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

IT’S NOT JUST A “FALSE NARRATIVE,” IT’S RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH NOV. 24, 2019

This post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Dec. 2, 2019.

Trump’s former deputy national security adviser, Fiona Hill, chastised Republicans for promoting Russian propaganda. Trump and his defenders responded by intensifying their promotion of that propaganda. And it’s only begun.

Hill isn’t some supposed “Deep State” bureaucrat out to get Trump. She’s an expert on Russia who authored a book about Vladmir Putin that provides insights into the psychology of the enigmatic former head of the KGB. In April 2017, Trump chose her to be his deputy assistant and senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council, which is in the White House. She held that position until July 19, 2019 — remarkably long tenure for any Trump senior appointee.

But Hill put her loyalty to the United States — her adopted country — above personal allegiance to Trump when she defied his edict not to cooperate with the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment inquiry.

Hill’s Warning and the Corroborating Evidence

Nov. 21: Testifying before committee, Hill said:

“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.”

Nov. 22: The New York Times confirmed that in recent weeks — as Republican committee members of the House Intelligence Committee were pushing that Russian propaganda — the US intelligence community was informing US senators and their aides that Russia has been engaging in a years-long campaign to blame Ukraine for Russian hacking of the 2016 US presidential election.

The Trump/Republican Response

Nov. 22: Appearing on Fox & Friends, Trump repeated the Kremlin’s line that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. “A lot of it had to do, they say, with Ukraine,” he began, before promoting the lie that Ukraine possesses the DNC server that was hacked in 2016.

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

Nov. 25: On CNN, Kennedy seemed to backtrack: “I was wrong. The only evidence I have, and I think it’s overwhelming, is that it was Russia who tried to hack the DNC computer. I’ve seen no indication that Ukraine tried to do it.”

But Kennedy’s reversal lasted less than a week. Appearing on Meet the Press on Dec. 1, he said, “I think both Russia and Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election. I think it’s been well documented.”

Nov. 26: Asked at a news conference whether Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US presidential election specifically should be investigated, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to condemn the Kremlin’s propaganda. Instead, he said, “Anytime there is information that indicates that any country has messed with American elections, we not only have a right, but a duty, to make sure we chase that down.”

As Republicans Speak, Putin Laughs

At a Nov. 20 economic forum in Moscow, Putin said he was pleased with the “political battles” diverting attention away from Russia: “Thank God, no one is accusing us of interfering in the US elections anymore; now they’re accusing Ukraine.”

Even bigger than the coming impeachment battle is the struggle to save the truth.

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

REVISED: MAR. 26-29, 2019: Giuliani Talks to Pompeo, Prepares List of Complaints About Bidens and Yovanovitch, Gives Materials to Pompeo

JULY 13, 2019: Sondland Emails Morrison

JULY 25, 2019: Ukrainians Ask US Officials About Military Aid

EARLY AUGUST 2019: White House Seeks After-the-Fact Legal Justification for Trump’s ‘Hold’ on Military Aid to Ukraine

SEPT. 1, 2019: Sondland Tells Pence About Concerns Regarding Aid to Ukraine; Pence Meets With Zelensky; Sondland Conveys Demand to Yermak; Taylor Receives Readout From Morrison

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

NOV. 6, 2019: Grassley and Johnson Seek Documents on Biden and Burisma

MID-NOVEMBER 2019: Senators Briefed on Russian Efforts to Blame Ukraine for 2016 Election Interference

NOV. 15, 2019: Grassley and Johnson Seek Financial Documents on Biden’s Son

NOV. 19, 2019: Lt. Col. Vindman Testifies Publicly

NOV. 19, 2019: Jennifer Williams Testifies Publicly

NOV. 19, 2019: Kurt Volker Revises Earlier Testimony

NOV. 19, 2019: Tim Morrison Testifies Publicly

NOV. 20, 2019: Sondland Testifies Publicly, Says Trump Directed His Effort, Confirms Quid Pro Quo

NOV. 20, 2019: Laura Cooper Testifies Publicly

NOV. 20, 2019: David Hale Testifies Publicly

NOV. 20, 2019: Putin Praises US ‘Political Battles’ and Says Americans Now Blame Ukraine for 2016 Election Interference

NOV. 21, 2019: Fiona Hill Testifies Publicly

NOV. 21, 2019: David Holmes Testifies Publicly

NOV. 21, 2019: Graham Launches Inquiry into Bidens, Burisma, Ukraine

NOV. 26, 2019: Court Orders McGahn to Testify; Justice Dept. Plans to Appeal

REPUBLICANS IN SEARCH OF A DEFENSE: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH NOV. 18, 2019

Five days of testimony from 12 witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee confirmed key facts that haven’t changed: Trump leveraged American power in an effort to get Ukraine to pursue investigations that would benefit him politically.

Those facts prove that Trump committed crimes: bribery, extortion, and obstruction. He also abused presidential power. The question is whether, as acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said, everyone should just “get over it.”

If you watched the hearings, you saw Republicans attacking witnesses and recycling discredited claims, namely:

  • Ukraine election interference. Trump’s former deputy national security adviser Fiona Hill called this a “false narrative” promoted by Russian intelligence services. Nevertheless, Trump and the Republicans are all in.
  • Burisma and former Vice President Joe Biden. That, too, is a false narrative. But don’t take my word for it. Read Jane Mayer’s thorough investigative report in The New Yorker: “The Invention of the Conspiracy Theory on Biden and Ukraine.”

I’ll have more to say about all of this in a future post.

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

MARCH – NOVEMBER 2016: Stone Remains in Touch With Trump Campaign

APRIL 2016: Stone Tells Trump Campaign About WikiLeaks Plans

JUNE – JULY 2016: Stone Speaks to Gates and Senior Campaign Officials About WikiLeaks

REVISED: JULY 22-31, 2016: Stone Tells Trump About Future WikiLeaks Disclosures; Trump Campaign Plans Strategy Based on Possible Releases

DEC. 6, 2018: Trump and Giuliani Allegedly Give Parnas and Fruman a Special Assignment

MAY 13, 2019: Trump Tells Pence Not To Attend Zelensky Inauguration

SHORTLY BEFORE MAY 20, 2019: Parnas Issues Ultimatum to Zelensky

REVISED: JULY 10-11, 2019: Sondland’s Meeting With Ukrainian Officials Raises Concerns; Hill and Vindman Report Incident to WH Lawyer Eisenberg; Bolton: ‘I Won’t Be a Part of Whatever Drug Deal Sondland and Mulvaney Are Cooking Up’

JULY 13, 2019: Sondland Emails Morrison to Schedule Trump-Zelensky Call

JULY 19, 2019: Sondland Emails Mulvaney and Perry: Zelensky Prepared to Receive Trump’s Call

REVISED: JULY 23, 2019: OMB: Trump Still Has Hold on Ukraine Aid

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

REVISED: JULY 25, 2019: Trump Calls Zelensky

REVISED: JULY 25, 2019: Vindman and Morrison Notify Eisenberg About Concerns With Trump-Zelensky Call; Eisenberg Moves Transcript to Classified System

JULY 26, 2019: Sondland Calls Trump From Kiev; Tells Morrison That Trump Is Directing Him

REVISED: SEPT. 1, 2019: Pence Meets With Zelensky; Sondland Conveys Demand to Yermak; Taylor Receives Readout From Morrison

REVISED: SEPT. 1, 2019: Taylor Asks Sondland About Ukrainian Quid Pro Quo; Sondland Says, ‘Call Me’; Sondland Says ‘Everything’ Depends on Investigations Into Biden and 2016 Election.

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

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

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

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

REVISED: OCT. 30, 2019: Christopher Anderson Testifies: Giuliani Was a Problem, White House Blocked State Dept. Condemnation of Russia

REVISED: OCT. 30, 2019: Catherine Croft Testifies About Pressure on Yovanovitch, Mulvaney’s 2017 ‘Hold’ Arms to Ukraine Due to ‘Anticipated’ Russian Reaction

NOV. 7, 2019: Jennifer Williams Testifies

NOV. 13, 2019: Taylor and Kent Testify Publicly; Taylor Mentions New July 26 Trump-Sondland Call

NOV. 15, 2019: Trump Releases Summary Memo of April 21 Call With Zelensky, Which Differs From Original White House Readout

NOV. 15, 2019: Yovanovitch Testifies; Trump Intimidates

NOV. 15, 2019: Stone Convicted on All Counts

NOV. 15, 2019: David Holmes Testifies

WHO ELSE HAS TRUMP’S NUMBER?

This post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Nov. 18, 2019.

Two phone calls to Trump on unsecured lines landed him in more trouble last week. The first provides more evidence that Trump embraced Russian assistance to help him win the presidency. The second reveals how Trump leveraged the power of that office in an international shakedown designed to help him keep it for a second term. Both calls expose Trump and his enablers lying to cover his tracks.

Call #1: Embracing Putin’s Help to Win in 2016

Trump supposedly fired Roger Stone from his campaign in August 2015. That allowed Trump and his campaign to claim a safe distance as Stone boasted publicly about his contacts with WikiLeaks — the principal vehicle through which Russia disseminated emails it had hacked and stolen from the Democratic National Committee’s computers. But phone records revealed the truth: Between March and November 2016, he had 39 calls with Trump, 126 calls with then-deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, and 153 calls with Paul Manafort.

At Stone’s trial last week, Gates testified about one of those calls. Shortly after WikiLeaks’ first release of DNC emails on July 22, 2016, Gates and two secret service agents were riding in a car with Trump to LaGuardia Airport. Stone called Trump on the phone. His name appeared on Trump’s caller ID, and Gates recognized Stone’s voice. Less than 30 seconds after hanging up, Trump told Gates that more information would be coming from WikiLeaks. And it did — throughout the summer and into the fall — as Trump praised WikiLeaks and Vladimir Putin kept the dirt flowing against Hillary Clinton.

But when special counsel Robert Mueller asked Trump about the campaign’s connections to WikiLeaks, he answered:

“I do not recall being aware during the campaign of any communications between [Roger Stone, Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, or Rick Gates] and anyone I understood to be a representative of WikiLeaks….”

“I do not recall” is a favorite lawyer-recommended escape hatch to avoid perjury. But it’s not a foolproof defense, especially for a client who claims to have “one of the greatest memories of all time.”

Call #2: Endangering US National Security to Win in 2020

The day after Trump’s July 25, 2019 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump’s million-dollar-contributor-turned-US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, had a one-on-one meeting with Andriy Yermak, one of Zelensky’s top advisers. After the meeting, Sondland invited David Holmes, political counselor at the US embassy in Kiev, and two other embassy staffers to join him for lunch.

As they drank wine on the outdoor terrace of a restaurant where waiters circled nearby, Sondland pulled out his cellphone and called Trump. Although not on speakerphone, Holmes could hear Trump’s loud and recognizable voice as Sondland often held the phone away from his ear. Sondland told Trump that he was calling from Kiev and that Zelensky “loves your ass.”

“So, he’s gonna do the investigation?” Trump asked.

“[H]e’s gonna do it,” Sondland replied, adding that Zelensky will do “anything you ask him to.”

After the call ended, Holmes asked Sondland if it was true that Trump did not “give a s—t about Ukraine.” Sondland said it was true. When Holmes asked why, Sondland said that Trump cared only about “big stuff.” Holmes noted that there was “big stuff” going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia. Sondland replied that he meant “big stuff” benefitting Trump, like the “Biden investigation” that Rudy Giuliani was pushing.

But in a sworn statement to the House Intelligence Committee, here’s what Sondland said about that day:

“On July 26th, Special Envoy Volker and I, along with others, met with President Zelensky in Kiev, Ukraine. This was a significant bilateral meeting involving large teams from the United States and Ukraine that had been planned by Special Envoy Volker’s team weeks in advance. It was planned weeks in advance, and was not, in any way, tied to the July 25th, 2019 White House call… During this July 26, 2019 meeting in Kiev, we were able to promote further engagement, including discussions about a future Zelensky visit to the White House.”

That’s it. Nothing about Sondland’s one-on-one meeting with Yermak. Nothing about his cellphone call to Trump.

And as for Giuliani’s mischief, Sondland testified, “Again, I recall no discussions with any State Department or White House official about former Vice President Biden or his son. Nor do I recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens.“

Sondland has already reversed his congressional testimony once, acknowledging that he “presumed that the [US] aid suspension had become linked to the proposed anti-corruption statement” and that in a Sept. 1 conversation, he told Yermak that “resumption of US aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement….”

On Wednesday, Nov. 20, Sondland gets another chance — this time publicly. Perhaps he’s pondering Roger Stone’s Nov. 15 conviction: Five of the seven counts were for making false statements to Congress.

It Always Comes Back to Russia

In a closed session with the House Intelligence Committee, Tim Morrison, who resigned recently as Trump’s deputy assistant for national security, testified that he understood Sondland had taken instruction from Trump directly in communicating with Ukrainian officials. According to Morrison, Sondland said he could call Trump whenever he wanted. Between July 15 and Sept. 11, Sondland spoke with Trump approximately five times. (Dep. pp. 111-112, 120)

But when asked about Sondland on Nov. 8, Trump said, “I hardly know the gentleman.” Questioned specifically about their July 26 call, Trump claimed not to remember it:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4829585/president-trump-recall-july-26-phone-call-ambassador-sondland

Putin almost certainly has transcripts of Trump’s conversation with Sondland that Trump could review to refresh his recollection, according to former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. “You make any call on an unclassified cell phone in Ukraine, that means Vladimir Putin has the transcript.” But in the intervening four months, the American public hasn’t seen it. The Russians call that “kompromat.”

TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH NOV. 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

AUG. 2, 2016: Stone Emails Manafort About Assange

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

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

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

REVISED: JULY 2018: Trump Wants Yovanovitch Relieved in Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCT. 30, 2019: Christopher Anderson Testifies

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

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

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

NOV. 6, 2019: House Withdraws Kupperman Subpoena

NOV. 8, 2019: Mulvaney Defies Subpoena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#1: What was The Shakedown?

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

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

#2: Who were Trump’s henchmen?

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

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

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

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

#3: What was Trump’s leverage?

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

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

#4: How did The Shakedown unfold?

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

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

#5: What’s The Cover-Up?

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

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

#6: Is Trump’s conduct impeachable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JULY 2018: Trump Wants Yovanovitch Relieved in Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVISED: JULY 25, 2019: Trump Calls Zelensky

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCTOBER 2019: Ukraine Begins Overhauling Prosecutor’s Office

OCT. 16, 2019: McKinley Testifies 

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

OCT. 29, 2019: House Votes to Sanction Turkey

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

OCT. 30, 2019: Anderson Testifies

OCT. 30, 2019: Croft Testifies

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

OCT. 31, 2019: House Passes Impeachment Resolution

OCT. 31, 2019: Morrison Testifies

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

NOV. 4, 2019: Eisenberg Defies House Subpoena

ANOTHER TRUMP LAWYER IN THE HOT SEAT: JOHN EISENBERG

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

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

What Does He Know?

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

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

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

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

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

What was Eisenberg’s Role in Ukraine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Will Eisenberg Do Now?

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

From The New York Times on Oct. 29:

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

And this from The Washington Post on Oct. 30:

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

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

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

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

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

Yovanovitch, Kent, and Hill

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

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

Taylor and Vindman

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

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

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

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

There will be more.

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

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

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

MAY 28, 2019: Pompeo Taps Taylor for Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EARLY AUGUST 2019: Ukraine Learns of US Aid Freeze

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEPT. 8, 2019: Taylor Talks to Sondland

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

SEPT. 13, 2019: Clinton Cleared in Email Investigation

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

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

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

OCT. 22, 2019: Taylor Testifies

OCT. 23, 2019: Trump Lifts Sanctions on Turkey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Went Wrong?

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

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

Who’s on Russia’s Team?

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

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

Who on America’s Team?

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

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

Whose Team Is Trump On?

You decide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transcripts We Need to See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Evolution

Trump said his July 25 call was “perfect.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JUNE 2019: Rick Perry Meets With Zelensky in Brussels 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCT. 15: Giuliani Refuses to Comply with House Subpoena

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

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

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

OCT. 15, 2019: Pete Sessions Subpoenaed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCT. 17, 2019: Perry Resigning

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

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

OCT. 20, 2019: DOJ Distances Itself From Giuliani

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck finding one.

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

LATE 1980s: Parnas Works For Fred Trump 

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

SOMETIME IN 2016: Parnas and Giuliani Meet 

LATE OCTOBER 2016: Parnas Contributes to Trump Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCT. 8, 2019: White House Stonewalls

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

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

OCT. 10, 2019: House Subpoenas Perry

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

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

OCT 11, 2019: Sondland Says He Will Testify

OCT. 11, 2019: Yovanovitch Testifies Before Congress

OCT. 11, 2019: Giuliani Under Federal Investigation

TRUMP’S NEWEST BAGMEN? FOLLOW THE MONEY

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

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

Who Are These Guys?

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

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

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

Make a note: Vienna.

Did Trump Know Them?

You decide.

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

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

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

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

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

What Did They Want From Trump?

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

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

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

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

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

Make another note: Lutsenko.

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

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

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

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

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

What Did Trump and Giuliani Want From Ukraine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sondland answers, “Call me.”

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

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

Busted

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

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

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

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

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

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

We know how that ended.

TRUMP-UKRAINE SCANDAL: IT ALWAYS COMES BACK TO RUSSIA

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

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

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

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

The Setup

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

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

The Infamous Call

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

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

The Aftermath

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

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

Sondland responds: “Call me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domestic and International Ramifications

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

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

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

It always comes back to Russia.

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

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

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

It has everything to do with this:

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

Then things get really interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUMMER 2018: Trump Dismisses May on Russia

JANUARY 2019: Giuliani and Lutsenko Meet in New York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JUNE 18, 2019: Trump Asks China To Investigate Biden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2019: Giuliani Seeking Ukraine Help From Manafort

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUG. 30, 2019: Trump Cancels To Meet Zelensky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCT. 1, 2019: Pompeo Defies Congressional Subpoenas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do Us A Favor Though…”

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

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

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

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

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

Who Denied Knowing About The Call? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Hid The Evidence?

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

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

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

What Else Remains Hidden?

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

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

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

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

What Did They Know And When Did They Know It?

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

Start counting.

TRUMP’S DIRE STRAITS: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH SEPT. 30, 2019

Trump is approaching Nixon territory. According to a Quinnipiac poll released on Sept. 30, 47% of Americans support his impeachment AND removal from office. On the day Nixon resigned, that percentage was 57%.

In less than a week, Trump closed–in a bad way–a 20 point gap.

And the story is coming back to where it always was: Trump-Russia.

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

MAY 10, 2017: Trump Reveals Highly Classified Intelligence to Russian Ambassador, Foreign Minister; Tells Them Comey Is a ‘Nut Job’; Says He Doesn’t Care About Russian Election Interference (revision of previous entry)

LATE MARCH 2019-EARLY APRIL: Ukrainian Prosecutor Makes Unfounded Claims About 2016 Election Interference, the US Ambassador, and Biden

APR. 21, 2019: Zelensky Wins Ukraine Presidential Election

MAY 6, 2019: US Ambassador to Ukraine Recalled

MAY 10, 2019: Giuliani Tweets That Ukraine Is Investigating Biden

JUNE 18, 2019: Pentagon Announces Release of $250 Million to Ukraine

JUNE 21, 2019: Giuliani Tweets That Ukraine Should Investigate Biden

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

JULY 19, 2019: Volker Text to Giuliani

JULY 23 and 26, 2019: Trump Hold On US Aid to Ukraine Reiterated

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

JULY 26, 2019: US Special Representative for Ukraine Meets With Zelensky (revision of previous entry)

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

LATE JULY/EARLY AUGUST 2019: Giuliani Meets With Zelensky Aide To Press Biden Investigation (revision of previous entry)

AUG. 9, 2019: Trump Says Peace Is Coming to Ukraine

AUG. 12, 2019: Whistleblower Files Complaint Allegedly Involving Trump (revision of previous entry)

AUG. 26, 2019: Inspector General for Intelligence Community Finds Whistleblower Claim ‘Credible’ and ‘Urgent’; WH Counsel Involved (revision of previous entry)

PRIOR TO AUG. 28, 2019: Pentagon Recommends That Trump Release Hold On Military Aid to Ukraine

SEPT. 3, 2019: DOJ Says Whistleblower Complaint Not ‘Urgent’

SEPT. 4, 2019: Intelligence Community’s Inspector General Refers Whistleblower Complaint to FBI.

SOMETIME DURING THE WEEK OF SEPT. 16, 2019: DOJ Declines to Investigate Whistleblower Complaint

SEPT. 23, 2019: Trump Attacks Whistleblower on Twitter

SEPT. 23, 2019: Trump Defends His Conversation With Zelensky, Attacks Biden

SEPT. 24, 2019: Trump Says He Would Withhold Aid From Ukraine Until Other Nations Contribute

SEPT. 24, 2019: Senate Passes Resolution Calling For Release of Whistleblower Report

SEPT. 24, 2019: Pelosi Announces Official Impeachment Inquiry

SEPT. 24, 2019: Court Acquits Flynn Business Partner

SEPT. 25, 2019: Trump Releases Memorandum Summary of July 25 Call With Zelensky; Maguire Sends Whistleblower Report to Congress

SEPT. 26, 2019: Whistleblower Complaint Released; Maguire Testifies

SEPT. 26, 2019: Trump Tells UN Mission: Whistleblower’s Source Is ‘Almost a Spy’

SEPT. 27, 2019: Kremlin Hopes Trump Doesn’t Publish Transcripts of Putin’s Conversations With Trump

SEPT. 27, 2019: Senate Dems Report: NRA Was ‘Foreign Asset’ to Russia in 2016 Election; NRA President Meets With Trump

SEPT. 27, 2019: House Issues Subpoenas; Volker Resigns

SEPT. 30, 2019: Kremlin Says Russia’s Consent Required Before Trump Can Release Transcript of Trump-Putin Calls

SEPT. 30, 2019: House Subpoenas Guiliani’s Records

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

TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH SEPT. 23, 2019

A year’s worth of news seems to arrive every day. But we’re trying to keep up.

The most important development: We’ve added a “UKRAINE/WHISTLEBLOWER 2019” to the Timeline Name Filter. Click on that button to see only the entries on that thread.

Here is a list of the latest Trump-Russia Timeline update entries through Monday, Sept. 23. Another update is in the works.

AUG. 13, 2018: Trump Signs Bill Approving Military Aid For Ukraine

JUNE 2019: Giuliani Meets With Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office to Press Biden Investigation 

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

JULY 25, 2019: Trump Calls Zelensky

JULY 26, 2019: US Special Representative for Ukraine Meets With Zelensky 

EARLY AUGUST 2019: Giuliani Meets With Zelensky Aide To Press Biden Investigation

AUG. 12, 2019: Whistleblower Files Complaint Allegedly Involving Trump

AUG. 26, 2019: Inspector General for Intelligence Community Finds Whistleblower Claim ‘Credible’ and ‘Urgent’

PRIOR TO AUG. 28, 2019: Pentagon Recommends That Trump Release Hold On Military Aid to Ukraine.

SEPT. 9, 2019: House Probing Giuliani’s Ukrainian Efforts

SEPT. 9, 2019: Intelligence Community’s Inspector General Alerts House Intelligence Committee to Whistleblower Complaint

SEPT. 10, 2019: Schiff Demands Whistleblower Complaint

SEPT. 11-13, 2019: White House Releases Ukraine Military Aid and Adds More

SEPT. 11, 2019: Trump Retweets About Comey

SEPT. 12, 2019: Trump Tweets About Mueller Report

SEPT. 12, 2019: House Judiciary Committee Consider Impeachment Inquiry Procedures

SEPT. 12-13, 2019: Trump Tweets and Retweets About Comey, McCabe, Impeachment

SEPT. 13, 2019: After Consulting Justice Department, Acting DNI Refuses to Produce Whistleblower Complaint; House Intelligence Committee Issues Subpoena

SEPT. 14-16, 2019: Trump Tweets and Retweets About Forthcoming DOJ Report on FISA Warrants, Impeachment, ‘Witch Hunt’

SEPT. 16, 2019: Trump Directs Lewandowski to Limit Testimony; Directs Dearborn and Porter Not to Appear

SEPT. 17, 2019: Lewandowski Testifies to Accuracy of Mueller Report

SEPT. 17, 2019: Acting DNI and Inspector General at Impasse

SEPT. 17-18, 2019: Trump Tweets and Retweets About Lewandowski’s Testimony, Impeachment

SEPT. 19, 2019: Giuliani Admits He Asked Ukraine To Investigate Biden

SEPT. 19, 2019: Maguire Defies House Subpoena

SEPT. 19, 2019: McConnell Reverses Position On Election Security Funding

SEPT. 19-20, 2019: Trump Tweets About Whistleblower Reports

SEPT. 20, 2019: Ukraine Ready to Investigate Biden When Trump Makes Official Request

SEPT. 20, 2019: Trump Says Whistleblower is ‘Partisan’; Claims He Had ‘Beautiful Conversation’ With Foreign Leader Involved in Whistleblower Claim

SEPT. 21, 2019: Trump Tweets and Retweets About Whistleblower Story Involving Biden, Tweets About McCabe

SEPT. 22, 2019: Trump Admits Talking to Zelensky About Biden

 

TRUMP AND THE WHISTLEBLOWER: A TIMELINE

This post first appeared on Sept. 24, 2019 on Dan Rather’s News & Guts.

On Thursday, Sept. 26, the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is scheduled to testify publicly about his refusal to provide congressional intelligence committees with a whistleblower complaint.

The inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, has already found the complaint “urgent” and “credible.” He’s slated to testify in closed session on the same day.

By all accounts, the subject of the complaint is Donald Trump.

The Facts 

In a nationally televised interview on June 12, Trump said he’d take “dirt” on a political opponent from a foreign government to win an election. In fact, he was already using the power of the presidency to get that help. Now Trump is preventing Congress and the public from learning the truth about his potential use of American foreign policy for personal political gain. And he’s spinning the episode into attacks on his new targets: former Vice President Joe Biden and a whistleblower.

It’s that simple.

To follow the crisis, we’re adding a new name to the Trump-Russia Timeline filter: “UKRAINE/WHISTLEBLOWER 2019.” Here are the highlights so far:

  • Aug. 13, 2018: Trump signs into law a bill authorizing $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, which requires US support to resist ongoing Russian aggression.
  • May and June 2019: Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, meets with present and former Ukrainian officials. He’s looking for political “dirt” and wants them to pursue an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
  • June 12: Trump tells ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he’d take foreign “dirt” on an opponent to help win an election.
  • Days Prior to July 18: Trump orders a hold on the previously authorized military aid to Ukraine.
  • July 25: Trump calls Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and pressures him to investigate Biden. He urges Zelensky to work with Giuliani.
  • July 31: Trump calls Putin. The White House’s two-sentence readout says only that they discussed Siberian wildfires and trade.
  • Aug. 12: A whistleblower from the intelligence community files a formal complaint that relates to Trump’s alleged commitment to another world leader and that, at least in part, concerns Ukraine.
  • Aug. 21: Giuliani boasts that over the previous few weeks, he’s been meeting with Ukrainian officials and pushing them to investigate Biden’s son.
  • Sept. 1-2: Vice President Mike Pence meets with Zelensky in Warsaw. The next day, reporters ask Pence whether he can assure Ukraine that Trump’s delay in military aid is unrelated to Giuliani’s efforts to get “dirt” on the Biden family. Rather than answer the question, Pence deflects: “[A]s President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption…”
  • Sept. 9: Inspector General Atkinson informs House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) about the whistleblower complaint. After finding it “urgent” and “credible,” on Aug. 26, Atkinson sent it to acting DNI Maguire, who was required by law to transmit it to congressional intelligence committees within seven days. But he has failed to do so.
  • Sept. 10: Schiff sends Maguire a letter asking for a copy of the complaint.
  • Sept. 11: Trump releases the hold he’d placed on military aid to Ukraine.
  • Sept. 13: Jason Klitenic, general counsel for the office of the director of national intelligence, tells Schiff that after consulting with Attorney General William Barr’s Department of Justice about how to handle the situation, Maguire will not produce the complaint. Klitenic’s stated legal justification would put Trump above the law. In a Sept. 17 letter to Schiff, Inspector General Atkinson disagrees with Klitenic’s argument, but is bound by Maguire’s decision to follow it.
  • Sept. 15: Schiff tells CBS News that Maguire told him that he wasn’t providing the complaint “because he is being instructed not to. This involved a higher authority, someone above” the director of national intelligence, a cabinet position.
  • Sept. 20: Sure enough, The Washington Post reports,“White House counsel Pat Cipollone has been engaged in the matter since shortly after the whistleblower action surfaced, officials said, helping to identify legal obstacles to the sharing of information that could be politically damaging to Trump.”

Trump Denies, Distracts, and Counterattacks

  • Sept. 20: Trump asserts that he doesn’t know the whistleblower’s identity, but says that the person was “partisan.” He professes not to know what conversation the media were referring to, but claimed it was “beautiful” and “totally appropriate.”

  • Sept. 21: In more than a dozen tweets and retweets, Trump attacks Biden and the whistleblower story.
  • Sept. 22: Trump now admits that he spoke with Zelensky on July 25 about “all of the corruption taking place…the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption in the Ukraine [sic].”

  • Sept. 23: Trump’s twitter attacks target the whistleblower:

  • Sept. 24: Trump gives a new reason for having withheld military aid from Ukraine — “I’ll continue to withhold until such time as Europe and other nations contribute to Ukraine” — and says he’d do it again.

This 30-second CNN video speaks for itself:

  • Sept. 24: Trump promises to release a transcript of his July 25 phone call with Zelensky on Sept. 25.

Wholly apart from the White House track record of doctoring “official transcripts,” Trump’s offer is a distraction. By law, congressional intelligence committees must see the entire whistleblower report. The Timeline confirms that Trump’s dubious conduct involves far more than the Zelensky phone call. That’s the real story.

A HEARING IN THREE ACTS: GLIMMER OF LIGHT IN A DARK DAY

For a brief moment, obstruction of the Russia investigation was last week’s big Trump scandal. For five hours, Corey Lewandowski’s Sept. 17 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was tough to watch. But those who persevered to the end saw Lewandowski confirm facts proving that Trump had obstructed justice. The question now is what Congress, the media, and the country will do about it.

Here’s how it unfolded.

Act #1: Obstructing the Investigation into Obstruction

Prior to his appearance, Lewandowski promised belligerence toward Democratic members questioning him. He got an important 11th-hour assist from the White House counsel, who told Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) late on Sept. 16 that Trump had directed Lewandowski to limit his testimony to matters in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

Lewandowski’s combative opening statement prompted an immediate tweet from Trump:

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1174017425068576769

When the Democrats started asking questions, Republican members interrupted with frivolous points of order, parliamentary inquiries, requests for roll call votes, and diversions to side issues. Their obstreperous conduct continued for the rest of the day.

During the first 10-minute break in the hearing, Lewandowski tweeted a link to a new Super PAC website that supports his increasingly likely candidacy for a US Senate seat in New Hampshire:

https://twitter.com/CLewandowski_/status/1174033997510381568

As the afternoon slipped away, many Democratic members of the committee used their allotted five minutes for self-satisfying speeches that no one wanted to hear. As Americans tuned out, cable news networks ended live coverage. The Lewandowski/Trump/GOP strategy — obstructing the investigation into Trump’s obstruction — seemed to be succeeding.

Act #2: The Truth Emerges

Viewers who watched C-Span for the final 30 minutes of the hearing observed a skilled trial attorney at work. He should have gone first. Barry Berke, a seasoned litigator on a leave of absence from his law firm, led Lewandowski through a cross-examination establishing that Trump obstructed justice.

Here’s the resulting narrative:

  • Lewandowski testified — as he had repeatedly throughout the hearing — that everything in Mueller’s report was “accurate.” (Although he says he’s never read it.)
  • Initially, Lewandowski invoked the White House letter to avoid answering questions about a late May 2017 meeting with Trump in the Oval Office. But his effort failed because Lewandowski had already disclosed the episode in his book, Let Trump Be Trump. (Among its notable lines about Trump world: “Loyalty is the currency of the realm.”)
  • Around the time of that Oval Office meeting, senior members of the Trump administration dangled before Lewandowski the possibility that he would become a White House senior adviser equal to Jared Kushner. In that role, he would “run the Russia investigation.”
  • Less than a month later, on June 19, 2017, Lewandowski was in the Oval Office again, where Trump dictated a message that he asked Lewandowski to deliver to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions was to give a speech announcing his “unrecusal” from the Russia investigation and limiting Mueller’s probe to future elections only.
  • Lewandowski agreed to deliver the message, but he didn’t want a public log of his visit to Sessions at the Justice Department.
  • Lewandowski then asked Trump’s deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn to deliver the message.
  • On July 19, 2017, Trump asked Lewandowski if he had delivered the message.

All of that adds up to presidential obstruction of justice. In fact, Berke implied that before speaking with Mueller, Lewandowski demanded immunity for his own potential criminal exposure arising from the episode. Lewandowski refused to answer those questions.

If you cherish truth and the rule of law, spend 30 minutes watching Berke’s cross-examination here:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4817196/house-judiciary-counsel-berke-questions-lewandowski

Act #3: The Media Aftermath

In any previous administration, first-hand testimony confirming that the President of the United States had obstructed justice — especially by attempting to interfere with a federal investigation into his winning campaign for the presidency — would generate front-page headlines. That didn’t happen.

The Sept. 18 print edition of The New York Times relegated its report on the hearing to page A-16: “Testimony, but No Details, That It Wasn’t ‘Anything Illegal.’” It didn’t include Berke’s withering cross-examination. (An online article added “Key Moments From Corey Lewandowski’s Testimony Before Congress.”) The Wall Street Journal print edition contained a short article on page A4: “Trump Aide Rebuffs Panel.” The Washington Post report on the hearing appeared on page A8: “Ex-campaign manager’s testimony frustrates House Democrats, delights Trump.”

As for television, Berke also confronted Lewandowski with his previous lies on national TV relating to Trump, Sessions, and the Russia investigation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruKIfw5g55Y

Asked if he’d been a truth-teller in connection with one of the most important political scandals in American history, Lewandowski said, “I have no obligation to be honest with the media… I have no obligation to have a candid conversation with the media whatsoever.”

But Lewandowski — who wants to become the next US senator from New Hampshire — wasn’t just lying to the media. He was using the media as a vehicle for disseminating lies to the public. Yet only hours after his startling admission, CNN and Fox & Friends booked him to appear on their programs for the following morning.

Sometimes the purpose of a lie isn’t just to get an audience to believe it. The goal is to instill doubt about everything and render the truth elusive.

UPDATED: MUST-SEE TV: TRUMP TRIES TO LIMIT COREY LEWANDOWSKI’S TESTIMONY, BUT IT WON’T HELP

[This is an updated version of yesterday’s post. It incorporates letters that White House counsel Pat Cipollone sent to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) on the evening of Sept. 16, 2019. The updated version appeared on Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Sept. 17, 2019]

On Tuesday, Sept. 17, Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. He says he’s happy to appear: “I want to explain that there was no collusion, there was no obstruction.”

That’s interesting because Lewandowski provided special counsel Robert Mueller with all of the evidence necessary to prove that Trump obstructed justice. (Vol. II, pp. 11-12, 92-93, 97-98) If Lewandowski lied to Mueller, he committed a felony. If he lies to Congress, that would be a crime too. And new House rules make it difficult for him to toe the party line without falling into one of those legal abysses.

Someone close to Trump must have seen the problem. On the eve of his testimony, White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to the committee that “the White House has directed Mr. Lewandowski not to provide information about such communications [with Trump] beyond the information provided in the portions of the [Mueller] Report that have already been disclosed to the Committee.”

Trump’s last-minute invocation of “executive branch confidentiality interests” to limit Lewandowski’s congressional testimony won’t help Trump’s core problem: Lewandowski has already provided Mueller with an incriminating first-hand account of Trump’s obstruction. And even armed with the new White House letter, Lewandowski has no basis for refusing to repeat that story to the committee.

Lewandowski’s Foray Into Obstruction

The crime of obstructing justice requires: 1) corrupt intent; 2) an obstructive act; and 3) a connection to a pending or contemplated official proceeding. The law covers failed attempts as well as successful efforts. (Vol. II, pp. 9-12) Based on Lewandowski’s reported interviews with Mueller, Trump touched all the bases. (Vol. II, pp. 90-93, 97-98)

From the Trump-Russia Timeline:

June 19, 2017: Lewandowski — a private citizen — meets one-on-one with Trump in the Oval Office. He takes notes as Trump dictates a message to Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he asks Lewandowski to deliver. It directs Sessions to give a speech declaring that Trump has done nothing wrong and that Mueller should forget about Russia’s 2016 election interference. Sessions is to limit the investigation to future elections only.

Lewandowski arranges a meeting with Sessions where he will deliver Trump’s message personally. But Sessions cancels at the last minute, so the message remains undelivered. Lewandowski leaves town and places his notes of Trump’s directive in a safe at home.

Later in June: Lewandowski asks Rick Dearborn, Trump’s deputy chief of staff (and Sessions’ former chief of staff), if he will pass a message on to Sessions. Not knowing what it says, Dearborn agrees to deliver it at a late July dinner with Sessions.

July 19: Trump meets again with Lewandowski alone in the Oval Office and asks if he has delivered the message yet. Lewandowski says that it soon will be. Trump tells Lewandowski to inform Sessions that if he refuses to meet, Sessions will be fired. After the meeting, Lewandowski gives Dearborn a typed copy of the message, which he’d asked Hope Hicks to type.

Dearborn later informs Lewandowski that he had handled the situation, even though Dearborn never actually delivered the message to Sessions. At least, that’s what Dearborn told Mueller.

At the same time that it directed Lewandowski not to answer certain questions from the House Judiciary Committee on Sept. 17, 2019, it also directed Dearborn and Rob Porter — another former White House aide with first-hand knowledge of Trump’s obstruction — not to appear at all. 

New House Rules

Lewandowski will be the first witness to testify under new rules that the House Judiciary Committee adopted on Sept. 12. As before, individual members will have their usual five minutes each to pose questions and/or make self-serving speeches. But then the committee’s majority and minority counsel will each get an additional 30 uninterrupted minutes to examine the witness.

That means lawyers with actual trial experience in controlling belligerent witnesses will have a chance to elicit a clearer and more complete narrative for the public to see and hear. Uncooperative witnesses will have difficulty evading, obfuscating, and grandstanding.

Lewandowski’s Moment

While watching Lewandowski, keep a close eye on Trump too. After receiving his subpoena on Aug. 15, 2019, Lewandowski appeared with Trump at a rally in New Hampshire where he is considering a run for the US Senate. Trump told the crowd that Lewandowski “would be fantastic.”

Fantastic can mean “spectacular and sensational.” It can also mean “without adherence to truth or reality.” What will it be? Watch Lewandowski as he plays to an audience of one. Trump may not like what he sees.

MUST-SEE TV: WILL COREY LEWANDOWSKI TESTIFY AGAINST TRUMP?

[This post first appeared on Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Sept. 16, 2019]

On Tuesday, Sept. 17, Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. He says he’s happy to appear: “I want to explain that there was no collusion, there was no obstruction.”

That’s interesting because Lewandowski provided special counsel Robert Mueller with all of the evidence necessary to prove that Trump obstructed justice. (Vol. II, pp. 11-12, 92-93, 97-98) If Lewandowski lied to Mueller, he committed a felony. If he lies to Congress, that would be a crime too. And new House rules make it difficult for him to toe the party line without falling into one of those legal abysses. 

Lewandowski’s Foray Into Obstruction

The crime of obstructing justice requires: 1) corrupt intent; 2) an obstructive act; and 3) a connection to a pending or contemplated official proceeding. The law covers failed attempts as well as successful efforts. (Vol. II, pp. 9-12) Based on Lewandowski’s reported interviews with Mueller, Trump touched all the bases. (Vol. II, pp. 90-93, 97-98)

From the Trump-Russia Timeline:

June 19, 2017: Lewandowski — a private citizen — meets one-on-one with Trump in the Oval Office. He takes notes as Trump dictates a message to Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he asks Lewandowski to deliver. It directs Sessions to give a speech declaring that Trump has done nothing wrong and that Mueller should forget about Russia’s 2016 election interference. Sessions is to limit the investigation to future elections only.

Lewandowski arranges a meeting with Sessions where he will deliver Trump’s message personally. But Sessions cancels at the last minute, so the message remains undelivered. Lewandowski leaves town and places his notes of Trump’s directive in a safe at home.

Later in June: Lewandowski asks Rick Dearborn, Trump’s deputy chief of staff (and Sessions’ former chief of staff), if he will pass a message on to Sessions. Not knowing what it says, Dearborn agrees to deliver it at a late July dinner with Sessions.

July 19: Trump meets again with Lewandowski alone in the Oval Office and asks if he has delivered the message yet. Lewandowski says that it soon will be. Trump tells Lewandowski to inform Sessions that if he refuses to meet, Sessions will be fired. After the meeting, Lewandowski gives Dearborn a typed copy of the message, which he’d asked Hope Hicks to type.

Dearborn later informs Lewandowski that he had handled the situation, even though Dearborn never actually delivered the message to Sessions. At least, that’s what Dearborn told Mueller.

New House Rules

Lewandowski will be the first witness to testify under new rules that the House Judiciary Committee adopted on Sept. 12. As before, individual members will have their usual five minutes each to pose questions and/or make self-serving speeches. But then the committee’s majority and minority counsel will each get an additional 30 uninterrupted minutes to examine the witness.

That means lawyers with actual trial experience in controlling belligerent witnesses will have a chance to elicit a clearer and more complete narrative for the public to see and hear. Uncooperative witnesses will have difficulty evading, obfuscating, and grandstanding.

Lewandowski’s Moment

While watching Lewandowski, keep a close eye on Trump too. After receiving his subpoena on Aug. 15, 2019, Lewandowski appeared with Trump at a rally in New Hampshire where he is considering a run for the US Senate. Trump told the crowd that Lewandowski “would be fantastic.”

Fantastic can mean “spectacular and sensational.” It can also mean “without adherence to truth or reality.” What will it be? Watch and see.

RIGGING THE 2020 ELECTION? TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH SEPT. 9, 2019

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

In December 2016, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that Russia’s attack on the US presidential election amounted to an “act of war.” A recap of summer highlights from the Trump-Russia Timeline reveals that it’s happening again — with Trump and his congressional allies aiding the assault.

Trump Solicits Foreign Dirt

Trump encourages foreign interference in America’s upcoming election — provided he’s the beneficiary.

  • May 7-10, 2019: Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani is planning to visit Ukraine with the intention of persuading its incoming government to pursue investigations that could help Trump’s re-election campaign. After advisers urge Ukraine’s new president not to meet with Giuliani, he abandons the trip.
  • During the week of May 20: Giuliani instead meets in New York with a former Ukrainian diplomat as part of an aggressive effort to get dirt on Trump’s US political opponents.
  • June 12: Trump declares publicly that he’s willing to accept a foreign government’s offer of dirt on a political opponent. He adds that FBI Director Christopher Wray is wrong in stating that a candidate receiving such an overture should call the FBI. The chair of the Federal Election Commission reminds all candidates that accepting foreign help is a crime.
  • June 14: Trump tweets praise for Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) after she blocks legislation that would have required all federal candidates to report a foreign government’s offer of election assistance.
  • June 28: At the G-20 summit in Osaka, a reporter asks Trump if he will tell Putin not to meddle in the US election. “Of course, I will,” Trump says. He turns to Putin, who is sitting next to him, and says with a smile, “Don’t meddle in the election.” Playfully, he wags his finger in the air and repeats, “Don’t meddle in the election.” Putin chuckles.
  • July 23: Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies, “The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections….”
  • July 28: In a tweet, Trump announces the departure of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who has been outspoken in warning about Russia’s past and ongoing election interference.
  • Aug. 1: A reporter asks Trump about his July 31 phone call with Putin: “Mr. President, Robert Mueller said last week that Russia is interfering in the U.S. elections right now. Is that —
    Trump interrupts, “Oh you don’t really believe this. Do you believe this? Ok, fine. We didn’t talk about it.”
  • Aug. 20-22: Guiliani confirms that “over the past few weeks,” he has been pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s family and the DNC — and he asserts that the US State Department has been helping him.
  • Aug. 24-26, 2019: At the G-7 summit in France, Trump advocates on Putin’s behalf and says that he will invite him to the 2020 summit in the US. Other G-7 leaders object because Putin’s ongoing exclusion from the group has been retribution for Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
  • Aug. 26 2019: As Giuliani pressures the Ukrainian government to develop dirt on Biden and the DNC, Trump delays the release of US military aid that Congress has appropriated to help Ukraine’s ongoing battle against Russian aggression.
  • Sept. 2, 2019: After Mike Pence meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Warsaw, a reporter asks Pence whether he can assure Ukraine that Trump’s delay in military aid to that country is unrelated to Giuliani’s efforts to get dirt on Biden’s family from the Ukrainian government. Pence deflects: “[Zelensky and I] discussed America’s support for Ukraine and the upcoming decision the President will make on the latest tranche of financial support in great detail… As President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of [Ukrainian] corruption.”

Senate Republicans Follow Trump’s Lead

Trump and his congressional allies — most notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — are blocking efforts to defend against attacks on US elections.

  • May 14: Ron DeSantis (R-FL) acknowledges that Russian hackers had gained access to voter databases in two Florida counties prior to the 2016 election, per a new briefing from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
  • June 7: McConnell continues to block Senate consideration of bipartisan legislation aimed at better securing American elections.
  • July 24: Special counsel Robert Mueller testifies that Russia is continuing its efforts to interfere with US elections. Later that evening, Senate Republicans block two election security bills and a cybersecurity measure, earning McConnell the Twitter moniker #MoscowMitch.
  • July 25: The Senate Intelligence Committee issues findings on Russia’s 2016 election attacks and the nation’s vulnerability to future attacks. The report observes that Russia targeted all 50 states and, in Illinois, “Russian cyberactors were in a position to delete or change voter data” in the voter database. It concludes, “Cybersecurity for electoral infrastructure at the state and local level was sorely lacking in 2016. Despite increased focus over the last three years, some of these vulnerabilities, including aging voting equipment, remain.”

A Founder’s’ Foresight

As Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a citizen of the new nation asked him, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?”

“A republic,” Franklin replied, “if you can keep it.”

He was speaking to all of us.

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

JUNE 19, 2017: Trump Gives Lewandowski Message for Sessions: Limit Mueller

JULY 19, 2017: Trump Follows Up With Lewandowski About Message to Sessions

AUG. 26, 2019: Trump Says He’ll Defy Previous Preconditions and Invite Putin to 2020 G-7 Summit

AUG. 26, 2019: House Subpoenas Porter

AUG. 26, 2019: House Moves to Expedite Subpoena Enforcement Action Against McGahn

AUG. 28-29, 2019: Trump Delays Military Assistance to Ukraine

AUG 29, 2019: Inspector General Issues Report on Comey; DOJ Declines to Prosecute; Trump Tweets

AUG. 30-SEPT. 1, 2019: Trump Continues Attacking Comey

SEPT. 2, 2019: Pence Parrots Trump Equivocating on Ukraine

SEPT. 3-4, 2019: Trump Tweets About IG Report on Comey and Mueller Report, Attacks FBI

SEPT. 6, 2019: Trump Tweets About ‘Witch Hunt’ and ‘Spygate’

SEPT. 7, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘Lyin’ Leakin’ James Comey!’