WHERE ARE THE TESTS?

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on May 13, 2020.

By June 1. more than 100,000 Americans will have died from COVID-19. Compare that to South Korea’s 260 and Australia’s 98 current fatalities, where unlike Trump, leaders quickly implemented widespread testing and tracing programs. Public health officials isolated infected individuals, traced their contacts with others, followed the potential spread of the virus, and targeted the response.

As Trump failed to implement an effective nationwide testing program, he lied about it. Now he’s shifting the burden to individual states while urging governors to “reopen” in violation of his own testing and tracing standards. Even Trump’s medical experts agree that such a blind push to resume social and economic activity is a fool’s errand.

Lies, False Promises, and Obfuscation

Mar. 6: “Anyone that wants a test gets a test,” Trump says. Politifact labels it a “Pants-on-Fire” lie.

Also on Mar. 6: Vice President Mike Pence says, “[I]n a matter of weeks, the coronavirus tests will be broadly available to the public and available to any American that is symptomatic and has a concern about — about the possibility of having contracted the coronavirus.” Not true.

When a reporter asks FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn how many people have been tested so far, he suggests checking with the CDC. The answer that Hahn didn’t want to give is that the US has completed 2,983 US tests to date — less than two percent of the 165,000 tests conducted in South Korea, which is isolating, tracing and containing the virus.

Mar. 13: Asked if he takes responsibility for the delay in testing, Trump says, “I don’t take responsibility at all….”

Mar. 18: “If federal officials have shipped millions of tests, as you and your colleagues have said, why, as the federal government says, have only 59,000 tests been processed to this point?” a reporter asks Trump. “We just heard from the Atlanta Public Health director saying that they have fewer than 50 test kits for more than 900,000 citizens. Where are the tests?”

Trump defers to Pence, who defers to Dr. Deborah Birx. “[T]here was backlog,” she says. “There were individuals who had been tested who hadn’t had their specimen run because of the slow throughput. It’s now in a high-speed platform.” She doesn’t mention shortages of swabs and reagents required to administer the tests.

Mar. 19: A reporter asks Trump to “explain the gap” between his claim that plenty of tests are available and reports that people with symptoms can’t get tested. “Well, I can’t — I cannot explain the gap,” Trump answers. “I’m hearing very good things on the ground….”

Mar. 20: “What do you say to the Americans who are scared that they have symptoms and can’t get a test?” a reporter asks Trump. “Yeah. Well, okay. I’m not — I’m not hearing it,” Trump says.

Mar. 21: Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services Brett Giroir says that the government has put more than 10 million tests into the US commercial market and that by Mar. 28 more than 27 million will be available. He doesn’t reveal that shortages of swabs and reagents render the tests alone useless.

Mar. 23: A reporter tells Trump that some states report shortages of swabs and reagents: “So what is the administration doing to get all the states the materials that they need?” Trump deflects, saying that the Army Corps of Engineers is building field hospitals.

Late March: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) requests 60,000 plastic tips to store reagents and 10,000 testing swabs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which tells him that it doesn’t have enough supplies.

Shifting Blame and Pivoting to the Economy

Apr. 13-14: Worried about state governors’ stay-at-home orders hurting his re-election prospects that depend on a strong economy, Trump claims falsely that he has “total” authority to overrule the governors and reopen the country. But 24 hours later, he reverses himself. Knowing that governors lack the supplies they need, Trump shifts the burden of testing and tracing onto them:

“[T]he governors will use whatever testing is necessary. And if they’re not satisfied with their testing, they shouldn’t open… [T]he governors are supposed to do testing. It’s up to the governors… The governors are doing the testing. It’s now not up — and it hasn’t been up — to the federal government.”

Apr. 15: Governors and health officials report continuing shortages of swabs, reagents, and other materials necessary for COVID-19 tests.

Apr. 16: Trump announces his plan for the country’s phased reopening, which requires states to have rigorous testing and tracing in place before loosening restrictions.

Apr. 17: Trump tweets: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” “LIBERATE” protests begin throughout the country.

Also on Apr. 17: “The governors are responsible for testing,” Trump reiterates. “Swabs can be done easily by the governors themselves. Mostly, it’s cotton. It’s not a big deal. You can get cotton easily.”

Apr. 20: The US is conducting only about 150,000 tests per day. But a Harvard panel of health experts concludes that reopening the country safely requires at least five million tests per day by early June, increasing to 20 million tests daily by mid-summer.

Also on Apr. 20: A reporter reminds Trump that on Mar. 21, Giroir promised 27 million tests by the end of March, but so far only four million people have been tested: “So where are the other 23 million or so tests?”

Giroir answers that more than 40 million tests are “in the marketplace,” but there has been a shortage of swabs. “And as simple as a swab is: A swab is not a swab is not a swab,” he says. “And we need to be very careful that when we put something in a person and tell them a test result, that it’s really correct.”

Apr. 21: Pence visits Wisconsin to tout Trump’s response to the pandemic. Of the 60,000 plastic tips that the state had requested from FEMA in late March for COVID-19 testing, it has received only 2,800. Of the 10,000 testing swabs the state requested, it has received only 3,500.

Truth Revealed

Apr. 27: The US is conducting about 200,000 tests per day. A reporter reminds Pence of his promise that the US would have completed four million total tests by mid-March and we “just now got there in the last few days.” What went wrong?

“I appreciate the question,” Pence says, “but it represents a misunderstanding on your part and the — and frankly, the — a lot of people in the public’s part about the difference between having a test versus the ability to actually process the test.” [Emphasis supplied]

The reporter presses, “So when you said four million tests, seven weeks ago, you were just talking about tests being sent out, not actually being — being completed?”

“[P]recisely correct,” Pence answers without missing a beat.

Apr. 28: Responding to the Harvard panel’s recommendation that the US needs five million tests per day to reopen safely in June and 20 million daily by September, Giroir tells Time, there is “absolutely no way on Earth, on this planet or any other planet, that we can do 20 million tests a day, or even five million tests a day.”

At a press briefing later that day, a reporter asks Trump about the five million-per-day testing benchmark: “[C]an you get to that benchmark?” Without explanation, Trump contradicts Giroir, saying, “Well, it will increase it and it’ll increase it by much more than that [five million] in the very near future. 

Apr. 30: Congress’ attending physician tells senior Republican officials that he has insufficient capacity to test all 100 senators for COVID-19 when they return to work on May 4. Tests will be available only for staffers and senators who are ill, even though asymptomatic individuals can infect others.

Apr. 30: Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of Trump’s COVID-19 task force, warns that states reopening without adequate testing and tracing will suffer outbreaks. Meanwhile, Trump pressures governors to reopen states and encourages protesters to push in that direction.

May 4: An epidemiological model cited frequently by the White House updates its projections. Incorporating rising mobility in most states, as well as the easing of social distancing measures expected in 31 states by May 11, it doubles the number of expected US COVID-19 deaths to nearly 135,000 by early August.

May 6: The US is conducting about 250,000 tests per day. Asked if reopening the country will increase COVID-19 deaths, Trump says, “It could very well be the case.” With respect to testing, he says, “If we did very little testing, we wouldn’t have the most cases. So, in a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad.”

As Trump lies and dissembles, remember this fact: The US has only 4 percent of the world’s population. Yet it has one-third of worldwide COVID-19 infections and more than 25 percent of resulting deaths — so far. The US ranks among the top ten nations in most deaths per million of population.

Trump can’t make us look any worse than he already has.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

TRUMP AND HIS TRAVEL BANS

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on May 5, 2020.

With only 4 percent of the world’s population, the US has almost one-third of all reported COVID-19 cases and more than 25 percent of resulting deaths. In just two months, more than 60,000 Americans have lost their lives to the virus, surpassing the total number of military fatalities during the nearly two decades-long Vietnam War.

Those are unambiguous metrics of failure. Whenever pressed on why he didn’t do more to protect the country sooner, Trump reverts to a false talking point — that he was “the first one” to “close off China,” thereby saving “hundreds of thousands” of lives. Trump tells similar lies about later restrictions on travelers from Europe.

The pandemic is not Trump’s fault. Responsibility for America’s failure to respond quickly to the crisis falls squarely on his shoulders. Here are the facts.

January: Trump Ignores Warnings

Jan. 3, 2020: The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar about a novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. Azar tells his chief of staff to notify Trump’s National Security Council that it’s a very big deal.

Early January: In the first of more than a dozen classified briefings through February, the President’s Daily Brief of Intelligence Matters warns Trump about the dire health and economic dangers that the virus poses.

Jan. 9: Trump holds a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio

Jan. 14: Trump holds a campaign rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Jan. 18: Trump plays golf at his club in West Palm Beach. Azar has spent weeks trying to warn Trump personally about the virus and finally gets a call through to him there. Trump interrupts the conversation to criticize Azar’s handling of an aborted federal ban on vaping products.

Jan. 21: The CDC confirms America’s first case of COVID-19 in Washington State. On Jan. 24, it confirms a second case in Illinois.

Jan. 22: “We have it totally under control,” Trump says of the virus. “It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

Jan. 24: The Marshall Islands becomes the first country to issue restrictions on travelers from China, requiring them spend at least 14 days in a country not affected by the virus before entering.

Jan. 27: Hong Kong bans Hubei residents, as well those who have visited that province (which includes Wuhan) within the past 14 days.

Jan. 28: Trump holds a campaign rally in Wildwood, New Jersey.

Jan. 29: Papau New Guinea bans travelers from Wuhan, as well as anyone who has been to China in the past 14 days who doesn’t undergo a medical check. Singapore bans foreign nationals who have traveled to China within the past 14 days and suspends visas for passport holders from China.

Jan. 30: Trump holds a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa.

The WHO declares COVID-19 a global health emergency, noting that there are now 98 cases in 18 countries outside of China, including cases of human-to-human transmission in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the US. It urges all countries to “review preparedness plans, identify gaps and evaluate the resources needed to identify, isolate and care for cases, and prevent transmission.”

Other nations implement China travel restrictions, including: Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Maldives, North Korea, Rwanda, Tajikistan, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Jan. 31: Trump announces China travel restrictions, which he calls a “ban.” But 11 exceptions allow travel to continue between the US from China. Also, since Jan. 1, almost 400,000 passengers have already arrived in the US on unrestricted direct flights from China. 

Trump later claims repeatedly and falsely that he “was the first” to ban travelers from China. But by the time his restrictions become effective on Feb. 2, more than 20 other countries have implemented limitations that are at least as stringent as Trump’s, including the following nations on Jan. 31: Antigua and Barbuda, Brunei, Cook Islands, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Iran, Italy, Jamaica, Kiribati, Micronesia, Morocco, Philippines, Solomon Islands.

February: Too Little, Too Late 

Feb. 1: As Trump plays golf at his club in West Palm Beach, more countries implement China travel restrictions effective Feb. 1: Armenia, Australia, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Palau, St. Kitts and Nevis, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.

Feb. 2: Trump’s China travel restrictions become effective at 5:00 pm EST. Trump declares falsely, “Well, we pretty much shut it [COVID-19] down coming in from China.”

Feb. 2 to Apr. 4: Nearly 40,000 additional passengers arrive in the US on direct flights from China.

Feb 10: Trump holds a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he says, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, [the coronavirus] miraculously goes away.”

Feb. 15: Trump plays golf at his club in West Palm Beach.

Feb. 19: Trump holds campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona.

Feb. 20: Trump holds a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Feb. 21: Trump holds a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Feb. 25: Nancy Messonnier, a senior CDC official, tells reporters that COVID-19 is likely to spread within US communities and that disruptions to daily life could be “severe.” Returning from a trip to India, Trump calls Azar to complain that Messonnier is scaring the stock markets and threatens to oust her.

Feb. 27: “It’s going to disappear,” Trump says. “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

Feb. 28: Trump holds a campaign rally in Charleston, SC, where he says that concerns about his handling of the growing COVID-19 crisis is the Democrats’ “new hoax.”

March: Trump Creates Chaos at International Airports

If Trump had taken the pandemic seriously and instituted a comprehensive testing and contact-tracing program, he would have learned that the first COVID-19 cases in New York City — the worst global epicenter of the pandemic — originated in Europe, not China. Because Trump rejected the advice of senior advisers pushing him to close air travel from Europe, the virus reached NYC in February.

Mar. 2: Trump holds a campaign rally in Charlotte, NC. Asked if he has any qualms about attending a large stadium rally in light of the COVID-19 threat, he says, “I think it’s very safe.” 

Mar. 7-8: Trump plays golf at his club in West Palm Beach.

Mar. 10: Trump says, “It will go away, just stay calm. It will go away.”

Mar. 11: Trump announces restrictions on travelers from Europe, but they’re riddled with exceptions and don’t become effective until Mar. 14.

Mar. 13: “Europe was just designated as the hotspot right now, and we closed that border a while ago,” Trump says, although the border remains open and the restrictions he issued two days earlier are not yet in effect. 

Mar. 14: Trump’s latest restrictions go into effect. But his surprise announcement blindsides European allies, as well as the US Department of Homeland Security, both of which are unprepared for the resulting chaos. Passengers returning to America are funneled through 13 US airports, including JFK, O’Hare, and Dallas/Ft. Worth, where they stand for hours in overcrowded lines, awaiting inconsistent, superficial, and sometimes non-existent health screenings from untrained US customs officers.

Here’s the scene at O’Hare:

https://twitter.com/BrookeGMcDonald/status/1238986272137502720

At JFK:

https://twitter.com/vjake20/status/1239001781243457542

And at DFW:

https://twitter.com/holajefe/status/1238974763503996928

Arriving passengers proceed from customs to their final destinations, often via public transportation or connecting flights. They take with them whatever COVID-19 virus they acquired while waiting in line with thousands of fellow passengers.

Trump Rewrites History

Mar. 31: “[W]e stopped China… But we also stopped Europe very shortly thereafter,” Trump says falsely. “[W]e stopped China really early, and we stopped Europe really early.”

Apr. 20: Trump lies again about the travel restrictions: “[I]n January… we put on a ban of [sic] China, where China can’t come in. And before March, we put on a ban on Europe, where Europe can’t come in. So how could you say I wasn’t taking it seriously?”

When a reporter presses Trump about his campaign rallies in February and March, he doubles down:

“But — no, no,” Trump answers, “Wait. But you can’t say this. Look, I put on a ban. In other words, I stopped China from coming to the United States. I stopped Europe from coming into the United States, long before the March date that you’re talking about. So people should say I acted very early.”

It’s a lie.

Then on Apr. 29, Jared Kushner appears on Fox & Friends and says, “The federal government rose to the challenge, and this is a great success story.”

The more than 65,000 US COVID-19 fatalities, their survivors, and their friends know that’s the biggest lie of all. Sadly, their ranks are growing.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

 

PANDEMIC TIMELINE: PAGING DR. TRUMP?

The Pandemic Timeline page at BillMoyers.com collects all installments in this series here.

When Trump Plays Doctor, People Die

For years, Trump failed to prepare America for a pandemic. For months after COVID-19 emerged, he downplayed its danger. Now he’s touting a dubious miracle cure.

Facing relentless criticism amid mounting deaths, Trump has been telling first responders, doctors, nurses and the public that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine will keep them from contracting COVID-19 — something that no infectious disease expert has ever suggested.

“What do you have to lose?” he asks repeatedly.

Trump’s COVID-19 Briefings: A Public Health Menace

Mar. 19, 2020: At a press briefing, Trump says that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine — drugs that successfully treat malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis — have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat COVID-19. That’s false. He adds, “The nice part is, it’s been around for a long time, so we know that if it — if things don’t go as planned, it’s not going to kill anybody.” Also false.

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn corrects Trump, saying that clinical trials are required to determine whether the drugs are safe and effective in treating COVID-19. Otherwise, it’s impossible to know whether they are better, the same, or worse than doing nothing at all.

Mar. 19-20: In response to Trump’s misinformation, demand for the drugs surges, creating shortages for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients who need it.

Mar. 20: A controversial French expert in infectious diseases, Dr. Didier Raoult, publishes his study on the use of hydroxychloroquine combined with azithromycin to treat 26 infected COVID-19 patients. Four (15%) actually got worse: three were transferred to the ICU and one died on the third day of treatment. The study notes the limitations of his work: “a small sample size, limited long-term outcome follow-up, and a dropout of six patients from the study.”

Mar. 20: At a press briefing, Trump continues to promote hydroxychloroquine. Asked whether it is effective for treating COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, responds bluntly: “The answer is no, and the evidence that you’re talking about … is anecdotal evidence.”

Mar. 21: Citing Dr. Raoult’s publication, Trump tweets: “HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine…. Hopefully they will BOTH (H works better with A, International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents) be put in use IMMEDIATELY. PEOPLE ARE DYING, MOVE FAST.”

Mar. 23: An otherwise healthy Arizona man dies and his wife is hospitalized in critical condition after drinking a small amount of veterinary chloroquine phosphate. Concerned about catching COVID-19, they recognized the name “chloroquine” from Trump’s press briefings and took it based solely on his recommendation.

Mar. 24: Nationwide shortages of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine worsen as doctors hoard the drugs by prescribing them to themselves and family members, ProPublica reports.

Mar. 25: The head of the Mayo Clinic’s Sudden Death Genomics Lab issues public guidance to physicians warning that some patients taking hydroxychloroquine as an experimental COVID-19 treatment are at increased risk for sudden cardiac death.

Mar. 28: Trying to replicate Dr. Raoult’s study, French infectious disease experts apply his protocol to 11 patients: one dies, two are transferred to the ICU and a fourth patient suffers adverse cardiac effects requiring discontinuation of the drugs. The study finds no evidence of a clinical benefit in using hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to treat patients with severe COVID-19.

Mar. 28: The FDA authorizes emergency use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, allowing doctors to prescribe them on a limited basis to certain COVID-19 patients. But the FDA emphasizes that the untested drugs have not been approved for general use to treat the virus.

Mar. 30: At a press briefing, Trump again touts hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as COVID-19 treatments.

Mar. 31: “[D]ue to a significant surge in demand,” the FDA adds hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to its drug shortages list.

Apr. 3: The International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy — publisher of the medical journal where Dr. Raoult’s study appeared — issues an unusual statement expressing “concerns” that the study “does not meet the Society’s expected standard, especially relating to the lack of better explanations of the inclusion criteria and the triage of patients to ensure patient safety.”

Apr. 4: During a meeting in the White House Situation Room, Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro says that studies of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine show “clear therapeutic efficacy.” Dr. Fauci disagrees, saying that the evidence is only anecdotal. Navarro raises his voice, and Jared Kushner turns to him saying, “Peter, take yes for an answer.”

At a later press briefing, Trump says he is placing millions of doses of hydroxychloroquine in the federal stockpile of emergency supplies. Asserting that he might take the drug himself, he adds, “What do you have to lose? Take it. I really think they should take it. But it’s their choice. And it’s their doctor’s choice or the doctors in the hospital. But hydroxychloroquine. Try it, if you’d like.”

Apr. 5: No medical evidence supports using hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19. Nevertheless, Trump suggests that doctors, nurses, first responders, and medical personnel going into hospitals should take the drug prophylactically. Again he says, “What do you have to lose?”

Although the FDA has not approved the drug for general use in treating COVID-19, Trump also repeats his earlier lie that “[the FDA] gave it rapid approval.” When a reporter asks Dr. Fauci about the drug’s effectiveness, Trump interrupts and physically interposes himself between the doctor and the microphone before he can answer.

Also on Apr. 5: Responding to Trump’s question —“What do you have to lose?” — the president of the American Medical Association tells CNN, “You could lose your life.”

Apr. 6: Following reports that the drug is causing severe adverse side effects, including seizures and vision loss, several hospitals in Sweden stop administering chloroquine to COVID-19 patients.

Also on Apr. 6: At a press briefing, a reporter asks Trump if there is a system in place to track the side effects of hydroxychloroquine. Trump answers, again falsely, “The side effects are the least of it. You have people dying all over the place. And generally, the side effects are really with the Z-Pak having to do with the heart. The Z-Pak — that’s the antibiotic. Not with the hydroxychloroquine… And I say, ‘Try it.’”

Apr. 7: The head of cardiology at Nice University Hospital in France says he restricted treating patients with hydroxychloroquine combined with azithromycin because of side efffects including heart issues.

Apr. 8: At a press briefing, Trump continues pushing hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as COVID-19 treatments saying, “[Z]inc — they say zinc — they say you should add zinc.”

Apr. 12: A study in Brazil is halted early for safety reasons after COVID-19 patients taking higher doses of chloroquine develop irregular heart rates that increased their risk of a potentially fatal heart arrhythmia. Of 81 patients in the study, 11 (14%) died by the sixth day of treatment.

Apr. 14: Medical researchers in China publish a study of 150 patients, concluding that hydroxychloroquine does not help outcomes and produces adverse side effects in some patients.

Also on Apr. 14: Medical researchers publish a study involving 181 COVID-19 patients in four French hospitals, 84 of whom received hydroxychloroquine within 48 hours of admission. The drug did not significantly reduce transfers to the ICU or death.

Apr. 21: A study of 368 patients in VA hospitals “finds no evidence that use of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin, reduced the risk of mechanical ventilation in patients hospitalized with COVID-19. An association of increased overall mortality was identified in patients treated with hydroxycholoroquine alone.”

Also on Apr. 21: A panel of experts convened by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH) that Dr. Anthony Fauci directs recommends against using a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to treat COVID-19 patients because of potential adverse heart effects. The panel says that there is “insufficient clinical data to recommend either for or against.”

Apr. 23:  Undeterred by the growing body of medical evidence against hydroxychloroquine as a viable treatment for COVID-19, the president seeks another miracle cure. In a coronavirus task force briefing President Trump suggests that powerful light brought inside the body could combat the virus.The president goes on to say that ingesting disinfectant could be a possible magic bullet: “[D]isinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that.”

Apr. 24: The FDA “cautions against the use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for COVID-19 outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems.” It notes the increased use of the drugs through outpatient prescriptions and reminds health care professionals and patients of the known risks associated with the drugs, which “have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19.”

Industry members. including Lysol, issue warnings and doctors around the world are quick to contradict the president’s suggestions.

What Do You Have to Lose?

Your health, your eyesight, your life, and the wellbeing of chronically ill fellow citizens who need hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to survive. That’s what you have to lose.

Here are links to: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV of this series on Trump’s Lies and Deceptions. An earlier background piece is here.

PANDEMIC TIMELINE: FUDGING THE NUMBERS

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Apr. 16, 2020.

Here are links to Part I, Part II, and Part III of this series. An earlier background piece is here.

Trump’s Lies and Deceptions: Pandemic Timeline Part IV

The lack of early widespread testing for COVID-19 not only crippled America’s response to the virus, but also contributed to a vast undercounting of the resulting infections and deaths. That’s fine with Trump.

Understating the actual US numbers helps Trump in two ways: It masks the magnitude of his failures, and it aids his current effort to convince Americans that he can “reopen the economy” without a comprehensive testing program that would reveal the virus’ continuing danger to public health.

Fewer Tests Given = Fewer Cases Confirmed = Fewer Deaths Counted

Jan. 20, 2020: On the same day, the US and South Korea confirm their first cases of COVID-19. Immediately, South Korea ramps up an aggressive testing and contact-tracing program.

For the next six weeks, the US does virtually no testing as Trump ignores repeated warnings from his advisers and tells the public that the virus is under control.

Mar. 6: The Grand Princess cruise ship remains in limbo off the San Francisco coast. Trump says he doesn’t want infected passengers taken off the ship because it will raise the total case count in the US:

“I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

Total US tests to date: 1,982 [Note: Data was updated after original submission]

Total South Korea tests to date: 164,740

Mar. 24: As expected, the number of confirmed cases in the US increases as testing increases:

Total US tests to date: 353,809 [Updated data]

Total US confirmed cases: 57, 224 (16% positive)

Data show that South Korea’s widespread early testing and contact-tracing efforts are working:

Total S. Korea tests to date: 348, 582 (more than six times the US per capita rate)

Total S. Korea confirmed cases: 9,037 (3% positive)

Apr. 3: As the number of US deaths surpasses 7,000, the CDC issues new guidance that a laboratory test should be used to confirm COVID-19 as the cause of death. If the deceased wasn’t tested prior to death, “it is acceptable to report COVID–19 on a death certificate without this confirmation if the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty.” Despite this high standard, the death toll continues to rise.

Apr. 5: Even as the total number of reported US deaths from COVID-19 more than doubles in one week to exceed 9,500, a CDC spokesperson admits, “We know that it is an underestimation.” 

The undercounting of US COVID-19 deaths results directly from early and ongoing testing and case-tracing failures:

  • Prior to late March, many deaths were reported incorrectly as influenza, pneumonia, or respiratory illness because tests weren’t available.
  • Although the CDC recommends the use of a positive COVID-19 test to confirm cause of death, the tests have been in short supply so they’re not wasted on the deceased.
  • From its first COVID-19 death on Mar. 14 and continuing through Apr. 13, New York City’s official total included only victims who had a tested positively while they were still alive.

On Apr. 14, NYC added 3,778 victims to its death toll who were presumed to have died from the virus but had never been tested — raising the city’s total COVID-19 deaths from 6,589 to 10,367.

  • In NYC alone, the outbreak may have contributed to another 3,000 “excess deaths” (compared to the same period in prior years), including individuals who died because COVID-19 cases overwhelmed the city’s health care system and crowded out treatment for other serious conditions.
  • Many untested individuals are dying in long-term senior care facilities and some states don’t track those deaths at all.
  • Hospital data drive the official COVID-19 death counts. But at-home deaths have also spiked dramatically in many places. Experts believe that the virus is a contributor, as many people who later died of the disease were “presumed positive” patients sent home to shelter in place.
  • Researchers estimate that the COVID-19 test has a false negative rate of 15 to 30 percent. Those infected patients (and their doctors) mistakenly believe they don’t have the virus. When such individuals later die from the disease, often they don’t count as COVID-19 deaths.

Apr. 7: Asked about recent media reports on the undercounting of COVID-19 deaths, Trump says, “[T[he death counts, I think they’re very, very accurate,” adding, “I do say this: I think if you look at China and if you look at some of these very large countries, when you talk about cases — number of cases — I would be willing to bet they have more cases than we do, but they don’t do the testing like we do.”

Apr. 9: Asked whether the US needs an expanded nationwide COVID-19 testing program before the economy can restart, Trump says, “We want to have it and we’re going to see if we have it. Do you need it? No. Is it a nice thing to do? Yes.”

Apr. 10: On a per capita basis, US testing still lags far behind other countries, including South Korea and Italy. But at a press briefing, Trump says, “We’re leading the world now in testing, by far, and we’re going to keep it that way.”

A reporter asks Trump how Americans will know that the virus has been defeated without a comprehensive nationwide testing and contact-tracing program. “We’ll know because people aren’t going to go to the hospital, people aren’t going to get sick,” he says. “[Y]ou’re going to see nobody’s getting sick anymore. It will be gone, and it won’t be that much longer.”

Apr. 15: Asked why the US has 20 percent of the world’s COVID-19 deaths but only four percent of the world’s population, Trump suggests that other countries aren’t reporting all deaths, saying, “We report everything. We’re reporting the cases, and our reporting is good. We’re reporting every death… We have more cases because we do more reporting.”

Public Health: Numbers Matter Only When They Drive Policy

Trump’s former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and a team of experts have estimated that the US must perform a minimum of 750,000 tests per day and create the medical infrastructure necessary to provide same-day results. Only then can the country trace infected individuals and move safely away from community-wide interventions (i.e. stay-at-home orders) to a case-based approach. Currently, the US averages fewer than 150,000 tests per day and obtaining results can take a week or more.

The US also requires 100,000 contact tracers to follow up on confirmed cases. In early April, Massachusetts became the first state to launch such a program, which will employ 1,000 tracers. San Francisco announced its pilot program on Apr. 15.

Trump: “We have to get our country open.”

Question: “Will you say, sir, what metrics you will use to make that decision?”

Trump: “The metric’s right here.” [Points to head] “The metric’s right here. That’s my metric.”

Trump is lying about his testing failure. He’s lying about the tragic consequences of that failure as measured in infections and deaths. And he’s lying that he can “reopen the economy” safely without an adequate testing and contact-tracing regime in place.

Americans will keep paying for his lies with their lives.

Here are links to: Part I, Part II, and Part III of this series on Trump’s Lies and Deceptions. An earlier background piece is here.

PANDEMIC: THE OBAMA BLAME GAME

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Apr. 16, 2020.

Pandemic Timeline III

Trump claims that no one could have expected the COVID-19 outbreak and that President Obama is responsible for the “obsolete, broken system” of pandemic response — “the empty shelf” — that Trump inherited.

Here are the facts that refute both lies simultaneously.

Were There Warnings About the Threat of a Global Pandemic?

Jan. 13, 2017: A week before the inauguration, at least 30 members of Trump’s transition team attend a briefing where top Obama administration officials describe an exercise simulating what could be the worst global flu pandemic since 1918. Obama’s homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco and her incoming counterpart, Tom Bossert, lead the discussion.

In the simulation, the virus quickly overwhelms medical systems across parts of Asia. Experts anticipate that its arrival in the US will produce global shortages of key medical resources, including personal protective equipment for medical workers and ventilators.

Among the key lessons:

  • Bringing decision-makers to the table early is paramount — collective understanding of the science and the disease must drive response decisions
  • Transportation and containment issues are a key concern
  • A coordinated, unified national response and message is paramount
  • In a pandemic response scenario, days — and even hours — can matter

Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2017: Trump inherits the National Security Council’s global health security office — the pandemic response team — that Obama had created after the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak.

July 20, 2017: Trump’s homeland security adviser at the time, Bossert, initiates the development of a comprehensive biodefense strategy to protect Americans in the event of a pandemic or biological attack. Former Navy Adm. Tim Ziemer becomes the senior director for the NSC’s pandemic response team.

Feb. 13, 2018: The US intelligence community’s annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” warns, “A novel strain of a virulent microbe that is easily transmissible between humans continues to be a major threat….” (Emphasis in original, p. 17)

How Did Trump Protect Americans From the Predicted Threat?

Apr. 10, 2018: Trump fires Bossert, who resigns at the request of incoming National Security Advisor John Bolton.

May 10, 2018: Trump dissolves the NSC’s pandemic response team and its director, Ziemer, leaves the administration. “The abrupt departure of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer from the National Security Council means no senior administration official is now focused solely on global health security,” according to The Washington Post.

Jan. 29, 2019: The US Intelligence community annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” again warns that the US and the world are vulnerable to the next flu pandemic, which could lead to massive death rates. (p. 21)

July 2019: Trump administration eliminates the position held by an American epidemiologist embedded in China’s disease control agency. Her job is to train “Chinese field epidemiologists who [are] deployed to the epicenters of outbreaks to help track, investigate, and contain diseases.”

Jan. 3, 2020: By the time the CDC hears from its Chinese counterpart agency about the COVID-19 outbreak, two-thirds of Trump’s representatives at the January 2017 pandemic briefing, including Bossert, are no longer in the administration.

Who is Responsible for America’s Tardy and Mismanaged Response to the Pandemic?

Jan. 10, 2020: Recognizing the national security issues at stake, Bossert tweets: “[W]e face a global health threat. Wuhan disease now identified as a *new* kind of coronavirus… Coordinate!”

Jan. 18, 2020: After trying numerous times to speak with Trump about the virus, Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar finally reaches him by phone. Trump interjects questions about vaping, wondering when flavored vaping products would be back on the market.

Late January and early February: US intelligence agencies and health officials warn Trump that COVID-19 poses a global danger. Through mid-March, he dismisses these concerns and repeatedly lies to the public about the seriousness of the threat.

Feb. 7, 2020: The Trump administration ships almost 18 tons of medical equipment to China, including masks, gowns, gauze, respirators and other vital materials.

Feb. 25, 2020: Nancy Messonnier, a senior CDC official, tells reporters that COVID-19 is likely to spread within US communities and that disruptions to daily life could be “severe.” Returning from a trip to India, Trump calls Azar to complain that Messonnier is scaring the stock markets.

Feb. 26, 2020: Trump announces that Vice President Mike Pence, who is avowedly anti-science, is leading the COVID-19 task force. “Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump says. “When you have 15 people and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”

Mar 12, 2020: Jared Kushner joins Trump’s coronavirus effort to focus on two areas of intense public criticism: insufficient testing and inadequate supplies of medical equipment.

Mar. 13, 2020: Trump calls a reporter’s question about the disbanding of the pandemic response team “nasty” and claims to know nothing about it.

Mar. 19. 2020: Trump says, “Nobody knew there’d be a pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion… [W]e had to break a system — like breaking an egg — because the system we had was obsolete and didn’t work, and that was a system we inherited.”

Mar. 25, 2020: “We’ve come a long way from an obsolete, broken system that I inherited,” Trump says again.

Mar. 29, 2020.  Trump says “think of the number: 2.2 — potentially 2.2 million people if we did nothing. If we didn’t do the distancing, if we didn’t do all of the things that we’re doing.” Trump goes on to say that if the US death toll remains at or below 100,000 lives — more Americans than died in the Vietnam and Korean Wars combined — it would mean that his administration will have done “a very good job.”

Mar. 31, 2020: Trump says that even with aggressive mitigation efforts, the US could suffer 240,000 deaths — a number that puzzles health experts. As The Washington Post reports, “Among epidemiologists, the estimate raised more questions than it answered — not just about methodology and accuracy but, perhaps more importantly, about purpose. The primary goal of such models amid an outbreak is to allow authorities to game out scenarios, foresee challenges and create a coherent, long-term strategy — something some experts worry doesn’t exist within the White House.”

Apr. 3, 2020: A reporter asks Trump, “Who dropped the ball?” After asserting falsely that no one anticipated the pandemic, Trump blames Obama: “The previous administration. The shelves were empty. The shelves were empty… the shelves were empty.”

How Many People Can Trump Kill on Fifth Avenue?

Obama’s team briefed Trump’s transition team on a simulation that anticipated the very type of outbreak now blanketing the earth, but Trump ignored its lessons. Trump inherited a White House pandemic response team, but he disbanded it. For three years, the leaders of the US intelligence community sounded pandemic alarm bells, but Trump paid no attention to them.

When the specific COVID-19 virus emerged in January 2020, Trump wasted precious weeks ignoring the warnings from the international health community while simultaneously lying to the public about its likely impact. To avoid responsibility for his failures, he now lies again in an attempt to shift the blame. Meanwhile, he keeps moving the goalposts for no reason other than to manage public expectations of what will qualify as his personal “win.”

Trump once said that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still love him. He’s now testing that hypothesis. But he hasn’t limited his victims to New York City.

Trump’s lies are like zombies. Fact-checkers keep killing them, but he keeps bringing them back to life — and repeating them over and over again. The only antidote is the truth — repeated over and over again. Here are links to: Part I and Part II of this series. An earlier background piece is here.

PANDEMIC: THE SOUTH KOREAN CASE

As Trump repeats lies, others must repeat truth. This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Mar. 31, 2020. Because Trump keeps lying about America’s COVID-19 testing failure, I’m re-running the post in its entirety here.

Every American needs to understand the chilling implications of the graph below. Click on a country to see the different rates at which COVID-19 infections are increasing:

https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/covid-confirmed-cases-since-100th-case

Look at line on the graph for the US. It’s steeper than that of any other nation at this point in its pandemic experience — worse than China, worse than Spain, worse than Italy.

Hospitals in New York City are already overwhelmed and the worst is yet to come. New Orleans is probably next, unless Florida wins that dubious prize. As the US infection trend line shoots upward toward an unknown peak, some hospitals are considering universal “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) policies for all COVID-19 patients because there’s an insufficient supply of required medical gear to protect healthcare workers from infected patients.

Now look at the line on the graph for South Korea. So far, that country is an international success story reflecting President Moon’s efforts to flatten the curve and control COVID-19. America, on the other hand, is a case study in Trump’s catastrophic failure to do so. Now he’s suggesting that the US is somehow doing better than South Korea at managing the pandemic. The facts prove otherwise.

The Truth and the Timeline

Jan. 20: On the same day, South Korea and the US confirm their first COVID-19 cases.

Jan. 27: South Korean officials meet with medical company representatives, urging them to develop COVID-19 test kits immediately for mass production and promising emergency approval.

Jan. 31: Trump announces what he touts as a “travel ban” that is actually just a policy prohibiting non-US citizens who have traveled to China within the last two weeks from entering the US. There is no process to screen, test, or quarantine US citizens, permanent residents, or their relatives still arriving legally from China in order to determine if they are carrying the virus. For the next six weeks, Trump downplays the seriousness of the growing pandemic.

Feb. 5: Although the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Korea remains low, thousands of test kits ship daily throughout that country. In America, the CDC is also shipping thousands of test kits to state, city, and county public health laboratories.

Feb. 8: The CDC receives reports that its test kits are flawed and, therefore, useless. As a result, testing in the US comes to a virtual halt and the CDC must provide and process the relatively few tests that are administered. Confirming the infection in any individual patient can take days.

Feb. 23: A surge of 169 new confirmed cases, the majority of which are traced to a religious sect, brings South Korea’s total to 763. Previously, the government had already shut down day care centers, banned outdoor rallies, and postponed opening schools. Even so, South Korean President Moon raises the virus threat to its highest alert level, thereby allowing the government to allocate more money for fighting it, permitting health officials to acquire the personal data of individuals suspected of infection, outlawing religious and other mass gatherings, and controlling air, train and other public traffic around the country.

Feb. 28: The CDC announces a new fix to its COVID-19 test kits and testing resumes in the US, but only on a slightly larger scale. Trump’s response to the virus: “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” At a campaign rally, he dismisses concerns about his handling of the pandemic as a Democratic “hoax.”

Mar. 4: By now, South Korea — a country of 51.8 million people — has performed more than 136,000 tests. The US, with a population of 329 million, has performed fewer than 1,000.

Mar. 5: South Korea has drive-through testing clinics that can detect COVID-19 cases in just 10 minutes. Overall, the country has performed 146,000 tests and confirmed the infection in 6,000 patients, 35 of whom have died — a mortality rate of 0.6 percent. The US has performed about 1,300 tests and doctors are contending with severe shortages of test kits.

Mar. 6: In response, Trump says, “Anybody right now and yesterday, anybody that needs a test gets a test. They’re there. They have the tests and the tests are beautiful.” Politifact labels it a “pants on fire” lie.

Mar. 10: Discussing COVID-19, Trump says, “It will go away, just stay calm. It will go away.”

By Mar. 17: This video clip tells the comparative story of COVID-19 testing in the US and South Korea up to this date:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkDYkYpY8H0

Mar. 19: The US finally reaches the 100,000 mark in total tests to date. South Korea’s total exceeds 300,000. 

Eight Weeks versus Eight Days

Mar. 23: With another week to go in his 15-day “stop the spread” promotion, Trump says that he hopes to get everyone back to work by Easter Sunday, Apr. 12.

Also on Mar. 23: The New York Times publishes a comprehensive article explaining how South Korea succeeded where America failed — flattening the curve so that COVID-19 cases don’t overwhelm the nation’s hospital system. The secrets to South Korea’s success were immediate government intervention to produce test kits on a massive scale, engaging early in widespread testing, isolating affected groups, and conducting extensive messaging to keep the public educated and informed. Trump did none of those things.

Mar. 24: At a Fox News virtual town hall meeting, Trump responds. “In the last eight days, we’ve done more testing than South Korea has done in eight weeks,” he says. At a press briefing that evening, he repeats the claim. It becomes a standard Trump talking point.

Fact check: According to the COVID tracking project, during the eight-day period to which Trump refers (Mar. 15 – 24), the US conducted about 338,000 tests. During the eight weeks prior to Mar. 24, South Korea had run 348,000. In raw numbers alone, that’s 10,000 more tests for South Korea. But the US has approximately 329 million people, compared to 51.8 million for South Korea. On a per capita basis, South Korea has tested at a rate nearly seven times greater than the US. And critically, South Korea began aggressive testing weeks earlier than the US.

Consequences

Early testing enabled South Korea to pinpoint specific sources of the outbreak and target them for treatment, quarantine, and emergency alerts to affected communities. Trump’s early indifference, coupled with his desire to keep the number of US COVID-19 cases down to protect the stock market, prevented rapid identification and containment of the virus.

When Trump says he has proceeded in an unprecedented way on COVID-19 testing, he’s right — but not in a good way. His self-congratulatory lies fill Americans with a false sense of security that now makes it more difficult to promote social distancing, which is the only way to flatten the US infection curve.

South Korean President Moon told his citizens the truth, followed the advice of scientific experts, and used his executive power to protect people’s health rather than financial markets. He treated the crisis with the urgency it deserves, rather than as a public relations problem. Trump did none of that and his continuing lies, reckless disregard of experts’ advice, and obsession with economic indicators are taking a very bad situation and making it worse.

This is part of a continuing series on Trump and the Pandemic. You can read Part I here.

HOW MANY WILL DIE FROM DONALD TRUMP’S LIES

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Mar. 27, 2020. Be sure to check out the animation accompanying it there.

Trump’s magical thinking and contradictory messages about the coronavirus have created public confusion. The consequences are becoming catastrophic.

Lying to the Public for Weeks

Jan. 3: The director of the CDC warns HHS Director Alex Azar that China has potentially discovered a new coronavirus. Azar tells his chief of staff to notify the National Security Council. This is a very big deal, Azar says.

Jan. 18: Azar notifies Trump about the virus.

Feb. 10: “I think the virus is going to be — it’s going to be fine,” Trump says.

Feb. 14: “We have a very small number of people in the country, right now, with it,” Trump says. “It’s like around 12. Many of them are getting better. Some are fully recovered already. So we’re in very good shape.”

Feb. 19: “I think it’s going to work out fine. I think when we get into April, in the warmer weather, that has a very negative effect on that and that type of a virus,” Trump says. “So let’s see what happens, but I think it’s going to work out fine.” 

Feb. 24: The pandemic is “very much under control in the US,” Trump tweets.

Feb. 25: “You may ask about the coronavirus, which is very well under control in our country. We have very few people with it, and the people that have it are … getting better. They’re all getting better. … As far as what we’re doing with the new virus, I think that we’re doing a great job.” He repeats this self-adulation in a tweet.

Feb. 26: “Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump says. “When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero. That’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” 

Feb. 27: “Only a very small number in U.S. & China numbers look to be going down. All countries working well together!” Trump tweets.

Also on Feb. 27: “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” Trump tells attendees at an African American History Month reception in the White House Cabinet Room.

Feb. 28: At a campaign rally, Trump politicizes concerns about his handling of the growing crisis as a “Democratic hoax.”

March 4: “Some people will have this at a very light level and won’t even go to a doctor or hospital, and they’ll get better,” Trump says. “There are many people like that.”

Around Mar. 9: The White House task force receives results from a new study by the Imperial College of London projecting that the government’s failure to act swiftly and aggressively could result in 2 million American deaths.

Mar. 10: Trump says, “It will go away, just stay calm. It will go away.”

The Truth Catches Up

Mar. 13: Trump declares a national emergency, but he does not invoke the Defense Production Act that would mobilize national resources to fight the pandemic.

Mar. 14: Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the world’s foremost authorities on infectious diseases, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, and an adviser to six presidents, publicly urges consideration of a nationwide shutdown similar to those in Europe: “I would prefer as much as we possibly could. I think we should really be overly aggressive and get criticized for overreacting.”

Mar. 14-15: The Imperial College researchers send Trump’s task force an early copy of their final written report. By then, some US states and cities have already imposed stay-at-home orders and business closings.

Mar. 16: Trump reverses his earlier rhetoric of denial. Now he recommends that for 15 days Americans avoid gathering in groups greater than 10, work from home, avoid unnecessary shopping trips, and refrain from eating in restaurants.

Mar. 20: Dr. Fauci predicts that Americans will most likely have to stay at home and practice social distancing for “at least several weeks.”

Lagging Indicators of Leadership Failure

Thanks to Trump’s failure to emphasize the seriousness of the pandemic, state governors who took the threat seriously are having difficulty persuading citizens to stay at home. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) enlisted New Yorkers to get his message across:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sZIdZueiQg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxH_uHFwj30

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTLiYHIIOjE

Like many governors throughout the country, Gov. Cuomo is fighting what economists would call lagging indicators of Trump’s false messaging and administrative incompetence. Trump’s leadership failure produced another lagging indicator: the testing crisis. Without a sufficient medical infrastructure to test, identify and isolate patients, America has been unable to follow South Korea’s successful containment strategy, even though that country and the US reported their first coronavirus cases on the same day — Jan. 20.

Other lagging indicators include the more rapid spread of the virus in the US due to lack of testing and hospitals with too few beds, insufficient ICU space, and an insufficient number of ventilators for those who will need them to survive.

The worst lagging indicator is, of course, hourly increases in American coronavirus deaths.

From Bad to Worse

Mar. 23: Only seven days into his “stay at home” guidance — Trump reverses himself again. Acknowledging that his own public health experts disagree, he says, “America will, again, and soon, be open for business. Very soon… We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”

Mar. 24: The World Health Organization warns that with more that 46,500 confirmed cases and nearly 600 deaths, the US has the potential to become the new epicenter of the global crisis. Only a week earlier, the US had a total of 6,300 cases in and 108 deaths.

Also on Mar. 24: Trump says he wants the country “back to work” by Easter. That’s Apr. 12. “Easter is a very special day for me,” he says. “Easter Sunday, and you’ll have packed churches all over our country.”

Mar. 25: The spokesperson for the World Health Organization who had warned that the US had the potential to become the next epicenter of the virus says that there is still time to “turn it around.” Sending all Americans back to work by Easter was not among her recommendations. Rather, the formula for success is testing people, finding each case, identifying people who have come into contact with those who have been infected, isolating those who are ill or who have been exposed, and quarantining, she says.

“Finally, getting the people who are ill to treatment — and when you do that, really, really protect your health workers,” she says.

Gov. Cuomo and other governors will make state-specific decisions about whether to “reopen the economy.” Unless Attorney General William Barr finds a way to upend federalism for his boss, there’s nothing Trump can do about it — except spout messages on which too many Americans will rely at their peril.

During a pandemic, incompetent leadership is deadly. Heed the advice of medical professionals who know what they’re talking about.

HHS SECRETARY AZAR’S FOLLY IS POTENTIALLY DEADLY

This post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Mar. 16, 2020.

How many ventilators does the US have on hand to fight the pandemic?

At Trump’s coronavirus task force press briefing on Sunday, Mar. 15, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar refused to answer, citing “national security.”

Less than 10 minutes on the internet yielded the answer: 172,700.

Earlier in the day, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the US has about 12,700 ventilators stockpiled. On Feb. 14, 2020, the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reported that the US has approximately 160,000 ventilators in acute care hospitals. The number in use at any given time is unknown.

Why did Azar refuse to provide that number? Because it’s bad news. Stonewalling is a reflexive response and a defining characteristic of the Trump administration. This time, it’s endangering the health of all Americans.

Why Facts Really Matter Now

During an American Hospital Association webinar in February, Dr. James Lawler, a professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, projected that the coronavirus pandemic could infect 96 million people and hospitalize 4.8 million of them. In the entire country, the US has approximately 925,000 staffed beds (including all types).

Of those 4.8 million projected hospital patients, 1.9 million could require intensive care beds. We have about 98,000 (included in the above total).

Of those 4.8 million hospital patients, 960,000 could require ventilators. We have 172,700. Even more importantly, according to the Johns Hopkins study, the limiting factor for treatment during a pandemic will be respiratory therapists. Dr. Lawler also calculates that the number of US deaths from the virus could be 480,000 — 10 times worse than the mortality rate for the seasonal flu.

If we can spread out the number of infected victims so they show up at hospitals over a longer period of time, we can reduce peak demand for hospital admissions, ICU beds, ventilators, and necessary medical personnel. We would have a chance to avoid the situation facing Italy, where doctors are making life and death decisions about patients who get the treatment they need and those they send home to die. More available beds, ventilators, and therapists means more lives saved. And by we, I mean all of us.

That’s the urgency of “flattening the curve.”

If CNBC’s reporting is correct, the White House task force has it backwards. Under its so-called “optimistic scenario,” peak virus in the US would come one month from Saturday, Mar. 14. Under its “pessimistic scenario,” peak virus would occur two months later. But as the peak becomes earlier, the number of deaths from an overtaxed medical system increases. And that doesn’t take into account spillover deaths from patients requiring care they cannot get for other diseases and illnesses.

Azar and Trump’s entire task force could use these facts to drive home simple messages — wash your hands, no handshakes, social distancing, stay home if you can — every individual can make a difference. Instead, they’re playing to an audience of one, who is working in vain to save a stock market that is reacting to presidential incompetence. In the process, they’re killing Americans. Literally.

WASH YOUR HANDS AND STAY AT HOME, PLEASE

The absence of US presidential leadership in the face of a global pandemic has left people feeling:

a) Panic;

b) Unconcerned because they haven’t yet felt the impact personally and Trump has said everything will be ok; or

c) Concerned but helpless because they don’t think they can make a difference.

I can’t do anything about the individuals in category b). Among them are those whom Trump had in mind when he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose their support. Because of his incompetence, he will have the blood many American coronavirus victims on his hands.

Unparalleled Presidential Malfeasance

In 2018, Trump dissolved President Obama’s pandemic response team, which had been created to deal with the crisis we now face. When pressed on the decision last week, Trump said, “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

As people were dying in China and the World Health Organization was sounding the alarm, Trump proclaimed that the coronavirus was a “Democrat hoax” —  just like Trump-Russia and impeachment. He was 0-for-3 on that assertion.

Trump preferred that infected Americans aboard a cruise ship be left at sea because he didn’t want them to add to the total number of coronavirus cases in the US. “I like the numbers where they are,” he said. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault. And it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship either, okay? It wasn’t their fault either and they’re mostly Americans. So, I can live either way with it. I’d rather have them stay on, personally.”

Trump unilaterally announced a travel ban that has created chaos and long lines of citizens waiting hours to clear customs at airports, which have become petri dishes for the virus. His xenophobic actions will spread the virus, not slow it.

After declaring a national emergency on Friday, Mar. 13 — complete with lies about Google’s supposed work on a nationwide screening website — he could have set an example for hygiene and social interaction that every citizen should follow. Instead, he shook hands, patted backs, or touched the microphone at the White House lectern 31 times — the very behaviors that the CDC had advised against to stop the spread of the virus. As for social distancing, forget about it.

If the nation doesn’t succeed in “flattening the curve” of coronavirus cases, the US hospital system will become overwhelmed. People who need respirators to survive and recover won’t get them. For an example of medical triage separating those who will live from those who are turned away, look at what’s happening in Italy. The criteria for admission into intensive care units has moved from “first come, first served” to “who has the best chance for survival.” Using that standard, I would not fare well.

But according to every health expert, every individual can make a profound difference in slowing the spread of the virus. Here’s how:

First and foremost: Stay at home. Other than walks to remain healthy, don’t leave home unless you have an essential reason for doing so.

Wash your hands. Do it frequently and correctly. That means using soap and water for 20 seconds — a lot longer than most people typically do — “especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing,” according to the CDC.

Don’t shake hands. The virus spreads through contact. Handshakes are the opposite of social distancing. Here’s a vivid illustration of the difference that social distancing can make:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most 

True social distancing. Even people who show no symptoms of the coronavirus can spread it. Here are recommendations from the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

  • Avoid going to places where 25 or more people may gather (Update: Don’t go where 10 or more people may gather);
  • Go places where you can maintain at least six feet of distance from other people;
  • Keep in mind your personal risk: If you’re 60 years old and up or have a compromised immune system, you should stay home as much as possible.

No one can achieve 100% social distancing. But if everyone tries, the most vulnerable among us will have a better chance to survive.

By the way, here is a list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and Just Security. When the coronavirus crisis ends — as it eventually will — the Trump-Russia story will return.

AUG. 26, 2019: On Ukraine Aid, ‘Final Decision Rests with POTUS’

DEC. 5, 2019: Burr Warns Grassley and Graham About Biden Investigations

REVISED: FEB. 13-21, 2020: Aide to Acting DNI Maguire Gives Briefing to Congress on Election Security; Trump is Reportedly Furious, Replaces Maguire with Loyalist Grenell; Other High-Ranking ODNI Officials Depart

FEB. 26, 2020: Trump Sues NY Times

FEB. 28, 2020: Appeals Court Rules House Can’t Sue to Enforce McGahn’s Subpoena

MAR. 1, 2020: Republican Senators Subpoena Burisma Witness

MAR. 2, 2020: Former Nunes’ Aide Promoted to Top Intelligence Post at NSC

MAR. 2, 2020: Top Government Officials Issue Warning About Election Interference

MAR. 4, 2020: Senate Republicans Pursue Burisma

MAR. 5, 2020: Judge Says Barr’s ‘Lack of Candor’ and ‘Distortions’ of Mueller Report ‘Call Into Question’ the Credibility of the Justice Dept.’s Redactions

MAR. 6, 2020: Trump Sues CNN

 

TRUMP v. THE NEW YORK TIMES

Trump has just fulfilled another promise. On Feb. 26, his presidential campaign sued The New York Times. For years, he has been warning us.

On Feb. 26, 2016, then-presidential candidate Trump said:

“One of the things I’m going to do if I win… I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post… writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”

On Mar. 30, 2017, Trump tweeted:

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/847455180912181249

And during the public portion of a cabinet meeting on Jan. 10, 2018, Trump said:

“We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws, so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts.”

At least one US Supreme Court justice now appears to agree with him.

How the Libel Laws Work

Libel and defamation actions arise under state laws, but the First Amendment limits their application. When Trump complains that the media are “totally protected” from such lawsuits, he’s wrong.

Trump is referring to the US Supreme Court’s 1964 landmark decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, which involved alleged defamation of a public official. The Court observed that America has “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

The Court was concerned that “would-be critics of official conduct may be deterred from voicing their criticism, even though it is believed to be true and even though it is, in fact, true, because of doubt whether it can be proved in court or fear of the expense of having to do so,” the Court wrote. Such deterrence “dampens the vigor and limits the variety of public debate.”

To minimize the risk of self-censorship in political discourse, the Court ruled that a public official must prove “actual malice” — that is, the statement must have been made “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” In 1967, the Court extended the rule to “public figures.” But that heightened standard of proof doesn’t apply to suits against ordinary individuals.

How Trump Works the Libel Laws

When it comes to defamation lawsuits, Trump is a seasoned litigant, but not a particularly successful one. In 1984, he sued an architecture critic and lost. In 2006, he sued Timothy O’Brien, author of TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald, because O’Brien’s book said that Trump’s net worth was between $150 million and $250 million, not billions as Trump claimed. Trump lost again. In 2013, Trump sued comedian Bill Maher over a joke — but then quickly withdrew the complaint.

On Jan. 4, 2018, Trump’s newest libel lawyer, Charles Harder, sent an 11-page cease-and-desist letter to the publisher of Michael Wolff’s forthcoming book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. The publisher responded by moving up the book’s release date. Shortly after publication, it soared to the top of The New York Times best-seller list.

On Oct. 16, 2019, Harder sent a letter to CNN threatening suit over its allegedly biased coverage of Trump. Nothing came of that either.

Harder’s latest salvo is aimed at Max Frankel, executive editor of The New York Times from 1986 to 1994. The Trump campaign’s basic complaint about Frankel’s Mar. 27, 2019 opinion piece, “The Real Trump-Russia Quid Pro Quo, is that there was no “deal” or “quid pro quo” between the campaign and Russia.

But Trump can’t possibly want people to read Mueller’s report, which concluded that his campaign knew about and welcomed Russia’s help. It can’t serve Trump’s interests to review anew the extensive evidence of contacts between his campaign and Russia throughout 2016. Trump can’t want the public to recall his efforts to obstruct the investigation into those contacts or Mueller’s refusal to exonerate him on those charges. Nor can it help Trump’s 2020 campaign to scrutinize his policies that have promoted Russian interests. He certainly doesn’t want the public poring over the Trump-Russia Timeline.

So what’s the agenda motivating the complaint that Harder filed on Feb. 26?

Justice Thomas Weighs In

The Times vows to fight the case, but the path to victory will require significant legal fees. That alone contributes to a chilling effect on free speech and a free press. The public never knows about self-imposed censorship resulting from media fear of a powerful libel bully.

But the stakes could be even greater. In February 2019, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Court should reconsider the Sullivan standard because it had no basis in the Constitution.

New York Times [v. Sullivan] and the court’s decisions extending it were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law,” Thomas said. No other justice joined him — for now.

I don’t know if Thomas has been listening to Trump’s public proclamations about libel law. But Thomas’s wife, Ginni, appears to have Trump’s ear on another important issue. According to The New York Times, “For the past 18 months, she and other conservatives have plied the White House with memos and suggestions about which people to fire — and who should replace them.”

One more thing: Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but on Mar. 2, 2020, one of Trump’s most loyal congressional allies, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), sued The Washington Post for defamation too.

THE PURGE CONTINUES: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH FEB. 23, 2020

While Trump and Attorney General William Barr were intervening in the sentencing of Roger Stone and hollowing out the Department of Justice in various other ways, US intelligence officials were warning senior members of the House Intelligence Committee that Russia is, once again, interfering in a US presidential election to help Trump win. Among their efforts is supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Democratic primary.

When Trump learned about the House briefing, was he outraged?

Yes, but not at Putin for yet another round of election interference. Trump was furious that an aide to Trump’s acting director of national intelligence (ODNI) Joseph Maguire had briefed Congress on Russia’s ongoing efforts to help Trump win re-election. Six days later, Trump fired Maguire and appointed a new acting ODNI — Richard Grenell. He’s a Trump loyalist who has no real intelligence experience at all.

But Grenell has an important qualification that Trump values more highly than competence: Grenell still expresses skepticism about Russian interference in 2016. Now he heads an entire US intelligence apparatus that — based on facts and evidence — disagrees with him.

Trump also replaced Maguire’s deputy. Grenell’s new senior adviser is Kash Patel — formerly a close aide to Rep. Devin Nunes. Patel and Nunes worked together in an effort to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Go to the Timeline, click on Nunes’ name, and take a look at the July 2017 entry featuring Patel. Here’s the first sentence:

“Seeking to contact Christopher Steele, two members of the House Intelligence Committee staff — one of whom is Kashyap Patel — visit the offices of Steele’s lawyers.”

By the way, Nunes — the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee — was the person who told Trump about the classified briefing on Feb. 13, 2020.

At the Justice Department and throughout the US intelligence community, Trump is placing people in high places who will do his bidding and tell him only what he wants to hear. As Trump continues his war on the truth, he is protecting his friends and attacking his enemies. If you’re not alarmed by what is happening, then you’re not paying attention.

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

REVISED:  AUG. 16, 2017: Rohrabacher Echoes Assange: Russia Didn’t Hack Election; Assange’s Attorney Later Claims Rohrabacher Offered Pardon from Trump

DEC. 10, 2019: Trump Announces New US Attorney for DC

JAN. 17, 2020: Deputy Attorney General Sends Internal Notice: All Ukraine-related Investigations Will Be Supervised by US Attorney for Eastern District of New York

FEB. 9-10, 2020: Flynn Sentencing Postponed Again

FEB. 10-11, 2020: Prosecutors Seek Seven- to Nine-Year Sentence for Stone; Trump Tweets That It’s ‘Excessive’; DOJ Retreats; Stone’s Prosecutors Resign

FEB. 11-13, 2020: Trump Withdraws Liu’s Nomination and She Resigns

FEB. 11, 2020: Senate Republicans Block Election Security Bills Again

FEB. 11, 2020: Spicer and Priebus Return to White House

FEB. 12, 2020: Trump Praises Barr for ‘Taking Charge’ of Stone Case

FEB. 13, 2020: Hicks to Return as Kushner Aide

FEB. 13, 2020: Barr Criticizes Trump’s Tweets

FEB. 13, 2020: Trump Admits Sending Giuliani to Ukraine for Damaging Information on Political Opponents

FEB. 13, 2020: Trump Attacks Foreperson on Stone Jury

FEB. 13-20, 2020: Aide to Acting DNI Maguire Gives Briefing to Congress on Election Security; Trump is Furious, Replaces Maguire with Loyalist Grenell; Another High-Ranking ODNI Official Departs

FEB. 14, 2020: Barr Assigns Outside Prosecutors to Review Flynn and Other ‘Politically Sensitive National-Security Cases’ in DC Office

FEB. 14, 2020: DOJ Says It Won’t Pursue Charges Against McCabe; Transcript of Sept. 2019 Hearing Released, Reveals Judge Blasted Trump

FEB. 14, 2020: Stone Asks for New Trial

FEB. 18, 2020: Trump Issues Pardons and Commutations, Incorrectly Blames Comey for Blagojevich’s Conviction

FEB. 19, 2020: Rood Resigns

FEB. 20, 2020: Stone Sentenced to 40 Months in Prison

FEB. 21, 2020: Trump Tries to Block Bolton’s Book

TRUMP, STONE AND BARR v. THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

This post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Feb. 16, 2020.

Back in 2017, Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee. Then he threatened a witness who was going to expose him. A jury deliberated for slightly more than seven hours before convicting him on all seven counts of lying to Congress and witness tampering.

On Feb. 10, career prosecutors recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years. As Trump tried publicly to get him a lighter one, Attorney General William Barr was working behind the scenes to help. Former Attorney General Eric Holder called Barr’s direct intervention “unprecedented, wrong and ultimately dangerous.”

Why is Trump so concerned about Roger Stone and what is Barr’s role in the growing scandal?

The Facts

Aug. 6, 2015: The Trump campaign says it fired Stone, although Stone claims he quit. Either way, Stone remains a prominent Trump surrogate, maintaining regular contact with Trump and the campaign through the November 2016 election.

June 14, 2016: On the day that the DNC announces that its computer system has been hacked, Stone calls Trump.

July 18 or 19: Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen is in Trump’s office when Stone calls, according to Cohen’s later congressional testimony. Over Trump’s speakerphone, Stone tells Trump that he has just spoken by phone with WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, who lives in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Stone says to expect within a couple of days “a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” According to Cohen, Trump responds “to the effect of ‘wouldn’t that be great.’”

July 22: As the Democratic Convention begins, WikiLeaks releases close to 20,000 emails sent to or received by several top Democratic Party officials.

On or shortly after July 22, 2016: Paul Manafort directs his deputy, Rick Gates, to contact Stone for information about any additional releases and other damaging information WikiLeaks has regarding the Clinton campaign.

Late July 2016: During a ride with Trump to LaGuardia Airport, Gates and two secret service agents are in the car when Stone calls Trump on the phone. After Trump hangs up, he tells Gates that more releases of damaging information would be coming. By late summer, the Trump campaign is planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and political messaging based on WikiLeaks’ possible release of Clinton emails.

July 31: Stone calls Trump and they speak for ten minutes.

Aug. 2:  Stone emails Manafort about the “word” coming from the “friend” in the embassy (Assange).

Aug. 3: Stone emails Manafort that he has an idea “to save Trump’s ass” and asks Manafort to call him.

Aug. 16: Stone emails Steve Bannon, who is about to be named the Trump campaign’s CEO. “Trump can still win — but time is running out,” Stone says, adding that he knows how to “win” this, but “it ain’t pretty.”

Sept. 21: On The Joe Piscopo Show, a local New York City radio program, Stone says that he spoke with Trump late the prior evening around 1:00 or 1:30 am.

Oct. 3: Stone messages Erik Prince, who is acting as an outside adviser to the Trump campaign. “Spoke to my friend in London last night,” Stone says, and a “payload” is coming.

Oct. 7: In a joint statement, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence say that the US Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian government directed the hacking of both Clinton campaign and DNC emails.

Meanwhile, according to Jerome Corsi, Stone calls him on the morning on Oct. 7, claiming to have advance knowledge about the “Access Hollywood” tapes containing Trump’s vulgar comments about women. Stone says, “If you have any way to get to Assange to start dropping, tell him to start dumping.”

At 3:30 pm (ET) — 30 minutes after the release of the intelligence community’s warning about Russian election interference — the “Access Hollywood” tapes become public. At 4:30 pm (ET), WikiLeaks begins publishing stolen emails from the account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

Shortly after WikiLeaks’s release of the emails, an associate of Steve Bannon sends a text message to Stone that reads “well done.” In subsequent conversations with senior Trump campaign officials, Stone claims credit for having correctly predicted the October 7, 2016 release, according to his later indictment.

Nov. 2: Stone says he talks to Trump about once a week, on average, according to The Guardian.

The Lies

Nov. 20, 2018: In sworn answers to special counsel Robert Mueller’s written questions, Trump says that he has no recollection of discussing WikiLeaks with Roger Stone between June 1, 2016 and Nov. 8, 2016. (Mueller Rep. Vol. II, App. pp. C-18-19)

Jan. 31, 2019: During an interview with The New York Times, reporter Maggie Haberman asks Trump, “Did you ever talk to him [Stone] about WikiLeaks? Because that seemed —“

Trump: “No.”

Haberman: “You never had conversations with him.”

Trump: “No, I didn’t. I never did.”

Haberman: “Did you ever tell him to — or other people to get in touch with them?”

Trump: “Never did.”

The Fix

Dec. 10, 2019: Trump announces plans to nominate US Attorney for the District of Columbia Jesse Liu to become the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes. As the US attorney in DC, Liu had been managing several of special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutions and referrals, including those involving Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, and Rick Gates.

Jan. 30, 2020: Attorney General William Barr names Timothy Shea, one of his closest advisers, to replace Liu as interim US attorney for the District of Columbia.

Awaiting Senate confirmation of her new post, Liu becomes a senior counsel to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Feb. 10-11: Based on federal sentencing guidelines, career prosecutors in Shea’s office handling Stone’s case recommend a prison sentence of seven to nine years. Trump protests:

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1227122206783811585

Hours later, the Justice Department says that its recommendation is “extreme” and “excessive” and that a new memorandum will outline its revised position. Shortly thereafter, the four federal attorneys who signed the original sentencing memorandum resign from the case. Jonathan Kravis — one of Stone’s prosecutors at trial — resigns from the Justice Department altogether.

As the day ends, Shea and Assistant US Attorney John Crabb Jr., who is newly assigned to the Stone case, file a revised memorandum acknowledging that the sentencing guideline factors set forth in the original memo were “perhaps technically applicable.” But the memo asserts that the previously proposed sentence of 87 to 108 months “could be considered excessive and unwarranted.”

The same day, Trump withdraws Liu’s nomination for the Treasury Department position and on Feb. 13, she resigns.

Feb. 12: Trump congratulates Barr for “taking charge” of the Stone case, “which perhaps should not even been brought”:

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1227561237782855680

Feb. 13: After Barr lets Trump know some of what he plans to say, Barr tells ABC News that Trump’s tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job…”

America is getting a first-hand look at what Barr thinks his job is. In the Stone case, Trump’s tweets outed him. Autocrats can punish their enemies and reward their friends. With the help of savvy accomplices, the rule of law can die at their hands — before our very eyes.

TRUMP’S REVENGE: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH FEB. 10, 2020

Americans have seen this movie before. Trump hollowed out the Justice Department until he finally found his Roy Cohn in Attorney General William Barr. Now it’s on to the Departments of State and Defense.

DOJ

On Feb. 10, distinguished federal career prosecutors recommended a seven- to nine-year prison sentence for Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering.

Then in the middle of the night, Trump tweeted that the recommendation was “horrendous,” “unfair,” and a “miscarriage of justice.” As dawn broke over the nation’s capital, the DOJ was calling the recommendation “extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone’s offenses.” By the end of the day, all four prosecutors who had signed the original sentencing memorandum had withdrawn from the case. One had left the government altogether.

A new memo signed by the interim US attorney for the District of Columbia, Barr’s close adviser Timothy Shea, recanted the earlier recommendation and underlying analysis, saying that the originally proposed sentence “could be considered excessive and unwarranted….”

(In an upcoming post, I’ll have more on the intrigue surrounding Shea’s recent appointment to replace DC’s former US Attorney, Jesse Liu. It’s not pretty.)

Trump then congratulated Barr for “taking charge” of the case, “which perhaps should not even been brought.”

State and Defense Department Witnesses

Trump is also retaliating against State and Defense Department witnesses whose only sin was to defy his edict commanding silence in the face of congressional subpoenas. They testified about Trump’s wrongdoing. And they did it under oath — something Trump has yet to do.

It’s going to get worse. The cure won’t arrive until November.

JAN. 31, 2020: Senate Votes Against Calling Trial Witnesses

JAN. 31, 2020: DOJ Admits It Has Documents Relating Trump Role in Withholding US Aid to Ukraine

JAN. 31, 2020: Yovanovitch Retiring

FEB. 4, 2020: DOJ Finally Says It Will Refer Request to Investigate Prince for Review

FEB. 4, 2020: Giuliani Is Still Seeking Information on the Bidens

FEB. 5, 2020: Wray Testifies That Russians Continue to Engage in Malign Influence

FEB. 5, 2020: Trump Acquitted

FEB. 5, 2020: Sens. Grassley and Johnson Request Hunter Biden Records

FEB. 5, 2020: Barr Issues New Rules on Presidential Investigations

FEB. 7, 2020: Trump Fires Vindman and Sondland

FEB. 9-10, 2020: Giuliani’s Ukraine Info on Biden Going to Barr

TRUMP’S NEWEST LAWLESSNESS: THE PURGE

Retaliation against a witness in an official proceeding is a federal crime.

Twelve witnesses testified publicly at the House impeachment hearings. Republicans had selected three of them. Nine other witnesses defied Trump’s edict to remain silent and stepped forward. At great personal and professional risk to themselves and their families, they provided consistent, undisputed, and damning testimony.

Where are they now?

#1: Fiona Hill, former deputy assistant to the President and senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council, testified that she became alarmed about US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland’s “domestic political errand” for Trump. He was brokering a deal whereby Trump would meet with newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky only if Zelensky announced an investigation into the Bidens and pursued the false Russian narrative that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bCz0uIH1Fs

When Sondland described the quid pro quo to Hill and her boss, national security adviser John Bolton, Bolton ordered her to report the conversation to the deputy White House counsel: “You tell [John] Eisenberg that I am not part of whatever drug deal that Sondland and [acting chief of staff Mick] Mulvaney are cooking up.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XYErGj-Rcw

By the time Hill testified on Nov. 21, she had already resigned, effective July 19 — a few days before Trump’s infamous July 25 phone call with President Zelensky. She’s now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. 

#2: Marie Yovanovitch testified that while serving as US Ambassador to Ukraine, she was the victim of Rudy Giuliani’s smear campaign that led to her being recalled from that post in April 2019. In his July 25 call, Trump said Yovanovitch was “going to go through some things.” During her public congressional appearance, Trump smeared her again. On Jan. 31, 2020, Yovanovitch retired from the foreign service.

#3: William B. Taylor Jr. replaced Yovanovitch as acting US Ambassador to Ukraine. He testified to extensive communications with Sondland and others about Trump’s evolving demands on President ZelenskyAt first, Trump withheld a White House meeting unless and until Zelensky announced investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 US presidential election. Then Trump added to his leverage by withholding essential US military aid. Taylor called the scheme “crazy.” On Jan. 1, 2020, he was recalled from his post ahead of schedule.

#4: Jennifer Williams was a foreign service officer and aide to Vice President Mike Pence. She testified to numerous interactions between Pence and Ukrainian officials during the months when Trump was demanding a quid pro quo. She was also present for the July 25 phone call, which she found “unusual” because it focused on Trump’s personal political agenda. On Jan. 30, 2020, Williams requested reassignment to the Defense Department.

 #5: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a career military officer and National Security Council member, testified that he was so alarmed about Trump’s July 25 call with President Zelensky that he went to his twin brother Yevgeny — also a career military officer and an ethics lawyer for the NSC. Together they immediately reported the call to deputy White House counsel John Eisenberg, who buried the transcript in a server reserved for the government’s most sensitive secrets. During his congressional appearance, the White House used its official Twitter account to attack Vindman.

On Feb. 7, 2020, two days after the Senate acquitted Trump, he relieved Vindman and his twin brother of their NSC duties. To emphasize the point, Trump accused Alexnder Vindman of insubordination for telling the truth, and security escorted him out of his office at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

#6: Gordon Sondland was a million-dollar donor to Trump’s inauguration festivities. Trump rewarded him with an ambassadorship to the EU. But at the House hearings, Sondland testified, “Was there a quid pro quo? …The answer is yes…. Everyone was in the loop.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7ZBJZRJu9g

So on Feb. 7, 2020, Trump fired him, too. 

Still Standing — For Now

#7: Laura Cooper testified that Ukrainian officials knew about an issue with US aid to that country as early as July 25 — the date of Trump’s call. She remains deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. 

#8: David Holmes is still an official at the US embassy in Kiev. He testified to a telephone conversation between Sondland and Trump that occurred the day after Trump’s July 25 call with President Zelensky. Holmes overheard Trump asking Sondland, “Is he [Zelensky] going to do the investigation?” Sondland replied, “He’s gonna to do it. President Zelensky will do anything you ask him to do.” 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfIBD5tg8zs

#9: George Kent praised Vindman and said that Yovanovitch had been the victim of Giuliani’s “campaign of lies.” He remains deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Asian Affairs.

Above the Law

Within hours of Trump’s acquittal on Feb. 5, the White House issued a statement attacking Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), saying, “Will there be no retribution?”

On Feb. 7 — the same day that President Trump fired the Vindmans and Sondland — Don Jr. tweeted:

https://twitter.com/DonaldJTrumpJr/status/1225941861765918720

The chilling effect is clear. But as profiles in courage emerge, their legacies endure.

A CONVERSATION WITH BILL MOYERS

On Feb. 3, Bill Moyers and I discussed Trump’s impeachment. You can read the transcript here:

Bill Moyers and Steve Harper on Lawyers, Liars and Trump on Trial

(https://billmoyers.com/story/bill-moyers-and-steve-harper-on-lawyers-liars-and-trump-on-trial/?fbclid=IwAR3l9UQeSOnyPXIDpY1ih2c19oxHQAS5jos2eX5bDULHDlvugIaOtQoVWtE)

ACQUITTAL WON’T MEAN EXONERATION: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH JAN. 31, 2020

All Democrats in the Senate voted to see documents and hear witnesses that Trump had blocked from the House impeachment inquiry. Only two Republicans, Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), voted with them. The public has to wait for publication of former national security adviser John Bolton’s book to hear his story.

But damning excerpts have already leaked out. They reveal that Trump told Bolton about the quid pro quo: Trump would not release congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine until it opened investigations into former Vice President Joseph Biden and Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US presidential campaign.

Except for Romney and Collins, Republican senators didn’t care. And Prof. Alan Dershowitz was reinforcing that view. Even if Trump did everything that Bolton and House managers had accused him of doing, it wasn’t impeachable, Dershowitz claimed. Among constitutional law scholars, he seems to be alone in that view. Even the GOP’s constitutional law expert at the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the articles of impeachment, Jonathan Turley, disagreed.

Hours after the Senate vote and pursuant to a prior court deadline, the Justice Department released redacted versions of documents showing that Trump was involved in withholding aid to Ukraine as early as June 24, 2019. Evidence will continue top seep out. None of it will be favorable to Trump. Otherwise, the public would have seen it long ago.

On Feb. 5, the Senate is poised to acquit him, but he will never be exonerated.

APR. 20, 2018: Parnas Dines with Trump and Select Donors

APR. 30, 2018: Trump Tells Parnas to ‘Take Out’ Yovanovitch

DEC. 9, 2019: Wray Says No Evidence of Ukraine Interference in 2016 Election

DEC. 30, 2019: Bolton Sends Manuscript of Book to White House for National Security Review

JAN. 21-22, 2020: Trump’s Impeachment Trial Continues with Debate on Motions

JAN. 22-24, 2020: Democrats Present Case Against Trump

JAN. 22, 2020: Trump: ‘We Have All the Material, They Don’t Have the Material’

JAN. 23-24, 2020: White House Tries to Block Portions of Bolton’s Book; Bolton’s Attorney Pushes Back

JAN. 25, 2020: Trump Legal Team Begins Presentation to Senate

JAN. 26, 2020: NYT Reports Excerpts from Bolton’s Book

JAN. 26, 2020: Treasury Dept. Lifts Sanctions on Deripaska’s Companies

JAN. 27-28, 2020: Trump Defense Continues and Concludes

JAN. 29, 2020: DOJ Now Willing to Accept Probation for Flynn

JAN. 30, 2020: Barr Replaces US Attorney for DC

JAN. 31, 2020: Senate Votes Against Calling Trial Witnesses

JAN. 31, 2020: DOJ Admits It Has Documents Relating Trump Role in Withholding US Aid to Ukraine

JOHN BOLTON: WHAT DID PAT CIPOLLONE KNOW AND WHEN DID HE KNOW IT?

Another day brings another incriminating revelation from former national security adviser John Bolton’s forthcoming book. Each new disclosure puts an increasingly harsh spotlight on White House counsel Pat Cipollone — co-leader of Trump’s Senate trial defense team.

The Bolton Saga Continues

Nov. 9, 2019: CNN reports that Bolton has written a book about his time in the Trump White House. Publication would occur before the November 2020 election.

Nov. 21: One of Bolton’s top deputies and former member of the National Security Council, Fiona Hill, testifies publicly about a July 10 meeting with Bolton, NSC member Alexander Vindman, US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, and others. In that meeting, Sondland described what Hill calls Trump’s “political errand.”

It was a quid pro quo: Trump would not release congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine until it opened investigations into former Vice President Joseph Biden and Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US presidential campaign. Immediately thereafter, Bolton directed Hill to inform the deputy White House counsel (who is also the NSC’s top lawyer) about Sondland’s statement.

“Tell John Eisenberg that I’m not part of whatever drug deal Mulvaney and Sondland are cooking up,” Bolton told Hill.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XYErGj-Rcw

Dec. 30: Bolton’s attorney sends a manuscript of Bolton’s book to the NSC for prepublication security review. The manuscript reveals Bolton’s first-hand account of the quid pro quo.

It also describes an Oval Office meeting in early May that includes Bolton, Cipollone, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Rudy Giuliani. According to Bolton, Trump told him to call newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to make sure that Zelensky would meet with Giuliani, who was planning a trip to Ukraine to discuss the investigations Trump sought. Bolton never made the call. (After The New York Times later reported Bolton’s description of the meeting, Trump and Giuliani denied that it occurred.)

Jan. 6, 2020: Bolton announces his willingness to testify in the Senate impeachment trial.

Jan. 23-24: The White House tries to block publication of Bolton’s book. In a letter to Bolton’s attorney, an NSC official writes that the manuscript cannot be published until supposedly classified information is deleted.

Bolton’s attorney responds in an email that Bolton may be called to testify at the Senate trial about information in the chapter of his manuscript dealing with Ukraine. Bolton’s attorney says that he does not believe it includes any information that “could reasonably be considered classified,” but asks the NSC to turn over the results of its review of that chapter as soon as possible.

Jan. 25: Under the leadership of Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow, Trump’s defense team argues that there is no first-hand evidence of the quid pro quo. Cipollone’s deputy White House counsel Mike Purpura asserts, “Not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a presidential meeting, or anything else.”

Jan. 26: The New York Times reports that the manuscript of Bolton’s book reveals his first-hand knowledge of Trump’s quid pro quo.

Jan. 27: The Washington Post reports, “Cipollone has privately insisted to senators and allies that the White House did not know Bolton was going to make such an accusation in the book.”

Jan. 29: The New York Times reports, “The White House has acknowledged that National Security Council staff members reviewed the draft [of Bolton’s manuscript], and that they briefed the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone.”

But on the Senate floor that evening, Patrick Philbin, another deputy White House counsel, stumbled in response to a direct question on the timing of the White House’s knowledge of Bolton’s explosive claims:

“At some point… the manuscript had been submitted to the NSC… White House counsel was notified that it was there.” Then he said, “The NSC has released a statement explaining that it has not been reviewed by anyone outside NSC staff.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsZsP2jQ6d0

Note Philbin’s use of the passive voice — “the White House counsel was notified” — but he doesn’t say by or to whom, or when. Then Philbin slides into reliance on the NSC statement that only NSC staff has “reviewed” it.

With respect to the explosive passages where Trump told Bolton that he would not release US aid until Ukraine gave him the investigations he wanted, Philbin went on to say, “No one from inside the White House or outside the White House told us publication of the book would be problematic for the president. We assumed Mr. Bolton was disgruntled and wouldn’t be saying a lot of nice things about the president, but no one told us anything like that.”

Trump’s Legal Team: Incompetent or Dishonest?

Long before his book arrived at the NSC, Bolton instructed Fiona Hill to notify deputy White House counsel John Eisenberg that he knew and disapproved of Trump’s Ukraine quid pro quo plan — and she did. Two weeks later, Trump made his infamous July 25 call to President Zelensky and Eisenberg put the transcript in a super-secret server.

By the time Cipollone and his team were addressing the Senate and Chief Justice John Roberts six months later, the White House’s NSC had been in possession of Bolton’s manuscript for almost a month. If Eisenberg didn’t inform his boss about the manuscript’s bombshell contents before the trial began, and if his boss didn’t ask about them, they’re both incompetent. If Eisenberg did tell his boss what was in Bolton’s book, his boss is dishonest.

His boss is Pat Cipollone.

TRUMP’S LAWYERS: ANYTHING BUT THE TRUTH — UPDATED

[This is an updated version of a post that first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts early on Jan. 25, 2020. This update takes into account additional distortions, distractions, and diversions that Trump’s lawyers made during the impeachment trial later that morning. If you read the original post, you can skip down to the section that begins: “It Got Worse.”]

Never lie to a judge or jury. Every trial lawyer knows that cardinal rule of advocacy. But in their arguments on Jan. 21, Trump’s lawyers violated it. Repeatedly. With the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court presiding and the entire US Senate sitting as judge and jury.

It was only the beginning.

Sekulow

Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow led off.

Lie #1:The House did not afford Trump “due process”: “During the proceedings that took place before the Judiciary Committee, the president was denied the right to cross-examine witnesses, the president was denied the right to access evidence, and the president was denied the right to have counsel present at hearings.”

Truth: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) invited Trump to participate in the hearings, even though he had no “due process” obligation to do so. White House counsel Pat Cipollone rejected the invitation in a lengthy screed that concluded, “[W]e do not intend to participate….”

Lie #2: The Mueller report found no collusion and no obstruction: “It came up empty on the issue of collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction. In fact, the Mueller report — to the contrary of what these managers say today — came to the exact opposite conclusions of what they say.”

Truth: Mueller’s charge was limited to investigating crimes, so he expressly excluded any determination about “collusion” because it’s not a legal term. Mueller did find:

  • “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”
  • “[T]he investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign.”
  • “[T]he Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and [] the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

As for obstruction, Mueller expressly refused to exonerate Trump, even though Justice Department policy precluded him from indicting a sitting president. But he described 10 episodes of Trump’s possible obstruction and, for many of them, concluded that the evidence was sufficient to prove it.

Cipollone

White House counsel Pat Cipollone is paid by American taxpayers to represent the office of the president, not Trump personally. He and Trump have crossed the line separating those two jobs.

Lie #3: Continuing Sekulow’s theme that Trump did not receive “due process,” Cipollone asserted that Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee were not allowed entry into the secure room where private hearings occurred: “The proceedings took place in a basement of the House of Representatives. … Not even [House intelligence Committee Chairman Adam] Schiff’s Republican colleagues were allowed into the SCIF.”

Truth: Forty-eight Republican members of three House committees — including the Intelligence Committee — were permitted to attend the hearings in the SCIF. Subsequently released transcripts prove that many of those Republicans even questioned witnesses.

Lie #4: US aid to Ukraine was delivered “on time.”

Truth: Congress’ nonpartisan watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, concluded that Trump’s aid freeze broke a law — the Impoundment Control Act.

Trump did not lift the freeze in time to disburse all of it as required by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, requiring Congress to pass an extension of the deadline. “Had that provision not been included, then any unobligated funds as of September 30th would have expired,” according to OMB official Mark Sandy.

This list is not exhaustive. And it’s growing.

It Got Worse

Outside the Senate chamber on Jan. 22, Sekulow said, “Adam Schiff today talked about quid pro quo. Notice what’s not in the articles of impeachment: allegations or accusations of quid pro quo. That’s because they didn’t exist.” The White House then tweeted a video clip of Sekulow’s nonsense.

CNN’s Jake Tapper was among many who called him out: “That’s Jay Sekulow falsely stating in the articles of impeachment there are no allegations or accusations of quid pro quo.” Tapper continued, “It’s true that the words quid pro quo, ‘this for that,’ do not appear in the articles of impeachment. But they certainly do describe this for that.” Tapper then read from the portion of impeachment article one outlining Trump’s quid pro quoand said, “I am not a lawyer. But does that not describe a quid pro quoto the letter?”

Here’s the clip: https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2020/01/22/sekulow-quid-pro-quo-imopeachment-fact-check-tapper-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/trump-ukraine/

I am a lawyer and yes, Jake, it definitely does. But when Trump’s legal team opened its presentation on Saturday, Jan. 25, deputy White House counsel Mike Purpura spun a new “no quid pro quo” deception: There was no quid pro quo because “a presidential meeting took place on September 25 [at the United Nations] without the Ukrainian government announcing any investigations.”

CNN fact-checked that claim and found it misleading: “While an announcement of investigations never took place, it was planned and discussed between representatives of both the US and Ukraine. The plan was only halted after the withheld aid was released.” [Emphasis in original]

Even more to the point, after public testimony from other witnesses prompted US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland to revise his earlier private testimony for the second time, he declared, “Was there a quid pro quo?… The answer is yes.”

Likewise, Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted it publicly: “We do that all the time… Get over it.”

It’s no mystery why Trump blocked Mulvaney from testifying before the House and why Republicans in the Senate don’t want the world to hear him under oath during the trial.

What’s Next?

Trump’s legal team can continue infecting the proceedings and the body politic with whatever narrative they choose, regardless of its veracity. Among them is Russian propaganda that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. Sekulow repeated that baseless conspiracy theory, despite the statement of Trump’s own FBI Director Chris Wray, who said last month that “we have no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election.”

Media outlets including CNN and AP are fact-checking claims. So is the House Intelligence Committee, which performed the herculean task in real time on Twitter. If you’re on Twitter, follow that feed: https://twitter.com/i/events/1221120833764188160

But unless the Senate votes to call witnesses — as 70 percent of Americans favor — the House impeachment team won’t have an opportunity to respond in a way that would reach far more of the general public. And once spoken, a lie takes on a life of its own. As Jonathan Swift wrote more than two hundred years ago, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.”

Sometimes the purpose of a lie isn’t to get people to believe it. It’s to get people to doubt everything — including the truth.

TRUMP’S LAWYERS: ANYTHING BUT THE TRUTH

This post first appeared as “Trump’s Lyin’ Lawyers” on Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Jan. 25, 2020.

Never lie to a judge or jury. Every trial lawyer knows that cardinal rule of advocacy. But in their arguments on Jan. 21, Trump’s lawyers violated it. Repeatedly. With the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court presiding and the entire US Senate sitting as judge and jury.

It was only the beginning.

Sekulow

Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow led off.

Lie #1: The House did not afford Trump “due process”: “During the proceedings that took place before the Judiciary Committee, the president was denied the right to cross-examine witnesses, the president was denied the right to access evidence, and the president was denied the right to have counsel present at hearings.”

Truth: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) invited Trump to participate in the hearings, even though he had no “due process” obligation to do so. White House counsel Pat Cipollone rejected the invitation in a lengthy screed that concluded, “[W]e do not intend to participate….”

Lie #2: The Mueller report found no collusion and no obstruction: “It came up empty on the issue of collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction. In fact, the Mueller report — to the contrary of what these managers say today — came to the exact opposite conclusions of what they say.”

Truth: Mueller’s charge was limited to investigating crimes, so he expressly excluded any determination about “collusion” because it’s not a legal term. Mueller did find:

  • “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”
  • “[T]he investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign.”
  • “[T]he Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and [] the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

As for obstruction, Mueller expressly refused to exonerate Trump, even though Justice Department policy precluded him from indicting a sitting president. But he described 10 episodes of Trump’s possible obstruction and, for many of them, concluded that the evidence was sufficient to prove it.

Cipollone

White House counsel Pat Cipollone is paid by American taxpayers to represent the office of the president, not Trump personally. He and Trump have crossed the line separating those two jobs.

Lie #3: Continuing Sekulow’s theme that Trump did not receive “due process,” Cipollone asserted that Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee were not allowed entry into the secure room where private hearings occurred: “The proceedings took place in a basement of the House of Representatives. … Not even [House intelligence Committee Chairman Adam] Schiff’s Republican colleagues were allowed into the SCIF.”

Truth: Forty-eight Republican members of three House committees — including the Intelligence Committee — were permitted to attend the hearings in the SCIF. Subsequently released transcripts prove that many of those Republicans even questioned witnesses.

Lie #4: US aid to Ukraine was delivered “on time.”

Truth: Congress’ nonpartisan watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, concluded that Trump’s aid freeze broke a law — the Impoundment Control Act. Trump did not lift the freeze in time to disburse all of it as required by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, requiring Congress to pass an extension of the deadline. “Had that provision not been included, then any unobligated funds as of September 30th would have expired,” according to OMB official Mark Sandy.

This list is not exhaustive.

It Will Get Worse

Outside the Senate chamber on Jan. 22, Sekulow said, “Adam Schiff today talked about quid pro quo. Notice what’s not in the articles of impeachment: allegations or accusations of quid pro quo. That’s because they didn’t exist.” The White House then tweeted a video clip of Sekulow’s nonsense.

CNN’s Jake Tapper was among many who called him out: “That’s Jay Sekulow falsely stating in the articles of impeachment there are no allegations or accusations of quid pro quo.” Tapper continued, “It’s true that the words quid pro quo, ‘this for that,’ do not appear in the articles of impeachment. But they certainly do describe this for that.” Tapper then read from the portion of impeachment article one outlining Trump’s quid pro quoand said, “I am not a lawyer. But does that not describe a quid pro quoto the letter?”

https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2020/01/22/sekulow-quid-pro-quo-imopeachment-fact-check-tapper-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/trump-ukraine/

I am a lawyer and yes, Jake, it definitely does.

Trump’s legal team now has an opportunity to infect the proceedings and the body politic with whatever narrative they choose, regardless of its veracity. Unless the Senate votes to call witnesses — as 70 percent of Americans favor — the House impeachment team won’t have an opportunity to respond.

Sometimes the purpose of a lie isn’t to get people to believe it. It’s to get people to doubt everything — including the truth.

TRUTH NOW OR LATER? TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH JAN. 19, 2020

The Trump-Russia Timeline is a compilation of what the public knows. The continuing revelations prompt an obvious question: What else is out there?

Next week, senators will vote on whether to allow witness testimony during the impeachment trial. The latest polls show that a vast majority of Americans — 66 to 80 percent — favor it.

All Democratic senators favor allowing witness testimony, which has occurred in every prior impeachment. Do Republican senators want to learn the truth now or later? That’s the only question because, make no mistake, eventually the truth will come out. All of it.

When it does, Republicans who opposed witness testimony at Trump’s trial will have to explain to their constituents why their willful ignorance in the short run somehow served the country’s best interests in the long run.

And the short run could be very short indeed.

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

FEB. 10, 2019: Toensing and Giuliani Exchange Texts Regarding Yovanovitch’s Firing

FEB. 17, 2019: Toensing Presses for Information on Yovanovitch’s Status

MARCH 23-29, 2019: Text Messages Suggest Yovanovitch is Under Surveillance in Kiev, But Parnas Later Says She Wasn’t

MAR. 29, 2019: Nunes’ Aide in Contact with Parnas

APR. 12-19, 2019: Parnas Sets Up Interviews with Nunes’ Aide

APR. 23, 2019: Giuliani Texts Parnas About Yovanovitch

MAY 7, 2019: Parnas, Giuliani, and Others Meet Privately

MAY 10-11, 2019: Giuliani Seeks Meeting With Zelensky, Gets Rebuffed

MAY 12, 2019: Parnas Tells Ukrainian Officials That US Will Halt All Aid and Pence Won’t Attend Inauguration Unless They Investigate the Bidens

JULY 3, 2019: Parnas Tells Giuliani: ‘Going to Vienna’

EARLY NOVEMBER 2019: Russians Hack Burisma

NOV. 8, 2019: Trump Considers Accepting Putin Invitation to ‘Victory Parade’

JAN. 3, 2020: Trump Withholds More Emails

JAN. 6, 2020: Bolton Says He’ll Testify in Senate Trial

JAN. 7, 2020: Prosecutors Seek Prison Time for Flynn

JAN. 10, 2020: Trump Says He’ll Try to Block Bolton Testimony

JAN. 13, 2020: Barr Requires That He Approve FBI Counterintelligence Investigations Into Political Campaigns

JAN. 14, 2020: Flynn Moves to Withdraw Guilty Plea

JAN. 15, 2020: House Votes to Send Articles of Impeachment to Senate

JAN. 15-16, 2020: Parnas Speaks Publicly, Implicates Trump, Pence, Pompeo, Bolton, and Barr

JAN. 16, 2020: GAO Finds OMB Broke the Law by Withholding Aid

JAN. 16, 2020: Ukraine Opens Investigation into Russian Hack of Burisma

JAN. 16, 2020: Ukraine Opens Investigation into Possible Surveillance of Yovanovitch

JAN. 16, 2020: Trump’s Senate Impeachment Trial Begins

ASSASSINATION TIMELINE: CHANGING JUSTIFICATIONS, BUT PUTIN IS A CLEAR WINNER

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

According to a USA Today poll taken on Jan. 7-8, 52 percent of Americans think that the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani was “reckless.” Fifty-five percent believe that it made the US less safe. Only 24 percent say it made America safer. An ABC/Ipsos poll taken on Jan. 10-11 reached nearly identical results.

But there is one clear winner: Vladimir Putin. It’s possible that all he had to do was make a phone call. And now Trump and his administration can’t come up with a consistent justification for the killing.

Making a Martyr

Soleimani was Iran’s top military commander and one of the most revered leaders in the Islamic Republic. He worked to destabilize Iraq, drive America out of the country, and spread Iranian influence throughout the Mideast — a goal that Iran shared with its powerful ally, Russia. Unlike Osama Bin Laden who remained in hiding, Soleimani operated in plain sight for decades and was always an easy target for American forces.

But both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had rejected killing him as too provocative. Until Jan. 2, so did Trump — and for good reason. Soleimani’s death immediately united Iranians against America and energized pro-Iranian forces in Iraq.

So now, after the US has spent more than a trillion dollars and sacrificed the lives of nearly 5,000 American service members over the past 17 years, the Iraqi parliament has voted to expel all American forces from the country.

For Putin, who has worked to increase his influence in the region, Soleimani’s martyrdom was a small price to pay for that outcome.

How Did It Happen?

The fraught history of US-Iran relations goes back decades, but here’s a timeline of what we know about the most recent events:

Dec. 27, 2019: Rockets launched against an Iraqi military base kill a US civilian contractor and injure several American and Iraqi service members. The US blames the Iranian-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah, which denies responsibility.

Dec. 28: Considering a menu of Pentagon options, Trump rejects the most extreme one: killing Soleimani.

Dec. 29: Putin calls Trump. The first report of their conversation comes from the Kremlin, which issues a readout stating that “Putin thanked Trump for information — “transmitted through the channels of US special services” — that “helped thwart terrorist acts in Russia.” It also notes noted that they discussed issues of mutual interest, agreeing to “continue bilateral cooperation in combating terrorism.” The White House has not revealed the call, so reporters traveling with Trump ask about it. Not until the next day, does the White House say that Putin called Trump to “thank him for information the United States provided that helped foil a potential holiday terrorist attack in Russia. Both Presidents committed to continuing counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries.” According to the White House, “The Presidents also discussed the state of relations between the United States and Russia and future efforts to support effective arms control.”

Dec. 29: The US attacks Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, killing at least 25 fighters and wounding 50 others.

Dec. 31: Protesting the attack, pro-Iranian military groups storm the US embassy in Baghdad. The protests end on Jan 1.

Jan. 2: Surprising his military advisers, Trump reverses course and orders Soleimani’s killing, which occurs shortly after midnight on Jan 3. The same night, the US fails in its attempt to kill Abdul Reza Shahlai, an Iranian commander in Yemen who helps finance armed groups across the region.

Jan. 4: As required under the War Powers Act, Trump notifies Congress of his justification for Soleimani’s assassination.

 Jan. 5: The Iraqi parliament votes to expel all US forces from Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of mourners flood the streets of Tehran. Iran announces that it will end all commitments to limit nuclear fuel production. The military adviser to Iran’s supreme leader promises retaliation against the US at military sites. Trump reiterates his threat to bomb cultural sites and warns of sanctions against Iraq if it forces US troops to leave the country. Preparing for Iranian retaliation, the US suspends the fight against ISIS.

 Jan. 7: Iranian missiles attack two Iraqi military bases housing American troops.

Jan. 8: Addressing the nation, Trump says that Iran’s attacks resulted in no American casualties. He also says that the US will immediately impose “additional punishing sanctions on the Iran regime” and that he is reviewing other options to respond to the Iranian strike. Later that evening, Iran accidentally shoots down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing all 176 people on board.

Jan. 10: The Trump administration imposes new economic sanctions against Iran.

Trump’s Credibility Crisis

At any time over the past three years, Trump could have ordered the killing of Soleimani. He didn’t. Why now?

 Jan. 3: Secretary of State Mike Pomeo declares, “The world is a much safer place today. And I can assure you that Americans in the region are much safer today after the demise of Qassem Soleimani.” Yet as he spoke, the State Department was urging American citizens to “depart Iraq immediately.”

Jan. 3: Pompeo says the killing was necessary to disrupt an “imminent attack” that could have cost American lives in the region.

But on Jan. 4: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Trump’s required submission to Congress under the War Powers Resolution “raises more questions than it answers,” including “serious and urgent questions about the timing, manner and justification of the administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran.”

Jan. 5: Pompeo moves away from “imminence” to emphasize Soleimani’s past actions as proof of his continuing but unspecified threat to Americans.

Jan. 9: Trump offers a new rationale: Soleimani was planning attacks against US embassies in Baghdad and elsewhere. But Democrats who received a classified briefing on Jan. 8 say they saw no evidence of embassy plots.

Jan. 10: Pompeo walks back Trump’s embassies claim, saying, “There is no doubt that there were a series of imminent attacks that were being plotted by Qasem Soleimani, and we don’t know precisely when and we don’t know precisely where, but it was real.”

Jan. 12: Secretary of Defense Mark Esper says he saw no intelligence about Iran posing an imminent threat to US embassies:

https://twitter.com/atrupar/status/1216365680871821312

And Then There’s Impeachment

 Jan. 10: Buried in the 28thparagraph of the front-page story in The Wall Street Journal print edition is this nugget:

“Mr. Trump, after the strike, told associates he was under pressure to deal with Gen. Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate, associates said.”

A subsequent story in The New York Times suggests that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is one of them.

It Always Comes Back to Russia

When Trump equivocated on US support for Ukraine, Putin won a major geopolitical victory. When Trump abandoned America’s Kurdish allies in Syria, Putin won again. As Iraq demands that the US leave its country, Putin is winning yet again.

Inquiring minds would like to see a transcript of his Dec. 29 phone call to Trump.

TRIAL OR NO TRIAL: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH JAN. 5, 2019

As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) keeps pushing to get Trump’s impeachment behind both of them, more damning evidence keeps seeping out. Just Security published a trove of previously redacting Trump administration emails. Then former national security adviser John Bolton announced that he would testify at the impeachment trial in response to a subpoena.

McConnell insists that he “has the votes” necessary to get what he wants, which is no real trial at all, followed by a quick acquittal of Trump. That tells Americans everything they need to know about Trump’s complete takeover of what was once the Republican party. As incriminating evidence continues to emerge — as it will — they will have a lot of explaining to do. For some reason, they don’t care.

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

JUNE 19, 2019: Mulvaney Aide Tells OMB to ‘Hold Up’ Ukraine Aid; Trump’s Team Is Asking Questions

JUNE 27, 2019: Mulvaney Asks Aide About Holding Assistance to Ukraine

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

JULY 26, 2019: National Security Community Unanimously Supports Ukraine Aid; Pentagon Concerned About Legality of Trump’s ‘Hold’

AUG. 9, 2019: Defense Department Warns That Time is Running Out on Disbursing Ukraine Aid

AUG. 28-29, 2019: Defense Department Rejects OMB Talking Points, Reiterates Warning About Delays in Ukraine Aid

AUG. 30, 2019: Pompeo, Bolton, and Esper Try to Convince Trump to Release Aid to Ukraine

SEPT. 9, 2019: Ukraine Aid Disbursement Jeopardized

SEPT. 10, 2019: OMB Tells Defense Department It Can Withhold Aid; DOD Responds: ‘You Can’t Be Serious. I am speechless.’

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

JAN. 3, 2019: Judge Allows Parnas to Provide Materials to House Intelligence Committee

TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE: MUELLER REPORT OBSTRUCTION ITEMS

During the holiday break, we incorporated new and revised entries based on Volume II of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. It describes Trump’s obstruction of the Russia investigation. As Trump and Don McGahn exhaust appeals of the lower court’s order compelling McGahn’s congressional testimony, that topic is increasingly relevant.

But with or without McGahn’s testimony, Mueller’s evidence will be relevant to the second article of impeachment against Trump. It includes this ticking bomb:

“These actions [relating to Ukraine] were consistent with President Trump’s previous efforts to undermine United States Government investigations into foreign interference in United States elections.”

Trump may have thought that he was out of Mueller’s woods. He’s not.

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

REVISED: FEB. 14, 2017: Trump Considers Public Explanations for Flynn Resignation, Tells Christie ‘Russia Thing Is All Over’ and to Contact Comey

FEB. 22-23, 2017: Trump Wants McFarland to Resign, Requests Letter About Flynn; Directs Priebus to Reach Out to Flynn

REVISED: MARCH 2, 2017: Sessions Recuses Himself From Russia Investigation One Hour After Trump Says He Shouldn’t

REVISED: MARCH 3, 2017: Trump Vents Anger About Sessions Recusal

MAR. 5-6, 2017: FBI Asks White House for Flynn Records; Trump Wants to Know if He’s Being Investigated

MAR. 9, 2017: Comey Briefs Congressional ‘Gang of Eight’

MAR. 21, 2017: Trump ‘Getting Hotter and Hotter’ About Comey

REVISED: MAR. 25-26, 2017: Trump Calls Coats and Rogers For Help in Russia Investigation

LATE MARCH-EARLY APRIL 2017: Trump Tells Flynn to ‘Stay Strong’

REVISED: MAY 17, 2017: Former FBI Director Robert Mueller Named Special Counsel, Assumes Control of Counterintelligence Investigation into Trump

SOMETIME BETWEEN MAY 17 and JULY 19, 2017: Trump Asks Sessions to ‘Unrecuse’ Himself

JUNE 17, 2017: Trump Tells McGahn to Have Rosenstein Remove Mueller; Asks Christie for Reaction

JUNE 22, 2017: Discussions About June 9, 2016 Trump Tower Meeting

JUNE 28-29, 2017: Hicks Sees Trump Tower Meeting Emails, Shares Concerns with Trump

JULY 21-22, 2017: Trump Orders Priebus to Demand Sessions’ Resignation; McGahn Overrules Trump

AUG. 18, 2017: Cohen Initial Draft Statement to Congress is Filled With Lies; Shares it With Trump’s Lawyers Who Discuss Possible Pardon

AUG. 27, 2017: Cohen Speaks With Trump’s Lawyer About Testimony

REVIISED:SEPT. 19, 2017: Michael Cohen Issues False Statement on Trump Tower-Moscow to Shape Narrative for Other Witnesses

SEPT. 20, 2017: Trump’s Lawyer to Cohen: Trump is Pleased

OCT. 16, 2017: Trump Complains to Sessions: Investigate Clinton

REVISED: OCT. 24-25, 2017: Cohen Appears Before Congress; Testifies Falsely

REVISED: NOV. 22-23, 2017: Flynn Withdraws from Joint Defense Agreement with Trump; Trump’s Lawyers Make Threats

DEC. 6, 2017: Trump Suggests That Session ‘Unrecuse’ Himself

JAN. 26, 2018: Trump’s Attorney to McGahn’s Attorney: Deny Story That Trump Wanted McGahn to Fire Mueller

FEB. 4, 2018: Priebus Says He Never Heard That Trump Wanted to Fire Mueller

FEB. 5-6, 2018: Trump Tells McGahn to Lie; McGahn Refuses

PUTIN ECHOES TRUMP/GOP TALKING POINTS, TRUMP’S POPULARITY SLIDES: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH DEC. 26, 2019

Happy New Year!

The circle is complete. Trump and his Republican defenders spout lies masquerading as talking points. Putin repeats those Trump/GOP lies. And then Trump retweets Putin’s remarks.

On Dec. 19, the AP reported Vladimir Putin’s reaction to Trump’s impeachment:

“The Democratic party, which lost the elections, is now trying to revise this history through the means that they have at their disposal — first by accusing Trump of collusion with Russia. But then it turned out there was no collusion. It could not form the basis for impeachment, and now there is this made-up pressure on Ukraine.” He adds, “It’s unlikely they will want to remove their party member from office based on what are, in my opinion, completely fabricated reasons.”

The next day, Trump retweeted the AP’s summary of Putin’s remarks:

Trump and Putin are allies. Their common enemy is the US Constitution’s separation of powers and every American who opposes Trump.

Just let that sink in.

Putin’s Vote Doesn’t Count

The reaction of US voters to Trump’s impeachment is a stark contrast to Putin’s. According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll taken on Dec. 14-15 — after the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve two articles of impeachment, but before the full House vote on Dec. 18 — 50% of all registered voters wanted Trump impeached and removed from office.

Another Politico/Morning Consult poll taken on Dec. 19-20 following the House vote showed 52% of registered voters favoring Trump’s conviction in the Senate.

A daily tracking poll from MSN reported that as of Christmas Day, 55% of likely voters wanted Trump convicted in the Senate.

The day Nixon resigned, 57% of voters wanted him gone. His popular approval rating was still 24%.

Let those numbers sink in too.

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

SUMMER 2016: Manafort Pushes Ukraine Conspiracy Theory

FEB. 2, 2017: Putin Blames Ukraine for Election Interference

REVISED: JULY 7, 2017: Trump Meets Putin, Confiscates Interpreter’s Notes Afterwards; Blames Ukraine for Election Interference

JULY 25, 2019: OMB Reiterates Hold on Ukrainian Aid

NOVEMBER 2019: Giuliani Says He Wanted Yovanovitch ‘Out of the Way’

DEC. 11, 2019: Taylor Relieved of Duties

REVISED: DEC. 11-17, 2019: Prosecutors Seek to Revoke Parnas’ Bail; Court Denies Request

DEC. 16, 2019: Judge Sets Flynn Sentencing Date

DEC. 17, 2019: Gates Sentenced

DEC. 18, 2019: Judge Dismisses State Court Charges Against Manafort

DEC. 18, 2019: House Impeaches Trump

DEC. 19-20, 2019: Putin Blasts Impeachment; Trump Retweets AP Story

WHAT’S BARR’S END GAME? TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH DEC. 15, 2019

Why does the attorney general of the United States keep attacking the Justice Department he leads? His latest target is the DOJ’s highly regarded inspector general, Michael Horowitz, whose report confirms that the FBI properly launched the Trump-Russia probe. The IG’s report is important, but far more significant is Barr’s escalating assault on the public’s confidence in America’s justice system, intelligence community, and free press.

Barr’s Track Record

Since his confirmation on Feb. 14, 2019, Barr has nurtured Trump’s distractions, as the Trump-Russia Timeline reveals.

Mar. 22: Mueller submits his final report to Barr, along with summaries for immediate distribution to the public. Among other things, the report concludes that: i) Russia engaged in a “sweeping and systematic” attack on the 2016 US presidential election; ii) Vladimir Putin wanted Trump to win; and iii) the Trump campaign embraced the help. Describing the factual basis for the FBI investigation that began on July 31, 2016, Mueller debunks Trump’s claim that the Bureau was out to get him. Mueller also details Trump’s obstruction of the investigation.

Mar. 24: Barr rejects Mueller’s carefully crafted summaries of the report and issues his own misleading one.

Mar. 25: In a letter, Mueller accuses Barr of promulgating a narrative that “does not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of his work or his report’s conclusions. “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation,” Mueller writes. “This threatens to undermine the central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

Barr is unmoved. So as Trump’s lies about Mueller’s report — “Total Exoneration, No Collusion, No Obstruction” — infect the body politic, Barr doesn’t release Mueller’s actual summaries.

Apr. 10: Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Barr says, “I think spying did occur” on the Trump campaign. FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, rejects Barr’s politically charged characterization of the agency’s conduct as it engaged in legitimate law enforcement activities.

Apr. 18: The DOJ finally releases a redacted version of Mueller’s report, revealing Barr’s earlier deception about Mueller’s findings.

Before May 13: IG Horowitz’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation has been underway for more than a year. Nevertheless, Barr appoints US Attorney John Durham to lead another inquiry into that subject. 

Sept. 13: IG Horowitz completes his report, concluding that the FBI had a proper basis for opening the Trump-Russia investigation and finding no evidence of political bias or improper motivation in the decision. He sends his report to the Justice Department and the FBI for review.

Week of Sept. 23: Barr and Durham travel to Italy where Barr asks officials to cooperate with Durham’s investigation. Barr has also asked officials in Australia and Great Britain for assistance.

Oct. 25: After The New York Times reports that Durham’s inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation has become a criminal investigation, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), co-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee tweets:

https://twitter.com/MarkWarner/status/1187746347841212417

Dec. 9: The Justice Department releases Horowitz’s report. Immediately, Barr attacks Horowitz’s key conclusion about the origins of the FBI probe, saying, “The FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a US presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.”

Simultaneously, Durham weighs in with his unprecedented assault on Horowitz’s conclusions: “Last month, we advised the inspector general that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”

But on Dec. 11, Horowitz testifies that Durham’s statement surprised him. In their prior discussions before the report’s release, Durham had agreed that the FBI’s information was sufficient to open an investigation. Their only point of disagreement was whether the FBI should have launched the probe as a “preliminary” or “full” one — a distinction without a difference given the dozens of indictments, convictions, and guilty pleas that resulted. 

Dec. 10: In an NBC interview, Barr goes further: “I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press.” Barr even suggests that the FBI may have acted in “bad faith.”

The End Game

“Investigating the investigators” has been a centerpiece of Trump’s strategy to discredit the Trump-Russia probe and distract attention from the actual results of the investigation: Top members of Trump’s 2016 campaign are now convicted criminals, including national security adviser Mike Flynn, campaign manager Paul Manafort, deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, personal attorney Michael Cohen, and personal adviser Roger Stone. Russians who helped Trump win the election have been indicted.

After the revelations of President Richard Nixon’s abuse of the Justice Department during Watergate, the DOJ insulated itself from presidential political interference. Under Trump and Barr, those days are gone. In fact, “investigate the investigators” has morphed into a new theme: If investigations into the investigators don’t produce the results Trump wants, keep attacking and start another one.

The loss of an independent Justice Department has catastrophic consequences. Facts and truth become casualties. Public trust erodes. Undermining confidence in the nation’s law enforcement agencies, intelligence community, and free press becomes an attack on democracy itself. And it can lead to an autocratic end game that no American patriot should embrace.

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

DEC. 7, 2019: Giuliani Returns From Ukraine, Reports to Trump

DEC. 7, 2019: Cruz Blasts Media, Says Ukraine Also Interfered in US Election

DEC. 9, 2019: Zelensky Meets With Putin

DEC. 9, 2019: Horowitz Finds No Evidence of Political Bias in Russia Investigation; Finds Errors in Page’s FISA Warrant Process

DEC. 9-10, 2019: Barr Disagrees With Horowtiz’s Report

DEC. 10, 2019: House Announces Articles of Impeachment

DEC. 10, 2019: Lavrov Visits White House, Denounces Russia Investigation 

DEC. 11, 2019: Horowitz Testifies Before Senate

DEC. 11, 2019: Prosecutors Seek to Revoke Parnas’ Bail

DEC. 11, 2019: OMB Issues New Legal Memo Defending Hold on Ukraine Aid

DEC. 12, 2019: McConnell Coordinating Impeachment Trial With White House

DEC. 13, 2019: House Judiciary Approves Two Articles of Impeachment

JUST SHOW UP: IT’S WORKING IN HONG KONG

Sometimes defending democracy just means showing up. When enough people make their presence known, the media cover it and politicians take note.

On Tuesday, Dec. 17, concerned citizens throughout the country have an opportunity to show up. Click on this link for details and the location nearest you.

Why Show Up Now?

The day after the scheduled demonstrations, the House of Representatives will vote on two articles of impeachment. Trump’s only argument boils down to two words: So what?

You decide. Here are the undisputed facts.

1. Ukraine Needs America

Apr. 21, 2019: Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, needed continuing US support in Ukraine’s war against Russian aggression. Symbolically, that meant a personal meeting with America’s president. Practically, it meant receiving almost $400 million in US military aid that Congress had authorized.

2. “Talk with Rudy”

May 23: After returning from Zelensky’s inauguration, US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, US Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry — dubbed the “three amigos” — briefed Trump. They expressed their enthusiasm for Ukraine and urged a prompt Trump-Zelensky meeting to demonstrate America’s support. Trump pushed back, telling them that Ukraine had “tried to take me down” in the 2016 election. He told them to “talk with Rudy.”

For months, Giuliani had been trying to get Ukraine to pursue an investigation into the disproven conspiracy theory that Ukrainian officials interfered in the 2016 election to help Hillary Clinton. According to Trump’s former deputy national security adviser and Russia expert, Fiona Hill, “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”

But that didn’t stop Trump or Rudy.

3. Giuliani Pushed Baseless Stories Against Biden

Giuliani also wanted Ukraine to pursue an investigation into the Bidens — former Vice President Joe Biden and Burisma, a Ukrainian company where his son Hunter served on the board. That, too, is a discredited conspiracy theory. Even the former Ukrainian general prosecutor who had initially pushed the false claim later admitted that Hunter Biden had done nothing wrong.

July 19: US Special Representative Kurt Volker — whom Republicans on the House impeachment committee later asked to testify publicly — told Giuliani not to believe the self-serving allegations that Ukraine’s former general prosecutor was asserting against Biden:

“I also said that it is not credible to me that former Vice President Biden would have been influenced in any way by financial or personal motives in carrying out his duties as Vice President… the accusation that Vice President Biden acted inappropriately did not seem at all credible to me.”

But that didn’t stop Trump or Rudy.

4. “I’d Like You To Do Us A Favor Though”

“Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky,” Sondland testified.

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7ZBJZRJu9g

Then Trump increased the pressure by ordering acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to put a “hold” on US aid to Ukraine.

July 25: During his call with Zelensky, Trump emphasized America’s support for Ukraine. But there were strings: “I like you to do us a favor though”— pursue investigations into Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US election and the Bidens.

July 26: Shortly after meeting with one of Zelensky’s top advisers, Sondland used his cellphone to call Trump from the outside terrace of a Kiev restaurant. David Holmes, political counsel to the US embassy in Kiev, heard Trump’s voice on the other end.

Sondland to Trump: Zelensky “loves your ass.”

Trump to Sondland: “So, he’s gonna do the investigation?”

Sondland to Trump: “He’s gonna do it.” Zelensky will do “anything you ask him to.”

Video link: https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2019/11/21/david-holmes-impeachment-hearing-opening-statement-call-sot-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/trump-impeachment-hearing-day-one/

Sept. 1: Sondland reiterated Trump’s demand: No White House meeting unless Zelensky announces investigations into the 2016 election and the Bidens. Trump wanted Zelensky “in a public box.” “Everything” depended on it, including almost $400 million in desperately needed security assistance. 

5. Trump and Republicans Repeat Russian Propaganda

Nov. 21: Testifying publicly, Fiona Hill chastised Republicans on the House impeachment committee:

“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”

Video link: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4832424/nsc-official-warns-pushing-russian-fictional-narrative-ukraine

Nov. 22: The New York Times confirmed that in recent weeks US intelligence officials had informed US senators and their aides that the Kremlin has engaged in a years-long propaganda campaign to promote the fictional narrative about Ukraine.

The same day on Fox & Friends, Trump repeated the fictional narrative.

Nov. 24: Appearing on Fox News, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said he didn’t know if Ukraine or Russia was responsible for hacking the DNC server and Clinton campaign emails.

Fiona Hill knows that none of this is lost on Vladimir Putin, the former head of the KGB. On Nov. 20, Putin told an economic forum in Moscow, “Thank God, no one is accusing us of interfering in the US elections anymore; now they’re accusing Ukraine.”

Video link: https://twitter.com/McFaul/status/1198027709751840768

6. Trump’s Enablers Are Still Pushing Baseless Stories and Russian Propaganda

Trump’s defenders in the Senate are intensifying Trump’s smear of Biden.

Nov. 6: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) asked the State Department for documents relating to Burisma and the Bidens.

Nov. 15: Sens.Grassley and Johnson asked the Treasury Department for “suspicious activity reports” of financial transactions relating to Hunter Biden and Ukraine.

Nov. 21: As Fiona Hill was testifying, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) launched an inquiry into the Bidens and Ukraine.

Dec. 7: Giuliani returns from a weeklong trip to Europe where he continues to press for more information feeding the same propaganda and misinformation that Trump was using in his July 25 call to President Zelensky.

Dec. 8: On Meet the Press, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) echoes Russian propaganda about Ukraine election interference.

So What?

Trump leveraged American power against a vulnerable ally in an effort to gain a domestic political advantage. Starting with Ambassador William Taylor’s observation that such behavior was “crazy,” witness after witness after witness testified without contradiction that Trump subverted US foreign policy and compromised national security. Then he ordered his entire administration to stonewall the investigation into his misconduct. As witnesses defied his edict and testified, Trump tried to intimidate them.

The US Constitution provides a remedy for these crimes and abuses of presidential power: impeachment and removal from office. But whether the undisputed facts will produce that outcome is an open question.

Americans who show up will make all the difference.

SIMPLIFYING THE HOROWITZ REPORT: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH DEC. 8, 2019

As impeachment moves forward, Trump and his defenders offer distractions. The Dec. 9 report from the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, shouldn’t work as one of them. To be sure, the report raises troubling questions about the process by which the FBI obtains foreign intelligence surveillance (FISA) warrants. But with respect to the Horowitz report, only three points matter to the current controversy surrounding Trump’s impeachment:

First, the Horowitz report has nothing to do with Trump’s shakedown of Ukraine and his cover up of those actions by stonewalling Congress. Nothing.

Second, the Horowitz report destroys the lie that Trump has been telling for years, namely, that even before his election, a “deep state” inside the FBI was out to get him and that the Russia investigation “hoax”/”witch hunt” resulted from that effort. Horowitz found no “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions” to open the Trump-Russia investigation and then to pursue it.

Likewise Horowitz found that, despite contrary claims from Trump and his defenders, the infamous Steele dossier was not the impetus for the Russia investigation, which began on July 31, 2016. In that respect, Horowitz found that Steele’s materials played “no role.” The FBI opened the investigation after learning that George Papadopolous had told an Australian diplomat in a London bar that the Russians had a trove of damaging Hillary Clinton emails The Russians were willing to assist in the dissemination of use those emails to help Trump win.

Third, the FBI committed errors and omissions in the application and renewals for a FISA surveillance warrant on Carter Page. But it did not even seek such a warrant until October 2016 — three months after it had opened the Trump-Russia investigation and long after Page had left the Trump campaign. Here too, Horowitz found no evidence that political bias or improper motives played any role in the warrant process for Page.

As Trump’s impeachment draws nearer, ignore Trump and Republicans trying to move the conversation to the Horowitz report. It’s irrelevant to the facts proving Trump’s shakedown of Ukraine and Trump’s subsequent cover-up. The GOP has yet to mount a factual defense to those charges.

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

MAR 20, 2019: Solomon Publishes False Attack on Yovanovitch; Parnas Involved

APR. 1 – 12, 2019: Solomon Smears Biden; Parnas Exchanges Calls With Giuliani and Solomon; Nunes in Contact With Giuliani; Giuliani in Contact With White House and Possibly OMB

APR. 23, 2019: Giuliani Has Calls With Parnas, White House

APR. 24-25, 2019: Giuliani Has Calls With White House and Possibly OMB; Yovanovitch Gets Evening Call in Kiev Summoning Her to Washington ‘On The Next Plane’

APR. 25, 2019: Biden Officially Announces Presidential Bid

REVISED: APRIL 28-29, 2019: State Dept. No Longer Able to ‘Protect’ Yovanovitch; Bolton Calls Giuliani a ‘Hand Grenade’

JUNE 19, 2019: Trump Promotes Russian Propaganda About Ukraine Election Interference, Raises Questions With OMB

JULY 30, 2019: Ukraine Official Concerned About US Aid

AUG. 8, 2019: Giuliani Contacts White House and Possibly OMB

AUG. 12-13, 2019: Volker Receives Zelensky’s Draft Statement on Corruption

REVISED: AUG. 13, 2019: Giuliani, Volker, and Sondland Revise Zelensky’s Statement on Corruption

DEC. 2, 2019: PoliticoReports That Senate Intelligence Committee Found No Evidence of Ukrainian Interference in the 2016 US Election

DEC. 3, 2019: House Intelligence Committee Releases Report on Impeachment

DEC. 3, 2019: House Votes Against Allowing Russia in G-7

DEC. 3, 2019: House Intelligence Committee Sends Impeachment Report to Judiciary Committee

DEC. 3-4, 2019: Giuliani Meets With Ukrainian Former Prosecutors and Politicians as Part of Effort to ‘Debunk the Impeachment Hoax’

DEC. 4, 2019: Constitutional Law Experts Testify Before House Judiciary Committee

DEC. 6, 2019: White House Reject Invitation to Participate in House Judiciary Committee Hearings on Impeachment

DEC. 7, 2019: House Judiciary Committee Issues Report on Grounds for Impeachment

TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH DEC. 1, 2019

Trump’s impeachment moves forward. So does the Trump-Russia Timeline. Another update is coming later this week.

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

FEBRUARY 2019: Giuliani Negotiates With Lutsenko on Possible Business Deal

JUNE 21, 2019: Trump Holds US Aid to Ukraine

REVISED: JULY 19, 2019: Sondland, Perry, and Mulvaney Email About Zelensky-Trump Call to Discuss Investigations; Pompeo Copied

AUG. 11, 2019: Sondland Keeps State Dept. in Loop

AUG. 22, 2019: Sondland Continues to Advise Pompeo about Ukraine Efforts

SEPT. 3, 2019: Sondland and Pompeo Email About Ukraine Visit

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

REVISED: NOV. 21, 2019: David Holmes Testifies Publicly

NOV. 22, 2019: Trump Repeats ‘Fictional Narrative’

NOV. 24-DEC. 1, 2019:Kennedy Repeats False Claim About Ukrainian Election Interference, Backtracks, and Then Repeats False Claim

NOV. 26, 2019: Pompeo Says Ukrainian Interference in 2016 Election Should Be Investigated

DEC. 1, 2019: Trump Declines to Have Attorneys Participate in First Judiciary Committee Hearing