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Key figure in Ukraine scandal: Trump 'lied,' knew about scheme

01/16/20 08:00AM

Throughout the scandal that led to his impeachment, Donald Trump has tried to distance himself from the scheme that unfolded in Ukraine. The president's efforts have never been altogether credible: the White House, after all, released a call summary in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a political "favor" in the context of military aid.

But as details continue to come to light, the punctured walls between Trump and the scandal appear to be crumbling.

Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani who has been implicated in an alleged attempt to pressure the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, says, "President 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, who faces campaign finance charges, told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow in an interview that aired Wednesday night.

He added that top Ukrainian officials "were told to meet" with him because he was "on the ground doing [Team Trump's] work.

The message he was directed to deliver was that military aid was on the line, but so was "all aid" from the United States, including diplomatic elements, unless Zelensky and his team announced a Biden investigation.

When Rachel asked about the president's insistence that he didn't know Parnas or his associate, Igor Fruman, Parnas was unequivocal in reference Trump. "He lied," Parnas said.

After conceding that the two aren't close personal friends, he added, "[Trump] knew exactly who we were. He knew exactly who I was, especially.... I had a lot of one-on-one conversations with him at gatherings."

As for the White House's assertions that military aid to Ukraine was delayed out of concerns over corruption, Parnas said the efforts in Kyiv were actually "all about" the Bidens. He added, "[I]t was never about corruption."

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.15.20

01/15/20 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Today's vote was 228 to 193: "The House voted on Wednesday to send the impeachment articles against President Donald Trump to the Senate, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the seven House Democrats who will serve as the 'managers' in the trial, which is set to start next week."

* I'll have more on this tomorrow: "President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He signed phase one of a hard-fought trade deal Wednesday, capping a bitter 18-month battle between the world's two largest economies that has roiled markets and slowed economic growth worldwide."

* An important court order: "A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked a Trump administration order that allowed state and local governments to refuse the resettling of refugees, finding the policy likely 'unlawful.'"

* Shake-up in Moscow: "Russia's prime minister and its entire government resigned Wednesday as part of sweeping constitutional changes that could see President Vladimir Putin extend his hold on power."

* Hmm: "The State Department abruptly canceled two classified congressional briefings Wednesday that were supposed to focus on embassy security and the U.S. relationship with Iran, Capitol Hill aides said, infuriating lawmakers and staffers seeking answers on the fallout from President Donald Trump's decision to kill a senior Iranian general."

* Puerto Rico: "The Department of Housing and Urban Development will allow Puerto Rico to access more than $8 billion in blocked disaster aid funding, ending a months-long hold by the Trump administration, according to people familiar with the matter."

* New evidence for Trump to ignore: "The past decade was the hottest ever recorded on the planet, driven by an acceleration of temperature increases in the past five years, according to data released Wednesday. The findings, released jointly by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, detail a troubling trajectory: 2019 was the second-hottest year on record, trailing only 2016. The past five years each rank among the five hottest since record-keeping began. And 19 of the hottest 20 years have occurred during the past two decades."

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On impeachment, head-in-the-sand stance now even harder to defend

01/15/20 01:00PM

On the eve of the House sending articles of presidential impeachment to the Senate for a trial, the House Intelligence Committee unveiled additional evidence, including materials the panel received from one of Rudy Giuliani's controversial associates, Lev Parnas.

As Politico noted, "The material released on Tuesday contains several handwritten notes, emails, encrypted messages, and other documents that underscore the close relationship between Parnas and Giuliani, who was actively pursuing an effort last year to push the Ukrainian government to announce investigations targeting Trump's political rivals."

That's true, though it's not all the materials underscore.

It's a little tough to summarize all of the revelations, but by any fair measure, they paint an extraordinary picture, with details that we not only didn't know, but also might have found difficult to even imagine. Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, for example, was apparently under some kind of surveillance, and might have even faced unspecified harm.

There's also a document in which Giuliani assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the Republican lawyer was operating in Kyiv with the "knowledge and consent" of Donald Trump, reinforcing suspicions about the American president's role in the Ukrainian scheme, and doing fresh harm to White House talking points.

There's plenty more. The latest evidence also suggests, for example, that Ukraine's top prosecutor was prepared to offer Giuliani anti-Biden dirt if Giuliani's White House friends recalled Yovanovitch, an ambassador who fiercely fought against corruption.

In theory, all of this evidence would be welcomed by senators who are eager to come to terms with the facts, get the whole story, and understand the degree to which the sitting American president may be corrupt and/or guilty. In practice, it's not quite working out that way. Consider Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) arguments on the Senate floor yesterday:

"We've arrived at a simple contradiction. Two things cannot be both true: House Democrats' case cannot simultaneously be so robust that it was enough to impeach in the first place, but also so weak that the Senate needs to go fishing.

"If the existing case is strong, there's no need for the judge and the jury to re-open the investigation. if the existing case is weak, House Democrats should not have impeached in the first place."

I'm not sure which is worse: the idea that McConnell was sincere in presenting this argument or the idea that he knew his pitch was absurd, and he presented it anyway.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.15.20

01/15/20 12:00PM

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

* A Wisconsin appeals court yesterday blocked the effort to purge more than 200,000 names from the state's voter registration rolls. The move came just one day after a district court judge directed state election officials to begin the purge, regardless of the appeal.

* During last night's presidential primary debate, Bernie Sanders argued that general-election voters wouldn't much care about his embrace of the "socialist" label. There is some polling evidence, however, that suggests possible trouble.

* A new EPIC-MRA poll in Michigan tested Donald Trump against leading Democratic presidential hopefuls, and the incumbent trailed each of them. Michael Bloomberg, oddly enough, had a seven-point advantage over the Republican, while Joe Biden led Trump by six, Bernie Sanders led by five, Pete Buttigieg led by four, and Elizabeth Warren led by three.

* In California, home to a key Super Tuesday primary, the latest Public Policy Institute of California poll found a crowded top tier, with Sanders leading Biden, 27% to 24%, and Warren right behind them with 23%.

* Warren picked up her 12th congressional endorsement yesterday, when Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) threw his support behind the Massachusetts senator. His brother, former presidential hopeful Julian Castro, did the same thing last week.

* Speaking of the Bay State, Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) yesterday announced endorsements from more than a dozen House Democrats for his Democratic primary against incumbent Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). The list of Kennedy supporters included Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

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Pelosi introduces 'managers' who'll try Trump impeachment case

01/15/20 11:18AM

Once it became clear that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would end her delay of the impeachment proceedings, and send the articles to the Senate for a trial, there was one big question on the minds of observers: who'll try the case?

This morning, Pelosi introduced the prosecutorial team.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday announced the seven House Democrats who will act as the "managers" in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

The managers are: Reps. Adam Schiff of California, who will be the lead manager; Jerry Nadler of New York; Hakeem Jeffries of New York; Jason Crow of Colorado; Zoe Lofgren of California; Val Demings of Florida; and Sylvia Garcia of Texas.

The fact that there are seven impeachment managers is itself notable: during the Senate impeachment trial for Bill Clinton, there were 13 Republican managers, each of whom served on the House Judiciary Committee. More than two decades later, Pelosi has chosen a smaller, more diverse group, some of whom are not on the Judiciary panel.

In fact, their relevant experiences are of interest (in alphabetical order):

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Donald Trump

Trump keeps taking aim at House impeachment process, to no avail

01/15/20 10:38AM

The ongoing impeachment process against Donald Trump in the U.S. House will, to some extent, reach a milestone today. Nearly a month after members agreed to approve two articles of impeachment against the president, the chamber will approve a resolution to send the dispute to the U.S. Senate for a trial, along with a group of impeachment "managers" to try the case.

But as attention shifts from the south side of the Capitol to the North side, the president isn't yet done complaining about the process that brought us to this point.

Here, for example, was a tweet from the Republican on Monday:

"'We demand fairness' shouts Pelosi and the Do Nothing Democrats, yet the Dems in the House wouldn't let us have 1 witness, no lawyers or even ask questions. It was the most unfair witch-hunt in the history of Congress!"

Whether the president knows this or not is unclear, but the House Democratic majority invited the White House counsel's office to participate in the impeachment proceedings. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) explained that his panel explicitly gave the president "a fair opportunity to question witnesses and present his own to address the overwhelming evidence before us."

So when the president says House Dems "wouldn't let" Team Trump participate, the opposite is true. And yet, that didn't stop him from giving it another try last night:

"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!"

It's tweets like these that suggest Trump is struggling to keep up with the basic details of current events surrounding his own presidency.

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