WTF Community

Day 1028


(Matt Kiser) #1

tl;dr\ The first public hearings in the Trump impeachment inquiry started today as the House Intelligence Committee heard testimony from Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior State Department official. Taylor, in closed-door testimony, previously linked Trump to the quid pro quo at the heart of the impeachment probe. Kent previously told investigators that he was uneasy with attempts by Rudy Giuliani to influence Ukraine policy and smear the now-ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://whatthefuckjusthappenedtoday.com/2019/11/13/day-1028/

👀 Impeachment Watch: Day 1.0
Impeachment Inquiry into Trump 2019
(Matt Kiser) #2

:wave: Welcome to the world famous community-powered WTF Just Happened Today Slow Live Blog!

Become the media: Help your fellow WTF readers by contributing links and excerpts of important news and events regarding today’s impeachment hearing below. I’ll compile these contributions as necessary into today’s post while updating this space in real time.


:exploding_head: What’s happened so far:

Last Updated: 2019-11-13T20:30:00Z

  • The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine testified that “Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden” than Ukraine. Bill Taylor told the House Intelligence Committee that a member of his staff overheard the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, mention “the investigations” during a July 26 phone call with Trump – the day after Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son while holding U.S. military aid from Ukraine. Taylor added that “Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.” Taylor said that it “would be crazy” for Trump to withhold “security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign.” Taylor called “alarming” because Ukraine is a “strategic partner” and supporting them against Russian aggression is “clearly in our national interest.” The staffer who heard the conversation, David Holmes, will testify behind closed doors Friday in the House’s impeachment probe. (New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg / NBC News)

  • George Kent testified that Rudy Giuliani conducted a “campaign to smear” the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine by leading an effort to “gin up politically motivated investigations.” Kent testified that Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman tried oust Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, by “peddling false information” and that he “became alarmed” during the late spring and summer of 2019 as those efforts “bore fruit.” Kent also said that by mid-August, Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Zelensky to open investigations into Trump’s rivals were “infecting” the Trump administration’s relationship with Ukraine." Kent – a career State Department foreign service officer – also rejected the notion that Joe Biden improperly interfered in Ukrainian domestic politics for the benefit of his son’s company. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal / Politico)

  • Devin Nunes accused career diplomats testifying of working against Trump as part of a “politicized bureaucracy.” During his opening statement, Nunes also called the hearings a continuation of the “Russia hoax,” one-sided, and unfair to Republicans. Nunes claimed – without evidence – that the witnesses had been chosen after a “closed-door audition process in a cult-like atmosphere” and they had been convinced, “wittingly or unwittingly,” to be part of what he called a “televised theatrical performance, staged by the Democrats.” (Politico / New York Times)

  • Adam Schiff referenced Mick Mulvaney’s “get over it” admission of a quid pro quo during his opening statement. The House Intelligence chairman opened the hearing by laying out what he called a “simple” and “terrible” case that would show “impeachable conduct” by Trump, asking “must we simply ‘get over it?’” Last month during a White House briefing, Mulvaney told “everybody” to “get over it” while confirming that Trump blocked military aid to Ukraine to force Kiev to investigate his political rivals. Mulvaney called the quid pro quo exchange “absolutely appropriate” and that “we do that all the time with foreign policy.” (New York Times / Bloomberg / Politico)

  • Former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch is scheduled to testify before the same committee on Friday. David Holmes, an official working at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and Mark Sandy, an official working in the Office of Management and Budget are also scheduled for closed-door depositions this week. The House Intelligence Committee also announced eight witnesses for public appearances next week: On Tuesday, Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Pence, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a top Ukraine aide on the NSC, Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine negotiations, and Timothy Morrison, a Europe and Russia aide on the NSC, will testify. On Wednesday, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Laura Cooper, a senior Pentagon official who handles Russia and Ukraine matters, and David Hale, the under secretary of state for political affairs, will testify. And, on Thursday, Fiona Hill, the former Russia chief on the NSC, is expected to testify.
    (Politico / Axios)


Live Blogs:
All notes above are from the following live blogs, unless specifically cited inline
New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg / NBC News / CNN / FiveThirtyEight / The Guardian / Politico / CBS News

:tv: Watch live on C-SPAN


:date: Updated timeline regarding Trump’s call with Zelensky:

July 25

  • 7:54 a.m. – Sondland called U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who was in Ukraine having lunch with Andriy Yermak, a senior aide to Zelensky.
  • 8:36 a.m. – Volker sent a text message to Yermak to say he “Heard from White House,” and "Assuming President [Zelensky] convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck!”
  • 9:03 a.m. – Trump and Zelensky spoke with Zelensky promising Trump that “all the investigations will be done openly and candidly.” Trump replied “Good […] I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call […] Whenever you would like to come to the White House feel free to call.” The call ended about 9:30 a.m.
  • 10:15 a.m. – Yermak texted Volker to say the call “went well” and that Zelensky had picked three dates in September “for the White House visit.” Volker then updated Sondland to say he “think[s] everything in place.”

July 26

  • Sondland traveled to Ukraine and during a TV interview linked to the Ukrainian government said he spoke with Trump “just a few minutes before he placed the call” with Zelensky. Sondland called it “a nothing call.”
  • Acting Ukraine ambassador Bill Taylor and Volker met with Zelensky, who said “he was happy with the call but did not elaborate.”
  • Sondland called Trump to tell him about the meetings in Kiev. A member of Taylor’s staff heard Trump on the phone asking Sondland about “the investigations.” The staffer, David Holmes, asked Sondlan what Trump thought about the meeting. Sondland, according to Taylor’s testimony, said that “Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”

(Washington Post)


:fire: News of lesser importance:

1/ Trump attacked House Democrats on Twitter hours before the first public impeachment hearings were set to commence, complaining that Democrats have “stacked the deck” against him and accusing House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff of being a “corrupt politician.” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, meanwhile, called the impeachment hearing “not only boring” but also “a colossal waste of taxpayer time & money” in a tweet. Trump later told reporters that he was “too busy” to watch the impeachment hearings. (Politico / Washington Post / NBC News)

2/ Rudy Giuliani wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal arguing that Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wasn’t an impeachable offense . Giuliani argued that the focus of the call was only “Ukrainian corruption broadly” and that only a fraction of the call was spent asking Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son. “Out of a five-page transcript,” Giuliani wrote, “Mr. Trump spent only six lines on Joe Biden.” (Wall Street Journal / HuffPost)

  • Republicans want to distance Trump from his association with Rudy Giuliani as one of their defensive strategies in the House impeachment inquiry . “So the point is,” said a Republican on one of the impeachment committees, “as long as [Giuliani] is a step removed, [Trump]'s in good shape.” (Axios)

3/ Trump’s senior advisers have been trying to convince him not to fire acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Trump has been threatening to fire Mulvaney for weeks, but was especially upset by Mulvaney’s Oct. 17 press conference, during which Mulvaney admitted that U.S. military aid to Ukraine was withheld as a way to pressure Zelensky to launch investigations that could benefit Trump politically. (Washington Post)

4/ Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Trump at the White House . It is the first time Erdogan has visited the U.S. since Turkey attacked U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria following Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region. Trump and Erdogan are expected to discuss how to maintain the tentative ceasefire that exists in Syria, as well as the fate of the Islamic State fighters who remain detained in that country. (NPR / Associated Press / NBC News / CNN)

  • Erdogan threatened purchase Russian military fighter jets ahead of his White House meeting with Trump. Turkey, a NATO ally, discussed purchasing the fighter jets Putin two weeks ago in Sochi. The Trump administration previously banned the sale of U.S.-made F-35 jets to Turkey in response to Erdogan’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system. (NBC News)

4/ Jared Kushner wants to set up webcams along the U.S.-Mexico border so people can livestream the construction of Trump’s border wall. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials object to the plan because it will make contractor’s “proprietary” construction techniques visible to their competitors. Officials were also concerned that the cameras would show U.S. work crews violating Mexican sovereignty if they stray south of the border to maneuver vehicles and equipment. (Washington Post)

poll/ 81% of voters say there’s little or no chance they’ll change their minds about impeachment as public hearings kick off. 50% of voters support the impeachment inquiry, compared with 41% who oppose it. (Politico)


:books: Stuff you’ll probably never read:

:memo: Perspectives


(Matt Kiser) #3

cross-post


#4

This is totally new information that Taylor recalled after his previous testimony. It is included in this new WaPo timeline of the events surrounding the call, showing that Trump’s extortion/bribery scheme was so much more than just one call.


#5

Heads up Trump is about to give a press conference with the Turkish President. Live stream below :point_down:


(David Bythewood) #6

GOP begins impeachment hearings by grasping at a series of illogical straws

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/11/13/gop-begins-impeachment-hearings-by-grasping-series-illogical-straws/

The public impeachment hearings into President Trump are a difficult prospect for Republicans. On the one hand, many of them are clearly uncomfortable with Trump asking for foreign investigations of political rivals and don’t believe in the baseless conspiracy theories he was pushing. On the other hand, they need to fill what will amount to dozens of hours publicly doing something to defend him.

On Wednesday, we saw the uneven result.

Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee and a GOP counsel who began the questioning spent much of their allotted time driving at a number of talking points aimed at muddying the waters. Their arguments, though, relied on a series of obvious logical fallacies. Indeed, the fact that the witnesses themselves didn’t point this out is a testament to the fact that these aren’t the partisan deep-staters Trump has alleged they are.

Perhaps the central GOP argument was that because the withheld military aid to Ukraine was released without Ukraine announcing Trump’s desired investigations — one involving the Bidens and one involving 2016 election interference — there wasn’t a corrupt quid pro quo. The problem with that is that it ignored three things:

  1. That at the time there was building pressure to release the aid both from a bipartisan group of senators and a newly emerging whistleblower complaint that unearthed this whole scandal.
  2. That the other alleged leverage used as part of a quid pro quo — an Oval Office meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — still hasn’t been delivered, even though Trump appeared to agree to it when Zelensky suggested he would accede to Trump’s requests.
  3. That Zelensky had agreed around the same time to appear on CNN and announce the investigations, as Taylor testified.

Perhaps the second most frequently trafficked argument during Wednesday’s hearing was that Zelensky himself didn’t complain that he felt pressured or blackmailed or extorted by Trump or his team. The problem with that, as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) soon noted, was that Zelensky could never admit such a thing. If he did, he could jeopardize a relationship with Trump that is clearly very important to him — and not just because of military aid. The top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., even suggested Wednesday that Zelensky needs the legitimacy of a Trump meeting to be able to effectively deal with the threat posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Republicans on the committee were also fond of pointing out that the Trump administration provided more and deadlier weaponry to Ukraine than the Obama administration did, even after Russia invaded Crimea in 2014. “Not once were these security dollars related to investigating Burisma or Biden,” exclaimed Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). It’s true that the Trump administration has gone quite a bit further than the Obama administration on this front. But as with the tougher posture toward Russia, it’s not clear that’s because of Trump personally, and it may even be despite him. In fact, Taylor’s testified Wednesday that he was told Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland had said Trump “cares more about the investigations of Biden” than about Ukraine as a country.

Republicans repeatedly alluded in the hearing to things Taylor had said about the Trump administration doing more for Ukraine than Obama had. That may have driven home the above point, but it also undermined the idea that Taylor was somehow hostile to Trump.

‘You’re their star witness?’: Jordan questions Taylor’s understanding of quid pro quo

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on Nov. 13 questioned acting Ambassador William B. Taylor Jr.'s assertion that there was a quid pro quo. (The Washington Post)

Jordan was the designated GOP attack dog on Wednesday (He was appointed to the Intelligence Committee last week to serve just that purpose). He repeatedly suggested Taylor and State Department official George Kent, the other witness Wednesday, were simply passing along claims they had heard at the end of a long game of telephone. And it’s true that they were often testifying to things they had heard from other witnesses, rather than events they witnessed firsthand. But they also spoke to several central witnesses and have had their testimonies corroborated.

Jordan at one point had an aide deliver Sondland’s clarification to his testimony last week, in which Sondland detailed the long chain of information that led to Taylor’s testimony. Except, as Taylor noted at the end of his exchange with Jordan, “The way I read this, [Sondland] understands this the same way I do.”

Sondland had indeed confirmed Taylor’s central testimony: that Sondland had conveyed a quid pro quo to a top Ukrainian official.

The last mainstay of the GOP’s defense was that corruption is endemic in Ukraine and that the company Hunter Biden worked for, Burisma Holdings, has significant issues. Both are true. Kent in particular testified to a number of reservations the U.S. government and he personally had about Burisma. He has also testified that he raised concerns with then-Vice President Joe Biden’s office in 2015 about the appearance of a conflict of interest when Hunter Biden’s employment began. The whole thing reinforced that Hunter Biden’s employment was problematic and that there might be a real reason to investigate Burisma.

What Republicans did not do, however, is ever actually connect that to Trump’s request for an investigation.

Trump explicitly asked Zelensky to not just investigate Burisma or Hunter Biden’s employment; he asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s intervention to get a top Ukrainian prosecutor removed. But Joe Biden did so at a time when that prosecutor wasn’t actively investigating Burisma. And in fact, many Western leaders wanted the prosecutor removed precisely because he wasn’t tough enough on corruption.

That last one is telling. Republicans are doing plenty to try to poke holes in the prevailing Democratic narratives, but they’re rarely connecting their arguments to the actual facts on the ground. They’re essentially trying to muddy the waters without actually defending Trump’s actions. They spent very little time Wednesday dwelling upon what Trump actually requested and what the aides around him did to make it happen.

And they’ve still got a lot more time to fill before this is over.


#7

It’s the Putin/Fertash/Manafort/Yanukovych scheme, Round 2. Trump and Giuliani have allied themselves with the very corrupt Ukrainians the removal of whom has been the goal of US foreign policy: they rely on statements by Shokin, the disgraced prosecutor removed by Joe Biden. They work with Lev and Igor, thugs/associates of Dmitri Fertash, the gangster who paid Manafort to install the utterly corrupt Yanukovych in the first place; and, of course, they improve the negotiating position of Vladimir Putin–dictator of Russia, the country which right now waging war against Ukraine, the country which had made military aid necessary in the first place—to make a settlement with Ukraine that includes clear title to Crimea and perhaps large parts of east Ukraine.


#8

this week’s impeachment summary is up, it’s a monster :dragon_face:


#9

And Stone’s trial is ready for jury deliberations, without Stone taking the stand.
Looks like Stone is trying to elicit a ‘nothingburger’-really-happened verdict - Stone would do the dirty tricks that he’s known for…and he’d lie for the president because that is what he does. Regardless, Stone wants to be telflonated from it.

We’ll see what the jury brings…but these obstructionist tactics, and bullying with the public and the truth have become the new normal. ‘Characters’ like Stone, the gad-fly that he is may just get some justice served up.

Behind these arguments is a mostly implicit but potentially powerful claim: None of this matters. This is a case of Stone, the self-described dirty trickster and a notorious bullshitter, bullshitting, his lawyers suggested. Stone didn’t collude with Russia. So who cares if he fibbed to lawmakers? This argument taps into a common refrain from defenders of President Donald Trump that many of the convictions against the president’s associates have been for lying to the FBI or Congress, not for conspiring with Russia. Perjury is a minor crime, the argument goes, one that’s charged when prosecutors lack a more serious case. So what?

“We live in a world nowadays with Twitter, tweets, social media, where you can find any political view you want,” Marando said in his closing statement. “You can find your own truth.”

While the prosecutor didn’t directly mention Trump, his description came as allies of the president continue to explicitly argue that truth is relative. “Everybody has their impression of what truth is,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) told reporters on Tuesday, amid testimony outlining Trump’s effort to force Ukraine’s president to announce investigations that would benefit Trump politically.

But Marando argued Tuesday that no matter what happens elsewhere, “in American institutions of self governance, courts of law, committee hearings, where people have to testify under oath, truth still matters.”

Mr. Stone lied to Congress,” Marando thundered at jurors. “He obstructed justice and he tampered with a witness, and that matters. And you don’t look at that and you don’t say: ‘So what?’ We ask you to find him guilty of the charged offenses.”

With that, the government’s case against Stone concludes.


(Matt Kiser) closed #10

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