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

TRUMP’S CRUMBLING STONEWALL: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH OCT. 14, 2019

As Trump’s stonewalling fails, he is adding co-conspirators to his obstruction. And unlike Trump, they don’t enjoy immunity from prosecution while in office.

  • Trump got White House counsel Pat Cipollone to draft a letter purporting to provide a legal justification for defying Congress’ requests and subpoenas in the House impeachment inquiry. But lawyers know a White House press release — and obstruction — when they see it.
  • Trump got Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to issue an edict barring State Department officials at the center of the Ukraine scandal from appearing before Congress. But several of them showed up to give damning testimony anyway.
  • Trump keeps attacking the whistleblower. But evidence proving the truth of every claim in the whistleblower’s complaint has now become so overwhelming that the whistleblower’s testimony isn’t even necessary. Shooting the messenger was never a winning long-run strategy.

And two of Giuliani’s associates — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — have earned the newest name tab on the Trump-Russia Timeline. Last week, they were indicted on charges that go to a central issue in the Trump-Ukraine impeachment inquiry: Along with Giuliani, they were trying to get the US ambassador to Ukraine fired and, eventually, accomplished that mission: “Trump’s Newest Bagmen? Follow the Money.”

It’s not easy keeping up with the pace of key developments. But whenever you get lost in the Trump maze, apply this simple rule: “It Always Comes Back to Russia.” Then ask this question:

On what issue has Trump ever diverged from what Putin would have wanted — or done himself as President of the United States?

Good luck finding one.

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

LATE 1980s: Parnas Works For Fred Trump 

APR. 20, 2012: Ivanka Trump Celebrates Opening Trump Tower-Istanbul

SOMETIME IN 2016: Parnas and Giuliani Meet 

LATE OCTOBER 2016: Parnas Contributes to Trump Campaign

REVISED: NOV. 8, 2016: Sater and Parnas Reportedly Attend Trump VIP Election Celebration

MARCH 2018: Fruman Attends RNC Fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago

MAY 1, 2018:  Parnas and Fruman Have Dinner With Trump; Donate Money to GOP Congressman in Effort to Get US Ambassador to Ukraine Removed

MAY 11, 2018: Sessions Sends Letter to Pompeo About Yovanovitch

MAY 17, 2018: Parnas and Fruman Make Allegedly Illegal Contributions to Trump Super PAC

MARCH 2019: Parnas, Fruman, and Guiliani Together in Washington 

EARLY MARCH 2019: State Department Asks Yovanovitch to Remain Until 2020

EARLY MARCH 2019: Parnas and Fruman Pursue Naftogaz Plan, Say Trump Plans to Replace Yovanovitch

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

LATE APRIL 2019: Yovanovitch Summoned to Return to Washington “On The Next Plane”

REVISED: PRIOR TO JULY 18, 2019: Trump Orders Hold on Previously Authorized Military Aid to Ukraine

JULY 26, 2019: Future Whistleblower Writes Memo of July 25 Call

SEPT. 20, 2019: Parnas and Giuliani Together at Trump Hotel in DC

SEPT. 26, 2019: Two Giuliani Business Associates Claim to Have Alleged Wrongdoing on Biden That They Gave to Giuliani

OCT. 3-8, 2019: Dowd Represents Two Giuliani Associates; They Won’t Comply With House Request for Documents and Depositions

OCT. 6, 2019: Trump Orders US Withdrawal From Syria 

OCT. 7, 2019: House Subpoenas Documents from Pentagon and OMB 

OCT. 8-10, 2019: White House Blocks Sondland’s House Testimony; House Issues Subpoena

OCT. 8, 2019: Senate Intel Committee Issues Report on Russian Measures to Help Trump and Hurt Clinton

OCT. 8, 2019: White House Stonewalls

OCT. 9, 2019: Trump Has Attacked Whistleblower At Least 44 Times

OCT. 9-10, 2019: Two Giuliani Associates Arrested, Had Sought Removal of US Ambassador to Ukraine; House Issues Subpoenas

OCT. 10, 2019: House Subpoenas Perry

OCT. 10, 2019: Pompeo’s Senior Adviser Resigns

OCT. 10, 2019: Trump Says He Doesn’t Know Parnas and Fruman, Hopes Giuliani Doesn’t Get Indicted

OCT 11, 2019: Sondland Says He Will Testify

OCT. 11, 2019: Yovanovitch Testifies Before Congress

OCT. 11, 2019: Giuliani Under Federal Investigation

TRUMP’S NEWEST BAGMEN? FOLLOW THE MONEY

This is an updated version of a post that appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Oct. 16, 2019.

Rudy Giuliani is well known. The two associates who helped him remove the US ambassador to Ukraine are getting there.

Who Are These Guys?

Ukrainian-American Lev Parnas and Belarus-American Igor Fruman were born in former Soviet republics. Parnas grew up in Brooklyn and got his start in real estate selling condos for Fred Trump in the late 1980s.

In the fall of 2018, Guiliani received $500,000 from a company that Parnas co-founded. But according to their attorney, Parnas and Fruman have also been working for Giuliani “in connection with his representation of President Trump.”

And Parnas has been working for ardent Trump supporters Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing in their representation of Dmitry Firtash — a Ukrainian oligarch. Since 2014, Firtash has been living in Vienna under house arrest, awaiting extradition on bribery and racketeering charges in Chicago.

Make a note: Vienna.

Did Trump Know Them?

You decide.

Late October 2016: Parnas contributes about $100,000 to the Trump campaign, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Nov. 8, 2016: Parnas attends Trump’s VIP invitation-only election celebration in New York.

March 2018: Fruman attends a Republican National Committee fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago and posts on Facebook a photo of himself standing next to Trump.

May 1, 2018: Parnas and Fruman have dinner with Trump in the White House. In a subsequent interview with a Brooklyn-based Russian-language publication, Fruman says it’s an eight-person meeting during which they discuss the upcoming midterm elections and US-Ukraine relations. Later that month, they meet with Don Jr. at a fundraising breakfast in Beverly Hills.

Link: https://twitter.com/TimOBrien/status/1182292238572904448

What Did They Want From Trump?

At the request of “one or more Ukrainian government officials,” Parnas and Fruman seek the removal of US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch — an outspoken critic of the country’s public corruption. Her ouster would also clear a path for their personal gain: They hope to make big money on a deal that requires replacing the anti-corruption CEO of Ukraine’s Naftogaz gas company. 

May 9, 2018: After meeting with Parnas in Washington, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) writes a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo questioning Yovanovitch’s fitness. 

May 17, 2018: Parnas and Fruman donate $325,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC that gives Rep. Sessions more than $3 million for his re-election campaign. They had also promised Sessions that they would raise $20,000 for his campaign, according to their indictment.

Around August 2018: Parnas’ firm, Fraud Guarantee, engages Guiliani and pays him $500,000. Guiliani later says that he consulted on the company’s technologies and provided legal advice on regulatory issues.

January 2019: Giuliani meets with Ukraine’s general prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko. They discuss the Bidens.

Make another note: Lutsenko.

Early March: At the State Department’s request, Yovanovitch extends her Ukraine assignment until 2020, but…

Mid-March: At a meeting where Parnas and Fruman tout a plan to replace Naftogaz’s CEO, Parnas says that Trump will be replacing Yovanovitch. On Mar. 24, he repeats the prediction. 

Mar. 28: Giuliani prepares a nine-page document for Pompeo, outlining the Bidens’ dealings in Ukraine and making false allegations against Yovanovitch. “The reason I gave the information to the secretary was I believed that he should know that the president’s orders to fire her were being blocked by the State Department,” Giuliani says later.

Late April: Yovanovitch is summoned abruptly to Washington “on the next plane.” The deputy secretary of state tells her that she has done nothing wrong, but the department has been under pressure from Trump to remove her since the summer of 2018.

After Yovanovitch departs, general prosecutor Lutsenko sends a message to a Ukrainian anti-corruption activist, gloating about his role in her dismissal.

What Did Trump and Giuliani Want From Ukraine?

For this phase of the Ukraine operation, Trump and Giuliani seek two things: 1) “dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and 2) revival of Russia’s false narrative that Ukraine was the source of interference in the 2016 US presidential election. 

May to July 2019: As Trump withholds nearly $400 million in military aid, Giuliani works with State Department officials and an aide to newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The US side pushes Ukraine to reopen investigations into the Bidens and revive Russian propaganda regarding Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election.

July 10: National Security Council official Fiona Hill and her boss, NSA John Bolton, are so concerned that Guiliani, Gordon Sondland (US Ambassador to the EU), and Mick Mulvaney (Trump’s acting chief of staff) are running a campaign to pressure Ukraine to do Trump’s political bidding that they notify the chief White House lawyer for the NSC, according to The Washington Post’s later reporting of Hill’s testimony.

Make one more note: Sondland. He’s scheduled to testify Oct. 17.

July 25: In his phone call pressuring Zelensky for investigations, Trump also urges Zelensky not to fire general prosecutor Lutsenkoand says that Yovanovitch is “going to go through some things.”

July 29: Parnas, Giuliani, and US Ambassador Kurt Volker have breakfast together. Giuliani mentions the accusations about Biden and Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

August: Trump continues withholding military aid as State Department officials press Trump’s demands in exchange for a White House meeting date between Trump and Zelensky.

Sept. 1: US Ambassador Bill Taylor texts Sondland: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?”

Sondland answers, “Call me.”

Sept. 11: The day after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) demands a copy of the whistleblower complaint against Trump, Trump releases the military aid to Ukraine.

Oct. 4: Zelensky had fired Lutsenko at the end of August, but Ukraine’s new general prosecutor announces that he will review cases involving Biden’s son.

Busted

Oct. 9: Parnas and Fruman have lunch with Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Giuliani tells a reporter that he cannot meet with her that evening because he’s planning to fly to Vienna. But Giuliani later denies that the trip has anything to do with Firtash.

Oct. 9: Fearing that Parnas and Fruman are headed out of the country to escape prosecution, federal agents arrest them at Dulles International Airport around 6:00 pm. They have one-way international tickets. According to Giuliani, the two men are planning to travel to Vienna on matters “related to their business.” DiGenova says the trip isn’t connected to Parnas’ work for his firm.

Oct. 10: A week earlier, Parnas’ and Fruman’s attorney had said that they worked for Giuliani in his representation of Trump. But after prosecutors unseal the Parnas-Fruman indictment, Trump says, “I don’t know them. I don’t know about them. I don’t know what they do but I don’t know, maybe they were clients of Rudy. You’d have to ask Rudy, I just don’t know.”

Link: https://twitter.com/ABC/status/1182400090901639169

Sound familiar? When reporters first asked Trump about Michael Cohen’s hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, he feigned ignorance: “You’ll have to ask Michael.”

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tE2XHYxkJgw

We know how that ended.

TRUMP-UKRAINE SCANDAL: IT ALWAYS COMES BACK TO RUSSIA

[This post first appeared on Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Oct. 8, 2019]

Trump’s heavy-handed dealing with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky produced more than an impeachment inquiry. It also gave Vladimir Putin another geopolitical victory.

After Putin annexed Crimea in 2014, Russian-backed nationalists seized large parts of eastern Ukraine’s nearby Donbas region, which borders Russia. As Ukraine’s army tried to recapture rebel-held areas, conflict broke out. Since then, Russian-backed forces have been trying to separate the area from the rest of the country.

Putin’s goal is to force local elections in Donbas as a prelude to rejoining the Russian Federation. America has stood steadfastly on Ukraine’s side of the battle to retain its sovereignty — until now.

The Setup

In the months preceding Trump’s July 25 phone call to Zelensky:

  • Russia continued aggressive attacks in the Donbas region.
  • Trump withheld desperately needed military aid from Ukraine.
  • Trump used US ambassadors and diplomats in the State Department working with Rudy Giuliani and representatives of the Ukrainian government to deliver on Trump’s personal political demands.

The Infamous Call

Based solely on the White House’s “summary memorandum” of the July 25 conversation between Trump and Zelensky, Trump’s own words incriminate him: “…do us a favor though…”

In addition to seeking “dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, Trump also asked Zelensky to pursue Trump’s discredited conspiracy theory, promoted by Russia, that interference in the 2016 presidential election actually originated in Ukraine.

The Aftermath

With or without a quid pro quo, Trump abused his presidential power for personal political gain. But the evidence of a quid pro quo is mounting. Highlights from the Trump-Russia Timeline tell the story of what happened after Trump’s call:

  • Throughout August and September: Russian-backed forces continue to mount attacks in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
  • Sept. 1: US charge d’affaires for Ukraine, William Taylor, texts Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the EU (a $1 million contributor to Trump’s inauguration committee before Trump appointed him): “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?”

Sondland responds: “Call me.”

  • Sept. 9:Taylor reiterates, “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

By that time, the White House had known for almost a month about the whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump was abusing presidential power for personal political purposes. The CIA’s general counsel had referred the claims to the Justice Department.

Before answering Taylor four hours after receiving his message, Sondland speaks with Trump, according to The New York Times.Then he tells Taylor that their conversation should move to phone rather than text.

  • Sept. 10: The House Intelligence Committee demands a copy of the whistleblower complaint
  • Sept. 11: Trump releases his hold on military aid to Ukraine.
  • Sept. 25: At a joint press conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly Meeting, Trump tells Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, “I really believe that President Putin would like to do something. I really hope that you and President Putin get together and can solve your problem. That would be a tremendous achievement. And I know you’re trying to do that.”
  • Oct. 1: As Russian-backed attacks continue in Donbas, Zelensky accepts the “Steinmeier formula” for the region. Consistent with Putin’s goal, it calls for local elections in the Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, followed by special self-governing status for the region.

Ukrainian nationalists decry the deal as “capitulation.” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, calls it a “positive development.”

  • Oct. 4: Ukraine’s general prosecutor announces that he will review cases involving Biden’s son.

Domestic and International Ramifications

At great expense to America’s fundamental institutions and the world order, Trump is getting his way on two counts:

  • Ukraine is once again looking at Hunter Biden — a controversy that has been debunked. But to achieve that result, Trump compromised the US State Department by using it as his political tool.
  • Zelensky made a deal with Putin. But the agreement puts Russia on a path to absorb eastern Ukraine by allowing local elections to take place in the occupied parts of the country before Russian-backed forces have withdrawn and Kiev has control of the border.

And that sets up a big problem for the free world. In his 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski described newly independent Ukraine as “a geopolitical pivot.” “Without Ukraine,” he wrote, “Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire… However, if Moscow regains control over Ukraine, with its 52 million people and major resources as well as its access to the Black Sea, Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia.’”

It always comes back to Russia.

TRUMP DOESN’T WANT GORDON SONDLAND TO TESTIFY: THE LATEST TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE EXPLAINS WHY

If you’re wondering why, at the 11th hour, the White House today blocked the congressional testimony of US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland — a $1 million contributor to Trump’s inauguration committee before Trump appointed him — this week’s update to the Trump Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and Just Security offers an explanation.

It has nothing to do with lawyers’ specious objections based on executive privilege.

It has everything to do with this:

  • July 19: Rudy Giuliani tells Kurt Volker, US special representative to Ukraine, that he wants Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, as well as 2016 election interference by Ukraine. Sondland texts Volker: “Looks like Potus call tomorrow. I spike [sic] directly to Zelensky and gave him a full briefing. He’s got it.”
  • July 25: An hour before Trump’s infamous call to Zelensky, Sondland speaks directly with Trump.
  • Aug. 9: Volker texts Sondland about Zelensky’s proposed statement reopening investigations relating to the Bidens and the 2016 election: “Mentioned Z making a statement. Can we all get on the phone to make sure I advise Z correctly as to what he should be saying? Want to make sure we get this done right.” At the same time, Sondland is also communicating with the White House about a proposed Trump-Zelensky meeting after Zelensky issues the statement.
  • Aug. 13: Volker sends Sondland the proposed Zelensky statement. Sondland responds: “Perfect.”
  • Aug. 17: Sondland texts to Volker: “Unless you think otherwise I will return [Zelensky’s aide Andrey Yermak’s] call tomorrow and suggest they send us a clean draft.”

Then things get really interesting.

  • Aug. 30: Sondland tells Sen. Ron Johnson (W-WI) of a possible quid pro quo: Zelensky agrees to probe matters related to Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 US election. In return, Ukraine will receive nearly $400 million in US aid that Trump had been withholding for months.
  • Sept. 1: US charge d’affaires for Ukraine, William Taylor, texts Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the EU : “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations? Sondland responds: “Call me.”
  • Sept. 9: Taylor reiterates, “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

By that time, the White House had known for almost a month about the whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump was abusing presidential power for personal political purposes. The CIA’s general counsel had referred the claims to the Justice Department.

Before answering Taylor four hours after receiving his message, Sondland speaks with Trump, according to The New York Times.

Then Sondland — four hours after receiving Taylor’s message — texts back that their conversation should move to phone rather than text.

If you were Trump, would you want investigators in the House impeachment inquiry hearing from Sondland?

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

JAN. 28, 2017: Trump ‘Fawns’ Over Putin

SUMMER 2018: Trump Dismisses May on Russia

JANUARY 2019: Giuliani and Lutsenko Meet in New York

MARCH 20, 2019: Trump Tweets Headline of Ukraine General Prosecutor Lutsenko’s Interview Pushing False Conspiracy Theory

MARCH 28, 2019: Giuliani Prepares List of Complaints About Bidens, Yovanovitch; Gives it to Pompeo

APR. 21, 2019: Zelensky Wins Ukraine Presidential Election; Trump Urges Him to Work With Giuliani on ‘Corruption’ (revision of previous entry)

EARLY MAY 2019: Pompeo Receives Packet of Disinformation Aimed at Bidens, Yovanovitch; Giuliani Later Admits That Some Came From Him

MAY 6, 2019: US Ambassador to Ukraine Recalled (revision of previous entry)

MAY 20, 2019: Trump Tells Pence Not to Attend Zelensky’s Inauguration

MAY 23, 2019: Volker Meets With Trump; Concerned That Giuliani is Providing Negative Information About Ukraine

JUNE 4, 2019: Kushner Sits Next to Zelensky in Brussels

JUNE 18, 2019: Trump Asks China To Investigate Biden

JULY 18, 2019: Volker Learns About Hold on US Assistance to Ukraine

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

JULY 21, 2019: Taylor Flags Zelensky’s Concern About Becoming Involved in US Domestic Politics

JULY 22, 2019: Giuliani Pushes for Trump-Zelensky Call

JULY 25, 2019: Quid Pro Quo In Place For Trump-Zelensky Call

JULY 25, 2019: Trump Calls Zelensky (revision of previous entry)

JULY 25, 2019: Yermak and Volker Text About Giuliani Meeting in Madrid

JULY 26, 2019: TRUMP ASKS BORIS JOHNSON TO HELP UNDERMINE MUELLER

AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2019: Giuliani Seeking Ukraine Help From Manafort

AUG. 9, 2019: US State Department Seeks Giuliani’s Guidance on Proposed Zelensky Statement; Discuss White House Visit

AUG. 10, 2019: Zelensky Aide Presses for White House Meeting Date

AUG. 13, 2019: Volker and Sondland Exchange Texts About Ukrainian Statement on Corruption

AUG. 14, 2019: CIA General Counsel Confers With White House Lawyer and DOJ; Makes Criminal Referral to DOJ

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

AUG. 28, 2019: Ukrainian Expresses Concern About US Reported Withholding of Military Aid

AUG. 30, 2019: Trump Cancels To Meet Zelensky

AUG. 30-31, 2019: Sen. Johnson Asks Trump About Ukraine Quid Pro Quo

AUG. 31, 2019: Pence, Perry, and Sondland Meet With Zelensky in Warsaw

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

SEPT. 8, 2019: Taylor Describes Ukraine “Nightmare”

SEPT. 9, 2019: Ambassadors React to Withholding Aid to Ukraine; Trump Involved

SEPT. 25, 2019: Trump Tells Zelensky To ‘Get Together’ With Putin

SEPT. 30, 2019: US Issues Sanctions For Russian Interference

OCT. 1, 2019: Pompeo Defies Congressional Subpoenas

OCT. 1, 2019: Trump Tweets That He Wants to Interview Whistleblower

OCT. 1, 2019: Ukraine Agrees to Formula Favorable to Russia

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

OCT. 3, 2019: Trump Urges Ukraine and China to Investigate Biden

OCT. 4, 2019: Ukraine Announces Reexamination of Biden Investigation

OCT. 4, 2019: House Subpoenas White House, Asks Pence for Documents

OCT. 5, 2019: Trump Says Perry Prompted Call to Zelensky

THE WIDE SHOT: WHERE WE ARE WITH TRUMP’S UKRAINE MESS

This post first appeared on Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Oct. 3, 2019.

On Oct. 3, Trump did it again, this time publicly: He urged China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. The public has yet to see the complete transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. But the White House memorandum summarizing their exchange reveals a key point: Trump’s request for “dirt” on Biden was actually the second item on his “to do” list for Zelensky.

At the top of Trump’s agenda was a request for help in undermining America’s intelligence community, the FBI, and the Justice Department. As the cover-up collapses, we’re learning that Trump is a repeat offender.

“Do Us A Favor Though…”

When the July 25 call began, Trump was singlehandedly withholding previously authorized military aid that Ukraine needed desperately to resist Russian aggression. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) couldn’t explain Trump’s delay. After reminding Zelensky “the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine,” Trump said:

“I would like you to do us a favor though….”

He then asked Zelensky to work with Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr to revive a conspiracy theory that the CIA, FBI, every other US intelligence agency, and special counsel Robert Mueller debunked long ago: that Ukraine, rather than Russia, was responsible for the attack on the 2016 US presidential election:

“The server, they say Ukraine has it… [T]hey say a lot of it started with Ukraine.”

Only then did Trump turn to “the other thing” — helping Giuliani and Barr get dirt on Biden. Plenty of people knew that Trump had done something wrong. Their actions reveal what prosecutors call “consciousness of guilt.”

Who Denied Knowing About The Call? 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo initially feigned ignorance about the entire episode:

https://twitter.com/abc/status/1175762758245109761

Three days later, Pompeo admitted that he was on the call.

Initially, Vice President Mike Pence said that the memorandum summarizing Trump’s call “completely vindicated” Trump. Pence’s defenders are now saying that, although he should have had access to the transcript within hours of the call, he probably didn’t read it or it didn’t “fully register.”

On Oct. 2, The Washington Post reported that Pence’s national security adviser, Keith Kellogg, was on the call and that the transcript was probably in the briefing book Pence took to Warsaw when he met with Zelensky on Sept. 1. That’s when Pence told Zelensky personally that US military aid would not be forthcoming until Ukraine took more aggressive action on “corruption.”

Eventually, we’ll learn the complete roster of everyone who knew the truth and remained silent.

Who Hid The Evidence?

The White House buried the records of Trump’s call in a repository for super-secret intelligence. Experts familiar with the system say that Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders aren’t close to qualifying for such treatment. So how did they get there?

“Administration officials say John Eisenberg, the White House deputy counsel for national security affairs and a national security legal adviser, directed the Ukraine transcript call be moved to the separate highly classified system, as detailed in the whistleblower complaint. That system is normally reserved for ‘code word’ documents that are extremely sensitive, such as covert operations,” CNN reported.

But until October 2018, Eisenberg’s boss was White House counsel Don McGahn. Then Emmet Flood took over for two months until Pat Cipollone became McGahn’s permanent replacement.

What Else Remains Hidden?

That leads to one of the most important lines in the whistleblower’s complaint:

“According to White House officials I spoke with, this was ‘not the first time’ under this Administration that a Presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive—rather than national security sensitive—information.”

Now we’re learning about more troubling conversations during which Trump used foreign policy for personal gains:

  • May 10, 2017: “President Trump told two senior Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election because the United States did the same in other countries, an assertion that prompted alarmed White House officials to limit access to the remarks to an unusually small number of people,” The Washington Post reported last week. [Emphasis supplied]
  • Trump’s calls with Vladimir Putin and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman went into the super-secret system, according to CNN.
  • “In Recent Weeks”: Trump called Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison seeking help that, according to The New York Times, “Trump hopes will discredit the Mueller investigation…. The White House curbed access to a transcript of the call — which the president made at Mr. Barr’s request — to a small group of aides, one of the officials said. The restriction was unusual and similar to the handling of a July call with the Ukrainian president….”
  • July 26, 2019: The day after his call to Zelensky, Trump asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for help in discrediting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, according to The Times of London.

What Did They Know And When Did They Know It?

Despite the herculean efforts of President Richard Nixon and his allies, Nixon’s own words eventually reached the public. Former White House counsel John Dean counted 21 lawyers involved in Watergate wrongdoing. Some of them, including Attorney General John Mitchell and Dean himself, went to prison. Many more lost their law licenses.

Start counting.