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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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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.5.19

11/05/19 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* It's Election Day in Kentucky and Mississippi, which are home to two gubernatorial races, as well as Virginia, which is holding closely watched state legislative races. Take a look at yesterday's election preview for more along these lines.

* On a related note, Donald Trump hasn't campaigned in Virginia, but he suggested this morning that voters in the commonwealth owe him because of the "massive amount" of money he's spent on national defense.

* Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did yet another interview yesterday with a media outlet in Kansas, which sure does make it seem as if the former congressman is getting ready to run for Kansas' open U.S. Senate seat next year, despite his repeated claims that he won't.

* In Nevada, home to one of the four early presidential nominating contests, the latest poll from the Nevada Independent, released yesterday, found Joe Biden leading his party's field with 29% support, followed by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who had 19% each. The only other candidate to top 5% was Pete Buttigieg, who was fourth with 7% support.

* A top aide to Tom Steyer's presidential campaign in South Carolina resigned yesterday after allegedly stealing volunteer data compiled by Kamala Harris' campaign.

* Julián Castro's presidential campaign is reportedly letting go of its staff in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and it will instead focus its resources on Iowa and Nevada.

* Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) announced his retirement from Congress earlier this year, then said he was reconsidering his decision, only to announce yesterday that he really is giving up his U.S. House seat at the end of next year.

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Team Trump's targeting of whistleblower seen as 'thuggery'

11/05/19 11:20AM

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was asked yesterday whether the intelligence community whistleblower who helped trigger the impeachment inquiry should be exposed to the public. "That's strictly up to the whistleblower," the senator replied.

The Iowa Republican added, "All I want to do is make sure the law is followed. A person like me that has advocated for whistleblowers for a long period of time, including this whistleblower, I want maximum protection for whistleblowers. The law protects the whistleblower."

Grassley's GOP brethren appear to have adopted a very different kind of posture.

Sen. Rand Paul demanded the news media print the name of the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump during a rally Monday night in Kentucky.

"We also now know the name of the whistleblower. The whistleblower needs to come forward as a material witness because he worked for Joe Biden at the same time Hunter Biden was getting money from corrupt oligarchs," the Kentucky Republican said after being invited onto the stage by Trump, referring to unverified reports circulating through conservative outlets.... To loud cheers from the audience, Paul continued, "I say tonight to the media, do your job and print his name."

The man who was standing alongside Rand Paul at the time has been almost hysterical on this point, tweeting obsessively about the intelligence community's whistleblower. On Sunday, in brief remarks to reporters, Trump went on to make a series of specific claims about the whistleblower, before adding that he has no idea whether the claims are true.

He nevertheless added that journalists "ought to release" the person's identity.

I especially enjoyed this presidential comment, in which he seemed to talk himself into making a ridiculous charge: "The whistleblower should be revealed because the whistleblower gave false stories. Some people would call it a fraud. I won't go that far. But when I read it closely, I probably would."

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As support for impeachment grows, Trump claims access to unseen polls

11/05/19 10:40AM

Three major national polls have been released over the last few days, gauging public attitudes on Donald Trump's impeachment, and the similarities in the data paint a fairly consistent picture.

There's one ...

49% of Americans now say they support impeaching Trump and removing him from office, a new NBC News/WSJ poll finds. 46% do not. That's a reversal from a month ago, when the survey found the numbers essentially flipped.

... there's another ...

As the House moves to a new, more public phase of its impeachment inquiry, the country is sharply divided along partisan lines over whether President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. The poll finds that 49 percent of Americans say the president should be impeached and removed from office, while 47 percent say he should not.

... and there's one more.

Nearly half of voters want President Trump impeached and removed from office, according to a new Fox News Poll.... Forty-nine percent want Trump impeached and removed from office, 4 percent say he should be impeached but not removed, and 41 percent oppose impeaching Trump. That's about where things stood in early October....

FiveThirtyEight maintains a report averaging all public impeachment polling, and as of this morning, it points to a 48.4% plurality of Americans supporting the president's impeachment. That's awfully close to the 49% support in each of the three national polls released over the last few days.

Trump recently tweeted that impeachment is so unpopular that Democrats "have a Death Wish" by even pursuing such an effort. The latest polling suggests otherwise.

But as it turns out, that's not all the president has to say on the matter. Consider this exchange between Trump and reporters on Sunday:

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In impeachment inquiry, House GOP has not used its time wisely

11/05/19 10:13AM

A couple of weeks ago, many House Republicans demanded access to private depositions in the impeachment inquiry. There was a degree of irony dogging their complaints: many of those whining were already welcome to participate.

Complicating matters, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told Rachel on the show that "very few" House Republicans who've participated in the process have taken full advantage of the opportunity, apparently because "they don't want to do the actual work."

And now we can take this one step further. Yesterday, the House released transcripts from two impeachment inquiry witnesses: Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Obviously, what matters most are the insights they shared as part of their depositions.

But the transcripts also offer a peek into how House Republicans have conducted themselves during their proceedings. Based on this Washington Post report, it does not appear they used their time wisely.

[I]nside the secure room in the Capitol basement where the proceedings are taking place, Republicans have used their time to complain that testimony has become public, going after their colleagues who were quoted in media reports commenting on witness appearances, and quizzing witnesses themselves on how their statements had been released.

Dana Milbank added that GOP members "pursued one conspiracy theory after another involving the Bidens, George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton, the Obama administration, deep state social-media 'tracking' and mishandling classified information. They ate up a good chunk of time merely complaining that Yovanovitch's opening statement had been made public (which under the rules was allowed)."

At face value, it seems rather obvious that House Republicans involved in the inquiry weren't especially interested in learning the facts about what transpired. But given the circumstances, the GOP members' passive indifference isn't the only problem.

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