The Trump legal team and GOP Senate strategy is “no witnesses”.
Trump from Davos asked for witnesses, then backpedaled, and now this.
He is literally undermining his own defense team. So… good? I guess?
The Trump legal team and GOP Senate strategy is “no witnesses”.
Trump from Davos asked for witnesses, then backpedaled, and now this.
He is literally undermining his own defense team. So… good? I guess?
Latest FOIA document release contains emails relevant to impeachment that were held back from Congress and are heavily redacted.
A massive tranche of Ukraine-related emails was released just before midnight Tuesday. Several of those documents reveal White House officials allegedly plotting to withhold military aid in violation of federal law—even before President Donald Trump’s infamous July 25, 2019 phone call.
Released by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) per the terms of a court order, the 192-pages-worth of heavily-redacted emails came to light through an exceptionally well-timed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. That FOIA request was initiated and then pressed in the courts by American Oversight, a nonprofit focused on government transparency issues.
Observers immediately noticed that many of those FOIA-produced documents had not been provided to the House of Representatives—though all would have been considered relevant and responsive to the Democratic Party’s impeachment investigations in the House.
Vermont’s first and only Democratic senator [Patrick Leahy] continued:
Despite RAMPANT abuse of FOIA exemptions [and] redactions (literal cover ups), the docs show [White House] staff laying the groundwork for the unlawful aid hold, the DAY BEFORE and EVEN DURING Trump’s infamous call with [Ukrainian] Pres. [ Volodymyr ] Zelensky . Don’t Americans deserve the full story?
Leahy’s concerns are largely borne out by the documents themselves. Most are blacked out with the official censor’s digital pen—almost entirely. But the emails do show White House and Republican operatives discussing the aid withholding scheme days before Trump spoke with Zelensky and allegedly attempted to leverage that aid into an investigation aimed at potential 2020 foe Joe Biden .
The first email in the document release is dated June 19, 2019 and was sent by Michael Duffey, a GOP apparatchik who Trump appointed head of national security programs at OMB. The recipient of that first email was Russell Vought, a movement conservative who Trump chose to help Mick Mulvaney spearhead OMB functions as the latter served out his dual role playing the 45th president’s acting chief of staff. All three have declined to testify in the impeachment inquiry.
The email itself contains a forwarded news article regarding a certain congressionally-authorized $250 million aid package for the Ukrainian military.
“Looking into options and will follow-up,” Duffey told Vought in the first email.
A separate email chain a few days before the “perfect phone call” explicitly references the decided-upon plan. Sent by Duffey to former acting OMB director Mark Sandy , the subject line reads “Reprogramming Approval.”
The contents are all-but fully redacted:
A second e-mail chain, actually sent during the Trump-Zelensky call as Leahy noted, appears to detail what happened next:
American Oversight’s Executive Director Austin Evers issued a general statement about the document dump’s utility during the current phase of the impeachment process.
“President Trump’s lawyers stood in the Senate on Tuesday arguing that documents are totally unnecessary for the impeachment trial, but these documents give lie to that entire position,” Evers said. “Despite the Trump Administration’s obstruction and the rhetoric at the trial, the public can now see even more evidence of the president’s corrupt scheme as it unfolded in real time. The volume of material released, and the volume of material still secreted away, only highlights how much the administration has withheld from the House, the Senate, and the American public.”
Some have argued that the president has executive power in order to act in the national interest, and that when he uses that power to further his personal or political interests, he is abusing his office. As Professor Noah Feldman put it, “You define the abuse of power by the idea that the president is doing something that’s within his constitutional authority, it’s within his power, like putting pressure on a foreign government, but he’s doing it not to serve the interests of the United States but to serve his personal interest and the interest of getting reelected.”
But this can’t be right. The White House will negotiate a photo-op with the Queen (with no significant diplomatic content) for no other reason than creating campaign materials. Many trade deals are negotiated against a background shaped by the electoral prospects of incumbents from agricultural and manufacturing states; the timing of foreign arms control treaties is often calibrated against the timing of upcoming elections.
It wasn’t simply that President Trump in his conversations with the Ukrainian president attempted to entice a “favor” that might prove helpful in Trump’s campaign for reelection. Rather it was what the president did to get that favor: the refusal of the president to disburse congressionally authorized military assistance is a violation of law that strikes at the heart of Constitutional government. To use that violation as the basis for securing a political advantage is an abject abuse of power. The fact that releasing the funds was conditioned on Ukraine doing a political favor to Donald Trump is what transmutes an ordinary bit of politics into the subversion of our most important constitutional structures.
Many supporters of this president see nothing significant in the withholding of funds appropriated by Congress to support Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression—an aggression that has already claimed 13,000 lives and dismembered parts of the Ukrainian state. They may want to think again.
Suppose the next president withheld emergency disaster relief, appropriated by Congress from American taxpayers and signed into law, until a state official promised to announce an investigation into the president’s political opponent. (Watch professor Pamela Karlan’s articulation of that hypothetical in congressional hearings.)
Or suppose a president redirected funds appropriated by Congress for medical assistance to a stricken country—perhaps even one on our borders where a pandemic raged — until local officials opened criminal investigations of American political figures or their relatives.
The reason such maneuvers are so constitutionally damaging, the reason they are precisely the sort of high crime—like bribery and treason—that the framers made the basis for impeachment, is that they strike at the heart of government under constitutional law. In this case it is the constitutional law of Congressional appropriations, which is more fundamental to the integrity of our constitutional system than seems to be widely appreciated.
The central bargain of representative government is that the taxing and spending powers are placed in the hands of elected officials who are accountable to the voters every two years. When the president refuses to disburse funds, or finances US government operations out of private funds, he commits the gravest of Constitutional offenses.
This is why the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 was adopted: to prevent the president from acquiring a super-veto over legislation by simply refusing to execute appropriated funds. And that is why the finding last week by the GAO that the president had violated that law is so salient to the ongoing impeachment proceedings, and should be a game changer of sorts at least for those not fully paying attention. The GAO was deliberate in saying that President Trump’s withholding the aid ran afoul of his constitutional duty. “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 agency stated.
What’s more, this is not the only statutory (and constitutional) violation implicated by the president’s maneuvering to get the Ukrainians involved in our elections. Federal law makes it a crime to “attempt to cause any person to make a contribution of a thing of value (including services) for the benefit of any candidate…by means of the denial or deprivation, or the threat of the denial or deprivation, of…. any payment or benefit of a program of the United States ,… if such……payment, or benefit is provided for…by an Act of Congress” (emphasis supplied). It’s hard to imagine a statutory provision more closely matching the fact pattern in the Ukraine scandal than that provision.
My point is simply a clarifying one: abuse of power may indeed be the basis for the impeachment and removal from office of a president if he corruptly acts to further his political interest. This is not just a matter of perspective. To withhold funds of this magnitude in the context of active warfare in order to influence the reputation of a political adversary is a high crime of the highest constitutional importance. It is not merely a matter of politics as usual, and politics as usual do not constitute the abuse of office.
On the opening day of the impeachment trial, the Senate, in a party-line vote of 53–47, approved an organizing resolution establishing the ground rules for the trial and rejecting efforts by Democrats to compel the testimony of witnesses and the production of documents not included by the House in its impeachment inquiry. However, the resolution allows Democrats to renew their motions to subpoena witnesses and documents after House managers and the president’s defense lawyers have completed their opening statements. The fateful battle over witnesses will thus begin in earnest next week.
In December, Donald Trump became only the third U.S. president to be impeached. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell succeeds in his intention to prevent any witnesses from testifying, Trump will become the first president to be acquitted by an unconstitutional impeachment process.
McConnell has created the mistaken impression that the Constitution does not provide any guidance about the impeachment process, and that the procedures for the trial—including motions to call witnesses—can be determined by a majority vote. Although the Senate has broad discretion to set the rules for the trial, Supreme Court Justice Byron White, in a concurring opinion in Nixon v. United States (1993), a case involving the impeachment of federal Judge Walter Nixon, found in the impeachment-trial clause of Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution a limitation on the method by which the Senate can conduct an impeachment proceeding. The text of the clause states, “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.” Justice White interpreted the word try to mean that the impeachment proceeding must be in the nature of a judicial trial, and concluded that “a procedure that could not be deemed a trial by reasonable judges” would be unconstitutional.
White found support for his conclusion in the Framers’ understanding of the impeachment process, particularly the arguments by Alexander Hamilton, the delegate to the Constitutional Constitution who devoted the most attention to the impeachment function of the Senate. Contrary to McConnell’s assertion that impeachment is actually a “political process” and that “there’s not anything judicial about it,” Hamilton described the Senate in “Federalist No. 65” as possessing a “judicial character as a court for the trial of impeachments,” and in “Federalist No. 66,” he repeatedly referred to the Senate as “a court of impeachments.”
There is a widespread assumption among Americans that it is perfectly legitimate for the trial to be conducted as a no-holds-barred partisan battle, with senators voting along party lines, rather than impartially deciding the merits of the case. This is contrary to the Framers’ intent. Hamilton regarded the upper chamber as “the most fit depositary” for the impeachment trial because it provided “the necessary impartiality between an individual accused, and the representatives of the People, his accusers.”
The choice of the Senate made sense for the Framers, who contemplated a republic without strong parties and a Senate whose members —elected by state legislatures until the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified in 1913—were expected to function in a less partisan, more deliberative, and wiser manner than their popularly elected counterparts in the House. The impeachment oath, which requires senators to “do impartial justice,” is not a quaint ritual to be performed with a wink and a nod, but a procedure required by the Constitution because the Framers intended the impeachment proceeding to be run much like a judicial trial.
Senators are thus constitutionally bound to follow what Justice White described as “a set of minimal procedures.” His opinion does not specify their exact contours, except to say that they must be the kinds of procedures a reasonable judge would regard as necessary components of a court trial. Because no reasonable judge would refuse to allow witnesses with personal knowledge of the facts to testify in an ordinary trial, it is the Constitution itself that establishes the right of House managers to call witnesses such as former National Security Adviser John Bolton and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Both men are thought to have firsthand knowledge of the president’s purpose in holding up congressionally approved military assistance to Ukraine after a phone call in which Trump asked the country’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
At least three moderate Republican senators—Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Susan Collins of Maine—have indicated their openness to hearing testimony from Bolton and other key witnesses, which leaves the 47 members of the Democratic caucus one vote short of the majority needed to compel testimony from the four current and former administration officials on their witness list. In addition to Bolton and Mulvaney, House managers want to call Robert Blair, a senior adviser to Mulvaney, and Michael Duffey, a top official in the White House Office of Management and Budget who, at the direction of the president, ordered the hold on the military assistance 90 minutes after the phone call. The nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office has ruled that even if the president withheld the aid for national-policy reasons, rather than for personal political gain, his action violated the Impoundment Control Act because the president cannot substitute his own policy priorities for those of Congress.
New documents provided on January 14 to the House Intelligence Committee by Lev Parnas, an indicted former associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, will increase pressure on Republican senators to allow additional testimony and evidence, including testimony from Parnas himself, because they demonstrate how much remains unknown. “There is news every day and that will likely be factored in,” Senator Murkowski said when asked about the documents, which include a letter signed by Giuliani stating that his communications with Zelensky were made with Trump’s “knowledge and consent.” Parnas also gave a rather sensational interview to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, in which he linked Trump to Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Zelensky to announce an investigation of the Bidens, saying the president “knew exactly what was going on.”
Even if McConnell, in the face of this new evidence, can prevent the defection of more than three Republican senators, a majority vote of the Senate cannot validate the unconstitutional exclusion of witnesses from an impeachment trial. If Republicans succeed in preventing House managers from calling witnesses with firsthand knowledge of relevant facts, an acquittal of the president will be unconstitutional. Given that a majority of the Supreme Court in Nixon ruled that a Senate impeachment trial is not subject to judicial review, the question remains, if the courts cannot overturn a Senate verdict, what are the legal consequences of an unconstitutional acquittal?
An answer is provided by a momentous opinion of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which is responsible for providing the president with “controlling advice” on questions of law. The relevant OLC opinion is the same one that furnished the basis for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion that he was prohibited from prosecuting Trump before he left office, even if there was overwhelming evidence that the president had committed serious crimes.
The OLC opinion, written in 2000 by then–Assistant Attorney General Randolph Moss, explains that the reason prohibiting the prosecution of a criminally culpable president does not violate the “important national interest in ensuring that no person—including the President—is above the law” is because “the constitutionally specified impeachment process ensures that the immunity would not place the president ‘above the law.’”
If the impeachment process conducted by the Senate is unconstitutional, the unavailability of either criminal prosecution or a legitimate impeachment trial as a means of presidential accountability, according to the OLC opinion’s own reasoning, would “subvert the important interest in maintaining ‘the rule of law.’”
An unconstitutional verdict of acquittal would present Americans with something far worse than a constitutional crisis. The nation will have blundered its way into creating an accidental autocracy governed by a president who, even if not reelected, would remain in office until January 20, 2021, beyond the reach of the rule of law.
“Wherever law ends, tyranny begins,” John Locke cautioned in his Two Treatises of Government . This is how autocracy comes to America: not with a declaration of martial law and tanks in the street, but by a roll-call vote in the Senate whipped by the leader of the Senate in violation of the Constitution.
If on the day the Senate returns its verdict, history records the failure to convict the president following a trial without witnesses, that will be the day the rule of law dies in America. The courts will remain open for business. Congress will be in session. Citizens will still be able to vote. And a free press will continue to launch withering attacks on President Trump. But the American people will no longer be living in a constitutional democracy.
Two opinion articles that are connected. Don’t know if I agree.
I find these three posts a good explanation of the GOP vision of Ukraine-Russia-US relations.
I made a version re-sized for twitter:
Read this whole thing, I don’t have cable so I can’t confirm. TV People what differences are you seeing in the coverage between channels?
I checked this out just now and can confirm it. They have the impeachment video shrunk down in the corner while their pundits blather over it.
May their names live in infamy.
oofa, what a punch in the gut.
Watch, click tweet for video.
And speaking of Vox, this is the best headline of the trial so far.
The New York Times has created a 3-D model of the Senate Chamber to illustrate much of what the people aren’t allowed to see in this trial, which includes a wide view of the chamber itself. When you limit cameras you limit the public.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn committed libel against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, claiming he was the whistleblower’s source, and then doubled down on it. It’s been getting her lambasted all day.
This site and www.govtrack.us have now become my go-to resources for all of this back-and-forth politics, including Trump’s impeachment. Thank you so much. I have been telling a neighbor across the hall about this, because he and I always hang out and have discussed politics lately. Others have often said that we solve the world’s problems together, lol. This presidency has really been good for that, if nothing else.
A recording reviewed by ABC News appears to capture President Donald Trump telling associates he wanted the then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch fired – and speaking at a small gathering that included Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman – two former business associates of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani who have since been indicted in New York.
The recording appears to contradict statements by President Trump and support the narrative that has been offered by Parnas during broadcast interviews in recent days. Sources familiar with the recording said the recording was made during an intimate April 30, 2018 dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
A copy of the recording is now in the custody of federal prosecutors in New York’s Southern District, who declined to comment to ABC News.
Trump’s supporters have maintained that no evidence has been put forward directly linking Trump to any of the alleged impeachable actions. And Trump has maintained that removing Yovanovitch was within his right.
This would be direct evidence. I wish ABC would let the people hear it at least.
Marsha Blackburn is doubling down on her attacks on Vindman, sparking a major movement of outrage against her. Her comments are fairly libelous and clearly designed to incite anger.
I may have made my own response to her: