Ukraine announces investigation into Trump flunkies amid reports of surveillance of Yovanovitch

January 20, 2020\

Ukraine finally has announced an investigation, but it has nothing to do with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden or his son Hunter. Rather, the small eastern European nation has opened a criminal investigation into allies of President Donald Trump, following reports that they had U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch under surveillance while she was stationed in Kyiv, the Ukrainian government said on January 16.

According to a report by The New York Times, “The move was a remarkable departure from past practice for the new government of President Volodymyr Zelensky, which has tried hard to avoid any hint of partisanship in its dealings with Washington.”

The current situation has heightened those sensitivities, with Ukraine caught in the middle of the conflict between Democrats and Republicans over the impeachment of Trump for his pressure campaign on Ukraine.

But the recent release of documents in Washington has prompted a change of course, the Times notes. On Tuesday, just before the president’s impeachment trial in the Senate was scheduled to begin, House Democrats published text messages to and from Lev Parnas —who managed the president’s campaign of coercion on the ground in Ukraine for Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. The texts pointed directly to the surveillance of Ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch.

The Internal Affairs Ministry of Ukraine said in a statement released last Thursday that “the published messages contain facts of possible violations of Ukrainian law and of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, which protect the rights of diplomats on the territory of another state.”

Ukraine “cannot ignore such illegal activities” on its territory, the statement said, adding that the national police had started criminal proceedings after analyzing the new material.

“Our goal is to investigate whether there were any violations of Ukrainian and international laws,” the ministry said in the statement. “Or maybe it was just bravado and fake conversation between two U.S. citizens.”

However, Ukrainian law and international obligations to protect the rights of diplomats serving on its territory forced the country to respond, the statement said. It called on the F.B.I. to provide all available “information and materials” related to people “who may be involved in a possible criminal offense.”

Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s interior minister, said the United States should take part in the investigation.

“Ukraine expects the United States of America to respond promptly and looks forward to cooperation,” the Interior Ministry’s statement said.

Research contact: @nytimes

Parnas: Trump gave the orders on Ukraine; Giuliani, Pence, and Barr were ‘on the team’

January 17, 2020

The White House reeled as more damning evidence on the Ukraine plot emerged this week, even as the House voted to release its two articles of impeachment to the Senate.

Lev Parnas—the indicted associate of the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who has been implicated in an alleged attempt to coerce Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky—told Rachel Maddow of MSNBC in an exclusive and explosive interview aired on January 15, “… Trump knew exactly what was going on.”

“He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president. I have no intent, I have no reason to speak to any of these officials,” Parnas revealed.

“I mean, they have no reason to speak to me. Why would President Zelenskiy’s inner circle or Minister Avakov or all these people or President Poroshenko meet with me? Who am I? They were told to meet with me. And that’s the secret that they’re trying to keep. I was on the ground doing their work,” Parnas said.

Zelenskiy was elected president in April, defeating incumbent Petro Poroshenko. Arsen Avakov is Ukraine’s interior minister, NBC News reported.

On Tuesday, the network said, House Democrats released records as part of the evidence that attorneys for Parnas turned over to House impeachment investigators, which show that Giuliani requested a private meeting with Zelenskiy, then the president-elect, with Trump’s “knowledge and consent.”

The evidence appears to bolster Democrats’ argument that Giuliani was doing Trump’s bidding by trying to dig up dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee.

In response to Parnas’ interview, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Thursday morning, “These allegations are being made by a man who is currently out on bail for federal crimes and is desperate to reduce his exposure to prison.”

“The facts haven’t changed — the president did nothing wrong and this impeachment, which was manufactured and carried out by the Democrats has been a sham from the start,” Grisham said.

In a statement to “The Rachel Maddow Show” while the program was airing, Giuliani denied that he told Ukrainian officials that Parnas spoke on behalf of Trump.

“Never,” Giuliani responded when asked whether Parnas was speaking for Trump.

Asked whether he believed Parnas was lying, Giuliani said, “All I can say is the truth.” Giuliani said of Parnas, “He’s a very sad situation.”

The president, himself, continued to stick to the same script, tweeting, “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer just said, “The American people want a fair trial in the Senate.” True, but why didn’t Nervous Nancy and Corrupt politician Adam “Shifty” Schiff give us a fair trial in the House. It was the most lopsided & unfair basement hearing in the history of Congress!”

The impeachment articles against Trump center on an alleged campaign by Trump to pressure Zelenskiy to announce investigations into Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma in 2014 until he left last year.

“Yeah, it was all about Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and also Rudy had a personal thing with the Manafort stuff. The black ledger,” Parnas told Maddow.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, is serving a 7½-year prison sentence for tax evasion and violating federal lobbying laws after having been charged

Parnas also told the MSNBC anchor that Vice President Mike Pence’s planned trip to attend Zelenskiy’s inauguration in May was canceled because the Ukrainians did not agree to the demand for an investigation of the Bidens. “Oh, I know 100% . It was 100%,” he said.

Asked whether Pence was aware of a “quid pro quo” around the visit, Parnas replied by quoting Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who said during the House impeachment inquiry: “Everybody was in the loop.”

Maddow said her show asked for comment from Pence and had not received a response.

Parnas said Attorney General William Barr was also likely aware of what was going on. Parnas said that he never spoke with Barr but that “I was involved with lots of conversations” that Giuliani and another person had with Barr in front of him.

“Mr. Barr had to have known everything. I mean, it’s impossible,” Parnas told Maddow. “Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.”

Asked about Trump’s denial that he knows him, Parnas said, “He lied.”

Parnas said he wants to testify in the Senate impeachment trial. “I want to get the truth out,” he said, “because I feel it’s important for our country.”

The impeachment trial has been scheduled to start on January 21.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Pelosi names impeachment managers before House votes to send articles to Senate

January 16, 2020

Under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House voted across party lines on January 15 to send two articles of impeachment to the Senate—and tapped seven managers for the trial in the upper house, ending weeks of speculation over just who would lead the effort to remove President Donald Trump from office, The Hill reported.

named to prosecute the case. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-California), will take the helm. He commented in a formal statement, “I am humbled by the responsibility of serving as the lead House Manager in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump, and thank Speaker Pelosi for the trust she has placed in me and our team. It is a solemn responsibility and one that I will undertake with the seriousness that the task requires.

Representative Jerry Nadler (D-New York), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee also was selected for a high-profile role. He, too commented-directly, addressing the management of the trial: “Our Speaker has led our fight for a fair trial in the Senate. Above all, a fair trial must include additional documents and relevant witnesses. The American people have common sense. They know that any trial that does not allow witnesses is not a trial. It is a cover-up.”

Among the other Democratic House members chosen were Hakeem Jeffries (New York.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus; Val Demings (Florida), a member of both the Judiciary and Intelligence panels; and Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), a senior member of the Judiciary panel and the only member of Congress to have participated in both the Nixon and Clinton impeachments.

More unexpected were the final two picks —Representatives. Sylvia Garcia (Texas), and Jason Crow (Colorado), The Hill said. Both are freshmen, and Crow—a former Army Ranger—does not sit on any of the six committees with jurisdiction over impeachment.

In making the announcement, Pelosi touted the legal bona fides of her picks, saying their experience before entering Congress was an outsize factor in her decision-making.

The announcement came comes just hours before the House voted to send the two articles of impeachment to the Senate. Passed by the House on December 18, the articles accuse Trump of abusing his power in his dealings with Ukraine; then, obstructing Congress as Democrats sought to investigate the episode.

Aside from transmitting the articles and naming the impeachment managers, the resolution provides funding for the impeachment process.

Research contact: @thehill

Republicans abandon outright dismissal of impeachment charges

January 15, 2020

Despite President Donald Trump’s best efforts to attain an immediate dismissal of both articles of impeachment, the stage has been set in the U.S. Capitol for a tribunal—and the leading players for the House and the Senate will be chosen this week.

Indeed, according to a report by The New York Times , rank-and-file senators and party leaders made clear on Monday, January 13, that even if they wanted to pursue dismissal of the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, the votes simply were not there to succeed—at least not at the outset of the trial.

Senate Republicans indicated that they would not seek to summarily dismiss the impeachment charges against President Trump, proceeding instead to a trial with arguments and the possibility of calling witnesses that could begin as soon as Wednesday, the Times said.

Dismissal was always a long shot given Republicans’ narrow control of the Senate, but it was the subject of renewed discussion after Trump said on Sunday that he liked the idea put forward by some conservatives as a way to deny the House’s case the legitimacy of a trial.

 “Our members generally are not interested in a motion to dismiss,” Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a top Republican leader, told the Times. “They think both sides need to be heard. They believe the president needs to be heard for the first time in a fair setting.”

In the House on Monday, Democrats leaving meetings with Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated that the chamber was most likely to vote on Wednesday to name lawmakers to prosecute the case and to send its two impeachment charges to the Senate.

Behind the scenes, aides in the House and Senate were carefully choreographing the next steps, and some Democrats in the House cautioned that a vote could still slip to Thursday, as the Senate seeks to deal with a pending War Powers Resolution and President Trump’s new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

In any case, a trial would not be expected to start in earnest, with opening oral arguments, until next week.

As the trial has approached, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has seemed increasingly keen to keep it as tightly controlled and speedy as possible. According to the Times, “He is wary of what could happen if Democrats succeed in picking off moderate Republican senators to form a majority able to call witnesses and prolong the proceeding.”

But he also wants to ensure that those same moderate senators—several of whom are up this fall for re-election in swing states—can credibly claim to voters that they took their constitutional duties seriously.

However, on Twitter, the president warned that holding a full trial “gives the partisan Democrat Witch Hunt credibility that it otherwise does not have.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Don’t count Schumer out: He plans to force votes on evidence, testimony that will ‘squeeze’ Republicans

January 14, 2020

While, in the run-up to the impeachment trial, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has appeared to be unflinching in his support of President Donald Trump, he should not underestimate his political rival, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Politico reports.

Indeed, although McConnell already has locked up enough Republican votes to ignore demands for a bipartisan framework for the trial, his Democratic counterpart is preparing a counteroffensive. Schumer plans to force a series of votes designed to squeeze vulnerable Republicans and harm them on the campaign trail if they side with Trump, the news outlet says.

Democrats argue the half-dozen at-risk GOP senators will need some daylight between them and Trump to get reelected. And if they vote against Schumer’s motions to hear new evidence and witness testimony, they’ll be seen as Trump sycophants — undermining their bids and boosting Schumer’s odds of becoming majority leader.

Support for obtaining new documents at the trial is “even stronger than we thought, with large numbers of Republicans supporting it,” Schumer said in an interview with Politico. “And when you go against what the American people feel strongly about, on an issue they’re paying attention to, it’s not a good idea.”

Public surveys in key swing states back up Democrats’ claims. Polling from Hart Research found that 63% of voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina would react unfavorably if their senator voted against calling witnesses or subpoenaing documents during the Senate impeachment trial.

Another poll from Morning Consult found 57% of voters believe the Senate should call additional witnesses. That includes 71% of Democrats, 56% of Independents, and 40% of Republicans.

What’s more, the president’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s offer to testify has given some momentum to Democrats’ calls for witnesses and documents about the White House’s decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine. Democrats also want to hear from Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey, and Mulvaney Adviser Robert Blair.

“If the Republicans ram through process that ultimately leads to no witnesses, I think they do it at their own peril,” Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), a former chairman of the party’s campaign arm, told Politico. “Some of these members: They have an audience of one. But I think they forgot that there’s a broader audience that they’re going to have to face at election time.”

“The procedural votes may be more important than the vote on removal or acquittal. Because what will matter more to voters than where a senator lands is how he or she got there,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster for Hart Research. “So if Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) or any of the other Republicans vote for acquittal and the takeaway for voters is this is a political or partisan vote on an important issue, that will have a long lasting impact.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that she will release the articles of impeachment to McConnell this week.

Research contact: @politico

Trump jeers at Democrats’ outcry about war powers

January 13, 2020

At his first campaign rally of 2020, in Toledo, Ohio, President Donald Trump scoffed at Democrats for insisting that he should have complied with the War Powers Act—a congressional resolution enacted in 1973, designed to limit the U.S. president’s ability to initiate or escalate military actions abroadbefore taking out Iranian Maj Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Had he followed the requirements of that resolution to consult with Congress “in every possible instance” before committing troops to war, the president would have informed, at a minimum, the Gang of Eight about the planned assassination of the commander who had led the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps since 1998.

Instead, NBC News reported on January 9,  the president alleged at the campaign event that Democrats would have leaked sensitive national security information, had it been shared with them.

Specifically, the network news outlet said, Trump professed that “he hadn’t had time” to call House Speaker Nancy Pelosi before the attack, adding that “she is not operating with a full deck now.”

He then acted out a parody of how House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff might have leaked the planned killing of Soleimani to reporters.

“Schiff is a big leaker, you know, he leaks like crazy,” Trump said, claiming that Democrats “want us to tell them so that they can leak it to their friends in the corrupt media.”

The White House hasn’t cited any instances of Democrats’ leaking sensitive national security information to the media.

“Soleimani was actively planning new attacks, and he was looking very seriously at our embassies, and not just the embassy in Baghdad,” Trump claimed.

Trump’s comments came hours after the House voted mostly along party lines to adopt a new war powers resolution to limit his military actions against Iran.

The five-page non-binding resolution, sponsored by freshman Representatie Elissa Slotkin (D-Michigan), a former CIA analyst, emphasizes that if a president wants to take the United States to war, he or she must get authorization from Congress.

Specifically, it directs the president to terminate the use of U.S. armed forces to engage in hostilities against Iran unless Congress has declared war or has enacted a specific authorization— or unless military action is necessary to defend against an imminent attack, NBC News reported.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Behar: It’s ‘good news’ that white nationalists are bashing Trump over Soleimani assassination

January 9, 2020

On January 8, Joy Behar of ABC-TV’s talkfest, The View, celebrated noxious white supremacist Richard Spencer’s disavowal of President Donald Trump over escalating tensions with Iran— calling Spencer’s slam of Trump “some good news, The Daily Beast reported.

Following Iran’s missile attacks on two Iraqi military bases at which American troops were deployed on Tuesday evening, Spencer—who helped organize the toxic and savage Neo-Nazi Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville—took to Twitter to declare: “I deeply regret voting for and promoting Donald Trump in 2016.”

Moments before Trump told the nation that Americans should be “extremely grateful” that Iran “appears to be standing down, the hosts of  The View  discussed public reactions to Iran’s air strikes, which that nation said were in retaliation for the assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

“There’s one small thing,” Behar said, adding that it was “some good news,” according to The Daily Beast.

“This is a tiny thing that I noticed,” she continued. “Do you remember Richard Spencer? He’s basically the organizer of Unite the Right, the white-nationalist group that was marching in Charlottesville and [he] was all-in for Trump. Not anymore!”

“Wow!” Behar exclaimed after reading Spencer’s Trump-bashing tweet, prompting the crowd to applaud. “That’s interesting!”

Asked why she thought Spencer was splitting from Trump, the fervent Trump critic replied: “It’s like I said yesterday, Trump ran on not invading and being a warmonger. These people, they’re the ones who are going to go.”

Co-host Sunny Hostin, meanwhile, noted that racists like Spencer were dropping their support for the president “because they’re nationalists.”

Of course, The Daily Beast noted, what Behar seemed to miss is that even if Spencer et. al. stop supporting Trump, they will still be avowed disciples of a dangerous white-nationalist ideology.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Foreign Minister Zarif: Iran will respond ‘proportionately’ to Soleimani assassination

January 8, 2020

Unlike President Donald Trump—who already has warned the U.S. Congress in a tweet that his next move against Iran may be “disproportionate”—Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an onscreen interview with CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen on Tuesday that the Islamic Republic will respond “proportionately.”

However, with millions of Iranians in the streets of that nation during a period of mourning and intense anger at the United States, what the republic will consider to be “proportionate” is anybody’s guess.

“This is state terrorism,” Zarif said of the killing of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, in a U.S. drone attack in Baghdad last week.

Zarif added that Trump had displayed a lack of respect for international law by threatening Iran’s cultural sites.  “This is an act of aggression against Iran, and it amounts to an armed attack against Iran, and we will respond,” he told CNN—noting that his nation would “respond proportionately – not disproportionately … We are not lawless like President Trump.”

For his part, Zarif said Trump had shown the world he was “prepared to commit war crimes, because attacking cultural sites is a war crime. Disproportionate response is a war crime.”

Zarif said Washington should wake up to the reality that “the United States cannot stay in this region with the people of the region not wanting it any more.”

Asked if it was worth speaking to Trump, Zarif said: “It doesn’t need speaking. He has to realize that he has been fed misinformation. And he needs to wake up, and apologize. He has to apologize, he has to change course.”

Research contact: @CNN

If subpoenaed, Bolton says he would be willing to testify in Senate impeachment trial

January 7, 2020

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton said Monday that he would testify in a Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, if subpoenaed, The Hill reported.

Bolton, who had resisted the the Trump Administration’s effort to squeeze Ukraine for political help—calling the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani “a hand grenade who’s going to blow everyone up”—had hinted since October that he might cooperate, if prevailed upon to do so through legal channels.

“The House has concluded its Constitutional responsibility by adopting Articles of Impeachment related to the Ukraine matter. It now falls to the Senate to fulfill its Constitutional obligation to try impeachments, and it does not appear possible that a final judicial resolution of the still-unanswered Constitutional questions can be obtained before the Senate acts,” Bolton, who was ousted by Trump in September, said in a statement.

“I have had to resolve the serious competing issues as best I could, based on careful consideration and study. I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify,” Bolton said. 

Bolton had previously said that he needed a judge to resolve whether a senior adviser to Trump could be compelled to testify, and as a result did not appear before the House as requested in connection with the impeachment inquiry, The Hill clarified.

His former deputy, Charles Kupperman, had filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to decide whether he should obey a congressional subpoena for his testimony but the case was declared moot last month. Bolton was never subpoenaed after his lawyers made clear he would not appear without one.

Bolton said that, now, because there will not be a judicial resolution to a case on the legal question brought by his former deputy before the Senate trial concludes, he is prepared to testify before the Senate if subpoenaed.

The GOP-controlled Senate is unlikely to call Bolton to testify, however, The Hill said.

Research contact: @thehill

Bombs away! Pelosi says Trump launched strike killing Iranian general without authorization

January 6, 2020

Saying that the United States “cannot put the lives of American service members, diplomats, and others further at risk by engaging in provocative and disproportionate actions,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi castigated President Donald Trump for ordering a January 2 airstrike at Baghdad International Airport in a formal statement issued the same day

Pelosi (D-California) on Thursday said that an airstrike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani was not authorized and Congress was not consulted on the decision, according to a report by The Hill. 

“The Administration has conducted tonight’s strikes in Iraq targeting high-level Iranian military officials and killing Iranian Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani without an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran,” an irate Pelosi remarked in the statement.

“Further, this action was taken without the consultation of the Congress,” the top House Democrat said, adding, “Tonight’s airstrike risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence. America—and the world— cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return.” 

Pelosi said that Congress must be briefed on the situation and be informed of the next steps that are being considered.

According to the report by The Hill, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had defended the strike, saying that it was in response to “imminent threats to American lives.”

He said in a CNN interview that Soleimani “was actively plotting in the region to take actions … that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk.”

However, the acting chief of the Department of Homeland Security. Chad Wolf, said on January 3, “There are currently no specific, credible threats against our homeland, “ CNN reported.

Iran, meanwhile, has vowed “harsh retaliation” for the airport strike.

The Pentagon announced Thursday that Soleimani had been killed. Iraqi state TV first reported that Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Popular Mobilization Forces, were killed at Baghdad International Airport.

Research contact: @thehill