Too many people are saying too many things. Too many people are saying too many things on purpose, to keep things confusing, so people give up and go back to worrying about what to get for the spouse this Christmas, not about whether the government, and thus the country, is falling apart. Has the president done something that’s so bad that a disgusted nation has to have the House state the specific charges and the Senate conduct trial on those charges and toss the guy out? What was so bad?
Josh Marshall can answer that:
The President used extortion to cheat in the 2020 presidential election. He used military aid dollars meant to aid an ally against his Russian patrons in order to force Ukraine to intervene in the 2020 elections, in order to remain in office by corrupt means.
There are various crimes that get committed along the way. But that is the core of it. The President is delegated vast powers to act in the national interest and he has vast discretion to determine what he or she believes the national interest is. But when he uses those powers for his own personal or financial gain they are illegitimate on their face, abuses of power and merit impeachment. The fact that he was doing so to sabotage a national election makes it vastly worse. And the fact that he was getting a foreign power to sabotage a US election makes it worse still.
And that makes any talk of “quid pro quos” a bit too narrow:
Quid pro quos are simply exchanges of one thing for another. Presidents will ask for help on one bill in exchange for another. They’ll condition one kind of aid to a country on assistance on another foreign policy goal. In itself it means nothing. The crimes are bribery and extortion, the abuses of power are using presidential power for personal gain and the central offense against the state is the attempt to sabotage a national election, the event on which the legitimacy of the entire system rests.
And that makes things both unambiguous and worse:
It’s pretty obvious on its face that the President did these things for his own personal interest rather than the national interest. But even this isn’t left to accusations or logic or surmise. His chief coconspirator has said repeatedly that all his actions were done exclusively in the interest of Donald Trump.
Rudy Giuliani reiterated the point – “The investigation I conducted concerning 2016 Ukrainian collusion and corruption, was done solely as a defense attorney to defend my client against false charges, that kept changing as one after another were disproven.”
No one knows what Giuliani was talking about, but Marshall says that hardly matters, given what Trump as done so far:
We don’t even need to get into the other crimes involved, having a crooked lawyer taking over US foreign policy in a critical part of the world and sidelining professional diplomats. We just focus on the core thing. The President is given tremendous power to advance the national interest, see that the laws are enforced, and to preserve the national welfare.
These aren’t powers that he owns personally. They are delegated for these ends. Your banker has great power to act on your behalf. They have no right to steal your money. A doctor has vast powers to cut your body, make decisions when you are unconscious. They have no right to kill you or sell your organs or fondle you for their personal satisfaction.
It’s all the same thing. Stop saying quid pro quo or getting lost in the details. The crimes are clear. Use language that accurately describes them.
So talk about extortion and its evil twin, bribery, or fitness for office, and do talk about Rudy. Those intermingle, as Natasha Bertrand explains here:
House Democrats on Thursday released another deposition transcript ahead of public hearings scheduled for next week. This time, the deposition was that of George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department whose portfolio includes Ukraine.
Kent testified in a closed session on Oct. 15, telling lawmakers that, like other career diplomats, he was essentially cut out of decisions about Ukraine due to maneuvering by other administration officials and outsiders, including Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Kent accused Giuliani of conducting a “campaign of lies” about the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, which led to her early recall from Kyiv.
That was the real problem here, but one must be careful:
Kent makes clear in his testimony that he was alarmed by the role the president’s personal lawyer was playing in trying to shape Ukraine policy – especially his efforts to work with a Ukrainian prosecutor to smear the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, Marie Yovanovitch.
But he said that others, like Kurt Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine, thought that it was better to engage with Giuliani than to ignore him because of the influence he wielded on President Donald Trump.
And of course it was too late to do anything anyway:
Kent told investigators that based on his conversations with other senior American diplomats, Gordon Sondland relayed that Trump “wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone [sic] and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton.”
Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was describing “in shorthand” what Trump wanted the Ukrainians to do, according to Kent.
“Zelensky needed to go to a microphone and basically there needed to be three words in the message, and that was the shorthand,” Kent added.
The word “Clinton” was shorthand for 2016, Kent said, a likely reference to the debunked conspiracy theory pushed by Trump and Giuliani, that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.
Giuliani had won this already:
As Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani was interested in getting Ukraine to investigate Biden and the 2016 election. And Yuriy Lutsenko, a top prosecutor in Ukraine at the time, saw Yovanovitch as an apparent threat to his ability to keep his position as it became clear that U.S. officials felt he was not doing enough to battle corruption.
The two men found each other useful, Kent said.
“Based on what I know, Yuriy Lutsenko, as prosecutor general, vowed revenge, and provided information to Rudy Giuliani in hopes that he would spread it and lead to her removal,” Kent said.
Kent said he learned that Lutsenko had even met in private with Giuliani in New York, where Lutsenko’s purpose was to “throw mud” at Yovanovitch and Kent himself.
Kent said the two men essentially waged a “campaign of lies” about Yovanovitch, who would be recalled early from her post in May.
“I believe that Mr. Giuliani, as a U.S. citizen, has First Amendment rights to say whatever he wants, but he’s a private citizen,” Kent told lawmakers. “His assertions and allegations against former Ambassador Yovanovitch were without basis, untrue, period.”
But they were out there, so sit down and shut up:
Top officials at the State Department seemed unsure of how to deal with someone like Giuliani, who, although not a U.S. official, clearly wielded an outsized influence on Trump when it came to Ukraine. His presence was a divergence from the usual policy-making process.
At one point, after Giuliani slammed Yovanovitch, Kent and others in a May 2019 interview, Kent was told by his superiors to “keep my head down and lower my profile in Ukraine,” he said.
So the lies won, but that wasn’t all, as Josh Lederman reports here:
A senior U.S. diplomat told Congress that he was briefed on conversations President Donald Trump had with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in which the two foreign leaders talked Trump into a negative view about Ukraine and its new leader.
George Kent, a senior State Department official responsible for Europe, told House investigators that Putin and Orban, along with Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, had “shaped the president’s view of Ukraine and (President Volodymyr) Zelenskiy.” He said Trump’s conversations with the two leaders accounted for the change in Trump’s view of Zelenskiy from “very positive” after their first call on April 21 to “negative” just one month later when he met with advisers on Ukraine in the Oval Office.
In the interim, Trump spoke by phone with Putin on May 3, and hosted Orban at the White House on May 13.
Ah, so this is where Trump gets his information:
Kent’s description of those conversations, included in the transcript of his deposition by the House released Thursday, feeds into longstanding concerns from national security experts that the president’s views on key foreign issues are being influenced by Putin and other autocratic leaders such as Orban. The far-right leader of Hungary has been at the helm of a nationalist movement in Europe that has at times found common cause with Trump’s foreign policy…
Orban hates immigrants. He wants to keep Hungary ethnically and racially and religiously pure – with his own wall – so Trump loves the guy, and Trump has always had a man-crush on Putin – so there may be nothing new here:
Kent’s testimony provides the first public confirmation by a senior diplomat that Orban and Putin pushed a damaging image of Ukraine to Trump, although officials previously described such a scenario to The Washington Post and The New York Times.
Everyone knew, so this was doomed from the start:
Kent testified that top Trump administration officials who had attended Zelensky’s inauguration in May were “very positive” about the new Ukrainian leader, who had come into office pledging to clean up corruption.
“We were cautiously optimistic that this was an opportunity to push forward the reform that Ukraine needs to succeed in resisting Russian aggression, building a successful economy, and, frankly, a justice system that will treat American investors and Ukrainian citizens equally before the law,” Kent said.
He said that was a “different” assessment of Zelenskiy than Trump got from Putin, Orban and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
So it was back to earth:
Kent, whose portfolio includes several former Soviet Union countries, said Putin’s motivation for turning Trump against Ukraine was “very clear.” Putin denies Ukraine’s sovereign existence and wants it to fail as an independent nation. He said Orban’s view derives from his vision of a “Greater Hungary,” including some 130,000 ethnic Hungarians who Kent said live in Ukraine.
Putin wants Ukraine back as part of Russia forever everywhere, and Orban is really into ethnic and racial purity, tied to specific real estate. Trump is fine with that.
He doesn’t think things through. And now there’s a book about that, as Philip Rucker notes here:
Senior Trump administration officials considered resigning en masse last year in a “midnight self-massacre” to sound a public alarm about President Trump’s conduct, but rejected the idea because they believed it would further destabilize an already teetering government, according to a new book by an unnamed author.
In A Warning by Anonymous, obtained by the Washington Post ahead of its release, a writer described only as “a senior official in the Trump administration” paints a chilling portrait of the president as cruel, inept and a danger to the nation he was elected to lead.
Or he’s just a kid:
The author – who first captured attention in 2018 as the unidentified author of a New York Times opinion column – describes Trump careening from one self-inflicted crisis to the next, “like a twelve-year-old in an air traffic control tower, pushing the buttons of government indiscriminately, indifferent to the planes skidding across the runway and the flights frantically diverting away from the airport.”
The author claims many other current and former administration officials share his or her views.
But he (or she) won’t name them or identify himself or herself:
The 259-page book – which was published by Twelve, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group, and goes on sale Nov. 19 – does not re-create many specific episodes in vivid detail, which the author writes was intentional to protect his or her identity.
At a moment when a stream of political appointees and career public servants have testified before Congress about Trump’s conduct as part of the House impeachment inquiry, the book’s author defends his or her decision to remain anonymous.
“I have decided to publish this anonymously because this debate is not about me,” the author writes. “It is about us. It is about how we want the presidency to reflect our country, and that is where the discussion should center. Some will call this ‘cowardice.’ My feelings are not hurt by the accusation. Nor am I unprepared to attach my name to criticism of President Trump. I may do so, in due course.”
But that can wait:
Earlier this week, the Justice Department warned Hachette and the author’s agents, Matt Latimer and Keith Urbahn of Javelin, that the anonymous official may be violating a nondisclosure agreement. Javelin responded by accusing the administration of seeking to unmask the author.
So here we go again:
The author’s Sept. 5, 2018, op-ed in the New York Times, headlined “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” depicted some senior officials as a bulwark protecting the country from the president’s reckless impulses. Trump denounced it at the time as treasonous.
In the book, the author repudiates the central thesis of the column: “I was wrong about the ‘quiet resistance’ inside the Trump administration. Unelected bureaucrats and cabinet appointees were never going to steer Donald Trump the right direction in the long run, or refine his malignant management style. He is who he is.”
It seems, however, that things are worse now:
The author describes senior officials waking up in the morning “in a full-blown panic” over the wild pronouncements the president had made on Twitter.
“It’s like showing up at the nursing home at daybreak to find your elderly uncle running pantsless across the courtyard and cursing loudly about the cafeteria food, as worried attendants tried to catch him,” the author writes. “You’re stunned, amused, and embarrassed all at the same time. Only your uncle probably wouldn’t do it every single day, his words aren’t broadcast to the public, and he doesn’t have to lead the US government once he puts his pants on.”
And there’s this:
The book depicts Trump as making misogynistic and racist comments behind the scenes.
“I’ve sat and listened in uncomfortable silence as he talks about a woman’s appearance or performance,” the author writes. “He comments on makeup. He makes jokes about weight. He critiques clothing. He questions the toughness of women in and around his orbit. He uses words like ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey’ to address accomplished professionals. This is precisely the way a boss shouldn’t act in the work environment.”
The author alleges that Trump attempted a Hispanic accent during an Oval Office meeting to complain about migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We get these women coming in with like seven children,” Trump said, according to the book. “They are saying, ‘Oh, please help! My husband left me!’ They are useless. They don’t do anything for our country. At least if they came in with a husband we could put him in the fields to pick corn or something.”
All of that, however, is what the base loves about him, and really, that’s not the biggest worry:
The author argues that Trump is incapable of leading the United States through a monumental international crisis, describing how he tunes out intelligence and national security briefings and theorizing that foreign adversaries see him as “a simplistic pushover” who is susceptible to flattery and easily manipulated.
That is a problem, but there are bigger problems:
One theme laced throughout the book is Trump’s indifference to the boundaries of the law. The author writes that Trump considered presidential pardons as “unlimited ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ cards on a Monopoly board,” referring to news reports that he had offered pardons to aides.
As he ranted about federal courts ruling against some of his policies, including the 2017 travel ban, the author writes, Trump once asked White House lawyers to draft a bill to send to Congress reducing the number of federal judges.
“Can we just get rid of the judges? Let’s get rid of the [expletive] judges,” the president said, according to the book. “There shouldn’t be any at all, really.”
That would change everything. Let opposing parties shoot it out? But it’s the little things that seem so odd, like this:
The author portrays Trump as fearful of coups against him and suspicious of note-takers on his staff. According to the book, the president shouted at an aide who was scribbling in a notebook during a meeting, “What the [expletive] are you doing?” He added, “Are you [expletive] taking notes?” The aide apologized and closed the notebook.
The author also ruminates about Trump’s fitness for office, describing him as reckless and without full control of his faculties.
“I am not qualified to diagnose the president’s mental acuity,” the author writes. “All I can tell you is that normal people who spend any time with Donald Trump are uncomfortable by what they witness. He stumbles, slurs, gets confused, is easily irritated, and has trouble synthesizing information, not occasionally but with regularity. Those who would claim otherwise are lying to themselves or to the country.”
That was unkind, but it was a bad day for Donald Trump:
A state judge ordered President Trump to pay $2 million in damages to nonprofit groups on Thursday after the president admitted misusing money raised by the Donald J. Trump Foundation to promote his presidential bid, pay off business debts and purchase a portrait of himself for one of his hotels.
The damage award brought an end to a protracted legal battle over the foundation, whose giving-patterns and management became a flash point during Mr. Trump’s run for office in 2016. New York’s attorney general had filed suit last year accusing Mr. Trump and his family of using the foundation as an extension of his businesses and his presidential campaign.
The settlement, which was finalized last month and announced on Thursday in the judge’s order, included a detailed admission of misconduct that is rare for the president, who has long employed a scorched-earth approach toward fighting lawsuits.
But he admitted to this:
The charity gave his campaign complete control over disbursing the $2.8 million that the foundation had raised at a fund-raiser for veterans in Iowa in January 2016, only days before the state’s presidential nominating caucuses. The fund-raiser, he acknowledged, was in fact a campaign event.
The president also admitted to using the foundation to settle the legal obligations of companies he owned, including Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Florida, and the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, N.Y. And he acknowledged that the foundation purchased the $10,000 portrait of Mr. Trump, which was ultimately displayed at one of his Florida hotels.
To be clear, he skipped the Iowa debate – he was angry at the questions that Fox News’ Megyn Kelly had asked him last time around – and held a fundraiser for veterans instead. He sneered at the rest of the political world and said he raised eight million dollars – just for our veterans. It was two million and he spent it on himself. No veterans got a dime. Now he has to spend two million dollars doing good, for real this time.
But that only pisses him off:
Though he had admitted wrongdoing in court papers, Mr. Trump attacked what he described as “the political hacks in New York State” in a defiant statement posted on Twitter on Thursday night, claiming that the foundation had given “100 percent of the funds to great charities” and that he had suffered “4 years of politically motivated harassment” by the attorney general’s office.
“All they found was incredibly effective philanthropy and some small technical violations,” he wrote.
None of that was remotely true, and there was this:
Both sides agreed that three of Mr. Trump’s children who were officers of the foundation – Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump – will undergo training in order to ensure they do not engage in similar improprieties. As board members of the foundation, the president’s children were named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Though the board was supposed to oversee the foundation’s expenditures, Mr. Trump admitted that it never met over a period of nearly two decades.
It was all a sham, or a scam, or both, but what isn’t with this man? Something should be done about that, but everyone now has trouble synthesizing information. What are this man’s crimes? Where does one start?