Putin made Trump president. It’s not the first time Russia has subverted another country’s election

Russia has done this before. And I’m not even talking about the Soviet era, when the USSR simply took control of various governments by direct force of arms. No, I’m talking about stealthily subverting another country’s election and placing its puppet into power. That’s what Russia did to Poland-Lithuania during the 18th century.

How many of you, I wonder, knew that Lithuania was once the largest country in Europe? Moreover, that was before it joined with Poland to become, for a time, not only the dominant power in Eastern Europe, but also one with a significant degree of democracy. Before I discuss this history, I must mention the brilliant scholar and teacher under whom I studied it in graduate school, Andrzej Kaminski. One of my favorite memories from those classes was when the professor, a native Polish speaker, responded to a student’s request for more time to complete an assignment by saying, “My nose bleeds for you.” 

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Poland-Lithuania at its largest, superimposed onto today’s map.

After the enactment of the Union of Lublin in 1569, the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania was an elected, constitutional monarchy, where the king’s powers were counterbalanced by a parliament that was no rubber stamp. Although the right to elect the king and members of the legislature was limited to male noblemen, the nobility was estimated to be somewhere between 8-15% of the population—far higher than in any other European country at the time.

In 1610 Poland-Lithuania looked for a moment like it might come to dominate Russia after winning a series of battles with the country and having the son of its king crowned tsar.

In the end, however, the tables were turned. Russia began grabbing more and more territory from its western neighbor. The end result was the Partitions of Poland which, between 1772 and 1795, divvied up the country’s remaining territory among Austria, Prussia, and Russia—with the latter taking the lion’s share. How did this happen? It’s a long story, but in short, it’s because significant elements of the country’s political leadership sold it out to Moscow:

During the reign of Władysław IV (1632–48), the liberum veto was developed, a policy of parliamentary procedure based on the assumption of the political equality of every "gentleman", with the corollary that unanimous consent was needed for all measures. A single member of parliament's belief that a measure was injurious to his own constituency (usually simply his own estate), even after the act had been approved, became enough to strike the act. Thus it became increasingly difficult to undertake action. The liberum veto also provided openings for foreign diplomats to get their ways, through bribing nobles to exercise it. Thus, one could characterise Poland–Lithuania in its final period (mid-18th century) before the partitions as already in a state of disorder and not a completely sovereign state, and almost as a vassal state, with Russian tsars effectively choosing Polish kings. This applies particularly to the last Commonwealth King Stanisław August Poniatowski, who for some time had been a lover of Russian Empress Catherine the Great.

As Eric Lohr, an American University historian specializing in Russia, summarized it, “By the early 18th century, Russia was routinely meddling in internal Polish electoral politics.” This should sound quite familiar to Americans in the era of Donald Trump.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia interfered in our elections in 2016, as U.S. intelligence agencies have clearly documented. Not only that, but Moscow has spent years denying it and deflecting blame by spreading the false rumor that Ukraine—a country that, like 18th-century Poland, it wants to weaken and ultimately dominate—was the one who did it.

Any objective analysis would treat those Russian denials as no more trustworthy than, for another example, Russian claims that they strictly follow all the anti-doping rules that govern international athletics (not only did they cheat, they invented fake evidence to try and discredit the whistleblower who exposed their cheating. Let’s hope Trump doesn’t copy Putin on that score as well.)

Putin’s success in placing his chosen candidate in the Oval Office is so thorough that Trump and his allies are now parroting the false rumor about Ukrainian meddling—one that clearly benefits Russian interests—in their bogus impeachment defense. Reported The New York Times,

The Republican defense of Mr. Trump became central to the impeachment proceedings when Fiona Hill, a respected Russia scholar and former senior White House official, added a harsh critique during testimony on Thursday [November 21]. She told some of Mr. Trump’s fiercest defenders in Congress that they were repeating “a fictional narrative.” She said that it likely came from a disinformation campaign by Russian security services, which also propagated it.

In a briefing that closely aligned with Dr. Hill’s testimony, American intelligence officials informed senators and their aides in recent weeks that Russia had engaged in a yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election, according to three American officials. The briefing came as Republicans stepped up their defenses of Mr. Trump in the Ukraine affair.

The revelations demonstrate Russia’s persistence in trying to sow discord among its adversaries — and show that the Kremlin apparently succeeded, as unfounded claims about Ukrainian interference seeped into Republican talking points. American intelligence agencies believe Moscow is likely to redouble its efforts as the 2020 presidential campaign intensifies. The classified briefing for senators also focused on Russia’s evolving influence tactics, including its growing ability to better disguise operations.

As Dr. Hill noted in her testimony, “The Russians have a particular vested interest in putting Ukraine, Ukrainian leaders in a very bad light.” Trump and his buddies—from Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana—are playing right along, doing Putin’s bidding (although Kennedy backtracked and pretended he hadn’t understood the question he’d been asked).

Even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had said in July 2017, "I am confident that the Russians meddled in this election, as is the entire intelligence community," and then declared that he stood by that assessment a few months later—after Trump said that he believed Putin’s denial—is now toeing the Kremlin’s line. Pompeo this week was asked if our government, along with that of Ukraine, should investigate the debunked claim that Kyiv, not Moscow, had interfered in our election by stealing those infamous emails from the Democratic National Committee. Rather than again reaffirm what he said in 2017, Pompeo instead backed his boss and said, ”Any time there is information that indicates that any country has messed with American elections, we not only have a right, but a duty to make sure we chase that down.” As Politico put it, he “appeared to bolster the conspiratorial claim, promoted by President Donald Trump, that it was Ukraine that hacked the DNC server in the 2016 White House race.”

We can hear the chuckling all the way from Moscow.

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Putin, ever so clever, yukked it up last month about sticking his fingers into our elections next year as well. More ominously, in 2018 he suggested that even if the people responsible for interfering in our 2016 elections were Russian citizens, they might well have been Jews.

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It’s important to remember that The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote has acted in ways that align with Russian interests since long before the impeachment inquiry began. He isn’t just cozying up to Putin to save his presidency—cozying up to Putin has defined his presidency.

There are striking parallels between the actions of some corrupt members of the early modern Polish nobility—those who placed their narrow personal interests above those of their country—and those of Trump and his ever-Trumper allies who are placing the interests of their party, or simply its leader, above those of our country.

In both cases, the actions of these sellouts allowed a foreign power—the same one, in fact—to exercise what certainly appears to be a significant degree of control over the country they were sworn to serve. Just ask the Poles how well that worked out for them in the long run.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)

Right-wing hypocrisy run amok: Lt. Col. Vindman, Rep. Omar, and the anti-Semitic ‘dual loyalty’ slur

Shameless. Republican hypocrisy this week reached a new level of shamelessness. That was true on multiple fronts—how shameless do you have to be to pretend that Trump saying “I want no quid pro quo” after he already knew he had been caught demanding one means he’s in the clear? However, the hypocrisy I want to focus on here relates to Republicans and anti-Semitic rhetoric, in particular the use of the anti-Semitic slur of “dual loyalty” against Jewish Americans.

One of the most powerful witnesses to appear this week as part of the House impeachment inquiry was Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. Vindman, who is Jewish, was born in Soviet-era Ukraine, and fled for the United States with his family at the age of three. For weeks now, Republicans and their allies have been attacking Vindman, hurling charges of disloyalty.

John Yoo, a high-ranking attorney in the George W. Bush Administration who helped draft the so-called “Torture Memo,” actually accused Vindman of “espionage,” and Fox News’ Laura Ingraham claimed Vindman was “advising Ukraine,” and working “against the president's interest.” During his House testimony, Vindman faced similar charges of disloyalty from Steve Castor, the Republican lawyer who questioned him—in other words, from the people officially charged with defending The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote in the impeachment inquiry.

In sum, Republicans and their right-wing allies in the media have been claiming that Vindman is somehow more loyal to Ukraine than to the United States, the country he has served as a soldier—earning a Purple Heart in Iraq in 2004—and a high-ranking security official for decades. This slander falls under the category of “dual loyalty,” and is a particularly notorious form of anti-Semitism. Rightfully, many have called out those who perpetrated it.

One of the most powerful condemnations came from GQ journalist Julia Ioffe. Like Vindman, she is a Jew born in the Soviet Union (Moscow, in her case) who fled that country for the U.S. as a child. Her insights and experience are thus particularly relevant here.

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Here’s more from Ioffe:

While Trump has a history of attacking anyone who questions his power, there is a particularly insidious history to questioning the loyalty of Jewish émigrés. According to a source who knows the family, Vindman’s grandfather died fighting for the Soviet Union in World War II. After the war was over and the state of Israel was founded, Stalin unleashed a bloody and ruthless campaign against Soviet Jewry. He called them “rootless cosmopolitans,” a wandering people who had no real roots in the Russian soil, and therefore no loyalty to the Soviet state. The campaign continued even after Stalin died, with harsh quotas imposed in universities. Politically sensitive jobs were closed to Jews because their loyalty could not be trusted. In everyday life, Soviet Jews, whose ancestors had been living in Russia for centuries, were told to “go to your Israel” or to return to their “historic homeland.”

This constant harassment and discrimination, combined with Western pressure, triggered a mass exodus, with millions of Jews leaving the Soviet Union because it had decided that they were second-class citizens and not to be trusted. The Vindmans were part of that exodus. [...]

Then 2016 came around, bringing to power [in the U.S.] a set of people all too eager to remind us of a thought we’d left in the old country: No matter what you do for this country, even if you give it your life and limb, you will always be foreign, suspect. And if, like Alexander Vindman, you dare to flag the president’s deeply problematic behavior and talk about it to congressional Democrats trying to impeach him, none of your service to your country will matter. There will be an effort to discredit you—you won’t be suspected of being secretly loyal to Israel, as your parents once were in the Soviet Union, but to Ukraine—any country but the one you actually serve.

The “dual loyalty” attacks on Vindman evoke an earlier episode in history, namely the Dreyfus Affair. Here’s Matthew Rosza at Salon making that connection and more:

There is a long history of accusing Jews of being disloyal to the countries where they reside, which is a form of anti-Semitism. In the 1890s, a French captain named Alfred Dreyfus was accused of being a German spy and publicly disgraced despite exculpatory evidence. The dual loyalty slur appeared more recently when Trump claimed that American Jews who vote for Democrats, whom he in turn claimed were anti-Israel, were “disloyal.”

There’s been even more right-wing anti-Semitism on display during this whole Trump Ukraine scandal, as numerous figures have brought up the supposed mastermind behind everything: George Soros. We heard some discussion of this Thursday, during Fiona Hill’s House testimony:

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On Dr. Hill directly, here’s Trump loyalist and convicted felon Roger Stone from two years ago speaking on Infowars, hosted by Alex Jones: “We here at Infowars first identified Fiona Hill, the globalist, leftist, George Soros-insider who had infiltrated [Former United States National Security Advisor H.R.] McMaster’s staff.” Globalist is another term with strong anti-Semitic connotations.

I began this post talking about the shameless hypocrisy on the right regarding anti-Semitism and “dual loyalty.” Earlier this year, Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar or Minnesota made statements that employed the “dual loyalty” canard about American Jews and Israel, and I called her out for it here. However, a couple of weeks later Omar wrote a piece for the Washington Post that showed she had learned a great deal from the previous incident, and I praised her for what she wrote:

Omar explicitly endorses a two-state solution, which means she acknowledges the right of Israel to exist as a state alongside a Palestinian state. She speaks of the need for “self-determination” and a “sanctuary” for each of the two peoples, and speaks of “the Jewish people’s connection to their historical homeland,” as well as recognizing their need for “security,” while noting that Palestinians have similar rights, needs, and interests, as well as their own connection to the land.

Omar also shows real empathy for Jews by highlighting the “urgency of establishing a nation” after the Holocaust and “centuries of anti-Semitic oppression leading up to it.” This is not the language of someone who hates Israel, or who denies the right of Jews to have a homeland in the land of their forefathers. One can, without question, call out Israel when it is wrong and advocate for the right of Palestinians to have their own state, yet still show respect for the rights of Jews as individuals and their collective rights as a self-identified national group. That’s exactly what Rep. Omar does here.

Furthermore, Rep. Omar has refrained from using language that connects to anti-Semitic tropes in the months since. She made real progress in convincing folks that her intent was not to inflame hate against Jews.

And let’s get something else clear, Jews in our country face far more danger from hatred coming from the right than anything coming from the left. To take just the most blood-filled example, the Pittsburgh terrorist murderer who killed 11 Jews in a synagogue hated Jews because, in his mind, they were helping immigrant “invaders.” This is hate inspired by the right-wing, not the left.

Regarding the dual loyalty language, the right-wing harshly criticized Rep. Omar. Most of their criticisms left little room for the possibility that she was anything but a through-and-through Jew hater. This did not change even after her Washington Post article. As I wrote then:

From the right, however, the reaction to her Washington Post piece was a different story. Right-wing media published attacks (see here and here, for example) that, in sum, argued that Omar is a liar, and still an anti-Semite: “Omar has already shown us who she is.” Why do they make these claims? Because for much of the right wing, including, of course, Individual 1, the issue is not sincere concern about anti-Semitic rhetoric but rather fostering division among Democrats. The difference between the response from Democrats and Republicans to Rep. Omar’s Washington Post article speaks for itself.

This is the larger point, the larger hypocrisy. If Republicans actually cared about anti-Semitism, and they actually believed it was wrong to throw the charge of dual loyalty at Jewish Americans without any real evidence to back it up, they wouldn’t be doing it themselves.

It is fitting, but hardly surprising, that this hypocrisy rears its head in relation to the defense of President Individual 1. We have all watched, shaking our heads or screaming at the television, as his Republican defenders shred any notion of truth or principle in the name of defending their chieftain. Anti-Semitism is one of the most important problems we face in America. For the Ever-Trumpers, however, it’s just another tool in their bag of dirty tricks.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of  The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (foreword by Markos Moulitsas).

The biggest mistake Democrats made in the impeachment hearings was not focusing on CrowdStrike

The biggest mistake Democratic representatives made in the entire series of impeachment hearings is the failure to explain what Dr. Fiona Hill meant when she included this in her opening statement:

Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.

Throughout the day, Republicans waved copies of Devin Nunes’ hastily produced Trump-exoneration report as proof that they did too believe that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election. This included some of the ugliest mansplaining of the entire inquiry, as one Republican after another thumped his chest and tutted over the ignorance of one of the nation’s top Russia experts.

But what Republicans did not say, and what Hill really meant, was that Donald Trump, William Barr, and every Republican on the committee are actively involved in an attempt to prove that Russia was not involved in 2016 election interference. Forget Nunes’ weak-tea report, because Republicans, Nunes included, are right now working to disprove that report themselves. What Hill was referring to was something that Trump discussed in his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Trump: I would like you to do us a favor though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike ... I guess you have one of your wealthy people... The server, they say Ukraine has it.

The CrowdStrike conspiracy theory, which Trump put forward in his phone call, and which Republicans have been explicitly supporting in their questioning and statements, explicitly exonerates Vladimir Putin and shifts the blame for hacking the DNC … to Hillary Clinton.

On Friday morning, Trump rolled through an extended rant on Fox News (50 minutes of uninterrupted, uncorrected rambling that is still underway as of the writing of this article). In the midst of this rant, he returned to the same conspiracy theory, saying, “They gave the server to CrowdStrike. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?”

First, no one gave anyone a server. There is no missing server, there never was a missing server, because there never was a physical server. Like those of many, many other companies and organizations, the DNC’s email service was hosted by a third party. Second, CrowdStrike is not a Ukrainian company. In fact, CrowdStrike Holdings, Inc. is an American cybersecurity technology company with its headquarters in Sunnyvale, California. It’s one of the best known cybersecurity firms in the nation, and worked on cases such as the theft of materials from Sony studios long before it was called on to look into the break-in to DNC materials. CrowdStrike has also frequently worked with the government, the United States government, including in 2014 when it helped compile a series of efforts by Chinese hackers attempting to break into U.S. corporations. When DNC officials realized that their emails had been compromised, and that materials may have been stolen, CrowdStrike was the logical choice to conduct a thorough investigation.

The only connection between CrowdStrike and Ukraine previous to the emergence of a conspiracy theory that began boiling through the alt-right even before the election appears to be a report produced by CrowdStrike showing that Russian hackers may have compromised a program that Ukraine uses to target artillery in its ongoing war with Russia.

But when Trump or others on the right mention CrowdStrike, they’re not talking about the American company that is still out there, still working with companies and governments on cybersecurity. They are referring to a conspiracy theory in which: Hillary Clinton contracted with Ukrainian agents to pretend to be Russian hackers; these fake Russians then pretended to break into DNC servers and steal materials; CrowdStrike was called to cover the tracks of the Ukrainians; and the whole server was whisked away to make sure no one ever detected the scheme.

There is no evidence to support this theory,” because the whole thing is utterly ridiculous from the outset. Not only would it require more cloak-and-dagger action than ever filled a spy novel;, not only does it completely contradict the actual physical situation that was investigated by the FBI, among others; but the whole premise requires that Hillary Clinton be perfectly willing to have every item of dirty laundry at the DNC fed to WikiLeaks … all to create a trap that would ensnare Donald Trump. Years later. After he won.

Trump wasn't asking for people to look into why someone wrote an op-ed he didn't like, or said something nasty on a Facebook page, or any of the other items that Devin Nunes ran through again and again. None of that was at all related to what Trump demanded.

What Trump demanded, as was made clear on his call to Zelensky, was that Ukraine lend credence to the Crowdstrike conspiracy theory. Not only did Trump make that demand, but Nunes and others have been attempting to support that claim during the hearings. And that is why Dr. Hill made her statement about Republicans not believing in Russian interference: They are actively working, right now, in concert with Trump, to “prove” that there was no Russian interference. They are no longer willing to admit even the things they admitted in that report they’re still waving around.

Every single time someone mentioned “investigating the 2016 election,” what they really meant was “exonerating Vladimir Putin and shifting the blame to Hillary Clinton.” And while it's understandable that no one wanted to use their five minutes to unwind this ridiculous "Hillary hacked herself and hid the server in Ukraine" theory that Attorney General William Barr is chasing around the world, not taking that time allowed Republicans to pretend that they’re not actively working to clear Russia as well as Trump. When they are. They really, really are.

Fiona Hill and David Holmes delivered the message America needs to hear

Fiona Hill and David Holmes may have been the final two witnesses to appear in a week loaded with blockbuster testimony, but had they been the only witnesses, the case for the impeachment of Donald Trump would have still been utterly compelling.

Right from his opening statement, Foreign Service officer Holmes laid out the timeline of events in Ukraine from the perspective of someone on the ground in Kyiv. The result is narrative that should be required reading for every schoolchild being taught the history of his impeachment in the years and decades ahead.

That narrative starts with the appearance on the stage of a force that distorted policy and threatened the critical relationship between Ukraine and the United States.

Beginning in March 2019, the situation at the Embassy and in Ukraine changed dramatically. Specifically, the three priorities of security, economy, and justice, and our support for Ukrainian democratic resistance to Russian aggression, became overshadowed by a political agenda being promoted by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and a cadre of officials operating with a direct channel to the White House.

Through the remainder of his statement, Holmes details how that “cadre,” including Gordon Sondland, Giuliani, and the now-indicted founder of the company Fraud Guarantee, Lev Parnas, worked to twist arms in Ukraine, enforcing a policy of placing political demands above the security of either nation.

And Holmes’ narrative of a diplomatic mission hijacked for domestic political purposes was reinforced by the testimony of Fiona Hill, which provided the perspective of a career professional in the White House watching as the normal channels were torn apart.

Hill noted, “U.S. support for Ukraine—which continues to face armed Russian aggression—has been politicized.” Hill and Holmes, both apolitical professionals with no party affiliation and a history of service under both Republican and Democratic administrations, were the best examples of the people who had tried to hold together a critical relationship even as Giuliani and Sondland worked to collect on Trump’s thoughtless political demands. They were also the perfect witnesses to the events and how they were impacting not just the lives of diplomats, but America’s reputation and security.

Much of what they covered in their paired narrative—Giuliani’s monthslong effort to suborn testimony from former officials known to be corrupt, Trump’s demands that Ukraine cough up manufactured dirt on both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, repeated meetings in which the specific requirements of Trump’s political arm-twisting were made clear—had already been discussed by previous witnesses before the committee. But both Holmes and Hill were able to provide fresh details to explain areas that had been outside the view of previous witnesses, and to deepen the emotional impact of the events with their firsthand accounts. Trump lobbed a hand grenade. These were the people who watched the explosion and dealt with the aftermath.

Coming out of that hearing was even more information to show that what Trump did wasn’t “common” or “normal,” no matter how many times Republicans attempted to make it seem that way. 

No day in the hearing better framed the difference between Team Trump and Team America than sweating Republicans yelling at an utterly composed Fiona Hill, and Hill’s generous, thoughtful responses. On the one side were anger, chicanery, and nonsense; on the other, a professional who was willing to take it on the chin, and keep her chin up, to deliver the message America needs.

Now we can only hope America heard it.

Mulvaney doesn’t deny new testimony that he made ‘agreement’ with Sondland

In a gaslighting statement, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has responded through his lawyer to the House impeachment testimony of Dr. Fiona Hill that ties him directly to efforts to extort Ukrainian officials into providing politically premised "investigations" for the campaign benefit of Donald Trump.

Mulvaney's statement, which pointedly refuses to call Dr. Hill by her title but instead refers to her as "Ms." throughout, is egregiously dishonest. In fact, it's almost completely bunk.

Fiona Hill’s testimony is riddled with speculation and guesses about any role that Mr. Mulvaney played with anything related to Ukraine. She bases much of her testimony about him on things allegedly heard from unnamed staffers, guards in the West Wing, and “many people.” The fact is that Ms. Hill has never met Mr. Mulvaney other than in passing, and has never discussed anything with him regarding Ukraine. We have no idea why Ms. Hill believes Mr. Mulvaney was so heavily involved, especially in light of Ambassador Sondland’s contrary testimony that he only spoke very infrequently to Mr. Mulvaney and had zero substantive conversations with him about Ukraine. This inquiry continues to be a sham. No court in this country would give any weight to testimony about Mr. Mulvaney as speculative as Ms. Hill’s. Neither should Congress or the public.

But none of that is the charge actually leveled against Mulvaney. Dr. Hill explicitly testified that Ambassador Gordon Sondland told her he had an "arrangement" with Mulvaney that the Ukrainians would get an urgently sought White House meeting with Donald Trump "if specific investigations are put underway." This is a direct, and illegal, tying of a foreign policy act to an act of election assistance. It is a crime.

In this statement drafted by attorney Bob Driscoll (who previously represented now-deported Russian agent Maria Butina), Mulvaney does not dispute this blockbuster claim. In fact, he avoids all mention of it.

Mulvaney also does not dispute Dr. Hill's contention that it was absolutely implausible for Mulvaney to have not been aware that the so-called "Burisma" investigation was intended by both Trump and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani to focus on the family of possible Trump election opponent Joe Biden.

Furthermore, Mulvaney has refused to testify about any of his claims under oath, even after confirming his own involvement in the Ukrainian pressure campaign in a televised press event.

So he's very clearly lying here, and not being even a little subtle about it. Dr. Hill asserts that Sondland told her directly that his authorization for trading an official government act—a White House meeting with the president—for campaign assistance came from White House chief of staff Mulvaney. If Mulvaney truly intended to dispute that, he could do so under oath.

Trump’s top officials owe it to Americans to testify. Their absence can only mean one thing

Russia expert and former White House national security aide Dr. Fiona Hill was taking no prisoners with her testimony during Thursday's impeachment hearings. "I believe that those who have information that the Congress deems relevant have a legal and moral obligation to provide it," she wrote in her opening statement, noting she was simply there as a nonpartisan "fact witness."

But it's hard to read Hill's words without imagining they are at least partially aimed at her erstwhile boss, former White House national security adviser John Bolton, who appears to want some sort of judicial fig leaf ordering him to honor a lawful congressional subpoena. Bolton has largely been viewed as someone who wants to tell his story and has crucial information about his interactions with Donald Trump and others in regard to Ukraine. He also ordered two of his deputies, including Hill, to report certain instances that seemed improper to White House lawyers. 

But when Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland testified Wednesday, he cast at least some doubt on how angelic Bolton's role was. Bolton clearly knew that something about Trump's actions was amiss and it's unclear that he really did anything concrete to put an end to it. The same goes for other Trump officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (who listened to the July 25 call), acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney (who put the freeze on security funding to Ukraine), Vice President Mike Pence (who engaged with top Ukraine officials, received briefing materials on Trump's improper dealings, and was cc'd on important emails), and Energy Secretary Rick Perry (who headed a key delegation to Ukraine, implemented policy, and conversed with Rudy Giuliani about Trump's Ukraine policy).

Following Sondland's testimony, several of those top aides released statements denying his characterization of their involvement in the scandal. Frankly, they can all stick it where the sun don't shine. If they have something to say that's exculpatory for them or for Trump, they can come forward and do what numerous career professionals have now done: testify. Indeed, three of Bolton's aides on the National Security Council have done just that—Dr. Hill, Tim Morrison, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. And yet Bolton sits on the sidelines suggesting that he has critical information but refusing to share it with the American people.

It is absolutely disgraceful. These are Trump's top officials, working at the highest levels of U.S. government. As Hill points out, it is both their legal and patriotic duty to offer what they know about Trump's conduct, particularly because it involves U.S. national security and election integrity. Republicans can't claim Trump has been exonerated while all of his top officials have ignored either queries or lawful subpoenas for their cooperation and testimony. Likewise, their refusal to step forward and tell Americans what they know is equal parts shameful and damning. Their glaring and conspicuous absence during these impeachment proceedings means only one thing: They are all complicit in a cover up. If that weren't true, they would have run to the microphones to tell their stories.

The latest in the impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump: Hill and Holmes testify #5

After a grueling day of testimony Wednesday, Thursday brings us testimony from former National Security Council Russia expert Dr. Fiona Hill and foreign service officer David Holmes. Hill’s opening statement makes clear that this will be another day when Republicans take a beating from the facts, even though we’ve seen there’s no day of testimony so bad that they won’t try to declare victory.

Daily Kos will be following the proceedings all day.

Watch live:

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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 8:04:53 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Rep. Swalwell points out multiple connections between Devin Nunes and “investigations” in Ukraine. Including a story that broke on Wednesday connection Nunes to now-indicted Lev Parnas, who also worked with Giuliani. Nunes former aid was also working in the White House, presenting himself to Trump as a Ukraine expert, and bypassing the NSC chain of command to access information.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 8:06:39 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Holmes take the opportunity to swing back at earlier claims by Mike Turner—who ran away without allowing any questions—and defend Zelensky.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 8:08:51 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Republican Rep. Will Hurd, on the very last day, determines that the phone call wasn’t perfect … but then turns right around and defends the exact same conspiracy theories that Trump was going after, and demands the appearance of the whistleblower. Will Hurd, ladies and gentlemen, throwing away his last chance to demonstrate integrity.

The latest in the impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump: Hill and Holmes testify #4

After a grueling day of testimony Wednesday, Thursday brings us testimony from former National Security Council Russia expert Dr. Fiona Hill and foreign service officer David Holmes. Hill’s opening statement makes clear that this will be another day when Republicans take a beating from the facts, even though we’ve seen there’s no day of testimony so bad that they won’t try to declare victory.

Daily Kos will be following the proceedings all day.

Watch live:

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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 7:07:22 PM +00:00 · Joan McCarter

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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 7:19:59 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner Holmes was clearly thrown by Ratcliffe's questioning ... as in Ratcliffe insisting that "Good, what about Sweden?" was the most important part of the call between Trump and Sondland was so ridiculous, that it was hard to think of anything reasonable to say in response.

Hill: Sondland said he had ‘agreement’ with Mulvaney exchanging Trump meeting for ‘investigations’

It seems evident that Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland is still walking a fine line in what he is choosing to "remember" about his own role in the months-long campaign to force the Ukrainian government to announce investigations of the Democratic National Committee, its servers, and the family of potential election challenger Joe Biden. Specifically, his memory lapses are centered around any mention of the name "Biden," even as numerous other witnesses acknowledge that the sole interest Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump had in an investigation of Ukrainian energy company Burisma was in whether Biden's son Hunter could be accused of wrongdoing.

But it's also become apparent from testimony that White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, still serving as head the Office of Management of Budget from his White House perch, was the official who enforced Trump's pressure campaign against Ukraine.

There is no plausible way Mulvaney did not know his act was intended as extortion for the personal benefit of Donald Trump. In testimony today, Dr. Fiona Hill testified that Sondland told her, directly, that his arrangement to exchange a much-sought meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky was an arrangement with Mick Mulvaney himself.

Describing the meeting between herself, John Bolton, other American officials, and Ukrainian officials that Bolton would quickly end after Sondland telling the Ukrainians that Trump's desired investigations were the prerequisite for their desired meeting, Dr. Hill testified that Bolton had been attempting to "parry" Ukrainian inquiries about such a meeting, since scheduling such meetings is not among his abilities or duties:

Hill: And as Ambassador Bolton was trying to move that part of the discussion away, he was going to try to deflect it onto another wrap-up topic, Ambassador Sondland leaned in, basically to say 'Well, we have an agreement that there will be a meeting, if specific investigations are put underway.' And that's when I saw Ambassador Bolton stiffen. [....]

Q: And did Ambassador Sondland say who his agreement on this White House meeting was with?

Hill: In that particular juncture I don't believe so. Later, which I'm sure you'll want to talk about, he did say more specifically.

Q: And what did he say later?

Hill: He said he had an agreement with chief of staff Mulvaney that in return for investigations this meeting would get scheduled.

Q: And was he specific at that point, later, about the investigations he was referring to?

Hill: He said the investigations into Burisma.

That confirms yet again that chief of staff Mick Mulvaney worked directly on Trump's behalf to refuse a government act—a presidential meeting with the leader of an at-war Ukraine—until Ukraine agreed to assist Trump in an inquiry into Biden. Sondland's claim that he was unaware of the Burisma-Biden connection is implausible; today's other impeachment witness asserted that Sondland himself confirmed Trump was only interested in the "Bidens." It is even more implausible that the man working most directly with Trump in ordering the government to enforce Trump's conditions was unaware of why he wanted them.

Mulvaney withheld government assistance to Ukraine in order to secure Ukrainian cooperation in implicating, through a public "investigation," a Trump political opponent. Trump making the request is a crime; Mulvaney using his office to put pressure on Ukraine to comply with that request is a separate, equally severe crime.

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The latest in the impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump: Hill and Holmes testify #3

After a grueling day of testimony Wednesday, Thursday brings us testimony from former National Security Council Russia expert Dr. Fiona Hill and foreign service officer David Holmes. Hill’s opening statement makes clear that this will be another day when Republicans take a beating from the facts, even though we’ve seen there’s no day of testimony so bad that they won’t try to declare victory.

Daily Kos will be following the proceedings all day.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 7:17:12 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Ratcliffe asks Holmes about what Trump said after he talked about investigations in Ukraine … then claims that the most important part of the conversation was that Trump said “Good, what about Sweden.” Ratcliffe, like Jordan, trying to paint Holmes as a liar.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 7:19:43 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner Holmes was clearly thrown by Ratcliffe's questioning ... as in Ratcliffe insisting that "Good, what about Sweden?" was the most important part of the call between Trump and Sondland was so ridiculous, that it was hard to think of anything reasonable to say in response.

Watch live:

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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:02:59 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

And we’re back with Nunes beginning his questioning of Hill and Holmes.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:07:14 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Not surprisingly, Nunes starts by asking Holmes about … Chalupa! And Nellie Ohr. And a whole string of names related to the 2016 conspiracy theory that Hill exploded this morning.

Now he’s asking about Hill meeting Christopher Steele, who used to have the same role as the Russia expert in British intelligence. Then asks a series of questions about the “Steele dossier,” because there is no bottom to Nunes’ attempts to make everything fit his skewed views.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:09:42 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Hill says she was surprised to learn about the July 25 call because she did not believe that a full agenda for a discussion was in place. Says she learned about the hold on assistance on July 18, a day before she left.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:11:11 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Hill, like others, praises Volker — which doesn’t mean Volker wasn’t completely lying about his failure to connect the dots between Burisma and Biden.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:14:01 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Hill recounts her meeting with Sondland from her perspective, recounting again Sondland’s claim that he had been put in charge of Ukraine by Trump.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:16:46 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

GOP council Castor asks Hill if she was comfortable with how things were going in Ukraine when she left her position in July, and seems surprised that she says she was not. Hill again talks about the divergence between the traditional group pursuing U.S. interest and the irregular group chasing down political favors — a point that Sondland tried to deny on Wednesday.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:21:25 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Hill talks about how she had previously opposed providing javelin anti-tank weapons out of a belief that Ukraine wasn’t in a position to use them well. Holmes testifies that the javelin missiles aren’t deployed at the front lines currently, but are used to as a deterrent. 

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:23:02 PM +00:00 · Laura Clawson

David Holmes is making clear in the most polite way that Nunes is asking him completely irrelevant questions. It’s fun, as much as anything can be fun when Devin Nunes is speaking.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:24:14 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Nunes presses Holmes on the “black ledger,” which was a document that included information on the under the table payments that were made to Paul Manafort. Nunes is clearly put off when Holmes states that these documents are not only valid, but have been used in criminal proceedings. This ledger has been dismissed as a political document created to harm Trump in right-wing conspiracy theories.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:30:39 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Nunes coming back to the 2015 request for an investigation into Burisma — the investigation which was blocked by Shokin, the guy who Joe Biden asked to be removed.

Nunes continues to ask the witnesses things that he knows they do not know about from anything other than newspaper accounts.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:33:17 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Ukrainian officials expressing criticism of Trump is not "election meddling" and not at all connected to the conspiracy theory that Trump (and Nunes, and Barr) have been pushing which is based around the idea that Ukraine conspired with the DNC to fake the hacking.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:38:07 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Hill says she was upset with Sondland for not coordinating with people — and makes it absolutely clear that Sondland was coordinating on “domestic political policy” while she was carrying out diplomacy. This is some key testimony that will get revisited.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:41:15 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

What Nunes is saying here is little short of a confession, that Trump was concerned about “2016 election interference and Burisma” — in other words, in investigations into Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Nunes is now defending Trump’s use of the government to extract political advantage.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:46:45 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Hill makes it clear that her “concerns” about Vindman that Republicans had been playing up, were concerns that he wasn’t political enough for what was becoming a “highly charged political environment”, but was more focused on facts and policy. Says that Vindman was “justifiably alarmed” by the political aspects of the demands on Zelensky. 

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:50:18 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Schiff follows up by asking Hill about charges against Vindman that he might have “divided loyalties.” She does an admirable job of defending not just Vindman but other immigrants involved in U.S. government service.

Hill, Vindman, Yovanovitch — Immigrants, they get the job done.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:51:20 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:55:00 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Hill: “By this point it was clear that Burisma was code for the Bidens, because Mr. Giuliani was laying it out there.”

This was Hill talking about the statement by Sondland, who claimed he did not know what Burisman meant.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:58:29 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Jordan yells at Holmes to ask why Ambassador Taylor didn’t talk about the lunch where Sondland talked with Trump.

Except Taylor wasn’t at the lunch. 

Jordan is clearly accusing Holmes and Taylor of lying. Or at least making enough of a flurry that he can later make that claim to Fox.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 6:59:21 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Answer turns out to be that the day it happened, William Taylor was on the front lines between Ukraine and Russia — how unhandy of him.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 7:02:31 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Jordan shouting at Holmes is peak Jim Jordan. Note that Jordan was seriously interested in yelling at Holmes for his evening appearance on Fox, but not interested in allowing Holmes to give an answer.

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 7:06:09 PM +00:00 · Joan McCarter

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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019 · 7:11:40 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Asked about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, Hill has with her two articles that Nunes pointed out—but also says that she, as part of her job, collected documents showing that 50+ countries said bad things about Trump.