This president rages. Everyone knows that. His base loves that. Sometimes he’s so angry he makes no sense at all, and that makes him a man of the people. That’s breathtakingly authentic. Incoherent rage is a badge of honor, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, or at the very least, true and deep honesty. Inherent sputtering is man at his best.
That means that Donald Trump is always at his best:
President Trump doesn’t think House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry should get any media coverage.
Meanwhile, he’s ravenously consuming news about the subject – primarily through a friendly lens. From the Oval Office to the White House residence to Air Force One, he’s closely tracking how Republican members of Congress are digesting the latest revelations on his handling of Ukraine, and monitoring their statements for any sign of hesitation or perceived disloyalty.
“We’re getting fucking killed,” Trump often gripes – a complaint about media coverage that is escalating in volume and frequency amid the impeachment probe, according to a Republican close to the White House. “He does make that comment literally every day.”
He is arguing that the media is covering all this when they damned well shouldn’t:
Trump is especially frustrated that the depositions by current and former officials – which have taken place behind closed doors, but nonetheless have leaked in some detail to reporters – “have to be covered at all,” according to a senior White House official.
“We should have no speculative coverage of what’s going on inside these private briefings, according to the very people who keep it private,” said another White House official. “Either let everybody see what’s happening, as it happens or keep your mouth shut.”
And he likes those who will not cover this:
To get news on impeachment, Trump often relies on his favorite Fox shows: Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, “Fox and Friends,” Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro, because he thinks they provide an alternative to the narrative many journalists in the more down-the-middle press are giving. He has grown especially enamored lately with Carlson’s show, according to a Republican close to the White House, though he has complained publicly about some of the more critical news coverage on Fox.
That part of Fox News irritates him. They report that there are these closed-door depositions, and who showed up, and what they said in their public opening statements before their confidential remarks, and who, after the session is over, is saying what about what he or she heard behind closed doors. This is news, but the thinking is, with Trump, that if it’s private at the moment it cannot be news, or even mentioned in passing. So let’s not talk about any of this. If the Democrats want to hold “secret” hearings behind closed doors then let them. But don’t cover what no one can see. What’s the point in that? Make all of that public, damn it!
That was a simple solution to the problem, trapping the Democrats, but Dana Milbank reports that this was never going to be private:
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) released the first batch of transcripts Monday from the closed-door depositions, including that of Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine removed from her post by President Trump at the urging of his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
If this is a sign of what’s to come, Republicans will soon regret forcing Democrats to make impeachment proceedings public. Over 10 hours, the transcript shows, they stumbled about in search of a counter-narrative to her damning account.
So now this is public:
Yovanovitch detailed a Hollywood-ready tale about how Giuliani and two of his now-indicted goons hijacked U.S. foreign policy as part of a clownish consortium that also included Sean Hannity and a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor. Their mission: to oust the tough-on-corruption U.S. ambassador who threatened to frustrate Giuliani’s plans to get Ukraine to come up with compromising material on Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.
Mike Pompeo has a cameo as the feckless secretary of state who refuses to stand up for his diplomat out of fear of setting off an unstable Trump. It all culminated in a 1 a.m. call from State’s personnel director telling Yovanovitch to get on the next flight out of Kyiv. Why? “She said, ‘I don’t know, but this is about your security. You need to come home immediately.'”
Yovanovitch, overcome with emotion at one point in her testimony, said she later learned that the threat to her security was from none other than Trump, who, State officials feared, would attack her on Twitter if she didn’t flee Ukraine quickly.
There is that Trump Tweet of Death. One of those and your career is over and your pension is gone too. Trump is that threat. And the rest was similar nonsense:
Republicans didn’t really attempt to defend Trump’s actions. Instead, they pursued one conspiracy theory after another involving the Bidens, George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton, the Obama administration, deep state social-media “tracking” and mishandling classified information. They ate up a good chunk of time merely complaining that Yovanovitch’s opening statement had been made public (which under the rules was allowed).
But Marie Yovanovitch had been threatened:
Ukrainian officials had told her to “watch her back” because Yuri Lutsenko, a Ukrainian prosecutor with an unsavory reputation, was “looking to hurt” her and had several meetings with Giuliani toward that end. Lutsenko “was not pleased” that she continued to push for cleaning up Lutsenko’s office, and he tried to meet with Trump’s Justice Department to spread misinformation about her – including the now-recanted falsehood that she had given him a “do-not-prosecute list.”
She testified that wary Ukrainian officials knew as early as January or February that Giuliani was seeking damaging information on the Bidens and the Democrats – perhaps in exchange for Trump’s endorsement of the then-president’s reelection.
When Yovanovitch was attacked by Giuliani and Donald Trump Jr., among others, she asked for Pompeo to make a statement supporting her, but he didn’t do it because it might be “undermined” by a presidential tweet. (Pompeo did, apparently, have a private conversation asking Hannity to cease his attack on her.) Instead of support, she got career advice: Tweet nice things about Trump.
So now that’s public, and a problem:
Republicans didn’t respond to her testimony by trying to make Trump’s behavior look good; they probed for ways to make Yovanovitch look bad.
They suggested she was part of a diplomatic conspiracy to monitor Trump allies such as Laura Ingraham, Lou Dobbs and Sebastian Gorka. They probed for damaging details on the Bidens (“Were you aware of just how much money Hunter Biden was getting paid by Burisma?”) and for ways to damage her credibility (“What was the closest that you’ve worked with Vice President Biden?”). Maybe Ukraine really did try to help Hillary Clinton in 2016, they posited. Maybe Ukrainian officials were “trying to sabotage Trump.” They asked if she ever said anything that might have led somebody to “infer a negative connotation regarding” Trump.
But they knew they had nothing, and the New York Times’ Edward Wong and David Sanger report on the secondary effects of all this:
As President Trump’s first CIA director, Mike Pompeo was briefed by agency officials on the extensive evidence – including American intercepts of conversations between participants – showing that Russian hackers working for the government of Vladimir V. Putin had interfered in the 2016 American presidential campaign. In May 2017, Mr. Pompeo testified in a Senate hearing that he stood by that conclusion.
Two and a half years later, Mr. Pompeo seems to have changed his mind. As Mr. Trump’s second secretary of state, he now supports an investigation into a discredited, partisan theory that Ukraine, not Russia, attacked the Democratic National Committee, which Mr. Trump wants to use to make the case that he was elected without Moscow’s help.
Yeah, well, Donald Trump knows what really happened. Not only did he, or any of his staff, or family, or friends, NOT collude with Russia during the 2016 campaign, Russia didn’t even interfere in the election at all. Vladimir Putin told him that and he believes Putin. Both he and the Russians were FRAMED by a conspiracy between Ukraine and the DNC. There’s the DNC server that the Russians “hacked” but really didn’t. And it’s missing because a cybersecurity firm called CrowdStrike was part of the conspiracy and CrowdStrike made it look like the Russians had hacked the servers when in fact it was an inside job by a disgruntled DNC employee. That would be the late Seth Rich. All evidence suggests he died the victim of a random street crime, but perhaps he was actually murdered by the Clinton people or by Hillary herself – she had murdered Vince Foster after all. In 2015, Bill Maher interviewed Julian Assange – Mister WikiLeaks – who offered, on Mahar’s HBO show, a massive reward for any evidence that would help prove that Hillary Clinton had murdered Seth Rich. Fox News ran endless segments on this mysterious murder. Rich’s parents sued and Fox News stopped doing that, but that didn’t stop the rest. Russia and Trump had been framed. The real election interference was a conspiracy between the DNC and Ukraine so masterful that it completely fooled all seventeen of our intelligence services, and all other western intelligence services too, and Robert Mueller too – unless they were in on it too. And that was why the White House held up military aid to Ukraine. Trump explicitly invoked the “CrowdStrike server” in his call with Zelensky. Ukraine had to find that server and hand it over, in a public ceremony, or else.
Why hadn’t anyone ever seen this before? Well, Mikey likes it. He has to like it. He chose sides:
Mr. Pompeo, 55, now finds himself at the most perilous moment of his political life as veteran diplomats testify to Congress that Mr. Trump and his allies hijacked Ukraine policy for political gain – and as congressional investigators look into what Mr. Pompeo knew of the machinations of Mr. Trump and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.
It was Mr. Pompeo who helped Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani oust the respected American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, in April. Both Michael McKinley, a senior adviser to Mr. Pompeo and a four-time ambassador, and Philip T. Reeker, the acting assistant secretary for Europe, testified that they asked State Department leadership to defend Ms. Yovanovitch from false accusations, only to be rejected.
Mr. McKinley said he personally urged Mr. Pompeo three times to issue a defense; the revelation of that detail in a transcript released on Monday undercut a declaration Mr. Pompeo made in an interview last month that he “never heard” Mr. McKinley “say a single thing” about Ms. Yovanovitch’s ouster.
It was either Trump or the people he leads, so he dumped the people he leads:
Two weeks ago, Mr. Pompeo did not speak out on behalf of the war veteran he asked to fill Ms. Yovanovitch’s job, William B. Taylor Jr., after Mr. Trump attacked the diplomat over his blistering testimony on the president’s quid pro quo demands. In fact, Mr. Pompeo has tried to block officials under him from testifying.
At the same time, Mr. Pompeo is facing a revolt in the State Department. Confidence in his leadership has plummeted among career officials, who accuse him of abandoning veteran diplomats criticized by Mr. Trump and letting the president’s personal political agenda infect foreign policy.
Many diplomats now contend that Mr. Pompeo has done more damage to the 75,000-person agency than even his predecessor Rex Tillerson, an aloof oil executive reviled by department employees.
And now it has come to this:
On Oct. 23, the three congressional impeachment committees said Mr. Pompeo had overseen a “culture of harassment and impunity.” That echoed what Ms. Yovanovitch had told investigators: The State Department was being “attacked and hollowed out from within,” she said.
The recent wave of criticism has made Mr. Pompeo, known for a short fuse, even more testy in public. When a reporter asked Mr. Pompeo whether Mr. Trump’s abandonment of Kurdish partners in Syria had undercut American credibility, he lashed out, saying, “The whole predicate of your question is insane.”
Last Tuesday, Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked the United States Office of Special Counsel to look into whether Mr. Pompeo was violating the Hatch Act by traveling to Kansas four times this year, three on taxpayer-funded official trips. Many people speculate that Mr. Pompeo, a former Republican Tea Party congressman backed by the Koch family, plans to run for the Senate next year, and that the trips amount to a shadow campaign.
On Oct. 25, as Mr. Pompeo was on his most recent visit, made with Ivanka Trump, The Kansas City Star ran an editorial with the headline “Mike Pompeo, Either Quit and Run for U.S. Senate in Kansas or Focus on Your Day Job.”
But there he has to deal with this:
Three of President Trump’s top advisers met with him in the Oval Office in May, determined to convince him that the new Ukrainian leader was an ally deserving of U.S. support.
They had barely begun their pitch when Trump unloaded on them, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the meeting. In Trump’s mind, the officials said, Ukraine’s entire leadership had colluded with the Democrats to undermine his 2016 presidential campaign.
“They tried to take me down,” Trump railed.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the senior member of the group, assured Trump that the new Ukrainian president was different – a reformer in Trump’s mold who had even quoted President Ronald Reagan in his inaugural address, for which the three advisers had been present. But the harder they pushed in the Oval Office, the more Trump resisted.
“They are horrible, corrupt people,” Trump told them.
But he is in bed with some of them, the Putin-loving Ukrainians who lost power a few years ago, but even there, there’s new trouble:
An associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani who was involved in a campaign to pressure Ukraine into aiding President Trump’s political prospects has broken ranks, opening a dialogue with congressional impeachment investigators and accusing the president of falsely denying their relationship.
The associate, Lev Parnas, had previously resisted speaking with investigators for the Democrat-led impeachment proceedings, which are examining the president’s pressure attempts in Ukraine. A former lawyer for Mr. Trump was then representing Mr. Parnas.
But since then, Mr. Parnas has hired new lawyers who contacted the congressional investigators last week to notify them to “direct any future correspondence or communication to us,” according to a copy of the letter.
The lawyers also signaled on Monday that Mr. Parnas, who was arrested last month on campaign finance charges, is prepared to comply with a congressional subpoena for his documents and testimony.
Mr. Parnas, a Ukrainian-born American citizen who was central to Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to dig up dirt on Mr. Trump’s rivals, could offer Congress a vein of information about the efforts in Ukraine.
This is trouble, but Trump brought it on:
The turnabout occurred after Mr. Trump denied knowing Mr. Parnas when he was arrested.
“Mr. Parnas was very upset by President Trump’s plainly false statement that he did not know him,” said Mr. Bondy, whose client has maintained that he has had extensive dealings with the president.
After federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced charges against Mr. Parnas and three other men, Mr. Trump told reporters that he did not know Mr. Parnas or Igor Fruman, another Giuliani associate who also worked to help Mr. Trump in Ukraine and was among those charged with campaign finance violations. The two men had contributed extensively to political committees supporting Mr. Trump and appeared with the president in pictures posted on social media.
In an indictment unsealed on Oct. 10, federal prosecutors accused Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman of illegally routing a $325,000 contribution to a political action committee supporting Mr. Trump through a shell company and funneling campaign contributions from a Russian businessman to other United States politicians to influence them in support of a marijuana venture. They have both pleaded not guilty.
These two guys threw a lot of money at Republicans, and at Donald Trump, so there’s new evidence coming:
While it is not clear what documents or testimony Mr. Parnas might provide, he was intimately involved with Mr. Giuliani’s efforts. Along with Mr. Fruman, he traveled repeatedly to Ukraine in search of information about corruption involving the Bidens and pushed for the ouster of the United States ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, whom Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani saw as hostile to the president.
Something is about to happen, and Michelle Goldberg sees this:
Parnas and Fruman, both American citizens born in the former Soviet Union, aren’t ordinary political operatives. Parnas has long been a low-level grifter. Fruman owns an Odessa beach club called Mafia Rave, and a joint investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and BuzzFeed News found ties between him and an Odessa organized crime figure named Volodymyr Galanternik, known as “Light Bulb.”
The duo first appeared on the American political scene in 2015 as enthusiastic supporters of Donald Trump. They became big-dollar donors to a number of Republicans; their Instagram accounts would soon fill up with photos of party elites. Then, this year, they were poking around Ukrainian politics, where they were spreading conspiracy theories that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in America’s election in 2016.
Something seems fishy here:
The heart of the Ukraine scandal, for which Trump will almost certainly be impeached, is simple. Trump used congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine, as well as the promise of a White House visit, to try to extort Ukraine’s president to announce investigations that would benefit Trump politically.
But there’s a broader story that’s still murky, because in this scandal Trump is both the perpetrator and the mark. Trump used the power of his office to try to force Ukraine to substantiate conspiracy theories. But the president was fed those conspiracy theories by people with their own agendas, who surely understood that he is insecure about Russia’s role in his election, and he will believe whatever serves his ego in the moment. The main reason Trump should be removed from office is that he has subverted American foreign policy for corrupt personal ends. But this scandal is the latest reminder of how easy sinister forces find it to pull his strings.
And there are other agendas:
On Saturday, BuzzFeed News obtained previously secret documents from Robert Mueller’s investigation via Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. The documents showed that Paul Manafort, convicted felon and Trump’s former campaign chairman, was pushing the story that Ukraine was to blame for hacking the DNC as far back as 2016. Manafort seems to have picked up that narrative from his associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a former Russian intelligence officer who, according to federal prosecutors, “has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.”
It may be that the Russians invented the whole theory and planted it in just the right places, and through the two new guys, paid Giuliani big bucks to drag Trump into this:
At first glance it might seem as if Parnas and Fruman were just doing Giuliani’s bidding when, in 2019, they started pushing the same disinformation. But Giuliani wasn’t paying them – they were paying Giuliani. Parnas, in turn, was being paid by the Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who is, according to the Justice Department, an “upper echelon” associate of Russian organized crime. Firtash is also close to the Kremlin; a Ukrainian official once described him as “representing Russia’s interests in Ukraine.”
Firtash, who made his fortune as a middleman in Ukraine’s natural gas industry, is stuck in Vienna, fighting extradition to the United States for trial on bribery and racketeering charges. Last month, when Parnas and Fruman were arrested while attempting to leave the United States on one-way tickets, Vienna was their destination.
So Putin’s man in Ukraine was doing Putin’s work there, using Giuliani. Giuliani works for Trump for free – no charge – no billable hours. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman pay Rudy Giuliani five hundred thousand dollars, plus expenses, to work the Ukraine issues, for Dmitry Firtash, who was once Putin’s man in Ukraine and might be again, if Putin can grab the rest of the place, with Trump’s help.
Is that clear? Of course it isn’t. Nothing is clear. But everything is. Mess around in Ukraine and there are massive secondary effects. Trump may not escape this time.