A Sober AssessmentPosted: September 29, 2019 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Abuse of Presidential Power, Impeachment, Impeachment Inquiry, Presidential Elections, U.S. National Security, Ukraine Leave a comment
With Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) decision to open an impeachment inquiry into the actions of the president, a new chapter of American history is about to be written. This is serious business and it should be approached soberly by all of us.
Recognizing that I have used this space before to call for an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump’s activities, I still caution everyone, Democrat, Republican, Independent or Undecided to pay attention to events as they unfold and not to jump to any conclusions until all of the facts are known and fully understood. Such an inquiry should not be taken lightly and the full consequences for our democracy should be fully understood and everyone must conduct themselves appropriately.
Please keep in mind, as well, that the inquiry is only the first step of many as the Congress moves forward. An inquiry determines if the House of Representatives considers there to be sufficient evidence to formulate Articles of Impeachment. If they so decide that the evidence exists, then through the Judiciary Committee they formulate the Articles and the entire House votes on each Article as to whether it should be referred to the Senate. The vote is on a simple majority. Should Articles be approved, the matter is referred to the Senate for a trial. It takes a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict on any particular Article. Think of the House as a grand jury. They investigate and if they find sufficient evidence they refer it to trial in the Senate. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides at the trial, although the Majority Leader of the Senate can formulate the process by which the trial proceeds.
In my view, the inquiry is fully appropriate. Forget for the moment (if such is possible) the results of the Mueller Report, the misappropriation of funds, the declarations of National Emergencies where none exist, the violation of campaign laws and the rest of it. The information that became available in the course of last week concerning Mr. Trump’s interactions with the president of Ukraine is sufficient, in and of itself, to warrant investigation.
If you remember nothing else, note that the Russian interference involved the 2016 election. Mr. Trump was working to solicit interference in the 2020 election. After all we learned about the past, Mr. Trump intended to move ahead with a bigger and better plan to throw the next election. Note that his now famous phone call took place the day after Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller testified before Congress. In the phone call Mr. Trump is quoted as saying, “As you saw yesterday, that whole performance ended with a poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine.” In Mr. Trump’s mind there was no consequence to his actions in 2016 so he decided to do it again.
The information in the public domain was released by the Trump Administration itself. The memorandum for the record of the 25 July conversation (read it here) and the unclassified version of the whistle-blower’s complaint (read it here) were not “leaked” or otherwise released by nefarious means. Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump have themselves validated that the events occurred as depicted in those documents. And more.
It is the “and more” that adds context to the matter and illustrates the depth of the alleged abuse of office. The problem is way more concerning than one phone call, although in itself it is quite serious.
Without going into every twist and turn, the big picture indicates that Mr. Giuliani began working with the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter in late 2018, as soon as it became apparent the Mr. Biden would run for president and be a serious threat to Mr. Trump’s re-election. He worked with discredited and then current Ukrainian prosecutors of the government of President Poroshenko. In January, February, and March of this year he continued to pressure them to investigate the Bidens and to promote disproved conspiracy theories concerning the Democratic National Committee emails and servers and the then Ambassador from the U.S. to Ukraine, claiming that they worked to interfere in the 2016 election (not the Russians).
All was going well from Mr. Giuliani’s stand point until on 21 April Volodymyr Zelensky beat all predictions by defeating Mr. Poroshenko in the presidential election. Mr. Zelensky ran on a platform of eliminating corruption in the Ukrainian government and nearly all new prosecutors were appointed. Much of Mr. Giuliani’s work went to waste and they needed to start over in trying to co-opt the Ukrainians. That process began with a congratulatory phone call to the winner.
In May the president permanently recalled U.S. Ambassador Masha Yovanonitch, a career State Department employee, because she was trying to counter Mr. Giuliani’s attempts at co-opting the new government. She was, in essence, fired for working to protect the national security interests of the United States.
Later in May, Mr. Trump cancelled Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to the Ukrainian president’s inauguration, an embarrassing blow to the new president. In the whistle-blower’s complaint the reason was to withhold favors for Mr. Zelensky until they could determine if he would “play ball” with Mr. Trump through Mr. Giuliani — presumably meaning that they would work to discredit the Bidens and to support conspiracy theories about former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails.
In July of this year, the Office of Management and Budget, on the direction of the president himself, according to the whistle-blower, withheld much needed military and other aid for Ukraine. When State Department and Pentagon officials tried to find out the reason, they were stonewalled. On 25 July the president made his phone call and on the 26th, envoys of the U.S. met with President Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials to help them “navigate the demands the president had made” the previous day.
Other outrageous details of improper behavior can be found in the complaint that the Intelligence Community (IC) Inspector General (IG) and the Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) both testified was “credible.” Both individuals were appointed by Mr. Trump.
It might also be noted quickly that Ukraine is in a fighting war with Russia. 13,000 Ukrainians have died in the fight and the Russians helped to shoot down Malaysian Air Flight 17 with the loss of all 298 people onboard. Any delay or cancellation of arms to Ukraine helps Russia in its efforts.
In the grand tradition of Washington DC, a cover-up occurred. As a minimum, the details of the phone call and other activities were over-classified and stored on a computer designed to be used for only the highest classified compartmented information. This was a decision designed to protect Mr. Trump from embarrassing domestic political activity. We do not know how many other conversations or documents are improperly classified in order to protect the president from his own actions and words by hiding them from the public and government officials that might object to such activity.
These are serious allegations that cannot be brushed away. They certainly deserve a full investigation. One can than decide for oneself whether or not the facts as they are uncovered deserve impeachment or not.
In that discussion, remember that a lot of smoke is going to be blown to try and hide the real transgressions. Some will take a narrow legal approach that no U.S. laws were actually broken. Others will argue that a president has the Constitutional right to conduct foreign policy in any manner that they choose. Some will argue it was “just a phone call” to a country that no one cares about. Others will argue that we as citizens are naive if we don’t think that this is how it is always done. Some will simply argue that there is nothing to see here, please move along.
We have a national security interest in Ukraine because if Russia gets away with its aggression, Russia has ambitions concerning other “traditional” Russian areas such as the Baltic states. As members of NATO, any attack on the Baltic states is an attack on all members of NATO, including the U.S.
I simply say that the President of the United States, by his own admission and corroborated by Mr. Giuliani and others, used his office to involve a foreign government in our national elections in an attempt to personally benefit from another nation’s activities at the expense of our own national security.
To ignore it is to condone it.
A Line In The SandPosted: September 24, 2019 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Abuse of Presidential Power, Congress, Constitution, Donald Trump, Impeachment, Obstruction of Justice, Russia, Ukraine 1 Comment
For those that take even the most cursory notice of events on the daily news, you have no doubt heard that the president once again broke the norms of presidential behavior by, again, using his office for personal gain. He will stop at nothing if it serves his personal interests. He has yet to see any consequences to his actions and is increasingly emboldened to do whatever the heck he wants to do — legal or not.
He already moved beyond the boundaries of ethical and moral behavior. Now that he sees no consequences from the Mueller Report and has an Attorney General that has decreed the president is above the law — any law — while in office, he sees nothing that can slow him down, much less stop him, from pursuing whatever he wants to do.
The only possible way to put a check on his actions is to impeach him, and the Democrats are dithering and wringing their hands in an ineffective effort to provide oversight of Mr. Trump’s presidency. So far they’ve brought a butter knife to a grenade fight. Mr. Trump has refused to provide any documents or to allow any testimony from anyone that he deems a possible threat to his reign. Across the board. Including hum-drum, every day just-trying-to-do-business subjects. Total non-cooperation.
That may be about to change.
The latest insult to the office, to our country and to all of us as citizens involves the president’s efforts, aided and abetted by his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani (who has no role in the government or the administration, a fact that will become significant) to get a foreign power to interfere in the 2020 election. Sound familiar?
As briefly as possible, the entire situation came to light when the president instructed his Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to break the law. Also known as obstruction of justice. (Note that Mr. Trump fired the DNI and the Deputy DNI last month.) That came about because an intelligence official turned in a complaint to the Inspector General (IG) of the Intelligence Community — who, by the way, was appointed by Mr. Trump — stating that the president interacted with the head of a foreign government in a way that was detrimental to the interests of the United States. The specifics of the claim are classified. The law requires that if the IG finds the complaint credible and urgent that it must (“shall be”) be turned over to the Intelligence Committees of the House and Senate. The Acting DNI refused based on directions from the Executive Branch. The IG went to Congress and explained what happened and stood by his initial determination that it should go to Congress. The Acting DNI continues to refuse to turn it over.
I predict that the president will release a transcript of his conversation that will be spun to show he didn’t do what is alleged. Firstly, we know we cannot trust Mr. Trump to be truthful, therefore how do we know it is the actual transcript? Secondly, and more importantly, the transcript is not nearly as important as the original whistle blower complaint. That document would give a fuller story and put the events in context. The Administration has no intention of turning that over. In itself, that to me is evidence that something serious occurred that Mr. Trump does not want us to know about.
In short, since then we have learned from Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani themselves, as well as from wide spread reporting in the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, that the complaint involves the President of Ukraine who Mr. Trump tried to bully (eight times according to reports) into finding “dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. We learned today that Mr. Trump withheld needed military funding and aid for Ukraine totaling nearly 400 million dollars. The reporting alleges that Mr. Trump wanted the dirt before he would release the money. Congress had authorized the money in two different bills early this year. Over the summer inquiries began to build as to why the money had not been made available to the government of Ukraine, currently locked into a shooting war with Russia. (Russia! Again!)
In sum, Mr. Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to interfere in the 2020 election by supplying information (whether true or not, more on that in a minute) on Mr. Biden and his son that the Trump Campaign could use to slime the individual Mr. Trump most fears as his opponent in the election. In exchange, he would release the money Congress appropriated (yet another presidential abuse of the power invested by the Constitution in the Congress) to help the Ukrainians defend themselves against Russia — who annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and is trying to obtain more Ukrainian territory.
Mr. Trump and his allies are trying to make the focus of the story about Mr. Biden and corruption. (Kind of hits close to home when the president’s children are trotting around the world doing business with their father’s permission and help, spending taxpayer’s money for Secret Service protection and other expenses.)
The thing is, the Ukrainians already investigated the allegations against the Bidens and guess what? There is nothing to it. No corruption. No undue pressure. Nothing. And if you listen closely to Mr. Trump and his lackeys, they present no evidence that anything is amiss. Just innuendo and questions as to why no one is looking into it. (BECAUSE THEY ALREADY DID!) And don’t forget that Mr. Trump is on the record with over 12,000 lies since taking office.
I do not give Mr. Trump or his campaign any slack regarding their involvement with Russia during the 2016 campaign. (“Russia if you’re listening….”) But maybe one could make a case that they did not know what they were doing.
That does not fly in this situation.
The President. Of the United States. Used the full authority and weight of his office — himself, in his own voice — to try and convince a foreign state to interfere in our election against a specific opponent in exchange for funds desperately needed for their protection.
This alone is an impeachable offense. Abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
However, add it to the list of other impeachable offenses and one would think that the House of Representatives has to act. The Mueller Report defines ten times Mr. Trump obstructed the investigation of his involvement with Russia in 2016. Over one thousand former federal attorneys — Republicans and Democrats — publicly stated that they would have prosecuted any other citizen with that evidence. The U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York lists him as an unindicted co-conspirator in election campaign fraud when he paid off two mistresses to keep them from speaking up before the election. And on and on and on.
When do we put a stop to the madness? The more he gets away with, the more emboldened he is to do more. We are still over a year from the election. Anyone that thinks Mr. Trump won’t try every illegal dirty trick in the book to stay in office is not paying attention. At the risk of sounding like I am hyperventilating, I can envision our very democracy at stake.
The Republicans, led by Senator Mitch McConnell (Tr-KY), a.k,a. “Moscow Mitch” are now a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump, Inc. Perhaps my biggest disappointment, even shock, is that not one Republican Senator, or Congressman, has said “enough”! According to multitudes of reports, in private conversations many elected Republicans worry because they do not like the way Mr. Trump operates and see him as a threat to our country. Yet, not a peep. To stay silent is to be a co-conspirator. They are aiding and abetting a president that is out of control. Not a patriot among them.
As I get ready to publish this, it appears that later today the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will announce a preliminary impeachment inquiry.
Mr. Trump may not realize he has crossed a line in the sand. The American people will not stand for his shenanigans forever.
But if we do, God help us all.
Still No PesosPosted: September 5, 2019 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Appropriations, Congress, Donald Trump, Immigration, NATO, Politics, The Wall, United States Constitution Leave a comment
Throughout his campaign and then during his reelection rallies as president, Mr. Donald J. Trump continually declared that he would build a wall along the border with Mexico and that Mexico would pay for it. Time after time this was his go-to rally cry to fire up his base.
There is only one problem. Mexico supplied exactly zero pesos to build his wall.
Signaling that his wall promise was a scam, in January, 2017 Mr. Trump signed Executive Order 13767 that directed the federal government to begin building the wall using U.S. government funds. No construction began because the funding was not there and it was unclear where funds for a wall existed.
Please remember that the Republican Party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress for two years, including 2017. No funds were appropriated because the majority of those in Congress, including Republicans, realized that the wall was a terrible waste of money.
Also recall that in a compromise move, the Democrats in Congress offered Mr. Trump over 20 billion dollars for his wall in exchange for permanent legal status for the “Dreamers” (those under DACA, the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals order). Mr. Trump was for it before he was against it. He walked away without a deal.
Switching tactics, Mr. Trump shut down the government for 35 days at the end of 2018 and into 2019, the longest in American history, holding the country hostage to get funding for his wall. Congress held firm. Still no wall.
Trying yet again, in February, 2019 Mr. Trump declared a National Emergency using a loophole in an act passed during the Cold War intended to be used in a fast breaking real time emergency. He tried to use that as the vehicle to move funds to build his wall that had not been appropriated for that purpose. That move was blocked by a bipartisan vote in both houses of Congress. Mr. Trump vetoed that bill and Congress did not override his veto.
Efforts in the courts effectively blocked construction by precluding any use of appropriated funds not intended for the wall. In July of this year, on a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court allowed the use of 2.5 billion dollars in funds on the border while legal proceedings continue.
Many Constitutional experts assert that Mr. Trump’s use of these funds for a wall violates the spirit and letter of the Constitution which clearly gives the power over financial expenditures to the Congress. Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution says “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” In 2019 Congress specifically forbade the use of federal money for the wall.
To date, no new wall, fence or other barrier exists. There have been upgrades to existing fences and barriers that needed repairs.
Yesterday the Trump Administration revealed that the Department of Defense (DOD) would divert 3.6 billion dollars from DOD construction projects to be used on the wall. These were not nice-to-have items. Many of the projects were needed to repair or replace infrastructure damaged by natural disasters. Among them are:
- 400 million dollars for rebuilding military structures in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as part of the recovery from damage following Hurricane Maria.
- 17 million dollars for Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida to rebuild following severe damage from Hurricane Michael.
- 770 million dollars intended to help our NATO allies by building facilities for U.S. forces to operate in response to expanded Russian adventurism in Europe. Specifically, the European Deterrence Initiative is a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. I would bet Mr. Vladimir Putin is glad to hear of this change.
- Several projects to rebuild substandard schools on military bases.
- And on and on for bases in Utah, North Carolina, Arizona, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, Hawaii, Alaska and other states.
In addition, the Trump Administration is re-allocating nearly 300 million dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the U.S. Coast Guard even as Hurricane Dorian bears down on the mainland.
Besides being a dangerous precedent for future presidents who are thwarted by Congress and declare a National Emergency to get their funding anyway, it is also bad policy.
These construction projects that are now “deferred” run the danger of never being built. The Trump Administration says that future appropriations bills will pick up the funding for these needed repairs and new construction. The Democrats in Congress and some Republicans, although they mostly remain as the silent majority, argue that they will never appropriate funds for those projects because they don’t have to — they already did it and cannot appropriate funds that they already appropriated. (And you thought Alice in Wonderland had some strange characters.)
What makes this entire bizarre episode so sad is that there is only one reason that this is happening. Mr. Trump fears the voters in 2020 that he promised in 2016 would get a wall. As his signature promise, if he fails to deliver, he will be shown to be as weak and unable to govern as he actually is. This diversion of funds is a perverted use of presidential power to further the ambitions of a single person for his own gain.
It is probably only the beginning of the bizarre and Constitutionally dubious actions this president is likely to take to further his own personal goals as the election gets closer. Mr. Trump does not have the best interests of the country as his guiding light. He only cares about himself.