This Sympathetic White-Male Sociopath

There are police in the movie theaters. Some have suddenly closed for the evening. It’s that new Joker movie. Justin Chang explains:

The best superhero origin stories draw their power from a strange, durable tension: an inevitable destination but an unpredictable journey. We know that Bruce Wayne will one day put on some hosiery and swoop past skyscrapers, but how he arrives there, as he did in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” (2005), needn’t be a foregone conclusion. The complications of his family life, the realization of the talents that set him apart, the embrace of a symbolically powerful alter ego: All these familiar beats can be orchestrated and synthesized in ways that will seem both recognizable and revelatory to a shrewd, pop-savvy audience.

“Joker,” Todd Phillips’ sensationally grim new movie about the fall and rise of Batman’s greatest nemesis, fulfills these conventions so that it can turn them violently inside out. With impressive skill and commitment, the director and his star, Joaquin Phoenix, reverse the moral logic of the origin story, replacing its sense of emergent order with a dark plunge into alienation and chaos. We are witnessing the formation of a classic Gotham City persona: the white-faced, purple-suited maniac who has haunted the public’s imagination since his first comic-book appearance in the 1940s. But we are also seeing the disintegration of a man’s psyche in a story that seeks to elicit our pity as well as our terror.

So this will be the movie of the year. Watch an unstable man disintegrate into madness and murder, but understand that’s quite understandable. It may not be forgivable but there it is. Accept it. Accept that this is the world as it is, and Chang notes the danger:

More than a few detractors have already suggested that “Joker” is not merely a depiction of sociopathic evil, but a symptom and enabler of it. Their anxiety, their fear of what might happen when the possibility of real-world violence collides with the toxicity of fanboy culture, is easy enough to understand. In this trigger-happy, politically polarized moment, the argument goes, the last thing we need is a picture that expresses a modicum of sympathy with a lonely, socially awkward, sexually undesirable white-male sociopath who finds power and release in the grip of a firearm.

That’s why there are police in the theaters. This is a trigger-happy, politically polarized moment in America, and although the president is not a lonely, socially awkward, sexually undesirable white-male sociopath who finds power and release in the grip of a firearm, sometimes he does a pretty good imitation of one. And he makes such people glad they are such people. They want to burn it all down, and now that’s understandable. No one would say that’s admirable, but now, finally, that’s understandable. This will be the year of the sympathetic white-male sociopath, the Joker. Watch his personality disintegrate. That’s so damned cool, and you can feel his pain too!

And that makes Donald Trump the Joker. He’s angry at everything and he’s disintegrating. Just watch, or note the account from Washington Post’s Ashley Parker of his Friday morning confrontation with the press:

President Trump paced. He pointed. He parried – jokingly shaking one reporter’s hand and blocking another’s iPhone with his own.

But then came the denouement, a sudden shift into the aggrieved alternate reality that has consumed him since House Democrats launched their impeachment inquiry into Trump urging his Ukrainian counterpart to dig up dirt on a political rival.

“I feel there was in the 2016 campaign – there was tremendous corruption against me,” said Trump, transforming himself – a man who has now publicly asked no fewer than three foreign countries (Russia, Ukraine and China) to look into his political opponents — into the victim of corrupt behavior.

And he was just getting started.

“I was investigated, I was investigated, okay?” he said, before pointing at himself – two rapid-fire taps to his right breast – and adding: “Me! Me!”

Neither Christian Bale nor Joaquin Phoenix could have done this better:

He barked at the media that it was he who ran, he who won, he who was investigated, before accusing the assembled press: “You won’t say that, will you?”

Finally, he began wrapping up: “I was investigated. I was investigated. And they think it could have been by U.K. They think it could have been by Australia. They think it could have been by Italy. So when you get down to it, I was investigated by the Obama administration.”

“By the Obama administration,” he concluded, shouting now, and using both hands to point at himself, “I was investigated.”

No one knew what the hell he was talking about, so Parker suggests this:

Perhaps he was incorrectly claiming that Barack Obama’s administration was investigating him. In fact, the FBI opened investigations into several of his campaign aides – including Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, both foreign policy advisers – but not actually Trump himself.

 Or maybe he was conflating Christopher Steele – a former British intelligence officer who during the 2016 campaign compiled a dossier of damaging information on then-candidate Trump – with the British government itself.

Or maybe it was something else:

Trump was angry, and his rambling question-and-answer session seemed to convey an essential truth: That he considers it fair game for him ask foreign governments to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter – who, Trump claimed again with no evidence, were the perpetrators of “tremendous corruption.”

That doesn’t matter, because like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, he’s in his own nasty little world:

The president has long been comfortable with conspiracy theories. His political rise was abetted by the racist lie of birtherism – the false claim that Obama was not born in the United States. But ever since special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe, and now amid the throes of an impeachment inquiry, Trump seems to have moved into a split-screen reality – one in which he is the hero who has, as he tweeted Thursday, the “absolute right” to do just about anything he pleases.

Sociopaths say such things, and they do lose track of what they were just saying:

Trump repeatedly insisted that he was not worried about Biden as a possible 2020 rival – “I don’t care about Biden’s campaign, but I do care about corruption,” he said – a claim undermined by the fact that Trump fixated on Biden, mentioning the former vice president more than two dozen times…

He again claimed his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – during which he asked that the Ukrainians dig up dirt on Biden as “a favor” – was “perfect,” and that when he released notes from the conversation, the reaction was positive.

“They say, ‘Wow, this is incredible,'” Trump said. “We’re very proud of that call.”

Turning his attention to Mueller’s Russia investigation, Trump described that probe as “perfect.”

“We went through two years of Mueller, and that came out like a 10,” the president said.

He’s in his own world, but no president should be, and the Washington Post’s investigative team of Carol Leonnig and Shane Harris and Josh Dawsey show why the president should be at least of this world:

Starting long before revelations about Trump’s interactions with Ukraine’s president rocked Washington, Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders were an anxiety-ridden set of events for his aides and members of the administration, according to former and current officials. They worried that Trump would make promises he shouldn’t keep, endorse policies the United States long opposed, commit a diplomatic blunder that jeopardized a critical alliance, or simply pressure a counterpart for a personal favor.

In fact, there were blunders from the start:

In one of his first calls with a head of state, President Trump fawned over Russian President Vladimir Putin, telling the man who ordered interference in America’s 2016 election that he was a great leader and apologizing profusely for not calling him sooner.

He pledged to Saudi officials in another call that he would help the monarchy enter the elite Group of Seven, an alliance of the world’s leading democratic economies.

He promised the president of Peru that he would deliver to his country a C-130 military cargo plane overnight, a logistical nightmare that set off a herculean scramble in the West Wing and Pentagon.

And in a later call with Putin, Trump asked the former KGB officer for his guidance in forging a friendship with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un – a fellow authoritarian hostile to the United States.

All this was before the July call to tell the new Ukrainian president to destroy the Bidens or there’d be no military aid for them and they’d be part of Russian in a week. These calls were always wacky and then the inevitable happened:

“There was a constant undercurrent in the Trump administration of senior staff which was genuinely horrified by the things they saw that were happening on these calls,” said one former White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversations. “Phone calls that were embarrassing, huge mistakes he made, months and months of work that were upended by one impulsive tweet.”

But Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky went beyond whether the leader of the free world had committed a faux pas, and into grave concerns he had engaged in a possible crime or impeachable offense. The release last week of a whistleblower complaint alleging Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals as well as the release of a rough transcript of the July call led to House Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump.

Oops. That’s not good, but this was never good:

The first call Trump made that set off alarm bells came less than two weeks after his inauguration. On Jan. 28, Trump called Putin for what should have been a routine formality: accepting a foreign leader’s congratulations. Former White House officials described Trump as “obsequious” and “fawning,” but said he also rambled off into different topics without any clear point, while Putin appeared to stick to formal talking points for a first official exchange.

“He was like, ‘Oh my gosh – my people didn’t tell me you wanted to talk to me,’ ” said one person with direct knowledge of the call.

Trump has been consistently cozy with authoritarian leaders, sparking anxiety among aides about the solicitous tones he struck with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Turkish President ­Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Putin.

“We couldn’t figure out early on why he was being so nice to Russia,” one former senior administration official said.

That okay. No one can figure that out, but maybe there’s nothing to figure out:

In another call, in April 2017, Trump told Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who had overseen a brutal campaign that has resulted in the extrajudicial killings of thousands of suspected drug dealers, that he was doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

Trump’s personal goals seeped into calls. He pestered Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for help in recommending him for a Nobel Prize, according to an official familiar with the call.

“People who could do things for him he was nice to,” said one former security official. “Leaders with trade deficits, strong female leaders, members of NATO… those tended to go badly.”

So there was this:

In a summer 2018 call with Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump harangued the British leader about her country’s contribution to NATO. He then disputed her intelligence community’s conclusion that Putin’s government had orchestrated the attempted murder and poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil.

“Trump was totally bought into the idea there was credible doubt about the poisoning,” said one person briefed on the call. “A solid 10 minutes of the conversation is spent with May saying it’s highly likely and him saying he’s not sure.”

He does have a problem with women, and with rules:

Trump has rejected much of the protocol and preparation associated with foreign calls, even as his national security team tried to establish goals for each conversation.

Instead, Trump often sought to use calls as a way to befriend whoever he was talking to, one current senior administration official said, defending the president. “So he might say something that sounds terrible to the outside, but in his mind, he’s trying to build a relationship with that person and sees flattery as the way to do it.”

The president resisted long briefings before calls or reading in preparation, several former officials said. H. R. McMaster, who preferred providing the president with information he could use to make decisions, resigned himself to giving Trump small notecards with bulleted highlights and talking points.

“You had two to three minutes max,” said one former senior administration official. “And then he was still usually going to say whatever he wanted to say.”

And then he became the Joker:

In a conversation with China’s Xi, Trump repeated numerous times how much he liked a kind of chocolate cake, one former official said. The president publicly described the dessert the two had in April 2017 when Trump and Xi met at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort as “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake you have ever seen.”

Trump preferred to make calls from the residence, which frustrated some NSC staff and West Wing aides who wanted to be on hand to give the president real-time advice. If he held the call in the Oval Office, aides would gather around the desk and pass him notes to try to keep the calls on point. On a few occasions, then-Chief of Staff John F. Kelly muted the call to try to get the president back on track, two officials said.

That never worked. The Joker is a giddy giggling anarchist. But that leaves the Republicans in a bind, as Catie Edmondson explains here:

Republican leaders are struggling to settle on a clear message and effective strategy for responding to Democrats’ aggressive and fast-moving impeachment investigation of President Trump, thrown off by early stumbles and a chaotic White House that have upended efforts to set a steady tone.

With Mr. Trump effectively functioning as a one-man war room – doling out a new message, and provocative statements, almost by the hour – top Republicans have labored to find a unified response to push back against the inquiry and break through a near daily cascade of damaging information.

Instead, they have tried to avoid tough questions about Mr. Trump’s conduct, staying mostly silent.

Calvin Coolidge, the small government laissez-faire Republican president from 1923 to 1929 said it best – “I have never been hurt by what I have not said.”

Let’s not talk about it, because it’s dangerous to talk about it:

“The obvious challenge for everybody here is that they are working with a president with no tolerance for anyone to criticize” him, said Brendan Buck, a former counselor to the last two Republican House speakers, Paul D. Ryan and John A. Boehner.

Rather than acknowledging that Mr. Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president, in which he asked that the leader investigate a leading political rival, was inappropriate and moving on to a debate about whether that rose to impeachment, Mr. Buck continued, “they’re getting stuck wrapped around the axle of whether what the president did was wrong, or whether he even did it in the first place.”

There was a lot of that going around:

Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican, said in an interview on Thursday that “a lot of people” want to get to the bottom of the rumors about the Bidens and that Mr. Trump “is echoing what people have been calling for, for a long time.”

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida suggested Mr. Trump was simply trying to provoke outrage from the news media, arguing of his public appeals to China and Ukraine, “That’s not a real request.”

Senator Marco Rubio is an odd guy, but Andrew Sullivan sees this:

Nixon ordered the break-in and the cover-up and tried to keep it all on the down low, where indeed it might have stayed if he hadn’t taped all his incriminating conversations.

Trump is different. He proudly released a “transcript” of a “perfect” phone call that proved a direct attempt to leverage pending U.S. military aid in order to get the Ukrainian government to investigate one of his likeliest opponents in the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden. In the texts of U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker to European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland, Ukrainian administration staff, and former Ukraine ambassador Bill Taylor prove that.

Trump then allowed a devastating whistle-blower complaint to be made public, yet another damning indictment of illegality and borderline treason.

And that’s that:

The president has clearly committed two high crimes: He has used his position as president to solicit help from two foreign governments, one a Communist dictatorship, in fighting the next presidential election, just as he did in July 2016 with Russia, but this time with China and Ukraine. And yes, these are clear, unequivocal crimes. The chair of the Federal Election Committee, Ellen Weintraub, tweeted the bleeding obvious yesterday: “Let me make something 100% clear to the America public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept.”

Indeed it isn’t. Far from faithfully executing the laws, this president is openly breaking them – in full view of the world, and in flagrant violation of his oath of office.

And that means he really is The Joker and of course Nixon wasn’t:

It is as if Nixon held a press conference and began it by saying, “Yes, I’m a crook. And the American people deserve to know it. But McGovern would have been a terrible president and so it was entirely worthwhile. Sure, I committed a high crime in tampering with the last election. But sometimes high crimes are necessary to save the country from the Democrats.”

Nixon, for all his profound flaws, would never have said such a thing. His cover-up was, in a way, a tribute to the rule of law the way hypocrisy is often a tribute to virtue. He had some reverence for the Constitution, even as he betrayed it. He had some sense of responsibility for the wider system of government, and for his own political party, even as he struggled to save himself.

Nixon committed high crimes – but, unlike Trump, he didn’t celebrate or publicize them or declare them legal and simply dare the body politic to take him down.

But he wasn’t the white-faced, purple-suited maniac from the comic books who wants to burn everything down, made sympathetic or at least understandable in that new movie. Trump kind of is that guy, and Sullivan says that guy is somewhat understandable:

Looking at his long and abysmal business career, the rule of law was always, always an object of scorn, something only suckers cared about and lawyers were paid to circumvent. For Trump, the law is something to break, avoid or pay off. And as president, he clearly believes he is above it.

That’s an explanation, not an excuse. The Joker is the proper villain for our times, a giddy giggling anarchist. And now he’s the president too.

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Now That Anything Goes

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Anything goes.

 The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today,
And that gent today
You gave a cent today
Once had several chateaux.

That was the 1934 Cole Porter song about the normalization of what was once not normal at all – a good thing in the song. Puritans and Boy Scouts had ruined the world. Don’t be a sour prude. Don’t be a scold. Get off your high horse. Everyone does it, whatever it is. Don’t be a fool.

It’s hard to imagine Mike Pence humming that tune as he goes about doing whatever it is that vice president’s do each day. Jesus would weep. But it’s easy enough to imagine Donald Trump whistling that tune while he works. The New York Times’ Peter Baker and Eileen Sullivan report on his latest bold normalization of what was once not normal at all:

President Trump, already facing impeachment for pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, publicly called on China on Thursday to examine former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as well – an extraordinary request for help from a foreign power that could benefit him in next year’s election.

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Mr. Trump told reporters as he left the White House to travel to Florida. His request came just moments after he discussed upcoming trade talks with China and said that “if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.”

That seemed to be a signal that, unless the Chinese come up with some dirt on Biden and his son, the tariffs will last forever and there will be more of them every day. Trade between the two nations will end, forever, unless… well, he didn’t have to spell that out, did he? They know what he wants.

Everyone knows what he wants:

The president’s call for Chinese intervention means that Mr. Trump and his attorney general have now solicited assistance in discrediting the president’s political opponents from Ukraine, Australia, Italy, and, according to one report, Britain. In speaking so publicly on Thursday, a defiant Mr. Trump pushed back against critics who have called such requests an abuse of power, essentially arguing that there was nothing wrong with seeking foreign help to fight corruption.

There’s a law against that but it seems that law is for wimps and fools. The world changed. Anything goes:

Throughout his presidency, Mr. Trump has made little effort to hide actions or statements that critics called outrageous violations of norms and standards. And yet because he does them in public, they seem to stir less blowback than if they had been done behind closed doors. Among other things, he repeatedly called on his own Justice Department to investigate his Democratic foes and eventually fired his first attorney general for not protecting him from the Russia investigation.

But this time is a bit different:

By boldly repeating the action at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, Mr. Trump almost appeared to dare House Democrats to impeach him. But he left his own party in an increasingly uncomfortable position. Republican lawmakers largely stayed silent on Thursday, neither criticizing the president’s latest comments nor defending them, as they nervously awaited other developments that they worried could change the complexion of the case.

But the other side wasn’t waiting for anything else:

Mr. Trump’s comments on Thursday set off a wave of criticism from Democrats, who said he brazenly implicated himself.

“What Donald Trump just said on the South Lawn of the White House was this election’s equivalent of his infamous ‘Russia, if you’re listening’ moment from 2016 – a grotesque choice of lies over truth and self over the country,” Kate Bedingfield, Mr. Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said in a statement.

Ms. Bedingfield was referring to a news conference during the 2016 campaign when Mr. Trump on camera called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email servers. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said. The investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III later determined that just hours later Russian hackers made their first effort to break into servers used by Mrs. Clinton’s personal office.

Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the House Intelligence Committee chairman leading the impeachment inquiry, said the president’s latest comments were further evidence of his betrayal of duty.

“The president of the United States encouraging a foreign nation to interfere and help his campaign by investigating a rival is a fundamental breach of the president’s oath of office,” he told reporters.

Hillary Clinton weighed in as well. “Someone should inform the president that impeachable offenses committed on national television still count,” she wrote on Twitter.

No, they don’t count:

Attorney General William P. Barr himself has been in touch with foreign officials seeking help for an investigation into the origin of Mr. Mueller’s inquiry to determine if it was generated by an illegitimate “hoax” undertaken for partisan reasons, as Mr. Trump has contended.

That was, of course, supposed to be business as usual, now that anything goes, but other legal minds disagreed:

Sally Yates, an Obama administration holdover who served as acting attorney general until she was fired by Mr. Trump, said the president behaved as if acting in the light of day would transform corrupt actions into innocent ones. “The president is trying to hypnotize the American people into believing that it can’t be wrong if he says it out loud,” she said.

“The White House counsel in a case like this would find the nearest window and jump out,” said Robert F. Bauer, who served as President Barack Obama’s top lawyer and supports Mr. Biden. “There’s no way to defend it. No way. None.”

Trump proved Bauer wrong:

Left to defend himself, Mr. Trump weighed back in Thursday night, asserting he was allowed to seek foreign help. “As the President of the United States, I have an absolute right, perhaps even a duty, to investigate, or have investigated, CORRUPTION, and that would include asking, or suggesting, other Countries to help us out!” he wrote on Twitter.

That this is about Joe Biden and his son is a coincidence of course, or maybe not:

Mr. Trump has insisted that his July conversation with Mr. Zelensky was “perfect” even after a reconstructed transcript of the call released by the White House showed him imploring the newly inaugurated Ukrainian leader to “do us a favor” by investigating the Bidens and other Democrats shortly after Mr. Zelensky discussed his need for more American aid to counter Russian aggression.

Undaunted by criticism, Mr. Trump repeated that request on Thursday morning. “I would say that President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens,” Mr. Trump said. “Because nobody has any doubt that they weren’t crooked.”

And that’s a universal truth:

In calling for an investigation of American citizens by China, a repressive Communist government with no rule of law, Mr. Trump referred to a business deal Hunter Biden was in that involved a fund drawing investment from the government-owned Bank of China. The fund was announced in late 2013, days after Hunter Biden flew to China aboard Air Force Two with the vice president, who was in the midst of a diplomatic mission.

The president said on Thursday that Hunter Biden was not qualified for that business, noting that he had been discharged from the Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine. “He got kicked out of the Navy,” Mr. Trump said. “All of a sudden he’s getting billions of dollars. You know what they call that? They call that a payoff.”

Mr. Trump said he had not asked President Xi Jinping for assistance. “But it’s certainly something we can start thinking about because I’m sure that President Xi does not like being under that kind of scrutiny.”

That’s a threat. President Xi had better get going on destroying Biden, now. If he doesn’t, the CIA and NSA will be watching everything he does, and ignore this:

Mr. Biden is not the only candidate in the race with a child with business in China. Mr. Trump’s elder daughter, Ivanka, a senior White House adviser, has received valuable trademarks from China even after she closed her brand in 2018 because of worsening sales and questions of conflicts of interest.

She still holds those trademarks, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. She can use them later or sell them now. That was a Chinese gift to the Trump family that ran parallel to all the trade negotiations. It was just a favor. Some might call those trademarks a bribe. Prudes and Boy Scouts might do that.

This is that Cole Porter song now, and Dahlia Lithwick updates the lyrics:

Part of Donald Trump’s seeming immunity to consequences comes from the fact that he has a singular, predictable response to being caught out: He first denies that it happened, and then, faced with proof that it did – or in the case of Ukraine, having himself hand-delivered the proof that it did – he admits having done it, but then argues that it’s perfectly cool, perfectly legal, and not that big of a deal. And that everyone does it and that people should do it more.

It’s uncanny but it never fails him. From “Russia, if you’re listening” to “I don’t pay taxes because I’m smart,” the play is to rope-a-dope the public into believing we’re the idiots for abiding by the rules.

That is the essence of the Cole Porter song, but Lithwick senses a change now:

This time Donald Trump looks weak and pathetic. It’s not like the other non-scandals, when he didn’t pay his taxes and told people he was smart, or when he treated women like garbage and told people he was sexy, or when he profited from the businesses from which he refused to divest himself and told people he was just too fantastic a businessman, or even when he destroyed the lives of immigrants and asylum-seekers and told people he was tough.

No, this time, even as he admits to the impeachable act and says it’s what smart people do, he mostly looks nuts. He looks like a desperate man chasing an imaginary enemy – not his political opponent but his opponent’s son—around the globe, firing ambassadors, plotting with Paul Manafort, shaking down the Australians and the Italians and begging the Chinese to get in on the action, all because he’s hell-bent on destroying a political opponent who isn’t even his opponent yet. He’s twisted and bent the State Department and the Justice Department and the Republican Senate into confederates in what’s emerged as the saddest little snipe hunt in the world.

Trump may not have thought about that, about what happens when he gets the goods on the Bidens and destroys them and asks that everyone admire him for what he has just done. He’ll look like a jerk:

The Ukraine scandal may stick to him, and not simply because the president cannot seem to outrun it, but because even if he finally catches up, begging Australia and China to help him steal another election doesn’t have the look of a winner. It’s small, and weak. This time, maybe, bragging about that doesn’t help.

And he had been warned:

The former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine told House investigators on Thursday that he warned President Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani that Giuliani was receiving untrustworthy information from Ukrainian political figures about former vice president Joe Biden and his son, according to two people familiar with his testimony.

Kurt Volker, who resigned last week after being named in a whistleblower complaint that sparked the House impeachment inquiry into Trump, said he tried to caution Giuliani that his sources, including Ukraine’s former top prosecutor, were unreliable and that he should be careful about putting faith in the prosecutor’s theories, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting.

There really was nothing there when Trump just knew there was, or wished there was, and then he decided to twist a few arms to rid himself of Biden once and for all:

Democrats came away from the day-long deposition convinced that documents Volker provided to House investigators provide “ample evidence,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said, that the Trump administration planned to require Ukraine’s president to investigate the Biden family’s ties to the Ukrainian energy giant Burisma and look into the 2016 election to “exonerate Russia’s role,” if the foreign leader wanted to meet with the American president.

That’s extortion, but the odd thing is that his own people worked against him:

Volker also told lawmakers Thursday that he and other State Department officials cautioned the Ukrainians to steer clear of U.S. politics. Getting involved, he said he told them, would open the nation to allegations that it was interfering in an American election and could be detrimental to Ukraine long-term, according to the two individuals familiar with his testimony.

In short, don’t make Ukraine Republican. One day Democrats will be back in power over here. That goes back and forth. But everything goes back and forth:

Democrats left the deposition arguing that Volker’s testimony only further confirmed the damage Trump and Giuliani did to U.S. foreign policy on behalf of the president’s political interests. Volker, they said, made clear that the Ukrainians were confused and upset by the administration’s decisions to delay the diplomatic visit and stall military aid – and that they did not know how to handle the situation.

“I walk away very bothered by the fact that a private citizen, albeit the attorney to the president, is roaming around another country purporting to wear a semiofficial hat and explicitly trying to dig up dirt on domestic political opponents,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.).

Republicans said that Volker’s testimony fell far short of revealing the “quid pro quo” narrative…

It was just words? There was no paperwork. Nothing had been signed? There was no list of precise if-then agreements? That was the Republican argument, but there was this:

In advance of his appearance Thursday, Volker had turned over a number of documents to congressional staffers, including chains of text messages with Giuliani and other State Department officials, said people familiar with the documents. On Thursday, Fox News and ABC News each obtained text messages appearing to show a top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, expressing concern that the Trump administration was trying to carry out a quid pro quo. “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” read the message.

Everyone knew this was bonkers, and then the New York Times broke this story:

Two of President Trump’s top envoys to Ukraine worked on a statement for the country’s new president in August that would have committed Ukraine to pursuing investigations sought by Mr. Trump into his political rivals, according to three people briefed on the effort and documents released Thursday night.

Their work on the statement is new evidence of how Mr. Trump’s fixation with conspiracy theories linked to Ukraine began driving senior diplomats to bend American foreign policy to the president’s political agenda in the weeks after a July 25 call between the two leaders.

The statement was worked on by Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt D. Volker, then the State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine, according to the documents and the three people who have been briefed on it. Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and the de facto leader of a shadow campaign to push the Ukrainians to press ahead with investigations, provided the critical element of the language, Mr. Volker told House Democratic investigators on Thursday, a person familiar with his testimony said.

It seems something else happened at that hearing, a big reveal, but one that came to little:

The Ukrainians never released the statement. But if they had, Mr. Trump’s aides would have effectively pressured a foreign government to give credence to allegations intended to undercut one of the Democratic Party’s leading 2020 president candidates – former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. – without leaving Mr. Trump’s fingerprints on it.

But they never released the statement, so that was that, except for why there was a statement at all:

The drafting of the statement, which came in the weeks after the July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky, was an effort to pacify Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani and to normalize relations between the two countries as Ukraine faced continuing conflict with Russia. Mr. Sondland and Mr. Volker believed that Mr. Giuliani was “poisoning” Mr. Trump’s mind about Ukraine and that eliciting a public commitment from Mr. Zelensky to pursue the investigations would induce Mr. Trump to more fully support the new Ukrainian government, according to the people familiar with it.

It seems that Sondland and Volker were offering Zelensky a way to save his country. Trump is a madman. Say you’ll investigate the Bidens or he’ll really lose it and hand your country over to Putin. When he’s angry he might do anything. Giuliani has poisoned his mind. Don’t risk it. Sign this statement we’ve prepared for you.

And everyone knows Trump:

Mr. Sondland raised some hackles at the State Department and in the National Security Council when he asked to be included in the United States delegation that attended Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration, according to people familiar with the events. Mr. Sondland attended an Oval Office meeting afterward with other members of the delegation – which also included Mr. Volker, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin – to brief Mr. Trump on the delegation’s impressions of Mr. Zelensky.

When the delegation praised Mr. Zelensky and urged Mr. Trump to fully support the new Ukrainian government, the president was dismissive. “They’re terrible people,” Mr. Trump said of Ukrainian politicians, according to people familiar with the meeting. “They’re all corrupt and they tried to take me down.”

The man does hold grudges forever, except they didn’t really try to take him down. Vladimir Putin told him that. That’s the Russian line. They did nothing in 2016 – it was the Ukrainians. Trump believes Putin. He always does.

Of course he does. Anything goes. Or almost anything:

Fox analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano has cemented his role as a critic of President Trump.

In a Fox News op-ed Thursday, Napolitano railed against Trump for his infamous July call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, writing that the scandal is “much more grave” than Robert Mueller’s findings in the Russia probe.

“The criminal behavior to which Trump has admitted is much more grave than anything alleged or unearthed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and much of what Mueller revealed was impeachable,” Napolitano said.

Napolitano argued that the White House’s release of its version of Trump’s July call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky means that the President “admitted to its accuracy.” On the call, Trump asked Zelensky to do the U.S. a favor when the Ukrainian leader inquired about military aid. Trump used the conversation to lean on Zelensky to drum up bogus allegations against Joe and Hunter Biden.

Napolitano added that Trump’s withholding of military aid to the Ukraine and his ongoing effort to accuse the whistleblower of treason contributes to his “criminal behavior.”

And that’s that, except for this:

Napolitano also took issue with Trump’s allusions to violence that are “palpably dangerous” such as how he suggested that his impeachment would “produce a second American Civil War.”

“Trump’s allusions to violence will give cover to crazies who crave violence, as other intemperate words of his have done,” Napolitano said, citing how the President’s words have already produced offers of “bounties” in return for outing and finding the whistleblower.

It seems that not everything goes, but for this:

Trump has grown increasingly hostile toward Fox News recently, saying that he “doesn’t know what’s happening with the network.”

He should know. They’ve been reporting the news for a change. Anything goes over there too, now. And anything goes with the Democrats too. Trump may be in trouble. But he started it.

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Increasing Levels of Pain

Some things are too painful to watch – Pittsburgh Pirate baseball games – most Tom Cruise movies – and now, presidential news conferences. Donald Trump is angry. He’s making less sense every day, and getting angrier as he senses that somehow no one “gets” what he’s saying. So he says it louder. Louder isn’t clearer. So he shouts it out, whatever it is, and sneers and pounds his fists on the podium. But there are still those blank stares, and some are embarrassed for him, and his staff, hidden offstage in the shadows, shuffles their feet uncomfortably. They’ll have to explain what he really meant, later. They’ll have to say this is a brilliant man, a stable genius, somehow. The fault is with the media. That’s it. They can always say that. Everyone knows what “covfefe” means. The press made a big deal out of nothing. They always do.

But those press conferences are really are painful now, and Kevin Drum looks at the latest one:

Donald Trump is just raving these days, both online and off, and a few minutes ago he practically melted down in public while the president of Finland stoically stared into his hands. Meanwhile, his secretary of state is flatly stonewalling Congress and – unless I’ve missed someone – not a single elected Republican is willing to even mildly criticize Trump, let alone support an impeachment inquiry.

Do the details even matter anymore? I suppose they do – or, more accurately, they might eventually. Maybe there’s some limit that even Fox News can’t quite spin away. Maybe.

Or maybe not:

In the meantime, just remember this: Joe Biden went to Ukraine in 2015 to demand that they crack down harder on corruption. That included investigations of Burisma, the energy company where his son sat on the board. In the real world, this is uncontroversial. Everybody agrees this is what happened. But in Foxland, Biden went to Ukraine to make sure they STOPPED investigating Burisma. It’s a jaw-dropping fantasy, but thanks to the conservative media machine it’s now gospel for a huge chunk of the country.

And that may be why the press conference was painful. Someone was in Fantasy Land. The other guy was grounded in western cultural history. Slate’s Fred Kaplan explains here:

In normal times, the last thing one might expect from a joint press conference with Donald Trump and the president of Finland is to hear the latter criticize the former, but that’s what happened Wednesday afternoon.

As is customary at such events, Trump, after reading his own statement, gave the visiting head of state, Sauli Niinistö, a few minutes to make some remarks. Niinistö used the occasion to jab at Trump’s hostility to Europe and, in more oblique terms, his possible threat to American democracy.

“Europe needs the U.S.,” Niinistö acknowledged, “but the U.S. also needs Europe.” He added, “We know the price of everything. We should also recognize the value of everything.”

The remark is play on a well-known line from Oscar Wilde’s play “Lady Wyndemere’s Fan” in which Lord Darlington defines a cynic as “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” It seemed pretty clear that the Finnish president was calling his American counterpart a cynic.

Trump didn’t get it. These two travel in different circles:

Niinistö then said that, during his time in Washington, he’d visited the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Museum of the American Indian. “You have a great democracy,” he said, then added, turning to Trump, “keep it going on.”

Yes, he was trolling Trump:

As an avid follower of political news, Niinistö must have known that the remark would be heard in the context of fears about the future of American democracy. When a reporter asked him if that was what he meant, if he had fears about that future, Niinistö didn’t deny it, saying only, “I am inspired what the American people have gained in these decades. So… keep it going.”

Finally, he also said that he’d urged Trump to keep open talks on arms control, including extending the New START nuclear treaty, which President Barack Obama signed with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in 2010 and is set to expire in 2021. Trump is known to be no fan of that treaty or of any other deal negotiated by Obama…

For his part, Trump spent most of the press conference railing against the Democrats’ impeachment probe, which he once again denounced as a “hoax” amounting, possibly, to “treason.”

But of course that was nonsense:

His main argument is that Rep. Adam Schiff (or, as he calls him, “Shifty Schiff”), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, delivered a false rendering of Trump’s now-infamous phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. At a committee hearing on Sept. 26, Schiff did paraphrase the conversation in a very crude, caricatured manner, portraying Trump’s subtle pressure campaign against Zelensky in much harsher terms. But this was clearly a caricature: No one should have mistaken it as a word-for-word reading… except that’s what Trump did, saying that Schiff “took that perfect conversation I had with the president, and he made up a total fabrication.” That “has to be a crime … treason.”

Ah, no, not really:

Even if Schiff had pretended his paraphrase was an exact quote, he wouldn’t have committed a crime, much less treason, which the Constitution defines very narrowly as consisting “only in levying war” against the United States or in “adhering” to its enemies, “giving them aid and comfort.”

Sauli Niinistö might have been rolling his eyes by then:

Trump further said that the media’s criticism of the conversation is based on Schiff’s speech about it, not on the “transcript” – actually, a very detailed memorandum describing and often quoting from it – released by the White House. In fact, the criticism is based entirely on that White House document, which is rare in the annals of American politics in that it showed the “smoking gun” – which often materializes in the final act of a scandal – in the opening scene.

Trump also said that the whistleblower’s complaint – which he described as “vicious” – differs from the transcript, when in fact the two are quite consistent. He also speculated that Schiff’s staff wrote the complaint before the story was made public, suggesting that the whole business – as he has said of the Mueller report – is a conspiracy hatched by those who are trying to reverse the 2016 election.

The president also said that he withheld military aid from Ukraine not to pressure their President Zelensky, but because he’s tired of being “the sucker country,” giving the country way more money than its neighbors in Europe. In fact, the European Union and its financial institutions have given Ukraine $16.4 billion since 2014, while the amount of U.S. aid held up by Trump amounted to just under $400 million.

Kaplan found the whole thing bizarre and unnerving:

Finally, Trump indulged in the conspiracy theory, pursued by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and, more recently, Attorney General William Barr, that the same cabal of corrupt Democrats and media ginned up the charges – about collusion with Russia – that put special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in motion.

In the day’s most rambling remarks, Trump said he would soon be “bringing a lot of litigation against a lot of people” for “what they did to my people,” who came to Washington “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” and wound up getting served subpoenas. He also lashed out against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who, he said, “hands out subpoenas like they’re cookies.”

And he’ll sue someone for something, no one was sure who and for what, and then they’ll be sorry, whoever they are! The Washington Post’s Toluse Olorunnipa has more:

As the event turned to the unscripted question-and-answer session, Trump’s other personas emerged. He presented himself as a victim, a survivor, a “stable genius,” a ruthless counterpuncher and the most productive president in history.

Niinistö looked on, his face betraying his surprise and bewilderment at the dramatic arc of the Trump show. As Trump held court, the Finnish leader hardly got a word in. At one point, when Trump boasted of his wins before the World Trade Organization, Niinistö interjected: “I think the question is for me.”

It was, but that no longer mattered:

Trump grew most animated as he listed his grievances and described all the forces he believed are arrayed against him and his presidency.

He repeated words like “hoax” “scam” and “fraud” as casually as another president might say NATO or “shared values.”

“So the political storm, I’ve lived with it from the day I got elected,” he said. “I’m used to it. For me, it’s like putting on a suit in the morning.”

He complained that after special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s extensive probe into Russian election meddling and potential obstruction of justice by the White House, he got only “three days of peace” before the threat of impeachment cast a cloud over the second half of his term.

“I’ve lived with this cloud now for almost three years,” he said.

The president lamented that former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) “would never give anybody a subpoena,” hesitating when Trump’s defenders wanted to use congressional powers to investigate Democrats and the FBI. By contrast, he said, Pelosi was a subpoena-approving machine.

Sauli Niinistö had given up and tuned out by then, because this had nothing to do with him any longer:

Trump also presented himself as the battle-scarred victor who was uniquely capable of fighting back against his perceived enemies and on behalf of his supporters.

In describing how he has survived the “greatest hoax” in history and a “fraudulent crime on the American people,” he cited conservative media figures.

“People have said to me, how does he handle it?” Trump said. “Rush Limbaugh said, ‘I don’t know of any man in America that could handle it.’ Sean Hannity said the same thing.”

This was painful, particularly for Republicans, as the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni explain here:

President Trump was watching television in the White House on Wednesday morning when cable news channels started airing Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Adam B. Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, warning at a news conference that any attempts by the president to stonewall their impeachment investigation would be viewed as obstruction.

Mr. Trump did not wait for Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schiff to finish before responding. First he attacked Ms. Pelosi on Twitter, saying she was neglecting the work of Congress “and trying to win an election through impeachment.” Then he tweeted again, sharing a campaign video that accused Democrats of trying to undo the results of the 2016 election.

He continued those attacks later in the afternoon, both before and after a meeting with Sauli Niinistö, the president of Finland, and became increasingly angry as he went on.

But that is the actual problem here:

Mr. Trump has long believed that he is the best communicator in the White House, but as the presidential campaign picks up its pace and the prospect of his impeachment becomes more real, he seems to be its only empowered communicator, a one-man war room responding to developments almost hour by hour. And that is making many Republicans anxious.

They should be anxious:

For now, the White House has no organized response to impeachment, little guidance for surrogates to spread a consistent message even if it had developed one, and minimal coordination between the president’s legal advisers and his political ones. And West Wing aides are divided on everything from who is in charge to whether, after two years of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, impeachment even poses a serious political threat to the president.

“This is a very different animal than the Mueller investigation,” said Josh Holmes, a former top aide to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader. “It’s a political question, not a legal one. They need to persuade Republicans in the House and the Senate of a bunch of really good arguments to have the party-wide insulation the president is going to prefer going into this fight.”

And there’s not much time for that now:

The White House has a narrow runway to adjust and tighten its response, with just over a week until the congressional recess ends. At that point, Republicans will return from their home districts and face questions about Mr. Trump’s tweets and condemnation of the whistle-blower – questions they might have difficulty answering.

“At this point, the president can hold his own,” Mr. Holmes added. “But I think they should be concerned with how Republicans handle it when they get back and for that, it probably does take a little bit of structure.”

Expect no structure, because there’s Rudy:

For weeks, the most visible defender of the president has been Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, who is himself a central figure in the allegations that Mr. Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to find dirt on Democrats, leading several of the president’s advisers to warn that Mr. Giuliani’s freelance television appearances do him more harm than good.

But Mr. Trump has told them that he is pleased with the performances, and spent part of Saturday giving Mr. Giuliani talking points for the Sunday show circuit.

There’s no help there, or here:

Others have urged the president to tone down his language, including his repeated use of the word “treason.” But Mr. Trump, who has frequently abandoned norms and paid little in terms of personal political consequences for doing so, has not changed his behavior. That has led some advisers, like Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, to settle into a hands-off approach. Mr. Mulvaney told associates he spent part of Sunday on a golf course outside Washington.

What’s left is Mr. Trump acting alone, and poised to live-tweet his own impeachment, complete with all-caps obscenities, alarming accusations of treason and warnings that impeachment is really a “coup.”

And Trump is fine with that, about half the time:

Behind the scenes, Mr. Trump has seesawed from projecting confidence that there is a political benefit from the impeachment fight to lashing out at aides, blaming them for the fact that he is entangled by it in the first place.

But he should blame Rudy for that:

The State Department inspector general provided Congress on Wednesday with documents that included materials President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had given to the department earlier this year containing unproven claims about Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The documents, which were obtained by CNN, include claims against the Bidens that formed the basis of President Donald Trump’s accusations in his July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as accusations against former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled earlier this year and whom Trump also criticized in the call. In addition, the packet contains internal State Department emails from officials discussing articles critical of Yovanovitch, calling some of it a “fake narrative.”

The packet contained press clippings and print-outs from conspiracy websites, and rumors about rumors, and one or two notes from carrier diplomats and regional experts that a lot this was nonsense, perhaps to prove there was a “deep state” plot to cover up all this stuff. That was Rudy:

Giuliani said that in late March, he had “routed” what he called an “outline” of allegations against Biden, as well as Yovanovitch, to Pompeo’s office. He said he also had sent details of his interviews from earlier in the year with the incumbent and former top prosecutors in Ukraine, who helped provide him with the information in his outline.

Giuliani said he received a phone call shortly thereafter from Pompeo, who told Giuliani he would be referring the documents for investigation.

“They told me they were going to investigate it,” Giuliani told CNN.

Other presidents have had the CIA and the NSA and the FBI but Trump has Rudy, and Josh Marshall was amazed:

I was in the midst of writing out a post explaining how there was a lot of circumstantial evidence that that packet of pro-Trump conspiracy theories the State Department Inspector General brought up to the Hill was actually Rudy Giuliani’s work product: the packet of information he’d assembled in his trips abroad. Rudy likely piped it into the State Department. It got circulated through the Department by State appointees (this part we know). The IG had had it since May. But when he heard the events of the last week, especially Pompeo going on the warpath, the IG decided he wanted to get it out of his hands and into the hands of Congress as soon as possible.

Well, I’m robbed of my genius reconstruction of the evidence! Because now Rudy has admitted that, yeah, it’s his stuff…

It’s a mix of memos, planted newspaper articles and summaries of the interviews Giuliani conducted in Ukraine.

Helpfully (to Congress) Giuliani says Pompeo was receptive to the documents and said he’d make sure they were investigated.

And this is where all this nonsense took hold:

The key point here is that the documents not only push the anti-Biden conspiracy theories. They also include attacks on the then-US Ambassador to Ukraine, as well as claims of a Mueller conspiracy against Trump, framing of the Russia, etc. etc. So they apparently got Pompeo to turn against the US Ambassador to Ukraine, who was subsequently dismissed…

Needless to say, it’s quite clear that Pompeo is deeply implicated in these abuses of power. Meanwhile Rudy Giuliani is happy to provide more evidence of Pompeo’s involvement. Once Pompeo received them, they were circulated within the State Department. It doesn’t say specifically that Pompeo circulated them. But that seems consistent with all the other information we’ve learned.

It seems pretty clear why Inspector General Linick thought this was an urgent matter.

In short, both Trump and Pompeo were involved in trying to force the Ukrainians into finding a way to destroy Joe Biden so Trump wouldn’t have to run against him.

And now it’s Mike Pence too:

President Trump repeatedly involved Vice President Pence in efforts to exert pressure on the leader of Ukraine at a time when the president was using other channels to solicit information that he hoped would be damaging to a Democratic rival, current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump instructed Pence not to attend the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in May, an event White House officials had pushed to put on the vice president’s calendar, when Ukraine’s new leader was seeking recognition and support from Washington, the officials said.

Months later, the president used Pence to tell Zelensky that U.S. aid was still being withheld while demanding more aggressive action on corruption, officials said. At that time – following Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky – the Ukrainians probably understood action on corruption to include the investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

Officials close to Pence insist that he was unaware of Trump’s efforts to press Zelensky for damaging information about Biden and his son, who had served on the board of an obscure Ukrainian gas company, when his father was overseeing U.S. policy on Ukraine.

Mike Pence knows nothing! His staff says so, but Trump’s staff says the Pence knew everything, so the two staffs fought it out, but what happened did happen:

In his meeting with Zelensky, Pence conveyed the news that hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to Ukraine was not going to be released amid concerns about the country’s lagging efforts to combat corruption. He also emphasized Trump’s frustration that he thought the European Union was not doing a sufficient job in helping to provide aid. A participant in the meeting said Zelensky was “crestfallen” by the news, though a second participant described the meeting as “cordial” and Zelensky as understanding of U.S. concerns.

At that point, Ukraine’s president had already spoken to Trump and was familiar with the president’s demands. Pence did not mention Biden or the dormant probe of Burisma, the company for which his son had served as a board member. But former officials said that Pence’s emphasis on corruption probably would have been interpreted by Zelensky as “code” for that issue, whether the vice president intended it or not.

A top Pence staffer rejected the charge…

It’s too late for that. If Trump is going down, others will go down with him. He’s not going down alone.

This will be painful to watch, but this might be the only game in town, as Charles Blow explains here:

The presidency has many powers, awesome powers, but Congress also has powers, and impeachment is one of them. Trump is likely to become only the third president to be impeached and the first to be impeached over his dealings with a foreign government, one of the things the framers of the Constitution feared most.

This is outrageous to Trump, a man who has patterned his entire presidency as a rebuke to and competition with his predecessor, Barack Obama. Not only will Trump not get a Nobel Peace Prize, he’ll get an American badge of dishonor. A black president of decency will trounce the president of white supremacy.

This fact alone is no doubt pushing Trump to the verge of explosion.

He will do anything to avoid this. But this may now be all out of his hands.

There will be an explosion. And then there will be a bloody mess to clean up. It’s all painful now.

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Bringing the Heat

In baseball, bringing the heat is when the pitcher stops throwing curves and sliders and change-ups and just blasts hard fastballs right over the plate, one right after another, so fast that they freeze the batter or he swings long after that super-fastball has gone by. Sometimes brute force and raw power work better than finesse – that is, in baseball, until that batter figures out how to time those pitches. One can adjust to brute force and raw power and hit one out of the park, or bunt. Don’t meet brute force with brute force. Why bother? Lay down the bunt. Give those other guys what they never expected. Grin at them from first base. They’re in trouble now.

That’s exactly how it worked in that movie and of course life is just like baseball. Drop the finesse and bring on the heat. Meet force with force and you’ll win every time, except when you don’t. Someone may step back in awe of your powerful brute force, and then ignore that and bunt their way on base. And maybe that’s how Trump’s presidency will end. He’ll be impeached and then removed from office for a minor phone call with the new president of Ukraine, a television comedian who still may not know what the hell just happened to him. He’s president? Ukraine is a strange place, but Trump is new at this too.

But the game was in Washington – the Nationals versus the Brewers in a one game Wild Card playoff to see who gets to go on – all fastballs and home runs – all brute force. No, wait. There was that other game in town that had played out earlier in the day, the first day of October. That was all brute force too. Everyone was bringing the heat, as the Washington Post reported:

The House impeachment inquiry broke into a full-throated battle between the executive and legislative branches Tuesday, as congressional Democrats and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traded threats and accusations, President Trump questioned whether a leader of the probe should be arrested, and a senior Democrat said Trump should be imprisoned in “solitary confinement.”

This was not a day for finesse:

In letters to Vice President Pence and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, demanded answers by Friday to questions about what they knew, when they knew it and their roles in Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine.

But much of the day’s turmoil centered on Pompeo, who said in a letter to the chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform committees heading the investigation that five State Department officials called to give depositions over the next two weeks would not appear as scheduled.

No one from the State Department would ever testify to these people, because they were big meanies and big bullies and Pompeo was going to be the hero here and stand up for his people who has been treated so badly and must be in tears of despair right about now:

Pompeo characterized the effort to depose the officials as “an attempt to intimidate, bully, and treat improperly, the distinguished professionals of the Department of State.”

Saying Congress had no authority to compel such testimony, Pompeo wrote that he would “not tolerate such tactics, and I will use all means at my disposal to prevent and expose any attempts to intimidate the dedicated professionals whom I am proud to lead and serve alongside at the Department of State.”

That’s the new line now – even lawful requests for testimony by anyone from the administration is bullying, harassment, thuggish intimidation, and someone has to stand up for these people, now made a quivering mess in fetal position under their desks – because Democrats are so mean about everything – and that has to stop. Pompeo throws a mean fastball. No one can hit it.

Well, maybe not:

By the end of the day at least one of the five – Kurt Volker, a former administration envoy to Ukraine – planned to appear anyway before the committees Thursday. A second official, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch would appear Oct. 11, according to a committee official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss lawmakers’ deliberations.

Volker quit so he could testify without Pompeo telling him what to say. Trump removed Yovanovitch. She was a career diplomat – she’d had posting all over the world for many decades – so she was obviously a “Deep State” operative out to “get” Trump. Trump had told the Ukrainians that she was a total loser and a total disaster and a total joke. She didn’t believe that Hillary’s missing emails were on a server in Ukraine somewhere, or that Biden and his son where part of a Ukrainian plot to overthrow Trump. She didn’t believe Rudy Giuliani. She had to go. Her testimony should be interesting.

And the Democrats already are interesting:

The committee chairmen responded to Pompeo with their own broadside, saying any attempt to prevent department officials from speaking to them “is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction,” according to a statement issued by Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), who heads the Foreign Affairs panel.

That was their high inside fastball. They wouldn’t take this to the courts; they’d simply add each instance to the Bill of Impeachment as solid evidence of obstruction of justice. Go ahead, Mike, make it a long list. You’ll be sorry, but Pompeo had left himself some wiggle-room:

In his letter to the committees, Pompeo did not outright refuse to allow the officials to testify, but he said that they and the department had been given “a woefully inadequate opportunity” to prepare. They must also consult with, and be accompanied to any deposition by, State Department counsel “regarding the Department’s legitimate interests in safeguarding potentially privileged and classified information,” he wrote.

It was unclear what recourse was available to Pompeo to prevent them from appearing or to discipline those who decided to speak.

The other State Department officials scheduled for depositions are Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl. It was unclear whether they would appear.

No one expects those three to show up. Pompeo can claim that would be bullying and these are emotionally fragile men he must protect, or he can claim he needs more time – a few more months, or years. Why can’t “you people” be reasonable? Pompeo has this covered either way, except something just came up:

Meanwhile, the committees were notified that the State Department’s inspector general had requested to speak with them Wednesday “to discuss and provide staff with copies of documents related to the State Department and Ukraine,” according to a letter obtained by the Washington Post.

What? Is this another fastball from Pompeo, or in this case a curveball? Maybe not:

State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, whose office is responsible for investigating abuse and mismanagement in the department and operates largely independently from its control, “obtained the documents from the acting legal advisor of the Department of State,” the letter said.

The inspector general does not have to seek Pompeo’s approval to approach lawmakers with information, especially if the material is not classified.

It is unclear exactly what Linick will provide the committees.

Everyone would have to wait a day for that, but meanwhile, everyone was bringing on the heat:

On Friday, the committees also subpoenaed Pompeo over what they said was his failure to respond to previous requests to produce documents related to the inquiry. Pompeo left the country late Monday on a week-long trip to Europe.

In a morning Twitter barrage, Trump repeated his insistence, despite information in the White House’s rough transcript, that almost everything the whistleblower said about it was “wrong,” and he asked, “Why aren’t we entitled to interview & learn everything about the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all the false information to him?”

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who broadly paraphrased the call during a hearing last week, had “made up” a version of the exchange, Trump said. He questioned why Schiff wasn’t being “brought up on charges.”

And then, down the way, as Max Scherzer was throwing the first fastball for the Nationals, there was this:

Later in the day, others entered the fray. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, said the impeachment inquiry could expand beyond Ukraine. Impeachment, she wrote on Twitter, “is not good enough for Trump. He needs to be imprisoned & placed in solitary confinement.”

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, meanwhile, accused House Democrats of attempting “a legislative coup d’état” to get rid of Trump.

The legislative coup d’état is also called impeachment. It happens now and then, as spelled out in the Constitution, so that was nonsense, or just more heat, one more fastball like this one:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has an “obvious conflict of interest” in the Ukraine scandal and will likely be a key witness in the congressional impeachment inquiry, House Democrats said Tuesday.

Pompeo may be involved in a “blatant cover-up and a clear abuse of power,” a trio of Democratic chairman wrote in a letter Tuesday night.

Given Pompeo’s potential role, he should “not be making any decisions regarding witness testimony or document production in order to protect himself or the president,” the lawmakers said.

The extraordinary warning – sent to the State Department’s deputy secretary of state, John Sullivan – came after a bitter exchange between Pompeo and House Democrats over the scheduled depositions of five State Department officials involved in communications between Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, and Ukrainian government officials.

Everyone is playing hardball now, and Anne Gearan notes that Trump is throwing the most fastballs:

For President Trump, the impeachment case being built by Democrats over his alleged effort to recruit foreign help for his reelection campaign isn’t just a “WITCH HUNT,” though he calls it that, too; it’s “treason.” It isn’t just “presidential harassment,” though he also makes that charge; it’s an invitation to “Civil War.”

The president is bringing the rhetorical heavy artillery to the most serious challenge to his presidency in nearly three tumultuous, norm-busting, warp-speed years in office.

Expanding on the lexicon of outrage and victimhood honed during the probe into Russian interference in the last election, Trump is invoking the muskets-and-ramparts idioms of the country’s beginnings.

Of course he is:

The ratcheting up of his rhetoric is also indicative of Trump’s tendency to interpret any criticism of him as an attack on the government, worrying critics and scholars who warn of the dangers posed by his “L’état, c’est moi” call to arms.

That is a worry:

“Charging anyone with treason is a most unusual act in American history. It’s an incendiary charge which relates to the ultimate crime: overthrow of the state,” said Michael J. Glennon, an international law professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

In setting out a definition and consequences for treason in the Constitution, including death, the founders were guarding against the “danger that the charge of treason could be made irresponsibly against political opponents,” Glennon said, adding that cavalierly throwing around words like “treason” and “civil war” belies their unique meaning in American history.

“I suppose it has an incendiary effect on some supporters, but we are dealing with dynamite here,” Glennon said.

Well, the Oath Keepers are assembling an actual army for that actual civil war – they don’t think that Trump speaks in metaphors – but others see that:

In his effort to attack the whistleblower and Democrats’ impeachment push, Trump has grasped at the tools he knows: communication and storytelling, said Meena Bose, executive dean at Hofstra University’s Peter S. Kalikow School of Government, Public Policy and International Affairs.

“President Trump understands public communications, and this is an effort to gain the upper hand publicly, to control the narrative,” Bose said.

She doesn’t think he is serious about trying to have Schiff arrested, but “he’s speaking to his most loyal supporters” when he suggests that his – and their – political enemies should be strung up, Bose said.

But he doesn’t mean it, not really:

Trump has questioned the motives and patriotism of the whistleblower and suggested that government employees who provided information to him or her should be investigated or worse. He said he wants to learn the identity of his “accuser,” while members of his administration echo his charge that the whistleblower unfairly retains anonymity while passing along “secondhand” information.

Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and national security spokesman in the Obama White House, said he doubts that Trump thinks he really has the power to order up summary arrests.

“What he’s trying to do, more than anything, is personalize this. He wants a target,” Price said.

That is what is most useful to him, given his base:

The anonymity of the whistleblower works for Trump’s purposes, Price and others said. Faceless – at least for now, and perhaps a dweller of the intestinal “deep state” Trump loathes, the whistleblower can be demonized as the enemy within.

“They are trying to turn what is a question of our democracy, our national security, the sanctity of our elections, into an issue about a single person,” Price said. “And to the extent that he can personify this and remove the broader principles at play, that’s how Trump is going to wage this battle. He’s not going to fight on the same turf. He’s going to create his own turf.”

That means he is going to say that he alone is the state, and maybe he is. That’s what Philip Rucker and Robert Costa argue here:

As the impeachment drama has unfolded over the past week, a series of disclosures has illuminated President Trump’s command over key federal agencies, revealing how he has compelled them to pursue his personal and political goals, investigate his enemies and lend legitimacy to his theories about the 2016 election.

And he has captured the two key agencies:

The Justice Department has prioritized a probe that the president hopes will discredit a finding by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help him win. As part of that effort, Attorney General William P. Barr has met overseas with foreign intelligence officials to enlist their aid in “investigating the investigators,” as the right’s rallying cry goes, and dig into the president’s suspicions.

The State Department, meanwhile, has been investigating the email records of as many as 130 current and former department officials who sent messages to the private email account of Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and Trump’s 2016 opponent. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defied Congress on Tuesday by attempting to block the depositions of five department employees called to testify in the impeachment inquiry.

They dropped all of their other work for this, for him actually, no matter what they say:

In each of these instances, the president or administration officials have strongly defended their conduct as proper and above board.

But taken together, they illustrate the sweeping reach of Trump’s power and the culture he has spawned inside the government. The president’s personal concerns have become priorities of departments that traditionally have operated with some degree of political independence from the White House – and their leaders are engaging their boss’s obsessions.

“Barr and Pompeo are stuck in the fog machine. They seem captives of the president’s perverse worldview,” said Timothy Naftali, a historian and former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. “Authoritarian regimes have this problem all the time when all government activity is the product of the id of the leader. But in a republic, that’s unusual.”

That’s unusual until it isn’t:

Trump’s moves underscore his transformation as president. He arrived in Washington a neophyte uncertain about how to operate the machinery of government. But now, in his third year in office, Trump has grown confident about exercising power, disposing of aides who acted as guardrails and elevating those who prove their loyalty by following his orders.

As the president said last month after John Bolton’s abrupt exit as national security adviser, “It’s very easy actually to work with me. You know why it’s easy? Because I make all the decisions.”

And the nation shrugs. This is the way things are? Okay, fine, but this really is odd:

Trump was sworn in as the 45th president with less governmental experience than any of his predecessors. His advisers tried to tutor him about the three branches of government and the constitutional balance of powers. The general ethos among Trump’s top aides then was to protect institutions and moderate some of the president’s swings — to resist rather than follow his impulses, as described by one former senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a candid assessment.

Since then, Trump has become more emboldened to make decisions and has systematically dispensed with much of his early team, including former defense secretary Jim Mattis, former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, former White House chiefs of staff Reince Priebus and John F. Kelly, former White House counsel Donald McGahn, former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, former economic adviser Gary Cohn and others.

“I’m not sure there are many, if any, left who view as their responsibility trying to help educate, moderate, enlighten and persuade – or even advise in many cases,” the former senior official said. “There’s a new ethos: This is a presidency of one.”

It is? If so, that leads to this:

In Trump’s Washington, many administration officials have calculated that if they do not enthusiastically wade into Trump’s riptide of grievances and personal pursuits, they risk being ridiculed or sidelined by the president, as was the case with Bolton, a hawk whom Trump has mocked since his departure as “Mr. Tough Guy.”

The implicit day-to-day charge for many Trump advisers is simple, according to aides and other officials familiar with the president’s Cabinet and West Wing staff: Figure out how to handle or even polish Trump’s whims and statements, but do not have any illusion that you can temper his relentless personality, heavy consumption of cable news or thirst for political combat.

Acquiescence is central to survival. Trump has bonded with aides who take his running complaints about the “deep state” and “fake news” seriously, along with his embrace of people and positions outside of the mainstream. The leading members of Trump’s inner circle dutifully work to address his concerns, sometimes by directing federal resources.

So do what he says, or maybe not:

The Oval Office meeting this past March began, as so many had, with President Trump fuming about migrants. But this time he had a solution. As White House advisers listened astonished, he ordered them to shut down the entire 2,000-mile border with Mexico – by noon the next day.

The advisers feared the president’s edict would trap American tourists in Mexico, strand children at schools on both sides of the border and create an economic meltdown in two countries. Yet they also knew how much the president’s zeal to stop immigration had sent him lurching for solutions, one more extreme than the next.

They were dealing with this:

Privately, the president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate. He wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh. After publicly suggesting that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal. But later in a meeting, aides recalled, he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. That’s not allowed either, they told him.

“The president was frustrated and I think he took that moment to hit the reset button,” said Thomas D. Homan, who had served as Mr. Trump’s acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, recalling that week in March.

Homan says that Trump calmed down a bit after that, but that didn’t matter much:

Mr. Trump’s order to close the border was a decision point that touched off a frenzied week of presidential rages, round-the-clock staff panic and far more White House turmoil than was known at the time. By the end of the week, the seat-of-the-pants president had backed off his threat but had retaliated with the beginning of a purge of the aides who had tried to contain him.

The rest of this New York Times item is about that purge – who was let go and when and why – but this sums it up:

In the Oval Office that March afternoon, a 30-minute meeting extended to more than two hours as Mr. Trump’s team tried desperately to placate him.

“You are making me look like an idiot!” Mr. Trump shouted, adding in a profanity, as multiple officials in the room described it. “I ran on this. It’s my issue.”

 And it’s his presidency, and his government, and his country. He is the state, and he’s bringing the heat. He’s throwing fastballs no one can hit. His brute force and raw power are awesome. But someone is going to lay down that perfect bunt sooner or later. Sometimes the sly win.

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Now Melting Down

This can’t be happening. This is happening too fast. With that Watergate business, there was breathing room between the surprises – weeks and weeks between Alexander Butterfield surprising everyone with news that Nixon had a taping system and had taped everything, and Nixon firing Archibald Cox in an effort to keep those tapes from an investigation of any kind. He had offered edited transcripts. This went to the Supreme Court. This took forever. And “bombshells” dropped weeks apart. There was time to consider what was really happening and where it might lead, and it was that way with the Clinton impeachment too. There wasn’t a different “blue dress” every few hours. In both cases there was time to think.

There’s no time now. Take any day in the ongoing Trump impeachment scandals. Take just one day, say, the last day of September. David Knowles does that and offers a quick review of the bombs dropping:

At 3:53 p.m. in Washington, the Democratic chairmen of three House committees subpoenaed Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani for documents related to the president’s request for an investigation by Ukrainian officials into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Reps. Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler and Elijah Cummings cited Giuliani’s cable news appearances, saying the former New York City mayor “admitted on national television that, while serving as the president’s personal attorney, he asked the government of Ukraine to target” Biden.

“In addition to this stark admission, you stated more recently that you are in possession of evidence — in the form of text messages, phone records, and other communications – indicating that you were not acting alone and that other Trump Administration officials may have been involved in this scheme,” the chairmen wrote.

Giuliani may or may not testify. That depends on how he feels, but his primary demand is that Adam Schiff, that unfit fool who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, reassign his chair and resign from Congress – otherwise Rudy ain’t testifying. Everyone on Fox News cheered, and then there was this:

Minutes later, at 4:04 p.m., the Wall Street Journal reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was among those who listened in on Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is the basis of the House investigation.

Last week, when Pompeo was interviewed by ABC News, he denied firsthand knowledge about what Trump and Zelensky discussed…

The State Department had not disclosed that Pompeo had been on the call with Zelensky. Democrats are also seeking to learn if State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl was listening in as well. On Friday, Democrats subpoenaed Pompeo for documents related to the administration’s dealings with Ukraine.

They want to know of the secretary of state was in on this too, telling the Ukrainians that they had better help Trump destroy Biden or things might not go well for them ever again, but that wasn’t all:

Thirteen minutes after the Wall Street Journal’s story on Pompeo was published, the New York Times reported that Trump sought additional foreign help with his political troubles. In a recent phone call with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the Times reported, Trump sought information that could help discredit former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. That investigation was kicked off, in part, by the disclosure that former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos had discussed the Russian efforts with an Australian diplomat in London.

It wasn’t clear how Trump would benefit from reopening questions about the Mueller investigation, which ended in April with the publication of a report that Trump claimed, inaccurately, exonerated him completely.

Yeah, but Trump was angry. He has never been able to prove that the whole Mueller investigation was a coup attempt by the Deep State led by George Soros and Hillary Clinton. Maybe the Aussies could help. If they didn’t help they might be sorry too. Did he say that? No one will ever know:

Just as with Trump’s call with Zelensky, the White House restricted access to transcripts of his call with Morrison.

But never mind:

At 5:11 p.m. ET, the Washington Post reported that Attorney General William Barr also sought foreign assistance in building a case to discredit the Mueller report, by contacting British intelligence officials and personally traveling to Italy last week to meet with officials.

This seems to be a strong-arm effort to find a way to force other governments to provide what no one else can find, or something like it – “proof” that the whole Mueller thing was a coup attempt.

That was a cascade of “bombshells” all in one day – along with new polling that showed the nation was fine with investigating impeachment – and Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley notes the reaction to all this:

With both the facts and the public against him, Trump is, to use a political science term, going berserk. On Sunday he sent or retweeted 20 Twitter posts about a Fox News host, Ed Henry, who’d suggested in measured terms that Trump’s conduct toward Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky may not have been appropriate. (One of the retweets referred to Henry as a “lying shit head.”) Then he wrote out and endorsed a statement that MAGA megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress made on Fox in which Jeffress warned that impeachment would cause a “Civil War-like fracture.” Finally, Trump has begun demanding that House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff be arrested and “questioned at the highest level” for committing treason, the alleged treason having occurred when Schiff paraphrased Trump’s conversation with Zelensky in the manner of a Mafia-style shakedown during a hearing last Thursday.

Trump didn’t like the paraphrase. The framers of the Constitution, however, were careful in spelling out what acts could be regarded as treason, the only crime they explicitly defined. Article III, Section 3 states that “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

Adam Schiff saying that the president kind of sounded like a mafia boss isn’t included here, so some people now have a problem:

Trump’s party does not seem to be embracing this crisis-response approach. GOP Illinois congressman Adam Kinzinger (who represents a district that Trump won by 17 points) called the civil war tweet “beyond repugnant,” while Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who typically finds that Senate rules require him to do exactly what is most politically beneficial for the Republican Party, announced that Senate rules require him to hold a trial – as opposed to having a quick vote to dismiss charges or ignoring the issue altogether – if the House votes to impeach:

And now Trump will be furious with McConnell, and Mathis-Lilley adds this:

At some point, you’d have to imagine that the brain-possessing members of the GOP will force Trump to start taking some better legal and political advice. But it’s also starting to become possible to at least begin to think about imagining that said advice will be “you should resign because you’ve screwed everything up.” And that’s when things will really start to get interesting, because he definitely won’t want to do that!

Mathis-Lilley says the chance of impeachment has now risen to eighty percent, and that leads Peter Wehner, one of those Republican who wishes he weren’t, or that Trump wasn’t a Republican, to offer this:

In a sane world, the reaction of Republicans to the “memorandum of telephone conversation” between President Trump and the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, combined with the whistle-blower complaint filed by an intelligence officer describing a White House cover-up, would be similar to the response of Republicans after the release, on Aug. 5, 1974, of the “smoking gun” tape that finally broke the Nixon presidency. Republicans would begin to abandon Mr. Trump, with senior figures urging him in private and in public to resign.

This may be asking too much of Republicans, who have lost their way in the Trump era…. but Republicans could support Mr. Trump’s agenda while simultaneously condemning his corrupt behavior. Yet the vast majority of them refuse to do so. Something more is going on here. In order to find out what, I spoke to several former Republican officials and aides, who all requested anonymity in order to speak freely.

And then many words follow. What we have here is tribalism, self-interest, and fear of constituents who love Donald Trump, the usual suspects. But that can’t be right, so Kevin Drum offers this:

For the past 20 years Republicans have been drinking their own Kool-Aid. They believe that Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt politician of our era. They believe that Barack Obama engaged in a calculated campaign of illegal executive orders throughout his entire second term. They believe that Democrats secretly – or not so secretly – favor open borders with Mexico as a cynical ruse to increase the number of Democratic voters. They believe that progressives, if given power, will make it all but illegal to practice the Christian faith.

Against that backdrop, ask yourself this: is it really that big a deal to ask the Ukrainian leader to investigate Joe Biden? I mean, sure, maybe Trump shouldn’t have done it. But compared to everything Democrats have done – IRS targeting, Benghazi, emails, killing the filibuster, Kavanaugh, DACA, the list is just endless – it maybe rates a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10. It’s a trivial molehill that Democrats and their media enablers are trying to turn into a mountain.

And besides, even if Trump was a little over his skis in his conversation with Ukraine’s president there really is a huge scandal surrounding Joe Biden. Right? Clearly the guy tried to call off the Ukrainian dogs in order to help his son make a ton of money, and used a billion dollars in taxpayer money to make his threat good.

None of that is even remotely true but that doesn’t matter:

Don’t just shake your head at this. Lots of Republicans believe it. And frankly, a lot of you probably believe equally crazy things about them. The big difference is that while some liberals may watch more MSNBC than is good for them, they also ingest other news that prevents them from going entirely over the edge. A great many conservatives don’t. It’s just Fox and Hannity and Breitbart 24/7.

So they stick with Trump:

Some of them do it because they’re cynical and just want to hold onto power, but a lot of them do it because they aren’t cynical and truly believe Ukrainegate is a minor thing that wouldn’t rate a blurb on page A-10 if a Democrat did it. They are entirely unaware that the narrative they hear on Fox is anything but the straight story. This is true of both Republican members of Congress as well as the rank and file.

The Kool-Aid is powerful. Don’t underestimate it. And don’t expect even smart Republicans to admit that it’s the real problem. Even the smart ones are afraid of it, after all.

Dahlia Lithwick sees that too but puts it a different way:

Back in 2017, John Oliver started calling the early Trump-era scandals “Stupid Watergates.” This blossomed over the years into a series of segments on episodes in the Donald Trump presidency that could be characterized as “a scandal with all the potential ramifications of Watergate, but where everyone involved is stupid and bad at everything.” He could have aired such episodes almost daily, but at some juncture, the Stupid Watergates just morphed into our daily political lives. As Oliver would continue to argue, the question was always less “What did the president know and when did he know it,” as it was “Is the president physically capable of knowing things at all?”

That was the joke, and it was funny, but Lithwick says that’s not funny now:

As a general matter, jokes are funny because they are at least partially true. Here, we have crossed a line where the joke is so true, it’s hardly funny. Donald Trump is not competent and many of the people with whom he surrounds himself – until he fires them – are not competent either. The primary work of his highest officials appears to have been hiding evidence of his malfeasance and ineptitude from us and pretending that work was heroic. Donald Trump never made sense in gatherings of foreign leaders, or among the victims of tragedies, or in any setting that wasn’t a staged stadium rally or photo-op. But somehow, we stopped believing that he would be caught out for this gross incompetence and absurdity, or even for the inherent lawlessness and corruption, and tried to laugh it all off.

In the face of outrageous immorality, we were told we had a derangement problem.

That seems to have just changed.

The joke is finally not on you… Within the span of one week, something is finally, possibly, maybe going to stick. Donald Trump may actually be brought down – by an entirely unforced error involving his obsession with an insane Fox News talking point about Ukrainian “corruption,” Joe Biden, and, of course – because it’s Stupid Watergate – Hillary’s emails. The spectacular flameout of Rudy Giuliani, the implosion at the State Department, and the president’s mounting incoherence also swirled together to propel the meltdown along. As the days roll on, nobody can seemingly help themselves from implicating everybody else, which makes the fast-track impeachment inquiry more a clipping service than an imponderable mystery.

Nobody can seemingly help themselves from implicating everybody else? So THAT explains the hourly cascade of bombshell impeachment news stories! Now this makes sense:

Don’t for a moment forget about the myriad people who were alarmed by Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to find dirt on his political opponent and yet did nothing, as well as the deeply stupid people who were alarmed by Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to find dirt on his political opponent and tried to bury it. Because that, there, is some next-level stupid. And that too continues to unspool as we learn that other phone calls, with Russia and Saudi Arabia, were similarly disappeared.

Generally the pattern has been that Trump and his incandescently mediocre family and hapless enablers do something moronic (such as suggesting that Obama wiretapped him) and we all recoil in horror. That is followed by hasty claims that this was just Trump being Trump, and what can you do. As a result of the soft bigotry of ever-lowered expectations, the Trumpier Trump acted, the shruggier we became, until it actually appeared that he was slyly enrolling Americans in tolerating the stupidity and training us to accept yet more of the same. At some midpoint in this incubus, it seemed that nothing would ever seem stupid, or at least surprisingly stupid, ever again.

And that is where the joke went to die.

But the central problem remains:

Donald Trump, while certainly often his own worst enemy, has perennially managed to also be his own best asset. His lies are so outlandish that everyone believes they must be jokes; his jokes are so grotesque everyone believes they must be lies. His contempt for the law is so acute that everyone starts to doubt that the law is of any fundamental utility. In this case, it’s not even clear that Trump has realized he did anything wrong – the whistleblower’s original complaint makes apparent that everyone in the White House assumed the now-infamous Ukrainian phone call would be routine, probably because Trump thought it was. It seems entirely possible he never saw a problem. He was not worried about confessing to two Russian visitors or Lester Holt his real reasons for firing James Comey, either.

Lithwick, however, sees one fatal flaw here:

As a lifelong narcissist, Donald Trump genuinely believes he can do nothing wrong. He perhaps even genuinely believes that anything he has ever done that has been wrong is not, in fact, wrong. He further believes that the presidency is the perfect gig for him because presidents can do nothing illegal. And, somewhat pathetically, he apparently seems to think that if he could just explain his rightness about all things to everyone, we would finally give him the love he so desperately craves. And so, unlike Nixon, who at some point did give himself over to the cover-up, Donald Trump just keeps trying to publicly justify the crimes.

Instead of just keeping quiet, Donald Trump has instead directed his energies to try to convince us that he is right and we are wrong. He wants us to understand and accept that his threatening calls to foreign leaders are “very legal and very good,” and also “perfect,” and that a whistleblower and those who spoke to the whistleblower are in fact “close to” spies who should be executed for treason. When hundreds of former foreign service officers express horror at Trump’s antics, and his behavior shows him to be manifestly unwell, he keeps repeating that he is perfect and stable and good, because he thinks he is (and after all, his assumption on this point has until now been proved correct).

It is clear that we’re hurtling faster and faster toward a reckoning of some kind.

And that won’t be pretty:

It seems perfectly possible that whatever we’re about to experience will continue to split us into two countries, living two irreconcilable realities, inhabiting two un-gettable jokes…

Andrew Sullivan thinks it’s worse than that:

Trump is melting down. This is a relative term, of course. He’s been mentally unstable and clearly addled for a long time. But this week, he seemed drained to me, dazed, depressed, delusional. His swift concessions to the Democrats – allowing a semi-transcript of his chat with Zelensky to be published, even though it was damning, and then releasing the whistle-blower complaint, even though that clearly makes matters much, much worse, and implicating his own attorney general and vice-president in a conspiracy – were signs of panic. Was this a strategy to appear innocent, with nothing to hide? If so, “delusional” doesn’t quite capture it, does it?

But I bet Trump does not even understand the high crime he committed – leveraging national-security policy to get a foreign government to smear a political opponent. Trump admires Mafiosi and always has. He has done his best to emulate them his entire life. Why would he not continue to do so? And a narcissist of Trump’s proportions is simply unable to act in the interest of something other than himself, or see his personal interests as different than, or subordinate to, his public duties. So his psyche is stopping him from seeing what a big deal this is, while his eyes and ears see potential catastrophe.

This will not end well.

What did the president know and when did he know it? Is the president physically capable of knowing things at all? This will really not end well.

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The Shadow Knows

Down on the corner of Sunset and Vine there’s a modern bank where NBC built a second Radio City in 1938 to match the one next to Rockefeller Center in the middle of Manhattan. But this one wasn’t a “Music Hall” with leggy Rockettes and all that. This was a production studio. This is where Jack Benny and Rochester sparred and Amos and Andy were Americas’ happy darkies and endless radio murder mysteries played out in serial form, ending each week with cliffhanger and opening the next week with a recap – in case listeners forgot what was what and who was who. This was America’s in-home entertainment before television. And this is all gone now – torn down after twelve years. Television did that. And one day television will be gone too. But for a time, the nation sat at their radios and followed recurring characters, old friends after a time, and long narrative threads where one cliffhanger led to the next series of surprising but inevitable events, followed by another cliffhanger, on and on, in a timeless world where anything could happen. Who knows? The Shadow knows.

That’s gone. No one has patience for serial mysteries anymore anyway. This is the Age of Twitter. Things are said and quickly forgotten because the next startling thing has just been said. People don’t lose the thread. There is no narrative thread. There’s the now. That’s it – but life isn’t like that. There’s always an ongoing story, and Donald Trump has been telling quite a story since he floated down the gold escalator in his golden building on Fifth Avenue, with his stunning silent third wife by his side, the Slovenian Sphinx, and announced he would be our next president. Mexicans would be gone. We’d build a great wall. Mexico would pay for it – and no Muslim would ever enter the country again, until we found out what the hell was going on – but Muslims hate us anyway. And whatever Obama had done he would undo, and make America great again. It would be 1953 in Peoria again – and by the way, Vladimir Putin was a fine man and our friend, and all our allies has been ripping us off and we’d humiliate them all now.

Donald Trump understands the power of narrative. That was quite a story, and it’s still playing out. But it should be a radio drama with an announcer with a Gary Owns voice saying, as each week begins, “As you recall, in our last episode…”

A dispassionate narrator needs to recap what was what and who was who from the last week, the last episode, or at least recap what happened on Friday. The Washington Posts’ Michael Scherer gives it a go with a compete timeline of Friday events, which include these:

7:21 a.m. It’s Day 4 of the impeachment effort, and President Trump wants everyone to know he has done nothing wrong. His early tweets contain some typos, including a double preposition. “I had a simple and very nice call with with the new President of Ukraine, it could not have been better or more honorable, and the Fake News Media and Democrats, working as a team, have fraudulently made it look bad,” he writes. A White House spokesman, Hogan Gidley, goes on “Fox & Friends” to deny reporting from multiple news outlets that White House staff was alarmed by the call. “No one I’ve talked to is concerned at all about this,” Gidley says.

7:31 a.m. Trump’s chief adversary, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), makes her first public appearance of the day, arriving at an MSNBC set on a rooftop across from the U.S. Capitol. On “Morning Joe,” Day 4 is a special event. Rising sun. Brisk fall breeze. Pelosi has come with a glittery American flag brooch and talking points to hammer like a nail gun: “This is about national security.” “This is a sad time for our country.” “We have to be prayerful.” “He gave us no choice.” Attorney General William P. Barr has “gone rogue.” The bottom line: “The president of the United States used taxpayer dollars to shake down the leader of another country for his own political gain. The rest of it is ancillary.”

That’s high drama, the main face-off, and the cliffhanger. Who will win the day? In our last episode, this is what happened:

8:29 a.m. Trump calls on Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) to resign and “be investigated” for reading a fake transcript of the president’s call with Ukraine at a hearing yesterday. In Trump’s telling, Schiff was “supposedly reading the exact transcribed version” and “GOT CAUGHT.”

9:04 a.m. The White House releases a memo headlined, “The swamp is beyond parody, but the American people aren’t laughing.” The argument is that Democrats are spending their time on a “political circus” instead of “real, pressing concerns” such as strong border security, real gun safety, affordable prescription drug prices and a new North American trade deal. “You can’t make this stuff up,” the memo reads.

10:20 a.m. Not much happening at the moment, a good time to catch up on the stories you might have missed last night. A Washington Post deep dive into former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s efforts to cultivate “a bevy” of current and former prosecutors in Ukraine. A Washington Post visual guide to everyone mentioned in the whistleblower report. The Atlantic’s captivating interview with Giuliani, which Elaina Plott conducted from the back of an Uber. “It is impossible that the whistleblower is a hero and I’m not,” Giuliani told Plott. “And I will be the hero! These morons! When this is over, I will be the hero.”

10:50 a.m. CNN reports the White House had offered a statement confirming a central allegation of the whistleblower complaint: Records of Trump’s call with Ukraine were moved to a separate server inside the White House. National Security Council lawyers “directed that the classified document be handled appropriately,” the White House statement reads.

Okay, someone is hiding something, and that leads to this:

2:17 p.m. The House Appropriations and Budget committees announce sending a letter to the White House demanding documents and answers by next week regarding the Trump administration’s “involvement in the withholding of foreign aid, including nearly $400 million in crucial security assistance funding for Ukraine.”

3:41 p.m. Trump previews how he hopes the impeachment fight will play out in the 2020 election if Biden becomes the Democratic nominee. He posts a 30-second campaign ad. “Biden promised Ukraine a billion dollars if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company,” the narrator says, over ominous music. “But when President Trump asks Ukraine to investigate corruption, the Democrats want to impeach him.” Much of this is misleading. Biden threatened to withhold aid that had been promised to Ukraine if it did not fire the prosecutor; he did not promise to give $1 billion for doing so. The Ukrainian prosecutor in question did not have an active investigation of the company where Biden’s son worked at the time. Biden’s son was never a subject of the investigation. The Democrat’s current impeachment investigation focuses on Trump’s specific request to the current Ukrainian president for aid in an investigation of Biden, his political rival.

4:03 p.m. The House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees announce a new subpoena of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for documents related to the Ukraine investigation that were requested earlier this month and never delivered. The letter concludes by alleging that Pompeo’s continued refusal to provide the documents “impairs Congress’ ability to fulfill its Constitutional responsibilities to protect our national security and the integrity of our democracy.”

And someone is hiding something else:

4:58 p.m. The Washington Post reports that Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who has been helping lead Ukraine outreach, is scheduled to make a paid appearance at a Kremlin-backed conference in Armenia. Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to attend. Giuliani declined to say how much he will make. “I will try to not knowingly talk to a Russian until this is all over,” he says.

6:09 p.m. Giuliani tells reporters he will no longer attend the conference. “Just found out Putin was going and I don’t need to give the Swamp press more distractions,” he tells the Washington Post in a text message.

Perhaps someone in the White House got to Giuliani: Rudy, not yet, not everyone in America is convinced that Putin is wonderful and Russia on our side in everything, not yet, not yet.

8:26 p.m. More comes out. The Washington Post reports that Trump told two Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned about Russian interference in the 2016 election. This assertion prompted alarm in the White House, leading officials to limit access to the remarks to an unusually small number of people. The source of this information is three former officials with knowledge of the matter.

That was followed by reports that Team Trump had put records of all his conversations with Putin and the new Saudi crown prince on that same server. No one would ever see any of that.

That’s how the week ended. Is the president a Russian agent? Stay tuned!

Margaret Hartmann offers more detail:

After formally announcing the opening of an impeachment inquiry into President Trump on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Democrats intend to keep the investigation narrowly focused on Trump’s request that the Ukrainian president do him a “favor” by investigating his political rivals. But a Friday night report may force Democrats to rethink that plan: according to the Washington Post, during a 2017 meeting in the Oval Office with two top Russian officials, Trump said he was “unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because the United States did the same in other countries.”

That would change their focus:

Trump reportedly said this to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the already infamous May 10, 2017 meeting where he remarked that he’d relieved “great pressure” by firing his “nut job” FBI director James Comey a day earlier, and shared highly classified information that exposed an Israeli counterterrorist operation.(Earlier this month, CNN reported that this prompted U.S. intelligence to extract a high-level intelligence asset from Russia over concerns that Trump’s mishandling of intelligence would expose the spy.)

Hartmann notes that this is a bigger issue than Joe Biden:

Pretty much everything Trump has done and said regarding Russian election meddling – from constantly tweeting that the investigation into the matter was nothing but a “Witch Hunt!” to suggesting in Helsinki that he trusted Vladimir Putin’s denials over the conclusions of his own intelligence officials – has left the impression that the U.S. president truly does not care about Russian attempts to aid him in 2016. But Trump telling the Russians directly, in the Oval Office, that he’s unconcerned about protecting the integrity of U.S. elections – and maybe implying that he wouldn’t mind if they did the same in 2020 – elevates the matter to a new level.

The Post puts that this way:

White House officials were particularly distressed by Trump’s election remarks because it appeared the president was forgiving Russia for an attack that had been designed to help elect him, the three former officials said. Trump also seemed to invite Russia to interfere in other countries’ elections, they said.

So, who does Trump work for these days? Hartmann then adds this:

In addition to contributing to the cascade of bombshell revelations fueling the impeachment push, this report raises several questions. First, why are we only learning about this element of Trump’s Russia meeting now, months after the unspectacular end of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation? Second, what other appalling, potentially impeachable things did Trump say to other foreign leaders, and what did the White House do to conceal them?

That’s the cliffhanger. What did Trump hide from Mueller and from everyone else? Who knows? The Shadow knows.

But maybe Donald Trump is The Shadow:

Originally a mysterious radio show narrator, The Shadow was developed into a distinctive literary character in 1931, later to become a pop culture icon, by writer Walter B. Gibson. The character has been cited as a major influence on the subsequent evolution of comic book superheroes, particularly Batman…

The Shadow debuted on July 31, 1930, as the mysterious narrator of the radio program Detective Story Hour, which was developed to boost sales of Street & Smith’s monthly pulp Detective Story Magazine… On September 26, 1937, The Shadow radio drama, a new radio series based on the character as created by Gibson for the pulp magazine, premiered with the story “The Death House Rescue,” in which The Shadow was characterized as having “the power to cloud men’s minds so they cannot see him.”

The introduction from The Shadow radio program “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” spoken by actor Frank Readick, has earned a place in the American idiom.

So, that’s it. Donald Trump sees himself as The Shadow. He has the power to cloud men’s minds, and he’s proud of that. No one can see what he’s really doing, and he does know what evil lurks in the heart of men, like Joe Biden, and like Hillary Clinton. No one thinks about her anymore, but he does, and now, suddenly, he’s going to get her:

The Trump administration is investigating the email records of dozens of current and former senior State Department officials who sent messages to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email, reviving a politically toxic matter that overshadowed the 2016 election, current and former officials said.

As many as 130 officials have been contacted in recent weeks by State Department investigators – a list that includes senior officials who reported directly to Clinton as well as others in lower-level jobs whose emails were at some point relayed to her inbox, said current and former State Department officials. Those targeted were notified that emails they sent years ago have been retroactively classified and now constitute potential security violations, according to letters reviewed by The Washington Post.

In virtually all of the cases, potentially sensitive information, now re-categorized as “classified,” was sent to Clinton’s unsecure inbox.

Trump got her! Now, finally, she can be impeached and removed from office! No, wait. She can go to jail, or worse, for treason! She DID have classified secret emails on her private email server after all!

That seems like a cheap trick, but it’s a damned good story, one that broke less than twenty-four hours after everyone found out what he had actually said to the Russians on May 10, 2017, in the Oval Office! But her emails! She really is evil and perhaps he really can cloud men’s minds, or not:

To many of those under scrutiny, including some of the Democratic Party’s top foreign policy experts, the recent flurry of activity surrounding the Clinton email case represents a new front on which the Trump administration could be accused of employing the powers of the executive branch against perceived political adversaries…

The existence of the probe follows revelations that the president used multiple levers of his office to pressure the leader of Ukraine to pursue investigations that Trump hoped would produce damaging information about Democrats, including potential presidential rival Joe Biden…

State Department officials vigorously denied there was any political motivation behind their actions…

But then again, who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows and so does Donald Trump. That’s the tale he’s telling. That’s the narrative here, but Philip Rucker, the White House Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, adds more depth to that:

In the five days since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opened an impeachment inquiry following revelations about President Trump’s conduct with his Ukrainian counterpart, Trump has been determined to cast himself as a singular victim in a warped reality – a portrayal that seems part political survival strategy, part virtual therapy session.

As Trump tells it, he is a hard-working and honorable president whose conduct has been “perfect” but who is being harassed and tormented by “Do Nothing Democrat Savages” and a corrupt intelligence community resolved to perpetuate a hoax, defraud the public and, ultimately, undo the 2016 election.

“There has been no President in the history of our Country who has been treated so badly as I have,” Trump tweeted Wednesday, some 13 hours after Pelosi’s announcement.

There is evil out there, and it’s awful, and it’s all directed at him, which has made him wildly popular with angry whiners:

Victimization always has been core to Trump’s identity, both as a politician and as a real estate promoter and reality-television star. It is the emotional glue that yokes Trump to the grievance politics of the right. Many of Trump’s grass-roots followers have said they feel protective of the president in part because they also feel oppressed and ostracized by elites.

In fact, the whole world is against them, so they do understand this:

As Congress considers impeaching him over his request that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky investigate 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his family, as well as an unsubstantiated theory that Ukrainians worked with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 election, Trump is claiming a broad conspiracy to erase history. He has sought to stitch together his existing narrative about the Russia investigation with the emerging probe of his Ukraine episode into a seamless “deep state” story line, in part by trying to discredit an urgent complaint about his conduct with Zelensky from an intelligence-community whistleblower.

“He’s been forecasting that the ‘deep state’ is out to get him, and there’s a way in which the narrative of the whistleblower can come to confirm all of that for his followers,” said historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert on authoritarianism at New York University.

She was right:

White House senior adviser Stephen Miller said Sunday that President Trump is the true whistleblower, days after the release of a seven-page complaint in which a government whistleblower alleged that Trump had misused his office for personal gain, endangered national security and tried to keep it a secret.

Miller made the claim during an at-times heated interview on Fox News Sunday.

“The president of the United States is the whistleblower, and this individual is a saboteur trying to undermine a democratically elected government,” Miller said…

Miller disputed the use of the word “whistleblower” to describe the person who raised the alarm about Trump’s actions. He argued that “this is a deep-state operative, pure and simple” – even though Trump’s acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, said in congressional testimony last week that he believes the whistleblower “is operating in good faith and has followed the law.”

This didn’t go well:

Miller dodged several questions from host Chris Wallace about allegations surrounding the president’s actions, such as Trump’s decision to use not the federal government but rather his personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to obtain information on the activities of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine. Miller also declined to answer when asked by Wallace to outline how, in his view, the Bidens broke any laws.

He just said the magic words, Deep State, to cloud men’s minds, but Rucker has more:

This shared sense of persecution is one reason so many Republican officeholders and conservative media personalities are defending the president – at least for now – against allegations that he abused the power of his office for personal political gain.

“At a Trump rally, central to the show is the idea of shared victimization,” said Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, a Trump critic. “Donald Trump revels in it, has consistently portrayed himself as a victim of the media and of his political opponents, and this will all be framed as an unfair effort to overturn a legitimate election. That argument will have enormous currency across right-wing media. It will be believed.”

And that unfair effort to overturn a legitimate election is the central issue here:

At the heart of Trump’s case is his obsession with the 2016 election, the results of which he boasts about in historic terms despite the asterisk over Russia’s interference campaign to boost his candidacy, as well as the fact that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

In the nearly three years since, Trump has tried to re-litigate his election by discounting – and, in some instances, rejecting outright – the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered, and by proving that he defeated Clinton soundly in the electoral college entirely on his own superior abilities as a candidate.

There’s another way to put that:

Rick Wilson, another GOP strategist and Trump critic, likened the president to “the guy circling the high school parking lot in his Camaro five years after he graduated. He always wants to go back to 2016 and his victory. That’s the triumphal arc of his history. And he’s always trying to go back to having a fight about Hillary Clinton and her emails and the servers, straight from the greatest hits album.”

For instance, when Trump met with Zelensky last Wednesday, he called Clinton’s deletion of emails “one of the great crimes committed” and speculated without evidence that they “could very well” reside on a server in Ukraine.

It’s her emails. It will always be her emails. And he does know the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, and this one woman, or at least he knows that talking about that all the time will keep him in power, as a few other leaders know too:

Ben-Ghiat drew parallels between Trump’s strategy and the tactics of leaders with authoritarian tendencies past and present around the world. She said Trump’s branding of investigations against him as “witch hunts” mirrors the language used by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to condemn probes into their conduct.

“Their cult of victimization is part of their persona,” Ben-Ghiat said.

But that doesn’t always work:

Trump’s victim mentality has historical precedent – including with the 17th president, Andrew Johnson, who ascended after Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 assassination. He was impeached by the House, acquitted in the Senate and did not stand for election at the end of his term, having failed to win his party’s nomination in 1868.

As president, Johnson delivered diatribes laced with self-pity and indignation that he was being unfairly persecuted and not appreciated by the American people as the simple man devoted to the Constitution that he thought himself to be, according to Brenda Wineapple, a historian and author of “The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation.”

“People were shocked at the first tirade they heard and thought Johnson must be drunk, but he wasn’t,” Wineapple said. “It was so similar to today as to be scary. Both men felt a victimization and a sense of being martyred by a radical group of fanatics not out to save the country but out to get them.”

Now imagine Andrew Johnson with a Twitter account. Someone sounds drunk:

President Donald Trump on Sunday escalated his rebuke of the anonymous whistleblower at the center of the mounting Ukraine controversy after House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry against him, asserting that he deserves to “meet my accuser.”

“Like every American, I deserve to meet my accuser, especially when this accuser, the so-called ‘Whistleblower,’ represented a perfect conversation with a foreign leader in a totally inaccurate and fraudulent way,” Trump tweeted before taking aim at House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff who confirmed earlier Sunday there is a tentative agreement for the whistleblower to testify before his committee.

“His lies were made in perhaps the most blatant and sinister manner ever seen in the great Chamber. He wrote down and read terrible things, then said it was from the mouth of the President of the United States. I want Schiff questioned at the highest level for Fraud and Treason,” Trump said.

Schiff had said he was offering “the essence of what the president communicates” and not quoting Trump directly. This was his interpretation. Trump said Schiff never said that. He did, but why argue? The shadow has the power to clouds men’s minds, but there was more:

Trump on Sunday also echoed his previous attacks on the whistleblower and promised “Big Consequences” for anyone who assisted in providing the person information.

“I want to meet not only my accuser, who presented SECOND & THIRD HAND INFORMATION, but also the person who illegally gave this information, which was largely incorrect, to the ‘Whistleblower,'” he said. “Was this person SPYING on the U.S. President? Big Consequences!”

Trump said last week that whoever provided the whistleblower with information about his call with Zelensky is “close to a spy,” and said that in the old days spies were dealt with differently.

Someone is going to be taken out back and shot. Lots of people are going to be shot. Lots of people are going to die.

Really? If this were a radio drama from the late thirties the deep-voiced announcer would tell listeners to tune in next week for the next exciting episode to find out what happens. Who dies? Or does something else totally unexpected happen?

Who knows? The Shadow doesn’t know.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Everyone Knew

Things were slower long ago, in the early seventies. There was Carole King and her cat sitting in the window of the house she was renting up the way here in Laurel Canyon, the cover shot on her 1971 album Tapestry – as mellow and knowing as could be. Joni Mitchell and James Taylor helped out – the Laurel Canyon crowd. But this wasn’t a local thing. Every young woman in America who had survived the sixties had that album and wore it out – it was a statement about slowing down and getting things right, the things that matter in life. Those were the days.

And public life moved slowly and deliberately back then too. Nixon’s people broke into the DNC Watergate offices in June 17, 1972, but the Watergate Hearings opened on May 17, 1973. It took a lot of time to figure out what questions to ask of whom, and about what. Nixon had taped everything? There were tapes? Was there a “smoking gun” in there somewhere? Would he turn over the tapes, or just transcripts of what was on them? Archibald Cox would solve that problem, but the next year Nixon had him fired. His attorney general wouldn’t do that, nor would his assistant attorney general – they resigned rather than do that – but his solicitor general fired Cox. That didn’t help. The Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, that Nixon had to cough up those tapes. Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974. These things take time.

These things used to take time. Now things move fast. The New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos tells today’s tale:

A crucial cache of evidence in hand, House Democrats moved quickly on Thursday with an impeachment inquiry they said would be focused tightly on President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, using an incendiary whistle-blower complaint as a road map for their investigation.

The complaint landed like a bombshell on Capitol Hill on Thursday morning after its release by the House Intelligence Committee, and Democrats quickly seized on its narrative of allegations against Mr. Trump – chock-full of potentially damning detail, intriguing threads and characters who could become witnesses in the nascent inquiry – as an outline for their work.

After months of plodding investigating to determine whether they had grounds to impeach Mr. Trump, Democrats were working feverishly to build a case on the Ukraine matter, with some lawmakers saying they could move within a month or six weeks, possibly drafting articles of impeachment by the end of October.

No one knew about Nixon’s tapes and then it took years to get to anything that was on those tapes, and here was a detailed roadmap to everything about Trump and Rudy and Ukraine, part of the week where everything tumbled out all at once:

“This is a cover-up,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, who after months of resisting the move made it clear that she was determined to follow through with a formal impeachment inquiry.

She read aloud from a portion of the document describing an attempt by White House officials to quickly “lock down” records of a phone call in which Mr. Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. The complaint detailed charges that the president “is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election,” and that officials took pains to conceal evidence of that effort.

“We are at a different level of lawlessness that is clear to the American people,” Ms. Pelosi said.

That was fast. That damning phone call was in July. Think of that as the Watergate break-in. Team Trump had said that call was private, and then had said it was innocent, and then had said it was perfect, and then said that yes, Biden and his son had come up in the conversation, but no one was pressuring anyone about anything. But there was that whistleblower report that none of that was true. Team Trump decided to release a read-out of that phone call. That would prove there was no “smoking gun” – Trump did NOT threaten to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless they found a way to destroy Biden for him.

They released the read-out on Tuesday morning. Trump pretty much said just that. What had they been thinking? And the next morning it was the whistleblower’s report and it was full-speed ahead:

The speaker said the growing impeachment case would be centered around the Ukraine matter and investigative action mostly lodged in the House Intelligence Committee, which first received and publicized the complaint…

The Intelligence Committee was quickly lining up investigative targets. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Representative Adam B. Schiff, the committee’s chairman, said that the complaint provided a clear “road map” for congressional investigators in the coming weeks and that his committee would work through Congress’s two-week recess that begins on Friday.

Who needed Woodward and Bernstein to spend a year or more digging up all the details? They had all the details. It was time to wrap this up and nail down the loose ends:

Mr. Schiff said his first priority was arranging an interview with the whistle-blower, as well as a meeting with the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, to hear more about his own investigation of the complaint.

He also said he wanted to learn more about multiple White House officials mentioned in the complaint, some of whom were described as “deeply disturbed” about Mr. Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian president, and others who said it was “not the first time” in his White House that a presidential transcript had been hidden because of “politically sensitive” content.

“We need to look into the allegation that this may not be the only communication of a potentially corrupt character that was shielded by this classified information computer system abused for that purpose,” Mr. Schiff said.

That seemed straightforward, because everything was falling into place:

The [whistleblower] complaint became public just minutes before the intelligence panel prepared to hear testimony from Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, on why he had delayed sharing it with Congress for nearly a month over the recommendation of Mr. Atkinson. It was the second time in two days that their nascent impeachment inquiry had netted a significant tranche of potential evidence – a forceful reminder of the House’s newfound leverage after months of stonewalling from the White House.

Facing tough questioning from Republicans and Democrats, Mr. Maguire defended both the whistle-blower’s actions and his handling of the case, which he called “urgent and important.”

So it was time to nail everything down right now:

Democrats already have outstanding requests to the State Department and the White House for all records related to Mr. Trump’s call with the Ukrainian leader, his decision to withhold $391 million in security aid from Ukraine at the same time he was pushing for an investigation of Mr. Biden and attempts to influence Ukrainian policy by Mr. Giuliani. If the requests are not fulfilled voluntarily, they could issue subpoenas compelling delivery of the material as soon as Friday.

Those demands may test whether the White House’s decisions to turn over the whistle-blower complaint and, earlier, a summary of Mr. Trump’s call with the Ukrainian leader were aberrations or mark a new turn toward cooperation with the House investigations.

That question would be settled by the weekend, because this was not Nixon spending two years covering up everything he could cover up:

“We should be focused and not overthink this,” said Representative Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California and a member of the intelligence panel. “The guy has copped to this. If you are running an investigation, it is usually made a lot easier when the person admits to the crime. You can cross a lot of witnesses off the list that you might otherwise talk to.”

Trump really did say he told the Ukrainians to help him with Biden – innocently of course. He doesn’t get to decide his innocence.

But everyone knew what was going on. Peter Baker reports this:

No one bothered to put special limits on the number of people allowed to sit in the “listening room” in the White House to monitor the phone call because it was expected to be routine. By the time the call was over 30 minutes later, it quickly became clear that it was anything but.

Soon after President Trump put the phone down that summer day, the red flags began to go up. Rather than just one head of state offering another pro forma congratulations for recent elections, the call turned into a bid by Mr. Trump to press a Ukrainian leader in need of additional American aid to “do us a favor” and investigate Democrats.

The alarm among officials who heard the exchange led to an extraordinary effort to keep too many more people from learning about it. In the days to come, according to a whistle-blower complaint released on Thursday, White House officials embarked on a campaign to “lock down” the record of the call, removing it from the usual electronic file and hiding it away in a separate system normally used for classified information.

They knew this was trouble, so they did lock this down, but this is Washington:

Word began to spread anyway, kicking off a succession of events that would eventually reveal details of the call to the public and has now put Mr. Trump at risk of being impeached by a Democrat-led House for abusing his power and betraying his office. The story of the past two months is one of a White House scrambling to keep secrets to protect a president willing to cross lines others would not, only to find the very government he frequently disparages exposes him.

But he’s the only one surprised by that:

“The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call,” the whistle-blower, a CIA official who once worked at the White House, wrote in his complaint, which was declassified and made public by the House Intelligence Committee.

“They told me,” he added, “that there was already a ‘discussion ongoing’ with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain.”

It was and is and will be hard to protect this president from himself:

The specifics of Mr. Trump’s call with Mr. Zelensky would be one thing by itself, but it came during a period of other events that provide a context. For months leading up to the call, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, had been vigorously lobbying Ukrainian officials to investigate Democrats over the 2016 election and Mr. Biden’s dealings with the country.

Starting in mid-May, the whistle-blower wrote, he began hearing from other American officials “that they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decision making processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between” Kiev and the president.

Other people close to the situation have said that among those angry at Mr. Giuliani’s activities was John R. Bolton, who at the time was the president’s national security adviser. He left the administration this month amid disagreements with Mr. Trump over Russia as well as other issues.

Everyone knew, and a day earlier it was this:

A longtime GOP political consultant made a stunning claim on Wednesday that “30” Republican senators would vote to impeach President Trump if there was a secret ballot.

Mike Murphy, a former advisor to John McCain and Mitt Romney, appeared on MSNBC and began by claiming that Trump’s alleged misconduct was “much clearer” in the transcript of the president’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky than the Mueller report and that a direct “quid pro quo” wasn’t necessary, calling it a “classic shakedown.”

“I’m telling you – these Senate Republicans, should the Democrats vote impeachment are going to be pinned down to a yes-no answer,” Murphy told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “And if they provide cover for Donald Trump for this, a clear violation of his role as president, we’re going to lose Colorado with Cory Gardner. We’re going to lose Maine with Susan Collins. We’re going to lose Arizona with Martha McSally. And the Democrats will put the Senate very much in play.”

Murphy predicted that the politics will become “worse and worse” for Trump, which will push GOP lawmakers towards impeachment. He then claimed that dozens of Republicans are secretly on board with impeachment.

“I can tell you this… one Republican senator told me if it was a secret vote, 30 Republican senators would vote to impeach Trump,” Murphy claimed.

That’s probably not true, but it is a warning from one Republican to all the rest. This is getting dangerous. Tom McCarthy explains one example of that:

It’s a blockbuster that arrived too late for summer, but with the president obsessing, Congress investigating and main street America processing, the buzz around a whistleblower complaint about Donald Trump released early on Thursday appears likely only to grow.

Some have predicted it will end with Trump impeached, the Republican Party in tatters and multiple officials attached to the president and the White House out of jobs and possibly defending themselves against criminal charges.

The Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe said attorney general William Barr had worked himself into a predicament on par with the attorney general under Richard Nixon.

“Bill Barr is up to his eyebrows in the criminal conspiracy,” Tribe tweeted. “He’s Trump’s John Mitchell. Mitchell ended up in prison. It’s all unraveling.”

In that July phone call Trump does tell the Ukrainian president, over and over, that Giuliani and Barr will be in touch with him, and Trump expects him to take their calls. But the whistleblower suggests more:

The complaint indicates with damning detail that that was indeed the plan; that Trump went a long way toward carrying it out; that he was helped in his scheme by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as well as by lawyers and officials in the White House and apparently in the departments of justice and state, allegedly including Barr…

A lot of people in the US government knew about this plan, and had watched its mechanisms unfold, according to the whistleblower complaint. “Attorney general Barr appears to be involved as well,” the complaint alleges.

Yet while Barr allegedly participated in the Ukrainian plan – although he denies having contacted Ukrainian officials at Trump’s behest, as Trump repeatedly assured the Ukrainian president Barr would – Barr also is actively overseeing justice department inquiries relating to the plan, including one internal inquiry that determined that the plan did not violate campaign finance laws banning campaigns from accepting anything “of value” from foreign sources.

The “complaint makes Barr’s decision to not recuse and the justice department decision to not undertake even cursory investigation indefensible,” tweeted Susan Hennessey, executive editor of the Lawfare blog.

So he goes down too. It’s the Watergate thing again, only faster – but Donald Trump isn’t Richard Nixon. The day everything went wrong for Trump in Washington, Trump was in Manhattan after three days at the UN and spitting nails:

President Trump told staff members at the United States Mission to the United Nations on Thursday that he wants to know who provided information to a whistle-blower about his phone call with the president of Ukraine, saying that whoever did so was “close to a spy” and that “in the old days” spies were dealt with differently.

Yes, he went there, but he was very, very, very angry:

The comment stunned people in the audience, according to a person briefed on what took place and a partial audio recording of Mr. Trump’s remarks. Mr. Trump made the statement several minutes into his remarks before the group of about 50 mission employees and their families. At the outset, he condemned former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s role in Ukraine at a time when his son Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Mr. Trump repeatedly referred to the whistle-blower and condemned the news media as “crooked” for reporting on an explosive complaint by the whistle-blower. The president then said the whistle-blower never heard the call in question.

And that was treason:

“I want to know who’s the person who gave the whistle-blower the information because that’s close to a spy,” Mr. Trump said. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

The Democratic chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform Committees, who are seeking testimony from the whistle-blower, called the president’s remarks “reprehensible witness intimidation.” The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Someone on the White House staff was probably trying to figure out a nice way to say that testimony of any kind against the president is treason and punishable by death. Is there a nice way to say that?

But the angry man wasn’t finished:

At the mission, Mr. Trump pushed back on the complaint and attacked the news media as “animals in the press.” He disparaged Representative Adam B. Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, as well as the former vice president, whom he called “dumb as a rock.”

At the mission, some in the crowd laughed at Mr. Trump’s comment, the person briefed on what took place said. The event was closed to reporters, and during his remarks, the president called the news media “scum” and labeled them crooked.

But wait, there’s more:

Aboard Air Force One on the way back to Washington on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Trump grew angry after watching televised news coverage about the whistle-blower, staff members said. Just before landing, Mr. Trump took to Twitter and again said the whistle-blower had “second hand information” and called the inquiry “Another Witch Hunt!” On the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews, Mr. Trump was in no mood to take questions.

Instead, he got off the plane and spoke directly into the news cameras.

“Democrats are going to lose the election and they know it,” Mr. Trump fumed. “That’s why they are doing it.” He added that there should be a way to stop the Democrats in court.

Alan Dershowitz, the rather eccentric Harvard Law School professor, had earlier made the argument that the Supreme Court could simply stop the impeachment of a president at the request of that president – so maybe Trump had heard about that. Dershowitz had been ridiculed for that. Trump may not have heard about that.

But that wasn’t the real message here. Someone is going to die, as Tom Nichols explains here:

We now know that the New York Times has reported that the government official who blew the whistle on President Donald Trump’s attempts to use a foreign government for his own corrupt purposes was a member of the CIA who was detailed to the White House. We should not know this, because in a matter of days or perhaps hours – maybe even by the time you read this – we will probably know the man’s name and everything else about him.

This is a problem, because there are people who want to do harm to this whistleblower and his colleagues. Prominent among them is the president of the United States himself, who has already said that he would like to know the identities of those who have placed him in jeopardy (or, in yet more jeopardy) of impeachment. Indeed, Trump thinks the whistleblower should be dealt with as an enemy spy and a traitor to the state.

And the spies and traitors? Of course we used to handle them a little differently than we do now:

He means the death penalty, of course.

Trump’s apologists will wave away his comments (including his reference to journalists as “scum”) as just another meaningless example of the president’s swaggering New York style of verbal venting.

It might be acceptable for a rich kid from Queens to talk like a sociopathic mobster or beetle-browed junta enforcer when he’s trying to bully the local stonemasons and carpenters on his latest slapdash condo project, but it is utterly unacceptable in a president of the United States. The House Judiciary Committee should add this threat against a CIA officer to its list of impeachable offenses.

That’s a thought, but the Ukraine business might be enough to do the job. And after all, everyone knows about all the rest that could trigger impeachment, and by now everyone knows the man. And this isn’t the early seventies, when things moved slowly. The music back then was fine, but that business with Nixon took forever. This shouldn’t take that long.

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