Senate votes against hearing witnesses in impeachment trial

The US Senate has voted 51-49 against hearing witnesses in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Two Republicans voted for witnesses, not enough to change the expected outcome.

While Republican leaders had wanted to complete the process this week, before Tuesday’s State of the Nation speech by Trump, the prospects of length delays led to an agreement between both sides to allow senators to speak at a resumption on Monday to explain their decisions, and then an acquittal vote will be held next Wednesday.

The decision against hearing witnesses makes this bizarre sort of trial, but it is very political and a number of senators had made it clear what they would decide before it started the pre-ordained outcome isn’t surprising.

Acrimony and the partisan divide will no doubt continue unabated.

Unrestrained abuse of power an odd ‘not impeachable’ theory

CNN: Republican theory for Trump acquittal could unleash unrestrained presidential power

Impeachment was meant to punish Donald Trump’s unrestrained use of his authority, but the grounds on which Republican senators plan to acquit him may instead give him a green light to use his power however he wants to win reelection.

Trump’s GOP defenders looking to end his Senate trial in the next few days are increasingly arguing that it’s time to shut things down because even if Trump is guilty of coercing Ukraine for political favors, such conduct would not be impeachable.

“For the sake of argument, one could assume everything attributable to John Bolton is accurate and still the House case would fall well below the standards to remove a president from office,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said in what his office says is his definitive impeachment statement.

Sen John Barrasso, a member of the GOP Senate leadership, added: “Even if everything in the book is true, it doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment.”

And Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said: “It’s not even getting close to getting something that’s impeachable.”

These statements aren’t surprising. Republican senators were saying they wouldn’t vote for impeachment before the trial started.

They are seizing on stunning arguments envisioning almost unchallenged presidential power and highly limited criteria for defining the abuse of power and impeachment laid out by a maverick member of Trump’s legal team, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz.

The legal reasoning from Dershowitz — while outside the mainstream — is giving Republican senators political cover to stand with the President.

The Harvard emeritus professor claimed on the Senate floor that if a politician thinks his re-election is in the national interest, any actions he takes towards that end cannot by definition be impeachable.

“Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

If a president thinks that it is ‘in the public interest’ that they be re-elected then anything goes? I would expect that president thinks that their re-election is more in the public interest than an opponent. But that shouldn’t justify any abuse of power they want to try – impeachment is supposed to provide a check on presidential abuses of power.

CNN legal expert Carrie Cordero said that Dershowitz’s arguments — that CNN reporters in the chamber said were warmly received by Republican senators — were nonsensical.

“It basically means that a President can do anything and they can make a subjective determination that their reelection is in the national interest. It invites and opens the door to anything that is in the realm of foreign influence.”

The spectacle of Republicans adopting such arguments is remarkable since the party that once saw itself as the epitome of limited government is coalescing in an effort to broaden the unrestrainable power of the presidency. But it is also thematically compatible with the idea of a “unitary executive” — a theory that grants expansive powers to the presidency and is advanced by some conservative lawyers — including current Attorney General William Barr.

In his own way, Trump has argued similar points, claiming that Article II of the Constitution gives him the power to do anything he wants.

Dershowitz tried to clarify his argument via Twitter:

They characterized my argument as if I had said that if a president believes that his re-election was in the national interest, he can do anything. I said nothing like that, as anyone who actually heard what I said can attest.

Let me be clear once again (as I was in the senate): a president seeking re-election cannot do anything he wants. He is not above the law. He cannot commit crimes. He cannot commit impeachable conduct.

But a lawful act— holding up funds, sending troops to vote, braking a promise about Syria—does not become unlawful or impeachable if done with a mixed motive of both promoting the public interest and helping his RE-election. Please respond to my argument , not a distortion of it.

Under the Manager’s overbroad theory of motivation – the theory to which I was responding – Joe Biden (who I admire and like) would be guilty even if a small part of his motivation for having the Ukraine prosecutor fired was to protect his son or his son’s company.

I believe Joe Biden is a patriot who cares deeply about the national interest, but he also cares deeply about his family. Under the Manger’s dangerous theory, he would have to be psychoanalyzed to determine the role each motive may have played in an entirely lawful action.

The Manager’s theory takes us down a dangerous road.

Another dangerous road is giving an unstable president the green light to do whatever he thinks is in his re-election interests (which of course he will think is in the public interest.

From U.S. presidential impeachment: (Wikipedia):

Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution limits the grounds of impeaching a president to “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”. Because the precise meaning of the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” is not defined in the Constitution itself, it is left open to the interpretation of Congress, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Nixon v. United States that it did not have the authority to determine whether the Senate properly “tried” a defendant. Congress has, however, identified three general types of conduct that constitute grounds for impeachment, although these categories should not be understood as exhaustive:[1]

  1. Improperly exceeding or abusing the powers of the office.[1]
  2. Behavior incompatible with the function and purpose of the office.[1]
  3. Misusing the office for an improper purpose or for personal gain.[1]

Other than the above constitutional provisions, the exact details of the presidential impeachment process are left up to Congress. Thus, a number of rules have been adopted by the House and Senate and are honored by tradition. Among them, The House Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents and Procedures of the House, prepared by the House Parliamentarian, is a reference source for information on the rules and selected precedents governing the House procedure.[2]

The Senate has formal Rules and Procedures of Practice in the Senate When Sitting on Impeachment Trials.[5] Nevertheless, both the House and the Senate are free to modify the procedures for each presidential impeachment and trial, respectively.[1]

So the politicians can change the rules to suit their own interests. This makes impeachment more of a political contest than a legal process, and that seems to be how the current impeachment is working in practice. Trump thinks he can break ‘rules’ as he sees fit, and House and Senate politicians can make the trial rules as they see fit – no doubt with more than a bit of an eye on their own re-elections, which of course they will think is in the public interest.

It is looking likely that the senate ‘trial’ won’t even get as far as hearing from witnesses.

Pelosi seems resigned to an acquittal.

If Trump is acquitted, be will no doubt see it as a major victory. It could give him the confidence that he can get away with doing anything, and to an extent this is likely.

But Trump may also try to avoid the adverse publicity that further abuses of power may initiate, especially in an election year – unless he thinks that voters will view abuses of power as strong leadership.

 

Abuse of power confirmed, but does it warrant impeachment?

More evidence (from John Bolton) seems to confirm what others have alleged, that Donald Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine until they announced an inquiry into a political opponent of Trump’s, Joe Biden.  I think that this would clear have been an abuse of power. But does that justify impeachment?

I think that even on the Trump scale it’s certainly very poor presidential behaviour, but the impeachment decision effectively is in the hands (and votes) of 53 Republican senators, and being politicians enough of them may choose to lower the standards expected of presidents even more than they are currently and refuse to call witnesses for the trial, which in itself would be a remarkable thing – a trial that refuses to call for testimonies from witnesses would be a farce.

But farce is what Washington politics has become.

NT Times:  Trump Tied Ukraine Aid to Inquiries He Sought, Bolton Book Says

President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton.

The president’s statement as described by Mr. Bolton could undercut a key element of his impeachment defense: that the holdup in aid was separate from Mr. Trump’s requests that Ukraine announce investigations into his perceived enemies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, who had worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was in office.

Mr. Bolton’s explosive account of the matter at the center of Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial, the third in American history, was included in drafts of a manuscript he has circulated in recent weeks to close associates. He also sent a draft to the White House for a standard review process for some current and former administration officials who write books.

Bolton’s lawyer has denied that draft copies of the books were circulated to ‘close associates’, but confirms the claim made by Bolton in the book.

Over dozens of pages, Mr. Bolton described how the Ukraine affair unfolded over several months until he departed the White House in September. He described not only the president’s private disparagement of Ukraine but also new details about senior cabinet officials who have publicly tried to sidestep involvement.

For example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged privately that there was no basis to claims by the president’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani that the ambassador to Ukraine was corrupt and believed Mr. Giuliani may have been acting on behalf of other clients, Mr. Bolton wrote.

Of course Trump has denied and diverted by attacking Bolton:

I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.

But Trump has a long record of doing that, so I think his counter claims can’t be taken seriously – Trump has lived by the sword of blatant lying, so his credibility dies by that sword.

With that being said, the transcripts of my calls with President Zelensky are all the proof that is needed, in addition to the fact that President Zelensky & the Foreign Minister of Ukraine said there was no pressure and no problems. Additionally, I met with President Zelensky at the United Nations (Democrats said I never met) and released the military aid to Ukraine without any conditions or investigations – and far ahead of schedule. I also allowed Ukraine to purchase Javelin anti-tank missiles. My Administration has done far more than the previous Administration.

Trump has refused to testify properly (bull by Twitter can’t be taken seriously), and he has told witnesses to defy subpoenas requiring them to testify.

NY Times:

Mr. Bolton’s lawyer blamed the White House for the disclosure of the book’s contents. “It is clear, regrettably, from the New York Times article published today that the pre-publication review process has been corrupted and that information has been disclosed by persons other than those properly involved in reviewing the manuscript,” the lawyer, Charles J. Cooper, said Sunday night.

The submission to the White House may have given Mr. Trump’s aides and lawyers direct insight into what Mr. Bolton would say if he were called to testify at Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial. It also intensified concerns among some of his advisers that they needed to block Mr. Bolton from testifying, according to two people familiar with their concerns.

The White House has ordered Mr. Bolton and other key officials with firsthand knowledge of Mr. Trump’s dealings not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. Mr. Bolton said in a statement this month that he would testify if subpoenaed.

Trump is again abusing his power trying to run a defence via Twitter but refusing to allow cooperation with the impeachment process.

Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, said the Bolton manuscript underscored the need for him to testify, and the House impeachment managers demanded after this article was published that the Senate vote to call him. “There can be no doubt now that Mr. Bolton directly contradicts the heart of the president’s defense,” they said in a statement.

But if less than four Republican Senators vote to exclude witnesses from the impeachment trial then it will fizzle out, but the controversy will rage on into the US election year.

It’s inevitable that Bolton will be dumped on Trump and his helpers, just as other witnesses who corroborate Bolton’s claims have been dumped on – and some dumped from their jobs. Trumps smashing machine has had plenty of practice. If he is acquitted by the Republican senators the question will become how many Americans will also give Trump a pass and vote for him.

If Trump is impeached I think that Republicans would still hold power in the White House, with Vice President Mike Pence stepping up into the tainted breach until the election in November and the inauguration of a new president next January – unless an impeached president can stand for office again, and win.

It’s quite possible that Trump could contest the presidency against Joe Biden, and it’s feasible that he could win a second term. There seems to be a significant number of people willing to make excuses for his transgressions and support him, defend him, regardless.

I think it is clear that Trump has abused his power as president, but many supporters don’t seem to care as long as he’s still there.

Trump at Davos last week.

I consider what I’ve done here, with this whole witch hunt, from day one — with the insurance policy; with the horrible statements made between Strzok and Page; and McCabe; and Comey, who lied to Congress and did so many other bad things. He lied and he leaked. When I finish, I think that this is going to go down as one of the greatest things I’ve done for our country. These are bad, corrupt people. These are bad people, and very bad for our country.”

Some suggest he is projector in chief.

Image

The impeachment, Ukraine, Russia and election interference

Donald Trump’s impeachment trial continues in Washington. It is far more political than legal. Just about everyone expects the Republican dominated Senate to acquit Trump,

Regardless of the outcome, Trump is likely to remembered as a president who was impeached, just like it is one of the first things people remember Bill Clinton for (he was also acquitted).

The Democrats may lose this battle but they are trying to win a bigger war, this year’s election. The target of Trump’s Ukraine pressure is Joe Biden, who has a good chance of competing with Trump for the presidency (that is why Trump tried to pressure the new Ukraine to dump on Biden). So the impeachment attempt is likely to be a major influence on a geriatric face off.

There’s bigger issues involved, in particular the Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

Here’s one take on that – allegations that Trump was promoting Russian fake news that it was Ukraine that interfered in the 2016 election.

Note first that the writer of this has Ukraine connections “Kenneth Foard McCallion is a former organized crime and counterintelligence expert with the U.S. Department of Justice, and has been counsel for former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and numerous other Ukraine pro-democracy leaders and businessmen.”

RealClear Politics – A Key Impeachment Fact: Trump Pushed Russian Disinformation

Article One of the Articles of Impeachment now pending before the Senate is primarily focused on President Trump’s extortionate demand that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky announce an investigation into the Bidens.

However, it should be kept well in mind by the House managers as they present their case on the Senate floor that Trump has also been impeached for improperly using the powers of his office to pressure Ukraine into investigating, in the words of Article One, “a discredited theory promoted by Russia’s disinformation machine, alleging that Ukraine — rather than Russia — interfered in the 2016 United States Presidential election.”

Russian and right-wing media propaganda, and Trump himself, have wrongly claimed that CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee in 2016 to investigate the massive hack of its server, is “owned by a very rich Ukrainian” and is hiding evidence that could clear Russia of any wrongdoing in regards to the 2016 U.S. election.

U.S. Intelligence agencies agree that this discredited theory, which deftly shifted blame for the cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system away from Russian and squarely onto Ukraine and CrowdStrike, originated as a Russian intelligence talking point before it gained traction in right-wing media outlets and, ultimately, in the White House.

Ukraine could not give into Trump’s demands for an “investigation.” Announcing an investigation of a leading U.S. presidential contender would have been harmful to Zelensky’s reputation, and an investigation by Ukraine into its own government for U.S. election interference would have been crippling to the Zelensky administration. Furthermore, the Ukraine government well knew that once it gave in to Trump’s extortionate demands for announcement of these two bogus investigations, the demands and the extortion would not stop.

Given Ukraine’s extensive experience with predatory Russian practices, the Ukraine government strongly suspected that Putin and his U.S. crony in the White House were capable of neutering and ultimately dismantling Ukraine as an independent pro-Western democracy. Due to the fortuitous public disclosure of the whistleblower complaint and the ensuing impeachment investigation, Ukraine was not forced to subject itself to this destabilizing humiliation.

Make no mistake, the Russians will not hesitate to manipulate the 2020 U.S. election in the same way they did in 2016. They know U.S. election machinery in key swing states is vulnerable, and that many electronic voting machine systems in these states are fully hackable.

The Democratic leadership is understandably hesitant to call Trump’s abuse of power what it is: TREASON. However, the House has at least given its managers the tools to explain to the American people during the impeachment trial that Trump was not just crassly seeking to further his own political interests at the expense of U.S. national security interests, but that he was also trying to do Russia’s bidding while, at the same time, selling out the United States and one of its staunchest allies. The House managers must not ignore this crucial fact.

(Parts of this are edited).

While the impeachment is likely to fizzle out, the issues surrounding it may swirl around the US election all year.

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.

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.