Put questions of free will and determinism aside. There’s that moment when what seemed unlikely, and then seemed vaguely possible but unlikely, starts to seem possible, and then seems likely, and then quite likely, and then seems inevitable – that was going to happen all along. That was the only thing that could have happened. Why didn’t anyone see that? Donald Trump was going to be impeached all along. That was only a matter of time.
But the inevitable sneaks up on everyone. There’s not one moment when everything suddenly becomes clear. There’s simply the weight of mounting clear evidence that nothing is working out. There are simply days like this:
Democratic investigators have requested testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton in their expanding impeachment probe of President Trump, reaching into the upper echelons of the White House as they prepared to move ahead Thursday with a pivotal vote setting out the next stages of the inquiry.
The Democrats are finished with the low-level people no one ever heard of. Now it’s straight to the top. And now they’ll have an unambiguous array of procedures in place – a formal way of doing things. The Republicans said this wasn’t really an impeachment inquiry because the House never voted for one or for how one would work. There was no rule that said they had to do that, so this was a concession – except it was more than that. The new “rules” would limit grandstanding and allow for deep dives into all evidence.
But the real prize was Bolton:
Bolton, who left the White House amid acrimony with Trump last month, could offer direct testimony about the president’s alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine for dirt on political rivals in exchange for U.S. military aid and a meeting with the president. A longtime hawk and divisive figure in foreign policy circles, Bolton has been asked to appear in front of the House committees conducting the probe on Nov. 7, according to two officials who agreed to speak about the matter only on the condition of anonymity…
The potential testimony next week from Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security adviser for 17 months, would represent the most significant step by House investigators yet in moving inside Trump’s inner circle. Democrats are eager to question him about Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, whose pressure campaign targeting Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, raised Bolton’s ire earlier this year.
Bolton knows things, and Trump fired him, or he quit – nothing is clear – but the two of them are pissed off at each other – and Bolton thinks Rudy Giuliani is a dangerous jerk leading Trump to disaster, and the nation to disaster. Democrats want to hear more, much more, and then there’s the other guy:
Officials also said that former Bolton deputy Timothy Morrison, who is expected to testify Thursday, is leaving his post as the National Security Council’s top Russia official. Morrison – who would be one of the highest-ranking White House officials to provide evidence in the probe – could provide crucial corroboration of an alleged quid pro quo, in which other witnesses have suggested Trump held back promised military aid to Ukraine until its leaders committed to launch investigations that could help Trump politically.
He was Bolton’s man over there after Bolton left, and of course, if he quits he’s now a private citizen. So he quit the night before he was to testify. He no longer works for Trump. Trump cannot order him to say nothing. This is trouble for Trump, but perhaps this was inevitable. Piss people off and they will piss on you. Trump made his own mess here.
And there’s that other matter:
The Democratic-controlled House is scheduled to vote Thursday on rules governing the next phase of the inquiry, with both parties working feverishly to ensure that there are few if any defections on their side in what amounts to the first formal approval of the impeachment effort.
White House legislative aides and other top officials have worked to solidify Republican opposition since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced there would be a vote, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the strategy candidly. The White House plans to invite a group of GOP lawmakers to meet with Trump before the roll call in an additional move to ensure “no” votes, the official said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) have told Republicans that any vote for the inquiry would effectively be greenlighting an unfair process that doesn’t give Trump due process rights.
Democrats say they sought to craft the resolution specifically to undercut that argument, ensuring, for example, that Trump can have an attorney represent him during the proceedings. But Republicans say the process remains unfair because the House Judiciary Committee can keep the president’s attorneys out of the process if Democrats decide they are acting in bad faith.
It doesn’t matter. Democrats have the votes to put their new procedures in place and there are other issues:
After one witness, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, was vilified this week by figures on the conservative right, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday called on the Army to provide him with the same protections as official government whistleblowers.
That would mean that Trump could not just fire the guy now, but Trump already lost this battle:
“Although he has served our country for more than 20 years and is a recipient of the Purple Heart after being injured while serving in Iraq, he has been called a variety of derogatory terms and some have even gone so far as to call him a spy and question his loyalty to the United States,” Schumer wrote Wednesday in a letter to the Pentagon.
Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the just-retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also came to Vindman’s defense in a statement issued to CNN on Wednesday, calling him “a professional, competent, patriotic, and loyal officer” who “has made an extraordinary contribution to the security of our nation in both peacetime and combat.”
Trump made a mistake here, but he made a bigger mistake earlier:
Giuliani’s informal diplomatic channel sought to force Zelensky to launch investigations that could benefit Trump politically, according to testimony from William B. Taylor Jr., acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine…
Thursday’s testimony from Morrison may corroborate some of the most incriminating parts of Taylor’s detailed account of how the Giuliani-driven shadow policy on Ukraine began to undermine the objectives being pursued through regular national security channels.
Taylor testified that it was Morrison who told him in early September that nearly $400 million in congressionally approved military aid was being withheld until Zelensky publicly promised to conduct the investigations Trump wanted. According to Taylor’s testimony, Morrison told him that Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, had communicated “that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation” – referring to a Ukrainian energy company that previously employed former vice president and potential 2020 Trump opponent Joe Biden’s son Hunter on its board.
In a subsequent conversation, Morrison told Taylor that Sondland and Trump had spoken and that during their phone call, Trump allegedly told Sondland he wanted Zelensky to “go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference” – something that gave Morrison a “sinking feeling,” according to Taylor’s recollections.
Should Morrison confirm Taylor’s account, he would give it the weight of first-hand testimony – much like Vindman did, when he told investigators that Trump had insisted Zelensky commit to investigations before agreeing to meet him face-to-face. Morrison’s testimony may be even more powerful given his GOP bona fides as a former Republican congressional staffer.
But wait, there’s more:
Two diplomats who worked on Ukraine policy testified during depositions Wednesday that Trump had a darkly pessimistic view of that country.
Christopher Anderson, a career Foreign Service officer, also told lawmakers that the White House blocked efforts by the State Department to condemn actions by Russia, including an attack by Russian forces on Ukrainian military vessels in the Sea of Azov in 2018.
“While my colleagues at the State Department quickly prepared a statement condemning Russia for its escalation, senior officials in the White House blocked it from being issued,” Anderson testified.
Trump seemed to be saying let Putin have that stupid little country:
Catherine Croft, a career diplomat who worked at both the White House and the State Department, said she heard Trump “describe Ukraine as a corrupt country” both “directly and indirectly” during her time in the administration.
Croft also said that Republican lobbyist Robert Livingston – a former House member and a previously unknown player in the Ukraine drama – called her several times to say that then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch should be fired.
“He characterized Ambassador Yovanovitch as an ‘Obama holdover’ and associated with George Soros,” Croft said in her opening remarks, referring to the liberal billionaire donor often demonized on the right.
Giuliani, paid big bucks by Putin’s buddies who were thrown out of Ukraine a few years ago, has been organizing a pretty effective campaign here. Rudy has the president’s ear, but there are still holdouts:
Also on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Trump’s nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan, implicitly broke with Trump when he said during his confirmation hearing that a president using his office to solicit investigations into his political opponents would not be “in accord with our values.”
Trump may have to dump that guy now, but Natasha Bertrand tells an even odder tale:
The decorated Army officer who testified to House investigators on Tuesday told lawmakers that a close associate of Republican Rep. Devin Nunes “misrepresented” himself to President Donald Trump in an effort to involve himself further in Ukraine policy, according to two people familiar with his closed-door deposition.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert, told lawmakers that after attending Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration in May as part of a delegation led by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Vindman had been looking forward to debriefing Trump and giving a positive account of Zelensky’s vision for Ukraine’s future.
“The U.S. government policy community’s view is that the election of Zelensky and the promise of reforms to eliminate corruption will lock in Ukraine’s Western-leaning trajectory, and allow Ukraine to realize its dream of a vibrant democracy and economic prosperity,” Vindman said in his opening statement.
But he was instructed “at the last second” not to attend the debriefing, Vindman told lawmakers, because Trump’s advisers worried it might confuse the president: Trump believed at the time that Kashyap Patel, a longtime Nunes staffer who joined the White House in February and had no discernible Ukraine experience or expertise, was actually the NSC’s top Ukraine expert instead of Vindman.
So there was this imposter:
Vindman testified that he was told this directly by his boss at the time, NSC senior director for European and Russian affairs Fiona Hill. Hill told Vindman that she and national security adviser John Bolton thought it best to exclude Vindman from the debriefing to avoid “an uncomfortable situation,” he said.
In short, don’t upset the old man. He gets angry. No one knows what the hell he’ll do. Let him have his delusion, and as Bertrand says:
This helps explain why the president tweeted on Tuesday that he’d never met Vindman despite his clear interest in Ukraine – senior officials have said that Trump directed them to consult with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, on matters of Ukraine policy.
And Vindman’s exclusion sheds even more light on the unusual steps top NSC officials were taking as early as May to avoid angering or annoying Trump on Ukraine issues – and the unusual level of access Patel had to the president.
And one thing leads to another:
Vindman also testified that he was told Patel had been circumventing normal NSC process to get negative material about Ukraine in front of the president, feeding Trump’s belief that Ukraine was brimming with corruption and had interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of Democrats.
That upset Vindman, along with Hill and Bolton, he testified, because they constantly had to counter that narrative with the president.
And that narrative was way off the books:
It’s still not clear what materials Patel was giving Trump, or where he was getting them. But he was not interacting with Ukraine experts at the State Department and Pentagon on the issue, and never had a conversation with Vindman, the NSC’s director for Ukraine, about Ukraine – or about anything for that matter, Vindman testified.
There’s a reason that diplomat after diplomat has ignored Trump’s direct order to not show up and never say anything to anyone about any of this and HAS shown up and said this is crazy, and of course it is, and then there was this:
Moments after President Trump ended his phone call with Ukraine’s president on July 25, an unsettled national security aide rushed to the office of White House lawyer John Eisenberg.
Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine adviser at the White House, had been listening to the call and was disturbed by the pressure Trump had applied to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rivals, according to people familiar with Vindman’s testimony to lawmakers this week.
Vindman told Eisenberg, the White House’s legal adviser on national security issues, that what the president did was wrong, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
Scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad, Eisenberg proposed a step that other officials have said is at odds with long-standing White House protocol: moving a transcript of the call to a highly classified server and restricting access to it, according to two people familiar with Vindman’s account.
When in doubt, hide everything. But that won’t work. There’s just too much to hide, and now impeachment is inevitable. And maybe it was inevitable all along. Donald Trump is who he is. And he never hid that.