criticism, Mr. Trump repeated that request on Thursday morning. “I would say that President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens,” Mr. Trump said. “Because nobody has any doubt that they weren’t crooked.”
And that’s a universal truth:
In calling for an investigation of American citizens by China, a repressive Communist government with no rule of law, Mr. Trump referred to a business deal Hunter Biden was in that involved a fund drawing investment from the government-owned Bank of China. The fund was announced in late 2013, days after Hunter Biden flew to China aboard Air Force Two with the vice president, who was in the midst of a diplomatic mission.
The president said on Thursday that Hunter Biden was not qualified for that business, noting that he had been discharged from the Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine. “He got kicked out of the Navy,” Mr. Trump said. “All of a sudden he’s getting billions of dollars. You know what they call that? They call that a payoff.”
Mr. Trump said he had not asked President Xi Jinping for assistance. “But it’s certainly something we can start thinking about because I’m sure that President Xi does not like being under that kind of scrutiny.”
That’s a threat. President Xi had better get going on destroying Biden, now. If he doesn’t, the CIA and NSA will be watching everything he does, and ignore this:
Mr. Biden is not the only candidate in the race with a child with business in China. Mr. Trump’s elder daughter, Ivanka, a senior White House adviser, has received valuable trademarks from China even after she closed her brand in 2018 because of worsening sales and questions of conflicts of interest.
She still holds those trademarks, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. She can use them later or sell them now. That was a Chinese gift to the Trump family that ran parallel to all the trade negotiations. It was just a favor. Some might call those trademarks a bribe. Prudes and Boy Scouts might do that.
This is that Cole Porter song now, and Dahlia Lithwick updates the lyrics:
Part of Donald Trump’s seeming immunity to consequences comes from the fact that he has a singular, predictable response to being caught out: He first denies that it happened, and then, faced with proof that it did – or in the case of Ukraine, having himself hand-delivered the proof that it did – he admits having done it, but then argues that it’s perfectly cool, perfectly legal, and not that big of a deal. And that everyone does it and that people should do it more.
It’s uncanny but it never fails him. From “Russia, if you’re listening” to “I don’t pay taxes because I’m smart,” the play is to rope-a-dope the public into believing we’re the idiots for abiding by the rules.
That is the essence of the Cole Porter song, but Lithwick senses a change now:
This time Donald Trump looks weak and pathetic. It’s not like the other non-scandals, when he didn’t pay his taxes and told people he was smart, or when he treated women like garbage and told people he was sexy, or when he profited from the businesses from which he refused to divest himself and told people he was just too fantastic a businessman, or even when he destroyed the lives of immigrants and asylum-seekers and told people he was tough.
No, this time, even as he admits to the impeachable act and says it’s what smart people do, he mostly looks nuts. He looks like a desperate man chasing an imaginary enemy – not his political opponent but his opponent’s son—around the globe, firing ambassadors, plotting with Paul Manafort, shaking down the Australians and the Italians and begging the Chinese to get in on the action, all because he’s hell-bent on destroying a political opponent who isn’t even his opponent yet. He’s twisted and bent the State Department and the Justice Department and the Republican Senate into confederates in what’s emerged as the saddest little snipe hunt in the world.
Trump may not have thought about that, about what happens when he gets the goods on the Bidens and destroys them and asks that everyone admire him for what he has just done. He’ll look like a jerk:
The Ukraine scandal may stick to him, and not simply because the president cannot seem to outrun it, but because even if he finally catches up, begging Australia and China to help him steal another election doesn’t have the look of a winner. It’s small, and weak. This time, maybe, bragging about that doesn’t help.
And he had been warned:
The former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine told House investigators on Thursday that he warned President Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani that Giuliani was receiving untrustworthy information from Ukrainian political figures about former vice president Joe Biden and his son, according to two people familiar with his testimony.
Kurt Volker, who resigned last week after being named in a whistleblower complaint that sparked the House impeachment inquiry into Trump, said he tried to caution Giuliani that his sources, including Ukraine’s former top prosecutor, were unreliable and that he should be careful about putting faith in the prosecutor’s theories, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting.
There really was nothing there when Trump just knew there was, or wished there was, and then he decided to twist a few arms to rid himself of Biden once and for all:
Democrats came away from the day-long deposition convinced that documents Volker provided to House investigators provide “ample evidence,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said, that the Trump administration planned to require Ukraine’s president to investigate the Biden family’s ties to the Ukrainian energy giant Burisma and look into the 2016 election to “exonerate Russia’s role,” if the foreign leader wanted to meet with the American president.
That’s extortion, but the odd thing is that his own people worked against him:
Volker also told lawmakers Thursday that he and other State Department officials cautioned the Ukrainians to steer clear of U.S. politics. Getting involved, he said he told them, would open the nation to allegations that it was interfering in an American election and could be detrimental to Ukraine long-term, according to the two individuals familiar with his testimony.
In short, don’t make Ukraine Republican. One day Democrats will be back in power over here. That goes back and forth. But everything goes back and forth:
Democrats left the deposition arguing that Volker’s testimony only further confirmed the damage Trump and Giuliani did to U.S. foreign policy on behalf of the president’s political interests. Volker, they said, made clear that the Ukrainians were confused and upset by the administration’s decisions to delay the diplomatic visit and stall military aid – and that they did not know how to handle the situation.
“I walk away very bothered by the fact that a private citizen, albeit the attorney to the president, is roaming around another country purporting to wear a semiofficial hat and explicitly trying to dig up dirt on domestic political opponents,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.).
Republicans said that Volker’s testimony fell far short of revealing the “quid pro quo” narrative…
It was just words? There was no paperwork. Nothing had been signed? There was no list of precise if-then agreements? That was the Republican argument, but there was this:
In advance of his appearance Thursday, Volker had turned over a number of documents to congressional staffers, including chains of text messages with Giuliani and other State Department officials, said people familiar with the documents. On Thursday, Fox News and ABC News each obtained text messages appearing to show a top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, expressing concern that the Trump administration was trying to carry out a quid pro quo. “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” read the message.
Everyone knew this was bonkers, and then the New York Times broke this story:
Two of President Trump’s top envoys to Ukraine worked on a statement for the country’s new president in August that would have committed Ukraine to pursuing investigations sought by Mr. Trump into his political rivals, according to three people briefed on the effort and documents released Thursday night.
Their work on the statement is new evidence of how Mr. Trump’s fixation with conspiracy theories linked to Ukraine began driving senior diplomats to bend American foreign policy to the president’s political agenda in the weeks after a July 25 call between the two leaders.
The statement was worked on by Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt D. Volker, then the State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine, according to the documents and the three people who have been briefed on it. Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and the de facto leader of a shadow campaign to push the Ukrainians to press ahead with investigations, provided the critical element of the language, Mr. Volker told House Democratic investigators on Thursday, a person familiar with his testimony said.
It seems something else happened at that hearing, a big reveal, but one that came to little:
The Ukrainians never released the statement. But if they had, Mr. Trump’s aides would have effectively pressured a foreign government to give credence to allegations intended to undercut one of the Democratic Party’s leading 2020 president candidates – former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. – without leaving Mr. Trump’s fingerprints on it.
But they never released the statement, so that was that, except for why there was a statement at all:
The drafting of the statement, which came in the weeks after the July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky, was an effort to pacify Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani and to normalize relations between the two countries as Ukraine faced continuing conflict with Russia. Mr. Sondland and Mr. Volker believed that Mr. Giuliani was “poisoning” Mr. Trump’s mind about Ukraine and that eliciting a public commitment from Mr. Zelensky to pursue the investigations would induce Mr. Trump to more fully support the new Ukrainian government, according to the people familiar with it.
It seems that Sondland and Volker were offering Zelensky a way to save his country. Trump is a madman. Say you’ll investigate the Bidens or he’ll really lose it and hand your country over to Putin. When he’s angry he might do anything. Giuliani has poisoned his mind. Don’t risk it. Sign this statement we’ve prepared for you.
And everyone knows Trump:
Mr. Sondland raised some hackles at the State Department and in the National Security Council when he asked to be included in the United States delegation that attended Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration, according to people familiar with the events. Mr. Sondland attended an Oval Office meeting afterward with other members of the delegation – which also included Mr. Volker, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin – to brief Mr. Trump on the delegation’s impressions of Mr. Zelensky.
When the delegation praised Mr. Zelensky and urged Mr. Trump to fully support the new Ukrainian government, the president was dismissive. “They’re terrible people,” Mr. Trump said of Ukrainian politicians, according to people familiar with the meeting. “They’re all corrupt and they tried to take me down.”
The man does hold grudges forever, except they didn’t really try to take him down. Vladimir Putin told him that. That’s the Russian line. They did nothing in 2016 – it was the Ukrainians. Trump believes Putin. He always does.
Of course he does. Anything goes. Or almost anything:
Fox analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano has cemented his role as a critic of President Trump.
In a Fox News op-ed Thursday, Napolitano railed against Trump for his infamous July call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, writing that the scandal is “much more grave” than Robert Mueller’s findings in the Russia probe.
“The criminal behavior to which Trump has admitted is much more grave than anything alleged or unearthed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and much of what Mueller revealed was impeachable,” Napolitano said.
Napolitano argued that the White House’s release of its version of Trump’s July call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky means that the President “admitted to its accuracy.” On the call, Trump asked Zelensky to do the U.S. a favor when the Ukrainian leader inquired about military aid. Trump used the conversation to lean on Zelensky to drum up bogus allegations against Joe and Hunter Biden.
Napolitano added that Trump’s withholding of military aid to the Ukraine and his ongoing effort to accuse the whistleblower of treason contributes to his “criminal behavior.”
And that’s that, except for this:
Napolitano also took issue with Trump’s allusions to violence that are “palpably dangerous” such as how he suggested that his impeachment would “produce a second American Civil War.”
“Trump’s allusions to violence will give cover to crazies who crave violence, as other intemperate words of his have done,” Napolitano said, citing how the President’s words have already produced offers of “bounties” in return for outing and finding the whistleblower.
It seems that not everything goes, but for this:
Trump has grown increasingly hostile toward Fox News recently, saying that he “doesn’t know what’s happening with the network.”
He should know. They’ve been reporting the news for a change. Anything goes over there too, now. And anything goes with the Democrats too. Trump may be in trouble. But he started it.