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E.g., 11/13/2019

Citing Sondland, Republicans went out on a limb (that's broken off)

11/06/19 10:06AM

When U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified to the congressional impeachment inquiry last month, he denied ever having been part of a quid-pro-quo scheme. "Let me state clearly: Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong," Sondland said. "Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong. I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings."

Almost immediately, Donald Trump's Republican allies were quick to cite Sondland's testimony as powerful evidence in the White House's favor. Take Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), for example, who appeared on Fox News three weeks ago.

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee told Fox News Thursday the common theme from U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland's closed-door interview was the absence of evidence of a quid pro quo. [...]

"In his opening statement, he does refer to [former New York Mayor Rudy] Giuliani operating sort of sometimes in conjunction with the State Department, sometimes not," [McCaul] said. "I think what is a common theme with the testimony that's been made public is there's no quid pro quo here -- and I think that's very clear from the president's phone conversation."

The Texan wasn't alone.

[Republicans argued] that Sondland's testimony -- despite his expressed concerns with Giuliani's role in Ukraine -- buttressed the president's defense that there was nothing nefarious in the administration's approach to foreign policy there.

"He says exactly what President Zelensky said, exactly what President Trump said: No quid pro quo whatsoever," Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the senior Republican on the Oversight Committee, said afterwards, referring to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Even the president himself, citing something he claimed to see on Fox News, published a tweet celebrating Sondland for having "said there was no quid pro quo."

All of which set the stage for this week -- when Sondland amended his testimony and told lawmakers that he did, in fact, participate in a quid pro quo.

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Republican Presidential hopeful and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at an event at the National Press Club on Sept. 8, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Lindsey Graham goes from moving the goalposts to eliminating them

11/06/19 09:20AM

In late September, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters, "If you're looking for a circumstance where the president of the United States was threatening the Ukraine with cutting off aid unless they investigated his political opponent, you'd be very disappointed. That does not exist."

We now know, of course, that the senator was wrong. The evidence that Donald Trump did exactly that is plain, obvious, and uncontested.

A month later, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman set an important standard in the president's Ukraine scandal: "If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing."

Again, it's now overwhelmingly clear that Trump was actually engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the July 25 phone call between the American president and Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelenskiy.

So, the South Carolinian must be "very disturbed," right? Wrong.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters Tuesday that he would not be reading two newly released deposition transcripts, calling the Democratic-led impeachment probe a "bunch of BS."

Graham's comments came hours after House investigators released transcripts of the depositions of Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt Volker, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine.

Let's not forget that it was less than a month ago when Graham also published a tweet insisting that if House Democrats refused to release the "full transcript" of Kurt Volker's testimony it would be "an abuse of power."

House Democrats released that transcript. Soon after, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee suggested he didn't want to read the materials, ignoring his demands from early October.

Graham's inconsistencies and hypocrisy are likely to do lasting harm to his reputation, but I think there are a couple of related angles that make this story even more damaging.

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Voters line up in voting booths to cast their ballots at Robious Elementary School in Chesterfield, Va. on Nov. 8, 2016. (Photo by Shelby Lum/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP)

As Dems take the reins in Virginia, the practical effects matter

11/06/19 08:40AM

Bill Clinton was a very successful presidential candidate in the 1990s, winning more than 370 electoral votes in each of his national campaigns, but there were some red states where the Democrat struggled to compete. He came up short in the commonwealth of Virginia, for example, twice.

Al Gore also lost Virginia. So did John Kerry.

Slowly but surely, however, the Old Dominion State started changing. Barack Obama carried Virginia twice, and Hillary Clinton won it in 2016. In recent cycles, Virginians have elected Democrats for governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. senators, state attorney general, and most of the commonwealth's congressional delegation. Last night, for the first time in a generation, the party took the reins in the state legislature, too.

Virginia Democrats continued their winning streak under President Trump on Tuesday and took full control of the statehouse for the first time in more than two decades.

Suburban voters turned out in big numbers to back Democratic candidates, continuing a trend of once GOP-friendly suburbs turning blue. This is the third election in a row in which Democrats made significant gains since Trump was elected.

"I'm here to officially declare today, November 5, 2019, that Virginia is officially blue," Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam told a crowd of supporters in Richmond.

Of course, partisan bragging rights can generate cheers on Election Day, but what's especially significant about Democrats controlling the levers of power in Virginia is what they intend to do with control.

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Matt Bevin talks with voters on May 17, 2014 in Fountain Run, Ky. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Kentucky delivers a wake-up call to Trump's Republican Party

11/06/19 08:00AM

On Monday night, Donald Trump traveled to Kentucky for a campaign rally intended to benefit one man: Gov. Matt Bevin (R). The president told the unpopular governor, on the eve of his re-election bid, "[I]f you lose, they're going to say, 'Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. This was the greatest.' You can't let that happen to me."

Yeah, about that....

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear pulled off an upset Tuesday night in an apparent victory over Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, dealing a blow to President Donald Trump, NBC News projects. [...]

In Kentucky, Trump couldn't save the unpopular Bevin after campaigning with him the night before the election in Lexington, where the president told supporters a loss by the GOP governor would be portrayed as Trump's having suffered "the greatest defeat in the history of the world."

For his part, the GOP governor hasn't yet conceded the race, though there does not appear to be a realistic scenario in which he can overcome his current deficit against Gov.-elect Beshear (D).

The results are humiliating for Trump in ways that are hard to ignore. The president was determined to boost Bevin and Trump believed he knew exactly what to do to help the governor win a second term: the key was to nationalize the state race.

Indeed, Bevin effectively ran as a Trump surrogate in recent months, emphasizing the president constantly in his campaign ads and speeches, and even making the case that the impeachment inquiry against Trump was a key issue in Kentucky's gubernatorial contest.

Bevin was among the nation's least popular governors -- he barely won in a GOP primary this year -- but the Republican knew that the president won Kentucky by 30 points, so the more he told voters that a vote for Bevin was a vote for Trump, the better he saw his odds.

In some circles, it looked like a sensible strategy: the Washington Post ran an analysis five days before the election that said a "backlash" to the congressional impeachment inquiry "might get the Republican governor of Kentucky re-elected."

Or perhaps not.

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Diplomats' texts lay out Trump Ukraine scheme in stark detail

Diplomats' texts lay out Trump Ukraine scheme in stark detail

11/06/19 12:25AM

Rachel Maddow reports on newly published transcripts of text messages between Kurt Volker, Gordon Sondland and others, in which Donald Trump's demand for investigations into Joe Biden's son and a debunked conspiracy theory in exchange for foreign aid and a White House meeting for Ukraine are discussed in plain terms, even as Sondland... watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 11.5.19

11/05/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I have a hunch this won't work out well: "House impeachment investigators asked President Donald Trump's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to appear for a deposition later this week."

* The day after Trump rejects the Paris agreement: "October was the warmest such month on record globally, narrowly edging out October 2015 for the top spot, according to a new analysis from the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service. The finding, released Tuesday, is significant because it shows that 2019 is certain to be one of the warmest years on record, continuing a trend scientists attribute to increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to human activities."

* In related news: "A new report by 11,258 scientists in 153 countries from a broad range of disciplines warns that the planet 'clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency,' and provides six broad policy goals that must be met to address it."

* I hope you caught Rachel's latest segment on Lev Parnas: "A Rudy Giuliani associate who was indicted last month for making illegal campaign contributions is willing to provide documents and testimony to House impeachment investigators, his lawyer confirmed to NBC News."

* This would definitely make matters worse: "As the impeachment inquiry enters its public phase, top Republicans in the House are weighing whether to temporarily assign Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the panel that will conduct the initial public hearings. Discussions about adding Jordan to the committee are 'active and serious,' a senior Republican involved in the process told CBS News."

* I'd love to hear more about this: "Following a recent conference of foreign security and law enforcement agencies, the head of Russia's State Security Service, the FSB, made the surprising announcement that Russia and the United States have resumed cooperation on cybersecurity."

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Ambassador amends testimony, acknowledges quid-pro-quo message

11/05/19 03:53PM

We've apparently reached the stage in the Ukraine scandal in which key witnesses start revising their congressional testimony. NBC News reported this afternoon:

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told House impeachment investigators this week that he now remembers telling a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that Ukraine would not receive U.S. military assistance until it committed to investigating the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden, according to a person with knowledge of Sondland's testimony.

Sondland's latest testimony -- stated in a three-page declaration to the House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump -- represents an update to the testimony he gave in October and contains significant new details. That includes a fuller accounting of the role he played in personally telling the Ukrainians they needed to cooperate with the demands of Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, if they wanted the aid money.

Sondland's testimony, including this week's newly filed addendum, is online here (pdf).

This week, Sondland said his memory was refreshed after having had an opportunity to review statements from Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, who was, up until last week, the White House National Security Council adviser on policy related to Russia and Europe.

As part of his revisions, Sondland recalled a conversation from September in which he told Andriy Yermak, a top Zelenskiy adviser, that "the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks."

In other words, Sondland -- the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. despite having no diplomatic or foreign policy experience -- told our vulnerable ally that its aid was locked. To unlock it, Ukraine would have to make a public statement about a Biden-related investigation, which Team Trump could then use for domestic political purposes.

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As scandals mount, Pompeo faces 'a revolt' at the State Department

11/05/19 02:41PM

The interview went largely overlooked, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talked to Fox News last week and casually brought up a truly ridiculous conspiracy theory. The nation's top diplomat posited -- to a national television audience -- that the Obama administration might have withheld military aid to Ukraine because of an undetermined scheme involving Hunter Biden.

It was the kind of nonsense one might expect from a far-right Twitter feed with six followers, not a leading member of a presidential cabinet.

But Pompeo can't seem to help himself. The New York Times published a brutal report overnight on the controversial secretary who peddles conspiracy theories he knows to be false, goes a bit too far to demonstrate loyalty to Donald Trump, keeps getting caught making claims that appear false, faces a revolt within the agency he ostensibly leads, and finds himself sinking deeper in an intensifying scandal.

It was Mr. Pompeo who helped Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani oust the respected American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, in April. Both Michael McKinley, a senior adviser to Mr. Pompeo and a four-time ambassador, and Philip T. Reeker, the acting assistant secretary for Europe, testified that they asked State Department leadership to defend Ms. Yovanovitch from false accusations, only to be rejected. Mr. McKinley said he personally urged Mr. Pompeo three times to issue a defense; the revelation of that detail in a transcript released on Monday undercut a declaration Mr. Pompeo made in an interview last month that he “never heard” Mr. McKinley “say a single thing” about Ms. Yovanovitch’s ouster.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Pompeo did not speak out on behalf of the war veteran he asked to fill Ms. Yovanovitch’s job, William B. Taylor Jr., after Mr. Trump attacked the diplomat over his blistering testimony on the president’s quid pro quo demands. In fact, Mr. Pompeo has tried to block officials under him from testifying.

At the same time, Mr. Pompeo is facing a revolt in the State Department. Confidence in his leadership has plummeted among career officials, who accuse him of abandoning veteran diplomats criticized by Mr. Trump and letting the president’s personal political agenda infect foreign policy

Trump's first secretary of State, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, was widely detested at his agency, in part because of his efforts to hollow out the State Department. Pompeo, however, is now seen as doing even more damage to the institution.

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In this Dec. 5, 2017 file photo, Summer Zervos leaves Manhattan Supreme Court at the conclusion of a hearing in New York.

Discovery process produces new details in Trump defamation lawsuit

11/05/19 12:50PM

After Americans heard a recording in which Donald Trump was heard bragging about committing sexual assaults, several women came forward to accuse the Republican of sexual misconduct. Trump dismissed each of the women as liars, prompting one of them, Summer Zervos, a former contestant on his reality television show, to sue the president for defamation.

Trump and his lawyers have spent months trying to make the case go away, insisting that a sitting president is immune to civil suits in state courts. As regular readers know, their efforts have come up short.

As part of the process, new information continues to come to light. The Washington Post had this report today:

More than a decade ago, Donald Trump made phone calls from his cellphone to a former candidate on "The Apprentice" around the same time that she says he sexually assaulted her, according to phone records made public Tuesday.

The excerpts from Trump's Verizon cellphone bills over a three-month period in 2007 and 2008 show that Trump exchanged calls with Summer Zervos on at least six occasions, including on a day that Trump's private calendar has shown that he was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

According to Zervos' version of events, it was at the Beverly Hills Hotel that Trump forced himself on her, allegedly groping her in a hotel room.

The president's lawyers have repeatedly denied the allegations.

According to Zervos' lawyer, the phone records corroborate her account "of the sexual assaults with even more granularity and with a degree of precision that [Zervos] could not have known were she not telling the truth about those interactions when she spoke publicly about them before this case was filed."

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