Trump’s pardons again make a mockery of Republican claims that he ever cared about corruption

Remember how Republicans spent months insisting that Donald Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine not because he wanted to cheat on the 2020 elections but because he really, really cared about corruption? Even though he never mentioned corruption in his first phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky? Even though the Pentagon certified that Ukraine was fighting corruption and should get the money?

Ha ha ha, yeah, all those claims Republicans made, against all the evidence, that Trump cared about corruption, and what does he do? Well, first, during his own impeachment trial, Trump stood side by side with a world leader charged with corruption to unveil a major foreign policy plan. Now he’s handing out pardons and sentence commutations to a corrupt politician, a corrupt former law enforcement official, a corrupt lobbyist, and a couple corrupt rich guys. So let’s take a stroll down memory lane all the way back a month or two to hear from Republicans about how much Trump cares about corruption.

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“Corruption is not just prevalent in Ukraine. It’s the system. Our president said time out, time out, let’s check out this new guy,” according to Rep. Jim Jordan, during the impeachment inquiry.

”President Trump had good reason to be wary of Ukrainian election meddling against his campaign and of widespread corruption in that country,” said Rep. Devin Nunes.

“When it comes to sending US taxpayer money overseas, the president is focused on burden sharing and corruption,” Trump’s impeachment defense insisted.

Had Trump expressed serious concern about corruption anywhere before he turned his eyes to Ukraine? From Sen. Ron Johnson, “If the subject was Ukraine, he’s expressed his concern about corruption in Ukraine, which everybody understood was endemic―including [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelensky, who won. So I haven’t talked to the president about other countries where that might have come up.”

Again and again they told us that Trump cared so much about corruption that he held up nearly $400 million in aid that Congress had appropriated for Ukraine and that the Defense Department had signed off on because of Ukrainian anti-corruption efforts. And then Trump goes ahead and commutes the sentence former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich got for trying to sell an open Senate seat to the highest bidder. He plans to pardon former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, who committed perjury, tax fraud, and more. 

So it goes. Donald Trump cares about corruption like he cares about anyone not named Donald (or possibly Ivanka) Trump: only when it benefits him to claim he does.

Susan Collins is so concerned about Trump that she’s going to make a sternly worded phone call

The White House better be prepared. It’s going to get a sternly worded phone call from Sen. Susan Collins over the impeached president’s interference in the sentencing of Donald Trump’s buddy Roger Stone after his conviction in federal court. She told reporters that Wednesday, saying that Trump should "play no role whatsoever when it comes to sentencing recommendations" and that he "should not have commented" and that she wished he "would not tweet." No word on whether she's also going to talk about the tweeting on the phone call. But boy, that's sure going to strike terror in Trump's heart.

She also has questions for Attorney General William Barr, she says, but she's not sure if there should be any hearings yet over Trump and Barr turning the Department of Justice into Trump's defense counsel. She wouldn't want to be hasty. Still, a sternly worded phone call might be happening. I'm sure she really wishes it would help. But don't worry, she says, about Trump being "emboldened" by being let off the hook by her and her Republican pals.

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He wasn't acting out because he knows now that there are no limits to his power, now that the Senate will let him do literally anything. It's just him acting like a toddler, she says. He "often acts in an impulsive manner," she explained in a USA Today interview. "I think the president was angered by impeachment and that is reflected in the personnel choices he made," she said. Because that makes it so much better, the fact that he's now a 4-year-old on speed, and it had absolutely nothing to do with her.

No, she's not responsible at all for his behavior now. She was doing her solemn duty and certainly, she told the Bangor Daily News, if the president had committed "treason or bribery," she would definitely have voted to impeach. The House, however, called Trump's treason and bribery in withholding aid to Ukraine in order to force that country to interfere in the presidential election on his behalf "maladministration." So they didn't meet her bar.

But boy, Trump, she better not catch you doing this again, or you'll be in big trouble.

The House must demand Barr testify about Stone intervention—and be prepared to force his compliance

This cannot go on. Three top prosecutors (which may turn into four) in the Roger Stone case have now withdrawn after Attorney General William Barr's Department of Justice ordered them to revise their guideline-based recommendations on Stone's sentencing. This happened the morning after Donald Trump tweeted that he "cannot allow" the prosecutors' recommended sentencing of Stone, an ally and key stonewaller in the Robert Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russian government hacking in the 2016 elections.

It is time to haul Barr to the House to explain himself. Immediately. If he refuses a subpoena, then inherent contempt must be used to force his compliance. The House has broad but almost-never-used powers to compel such testimony: This is precisely the dire occasion they were designed for.

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The resignation of three top names from Stone's case signals clearly that the federal prosecutors involved believe Barr has acted with corrupt intent in reaching down to order a reduced sentencing ask. They, too, should be subpoenaed immediately so that they may describe the situation that led to their self-removal. This is an extraordinary situation: Even if a teetering-toward-fascism Republican Party will not so much as pretend at "concern" for Trump and Barr's move, the House can expose it without their assistance.

It must be done. The Department of Justice has within the span of days been turned formally into a tool for "processing" allegations against Trump's political opponents and, now, overriding the sentencing of Trump's criminal allies. Barr will resist, but it must be done regardless.

Sen. Chuck Schumer is calling for the inspector general at the Department of Justice to “open an investigation immediately.” That internal review, however, would be obviously insufficient. Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee and lead House manager in Trump's Senate-stifled impeachment trial, sent out an initial statement calling the reported Barr-Trump intervention a "blatant abuse of power" and, coupled with Trump's retaliatory firings, "the gravest threat to the rule of law in America in a generation." But it does not yet threaten subpoenas.

Schiff is correct in his diagnosis—and now the House must once again act. It is not optional; it cannot be danced around. Barr has committed an act of corruption so blatant that prosecutors have resigned rather than carry it out; he must explain himself under oath.

Giuliani and Barr are smoothing out their partnership on Trump’s extortion and slander pipeline

During the impeachment hearings before House committees, Attorney General William Barr repeatedly stated that he knew nothing about Donald Trump’s Ukraine plot. Barr said that, despite Trump informing Ukrainian officials that Barr would be in touch with them, he had not been. Of course, Barr had been in Rome, trying to promote some of the same conspiracy theories, but that was different.

That was also then. Now that the Republican Senate has given Trump a free pass on using his office for extortion and slander, Barr is no longer pretending that he’s not part of the propaganda machine. On Monday he wasn’t quite confirming reports that he and Rudy Giuliani were coordinating on a defamation pipeline. But as of Tuesday, that’s exactly what’s happening.

As The New York Times reports, Barr says that he isn’t treating Giuliani any differently than he treats anyone else, except for when it comes to … pretty much everything. According to Barr, the Justice Department is obligated to “have an open door to anybody who wishes to provide us information.” That’s nice. That apparently includes information from people under federal investigation, whose associates are already under indictment, and who are passing along information generated by foreign officials noted for their corruption, at least one of whom has already admitted that he simply made this stuff up to please Giuliani and Trump.

But then, why shouldn’t Donald Trump’s personal attorney have a personal pipeline to the attorney general? After all, Trump has already made it clear that he can overrule the federal justice system, and even a unanimous vote of the Supreme Court, whenever he feels like it. That Article II, it’s one bad article.

As an example of just how like everyone else Giuliani is being treated, The Washington Post reports that a special “intake process in the field” has been set up to review information provided by Giuliani. Giuliani will be spared the trouble of actually bringing his claims to the Department of Justice. Instead, intelligence agencies and the department will “scrutinize” Giuliani’s claims about Trump’s political opponents.

If that sounds a lot like Barr saying that he will use the FBI and other resources to conduct the investigations Trump wants and hone the power of the Justice Department for political persecution, it’s because it’s exactly like that. In fact, the DOJ is already on the case, checking out information Giuliani handed to U.S. attorneys in Pittsburgh.

According to Barr, the Giuliani Pipeline was created so “any information coming in about Ukraine could be carefully scrutinized by the department and its intelligence community partners,” which, again, is indistinguishable in any practical sense from William Barr simply announcing that the Department of Justice is now investigating Joe Biden, with Rudy Giuliani acting as a special agent in the field. 

Just wait for Wednesday. We’ll probably get there.

GOP senators alarmed by firing of Sondland, a Republican donor—but not by the rest of Trump’s purge

We now know that a handful of Republican senators were, in fact, alarmed by Donald Trump's Friday firings of government officials who testified to House impeachment investigators about Trump's Ukrainian extortion scheme. More accurately, we now know that a bare handful of Republican senators were concerned only about the firing of U.S Ambassador Gordon Sondland, while remaining unconcerned by Trump's removal of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother, who did not testify.

The likely reason? Gordon Sondland, unlike the others, was a big-money Republican campaign donor.

The New York Times is reporting that Republican Sens. Susan Collins (yes, Susan Collins), Thom Tillis, Martha McSally and Ron Johnson contacted the White House to try to halt Sondland's firing. Sondland, who was made a U.S. ambassador after giving $1 million to Trump’s own inaugural fund, was signaling he was planning to resign; the Republican senators wanted Sondland to be given a graceful exit. That was not to be: a vengeful, frothing Trump was insistent on making a public example of him.

Why were the senators concerned about Sondland but not the others? Sondland, reports the Times, was "a donor to Mr. Tillis and other Republicans."

So there you go. We now know the one, the only thing that would get the slightest pushback from the now-fascist Republican Party: Trump humiliating a top-dollar donor. The rest of it they're fine with.

That's not hyperbole. Sen. Susan Collins, in particular, made a special point of telling the Times that her prior "hope" that perhaps Trump would learn a "lesson" from impeachment was excruciatingly narrow. It didn't apply, she explained, to Trump's purge of the witnesses who spoke out to confirm the Trump-Giuliani Ukrainian plot.

“The lesson that I hoped the president had learned was that he should not enlist the help of a foreign government in investigating a political rival,” she told the Times. “It had absolutely nothing to do with whether or not he should fire people who testified in a way that he perceived as harmful to him.”

So yes, Susan Collins is fine with Trump retaliating against those who testified to his "perfect" actions. It was just the Republican donor whose plight roused her enough to make a simple phone call.

Her new statement is, yet again and of course, another reversal of a prior Susan Collins statement of supposed principles. On Friday she told a Maine crowd that "I obviously am not in favor of any kind of retribution against anyone who came forward with evidence." This new statement clarifies that she is not specifically against such retribution either.

In a non-authoritarian, non-fascist movement, Dear Leader retaliating against those who testified under oath about his own actions would be astonishingly corrupt. It would be close to the very definition of corrupt, in fact. It is now considered an acceptable act, by Republicans, subject to mild private pushback only if the purge happens to touch on one of their own campaign donors. And even the most "moderate" of Republicans, Susan Collins, is now releasing statements clarifying that she is in fact not expressing any concerns about that.

Fascism: Graham says Barr has ‘process’ for Biden probe, Russian investigators ‘going to jail’

Top sycophant Sen. Lindsey Graham took to the Sunday shows, of course, to bask in the Senate's nullification of Donald Trump's impeachment for using the tools of his power to extort the Ukrainian government into providing him "dirt" on a Democratic election opponent. It is not just Trump that appears to feel unleashed; Graham, too, was eager to describe the next steps of the administration-led descent into American fascism.

A first step: The Trump "private lawyer" Rudy Giuliani's smear campaign against the Bidens is now moving into Attorney General William Barr's Justice Department. Whatever Barr’s prior pretenses may have been, Barr is now explicitly establishing the means by which Rudy’s propaganda can be filtered into official “investigations” of Trump’s targeted enemies.

Throughout the House and press investigations into the Ukraine scandal, Trump Attorney General Barr either refused comment or denied that he was involved with the Giuliani efforts, despite Trump specifically naming both Barr and Giuliani as contacts for the Ukrainian president in the "transcript" of Trump's now-infamous phone call. Whether this was a lie or not—and it is almost certainly a direct lie by a complicit Barr—such pretenses have now vanished.

On CBS's Face the Nation, Graham said that the Department of Justice is now "receiving information coming out of the Ukraine, from Rudy." Barr's Justice Department, says Graham, has "created a process that Rudy could give information and they would see if it’s verified."

This means that the president's self-identified "personal lawyer", acting on behalf of known-corrupt pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs and ex-officials and in concert with two now-indicted launderers of Russian cash, is now directly channeling conspiracy claims against Trump's election opponent to the U.S. Attorney General's office. There is no longer any pretense of Giuliani's efforts not being state policy.

And this, in turn, means the claims of Russian organized crime-tied Dmytro Firtash, seeking to exchange "dirt" on Biden in exchange for the U.S. Department of Justice dropping his indictments in this country, are now being funneled through Giuliani directly into a Barr-led Justice Department that seems more then agreeable to making such a trade.

That was not the only assertion from Graham that Republicans and the Trump administration would be adopting new fascist policies of targeting and retaliating against Dear Leader's critics and enemies. Just after Trump removed multiple U.S. government officials (and a family member) who testified to the House impeachment committee despite Trump and Barr's standing orders to refuse House subpoenas, Graham indicated that many of those who investigated Trump will be heading to prison.

"We're not going to live in a world where as a Republican you get investigated from the day you're sworn in, three years later they're still coming after you," said Graham, erasing both Whitewater and the Benghazi "investigations" from the nation's history.

"Here's what amazes me. The Russian investigation, what happened? Half the people behind the Russia investigation are going to go to jail," the Republican told his Fox News host. "And Trump was cleared."

"When? Hopefully," host Maria Bartiromo mugged.

"Well, just hang tight," Graham responded.

We are now well into fascism, and it is the Republican Senate that is not merely looking the other way, but aggressively assisting Trump's team in its implementation. Those that testified against Trump are being removed, despite laws seemingly barring such retaliation. The propaganda efforts against Trump's targeted political foe spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani (financed, it should be noted, from Russia, as previous Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was financed for his own role in manipulating Ukraine towards Russian interests while creating schisms between that country and the west) are now being pipelined directly into Barr's Department of Justice.

Barr, whose department attempted to stifle the Ukrainian whistleblower complaint and worked to sabotage all investigation of Trump, has issued orders that he must be informed of and approve of any new investigations that touch on a 2020 campaign or candidate—both giving him direct access to any information potentially damaging to Trump's foes while maintaining absolute power to block probes of Trump himself.

It is in this environment that Lindsay Graham, who has been one of the prime advocates of Trump's new, law-bending authoritarian powers, has confidence that Trump's prior investigators will be jailed. "Just hang tight," he tells his propagandizing state media host.

It is not likely that John Bolton's book will see the light of day, not with the White House insisting it contains "classified" information that will take an unspecified amount of time to review. It is not likely that the Republican Senate will take any action, even the most minor, to restrain the Trump team in retaliating against witnesses or to block Barr from turning the nation's Justice Department into a tool for smearing, and possibly jailing, Trump's adversaries.

Travel restrictions imposed against the non-compliant. The stifling of official information contrary to Trump's scattershot, often-delusional proclamations. Invented state propaganda. The celebration of pro-state conspiracy and white nationalism promoters. Escalating threats of far-right domestic terrorism.

The only path out, now that Republicans have morphed from a conservative movement to a fascist one, is election turnout so overwhelming as to swamp even these new, myriad election-rigging efforts. And even that may not be enough.

Here's Lindsey Graham telling CBS that Attorney General Barr has "created a process" where Rudy Giuliani can feed Biden dirt from Ukrainian sources directly to the DOJ, and the DOJ will then check it out pic.twitter.com/A6N8YV6tS9

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 9, 2020

Lindsey Graham: Half the people behind the Russia investigation are going to go to jail pic.twitter.com/Xi9LQV6J9M

— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) February 9, 2020

Schiff delivers closing impeachment argument: ‘Is there one among you who will say ‘enough?”

House manager Rep. Adam Schiff delivered the final arguments in the quickly sabotaged Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump. He appealed to whatever shred of dignity the Senate Republicans still imagined themselves to have, but mostly he delivered a warning: Trump will continue to break laws.

The Senate Republicans know it. The Republican senators who voted to block testimony in an attempt to bury evidence of Trump’s blatant act of corruption each know that. They will now own everything that happens next.

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Fascism rises: Graham says Senate GOP will do whatever it can to expose the whistleblower

If you missed it, yesterday strident Donald Trump toady Sen. Lindsey Graham explained to Fox "Business" host Maria Bartiromo what he believes the Republican Senate will do next, after voting to immunize Trump from a clearly criminal extortion scheme meant to gain foreign help in winning his reelection. Graham said the Senate will move on from declaring that no administration witnesses must be called in an impeachment trial to calling a litany of Obama-era administration officials to interrogate them about Trump's targets in that scheme, Joe and Hunter Biden.

Graham also vowed to do something far more serious: Summon the "whistleblower" who first told Congress of Trump's criminal conspiracy. This is so that Graham and Trump's other Republican allies can interrogate Dear Leader’s nameless critic and, possibly, expose, threaten, and target that person to the full force of the Republican’s treason-approving, violence-threatening, mail-bombing base.

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Graham told his host, Angry Fascist Banana, that Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr told him the committee will be calling the whistleblower to testify. Graham said that he intended to expose "how all this crap started" and launched into a stream of absolutely false, propaganda-based conspiracy theories about who the whistleblower was "working with" that we will not repeat here. He did not, however, indicate whether Burr still intended to keep the whistleblower's identity secret or whether he had been pressured into changing his mind on that.

Graham, obviously, believes that he will find some conspiracy that will require, or at least justify, doing Trump's personal bidding by exposing the only White House-linked official in the entire administration who put their duty to their country above their fealty to a raving, corrupt man damaging national security and our elections for his own personal gain.

There can be little argument that the Republican Party is now a fascist organization. It has put Dear Leader above the rule of law. It has given Dear Leader an "absolute immunity" to solicit as much foreign government assistance as he can muster or extort for the purposes of throwing the next election in his favor, while insisting that it will still be a “free election” regardless of how much false, conspiracy-premised propaganda Dear Leader can bring to bear. Now it insists that Dear Leader's law-protecting supposed enemies be exposed, and made examples of.

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Sen. Joni Ernst, who is dumb, threatens to impeach Biden based on Rudy conspiracy theories

One of the problems with electing brick-stupid people as senators, as Republican voters have taken to doing in droves since the election of the first non-white American president broke what was left of their brains, is that those senators tend forever to be saying the quiet parts out loud.

Sen. Joni Ernst, inflicted on us by Iowa for some reason, has been (1) frothingly angry at the impeachment of Donald Trump for merely doing crimes, (2) eagerly leaping to television cameras to (for free) further the very same conspiracy Donald Trump was attempting to get out of the Ukrainian government for a few hundred million dollars, and (3) is now insisting that since Democrats meanly impeached Trump for crime-doing well maybe Republicans will impeach a theoretical President Biden too because screw you, that's why.

“Joe Biden should be very careful what he’s asking for because, you know, we can have a situation where if it should ever be President Biden, that immediately, people, right the day after he would be elected would be saying, ‘Well, we’re going to impeach him,’” Ernst told Bloomberg News.

For what reason?

“For being assigned to take on Ukrainian corruption yet turning a blind eye to Burisma because his son was on the board making over a million dollars a year.”

Bloomberg News notes, to their small credit, that this is not true. This is a conspiracy theory. In the real world as inhabited by those of us not raised by paint fumes, Biden demanded the removal of Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin for not prosecuting alleged corruption in companies like Burisma. Biden was acting on behalf of the United States government and State Department to further an official United States policy, one shared by the European Union and by Senate Republicans themselves. Because Shokin, now Rudy Giuliani's bestest friend after he came up with a host of theories on why everyone in Ukraine but him were the crooked ones, was corrupt.

What Bloomberg News does not point out, however, is that this makes Joni Ernst a liar. Not just a liar, but either a willful propagandist or an unwilling idiot, someone who allegedly is responsible for help writing our laws but who has not, at any point, been able to grasp even the most fundamental of information about the trial that she just fidget-spinnered her way through. She is furthering a lie, and using it as reason why Dear Leader's new enemy must be retaliated against, and justifying both the lie and the retaliation on the indignity of Dear Leader being asked to answer for doing what even her fellow Republican senators agree was a crooked act.

Sen. Joni Ernst may be taking the fascist path on these things but she is, thank God, not a bright fascist. A smarter Republican would have shut their pie-hole long ago but she just keeps going, apparently on a mission to show that her home state of Iowa will put literally anyone in a position of Republican power. Liars, white supremacists, you name it.

Lamar Alexander: Trump might be too dumb to know how to not commit crimes

It was soon-retiring Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander who effectively ended the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump, doing so with a statement that asserted House managers had indeed proven that Trump used U.S. military aid as bargaining chip for obtaining a smear of his election opponent, but that doing so was merely "improper", and not an impeachable offense. Alexander thus settled on the answer that would do the most injury to our democracy and the rule of law: the "president" did it, the "president" was caught doing it, and the "president" is now allowed to do it, going forward, with no repercussions other than facing a vote he is now allowed, by Senate decree, to rig.

Defending this extremist, cancerous nullification on Meet the Press, Alexander did himself no favors. Alexander said that what Trump should have done, if he was so "upset" about Joe Biden and Ukraine, “he should have called the attorney general, and told him that, and let the attorney general handle it the way they always handle cases involving public figures.”

Why didn't he, asked his host? “Maybe he didn't know to do it,” Alexander said, letting loose a small chuckle after tossing that turd on the table.

Chuck Todd pushed back on this notion that Trump, entering his fourth year of office, was "still new to this"; Alexander allowed that "the bottom line it's not an excuse. He shouldn't have done it."

Let's just savor that, for a moment, as Alexander's continued defense for why Trump cannot be held accountable to the same standards as every other public figure corrodes our Constitution. Alexander is suggesting here that maybe Dear Leader was, as Robert Mueller's team concluded of Dear Leader Jr., during the last attempt by the Trump family to further international corruption if it is on their behalf, simply Too Stupid To Not Crime.

Trump may have an entire administration behind him, the top ranks stuffed with Republican radicals all, and a kept attorney general of his own mold, but Donald Trump is a stupid, stupid, stupid man. In three years nobody has been able to explain to him how to not crime. Through nearly a year of Rudy Giuliani scheming and Trump inserting Giuliani and his allied criminals into the decision-making loops of the State Department, White House and Budget Office, none of the myriad involved officials were able to inform him of how an "investigation" of such corruption would actually be done. If he were serious about it. If he had non-criminal motives.

Is it possible for Trump to be that stupid? Perhaps. He still believes "stealth" aircraft are literally invisible, after three years; his absolute immunity to learning absolutely anything is so impressive that we surely will come out of this with a new brain disease being named after him. It is less possible for every single member of his staff, sans John Bolton and subordinates, to also have accidentally crimed out of ignorance. Not impossible, but not likely.

In any event, the Alexander pitch is, somehow, worse than before. Not only has it been proven that Trump extorted Ukraine in order to gain an election favor, and not only is he now allowed to do that, the alternative being some (any) form of Senate check on his new discovered power, but Trump is allowed to break our laws if he is or can claim to be so very stupid that he simply cannot remember or absorb them.

If that were not enough, Lamar gave away the last bit of the game at the end.

"Now I think it's up to the American people to decide, okay, good economy, lower taxes, conservative judges, behavior that I might not like, the call to Ukraine. Weigh that against Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders and pick a president.

He broke the law, but we got our "conservative judges." He may have violated the Constitution, his oath of office, the public trust and the very foundations of our democracy, with the eager help of the Senate and the "conservative" press, but it is either rank corruption or electing a Democrat so rank corruption, hints Lamar, it is.

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