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.