Saturday, September 28, 2019

The start of the stupid Watergate

I've been tracking the developing story about a whistleblower report out of the intelligence services. That was the first bit of info. Next was that Trump made an improper promise to a foreign leader. Next was that it was the leader of Ukraine. (What????? Not Russia????) That was only a week ago.

Now a lot more is known. It's been like a fast moving wildfire, and definitely not contained. Congress wants the whistleblower report, the Inspector General says it should be given to Congress, but the administration overruled that. With those kind of details, it's going to be hard to prevent the release of the report, but the Trump administration is still trying to.

To placate the public, or as a figleaf, the administration released the official transcript of the call between Trump and the president of Ukraine. It's not much of a figleaf, and it won't help. The IG report will have to come out. This is yet another case of:

What you want to hide won't stay hidden.

Well, that's great. My kids will get to experience their own version of Watergate, but with a dumber president. So dumb that he doesn't realize you can't ask the president of Ukraine during an official phone call to investigate the Biden family when Joe Biden happens to be 1) well known, 2) your political opponent, and 3) running for president.

No, Donald Trump, you can't ask for that openly because this isn't a banana republic. The president of the US doesn't get to create goon squads, and he pays price if he does it and it's found out. Doing it offshore and leaning on a vulnerable country makes it even more unethical. We have rules here.

So many links I'll just list them:

Letters to, from, about the Inspector General

Oh, that idiot Rudy Giuliani was pushing the new prez of Ukraine about Biden. Does Giuliani know how to do anything secretly?

The apologists at National Review think it's not a big deal because the president has lots of leeway in running foreign affairs. Hey, they seem to miss that this isn't just a legalistic question.

The conservatives at Washington Examiner get the issues much more clearly. Did Trump try to force Ukraine to do dirty work against one of his political opponents

Seven Dem representatives, all with military and/or intelligence backgrounds (not flaming antifa types) think this behavior from Trump is impeachment-worthy.

How Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine until it started getting hot. No one in Congress knew why, and people started asking questions.

The figleaf - Trump releases the transcript of a conversation with the president of Ukraine. Commentators at WaPo annotate the conversation. Not the most insightful, but worth reading.

The top intelligence official threatened to resign. He will be testifying before Congress, and maybe won't be stonewalling (as the weasly Attorney General usually does). We'll find out soon.

Republican senators enact a scene from The Emperor's New Clothes as they ignore the elephant in the room but worry about the precedent of releasing the transcript.

In a huge irony, the president of Ukraine was visiting Washington today, and had to play along with the charade. That's is just one of the laugh lines.

Related: McConnell finally stopped delaying legislation/money to bolster election security. He earned the name Moscow Mitch for delaying this money for so long. Why now, we must wonder?


A bunch of short, helpful articles.

The White House accidentally sent their talking points to some Dems along with the GOP congress critters. Oops. Some other GOP excuses deconstructed.

The Dems should be inspired by Ulysses S. Grant. He was surrounded by commanders who were paralyzed by fear of Robert E. Lee, but he managed to get them to calm down, take command, and take action. Likewise, Trump will be belligerent, loud, nasty, and unrelenting. The Dems must make sure this doesn't send them into paralysis.


Update 10/9/19. The original memo that the whistleblower wrote (to himself?) one day after the infamous call. Here's the most pointed part:
The official stated that there was already a conversation underway with White House lawyers about how to handle the discussion because, in the official's view, the President had clearly committed a criminal act by urging a foreign power to investigate a U.S. person for the purposes of advancing his own reelection bid in 2020.
Other updates. The Trump administration wanted contracts from Ukraine the most, until Trump wanted political dirt. Some of the GOP senators know that some of the spin (lies) about Biden is wrong. Two GOP senators signed a letter back in 2016 about the level of corruption. Sen. Johnson appears to have forgotten or sold his soul, or both.

Update 10/10/19. Intelligent analysis, mostly of public opinion and the straits GOP politicians are in. Only 17% of Americans think Trump spoke appropriately in the phone call.

Update 11/1/19. The Republicans in the closed door impeachment hearings are trying to unmask the whistleblower and tie anyone who isn't a loyal Trumper to Cjristopher Steele or other boogeymen. Polling shows Americans continue to doubt the actions of Trump, more GOPers being critical.

Ukraine: Ambassadors and prosecutors

Poor Ukraine. It's not good to be Russia's neighbor. They steal elections, get ousted, then steal large amounts of territory. And you're a football between Russian and the US.

But I'll be focusing on how the US has manipulated Ukraine. Starting in 2016, it seems like the Hillary campaign went to the EU/US aligned government (the successor to the ousted Russian-aligned government) and got information that was harmful to Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman for Trump. They also helped with the Mueller investigation.

That's two strikes, especially if you're as vindictive as Trump is. However, Ukraine has lots of backers in Congress, and some in executive branch, but it seems like Trump was not going to be at all sympathetic. Trump did have the problem of looking too pro-Russian, and he figured a way to counter that. He'd give weapons to Ukraine, which is something Obama was very cautious about due to the unintended consequences of wars spreading and weapons being used in unforeseen ways.

So Trump gave Ukraine weapons, and got himself some talking points. He also got some things he didn't talk about. Ukraine stopped working with the Mueller team, shutting down all cooperation. This was back in April 2018.

The Poroshenko government starts playing nice with the Trump administration. But there's trouble in Ukraine, where corruption is rampant and unpopular. Poroshenko is voted out in April 2019, and a new government by a comedian is in. The Trump administration doesn't know if the new government will play ball the way the Poroshenko government learned to do,

Leaning on the New Government

So money stops flowing from the US to Ukraine as Trump waits to see how cooperative the new government will be. One thing Trump has on his wishlist is dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Giuliani will be the go-between and enforcer, making sure the dirty deed is getting done.

With this background, it's not hard to understand the phone call. Zelensky, the new Ukrainian president, is kissing up as hard as he can, It starts with Zelensky saying how Trump's surprise electoral win inspired his own win, and a mention of draining the swamp. Major sucking sounds from Zelensky, but what choice was he have? Zelensky is very eager to conduct whatever investigation Trump asks for, and even asks for additional information from the US that won't be helpful. Is that a coded way to ask Trump what he wants them to say?

On the other hand, he makes no promises about who his new chief prosecutor would be, even after Trump says that the last one was very good and very fair. When you read below about the chief prosecutors, you have to wonder if anyone fits that description.

The Prosecutors

The two prosecutor to be aware of are Shokin and Lutsenko. Shokin was the corrupt prosecutor in 2016 whom Biden, the EU, and the IMF forced out. Supposedly he was investigating Hunter Biden at Burisma, a gas company, but most reports say that the investigation was not ongoing.

Lutsenko was a real piece of work. He was the chief prosecutor under Poroshenko, and he lost his job when Poroshenko lost reelection. (Hmmmm, lost reelection... that sounds good.) Lutsenko accused the US ambassador of giving him a list of people and companies who couldn't be investigated or charged. But it was all a lie. That gives a sense of the ethics of this guy. It seems possible to me that both Giuliani and Trump were pushing Zelensky to re-instate him. It's no wonder since he was probably playing ball with the Trump administration, taking their direction to stop cooperating with the Mueller investigation and who knows what else. He seems to have been a good toady (to Trump) who lost his job due to Ukrainian public dissatisfaction and 'voting the crooks out.'

The Ambassadors

The most important ambassador is Marie Yovanovitch. She is the one Trump mentioned disrespectfully. Lutsenko accused her of interfering and ordering him not to investigate people, and she was removed by Trump for not playing ball. She's a career diplomat, well versed in Slavic countries, and well respected by her colleagues according to reports. Perhaps she's too professional, especially when the prez wants his personal lawyer to tell a country that they should investigate his personal political rival. Basically, she was stabbed by Trump and his dog pack.

Other ambassadors. Volker    Volker resigned.
Sondland. More serious than Trump's usual backers.

What will the Ukrainian government do now that the pressure is no longer covert? It seems to me that the Ukrainians can make their own choices. They have enough supprt from Americans and in Congress that Trump can't put the screws on them again. Relations between the US and Ukraine will be closely scrutinized. Giuliani's travel will be closely scrutinized. Trump and Giuliani's plans - simply screwed. Such poetic justice in that.

Funny bits: President Zelensky has won a not-so-nice nickname in Ukraine: Monica Zelensky. Oooh, burn. But he's also helped shine a light on the cockroach named Trump.

Giuliani is spinning like mad. He's trying to indicate that he had State Department backing, but that doesn't help the State Department look good. It just shows how many people didn't feel they could push back from Trump's vendetta. However, Giuliani may have his own vendetta against Biden. For one thing, Biden landed a punch against Guiliani during Giuliani's campaign for president. 'Every sentence he says has a noun, a verb, and 9/11.' It was quite a takedown.

Recap: A who's who from CNN. A bunch of lies from an opinion writer at Fox, including the statement (as though it's fact) that Joe Biden received over $1 billion in bribes from China.

Five amigos

Update 10/3/19. Texts among State Departnment personnel and others show that Ukraine was being squeezed, though they were careful not to put the most damning info into texts.

Update 10/23/19. Lots of state department folks are testifying in the House. The replacement for the ousted ambassador was particularly searing. Trump called the guy a 'never-Trumper' and doesn't want to hire anymore like him. Maybe he wants clear loyalty (echoes of what Comey reported). In another (unraveling) angle, Giuliani was working with some rather unsavory characters, and probably even more still to be uncovered and possibly indicted.

Update 10/24/19. More details. Trump wanted the Ukrainians to publicly announce investigations as a sign of their strong commitment. Plus this tidbit: two dozen House GOPers tried to storm a closed hearing, and complain about it being secret. But Trey Gowdy, a former House GOPer and future lawyer to Trump, is on video saying how open hearings are useless, while private hearings are effective.

Update 11/7/19. More about the feud between Giuliani and Biden. When it might have started--from a journalist who isn't exactly a friend of Giuliani. Giuliani insulting Biden in 2012. Biden's quips about Giuliani are lost, but there is a bit of context to help the imagination.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Weather-gate and Trump's stubbornness

Trump lies again and again. This isn't a surprise by now, but it's getting dumber. Trump made a mistake by saying Alabama was in range of a hurricane. Instead of correcting his mistake, or just letting it go, he doubled down repeatedly. It got too much media coverage because it was such foolish behavior. Even cowardly agencies under his thumb got involved.

It's hard to say what was the worst part of this unnecessary debacle. It wouldn't have been at all bad if it had ended with this (after Trump erroneously said Alabama could be hit):
[The] Birmingham office of the National Weather Service, in response to a flurry of calls and inquiries, issued a correction on Twitter, saying, "Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian." -- GQ magazine
But, nooooo, Trump couldn't let that stand. He couldn't admit even a tiny mistake. He had to blather (incorrectly) that Alabama had been a very likely target in the storm, including nonsense that there was a 95% chance of Alabama being hit at one point in the modeling. That was Trump being his usual fucking egotistical maniac self. 

Then Trump marked up an official weather service map to include Alabama. This is almost like changing the answer key on a test. Trump is so divorced from the truth that he'll pretend official information doesn't say what it says. And of course he used it as another skirmish in his war on the media, particularly CNN. 

This is all a game to Trump. The guy has no respect for truth or science, just for power. I'm absurdly eager for a break from this stupidity.

Wait, where did that black line come from?

Update 9/9/19. A number of officials in the weather/oceanic agency are loudly standing up for the scientists and accurate reporting and are pointing out how the mealy-mouthed communications supporting Trump are wrong. It looks like they are daring Trump to fire them. I don't think they'll be fired because it would be too obvious. How will Trump react? We'll see.

Update 9/11/19. An opinion column on this debacle with a some new info. The Secretary of Commerce ordered the support of the naked prez on pain of beheading, or similar. Sigh. Truth is not an option.