TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH NOV. 11, 2019

The pace is breathtaking. We’re doing our best to keep up. Suffice it to say that Trump’s very bad days are getting worse. And there’s no end in sight.

That is, until we get to the House vote on articles of impeachment and a trial in the Senate.

Here is a list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and Just Security:

JUNE 14, 2016: Stone Wants Kushner’s Contact Info; Stone and Trump Exchange Phone Calls

REVISED: JUL. 31, 2016: Stone Calls Trump, Emails Corsi: ‘Malloch Should See Assange’

AUG. 2, 2016: Stone Emails Manafort About Assange

AUG. 3, 2016: Stone Emails Manafort About an Idea ‘To Save Trump’s Ass’

AUG. 16, 2016: Stone Emails Bannon: Knows How To Win, But ‘It Ain’t Pretty’

REVISED: OCT. 3-4, 2016: Stone, Prince, and Bannon Discuss WikiLeaks and Raising ‘$$$’

REVISED: JULY 2018: Trump Wants Yovanovitch Relieved in Ukraine

FEB. 11, 2019: Lutsenko Throwing Mud at Yovanovitch and Others at the State Department

MARCH 20-23, 2019: Story Lines Against Yovanovitch Unfold in US and Ukraine

REVISED: APR. 24-25, 2019: Yovanovitch Summoned to Return to Washington ‘On The Next Plane’; State Dept. No Longer Able to ‘Protect’ Her; Bolton Calls Giuliani a ‘Hand Grenade’

MAY 27, 2019: Giuliani Continues ‘Campaign of Lies’ Against Yovanovitch

MAY 30, 2019: Ukrainian Officials Concerned About Status of US Military Aid

JULY 2-3, 2019: Volker Tells Zelensky About Giuliani’s ‘Negative Narrative About Ukraine’, Needs to Signal ‘Cooperative Attitude’ Toward Trump’s Interests

BY JULY 3, 2019: Trump Orders Hold on Previously Authorized Military Aid to Ukraine; Pentagon Says Hold Is Illegal

REVISED: JULY 18, 2019: Taylor, Volker, and Others Learn About Hold on US Assistance to Ukraine and That the Directive Comes From Trump

REVISED: JULY 19, 2019: Giuliani, Volker, Sondland, and Taylor Exchange Text Messages Re: Effort to Get Ukraine to Investigate Biden

REVISED: JULY 25, 2019: Vindman and Morrison Notify Eisenberg About Concerns With Trump-Zelensky Call

DURING THE WEEK OF JULY 29, 2019: Intelligence Official Expresses Concern About Trump’s July 25 Call to CIA General Counsel; White House Already Aware of Concerns

REVISED: AUG. 17, 2019: Volker and Sondland Continue Discussions About Ukrainian Statement

REVISED: AUG. 17, 2019: Volker and Sondland Continue Discussions About Ukrainian Statement

SEPT. 1, 2019: Sondland Talks to Zelensky Aide In Warsaw

SEPT. 8, 2019: Taylor Describes Ukraine ‘Nightmare’

REVISED: SEPT. 11, 2019 White House Releases Ukraine Military Aid After Pentagon Deadline; Pentagon Scrambles To Pass Last-Minute Legislation

SEPT. 18, 2019: Pence Tells Zelensky Hold on Military Aid Has Been Lifted

AROUND SEPT. 25, 2019: Trump Wants Barr to Hold Press Conference on Zelensky Call; DOJ Issues Statement

REVISED: OCT. 3, 2019: Volker Testifies to Congress, Says He Told Giuliani That Claims About Biden Were False

REVISED: OCT. 17, 2019: Sondland Testifies, Points Accusing Finger at Giuliani and Trump

OCT. 29, 2019: Giuliani Meets With Ukrainians Pushing Investigations

REVISED: OCT. 29, 2019: House Votes to Sanction Turkey

OCT. 30, 2019: Sullivan Says White House Counsel is Directing Stonewalling

OCT. 30, 2019: Christopher Anderson Testifies

NOV. 4, 2019: Sondland Revises Testimony to Admit Quid Pro Quo

NOV. 4, 2019: Parnas Has New Lawyer, Willing to Cooperate

NOV. 5, 2019: Joint Statement on US Election Security Released

NOV. 6, 2019: House Withdraws Kupperman Subpoena

NOV. 8, 2019: Mulvaney Defies Subpoena

NOV. 8, 2019: Bannon Testifies in Stone’s Trial: ‘Stone Was Access Point to WikiLeaks

SHAKEDOWN AND COVER-UP: A GUIDE TO THE IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS

This post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Nov. 12, 2019.

When witnesses begin testifying publicly in the House impeachment inquiry this week, two issues will predominate:

1) The Shakedown: whether Trump tried to get Ukraine to investigate his political opponents — former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee.

2) The Cover-Up: whether Trump interfered with Congress’ investigation into The Shakedown.

Here’s a framework for organizing the testimony as you hear it.

#1: What was The Shakedown?

Trump wanted Ukraine to announce publicly its pursuit of two investigations:

  • Baseless claims relating to Biden and his son Hunter, who was a board member of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Earlier probes found no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.
  • False claims that the Democratic National Committee conspired with Ukrainians to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election. Vladimir Putin promotes that right-wing conspiracy theory because it contradicts the unanimous conclusion of the US intelligence community that Putin directed what special counsel Robert Mueller called a “sweeping and systematic” attack to help Trump win.

#2: Who were Trump’s henchmen?

Rudy Giuliani was the point person for The Shakedown. His influence became apparent when he orchestrated the ouster of the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

  • Since mid-2018, Giuliani’s recently indicted associates — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — had been targeting Yovanovitch in an effort to facilitate their own corrupt deal involving a Ukrainian oil company.
  • In 2019, then-general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, who had vowed revenge against Yovanovitch for her outspoken anti-corruption view, provided Giuliani with false information about her so that he would spread it.
  • Operating as Trump’s personal attorney, Giuliani carried out a “campaign of lies” culminating in Yovanovitch’s May 2019 dismissal. Trump specifically disparaged her in his July 25 call with Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

On Nov. 13, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent will testify about this episode publicly. Yovanovitch will testify on Nov. 15.

Although not involved in the Yovanovitch episode, two more key players in The Shakedown were acting chief of staff and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland. We turn to them next.

#3: What was Trump’s leverage?

For years, bipartisan support for Ukraine — a former Soviet satellite — has been a matter of US national security.

  • After Zelensky defeated Ukraine’s incumbent president Petro Poroshenko on April 21, 2019, he wanted a personal visit with Trump. A public display of support from America’s president was an essential element in the fledgling democracy’s survival against Russian aggression.
  • Trump also controlled the disbursement of almost $400 million in vital military aid that Congress had authorized to help fund Ukraine’s defense in its five-year war with Russia.

#4: How did The Shakedown unfold?

  • While Giuliani and Sondland pushed for Trump’s desired investigations, Trump delayed the personal meeting that Zelensky desperately sought.
  • By July 3: Trump ordered Mulvaney to place a hold on US military aid to Ukraine. The Defense Department later determined that providing the funds was in America’s national security interests and that the hold was illegal.
  • July 25: Trump told Zelensky that he wanted the investigations: “[T]he United States has been very, very good to Ukraine. I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine… I would like you to do us a favor though…” Career diplomats listening to the call were alarmed and went to a White House lawyer who buried the transcript in a secret server.
  • July-September: Giuliani and Sondland kept the heat on Zelensky. But in late August, word of Trump’s hold became public and Congress was in an uproar. Still uncertain of the outcome and desperately needing the US aid, Zelensky planned a Sept. 13 appearance on CNN to announce the investigations that Trump demanded.
  • Sept. 9: The inspector general for the US intelligence community informed Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) that a whistleblower had filed an “urgent” and “credible” complaint relating to intelligence activity.
  • Sept. 10: Schiff demanded that the acting CIA director provide a copy of the whistleblower complaint.
  • Sept. 11: Trump released the hold and Zelensky cancelled his scheduled CNN appearance.

Trump’s July 25 call is a single scene in The Shakedown. On Nov. 13, acting Ambassador William Taylor will testify publicly to its surrounding context. So will Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent.

#5: What’s The Cover-Up?

On Sept. 25, Trump released the White House summary memorandum of his July 25 call with Zelensky. When the problems it created for him became apparent, Trump began a pattern of obstruction that continues.

  • Sept. 26-Present: Trump attacked the whistleblower — and didn’t stop.
  • Oct. 1: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defied a congressional subpoena for documents and rejected the House’s request for testimony from five present or former State Department employees, including Yovanovitch, Kent, and Sondland.
  • Oct. 8: Trump’s White House counsel announced that Trump and his administration would not participate in the House impeachment inquiry. No documents, no witnesses, nothing.
  • Oct. 8 through Nov. 8: Several present and former officials defied Trump’s edict and confirmed every claim in the whistleblower’s complaint. Trump resorted to witness intimidation and character assassination.

#6: Is Trump’s conduct impeachable?

The US Constitution specifies the standard for impeachment: “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” That includes these crimes:

  • The Shakedown involved both sides of the same legal coin: bribery (“if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”) and extortion (“if you don’t scratch my back, I’ll break yours”). The Shakedown failed only because the whistleblower’s complaint surfaced and Trump was caught red-handed. Patriotic citizens then ignored his directive to stonewall. But even if Zelensky had refused to comply, Trump’s attempt alone is a crime.
  • The Cover-Up is obstruction of Congress’ effort to investigate The Shakedown.
  • Potential campaign finance law violations for soliciting contributions from foreign nationals also lurk in the background.

But proof of criminal conduct is not a prerequisite to impeachment because the President is held to a higher standard. For example, the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon for “violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Initially, Trump said his July 25, 2019 call with Zelensky was “perfect.” Now he wants it all to go away.

  • Oct. 24: Trump and his GOP defenders attacked what they called a “secret” House impeachment hearing process, even though Republican members of Congress had participated actively in those hearings.
  • Nov. 8: After the House voted to hold public hearings, Trump said those hearings shouldn’t happen.

Without facts to support any substantive defense, congressional Republicans are now testing two arguments. One throws Giuliani, Mulvaney, and Sondland under the bus as rogue players in The Shakedown. It won’t fly.

The other GOP position admits that what Trump did was wrong, but not illegal or impeachable. Eventually, only the “not impeachable” piece will survive. But if Trump’s conduct isn’t impeachable, what is?

TRUMP’S STONE WALL CONTINUES TO CRUMBLE: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH NOV. 4, 2019

The truth is making its way to the public. Trump’s own words in his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky remain the most damaging evidence in the case against him. Beginning tomorrow, eyewitnesses will begin providing the context surrounding Trump’s misconduct. That context — both before and after — makes the call even more damning.

My next post will be “Shakedown and Cover-Up: A Guide to the Impeachment Hearings.” It will be available later today.

Here is a list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and Just Security:

JULY 2018: Trump Wants Yovanovitch Relieved in Ukraine

REVISED: NOV. 25, 2018: Russia Captures Ukrainian Naval Vessels in Black Sea; EU Issues Immediate Condemnation; Trump Equivocates

REVISED: APR. 21, 2019: Zelensky Wins Ukraine Presidential Election; Trump Urges Him to Work With Giuliani on ‘Corruption’

APR. 24-25, 2019: Yovanovitch Summoned to Return to Washington ‘On The Next Plane’; State Dept. No Longer Able to ‘Protect’ Her

WEEK OF MAY 20, 2019: White House Learns That Ukraine is Concerned About Pressure From Giuliani

REVISED: JULY 10-11, 2019: Sondland’s Meeting With Ukrainian Officials Raises Concerns; Hill and Vindman Report Incident to WH Lawyer Eisenberg

REVISED: PRIOR TO JULY 18, 2019: Trump Orders Hold on Previously Authorized Military Aid to Ukraine; Pentagon Says Hold is Illegal

REVISED: JULY 18, 2019: Taylor, Volker, and Others Learn About Hold on US Assistance to Ukraine and That the Directive Comes From Trump

REVISED: JULY 25, 2019: Trump Calls Zelensky

JULY 25, 2019: Vindman and Morrison Notify Eisenberg About Concerns With Trump-Zelensky Call

REVISED: DURING THE WEEK OF JULY 29: Intelligence Official Expresses Concern About Trump’s July 25 Call to CIA General Counsel; White House Already Aware of Concerns

SEPT. 7, 2019: ‘Sinking Feeling’ About Trump-Sondland Call 

SEPT. 11, 2019 White House Releases Ukraine Military Aid, But It’s Too Late

REVISED: SEPT. 30, 2019: Trump and Barr Pressing Foreign Leaders For Help

REVISED: SEPT. 30, 2019: Pompeo Senior Adviser McKinley Resigns

OCTOBER 2019: Ukraine Begins Overhauling Prosecutor’s Office

OCT. 16, 2019: McKinley Testifies 

OCT. 29, 2019: Vindman Testifies to Quid Pro Quo, Omissions in WH Summary Memo of July 25 Call

OCT. 29, 2019: House Votes to Sanction Turkey

OCT. 30, 2019: Sullivan Says White House Counsel is Directing Stonewalling

OCT. 30, 2019: Anderson Testifies

OCT. 30, 2019: Croft Testifies

OCT. 30: Republicans Pivot to New Talking Point: Quid Pro Quo Was Legal

OCT. 31, 2019: House Passes Impeachment Resolution

OCT. 31, 2019: Morrison Testifies

NOV. 3, 2019: Trump Threatens to Release Info on Vindman

NOV. 4, 2019: Eisenberg Defies House Subpoena

ANOTHER TRUMP LAWYER IN THE HOT SEAT: JOHN EISENBERG

This post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Nov. 1, 2019.

John Eisenberg (JD, Yale, 2001). As the top White House lawyer for the National Security Council since January 2017, he’s been the Trump administration’s Forrest Gump.

What Does He Know?

Late January 2017: Eisenberg examines potential legal issues raised by national security adviser Mike Flynn’s recent FBI interview. During that interview, Flynn lied about his December 2016 conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions and other matters. (Mueller Rep., Vol. II, p. 32, 36)

February 2017: After Trump asks deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland to write a letting confirming that President-elect Trump had not directed Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak in those December 2016 conversations, she consults Eisenberg. He advises her not to write that letter because it looks like a quid pro quo for an ambassadorship to Singapore that Trump adviser Steve Bannon and press secretary Reince Priebus are dangling in front of her. (Mueller Rep. Vol. II, pp. 43-48)

March 2017: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) rushes to the White House and tells Trump that he has information about government “spying” on Trump associates, although even Nunes admits later that there is no evidence of illegal spying at all. Eisenberg is involved in the farce, having reviewed the material that Mike Flynn’s associate (Ezra Cohen-Watnick) had assembled and that Eisenberg’s subordinate (Michael Ellis) then allowed Nunes to review.

May 8-9, 2017: Eisenberg is apparently present during Trump’s discussions with advisers about firing FBI Director James Comey. (Mueller Rep., Vol. II, pp. 65-69 (footnotes))

Sometime in 2017: The White House begins limiting access to transcripts of Trump’s calls with Vladimir Putin, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and possibly others. Eisenberg’s role is unknown, but subsequent events relating to his decision to hide the Trump/Ukraine transcript raise questions demanding answers.

What was Eisenberg’s Role in Ukraine?

July 10, 2019: Senior Ukrainian officials meet with national security adviser John Bolton, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, and US Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker. The Ukrainians ask about a long-sought meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. When Sondland starts speaking about delivering specific Ukrainian investigations to secure the meeting with Trump, Bolton cuts the meeting short.

During an internal debriefing, Sondland emphasizes the importance of Ukraine delivering the investigations into the 2016 election and the Bidens. Vindman tells Sondland that his statements are inappropriate. The request to investigate Biden and his son has nothing to do with national security, and the NSC is not going to get involved in or push them. Vindman’s boss, Fiona Hill, then enters the room and reiterates to Sondland that his statements are inappropriate.

After the debriefing, Bolton reportedly tells Hill to talk to Eisenberg and tell him,“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.”

Hill meets with Eisenberg. Vindman reports his concerns to Eisenberg too.

July 25, 2019: Vindman is among several staff and officers listening in the Situation Room when Trump calls President Zelensky. When the call ends, Vindman and his twin brother — an ethics attorney on the NSC — rush to Eisenberg’s office and tell him that what Trump did was wrong. Joining them is Eisenberg’s deputy, Michael Ellis (remember the Nunes episode?).

Eisenberg then directs that the Trump-Zelensky call transcript be moved to a separate highly classified system normally reserved for “code word” documents that are extremely sensitive, such as covert operations.

During the week of July 29, 2019: An intelligence officer who later files a whistleblower complaint delivers an anonymous accusation to the CIA’s general counsel, Courtney Simmons Elwood, that Trump’s July 25 phone call with President Zelensky raises serious questions. Elwood begins to assess whether a “reasonable basis” for the accusation exists and learns that Eisenberg is already aware of concerns about the call.

Aug. 14, 2019: Elwood participates in a conference call with Eisenberg and the chief of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, John Demers. On the call, Elwood and Eisenberg tell Demers that the allegations merit examination by the department, but the DOJ declines to pursue the matter.

What Will Eisenberg Do Now?

Here are the lines from the latest major newspaper stories that should trouble Eisenberg the most.

From The New York Times on Oct. 29:

“Mr. Eisenberg made the decision [to place the July 25 transcript in the secret server] without consulting with his supervisor, Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel. A White House review of the handling of the call is examining if Mr. Eisenberg acted properly in securing the notes.”

And this from The Washington Post on Oct. 30:

“Former Trump national security officials said it was unheard of to store presidential calls with foreign leaders on the NICE system but that Eisenberg had moved at least one other transcript of a Trump phone call there.”

If John Eisenberg wasn’t a rogue actor, he’ll have an opportunity to explain himself on Nov. 4 when the House wants him and his deputy, Michael Ellis, to appear. Before blindly following Cipollone’s blanket directive on Trump’s behalf to stonewall, he might consider the patriotic path of predecessors, including Alexander Vindman, Fiona Hill, William Taylor, and others.

To save himself, Eisenberg may need to follow their lead. For years, he has watched Trump throw loyalists under the bus. Now it appears to be headed his way.

PROFILES IN COURAGE: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH OCT. 28, 2019

When the history of Trump’s impeachment is written, several patriots will be prominent players. They defied orders from Trump, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and testified before House committees pursuing the impeachment inquiry.

Yovanovitch, Kent, and Hill

  • US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Her outspoken anti-corruption views made her a target for corrupt Ukrainian politicians. That, in turn, made her a pawn in Rudy Giuliani’s effort to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son and to pursue Putin’s discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had been the origin of foreign interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent testified that he and other Ukraine experts were edged out by unqualified individuals whom Trump selected to pressure Ukraine into pursuing investigations that would help Trump against his US political adversaries.
  • National security council adviser Fiona Hill told House investigators about the campaign that Mick Mulvaney, US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, and Giuliani were running to pressure Ukraine to do Trump’s political bidding. She described a particularly troubling meeting on July 10, after which national security adviser John Bolton told her to talk to White House lawyers and tell them he didn’t want anything to do with the “drug deal that Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.”

To date, the most detailed and damning accounts of Trump’s abuse of power have come from former US Ambassador William Taylor and NSC official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

Taylor and Vindman

Called out of retirement after Trump fired Yovanovitch, Taylor sensed “something odd” from the beginning of his new posting in Kiev.

  • Mid-July 2019: It is becoming clear to Taylor that the meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seeks with Trump is conditioned on Ukraine opening investigations into the Bidens and into Ukrainian interference with the 2016 US presidential election. It is also clear to him that Rudy Giuliani is driving those conditions.
  • July 18: Taylor learns that the directive to withhold US military aid to Ukraine is coming from Trump to Mulvaney to the OMB person who repeats the order in an interagency videoconference.
  • Aug. 29: Taylor writes to Secretary of State Pompeo that withholding aid in return for help with Trump’s political desires is “folly.”
  • Sept. 1: Sondland tells Taylor that “everything” depends on Ukraine’s public announcement of investigations, including security assistance. He says that Trump wants Zelensky “in a public box” by making a statement ordering such investigations.
  • And on and on and on…

Lt. Col. Vindman heard Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky as it happened. He reported his concerns to White House NSC lawyer John Eisenberg. And he viewed the problem as transcending a wayward president trying to exploit foreign policy for domestic political gain. To Vindman, Trump’s manipulation of US foreign policy for personal domestic political gain posed serious national security concerns.

Armed with the truth, a handful of citizens who place country over political party can change the course of history for the better.

There will be more.

Here is a list of the latest update to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and Just Security:

MAY 3, 2019: Trump Calls Putin; They Discuss ‘Russian Hoax’ and Ukraine

MAY 7, 2019: Zelensky Concerned About Status of US Aid

MAY 28, 2019: Pompeo Taps Taylor for Ukraine

MAY 29, 2019: Trump Writes Congratulatory Letter for Delivery to Zelensky

JUNE 17-18, 2019: Taylor Arrives in Kiev, Confronts ‘Two Channels’ of US Policy Toward Ukraine

JUNE 27, 2019: Sondland Tells Taylor What Trump Wants to Hear From Zelensky

JUNE 28-30, 2019: Taylor Senses ‘Something Odd’ in Sondland’s Requests on Trump’s Behalf

JULY 10, 2019: Zelensky’s Chief of Staff Concerned That Trump Phone Call Won’t Happen

BY MID-JULY: Realizes Taylor That Investigation of Bidens and 2016 US Election Are Required for Trump-Zelensky Meeting

REVISED: JULY 18, 2019: Volker Learns About Hold on US Assistance to Ukraine and That the Directive Comes From Trump

JULY 19, 2019: Hill and Vindman Brief Taylor on July 10 Meeting

JULY 20, 2019: Sondland Tells Taylor About Investigation Language He Had Recommended to Zelensky

JULY 28, 2019: Taylor Hears About Trump-Zelensky Call

EARLY AUGUST 2019: Giuliani Tells Sondland What He Wants From Ukraine: Investigations into Ukraine Election Interference and ‘Burisma’

EARLY AUGUST 2019: Ukraine Learns of US Aid Freeze

AUG. 16, 2019: Ukraine Wants US Submit ‘Official Request’ for Ukrainian Investigation

AUG. 22, 2019: Taylor Remains Concerned About Hold on US Aid to Ukraine

AUG. 29, 2019: Taylor Tells Pompeo That Withholding Aid from Ukraine is ‘Folly’

REVISED: SEPT. 1, 2019: Taylor Asks Sondland About Ukrainian Quid Pro Quo; Sondland Says, ‘Call Me’

SEPT. 5, 2019: Taylor Hosts Sens. Johnson and Murphy in Kiev

SEPT. 7, 2019: ‘Sinking Feeling’ About Trump-Sondland Phone Call

SEPT. 8, 2019: Taylor Talks to Sondland

SEPT. 12-13, 2019: Zelensky Confirms There Won’t Be a CNN Interview to Announce Ukrainian Investigations

SEPT. 13, 2019: Clinton Cleared in Email Investigation

REVISED: OCT. 10, 2019:Two Giuliani Associates Arrested, Had Sought Removal of US Ambassador to Ukraine; House Issues Subpoenas

OCT. 21, 2019: OMB Personnel Refuse to Obey House Subpoena

OCT. 21, 2019: Facebook Removes Russian and Iranian Accounts Spreading Disinformation and Division; Many United in Opposition to Biden

OCT. 22, 2019: Taylor Testifies

OCT. 23, 2019: Trump Lifts Sanctions on Turkey

OCT. 23, 2019: GOP Lawmakers Storm Secure Room Where Impeachment Hearings Are Taking Place; Delay Cooper’s Testimony

OCT. 23, 2019: Senate Blocks Election Security Bills, Again

OCT. 24, 2019: DOJ Opens Criminal Inquiry on Origins of Russia Investigation

OCT. 25, 2019: Butina Released and Deported, Gets Hero’s Welcome in Moscow

OCT. 25, 2019: Court Orders Production of Redacted Mueller Grand Jury Materials

OCT. 25, 2019: Key Witness Files Lawsuit Regarding Trump’s Efforts to Block Witnesses

TRUMP’S SYRIA DISASTER: IT ALWAYS COMES BACK TO RUSSIA

This post first appeared on Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Oct. 22, 2019.

Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, just made a deal at the expense of a key American ally in the battle against ISIS. Thanks to Trump, the US wasn’t even in the room.

What Went Wrong?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) blistering op-ed in The Washington Post criticized Trump’s withdrawal of US forces from Syria as a “grave strategic mistake.” A setback for the US battle against ISIS and other terrorists, it’s an invitation for “the brutal Assad regime in Syria and its Iranian backers to expand their influence.”

And there’s Putin, as McConnell observed: “[W]e are ignoring Russia’s efforts to leverage its increasingly dominant position in Syria to amass power and influence throughout the Middle East and beyond.”

Who’s on Russia’s Team?

Basha al-Assad, Syria’s dictator, has been plagued by civil war since the “Arab Spring” uprisings in 2011. His atrocities— the use of chemical weapons and torture — make him a war criminal. Assad needs the backing of Iran and Russia to survive.

Putin s trying to re-establish Russia as a major global player. To preserve influence in the Mideast when Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi fell in 2011, Putin offered Assad a lifeline and, eventually, military support.

Who on America’s Team?

The Kurds are indigenous to the Mideast and comprise Syria’s largest ethnic minority— approximately 2 million people. They are also an American ally and a nexus of US influence in the region. Since 2014, the Kurds have lost 11,000 fighters battling ISIS. Large Kurdish populations also reside in Turkey (15-25% of the population), Iraq, Iran, and Armenia. Long suppressed and denied basic rights, the Kurds seek autonomy in an area near the Syria-Turkey border that they recaptured from ISIS in 2015.

Erdogan is president of Turkey, a member of NATO. He sees the Kurds near his southern border as terrorists and a catalyst for his intensifying domestic problems with Turkish Kurds.

Whose Team Is Trump On?

You decide.

Jan. 6, 2017: The US director of national intelligence issues a declassified version of a report outlining Kremlin interference with the 2016 US presidential election. It also connects the dots to Syria:

  • “Beginning in June [2016]… Putin publicly indicated a preference for President-elect Trump’s stated policy to work with Russia, and pro-Kremlin figures spoke highly about what they saw as his Russia-friendly positions on Syria and Ukraine.” (p. 1)
  • “Pro-Kremlin proxy Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, proclaimed just before the election that if President-elect Trump won, Russia would ‘drink champagne’ in anticipation of being able to advance its positions on Syria and Ukraine.” (p. 4) 

Jan. 28, 2017: In Putin’s congratulatory call after Trump’s inauguration, they discuss Syria. As in all subsequent conversations, we don’t know what they said.

May 2, 2017: In Trump’s phone call with Putin, they discuss Syria.

July 7, 2017: At the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Trump and Putin discuss Syria. Trump then confiscates the interpreter’s notes of the session. 

Nov. 11, 2017: At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (APEC) in Vietnam, Trump and Putin discuss Syria.

Nov. 21, 2017: In a phone call the day after a rare Putin meeting with Assad, Trump and Putin discuss Syria.

July 16, 2018: At the Helsinki summit, Russia’s US ambassador says later that Syria is the primary topic of a two-hour conversation between Trump and Putin.

Nov. 30, 2018: At the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, Trump and Putin discuss Syria. Two weeks later,The Washington Post reports that as a result of Trump’s efforts to conceal his communications with Putin, US officials say “there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years.”

Dec. 20, 2018: Trump announces America’s withdrawal from Syria. Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigns in protest.

Mar. 5, 2019: Responding to bipartisan criticism, Trump reverses himself, saying that a “stabilizing force” of American and European troops will remain in Syria.

“In recent months”: The US encourages Kurdish fighters to dismantle their defenses in northern Syria, saying it will help assure Erdogan that they pose no threat to Turkey. With the US promising protection, they blow up their own tunnels, destroy munitions and trenches, and leave themselves vulnerable. 

Oct. 6, 2019: In yet another phone call for which we have no transcript, Trump gives Erdogan a green light to move forward with his “long-planned operation into Northern Syria” against the Kurds. As Turkey invades, the Kurds turn their attention to self-defense and ISIS-connected detainees escape from Kurdish custody. Facing wholesale slaughter, the Kurds ask Assad for help.

Oct. 13, 2019: Trump orders the withdrawal of all remaining US troops in Syria. Russia and Assad move into areas that, a week earlier, had been under US control.

Oct. 15, 2019: A Russian reporter posts a video showing an abandoned US military base that Russians now occupy. At another base, American bombers mount airstrikes to destroy US munitions so they won’t fall into Syrian and Russian hands.

Oct. 17, 2019: Vice President Mike Pence announces that he and Erdogan have agreed to a deal. It requires the Kurds to abandon their homes and their land. Turkey gives up nothing, but gets relief from US sanctions. Pence calls it a ceasefire. Turkey says it’s a “pause in operations.” Hours later, even the “pause” is over.

https://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2019/10/19/us-officials-ceasefire-not-holding-in-syria-npw-vpx.cnn

Why a five-day“pause? So Erdogan can meet with a victorious Putin on Oct. 22.

Oct. 22, 2019: Putin and Erdogan seal the fate of Syria’s Kurdish fighters. The deal blesses Turkey’s operation against the Kurds and provides that Russian and Turkish military police will patrol the Syria-Turkey border area. Former presidential envoy Brett McGurk summarizes the outcome:

https://twitter.com/brett_mcgurk/status/1186699960017915905

Transcripts We Need to See

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that releasing transcripts of conversations between Trump and Putin requires Russia’s consent. Nonsense. US courts can issue an order requiring their release. Given Trump’s promise of perpetual obstruction, that’s almost certainly what it will take. And it needs to happen — soon.

“With you, all roads lead to Putin,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told Trump.

It always comes back to Russia. The question is why.

THE QUID PRO QUO ADMISSION: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH OCT. 21, 2019

“Treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors…”

The US Constitution specifies the exclusive grounds for impeaching a President. The founding fathers’ worst nightmare was foreign influence in a US presidential election. When Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, he solicited it.

Asking Zelensky to pursue investigations against former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee was an impeachable offense. Period. No quid pro quo needed. Impeachment is the remedy.

All by itself, the request alone was a campaign finance violation too.

So what does the overwhelming evidence of a quid pro quo add? An independent basis for impeachment specifically set forth in the Constitution: bribery.

Defense Evolution

Trump said his July 25 call was “perfect.”

Then the White House released a summary memo and people could read his actual words. Not so perfect.

Then Trump and his defenders said that he stated no express quid pro quo in the call. That’s not a winning defense. But even as a talking point, it’s now useless.

  • Trump’s million-dollar-contributor-who-became US-Ambassador-to-the EU, Gordon Sondland, somehow couldn’t remember conversations from a few months ago about his interactions with Trump. Even so, his testimony provided more evidence of a quid pro quo: Ukraine’s new president would get a White House meeting with Trump and military aid in exchange for the Ukrainian investigations Trump demanded.
  • Then on Oct. 17, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted to a quid pro quo — three times — in a nationally televised press conference.
  • Then Mulvaney made it worse by issuing a Trump-approved statement trying to walk back his triple admission.
  • Then he made it worse again by appearing on Fox News’ where Chris Wallace eviscerated him with nothing more than video of Mulvaney’s own words. Lordy, there are tapes!

And then on Oct. 22, in what will be included in next week’s update of the Trump-Russia Timeline, former Ambassador William Taylor gave detailed testimony filling in many of the missing pieces.

Trump has only one potential defense left: Quid pro quos are good. Take it from me, that’s a loser.

The guilt phase is over; the only remaining issue is the penalty.

Here is a list of the latest update to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and Just Security:

AUGUST 2018: Giuliani Receives $500,000 for Work Related to Parnas’ Company

JANUARY 2019: Giuliani Asks State Dept and White House for Shokin Visa

MARCH 2019: State Dept. Official Warns About Giuliani’s ‘Disinformation’ Campaign About Ukraine to Smear Trump’s Adversaries

MAR. 25, 2019: Parnas Posts Photos With Trump Legal Team

REVISED: MAY 23, 2019: Volker Meets With Trump; Concerned That Giuliani is Providing Negative Information About Ukraine; Trump Says, ‘Visit With Rudy’

MAY 23, 2019: Mulvaney Convenes Meeting To Put State Dept.’s Ukraine Experts on Sidelines

JUNE 2019: Rick Perry Meets With Zelensky in Brussels 

JULY 10-11, 2019: Sondland’s Meeting With Ukrainian Officials Raises Concerns; Hill Meets With WH Lawyers

LATE JULY 2019: DiGenova and Toensing Join Firtash Legal Team, Provide Documents to Giuliani

JULY 26, 2019: Sondland Says He, Perry, and Volker are the ‘Three Amigos’

AUGUST 2019: Federal Prosecutors Look at Giuliani’s Financial Records and Business Dealings in Ukraine, Including Counterintelligence Probe

EARLY AUGUST 2019: Giuliani Tells Sondland What He Wants From Ukraine: Investigations into Ukraine Election Interference and ‘Burisma’

REVISED: OCT. 10, 2019: Pompeo’s Senior Adviser Resigns Due to Use of Foreign Ambassadors to Advance Trump’s Domestic Political Interests

OCT 10, 2019: US Refuses to Join UN Resolution Condemning Turkey’s Invasion of Syria

OCT. 13, 2019: Trump Announces Withdrawal of Remaining Forces in Syria; Kurds Make a Deal with Syria; Russian-Backed Forces Enter Area

OCT. 15: Russia Filling US Power Void in Kurdish Areas of Syria

OCT. 15: Giuliani Refuses to Comply with House Subpoena

OCT. 15, 2019: OMB Refuses to Comply with House Subpoena

OCT. 15, 2019: Pence Refuses to Comply with House Subpoena

OCT. 15, 2019: Kent Defies State Dept. Directive, Appears Before Congress

OCT. 15, 2019: Pete Sessions Subpoenaed

OCT. 15, 2019: Pentagon Refuses to Comply with House Subpoena

OCT. 16, 2019: House Asks Ambassador Taylor to Appear on Oct. 22

OCT. 16-17, 2019: Bipartisan House Rebukes Trump on Syrian; Republicans Block Senate Vote

OCT. 17, 2019: Sondland Testifies, Point Accusing Finger at Giuliani and Trump

OCT. 17, 2019: Mulvaney Concedes Quid Pro Quo on Ukraine; Immediately Walks It Back

OCT. 17, 2019: Pence Announces ‘Cease-Fire’ and Lifts Sanctions; Turkey Says It’s Not a Cease-Fire

OCT. 17, 2019: Russia Says Cooperation With US Cyber Security Cooperation Resume

OCT. 17, 2019: Perry Resigning

OCT. 18, 2019: McConnell Blasts Trump Decision to Withdraw From Syria

OCT. 18, 2019: Energy Dept Refuses to Comply With Subpoena

OCT. 20, 2019: DOJ Distances Itself From Giuliani