Impeachment ‘trial’ a political farce

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump reached the US senate last week, Wrangling over the rules of the trial have just begun (Tuesday in the US).

It’s impossible to avoid politics with the President the focus of attention, and theoretically his position as leader of the country is at stake.

But many politicians have made it clear where they stand (for or against Trump’s impeachment along party lines.

Politicians are deciding how the trial will be conducted, and can vote on this. Really.

Politicians will decide on the actual impeachment by vote.

Trial by politician sounds farcical, and this so far this trial looks like a farce. Predictions are that political allies who hold the balance of power in the Senate will find trump not guilty – that is, if the trial even gets to a vote on that – so the result seems to be a foregone conclusion.

Does Trump deserve to be impeached? Some made up their minds before this process started and won’t change their views regardless of what evidence is presented, or is absent.

I don’t know (and don’t really care). Perhaps that’s  result of USA: the “flood the zone with shit” media strategy, but I think that the US political system was already badly dysfunctional, and this is just a further step in a dire direction.

At least we are a long way away from it here, geographically and democratically. We grump about Tweedledum and Tweedledee parties, but at least we don’t have the Mad Hatter versus the March Hare.

Trump impeachment trial begins

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump began in the Senate on Thursday (US time).

The lead up to this has been highly partisan, with Democrats promoting the trial and Republicans publicly judging in advance – with a majority they seem likely to acquit the president.

Before the trial began McConnell makes case for Trump acquittal ahead of trial

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday ripped House Democrats and made the case for the upper chamber acquitting President Trump as he waits for the articles of impeachment to be transmitted.

McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, did not directly call for senators to vote to acquit Trump but argued that senators cannot follow the House’s lead and agree that the president deserves to be impeached and ultimately removed from office.

“Speaker Pelosi and the House have taken our nation down a dangerous road.

Others claim that Trump is leading the US down a dangerous road.

If the Senate blesses this unprecedented and dangerous House process by agreeing that an incomplete case and subjective basis are enough to impeach a president, we will almost guarantee the impeachment of every future president,” McConnell said.

Meanwhile more has been happening – White House hold on Ukraine aid violated federal law, congressional watchdog says

The White House violated federal law in its hold on security aid to Ukraine last year, according to a decision by a congressional watchdog released on Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that reports to Congress, found the Trump administration violated a law that governs how the White House disburses money approved by Congress.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the decision states. “OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act.”

Not surprisingly:

The White House quickly rebutted the charge, criticizing the agency’s decision as an “overreach” and an attempt to insert itself into the “media’s controversy of the day.”

“We disagree with GAO’s opinion,” said OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel. “OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President’s priorities and with the law.”

Lev Parnas: “President Trump knew exactly what was going on”

Lev Parnas, an associate of President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, said Wednesday night the president was fully aware of what he and associate Igor Fruman were doing in Ukraine. Parnas made the comments during an interview with Rachel Maddow, in which he also leveled allegations against Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General William Barr.

“President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” Parnas said. “He was aware of all of my movements. He- I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.”

He also stated that Trump was lying when he said he didn’t know Parnas or Fruman. “He lied,” Parnas said.

In the interview, Parnas alleged that he was given specific instructions by Giuliani to inform Ukrainian government officials that the United States would withhold aid unless the Ukrainian government announced it was opening an investigation into the the Bidens.

“It wasn’t just military aid. It was all aid,” Parnas said. He also claimed that Giuliani told Ukrainian officials that Parnas was there as a representative of both himself and Mr. Trump, and that Ukrainian officials understood he was speaking on behalf of Mr. Trump.

Giuliani denied that claim while the interview was airing.

Parnas and Fruman are accused of helping Giuliani in his attempts to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine.

Parnas, a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen, and Fruman, originally from Belarus, were arrested on campaign finance charges at Dulles International Airport in October.

Ukraine has announced a criminal investigation – but not into Joe Biden: Ukraine Investigates Reports of Surveillance of Marie Yovanovitch

The police in Ukraine have opened a criminal investigation into whether allies of President Trump had the United States ambassador to the country under surveillance while she was stationed in Kyiv, the Ukrainian government said on Thursday.

Democrats in the House of Representative on Tuesday revealed text messages to and from Lev Parnas — an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer — pointing to surveillance of the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, just before Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate was scheduled to begin.

Also on Thursday, Ukraine said it had asked the F.B.I. for help investigating the reported penetration of Burisma’s computer systems by hackers working for Russian intelligence.

As part of the pressure campaign against Ukraine, Mr. Trump’s allies were trying to have Ms. Yovanovitch, who was seen as an impediment, removed from her post. Mr. Trump recalled her last spring.

Last March, an exchange between Mr. Parnas and another man, Robert F. Hyde, indicated that Mr. Hyde was in contact with people who were watching Ms. Yovanovitch.

“They are willing to help if we/you would like a price,” one message from Mr. Hyde read.

Mr. Parnas said in a televised interview on Wednesday that he had not taken Mr. Hyde’s offer seriously.

Mr. Hyde told the Sinclair Broadcasting host Eric Bolling in a television interview on Wednesday that he was “absolutely not” monitoring Ms. Yovanovitch. He said he was under the influence of alcohol when he sent his messages to Mr. Parnas.

“It was just colorful, we were playing — I thought we were playing,” Mr. Hyde said.

An odd sort of thing to be ‘playing’ about.

The Internal Affairs Ministry of Ukraine said in a statement released on Thursday that the country “cannot ignore such illegal activities” on its territory. “After analyzing these materials, the National Police of Ukraine upon their publication started criminal proceedings,” the statement read.

“Our goal is to investigate whether there were any violations of Ukrainian and international laws,” the ministry added. “Or maybe it was just bravado and fake conversation between two U.S. citizens.”

There may have been a lot of bravado and fake conversation going on, but the holding back of aid wasn’t fake.

It’s hard to see anything good or definitive coming out of the trial. Both sides will probably try to claim some sort of victory.

Iraq wants to expel US troops

US troops were allowed into Iraq four years ago in an agreement to help fight against the ‘Islamic State’. The Iraqi government now wants to expel the troops after the US airstrike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani – but remarkably, under the agreement they are required to give one year notice.

There are fears that there will be a resurgence of ISIS if the US leaves Iraq, and that Iran will increase it’s influence in Iraq.

More of an immediate concern is that both the US and Iran have threatened each other of further aggression over the ‘act of war’ committed by the US.

Stuff (AAP): Iraq’s Parliament calls for expulsion of US troops

Iraq’s Parliament called for the expulsion of US troops from the country Sunday (Monday NZT) in reaction to the American drone attack that killed a top Iranian general, raising the prospect of a withdrawal that could allow a resurgence by Islamic State extremists.

Lawmakers approved a resolution asking the Iraqi government to end the agreement under which Washington sent forces to Iraq more than four years ago to help in the fight against the Islamic State group.

The bill is subject to approval by the Iraqi government. Even then, cancelling the US-Iraq agreement requires giving the Americans a one-year notice for withdrawal.

Amid Iran’s threats of vengeance, the US-led military coalition in Iraq announced Sunday it is putting the fight against Islamic State militants on hold to focus on protecting its troops and bases.

A pullout of the estimated 5200 US troops could cripple the fight against Isis and allow it to make a comeback. It could also enable Iran to deepen its influence in Iraq.

US Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Fox News that the parliamentary vote is “a bit concerning”.

“The Iranian government is trying to basically take over Iraq’s political system. Iran is bribing Iraqi politicians. To the Iraqi people, do not allow your politicians to turn Iraq into a proxy of Iran,” he said.

“The killing of Soleimani was a political assassination,” outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told Parliament, adding that the Iranian general was scheduled to meet him the next morning about relations with Saudi Arabia.

The US has been supporting Saudi Arabia and provided them with arms. It is a complex situation in the Middle East.

 

  • President Trump Says 52 Targets Already Lined Up If Iran Retaliates AP News

    President Donald Trump issued a stark warning to Iran on Saturday, threatening to hit dozens of targets in the Islamic Republic “very fast and very hard” if it retaliates for the targeted killing of the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

    The series of tweets came as the White House sent to Congress a formal notification under the War Powers Act of the drone strike on Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a senior administration official said. U.S. law required notification within 48 hours of the introduction of American forces into an armed conflict or a situation that could lead to war.

  • Iran Official: ‘The Response for a Military Action Is Military Action USA Today

    Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations said Saturday “the response for a military action is military action,” as fears grew that a U.S. airstrike that killed the head of Tehran’s elite Quds force and mastermind of its security and intelligence strategy will draw Washington and the Middle East region into a broader military conflict.

    Iran has already vowed an unspecified harsh retaliation for the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani near the Iraqi capital’s international airport on Thursday. President Donald Trump said he ordered the strike to prevent a conflict with Iran because Soleimani was plotting attacks that endangered American troops and officials.

    No evidence was provided.

  • No, Attacking Iran Won’t Help Trump Get Reelected Jonathan Chait, NY Magazine

    Beginning in 2011, and continuing through the next year, Donald Trump began obsessively predicting that President Obama would start a war with Iran in order to be reelected. Trump stated it publicly, on at least a half-dozen occasions, explicitly positing that attacking Iran would help Obama win reelection.

    Trump’s allies have framed the issue as being about Qasem Soleimani’s moral culpability, or Iran’s responsibility for escalating the conflict. And it is certainly true that Iran is a nasty, aggressive, murderous regime. But none of this refutes the fact that Trump’s Iran policy is failing on its own terms. Having violated a diplomatic agreement on the premise that doing so would not lead to war, they are now blaming Iran for the war they insisted would never happen.

  • The Soleimani Strike Defied the U.S. Constitution Oona Hathaway, The Atlantic

    The drone strike that killed Major General Qassem Soleimani, leader of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, raises many legal issues, but one of the most significant—at least to the American constitutional order—is that President Donald Trump ordered the strike without so much as informing Democratic leadership in Congress, disregarding Congress’s essential role in initiating war. If Congress fails to respond effectively, the constitutional order will be broken beyond repair, and the president will be left with the unmitigated power to take the country to war on his own—anywhere, anytime, for any reason.

  • Iran, Not the U.S., Is in a Dilemma Victor Davis Hanson, National Review
    For all the current furor over the death of Qasem Soleimani, it is Iran, not the U.S. and the Trump administration, that is in a dilemma. Given the death and destruction wrought by Soleimani, and his agendas to come, he will not be missed.

    Tehran has misjudged the U.S. administration’s doctrine of strategic realism rather than vice versa. The theocracy apparently calculated that prior U.S. patience and restraint in the face of its aggression was proof of an unwillingness or inability to respond. More likely, the administration was earlier prepping for a possible more dramatic, deadly, and politically justifiable response when and if Iran soon overreached.

It seems rather simplistic and naive to think that the current situation doesn’t pose problems if not a dilemma for the US. Iran will have known that ongoing provocations would eventually result in a reaction from the US, and that was more likely in the US election year.

 

Trump via Twitter:

Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently hundreds of Iranian protesters.

He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations. Iran has been nothing but problems for many years.

Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!

I think the only certainty in this situation is that this isn’t the end of USA versus Iran, nor the problems in the Middle East.

Trump impeachment ‘trial’ under way in US

Donald Trump calls it a witch hunt, and the vote is likely to be highly political , but the impeachment trial is under way in the US.

Stuff is covering it ‘live’ – President Donald Trump impeachment: Watch historic vote live

Democrats are set to impeach US President Donald Trump when they bring abuse and obstruction charges against him to a full House vote.

That could take place by early Wednesday evening US time – Thursday lunchtime, New Zealand time –  making the 45th president only the third commander in chief to face that penalty.

But first, watch for a daylong showdown that’s been boiling for years between Republicans loyal to Trump and Democrats who say his conduct toward Ukraine makes him unfit for office. Look, too, for legacy moments for Washington’s political veterans on the eve of the 2020 election year.

Expect most Democrats to vote for impeachment, and all Republicans to vote against it.

A tally compiled by The Associated Press found that a majority of House members have said they will vote to approve the charges and send them to the Senate for a trial next month.

The Republican-led Senate is not expected to convict and remove Trump from office.

This may be more political circus than justice but it is newsworthy that a US president is being impeached, it doesn’t happen often.

Impeachment is supposed to be a means of holding the president and the highest political office in the Us to account for abuses of power.

Stuff:  Donald Trump blasts Nancy Pelosi in scathing letter, labels impeachment a war on democracy

US media is as divided as it’s politics.

CNN:

Fox News:

Two articles of impeachment against Trump

RNZ (BBC) – Trump impeachment: Democrats unveil formal charges

The Democratic-controlled US House Judiciary Committee has unveiled charges against President Donald Trump, a key move in impeaching him.

The first article revealed by committee chief Jerry Nadler accuses Mr Trump of abuse of power and the second accuses him of obstructing Congress.

He is alleged to have committed “high crimes and misdemeanours” (a phrase from the US Constitution) on two counts, outlined by Mr Nadler:

  • The first allegation is that he exercised the powers of his public office to “obtain an improper personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the national interest”, by allegedly pressuring Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 presidential election
  • The second allegation is that “when he was caught, when the House investigated and opened an impeachment inquiry, President Trump engaged in unprecedented categorical and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry…”, thereby obstructing Congress

The charges are set out in detail in a Judiciary Committee document.

Mr Trump “sees himself as above the law”, Mr Nadler said. “We must be clear, no-one, not even the president, is above the law.”

In the July phone call to Ukraine’s leader, Mr Trump appeared to tie US military assistance for Ukraine to its launching of investigations that could help him politically.

In return for those investigations, Democrats say Mr Trump offered two bargaining chips – $400m of military aid that had already been allocated by Congress, and a White House meeting for President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Democrats say this pressure on a vulnerable US ally constitutes an abuse of power.

The first investigation Mr Trump wanted from Ukraine was into former Vice-President Joe Biden, his main Democratic challenger, and his son Hunter. Hunter Biden joined the board of a Ukrainian energy company when his father was President Barack Obama’s deputy.

The second Trump demand was that Ukraine should try to corroborate a conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the last US presidential election. This theory has been widely debunked, and US intelligence agencies are unanimous in saying Moscow was behind the hacking of Democratic Party emails in 2016.

Impeachment has to be passed by the Democrat controlled House of Representatives, and then would go to a trial before the Republican controlled Senate where a conviction would require a two thirds majority. Of course it is highly political.

And of course Trump denies he did anything wrong and again claims to be the subject of a ‘witch hunt’.

But his claims mean little. He has a habit of public denial and trying to portray himself as a victim, which is lapped up by supporters.

And he also has an extensive record of attacking anyone who does anything he doesn’t like.

And he tries to turn the accusations on his accusers. This is standard Trump strategy. His protestations and attacks are meaningless as far as the impeachment process goes, it is just playing to his base who will likely largely lap up his rhetoric and bull.

Meanwhile, this article details the history and the involvement of someone closely involved in all of this – The Indispensable Man: How Giuliani Led Trump to the Brink of Impeachment

Step by step, he has escorted President Trump to the brink of impeachment. Mr. Giuliani himself is now under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in the very office where he enjoyed his first extended draughts of fame nearly four decades ago. The separate troubles he has gotten his client and himself into are products of the uniquely powerful position he has fashioned, a hybrid of unpaid personal counsel to the president and for-profit peddler of access and advice.

Practically no name, other than Mr. Trump’s, was mentioned more than Mr. Giuliani’s at the impeachment hearings and in a subsequent Democratic report that described him as the hub of a grievous abuse of presidential power (or legitimate advocate for Mr. Trump, in the Republicans’ minority response).

Mr. Giuliani has been the voice in Mr. Trump’s ear when others could not be heard, and served as the voice of Mr. Trump in places where presidents dare not go.

Each modern impeachment saga — of Richard M. Nixon, Bill Clinton and now Mr. Trump — has been shaped not by grievances over policy differences, but by human vanities and appetites. In this case, those include Mr. Giuliani’s, which have run in strong currents for decades, unconcealed.

An ironic story from Giuliani’s past:

Years before, he had shown that working with virtually nothing, he could cultivate the mere existence of investigations to his political benefit.

Early in his first term as mayor, facing criticism over patronage hires, Mr. Giuliani and aides announced spectacular claims that a widely respected commissioner in the previous administration, Richard Murphy, had overspent his budget by millions of dollars for political reasons. Moreover, computer records seemed to have been destroyed in a suspicious burglary. The heat shifted from the reality of Mr. Giuliani’s patronage hires to the wispy vapors of the Murphy investigation.

A year later, it emerged that Mr. Murphy had neither overspent nor done anything wrong, and that no records had been destroyed or stolen. Mayor Giuliani shrugged.

“This happens all the time,” he said. “And you write about those things all the time. Sometimes they turn out to be true. And sometimes they turn out to be wrong.”

Maybe the impeachment charges turn out to be true, Maybe they turn out to be wrong. But the damage will be have been done anyway.

The big question is who is most damaged.

If the Senate find Trump not guilty, as is widely expected, Trump will claim exoneration and victory, and the Republicans who excused him will hope that propping up one of the most prominent of political charlatans won’t damage their re-election chances too much.

And it is  big political risk for the Democrats. If too many people think that this is  pointless political stunt then their re-election prospects may be set back.

The biggest damage is likely to be to US governance and democracy overall, if that reputation has any lower to go.


Meanwhile as expected both sides are claiming that the just released Horowitz report is damaging to the other side.

 

Surveillance powers backfire on US senator

US Senator Devin Nunes, who has been a promoter of greater secret surveillance of citizens, and has been a staunch defender of Donald Trump in the Ukraine saga that is progressing to impeachment proceedings has been awkwardly implicated by metadata obtained from surveillance.

Reason: Devin Nunes Supports Secret Surveillance of Americans, Finds Himself Under Surveillance

The call records are coming home to roost for Rep. Devin Nunes (R–Calif.).

Before he became a stalwart defender of President Donald Trump, Nunes consistently fought any and all efforts to restrain the authority of the National Security Agency (NSA) to secretly, warrantlessly collect Americans’ call records and metadata. He wasn’t quiet about this support for domestic surveillance.

When Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan (then a Republican, now an independent) tried to restrain the feds’ ability to access American call records, Nunes didn’t just vote against Amash’s legislation; he attacked Amash loudly and publicly. In 2014, one of Amash’s efforts prompted Nunes to call the congressman “Al Qaeda’s best friend in the Congress.” Nunes even donated $5,000 to Amash’s primary opponent.

Now this surveillance apparatus that Nunes has long supported has happily provided his political opponents with information that could destroy his career. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (which Nunes used to chair, and where he is now the ranking minority member) just published its impeachment report.

It shows calls between Nunes and Rudy Giuliani in 2016, as Giuliani was making the media rounds arguing that Ukrainian officials colluded to help Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. This information will most certainly be used to argue that Nunes is not just a defender of Trump but also an active participant in Giuliani’s Ukrainian push.

Nunes isn’t happy about that. Last night he tweeted a Washington Examiner piece in which Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R–La.) accuses Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D–Calif.) of “spying” on Nunes and asks, “Are there other members of Congress that he is spying on, and what justification does he have? He needs to be held accountable and explain what he’s doing, going after journalists, going after members of Congress, instead of doing his job.”

But there’s no reason to assume that Schiff was specifically targeting Nunes, and it’s unlikely that any laws were broken here. Nunes’ name and calls came up in the metadata of the impeachment’s investigation targets. What is happening to the California congressman right now is an easily foreseeable consequences of the surveillance system Nunes supports.

I think it would be difficult to exclude politicians from NSA data gathering, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to get special exclusions.

The surveillance data revealed more. Washington Post: Phone records from AT&T and Verizon obtained in impeachment inquiry spark controversy

The records were some of the strongest circumstantial evidence included in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report this week, revealing extensive contact between Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and the Trump administration during critical points of the Ukraine saga. They also exposed calls between a Giuliani associate who has been indicted in New York, Lev Parnas, and the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.).

Republican lawmakers are blasting Democrats’ decision to publish the records of Nunes’s calls, as well as call records from John Solomon, a conservative columnist formerly at The Hill. Nunes said in a Fox News interview the inclusion of the phone records in the impeachment report is an infraction of his “civil rights” and promised to explore “whatever legal remedies I have.”

“They have now set a precedent where Adam Schiff can go get any phone number he has to AT&T and AT&T is going to comply,” Nunes said.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called Schiff’s move “brazen and shameful” in an op-ed for Fox News yesterday. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) asked Sen. Lindsey Graham to subpoena Schiff’s records in response, a move the South Carolina Republican shut down.

But Democrats deny legally asking the telecom companies for any phone records belonging to members of Congress or journalists. The report doesn’t say whose records the committee subpoenaed, but the records suggest they targeted the calls of Giuliani and Parnas. 

“The Committee did not subpoena call records for any member of Congress or their staff, including Ranking Member Nunes, or for any journalist, including Mr. Solomon,” Patrick Boland, a spokesman for Schiff, said in a statement.

This makes the already very murky and politically charged Ukraine and impeachment issues even more controversial.

And as Nunes is leading the political opposition to the impeachment inquiry, then evidence of possible complicity by him must surely be relevant.

In general, if politicians push for and allow wide ranging surveillance powers they should not be surprised if there are unintended consequences.

US House of Representatives to file impeachment charges

Fox News: Pelosi calls for articles of impeachment against Trump: ‘No choice but to act’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that Democrats will proceed with articles of impeachment against President Trump, declaring that the president’s conduct “leaves us no choice but to act.”

The announcement comes after a heated House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday featuring four law professors — most of them Democrat-invited witnesses who presented arguments for impeachment. Pelosi claimed the facts are now “uncontested” that Trump “abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security” by allegedly using aid as leverage to seek an investigation of the Bidens from Ukraine.

“Today, I am asking our chairman to proceed with articles of impeachment,” Pelosi stated during her brief address, referring to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.

“The president’s actions have seriously violated the Constitution,” she said. Claiming America’s democracy is at stake, she said: “The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit.”

The White House swiftly hit back, with Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeting the Democrats “should be ashamed.”

Trump “has done nothing but lead our country – resulting in a booming economy, more jobs & a stronger military, to name just a few of his major accomplishments. We look forward to a fair trial in the Senate,” she tweeted.

Of course Trump has had a say as well.

Trump himself accused Pelosi’s party of trying to impeach him over “NOTHING” and warned that it could set a dangerous precedent.

“This will mean that the beyond important and seldom used act of Impeachment will be used routinely to attack future Presidents. That is not what our Founders had in mind,” he tweeted.

That’s ridiculous, but ridiculous is normal from Trump.

Fox News: Trump threatens to call Bidens, Schiff, Pelosi to testify as speaker moves ahead with impeachment

President Trump on Thursday challenged House Democrats to impeach him “fast” and ship the process over to the Senate, where he threatened to seek testimony from top Democrats including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The president’s tweets followed an hourslong hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, in what set the stage for the next phase of the Democratic-led House impeachment inquiry, with majority-invited law professors making the case that the president did abuse the office of the presidency by asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens while withholding aid. But the sole witness called by Republicans argued the contrary — he said the legal case to impeach Trump was “woefully inadequate” and even “dangerous.”

Funny Trump insisting who should testify when he has told members of his administration not to comply with subpoenas.

Fox News: Judge Nap: Ignoring congressional subpoena is obstruction and an impeachable offense

Following George Washington University law scholar Jonathan Turley’s testimony at Wednesday’s impeachment hearing, Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano disagreed with his stated argument that President Trump had the authority to disregard a subpoena issued by Congress.

“He can’t. That’s what Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were charged with. … You don’t have to comply with it, you have to challenge it or comply with it. Ignoring it is obstruction of Congress,” Napolitano told “Fox & Friends” on Thursday, refuting Turley’s point that Trump was justified in commanding members of the administration not to comply.

Napolitano went on to say, “Congress doesn’t need the court’s permission to serve a subpoena and it doesn’t need the courts’ help in enforcing the subpoena. The courts have nothing to do with it, Congress makes the determination. We gave you the subpoena, you’re resisting us, that’s an impeachable offense. The House has voted that three times.”

Republicans and Democrats sparred as a panel of constitutional scholars kicked off a sharply partisan debate over whether to recommend President Trump’s impeachment.

With the decision to impeach to be made by the Democrat led House of representatives, and the trial to be held in the Republican led Senate, this can’t avoid being highly politicised.

And this is being played out in front of an increasingly polarised public. Many people think that Trump is the pits as a president, while others think either he is the best president ever (including Trump himself), or at least better than Clinton (not a great claim), or he should be excused all his faults and appalling behaviour because he is getting things done. Every president gets some things done, but they are as much judged on the damage they do as the good they do.

Trump consistently remains one of the least approved of presidents in recent decades, currently 41.8% approve, 53.3% disapprove on https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ (which also shows comparisons to past presidents).

There is a closer margin on impeachment, currently on 47.8% support, 44% don’t support. Theoretically something as serious as impeachment shouldn’t be a popularity contest, but it is very political, and with elections coming up next year what the public (voters) think may play an important part in the proceedings.

It is seen to be a political risk for Democrats to push forward with impeachment, but it also keeps some of Trump’s significant negative traits in the spotlight.

Trump impeachment hearing update

The Donald Trump impeachment hearing continues before the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. It reveals differences between Trump and many diplomats and White House staff, the the unpredictability of Trump and any policy he tried to dictate. It also rises growing concerns about the actions of Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Guiliani.

RNZ – Trump impeachment hearings: ‘We followed the president’s orders’

A US diplomat who is a pivotal witness in the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump says he worked with the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine issues on “the president’s orders”.

It confirms Mr Trump’s active participation in a controversy that threatens his presidency.

Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, told the inquiry that Mr Giuliani’s efforts to push Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for investigations into Mr Trump’s political rivals “were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit” for the Ukrainian leader.

Mr Sondland, a wealthy hotel entrepreneur and Trump donor, said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was aware and “fully supportive” of their efforts on Ukraine, providing a fuller role of the top US diplomat’s role in the affair.

Mr Sondland was appearing on Wednesday before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, which is taking the lead in the impeachment inquiry.

Mr Sondland testified Mr Trump had ordered him and two other senior officials to work with Mr Giuliani, who has refused to co-operate with the impeachment inquiry. Mr Giuliani at the time had been working to get Ukraine to carry out the investigations that would benefit Mr Trump politically.

“We did not want to work with Mr Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the president’s orders,” Mr Sondland said.

Fox News:  Sondland implicates top officials on Ukraine, but says he ‘never heard’ quid pro quo from Trump

European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland tied top officials to the “potential quid pro quo” involving U.S. military aid to Ukraine and investigations desired by President Trump during a highly anticipated impeachment hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday – yet said he never heard that link from the president himself.

One of the key witnesses in the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry against Trump, Sondland claimed he kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo aware of what was going on and said he specifically told Vice President Pence he “had concerns” the military aid to Ukraine “had become tied” to investigations — though a Pence aide denied it. And he repeatedly lambasted Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s leading role in the administration’s Ukraine dealings.

“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland testified in opening remarks. “It was no secret.”

Still, in comments seized upon by Republicans, Sondland testified: “I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of investigations. He said he never personally heard Trump discuss preconditions. And at one point, he confirmed Trump told him, “I want nothing.”

Sondland made clear Wednesday he merely presumed the aid was linked to investigations, at one point referring to this as a “guess.”

But he suggested he had his reasons, agreeing that the conclusion was like “two plus two equals four.” He stressed he never got a clear answer on why the aid was held up, saying in the absence of an explanation he came to believe that the aid and the investigations were linked.

“I shared concerns of the potential quid pro quo regarding the security aid with Senator Ron Johnson,” Sondland said at one point, referring to the Republican senator involved in Ukraine policy. “And I also shared my concerns with the Ukrainians.”

Taken in their entirety, Sondland’s statements Wednesday are likely to fuel the narratives of both parties.

I think that’s given.

RNZ: US President Donald Trump’s Ukraine phone call ‘improper’ – expert

Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the White House National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert, testified at the third public hearing in the impeachment investigation before the US House of Representatives intelligence committee.

He also denounced attacks on witnesses in the investigation.

The inquiry focuses on a 25 July phone call in which Mr Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to carry out two investigations that would benefit him politically including one targeting Democratic political rival Joe Biden.

The other involved a debunked conspiracy theory embraced by some Trump allies that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election.

“It was inappropriate, it was improper for the president to request – to demand – an investigation into a political opponent, especially (from) a foreign power where there is at best dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation and that this would have significant implications if it became public knowledge,” Lt Col Vindman told the committee on Tuesday.

Ms Williams told the committee that Mr Trump’s call with Mr Zelenskiy was unusual because “it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter”.

She said the White House budget office had said Mr Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, had directed that $US391 million ($NZ608m) in security aid to Ukraine be put on hold and that she never learned why the assistance was later released in September.

The New Yorker: The Spectacular Failure of the Trump Wranglers

On Tuesday, nearly seven hours into the marathon third day of public impeachment hearings, Kurt Volker tried to explain to the House Intelligence Committee what it was like to carry out the nearly impossible task of wrangling U.S. policy toward Ukraine during the Presidency of Donald Trump. Volker, a veteran Republican diplomat who had been serving, since 2017, as Trump’s Special Representative to Ukraine, said that he realized last spring that he had a “problem,” and that it was Trump himself.

When Volker took the job, he testified, “I believed I could steer U.S. policy in the right direction,” an ambitious statement given that Trump had already been publicly skeptical of Ukraine and supportive of its adversary Russia. Still, Volker insisted that he thought he could maintain the long-standing U.S. policy of supporting Ukraine, a bipartisan priority ever since Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, in 2014, and launched a proxy civil war in the country’s east. “If a problem arose, I knew that it was my job to try to fix it,” Volker said.

In May, he learned that there was, in fact, a “significant problem”: the attitude of the President toward Ukraine. Trump, as Volker heard firsthand in an Oval Office meeting that month, believed that Ukraine was corrupt, “out to get” him, and harbored an animus going back to the 2016 election; he even embraced a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had intervened in the U.S Presidential race.

As a result, Trump was deeply skeptical toward the Administration’s own policy of supporting Ukraine and had no desire to meet with the country’s reformist new President, Volodymyr Zelensky. Volker believed that Trump was being fed misinformation about Ukraine by his private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

“I found myself faced with a choice: to be aware of a problem and to ignore it or to accept that it was my responsibility to try to fix it,” Volker testified. “I tried to fix it.”

To say that he failed would, of course, be an understatement.

All three of the witnesses who testified with Volker had listened in on Trump’s now infamous July 25th phone call with Zelensky, and in their testimony they recounted varying degrees of concern as they heard Trump demand that Zelensky do him the “favor” of investigating his political rival, the former Vice-President Joe Biden, and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election. The witnesses called Trump’s actions “improper,” “inappropriate,” and “unusual,” and said that they potentially undermine the bipartisan American policy of supporting Ukraine.

The testimony on Tuesday morning of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who is currently serving as the National Security Council’s Ukraine expert, was particularly pointed. Wearing his Army dress blues and a chest full of decorations, Vindman delivered a devastating critique of his Commander-in-Chief.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Vindman said of listening to Trump’s July 25th phone call with Zelensky. “It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent,” Vindman said.

When he heard Trump press Zelensky to investigate Biden, he believed that it was a “political play,” one with unmistakable implications for the Ukrainians, and that it would “undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing bipartisan support, undermine U.S. national security, and advance Russia’s strategic objectives in the region.” He went to the National Security Council’s lawyer after the call to report his concerns.

It was a remarkable moment, followed soon after by Vindman denouncing the “reprehensible” attacks by Trump and his supporters against himself and other witnesses from inside America’s nonpartisan national-security bureaucracy who have come forward to testify.

Several of the witnesses in the impeachment inquiry found that out, to their dismay. Volker is perhaps the clearest example of this. Volker thought that he could handle the problem of Trump’s attitude toward Ukraine by engaging with the source of the “negative information flow”—Giuliani.

When he met Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel in Washington for breakfast, in July, Volker acknowledged that Giuliani did bring up Biden and that Volker tried to talk him out of it. It did not work.

Trump still has the support and protection of some Republicans.

Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence panel, made exactly this point, suggesting that witnesses were merely having a policy dispute with the President, even though every single person who has appeared before the Committee has said that they were trying to carry out Trump’s policy as they understood it. “The American people elect the President, not the interagency consensus,” Nunes said. In his view, a White House process cherished by official Washington does not matter one bit. So, if Trump decided to blow up American policy toward Ukraine to withhold nearly four hundred million dollars in military aid, then that was U.S. policy.

This, of course, is one of the reasons why Trump is on his fourth national-security adviser, his second Secretary of State, and his third chief of staff. In a government of one, even the officials who want to serve the President can find themselves not knowing what it is they are supposed to be doing. They can be undercut at any moment; they have been.

A few months ago, there was no policy more bipartisan in Washington than backing Ukraine in its ongoing struggle with Russia. Just about the only person in the capital who did not support it was Donald Trump. It’s all so confusing. And that is nothing new in this Presidency.

Trump tries to do what he wants, regardless of advice. If he doesn’t get the advice he wants he fires the adviser.

Guiliani has told him what he wants to hear, and tried to run Trump’s policy on Ukraine. Guiliani could end up being the fall guy – like  number of other Trump associates who have now been prosecuted and convicted.

 

Trump impeachment hearing

The US Congress is holding a hearing into the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump, with allegations he used the office of President to pressure the Ukraine into investigating a political opponent, Joe Biden.

Partisan lines have been drawn, with the Democrat majority in Congress pushing the impeachment process, while Republicans claim it is a virtual coup attempt.

A White House spokesperson called it boring and a sham, while of course Trump is grumpy about it all.

Remarkably (but probably not surprising given how politics and even law can work in the US these days) it is claimed that public opinion is the key to whether impeachment will proceed or succeed or not.

Real Clear Politics – Watch Live: House Impeachment Inquiry Hearing

Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent testify in the first day of public impeachment inquiry hearings before the House Intelligence Committee.

Chairman Adam Schiff opened the hearing by saying Trump’s alleged actions are not “compatible with the office of the presidency.”

Republican ranking member Devin Nunes called the hearing a “coup against the President” and “televised theatrical performance.”

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued the first public reaction to Wednesday’s hearing in the House impeachment inquiry, calling it a “sham,” “boring,” and a “colossal waste” of time

In his opening statement, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent said he thought “Giuliani’s efforts to gin up politically motivated investigations” had infected U.S. relations with Ukraine.

William Taylor, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, agreed, saying the “official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr. Giuliani” to investigate Joe Biden and his son.

Stuff – Live: The Donald Trump impeachment inquiry

Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic committee chairman, outlined the question at the core of the impeachment inquiry – whether the president used his office to pressure Ukraine officials for personal political gain.

“The matter is as simple and as terrible as that,” Schiff said. “Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander in chief.”

For the first time a top diplomat has testified that President Donald Trump was overheard asking about “the investigations” that he wanted Ukraine to pursue that are central to the presidentialimpeachment inquiry.

William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, revealed the new information as the House Intelligence Committee opened extraordinary hearings on whether the 45th president of the United States should be removed from office.

The anonymous whistleblower’s complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general – including that Trump had pressed Ukraine’s president to investigate Democratic foe Joe Biden and Biden’s son and was holding up US military aid – ignited the impeachment inquiry.

The hearing is the first chance for America, and the rest of the world, to see and hear for themselves about Trump’s actions toward Ukraine and consider whether they are, in fact, impeachable offences.

The first witness, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, said he never heard any US official try to shield a Ukraine company from investigations, directly contradicting a core complaint against Joe Biden being raised by allies of the White House.

It’s hard to see this changing the minds of entrenched Trump supporters who forgive him just about anything, nor Trump opponents who see him as an egotistical and incompetent stain on the presidency.

Trump calls the whole thing a “witch hunt,” a retort that echoes Nixon’s own defence. “READ THE TRANSCRIPT,” he tweeted Wednesday.

At its core, the inquiry stems from Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy when he asked the Zelenskiy for “a favour.”

Trump wanted the Ukraine government to investigate Democrats in the 2016 election and his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, all while holding as leverage military aid the young democracy relies on as it confronts an aggressive Russia.

The anonymous whistleblower first alerted officials to concerns about the phone call. The White House released a rough transcript of the conversation, with portions deleted.

The White House has instructed administration officials not to testify in the inquiry. But over the past month, witness after witness has appeared behind closed doors to tell the investigators what they know.

The circus continues.

Law School statement on free speech

Free speech has been topical issue in New Zealand, with controversies at Massey and Auckland universities in past months. lso internationally.

From a statement on free speech from the Dean of the Notre Dame Law School in Indiana, USA ahead of a speaking engagement by William Barr, Attorney General of the United States:

Freedom of speech matters. As Frederick Douglass once said, “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker”.

Just as speakers are free to speech, protesters are free to protest. They must do so in a place and manner that respects the rights of speakers to speak and listeners to listen…

Notre Dame Law School will neither endorse nor condemn invited speakers. An institution of higher education must be place where controversial ideas and points of view are expressed, heard and discussed.

This is such a place.

The full announcement:

But where politics (and political appointees) are involved it provoked the ‘only free speech that I like’ brigade. Tweets in response condemned both Barr and Notre Dame Law School. Like:

Winston Smith @2plus2isSTILL4

The invitation brings shame to your institution. It is a statement that you do actually accord respect to a man who has disgraced himself and his office.

Tessa Sainz  @tessasainz

So being a traitor to this country and party to unprecedented corruption is a “controversial point of view” the University deems worthy of discussion? Does @NotreDame gain anything from Barr’s corruption? I’m guessing there’s a lot of financial reasons behind this decision

KB851  @KB8511 (Lawyer and College Faculty)

So now Notre Dame joins Florida in completely screwing this up People are smart They get there is a difference between a conservative voice and allowing trump jr or Barr to do NOTHING but lie You are dead wrong ND as are you, my alma mater, Florida

I am ashamed

Megan Schweppenheiser  @schweppenheiser

There is still time to boycott. Who would want to listen to that liar and gadlighter who is complicit in bringing down our democracy? Don’t go. Non-violent protest. Bring whistles. Stand up for the rule of law and ethics! Don’t give him a platform!

There were more bitter political opponents.

But there were also a smattering of supportive tweets:

Mary Miskimon  @MaryEM106

The only reason Bill Barr is controversial is because students disagree with his boss. That’s not controversial; that’s diverse thought, and it’s what we do here in America. It’s sad that ND has to explain to the students it admitted (presumably bright).

Joseph Rio  @josephwrio

It’s utterly amazing that Dean Cole has to issue such a common-sense statement. But judging by the replies on this thread by people who evidently believe they have been blessed with revealed truth, it was absolutely necessary. Difference of opinion is not evil.

Politically and on free speech issues the USA is a badly divided country.


American Conservative on Barr’s speech at Notre Dame – Bill Barr: Religious Liberty Warrior

Last week, US Attorney General William Barr gave an extraordinary speech about religious liberty at Notre Dame Law School. I have not been able to locate a transcript, and only found time to watch it this morning. Here’s a video of the entire thing. The speech itself begins at about the four-minute mark.

The AG begins by talking about the capacity for self-government, meaning not the form of administration of a liberal democracy, but the ability of individuals to master their own passions, and subject them to reason. Can we handle freedom? That, says Barr, is a question that preoccupied the Founders.

No society can exist without the capacity to restrain vice, he goes on to say. If you depend only on the government to do this, you get tyranny. (This, by the way, is what’s happening in China; many Chinese actually support the tyrannical Social Credit System, because communism destroyed civil society and social trust.) But, says Barr, licentiousness is another form of tyranny. People enslaved by their own appetites make community life impossible. (This, I would say, is what we are more endangered by in America today … and it will ultimately call forth tyranny, Chinese-style.)

Barr offers this quotation from Edmund Burke:

“Men are qualified for civil liberty, in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves.”

Why is religion a public good? Because, says Barr, it “trains people to want what is good.” It helps to frame a society’s moral culture, and instills moral discipline. No secular creed has emerged that can do what religion does, he says. And by casting religion out, we are dismantling the foundation of our public morality.

“What we call ‘values’ today are nothing more than mere sentimentality, drawing on the vapor trails of Christianity,” says the AG.

Barr took the gloves off, saying that religion is not jumping to its death; it’s being pushed.

“This is not decay,” he said. “This is organized destruction.”

He named secularists in academia, media, and elsewhere as figures who are not neutral at all, but have rather inculcated a kind of religiosity in their own project of destroying religion. They conduct their own inquisitions and excommunications for heresy.

Here’s a link to AG Barr’s entire speech.