Moscow Mitch continues pretense that he’ll run a fair impeachment trial

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he wants to work out an agreement with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for the conduct of Donald Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate. The thing is, he has yet to schedule a meeting to discuss it, and his fellow Republicans are meeting regularly with Trump's people at the White House to strategize.

So when McConnell says, as he did with reporters on Tuesday, that the "first thing Sen. Schumer and I will do is see if there's a possibility of agreement on a procedure," take that with a dollop or two of salt. This is the part to take to the bank: "That failing, I would probably come back to my own members and say: 'OK, can 51 of us agree how we're going to handle this?'" See, he's pretending like that's his "backup" plan—staging the whole thing with a Republican majority that cuts Democrats out of the loop. As usual.

There is no template for Senate impeachment hearings, beyond what it’s conducted before. But there are no constitutional restrictions on them either, and the majority has maximum flexibility in determining how it would proceed, needing just 51 votes to do so. There's an exceedingly slim possibility that McConnell loses a few votes—maybe Mitt Romney, maybe Susan Collins, maybe even Lisa Murkowski, who is, as always, staying pretty mum on the whole thing.

Meanwhile, however, two of those Republican supposed "jurors" in the trial—Romney and Collins—joined a handful of colleagues being courted by Trump, while another group has been strategizing with White House staff. The Republicans will be lunching with White House counsel Pat Cipollone in their weekly conference lunch Wednesday "as part of an ongoing effort to keep Senate Republicans informed about White House thinking," says Sen. Mike Lee's spokesperson.

The fix is most definitely in and has been for months. McConnell has baldly said that he "can't imagine a scenario" in which he abandons Trump. He is certainly not going to allow a Senate impeachment trial to be anything but a sham. That's why Democrats need to make a very, very strong case to the voters, to maximize pressure on McConnell's minions.

We have to shut this down. Please give $1 to our nominee fund to help Democrats and end McConnell's career as Senate majority leader.

Barr threatens that ‘communities’ could lose ‘the police protection they need’ if they resist cops

Donald Trump's personal lapdog Attorney General William Barr took time off from his fiction-finding efforts to manufacture evidence to exonerate his boss Tuesday and spoke to a group of police officers and prosecutors, taking the opportunity to threaten certain "communities" that if they didn't start giving "support and respect" to cops, "they might find themselves without the police protection they need."

Jeb Fain, spokesperson for American Bridge, the super PAC that recorded and released the comments, told HuffPost that Barr wasn't "being subtle and that shouldn't surprise us considering this administration's record. […] When it comes to communities of color, he sees justice and equal protection under the law as subject to conditions." Those conditions are shutting up and submitting. "Barr's words are as revealing as they are disturbing," Fain continued, "flagrantly dismissive of the rights of Americans of color, disrespectful to countless law enforcement officers who work hard to serve their communities, and full of a continuing disregard for the rule of law."

It's not new from Barr, though it is an escalation to direct threats. Back in August, he told the Fraternal Order of Police that there should be "zero tolerance for resisting police," and attacked prosecutors who stand against police abuses. "There is another development that is demoralizing to law enforcement and dangerous to public safety," he told the police group. "That is the emergence in some of our large cities of district attorneys that style themselves as 'social justice' reformers, who spend their time undercutting the police, letting criminals off the hook and refusing to enforce the law."

There's that bullhorn of a dog whistle from Barr. The man the U.S. Senate confirmed to be the people's chief law enforcement officer is threatening some of those same people. While he didn't specify which people, his meaning was pretty damned clear. It's the people of color who have finally had enough with racist policing and the increasing death toll in their communities at the hands of law enforcement.

Republicans increasingly parroting Putin’s Ukraine conspiracy theory to defend Trump

Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy now has company among Senate Republicans in his efforts to infest the impeachment debate with pro-Putin talking points that Ukraine was the real culprit in election interference in 2016. That's despite all the evidence. That's despite the entire intelligence community telling them otherwise. That's despite David Hale, the No. 3 official at the State Department, testifying Tuesday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he is not aware of a single scrap of evidence that Ukraine had anything to do with the election.

But still they persist. Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who is also a member of the Senate leadership and is close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, told reporters that Kennedy "has pointed out I think eight different stories" to show Ukraine and Russia "both meddled," but wouldn't elaborate on what he called meddling. "I'm not going to get in the middle of a fight that you want to have picked," he said when pressed for details.

McConnell himself refused to slap the conspiracy theory down. "The intelligence committees have the ability to look at any of these suggestions," he said Tuesday. "My view is that's something for Senate Intelligence to take a look at it, and I don't have a particular reaction to it." His particular reaction is deeds, not words—refusing to take up election security legislation from the House to protect the next election from malign foreign interference.

The most alarming comments, though, came from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina. His committee has actually conducted an investigation that found, definitively, that Russia was the culprit in interference in the 2016 election, "that [Internet Research Agency] social media activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump," and that the IRA worked "at the direction of the Kremlin."

Additionally, the report said that the "Committee found that the Russian government tasked and supported the IRA' s interference in the 2016 U.S. election." But on Tuesday, Burr said, “There’s no difference in the way Russia put their feet, early on, on the scale—being for one candidate and everybody called it meddling—and how the Ukrainian officials did it."

"No difference," he said. He also said, "Every elected official in the Ukraine was for Hillary Clinton. Is that very different than the Russians being for Donald Trump?" The ranking member on Burr’s committee, Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, was not amused. "The idea that any other country had that kind of effort is just plain false," he told reporters. "There is absolutely no factual basis for this Ukrainian election interference/CrowdStrike nonsense. None," he tweeted. "Spreading this discredited conspiracy theory only serves to advance Russia's ongoing disinformation campaign against the United States."

Not every Republican is doing Putin's bidding. Sens. Lindsey Graham, John Thune, and Mitt Romney all pushed back on the idea that Ukraine made any attempt to influence the election. But it's telling and frightening that their leader, Mitch McConnell, and their intelligence chair are leaving the question open. Just as Putin wants it. "Thank God," he told a group last month, "no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore; now they’re accusing Ukraine."

Morning Digest: Battle lines set in Illinois, with marquee primary targeting conservative Democrat

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Leading Off

Illinois: Candidate filing for Illinois' March 17 primaries closed on Monday, and you can find a complete list of candidates here. At least one Democrat and one Republican filed in every district except IL-08, where Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi is running unopposed. However, challenges to nominating petitions are frequent in Illinois, and candidates are often knocked off the ballot, so expect some changes.

IL-03: Running down the key races by district has us starting with Illinois' 3rd District, a solidly blue seat in southwestern Chicago where conservative Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski once again faces a challenge from businesswoman Marie Newman. Newman held Lipinski to a narrow 51-49 win in last year's primary, but complicating matters for her this time is the presence of two other candidates: activist Rush Darwish and mechanic Charles Hughes. Hughes has been thrown off the ballot twice in prior bids for local office and hasn't even filed with the FEC, but Darwish has raised $345,000. It only takes a simple plurality to win, so Lipinski could benefit if there's a split in the anti-incumbent vote.

"You can find our roundup of candidate filings in all of Illinois' other key races in our House section below."

Senate

AK-Sen: DC Democrats have now joined their local counterparts in getting behind orthopedic surgeon Al Gross in his bid to unseat GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan: On Thursday, the DSCC endorsed Gross, following the same move by the Alaska Democratic Party in October. Gross is an independent, but under state law, he's permitted to run in the Democratic primary. If he wins the nomination (as is likely), he'd be listed on the general election ballot both as "(U)" (for "undeclared") and as the "Alaska Democratic Party Nominee," much as Alyse Galvin was in last year's House race.

AL-Sen: Rep. Bradley Byrne is out with his first TV ad ahead of the Republican primary, and the spot features typical conservative boilerplate such as touting his Christian values, family, and support for building Trump's wall. Byrne highlights his pro-Trump voting record and claims he stood up to corruption in state politics.

KS-Sen: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that reports that he's preparing to run for Senate in Kansas are "completely false," but just like his denials earlier this year, his public disinterest in the race isn't too convincing. Trump himself said on Tuesday that he'd ask Pompeo to run if he thought the seat were in danger, and McClatchy now reports that Pompeo has recently reached out to billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the GOP's most prolific megadonor, to "gauge interest" about a bid.

Adelson isn't the only Republican megadonor on Pompeo's radar; he has also been in contact with Charles Koch, whose Koch Industries is headquartered in Pompeo's base of Wichita. Both billionaires were reportedly receptive to Pompeo's overtures, and he could be planning to build up an overwhelming financial advantage upon joining the Republican primary if he does run.

MI-Sen: VoteVets is going up with a $700,000 ad buy over a two week period to support Democratic Sen. Gary Peters. Their ad shows Peters riding a motorcycle while the narrator praises him as one of the most effective senators in Washington. The narrator lauds Peters for his service in the Navy and how he helped secure a major pay raise for the troops.

TX-Sen: The Democratic pollster Beacon Research has conducted a survey on behalf of a group called the Democratic Policy Institute, and it shows Republican Sen. John Cornyn could be in for a competitive election. Matched up against four of the Democrats running against him, Cornyn leads state Sen. Royce West by 45-33, 2018 House candidate MJ Hegar by 44-30, former Rep. Chris Bell by 45-30, and 2018 Senate candidate Sema Hernandez by 45-29. However, those wide leads appear to be largely a function of the low name recognition of the Democratic field, and Cornyn leads a generic Democrat by only 46-44.

House

CA-25: Sen. Dianne Feinstein has endorsed Democrat Christy Smith in the special election for California's vacant 25th Congressional District, joining her state's junior senator, Kamala Harris, who also recently gave her backing to Smith.

CA-50: Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday to a single charge of conspiracy to convert campaign funds to personal use, bringing an end to a long-running corruption case that began more than three years ago. Hunter faces a prison term of up to five years when he's sentenced on March 17.

Prosecutors clarified that Hunter will not be required to resign his seat in Congress (which he's held since inheriting it from his father in 2008) as part of his plea deal, though they said they believe he'll do so soon.

IL-06: The NRCC was dealt a heavy blow when its touted recruit, former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, dropped out of the race to challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Sean Casten in October, leaving the GOP with former state Rep. Jeanne Ives as its only notable candidate in Illinois' 6th District. Ives is a conservative extremist who's a poor fit for this affluent and highly educated district in the western Chicago suburbs (check out this racist and transphobic ad she ran during her unsuccessful campaign for governor last year).

Hillary Clinton won this district 50-43 in 2016, though according to one analysis, former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner carried it 50-45 last year despite getting blown out statewide.

IL-07: A trio of contenders have filed to challenge longtime Rep. Danny Davis in the Democratic primary in Illinois' 7th District, a predominantly black seat covering Chicago's West Side and downtown. They include attorney Kristine Schanbacher, activist Kina Collins, and teacher Anthony Clark, who lost to Davis 74-26 last year. Davis, who is 78, has often flirted with retirement and declined to discuss his plans when the Chicago Tribune questioned him in April, but assuming his petitions are valid, we can take him off the retirement watch list.

One detail to note is that Davis, Collins, and Clark are black while Schanbacher is the lone white candidate. Schanbacher has actually outraised Davis, a notoriously weak fundraiser, though the incumbent has more cash in the bank.

IL-11: Democratic Rep. Bill Foster drew a primary challenge from Will County Board member Rachel Ventura, who criticized the incumbent from the left when she launched her campaign, but it doesn't look like the well-connected Foster has much to fear. Ventura so far has raised just $18,000 while Foster has $3.2 million in the bank. Republicans haven't put up a serious challenge for the solidly blue 11th District, located in the southwestern Chicago suburbs, in years, and they won't in 2020 either.

IL-13: After losing a heartbreaker by less than a percentage point last year, Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan quickly launched a rematch against GOP Rep. Rodney Davis in Illinois' 13th District and largely cleared the field for herself. (The only other Democrat, activist Stefanie Smith, hasn't reported raising any money yet.) This district, located around the capital of Springfield in the central part of the state, voted 50-44 for Trump but went for Democrat J.B. Pritzker 46-43 in last year's race for governor. Both Londrigan and Davis are monster fundraisers and this district will once again be highly competitive.

IL-14: Seven different Republicans are challenging freshman Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood, who upset GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren in the traditionally red 14th District last year. Hultgren, however, isn't among them: While he didn't rule out a comeback bid back in May, he did not file paperwork for a rematch.

The most prominent—but by no means best—contender is wealthy state Sen. Jim Oberweis, who has the most cash among the GOP hopefuls but sports a comically awful electoral track record. Remarkably, Oberweis is also reportedly the target of recruitment efforts in Florida's open 19th District, where he owns a home and hasn't ruled out running. However, the Sunshine State's filing deadline isn't until a month after the Illinois primary, so Oberweis could lose that race but still run again!

In the meantime, though, he has to deal with several actual opponents, including businessmen Ted Gradel, fellow state Sen. Sue Rezin, and former Trump administration official Catalina Lauf, plus three minor candidates. This district, based in the western Chicago exurbs, went 49-45 for Trump and 51-43 for Rauner, making this the reddest seat Democrats will be defending in Illinois in 2020.

IL-15: Illinois' only open seat this cycle is the 15th District, where veteran GOP Rep. John Shimkus is retiring. This district occupies a wide swath of the east-central and southeastern parts of the state and is dark red turf (Trump won it 71-25), so the action will be found in the Republican primary, where six candidates have filed. The most notable appears to be farmer Mary Miller, whose husband is a state representative, while others include Altamont School Board member Kerry Wolff, Vermilion County Treasurer Darren Duncan, physician Charles Ellington, and former Trump state director Kent Gray. No one has filed a fundraising report yet.

IL-17: Rep. Cheri Bustos is one of 31 Democrats nationwide to represent a seat Trump won (albeit by less than a point), but Republicans haven't managed to give her a stiff challenge in a long time. That doesn't seem likely to change next year: The congresswoman's only notable opponent, real estate attorney Esther Joy King, has so far raised just $123,000. Bustos, who as chair of the DCCC has unmatchable access to money, has $2.7 million in the bank. And King might not even wind up as her party's nominee: Conspiracy theorist Bill Fawell, who got crushed by Bustos last year, is running again for the 17th District, which is based in northwestern Illinois.

IN-01: Attorney and environmental advocate Sabrina Haake is the latest Democrat to join the crowded primary to succeed retiring Rep. Pete Visclosky. Haake is running her first race and is the first LGBTQ candidate in the contest.

ME-02: Penobscot County Treasurer John Hiatt is the latest Republican to jump into the primary to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, but he may have trouble gaining traction with primary voters based on his positions. Hiatt says he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 following the Access Hollywood video revelations about Trump, he supports universal health care and background checks for gun purchases, and he currently deems himself "neutral" when it comes to Trump. However, Hiatt also describes himself as anti-abortion and fiscally conservative.

Hiatt would also be the first autistic member of Congress if he were elected, and he joins a primary that includes 2018 Senate nominee Eric Brakey, former state Rep. Dale Crafts, and real estate agent Adrienne Bennett.

NC Redistricting, NC-06, NC-13: Now that the court has lifted its injunction and congressional candidate filing has begun, candidates are starting to react to the passage of the GOP's new congressional map, and at least one incumbent has found himself in a difficult position: GOP Rep. Mark Walker. Walker said that he won't rush his decision, noting the Dec. 20 filing deadline, and hinted he could either run in the new 13th District or the 6th. Walker's predicament is that the new 6th is solidly Democratic and that running in the safely Republican 13th could set him on a collision course with fellow GOP Rep. Ted Budd.

However, despite his base in the suburbs of Greensboro being absent from the 13th District and Budd's being included, Walker may have a better claim to running in the 13th than Budd does. That's because 47% of the 2016 GOP primary voters in the new 13th are currently Walker's constituents, compared to 39% who are Budd's constituents. By contrast, 43% of the new 6th District's 2016 GOP primary voters are Budd constituents compared to just 26% who are currently represented by Walker.

Potentially running in the 13th against Budd wouldn't be the first time Walker has won a challenging primary. During his initial 2014 run for the previous version of the 6th District as a first-time candidate, Walker pulled off an upset landslide against then-Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr., who is the son of powerful state Senate leader Phil Berger and was supported by the state GOP establishment.

TX-11: Former congressional staffer Brandon Batch is up with his first TV ad ahead of the Republican primary for this open red seat. The minute-long spot focuses on his biography growing up in West Texas and how his mother struggled with multiple sclerosis. Batch promotes his conservative values and says he'll be a strong ally of Trump if elected.

VA-07: State Sen. Bryce Reeves and 6th District Rep. Ben Cline have endorsed state Del. Nick Freitas for the Republican nomination to take on first-term Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger. Reeves had been mentioned as a potential candidate himself, so his endorsement takes him out of the running. Freitas faces a primary that includes fellow state Del. John McGuire, former Trump Defense Department official Andrew Knaggs, and nonprofit director Tina Ramirez.

WI-07: Filing closed on Monday for the May 12 special election for Wisconsin's 7th Congressional District, with two candidates from each major party making it on to the Feb. 18 primary ballot.

State Sen. Tom Tiffany and Army veteran Jason Church will compete for the Republican nod. Much of the state's GOP establishment, including ex-Gov. Scott Walker, have come out for Tiffany, but Church has a compelling story: He lost both legs in an IED blast in Afghanistan but later went to law school and worked as counsel for GOP Sen. Ron Johnson. (Johnson doesn't appear to have weighed in on the race.)

Democrats, meanwhile, will choose between Wausau School Board President Tricia Zunker and businessman Lawrence Dale. Zunker is also a justice on the Ho-Chunk Nation Supreme Court and would be the state's first Native American member of Congress. As for Dale, he doesn't actually live in the district, which sprawls across most of northern Wisconsin, or even in the state: He hails from Ironwood, which lies just across the Montreal River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

This once-competitive seat, like many other rural white districts, has moved sharply toward the GOP in recent years: Mitt Romney carried the 7th by a small 51-48 margin in 2012, but Donald Trump won it 58-37 four years later. That pattern continued last year, when Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin won a 55-45 blowout statewide but lost the district 52-48, according to J. Miles Coleman. Republicans are therefore likely to hold this seat, which became vacant when former Rep. Sean Duffy resigned in September.

Judge rules that Parnas can turn over documents to Congress, as more charges are likely

When Rudy Giuliani’s friends, clients, tour guides, and assistants were picked up at Dulles Airport on Oct. 10, it was clear that federal attorneys weren’t really prepared to arrest the pair. It was the idea that the two were getting ready to head out of the country again—and that Giuliani was planning to follow them to Vienna that evening—that forced the government’s hand and had them bring Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman in on charges related to making illegal foreign contributions to numerous Republicans, including Donald Trump.

But now that there’s been more time to develop the case against Parnas and Fruman, it’s clear that the count of charges against them has nowhere to go but up. And up. Not only does Parnas have a starring role in the House Intelligence Committee impeachment report as the man who was talking to everyone—including ranking Republican committee member Devin Nunes—assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Zolkind appeared at a pretrial hearing on Monday and flat-out told the judge that more charges were likely. And, according to Politico, those additional charges might not all be aimed at Parnas and his partner in thuggery, Fruman. There are possible “additional defendants” in the works.

In fact, Parnas and Fruman don’t appear to be at the center of this case at all. Their arrest was required just because they had those tickets to ride to Vienna, where their friend, employer, and also already indicted oligarch Dmytro Firtash has been cooling his heels in luxury for years. This case, which includes at a minimum charges of violations of election law, perjury, falsifying records, conspiracy against the United States, appears to be “part of a broader probe that is looking at numerous people in Giuliani’s orbit.”

While it’s clear that Giuliani’s orbit revolves around the Oval Office, it’s not certain just who else might be caught up in the obvious and clumsy schemes to feed foreign contributions to Republican candidates. But we might soon know. Not only has Parnas’ lawyer been avidly signaling his client’s willingness to talk to anyone about his connections to Giuliani, Trump, and company—the judge also ruled on Monday that Parnas can turn over documents to the House impeachment inquiry.

The House Intelligence Committee had already directed a subpoena in Parnas’ direction, but complying with the request was on hold until Monday’s hearing. Now Parnas is ready to start explaining his role—one in which he has been listed as Giuliani’s client, his assistant, his guide, and his translator while in Ukraine.

On Monday, Judge J. Paul Oetken declared that it would be in the “public interest” for Parnas to ship his documents to Congress. It’s unclear just what these documents contain, but seeing that phone records included in the House report show Parnas chatting frequently with Nunes, Giuliani, and The Hill editor John Solomon, it seems certain that Parnas has information both about the scheme to oust Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as well as Giuliani’s efforts to find someone in Ukraine willing to support Trump’s conspiracy theories against Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.

Parnas’ next day in court will not be until Feb 3. But long before that, his documents will be in the hands of the House investigators. And Parnas may get his chance to tell his side of the scheme … which promises to be vastly entertaining. For everyone except Trump, Giuliani, and Nunes.

Trump loses in court again—judge rules that Deutsche Bank must provide loan documents

Even before he entered the White House, Donald Trump had made more than 3,000 appearances in court—many of them related to his tendency to promise to pay now, actually pay never. It’s not clear how many of those 3,000 cases Trump lost, but for many of them the point was never about the verdict; It was about punishing some smaller company by throwing Trump’s current salaried “fixer” at it and forcing it to either expend thousands or settle for a fraction of what it was owed. 

Unfortunately for Trump, it doesn’t really work that way when Congress is on the other side of the courtroom. Again and again, Trump has tried to block access to his tax filings, his business dealings, and his instructions to White House officials. Again and again, he has lost these fights in court.

Back in May, a U.S. district court judge ruled against both Trump and his children to declare  that Deutsche Bank and Capitol One were actually required to turn over financial documents they held from the Trumps to Congress in response to subpoenas. Both banks had been blocked from providing the information after Trump sued on claims of personal privacy. The May ruling was particularly important because it specifically stated that Congress has the right to conduct investigations of the executive branch.

However, the Department of Justice immediately appealed the case on Trump’s orders, and between administrative stays and formal appeals, the documents are still sitting at Deutsche Bank. But that may not remain the case much longer.

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court rejected Trump's effort to block the release, stating that Congress’ need to pursue its legislative function is “a far more significant public interest” than “whatever public interest” there is in protecting Trump’s private financial transactions. The DOJ’s appeal was denied, the administrative stay lifted, and the documents held by Deutsche Bank are—theoretically—now to be released. However, it can be expected that the Trump-Barr DOJ will hop in one last time in hopes that Judge I Like Beer will act to prevent Deutsche Bank from revealing the details of Trump’s loans. 

Multiple sources have indicated that Trump is anxious to cover details of these loans at least in part because he claimed much greater value for some of his assets when reporting them on loan applications than he did when reporting those same assets for tax purposes. Which would be a violation.

This ruling was made at almost the same time that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who ruled last week that former White House counsel Don McGahn must obey a congressional subpoena to testify before the impeachment inquiry, removed a stay on that order.

It’s unclear at this point whether the Supreme Court would accept a further appeal of the appeals court’s decision on the Deutsche Bank documents. But it certainly seems possible, considering the other aspects of congressional authority vs. executive privilege already before the court. It seems likely that the current Supreme Court is going to have a chance to define the previously blurry boundaries of executive vs. congressional authority—and it’s going to do it while being helmed by an overwhelmingly conservative majority that believes heavily in the unitary executive theory. Trump just lost another big one in court, but there’s still a chance he’s going to make America the big loser in the long run.

Note: An earlier version of this story mangled the two decisions, confusing portions of one case and the other … hopefully the issues are now resolved.

House Intelligence report on the impeachment inquiry is definitive, detailed, and utterly damning

On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee released its report on the results of the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump. As might be expected following weeks of compelling, detailed, and convincing testimony, the report is … compelling, detailed, and convincing in presenting the case against Trump. The report indicts Trump “personally and acting through agents within and outside of the U.S. government” for soliciting interference from a foreign government to assist in his reelection. It makes an equally blunt case that Trump withheld both a White House meeting and military assistance from Ukraine as part of his effort to force that country’s participation in his scheme. 

Donald Trump used his high office not just to benefit his own presidential campaign, but to harm political rivals; and he did so at a cost to this nation and to others. He put himself above the law, and above the best interests of the United States. This is the very definition of an impeachable offense.

The report, especially in the executive summary, takes the form of a narrative and does a masterful job of arranging the various elements of testimony into a cohesive set of events. For example, when Trump sat down to make his call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he did not do so “cold,” but only after first participating in a call with Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland. In that call, Sondland assured Trump that, after months of pressure, much of it directed by Rudy Giuliani, Zelensky was on board with the scheme to announce investigations that would cast doubt on Biden, suggest that Hillary Clinton faked the entire theft of materials from the DNC, and exonerate Russia of interference in the 2016 election.

In listening to the testimony of various witnesses, or seeing the daily reports on the impeachment hearings, it was sometimes difficult to see the relationship between these events. But in the Intelligence Committee report, the connections are drawn: Giuliani and others applied pressure to Ukrainian officials over a period of many months.

Setting up Trump’s July 25 request for a political favor was an effort that began at least as early as April, when Giuliani, Lev Parnas, and others directly conspired to remove U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch from her position—with the knowledge and cooperation of Trump. Sondland then stepped in ahead of Trump’s call to confirm that Zelensky understood Giuliani’s demands. After that conversation, Sondland spoke with Trump to let him know that everything was arranged. By the time Trump called Zelensky, he felt comfortable demanding the announcements he wanted as a political favor—because he thought it was already in the bag.

If the effort to extort Zelensky into making announcements that Trump could use to his benefit began well before the July 25 phone call, it certainly did not end there. Giuliani met in person with Zelensky’s top assistant and repeated the insistence that Ukraine issue the announcement Trump wanted. Giuliani, Sondland, and Ambassador Kurt Volker then communicated through a series of texts and conversations to detail what they were demanding of Ukraine and make a clear report to Trump. 

In what may be the ugliest moment of the whole affair, Ukraine offered up a draft statement that included mention of the country fighting against corruption, but did not include specific language on the two conspiracy theories Trump was supporting. At that point Volker, Sondland, and Giuliani actually rewrote the proposed statement to include Trump’s conspiracy theories and sent this revision back to Zelensky’s assistant. No other moment makes it more absolutely clear that this was not about fighting corruption. It was about giving Trump ammunition against political opponents.

Ukrainian officials expressed well-grounded concern over what Trump was asking, and even Volker—who drafted the proposed revisions to the Ukrainians’ statement—was forced to admit that they were stepping over the line. Even then Sondland continued to press for the announcements that Trump wanted, and continued to communicate his progress to Trump.

Meanwhile, it was clear that Ukrainian officials were aware of Trump’s hold on assistance almost from the moment it began. Defense Department official Laura Cooper reported that the Ukrainians asked about the hold on the same day that Trump spoke with Zelensky, and that there were multiple questions about why the assistance was not flowing over the following two months.

It was at that point, as the report puts it, that Trump’s scheme “unraveled.” Zelensky was prepared to make the public announcements that Trump was demanding, but three House committees had already announced an investigation specifically targeted at how Trump and Giuliani were acting to “improperly pressure the Ukrainian government.” That same day, the inspector general of the Intelligence Community sent Congress a letter informing it of the whistleblower report. Even Republican senators were demanding information on the hold on military assistance.

Trump had finally convinced Ukraine to play ball … but it was too late. Trump was forced to lift the hold on the aid to Ukraine in an effort to prevent further investigation. Even so, Zelensky was still going to go through the deal at his end until Ambassador William Taylor urged him to step back.

As might be expected, a large part of the report is dedicated to what the Intelligence Committee describes as Trump’s "unprecedented effort to obstruct an impeachment inquiry," which included withholding documents, ordering witnesses not to testify, and repeated attempts to threaten and intimidate those witnesses who did come forward. Those efforts included not just direct orders to ignore congressional subpoenas—orders that Trump knew put everyone in the White House in position for possible contempt charges—but going after even longtime military personnel, nonpartisan State Department officials, and members of the White House staff in the most personal, political, and threatening way. And it included Trump making over 100 public statements about the character of the whistleblower.

All of that was exactly what the public hearings and transcripts of closed-door hearings had already revealed. But it’s certainly not everything that’s in the report. For example, Mike Pence gets more attention than might be comfortable for anyone expecting him to fill a Trump-shaped hole. Pence, like Rick Perry and Mick Mulvaney, appears to have been aware of Trump’s extortion efforts over the whole course of events.

Also coming in for a good deal of scrutiny is handy tool and editor of The Hill John Solomon. Solomon’s efforts to assist Trump and Giuliani go back to at least March. His repeated editorials provided a direct outlet for Giuliani to present his conspiracy theories against Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, and he was also an active participant in the smear campaign against Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Everything that Solomon claimed about Yovanovitch, which was then used to justify the ambassador’s removal, was apparently cooked up between Solomon, Giuliani, and Parnas. 

Trump was also directly connected to that effort.

Phone records show that in the 48 hours before publication of The Hill opinion piece, Mr. Parnas spoke with Mr. Solomon at least six times. … On March 20, 2019, the day The Hill opinion piece was published, Mr. Parnas again spoke with Mr. Solomon for 11 minutes. Shortly after that phone call, President Trump promoted Mr. Solomon’s article in a tweet.

And then there’s Devin Nunes. In what might be the most extraordinary fact to emerge from any report ever produced by a House Intelligence Committee, it’s made absolutely clear that while Nunes was sitting as the ranking member of the committee, he was also directly involved in all aspects of the scheme he was pretending to investigate. Nunes was involved in the scheme to smear Yovanovitch, working directly with Giuliani, Parnas, and Solomon in the effort—and it wasn’t just a chance encounter. Nunes talked with Giuliani four times in a single day prior to the publication of Solomon’s article. Nunes’ staff also got in on the act, dealing with both Giuliani and Parnas as the effort to remove Yovanovitch continued. Nunes’ next appearance at a committee hearing should be before the Ethics Committee.

At 300 pages, the House Intelligence Committee report on the impeachment of Donald Trump is going to be, like some earlier documents, subject to prolonged scrutiny before it coughs up every connection and trail of evidence. But even at first reading, it is damning as hell.

In his efforts to gain an incremental edge in 2020 by insisting that Ukraine back a pair of already long-disproven conspiracy theories, Trump damaged America’s ability to work with allies abroad, invited further aggression on the part of Russia, and placed global stability at risk. That’s not the end of it. In defense of those actions, Trump used his position both as executive and head of the Republican Party to further divide the nation, damage federal institutions, and engage in active obstruction of the investigation in violation of Congress’ oversight authority.

Though Trump has constantly tried to bring down the scope of the impeachment to a single phone call, the report makes clear that the effort to subvert the government of Ukraine into becoming an instrument in Trump’s ratf#cking of the 2020 election was lengthy, extensive, and definitive. In fact, the report does a good job of showing that the call was not an exception, but an integral piece of that scheme—one that was set up by events that came before, and that was followed up by an extended effort to extract the interference that Trump demanded.

That call was “perfect,” in a way. Because it perfectly shows that Trump was at the center of the scheme and cannot claim ignorance of anything that was being demanded of Ukraine.

America’s humiliation continues as Trump rants, rambles, and lies in London

Donald Trump's public behavior continues to get worse with each passing week. Whether caused by the escalating strain of an impeachment trial, a severe case of jet lag or something (cough) medical, Trump's performance in London earlier Tuesday was a spray of nonsense, bizarre claims, bullshitting, gaslighting, and possibly straight-up forgetting his own supposed policies. Pity other world leaders, forced to sit alongside a Twitter account turned real boy. Pity us, for being governed by one.

Some, I repeat some, of the most bizarre moments:

• Asked whether the United States supports Iranian protesters challenging their government: "I don't want to comment on that, but the answer is no. But I don't want to comment." Aside from the indistinguishable-from-parody phrasing, both Trump's secretary of state and Donald Actual Trump himself publicly stated the exact opposite position in the last 24 hours. Does Trump even know what protesters the questioner was taking about? Did he forget his own stance? We don't know—but he soon reversed that position yet again.

• Trump badgered the French president in an excruciatingly strange exchange, asking him "Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I could give them to you."

• Trump straight-up embraced the imperialist argument his staff apparently used as leverage to convince him to keep some U.S. troops in Syria, claiming that "We have taken the oil. I've taken the oil. We should have done it in other locations, frankly, where we were. I can name four of them right now, but we've taken the oil ... our great soldiers are right around the oil where we've got the oil."

• He again bragged of his close relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, even while calling him "Rocket Man." "I’m possibly the only one he has that kind of relationship with in the world."

• He refused to confirm that the United States would come to the aid of other NATO members who came under military attack.

On climate change: "Climate change is very important to me. I've done many environmental impact statements over my life and I believe very strongly in very, very crystal clear, clean water and clean air. That's a big part of climate change." Donald Trump has previously declared climate change to be a "hoax" propagated by China in an attempt to weaken American industry. Further, pollution levels in the United States have increased during Trump's tenure, due in part to Trump administration refusals to enforce violations of the Clean Air Act. Those elevated pollution levels have caused nearly 10,000 premature deaths.

• He again revised his claims of how much his own actions have hurt China, claiming the Chinese economy is "down $32 trillion" because of his acts. This unexplained number continues to vary every time he makes the claim; since China's total gross domestic product in 2017 was $12 trillion, Trump is claiming that he harmed China to the tune of roughly three times their annual GDP.

• He called the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee "a maniac" and "a deranged human being." Further claimed, of his own phone call(s?) with the Ukrainian president: "I had legal scholars looking at the transcripts the other day and they said 'these are absolutely perfect, Trump is right when he uses the word.'" There is no evidence these legal scholars exist.

• He mused that in the future, when there is a "Democrat" president and a Republican House, Republicans will "hopefully" impeach that president in retaliation for the current impeachment inquiry. "They’ll do the same thing. Because somebody picked an orange out of a refrigerator and you don’t like it, so let’s go and impeach him." This is a baffling statement in any number of ways, but is perhaps dangerous to dwell on.

This is just from one morning's worth of press appearances. He appears to have no idea what his own policies are, no recollection of what they were, and is still inventing invisible supporters and imaginary successes. And he is still, and with fervent Republican support, in charge of the nation's military and its nuclear weapons.

Some House Democrats need to be thinking more about their constitutional duty than their reelection

As the House works toward impeachment, there's reportedly internal discussion and some conflict over expanding the articles brought beyond the confines of the Ukraine investigation. Apparently some moderates "wary of impeachment blowback in their GOP-leaning districts."

Members of the Judiciary Committee are considering drafting articles that include the 10 possible instances of obstruction outlined in special counsel Robert Mueller's report as well as results of other investigative and oversight work into the many instances of Trump's emoluments violations. One of the members who spoke to Washington Post reporters on the record is Judiciary Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Democrat from Washington. "One crime of these sorts is enough, but when you have a pattern, it is even stronger. […] If you show that this is not only real in what’s happening with Ukraine, but it’s the exact same pattern that Mueller documented . . . to me, that just strengthens the case." Intelligence Committee member Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois agrees. "It's hard to ignore the extraordinary documentation and the weight that Mueller put behind the instances of obstruction detailed in his report."

Some of the so-called moderates pressuring House Speaker Pelosi on the issue, the Post reports, want to "keep impeachment narrowly focused on Ukraine, a strategy they believed would help them weather any political backlash in next November’s elections." Others supposedly "have actually encouraged leadership to let them vote against some articles of impeachment on the House floor while backing others, a move that would allow centrists taking heat back home to show a degree of independence from their party’s left flank and their leadership."

Here's what every House Democrat should be thinking about: the trust put in them by the citizens who voted for them to fulfill their oath of office. If they need a reminder: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."

But if they want to think politically, they should be thinking about making the strongest possible case against Trump. That will demonstrate to voters just how craven, unpatriotic, and dangerous the Republicans supporting him continue to be.

Mike Pence’s job in 2020: Rally the nation’s hypocrites, misogynists, and racists back to Trump

Politico is reporting on the Donald Trump campaign's planned usage of Vice President and master bootlicker Mike Pence as the 2020 presidential race heats up. The short version is that the campaign intends to put distance between Trump and Pence as much as possible. "For Pence to be an effective surrogate in 2020, campaign officials say his reputation must be preserved," says the outlet, and "someone has to be the nice guy" in contrast to Trump's, you know, overpowering repulsiveness in every possible way and venue.

The plan is that Donald will have his massive, shouting, hate-filled rallies, while Mike Pence will go to battleground states and counties and attempt to reel in "suburban women" and "swing-state residents suffering from Trump fatigue."

That is, as can be expected in a piece that relies heavily on the Trump campaign itself for its descriptions, putting the most charitable face possible on it. The more accurate take is that Mike Pence will act as the Malevolent Hypocrite magnet, attempting to placate his usual base of The Worst Churchgoing People You Know and Folksy Diner-Goers Who Keep Blurting Out Racist Things To Visiting National Reporters. You know the type: People who very much like the Trump administration's brutal treatment of refugees, caging of children, cuts to food assistance, and attempted entry bans on anyone from "Muslim" countries, but who are turned off by Trump being, in public, a disgusting, boorish, blasphemous, perverted freak.

Relax, Mike Pence is there to say. I am as holy as Jeebus Himself, and if I can put up with all Trump's criminal acts, grotesque public behavior, and lifetime of treating anyone and everyone with open, seething contempt, then you can swallow the jagged shards of your folksy pride, put on your best brown shirt, and vote for Team Asshole. He's rude, but he's racist. What more do you people want?

It's the same dynamic that Pence has tried to cultivate throughout his association with Donald Trump. People have done crimes around him, from Flynn to Manafort to Cohen to Giuliani to, it seems, a good chunk of the Cabinet, but Mike Pence has been absolutely unaware of any of it, even when his staff testifies that they sent him a memo about the crimes in his daily briefing materials. Donald Trump is, in action, everything the supposedly saintly Pence pretends to abhor, an alleged sexual assaulter and a liar who takes apparent pride in harming those around him, but Mike Pence sees not a thing.

That's the voter Mike Pence is going for. People like Mike Pence: people who go to church on Sundays, praise Jesus and America, and spend every smiling hour being mean, spiteful, racist, misogynistic stains looking to hurt anyone in America who isn't them, and willing to excuse any behavior by any ally who will help them do it.

There's a lot of them, so it's not a bad strategy. Mike Pences are a dime a dozen, in the swing states and everywhere else.

But there's another, rather more obvious reason that the Trump campaign is keeping Mike Pence at a distance during this campaign ramp-up. It is true that "campaign officials say his reputation must be preserved" in order to woo disillusioned Trump voters back to Team Asshole, but, more pointedly, Pence needs to give a wide, wide berth to the crimes that have landed Donald Trump in impeachment hearings. There is a slim but measurable chance that Donald—especially as the pressure seems to be getting to him of late—will still be revealed to be involved with crimes so ostentatious that even members of his own crime-denying party will yet turn on him, and somebody has to be Plan B.

That would be Pence. He's been there the whole time, but didn't see a thing and didn't know about any of the, you know, unpleasantness. He's spent the entire administration polishing himself as Plan B, should Plan B ever become needed.