No Shrugging This Off

Sometimes the small news stories are not that small, although this was small:

A Christian aid group that planned a gathering to honor and pray for the Kurdish people at President Trump’s hotel in Washington was told by hotel staff this week that the event was canceled, according to two members of the aid group.

The event, called “A Night of Prayer for the Kurds,” was to be hosted by Frontier Alliance International (FAI), a religious nonprofit group that provides medical help in the Middle East, including to the Kurds…

The aid group’s founder, Dalton Thomas, said the reasons behind the cancellation were “hazy.”

That’s understandable. The United States abandoned the Kurds, our allies who did most of the fighting to eliminate the new ISIS caliphate in northern Iraq and northern Syria. They saved the world with us and for us, and they lost thousands of their best in the effort, when Trump suddenly, in one phone call, agreed with Erdogan. The Kurds were evil and we’d pull our troops out of northern Syria, immediately, so Turkey could roll in and rid that part of the world of all Kurds. So we’re gone. Trump says let Turkey and Syria and Iran work things out with Russia over there – that’s not our business. But these Christian evangelical groups had spent years supporting the Kurds – the good people who wiped out that caliphate and protected Christians over there too. But these Christian evangelical groups love Trump too. They booked his hotel. Maybe he would understand this was a terrible thing to do.

He doesn’t admit mistakes. He can’t even image that he makes mistakes. And this seemed to be a message to the Christian evangelical community. Revise your theology. Trump actually said “the Kurds are no angels” and that’s the word now. Perhaps the Kurds should die. And he expects these people to get with the program. And he assumes they will. They always do.

The Trump Organization refunded the group’s money and now they plan to hold the event at the Grand Hyatt Washington on the next available Sunday. Trump wins if they cancel the event entirely, but these things take time. It takes time to convince yourself that your friends are your enemies and always were your enemies. But they will come around.

And sometimes there’s no point in arguing with Trump at all:

Many congressional Republicans are done trying to defend President Donald Trump after he said he was the victim of a lynching on Tuesday – but that doesn’t mean they’re trying to rein him in, either.

Trump’s tweet comparing the impeachment process to a “lynching” set off a firestorm of Democratic criticism but largely a wrist slap from Republicans, who have grown frustrated but accustomed to the president’s inflammatory rhetoric… But after more than four years of trying to limit the president’s divisive style, asking him to stop tweeting or focus on the economy, the Republican Party has given up any pretense of trying to rein him in.

It was just a bad day:

Republicans had already been privately expressing frustration that Trump has been acting as a one-man war room in the impeachment fight, lashing out in Cabinet meetings and lobbing attacks from his Twitter account. But they were utterly unprepared for what was awaiting them on Tuesday morning.

“So someday, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights,” he wrote on Twitter. “All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!”

Trump’s latest controversy put Republicans in an uncomfortable, albeit familiar, spot: stand with the president or distance themselves from him.

Some of Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill showed little interest in jumping on Trump’s latest grenade, but they also refused to slam him.

Perhaps it’s best to ignore him. If he suddenly tweets out that it’s time to nuke Portugal, because we can, let it go. He won’t do anything. He wants to outrage everyone. So he said he’s being lynched. Shrug. But not all Republican could do that:

“Inappropriate. That’s not appropriate in any context,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).

“You are comparing a constitutional process to the PREVALENT and SYSTEMATIC brutal torture of people in THIS COUNTRY that looked like me?” Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, tweeted.

She’s black. She would say that. But why are these black folks so sensitive about that word, lynching? What are they, snowflakes? And they don’t own the word, damn it! Other people can use it.

That was the discussion all day on talk radio, but there was this too:

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), when told about the tweet, merely responded “that’s disturbing,” while Sen Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has spoken out vehemently against Trump in recent weeks, declined to comment further.

“I think I’ve said enough about the president’s tweets, as of late,” Romney said.

But that was the Outrage of the Day. No one could let it go and it almost buried the big story of the day, but no one could shrug at this:

America’s top diplomat in Ukraine delivered a forceful blow to President Trump’s account of his “perfect” dealings with that nation, telling lawmakers Tuesday that the White House had threatened to withdraw much-needed military aid unless Kyiv announced investigations for Trump’s political benefit.

The explosive, closed-door testimony from acting ambassador William B. Taylor Jr. undermined Trump’s insistence that he never pressured Ukrainian officials in a potentially improper “quid pro quo.” It also offered House investigators an expansive road map to what Taylor called a “highly irregular” channel of shadow diplomacy toward Ukraine that lies at the heart of the impeachment inquiry…

Taylor repeatedly expressed his shock and bewilderment as he watched U.S. policy toward Ukraine get overtaken by Trump’s demand that newly elected president Volodymyr Zelensky “go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and 2016 election interference.”

That was Trump’s demand and Taylor would have nothing to do with that:

A seasoned diplomat, Army veteran and meticulous note taker, Taylor told lawmakers that former national security adviser John Bolton and other officials from the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA tried unsuccessfully to get a meeting with Trump to persuade him to release the money – nearly $400 million intended to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia.

But Trump’s hold on the aid extended well into September, and Taylor said he found himself considering resignation. “I could not and would not defend such a policy,” Taylor said.

And the whole thing was Trump’s idea, which is a problem here:

A Democrat described Taylor’s testimony as “damning.”

“We were glued to his every word. I can’t remember what they were gasping at, but there were sighs and incredulous reactions to what we heard. Because he laid it all bare, he laid it bare – the timeline, all of it,” said Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.).

“This is a sea change,” said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), a senior member of the House Oversight Committee who heard the testimony. “I think it could accelerate matters.”

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that the president “has done nothing wrong – this is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution. There was no quid pro quo.”

Taylor doesn’t seem like a radical unelected bureaucrat, although he did say this in his opening statement:

Taylor pointed to Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani as a source of trouble.

“The push to make President Zelensky publicly commit to investigations of Burisma and alleged interference in the 2016 election showed how the official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr. Giuliani,” Taylor wrote.

And the New York Times’ Peter Baker sets a few things straight about this guy:

Mr. Taylor brought to the House hearing a 50-year résumé of public service, starting as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point and an infantry officer with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. He served every administration, Republican and Democrat, since President Ronald Reagan, culminating with a posting as ambassador to Ukraine under President George W. Bush. And he was recruited last spring by Mike Pompeo, Mr. Trump’s secretary of state to return to Kiev to replace Marie L. Yovanovitch, the ambassador tarred by Mr. Trump’s camp as an adversary.

And of course Donald Trump had bone spurs, but this is Taylor’s tale:

He stood on one side of a war-damaged bridge in Ukraine staring across at Russian-backed forces and saw the real-world consequences of President Trump’s efforts to advance a personal agenda. “More Ukrainians,” he said, “would undoubtedly die.”

Recalling that moment during explosive testimony on Tuesday, William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, laid out in visceral terms the stakes of what he saw as an illegitimate scheme to pressure the Kiev government for political help by suspending American security aid.

In by far the most damning account yet to become public in the House impeachment inquiry Mr. Taylor described a president holding up $391 million in assistance for the clear purpose of forcing Ukraine to help incriminate Mr. Trump’s domestic rivals. Mr. Trump’s actions, he testified, undercut American allies desperately fighting off Russia’s attempt to redraw the boundaries of Europe through force.

There is a moral issue here:

“If Ukraine succeeds in breaking free of Russian influence, it is possible for Europe to be whole, free, democratic and at peace,” Mr. Taylor said in his opening statement to House investigators, which was provided to reporters after he delivered it behind closed doors. “In contrast, if Russia dominates Ukraine, Russia will again become an empire, oppressing its people and threatening its neighbors and the rest of the world.”

So no shrugs now:

Mr. Taylor’s testimony could make it harder for Republicans to brush off Mr. Trump’s actions as unimportant or distorted by partisan rivals. Defending Ukraine against Russian encroachment, much like defending the United States’ Kurdish allies against Turkey, has been a high priority for many Republicans, who complained that President Barack Obama did not stand up to Moscow aggressively enough.

And then there’s the man Trump admires more than any man anywhere in the world:

Mr. Taylor’s testimony once again focused attention on Mr. Trump’s unusual relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia. Unlike most leaders in both parties, Mr. Trump has rarely expressed much criticism of Mr. Putin or his aggression against his neighbors, at one point even suggesting that he could accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine through force in 2014.

Mr. Trump went further than Mr. Obama by providing lethal military assistance to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia, but privately echoed Mr. Putin’s line about the Ukrainians being untrustworthy and corrupt. By holding up the $391 million in aid allocated by Congress, Mr. Trump essentially reversed his own policy and angered lawmakers of both parties, who finally pressured him into releasing the money last month.

Mr. Trump’s decisions benefiting Russia confound Democrats and Republicans alike.

Taylor, however, is really ticked off:

Mr. Taylor made clear that what he found particularly egregious about the president’s actions was what he regarded as the betrayal of a friend to the not-so-tender mercies of a ruthless invader for corrupt reasons.

“Ukraine is special to me,” he said, and what has happened in the five months since he was asked to return to Kiev was “crazy,” “improper” and “folly” with far-reaching implications.

But the issue is actually simple:

“We must support Ukraine in its fight against its bullying neighbor,” he told House investigators. “Russian aggression cannot stand.”

He recalled being stunned to learn during a secure video conference call on July 18 that the aid to Ukraine had been delayed with no explanation other than that “the directive had come from the president to the chief of staff to” the Office of Management and Budget.

“I and others sat in astonishment,” he testified. “The Ukrainians were fighting the Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons, but also the assurance of U.S. support.”

So did the Kurds. There is no support, and Jesse Wegman sees this:

If Tuesday’s congressional testimony by William Taylor, the acting United States envoy to Ukraine, is to be taken at face value – and no one in the Trump administration has yet denied a word of it – then it is now beyond doubt: President Trump placed his personal political future above the national-security interests of the United States. He did so at the expense of longstanding foreign policy, a critical international alliance and the stability of the global order – and he used hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to do it…

Mr. Taylor laid out with a stunning degree of detail the extent of Mr. Trump’s effort to extort Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his son over supposed corruption.

This is the smoking gun:

You know it’s bad for the president when the only response the White House can muster is to sidestep the testimony and complain instead about “a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.”

Would that be the same Constitution that Mr. Trump referred to, in part, as “phony” just this week? Also, “radical unelected bureaucrat” is a curious way to describe Mr. Taylor, who currently serves as Mr. Trump’s acting envoy to Ukraine and is a retired career civil servant and Vietnam War veteran who has served under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

And he was surprised:

Mr. Taylor described to lawmakers how, after agreeing to take over as interim head of the United States Embassy in Ukraine last spring, he soon realized something was very wrong. There were “two channels of U.S. policymaking and implementation, one regular and one highly irregular.” The regular one was what it had long been: support, with bipartisan backing in Congress, for Ukraine against Russian aggression from the east. The irregular one was a concerted effort, led by Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, to get Ukraine to investigate purported corruption by Mr. Biden and his son…

Mr. Taylor’s alarm bells went off when, shortly before one call with Mr. Zelensky, Gordon Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, said he didn’t want most of the normal interagency participants to be on the line, and didn’t want anyone monitoring or transcribing the call.

Later, Mr. Taylor said, Mr. Sondland told him that “everything” – the White House visit and the military aid – depended on Mr. Zelensky’s willingness to start a high-profile, public investigation. That sure sounds like a threat to withhold money unless Mr. Zelensky did the president’s bidding – what sticklers might call a quid pro quo. Mr. Trump has denied this, repeating “no quid pro quo” as though it were a magical incantation. After reading Mr. Taylor’s testimony, I don’t think that phrase means what the president thinks it means.

So it comes down to this:

There are two stories to tell about Ukraine, Mr. Taylor said. One story, the bad one, involves whistle-blowers, back channels and quid pro quos. The other is a positive one — about “a young nation, struggling to break free of its past” and eager to “enjoy a more secure and prosperous life.” Mr. Taylor might have added that there are also two American stories — one in which politicians use foreign policy to maneuver for domestic advantage, and one in which there is bipartisan support for fledgling democracies that share our values and there are diplomats who devote their lives to delivering on that support.

Choose one. Or choose more. Brian Beutler offers this:

Donald Trump now has a well-earned reputation by now for trying to draw corrupt or vulnerable foreign regimes into his elections. But for years his subordinates have insisted that he personally has had no part in it – that whatever his son or campaign advisers were up to in 2016 somehow never reached his desk. His efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation were in large measure designed to prevent Special Counsel Robert Mueller from substantiating his direct involvement in the Russia matter.

The Trump of the Ukraine scandal – the real Trump, the one who got caught before he could complete another cover-up – is neck deep in all of his own conspiracies, and they are elaborate and far reaching.

Beutler argues that much more is going on here:

To shake Ukraine down, Trump had to set up a shadow foreign policy. Now recall how many other bad-acting countries Trump has established irregular relations with: Turkey, UAE, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, North Korea. The list goes on.

Trump has business interests in Turkey, whose president seemingly now dictates disastrous regional policy decisions to the US over the phone. Trump’s son in law adviser reportedly likes to trade encrypted messages with the murderous crown prince of Saudi Arabia. His daughter has a growing portfolio of patents from the Chinese government, which may have responded to a separate Trump solicitation with dirt on Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. Russia’s spell over Trump is notorious, and Trump has gone to great lengths to conceal his conversations with Vladimir Putin from his own government.

Could Trump really have corrupted foreign policy so completely, under all of our noses? Yes he could have.

That’s something to consider:

To limit the impeachment inquiry to Ukraine would be a bit like catching a murderer in the act of killing and charging him with one crime, ignoring the bodies piled up in his basement. We know there’s a secure server at the White House that contains more improperly classified, politically scandalous summaries of Trump’s calls with world leaders.

Of the corrupt extortion of Ukraine, Mulvaney said, “we do that all the time.”

Take him at his word, and uncover every shakedown.

Or just take care of this one and get rid of the guy. One thing at a time – but don’t shrug now.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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