“Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
That was how Dragnet opened – the 1949-1957 radio series starring Jack Webb, and the 1951-1959 television spinoff from the radio series, starring Jack Webb, and the 1954 feature film, starring and directed by Jack Webb, and the 1967-1970 revival of the original television series, starring Jack Webb. He was Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday – emotionless and taciturn, with only one response to those in trouble trying to explain their distress and despair to him – “Just the facts, ma’am.”
Joe Friday was all business. Boomers grew up with this. All of America grew up with this. There are facts. Everything else is kind of beside the point. Everyone knows this:
After Webb’s death, LAPD Chief Daryl Gates announced that badge number 714 – Webb’s number on the television show – was retired, and Los Angeles city offices lowered their flags to half-staff. At Webb’s funeral, the LAPD provided an honor guard, and the chief of police commented on Webb’s connection with the LAPD. An LAPD auditorium was named in his honor. Jack Webb’s LAPD sergeant’s badge and ID card are on display at the Los Angeles Police Academy.
That’s how things should be. And of course that’s nonsense. What is going on? Who is allowed to do what? That’s never simple, and with Donald Trump president, that can get tricky:
Former National Security Adviser John Bolton reportedly directed the State Department to release $141 million in military aid to Ukraine several days before President Donald Trump claims he himself had authorized the aid’s release.
Bloomberg reported on Saturday that though Trump claims he had unfrozen funds for the aid on September 11 after Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) had begged for him to do so that day, the State Department had already quietly released the aid on Bolton’s orders several days prior.
Can he do that? Maybe he can, but everyone seems to have agreed that Trump couldn’t do what he was not doing:
The department reportedly released the aid after White House lawyers found that Trump and the Office of Management and Budget could not legally delay it, a finding the lawyers had made earlier in 2019. According to Bloomberg, the lawyers detailed the finding in a classified memo to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The president had said hold the damned funds until they do what I say about Biden and Hillary’s emails, but that was an illegal order. No one really could follow that order, but nothing is easy:
An unnamed source told Bloomberg that White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was blindsided by Bolton’s order. A spokesperson for the OMB told Bloomberg that Bolton lacked the authority to issue such an order and had not done so.
Remember that Mick Mulvaney is the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and only the “acting” White House Chief of Staff – in his spare time – but either way, Bolton pulled the relevant facts from his hat. Trump could not do what he wanted. He had no authority in the matter.
But there were other facts floating around:
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said Sunday that “most” of President Donald Trump’s advisers were trying to figure out “some way” to get him to release a hold on about $400 million in Ukrainian military aid, an effort at the center of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
“I understand that most of President Trump’s advisers wanted the military aid released,” Johnson, who had pushed Trump to release the aid, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“And they were trying to figure out some way, shape or form to convince President Trump to approve that release,” he said. “It’s certainly what I was trying to do in my phone call to him on August 31. So I don’t have a problem with advisers trying to figure out some way shape or form to convince the boss to do this.”
Bolton bypassed all that, and now Mulvaney has a problem:
In transcripts released late last week by the House Intelligence Committee, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert, and Fiona Hill, Trump’s former adviser on Russia, testified that they were told that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was at the center of the pressure campaign to have Ukraine publicly announce investigations into Democrats, particularly former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, to receive the roughly $400 million in military aid.
Mulvaney has declined to testify before the impeachment probe despite having been subpoenaed. He has said publicly that the aid was partly conditioned on Ukraine’s investigating a debunked conspiracy involving Democrats and the 2016 election – a theory that absolved Russia for hacking Democratic emails and instead claimed that Ukraine framed the country – before walking back that statement.
His facts do not seem to be facts at all, and then there was this:
Johnson also discussed the Aug. 31 in which he asked Trump whether aid was contingent on the announcement of investigations. Johnson said Trump strongly denied that allegation, although, in subsequent testimony, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, said he spoke with a top Ukrainian official a day after Johnson’s phone call and said “the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public, anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
The facts keep undercutting these people, and then this news hit the wires:
Not long before the Ukrainian president was inaugurated in May, an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s journeyed to Kiev to deliver a warning to the country’s new leadership, a lawyer for the associate said.
The associate, Lev Parnas, told a representative of the incoming government that it had to announce an investigation into Mr. Trump’s political rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., and his son, or else Vice President Mike Pence would not attend the swearing-in of the new president, and the United States would freeze aid, the lawyer said.
The claim by Mr. Parnas, who is preparing to share his account with impeachment investigators, challenges the narrative of events from Mr. Trump and Ukrainian officials that is at the core of the congressional inquiry. It also directly links Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to threats of repercussions made to the Ukrainians, something he has strenuously denied.
This is trouble, but some facts may not be facts:
Mr. Parnas’ account, while potentially significant, is being contradicted on several fronts. None of the people involved dispute that the meeting occurred, but Mr. Parnas stands alone in saying the intention was to present an ultimatum to the Ukrainian leadership.
Another participant in the meeting, Mr. Parnas’ business partner, Igor Fruman, said Mr. Parnas’ claim was false; the men never raised the issues of aid or the vice president’s attendance at the inauguration, lawyers for Mr. Fruman said.
Mr. Giuliani denied Mr. Parnas’ contention that he had delivered the warning at the direction of Mr. Giuliani. “Categorically, I did not tell him to say that,” Mr. Giuliani said.
Well, we’ll see about that:
The dispute represents the clearest indication yet that Mr. Parnas, who was indicted along with Mr. Fruman last month on campaign finance charges, has turned on Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, both Soviet-born businessmen from Florida, worked with Mr. Giuliani for months in Ukraine outside normal diplomatic channels to further Mr. Trump’s interests. The men have been subpoenaed to testify before Congress, and Mr. Parnas’ lawyer has said his client will comply, to the extent he can, this will come without incriminating himself.
So, in the open impeachment hearings about to begin, this will come up:
Mr. Parnas’ lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, said the message to the Ukrainians was given at the direction of Mr. Giuliani, whom Mr. Parnas believed was acting under Mr. Trump’s instruction. Mr. Giuliani said he “never authorized such a conversation.”
This should be interesting, but there was this countermove:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) argued that he will consider any impeachment “invalid” unless it exposes the identity of the whistleblower that outed Donald Trump’s extortion of Ukraine.
While speaking to Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo, Graham suggested that the Senate does not have to fulfill its constitutional obligations to try the Donald Trump if the House impeachment is deemed “invalid.”
Graham praised Republicans in the House who have called on both the whistleblower and Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, to testify.
“I consider any impeachment in the House that doesn’t allow us to know who the whistleblower is to be invalid,” the South Carolina senator declared, “because without the whistleblower complaint, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this.”
“I also see the need for Hunter Biden to be called to adequately defend the president,” he added. “And if you don’t do those two things, it’s a complete joke.”
His argument seems to be that the current “whistleblower law” that protects the whistleblower from retaliation from those “exposed” is unconstitutional – the president has a right to confront his accuser and hit back ten times harder, in the case of this president – and secondly, that if the whistleblower had no firsthand knowledge of any of this, his (or her) complaint is inherently false, so all the confirmation from all the others that it was all true and it all actually happened, must be thrown out, because no one would have asked them about any of this if the whistleblower hadn’t lied about everything, which was true of course, but now cannot be considered true. What? As for Hunter Biden, perhaps the idea is that they can disprove anything and everything he has said about Donald Trump. He hasn’t said a word, but they can disprove what he would have said? That’s a difficult one. The mind of Lindsey Graham is a mysterious place.
But who knows what is true? That nice woman is telling this odd tale:
Two of President Trump’s senior advisers undermined and ignored him in what they claimed was an effort to “save the country,” former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley claims in a new memoir.
Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson and former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly sought to recruit her to work around and subvert Trump, but she refused, Haley writes in a new book, With All Due Respect, which also describes Tillerson as “exhausting” and imperious and Kelly as suspicious of her access to Trump.
“Kelly and Tillerson confided in me that when they resisted the president, they weren’t being insubordinate, they were trying to save the country,” Haley wrote.
That’s what she said these two said:
“It was their decisions, not the president’s, that were in the best interests of America, they said. The president didn’t know what he was doing,” Haley wrote of the views the two men held.
Tillerson also told her that people would die if Trump was unchecked, Haley wrote.
But maybe it wasn’t that way at all:
Tillerson did not respond to a request for comment. Kelly declined to comment in detail, but said that if providing the president “with the best and most open, legal and ethical staffing advice from across the government so he could make an informed decision is ‘working against Trump,’ then guilty as charged.”
But something else may be going on here:
The former South Carolina governor, widely viewed by Republicans as a top potential presidential candidate in 2024, has repeatedly sought to minimize differences with Trump while distancing herself from his excesses. Haley, 47, writes that she backed most of the foreign policy decisions by Trump that others tried to block or slow down, including withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Does that make her a traitor too? David Frum sees this:
Nikki Haley, the bright hope of Trump-skeptical Republicans, has placed a big bet that the Republican future will be almost as Trump-y as the recent Republican past.
Haley numbers among the Republicans most often named as a leader for the post-Trump future. At intervals over the past three years, she has dissented from some of the more bizarre Trump excesses. After Donald Trump gloated over a burglary at the home of the late Representative Elijah Cummings in Baltimore, Haley tweeted, “This is so unnecessary.” The dissents, however, were always circumspect, and never touched on the central scandals of the administration. Haley left her possibilities open for future decision.
And he has a simple question for her:
When she writes that Tillerson and Kelly believed that Trump did not know what he was doing, is she suggesting that she believed Trump did know? And would that be meant as a compliment or criticism?
Tillerson also told her that people would die if Trump was unchecked, but Frum wonders about that too:
Who knows how to read that? Tillerson’s famous “fucking moron” assessment of Trump was prompted by Trump’s demand that the United States rebuild its nuclear force to the level of the early 1960s, when the U.S. fielded some 30,000 nuclear warheads as compared with the approximately 2,800 of today. Maybe Tillerson was right? Haley apparently does not express a view one way or the other.
And he notes she said this about Ukraine and impeachment in a separate interview:
There was no heavy demand insisting that something had to happen. So it’s hard for me to understand where the whole impeachment situation is coming from, because what everybody’s up in arms about didn’t happen… So, do I think it’s not good practice to talk to foreign governments about investigating Americans? Yes. Do I think the president did something that warrants impeachment? No, because the aid flowed.
And, in turn, the Ukrainians didn’t follow up with the investigation.
Frum is not impressed:
Haley may have a very short-term calculation in mind, the 2020 Republican vice-presidential nomination. Trump has long been rumored to wish to replace Vice President Mike Pence with Haley on the ticket. Haley’s book and interview suggest she may be campaigning hard for the 2020 slot.
At the same time, she’s making the same bet on the 2024 future being placed by Pence, by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, by senators such as Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, and by governors such as Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida: There is no percentage in even whispering a criticism of anything Trump says or does. On some issues, such as the sellout of the Kurds, it is permissible to assert a diverging position – but even then, there must be no direct or even indirect criticism of Trump.
He is the party’s great unquestionable.
That seems to be the salient fact here.
But there are other facts to consider. Andrew Sullivan offers these facts on how Trump has attacked and undermined the core legitimacy of our democracy:
He is the only candidate in American history who refused to say that he would abide by the results of the vote. Even after winning the 2016 election, he still claimed that “millions” of voters – undocumented aliens – perpetrated massive electoral fraud in the last election, and voted for his opponent. He has repeatedly and publicly toyed with the idea that he could violate the 22nd Amendment, and get elected for three terms, or more.
He consistently described a perfectly defensible inquiry into Russia’s role in the 2016 election as a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” demonizing Robert Mueller, even as Mueller, in the end, couldn’t find evidence to support the idea of a conspiracy with Russia (perhaps in part because Trump ordered no cooperation, and refused to testify under oath). Trump then withheld release of the full report, while his pliant attorney general distorted its content and wrongly proclaimed that Trump had been entirely exonerated.
In the current scandal over Ukraine, Trump is insisting that he did “nothing wrong” in demanding that Ukraine announce investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden, or forfeit desperately needed military aid. If that is the president’s position – that he can constitutionally ask any other country to intervene on his behalf in a U.S. election – it represents a view of executive power that is the equivalent of a mob boss’s. It is best summed up in Trump’s own words: Article 2 of the Constitution permits him to do “anything I want.”
That’s all true. Trump said all that. It’s time to worry, to worry about ourselves:
We have become so used to these attacks on our constitutional order that we fail to be shocked by Trump’s insistence that a constitutional impeachment inquiry is a “coup.” By any measure, this is an extraordinary statement, and itself an impeachable offense as a form of “contempt for Congress.” We barely blink anymore when a president refuses to cooperate in any way, demands his underlings refuse to testify and break the law by flouting subpoenas, threatens to out the first whistle-blower’s identity (in violation of the law), or assaults and tries to intimidate witnesses, like Colonel Alexander Vindman.
So face the facts here:
He believes in the kind of executive power the Founders designed the U.S. Constitution to prevent. It therefore did not occur to Trump that blackmailing a foreign country to investigate his political opponents is a classic abuse of power, because he is incapable of viewing his own interests and the interests of the United States as in any way distinct. But it is a core premise of our liberal democracy that the powers of the presidency are merely on loan, and that using them to advance a personal interest is a definition of an abuse of power.
That’s what we’re dealing with:
This is not just another kind of presidency; it is a rolling and potentially irreversible assault on the legitimacy of the American regime. If the CIA finds something that could reflect poorly on him, then the CIA is part of the “deep state coup.” Ditto the FBI and the State Department. These are not old-fashioned battles with a bureaucracy over policy; that’s fine. They are assaults on the legitimacy of the bureaucracy, and the laws they are required to uphold. These are definitional impeachable offenses, and they are part and parcel of Trump’s abuse of power from the day he was elected.
And most important of all, Trump has turned the GOP – one of our two major parties with a long and distinguished history – into an accomplice in his crimes. Senator Lindsey Graham, perhaps the most contemptible figure of the last couple of years, even says he will not read witness transcripts or follow the proceedings in the House or consider the evidence in a legal impeachment inquiry, because he regards the whole impeachment process as “BS” and a “sham.” This is a senator calling the constitutional right of the House of Representatives to impeach a president illegitimate.
And then there’s his base:
He is appealing to the people to render him immune from constitutional constraints imposed by the representatives of the people. He has opened up not a divide between the right and the left so much as a divide over whether the American system of government is legitimate or illegitimate. And that is why I don’t want to defeat Trump in an election, because that would suggest that his assault on the truth, on the Constitution, and on the rule of law is just a set of policy decisions that we can, in time, reject. It creates a precedent for future presidents to assault the legitimacy of the American government, constrained only by their ability to win the next election. In fact, the only proper constitutional response to this abuse of executive power is impeachment.
And then there’s Sullivan’s warning:
If the Senate exonerates Trump, it will not just enable the most lawless president in our history to even greater abuses. It will cast into doubt the fairness of the upcoming election. It will foment the conspiracy theory that our current laws and institutions are manifestations of a “deep state” engineering a “coup.” It will prove that a president can indeed abuse his power for his personal advantage without consequence; and it will set a precedent that fundamentally changes the American system from a liberal democracy to a form of elected monarchy, above the other two branches of government.
And then there’s Joe Friday – “Just the facts, ma’am.”
The facts are clear. The facts are in the Constitution.