John the Backstabber

It was an odd Monday. Coverage of the death of Kobe Bryant didn’t seem to be a direct insult to our troops. But it seems it was. A celebrity’s death gets hours of play, when those protecting our freedom get little notice, if any – and that’s because the media hates the military. This man was a rich useless (black) celebrity who played a little-boy’s game. He wasn’t a soldier. He wasn’t anything, really. So, was the massive media coverage of this one dead minor man, Kobe Bryant, an intentional direct and carefully coordinated insult to our troops? That was the talk on talk radio all day. Evangelical call-in shows led the way.

But outrage is easy, and it can go both ways, as Max Boot notes here:

It seems as if it was months ago, but in fact it was only on Friday that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) caused a furor in the Senate chamber with his closing statement in President Trump’s impeachment trial. This is what he said: “CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that key senators were warned, ‘Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.’ I don’t know if that’s true… I hope it’s not true.”

As Schiff was speaking, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) shook her head and said, “Not true.” Afterward, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, “That’s when he lost me,” while Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) called the CBS report “completely, totally false.”

How these senators know that the report was wrong is a mystery; simply because they didn’t overhear the “Trump confidant” doesn’t mean that he didn’t say it… and it’s not as if Trump hasn’t threatened retaliation against senators in the past.

The larger issue, of course, is what Senate Republicans are and aren’t outraged about.

And that would be this:

Schiff’s mild remarks had so many senators in a state of apoplexy, yet they had nothing to say when Trump previewed his attorneys’ defense on Saturday with a typically unhinged tirade against “lyin’, cheatin’, liddle’ Adam ‘Shifty’ Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, Nervous Nancy Pelosi, their leader, dumb as a rock AOC, & the entire Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrat Party.”

This was followed on Sunday with a tweet containing unsubstantiated allegations and a threat against the lead House impeachment manager: “Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man. He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”

Was that a death threat? Who knows? Boot says it doesn’t matter:

Is the standard here that the president gets to say anything he wants – no matter how dishonest or vile – while his opponents have to observe rules of decorum straight out of a Victorian parlor?

Yes, those do seem to be the rules, not that most Democrats mind. They prefer to be gentlemen, or strong women of character, not out-of-control characters. Trump seems to think that sort of thing is for suckers and losers. And he can get away with that. He can get away with anything. And that’s why his party loves him, but Boot sees that ending soon:

On Monday, some stirrings of unease began to be heard from the Senate Republicans after the New York Times reported on Sunday that in his forthcoming book former national security adviser John Bolton writes that Trump told him in August “that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens.” This is smoking gun evidence that directly contradicts what Trump lawyer Michael Purpura told the Senate on Saturday, and bizarrely repeated on Monday: “Not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a presidential meeting or anything else.”

All the House witnesses said the opposite, but yes, the president had not addressed each and every one of them, face to face and on the record, or had not put that in writing, in a notarized document, and thus said that was what he was doing. They had been told what to do, on the president’s orders, but someone else has issued the order, for the president, so perhaps that’s a defense of the president, but that book is still an issue:

Bolton submitted his manuscript for White House review on Dec. 30, so there is every reason to expect that his version of events was already known to Trump and his senior aides. That could, in fact, explain their desire to rush the Senate to exonerate the president without hearing any witnesses.

They knew what was coming, so it had to come after the election next November, when everyone would find out everything bad was true, and intentional, and it would be far too late for anyone to do anything about it. Trump could laugh and sneer at everyone then. Republicans could gloat. Look what we got away with!

But, as the New York Times lays out here, that damned book got in the way:

The White House and Senate Republican leaders struggled on Monday to salvage their plans to push toward a quick acquittal of President Trump this week in his impeachment trial, after a new account by his former national security adviser corroborated a central piece of the case against him.

The newly disclosed revelations by John R. Bolton, whose forthcoming book details how Mr. Trump conditioned military aid for Ukraine on the country’s willingness to furnish information on his political rivals, angered key Republicans and reinvigorated a bid to call witnesses, which would prolong the trial and pose new dangers for the president.

Trump should have told them about this:

A handful of Republicans from across the ideological spectrum appeared to be moving closer to joining Democrats in a vote to subpoena Mr. Bolton, even as their leaders insisted that doing so would only delay his inevitable acquittal.

They saw that they had no choice about that, even if Trump’s lawyers simply plowed ahead:

As they opened the second day of their defense, Mr. Trump’s lawyers largely ignored the revelations from Mr. Bolton, reported on Sunday by The New York Times that bolstered the case made by the House Democratic prosecutors that the president had repeatedly tied the security assistance to investigations he wanted. The assertion is at the heart of their abuse of power charge accusing Mr. Trump of using his position to gain foreign help in his re-election campaign.

Instead, the White House team doubled down with a defense that was directly contradicted by the account in Mr. Bolton’s book, due out in March. Mr. Trump’s lawyers told senators that no evidence existed tying the president’s decision to withhold security aid from Ukraine to his insistence on the investigations, which they have claimed were requested out of a concern for corruption.

“Anyone who spoke with the president said that the president made clear that there was no linkage between security assistance and investigations,” said Michael Purpura, the deputy White House counsel.

Again, technically true, but irrelevant, and there was this:

They defended and played down the role of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer who was at the center of Mr. Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign, calling him a “shiny object” Democrats were brandishing to distract from a weak case. They sought to raise doubts about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and his son Hunter Biden, suggesting they were corrupt in an effort to bolster their claim that the president had a legitimate reason to demand that they be investigated.

And they continued to argue that Mr. Trump’s actions were far from impeachable.

Again, Joe Biden and his son were and still are awful people and Donald Trump is not awful at all, in any way. And there was this:

Alan Dershowitz, a celebrity law professor, argued that the Constitution holds that impeachment is for “criminal-like behavior,” telling senators that the country’s founders “would have explicitly rejected such vague terms as ‘abuse of power’ and ‘obstruction of Congress’ as among the enumerated and defined criteria for impeaching the president.”

The theory has been rejected by most constitutional scholars.

As evening set in, Mr. Dershowitz made the legal team’s only reference to Mr. Bolton, telling senators that the description of Mr. Trump’s actions in his manuscript “would not constitute an impeachable offense.”

He added, “Let me repeat: Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power, or an impeachable offense.”

So, even if all of it is true, none of it is a big deal in any way – even a violation of civil or criminal code. One does not remove a president. Wait for the next election. He was insistent, not that this mattered now:

Behind closed doors, Republicans were singularly focused on the former national security adviser’s account, which stoked turmoil in their ranks and opened new cracks in their so far near monolithic support for the White House strategy of denying witnesses and rushing toward a final verdict, almost certain to be an acquittal…

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, sought to calm his colleagues at the private lunch, telling them to “take a deep breath” and not to leap to conclusions about how to proceed.

But according to people familiar with Mr. McConnell’s thinking, he was angry at having been blindsided by the White House about Mr. Bolton’s manuscript, which aides there have had since late December. The leader put out a statement saying that he “did not have any advance notice” of Mr. Bolton’s account.

And there was this:

Even Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and usually a reliable ally of the president’s, said that Mr. Bolton “may be a relevant witness” and that he would like to see a copy of Mr. Bolton’s manuscript.

Graham now spits on the grave of his lifelong best friend John McCain because Donald Trump told him to, so this was a bid odd, but what followed was quite predictable:

At the White House, Mr. Trump raged throughout the morning at Mr. Bolton, accusing him of lying. Hosting Israeli leaders, the president told reporters that he had not seen the manuscript of the former adviser’s book but disputed its claims as “false.”

In a series of early-morning tweets hours before the trial resumed, the president accused Mr. Bolton of telling stories “only to sell a book” and defended his actions toward Ukraine as perfectly appropriate.

“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” President Trump wrote just after midnight.

But Mr. Trump later complained to associates that the presentations from his defense team were boring.

He seemed worried, but by early evening, the New York Times team of Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, gave him more to worry about:

John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, privately told Attorney General William P. Barr last year that he had concerns that President Trump was effectively granting personal favors to the autocratic leaders of Turkey and China, according to an unpublished manuscript by Mr. Bolton.

Mr. Barr responded by pointing to a pair of Justice Department investigations of companies in those countries and said he was worried that Mr. Trump had created the appearance that he had undue influence over what would typically be independent inquiries, according to the manuscript. Backing up his point, Mr. Barr mentioned conversations Mr. Trump had with the leaders, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Xi Jinping of China.

Mr. Bolton’s account underscores the fact that the unease about Mr. Trump’s seeming embrace of authoritarian leaders, long expressed by experts and his opponents, also existed among some of the senior cabinet officers entrusted by the president to carry out his foreign policy and national security agendas.

This was new, an addition:

The book also contains an account of Mr. Trump telling Mr. Bolton in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations of political rivals, The New York Times reported on Sunday. The matter is at the heart of the articles of impeachment against the president.

And that led to the White House accusing Bolton of sending hundreds of advance copies of his new book to everyone in Washington, to generate sales, but there had been only one copy out there:

In a statement on Monday, Mr. Bolton, his publisher and his literary agency said they had not shared the manuscript with The Times.

“There was absolutely no coordination with The New York Times or anyone else regarding the appearance of information about his book, ‘The Room Where It Happened,’ at online booksellers,” Mr. Bolton, Simon & Schuster and Javelin said in a joint statement. “Any assertion to the contrary is unfounded speculation.”

Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, responded that “The Times does not discuss its sources, but I should point out that no one has questioned the accuracy of our report.”

There was one copy, in the White House. Someone there ran off all the hundreds of copies. Someone in the White House doesn’t like the boss. But this was the new problem:

Mr. Bolton wrote in the manuscript that Mr. Barr singled out Mr. Trump’s conversations with Mr. Xi about the Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE, which agreed in 2017 to plead guilty and pay heavy fines for violating American sanctions on doing business with North Korea, Iran and other countries. A year later, Mr. Trump lifted the sanctions over objections from his own advisers and Republican lawmakers.

Mr. Barr also cited remarks Mr. Trump made to Mr. Erdogan in 2018 about the investigation of Halkbank, Turkey’s second-largest state-owned bank. The Justice Department was scrutinizing Halkbank on fraud and money-laundering charges for helping Iran evade sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department.

Mr. Erdogan had been making personal appeals to Mr. Trump to use his authority to halt any additional enforcement against the bank. In 2018, Mr. Erdogan told reporters in Turkey that Mr. Trump had promised to instruct cabinet members to follow through on the matter. The bank had hired a top Republican fund-raiser to lobby the administration on the issue.

For months, it looked as though the unusual lobbying effort might succeed; but in October, the Justice Department indicted the bank for aiding Iran. The charges were seen in part as an attempt by the administration to show that it was taking a tough line on Turkey amid an outcry over Mr. Trump’s endorsement of its incursions in Syria.

Barr and Bolton sensed something was terribly wrong here, and Bolton has been carrying on the fight:

Mr. Bolton’s statements in the book align with other comments he has made since leaving the White House in September. In November, he said in a private speech that none of Mr. Trump’s advisers shared the president’s views on Turkey and that he believed Mr. Trump adopted a more permissive approach to the country because of his financial ties there, NBC News reported. Mr. Trump’s company has a property in Turkey.

That seems likely and fits the pattern:

Mr. Trump has repeatedly praised dictators throughout his presidency. Last year, he said, “Where’s my favorite dictator?” as he waited to meet with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Mr. Trump’s soft spot for authoritarians dates at least to his presidential campaign, when he praised Saddam Hussein for being “good” at killing terrorists and suggested that the world would be better off were Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the deposed Libyan dictator who was killed in a violent uprising in 2011, “in charge right now.” Mr. Trump then suggested the ouster of both men was ultimately worse for the Middle East because the Islamic State had filled the void.

Mr. Trump declared himself “a big fan” of Mr. Erdogan as they sat side by side in the Oval Office last fall after Mr. Trump cleared the way for Turkish forces to invade Syria, though he warned Mr. Erdogan behind the scenes against the offensive.

Of Mr. Xi, Mr. Trump has been similarly effusive. When the Chinese Communist Party eliminated term limits, allowing Mr. Xi to keep his tenure open-ended, Mr. Trump extolled the outcome.

Mr. Xi had personally asked Mr. Trump to intervene to save ZTE, which was on the brink of collapse because of tough American penalties for sanctions violations.

Bolton’s new book may cover that too, so something must be done, as the Washington Post reports here:

President Trump and his allies are moving to undermine the credibility of former national security adviser John Bolton, while also preparing to fight his ability to testify during the Senate impeachment trial, according to White House aides and outside advisers familiar with the strategy.

As the president’s lawyers were defending his actions toward Ukraine on the Senate floor on Monday, Trump aides and allies were privately girding for the growing possibility that multiple witnesses will be allowed to appear. They scrambled to determine which testimony they could block and which witnesses they should potentially call, the aides said.

In short, they know they’ve lost on this:

Among White House aides and Capitol Hill Republicans, there was a growing brew of anxiety, unease and frustration, as well as the sense that the allegations contained in Bolton’s book, which is due in March, could push the Senate impeachment trial into next week, yielding more damaging disclosures for Trump as he heads into this year’s reelection contest.

Though the White House continued to push aggressively Monday against witness testimony – especially from Bolton – some aides are now convinced that they will lose that battle.

But that’s not Trump’s fault:

White House counsel Pat Cipollone has privately insisted to senators and allies that the White House did not know Bolton was going to make such an accusation in the book.

Perhaps so, but it was time to go on the attack:

The president’s allies tried to portray Bolton as a disgruntled former employee or as someone greedily trying to profit off his time in the White House.

The Republican National Committee blasted out talking points attacking Bolton – who has served in Republican administrations dating back to Ronald Reagan – in an email titled “That’s one way to boost book sales.”

“How convenient that this leaked info happened to be released at the same time preorders were made available for the book on Amazon,” read the Republican committee email. “What a joke.”

And there was this:

Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, in a text message to The Washington Post said he regretted pushing Bolton for the position of national security adviser and said the president was always skeptical of Bolton. He said that Bolton “never once raised any objection to what I was doing in defending” the president, and accused him of acting cowardly.

“I never thought of him as not having the courage to deal with people man to man,” Giuliani said. “So I put him in the category of John the Backstabber.”

John the Backstabber – Jack the Ripper’s little brother – right? Rudy is losing it, but others took the long view:

Aides and allies said they took solace in their belief that Trump will be acquitted regardless of whether Bolton or other witnesses appear. One senior Republican official likened the allegations in Bolton’s manuscript to the nausea that can accompany a rough boat ride – unpleasant but not fatal…

But behind the scenes, the White House worked feverishly to quell a possible rebellion in the Senate, with both senior adviser Tony Sayegh, who was brought back into the administration to help with impeachment messaging, and White House director of legislative affairs Eric Ueland reaching out to Republican lawmakers and their aides.

The message was that the nausea will pass so don’t get any fancy ideas here. But otherwise it was panic:

In a statement, the attorney for acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Bob Driscoll, dismissed the charges in the book concerning his knowledge about alleged actions taken toward Ukraine as having “more to do with publicity than the truth.”

“John Bolton never informed Mick Mulvaney of any concerns surrounding Bolton’s purported August conversation with the president,” Driscoll wrote. “Nor did Mr. Mulvaney ever have a conversation with the president or anyone else indicating that Ukrainian military aid was withheld in exchange for a Ukrainian investigation of Burisma, the Bidens, or the 2016 election.”

Attorney General William P. Barr also has consistently worked to inoculate himself from the Ukraine scandal – even as his Justice Department has gone to court to advance the administration’s efforts to withhold documents and testimony from Congress as part of the impeachment process. When news broke Sunday night that Bolton claimed to have told Barr, after Trump’s July phone call with Zelensky, that the attorney general’s name had been invoked, a Barr spokeswoman was quick to dispute Bolton’s account.

The spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec, said Bolton did not bring up the July phone call during a conversation with Barr. Two Justice Department officials familiar with Bolton and Barr’s conversation, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s political sensitivity, conceded that Bolton had called Barr in late July or early August but claimed the two talked only about Giuliani’s Ukraine-related efforts.

Everyone senses real trouble here, so that called for this:

For about two hours on Monday, Trump’s attorneys Pam Bondi and Eric Herschmann argued that it was Biden and Obama who should be investigated for corruption or abuse of power, laying out a case thick with political innuendo that has been sharply refuted by sworn witnesses during the House’s impeachment inquiry late last year.

Bondi said the focus on Biden, in particular, was made necessary by the House’s charges against Trump, which relied on contentions that Trump’s request for Ukraine to investigate Biden was “baseless” and meant to inflict political damage.

“We would prefer not to be discussing this, but the House managers have placed this squarely at issue so we must address it,” Bondi said.

She ended by arguing that Obama should be impeached right now. Republicans sat on their hands. Rudy was right. John the Backstabber had ruined everything.

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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