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.