Democracy in peril: Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign began months before Zelenskyy took office

Ukraine may have saved our democracy and its own back in 2019 by resisting Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure the country’s government into announcing an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden.

What many people don’t realize is that Rudy Giuliani had already begun pushing to get the Ukrainian government to announce such an investigation as early as January 2019, when he met in New York with Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko. That’s months before Volodymyr Zelenskyy, running on an anti-corruption platform, won the April 21, 2019, presidential run-off election against incumbent Petro Poroshenko. Biden officially announced his candidacy just four days later.

I would recommend that everyone read the Ukrainegate timeline prepared by Just Security, an online forum that analyzes U.S. national security policy. It outlines the complex chain of events in the campaign to pressure Ukraine that eventually resulted in Trump’s first impeachment. And there was a a quid pro quo offered to Poroshenko—although it did not involve withholding weapons, according to the Just Security timeline.

The Wall Street Journal reported that in late Feburary 2019, Giuliani’s associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman met with Poroshenko to press him to initiate an investigation of Hunter Biden and a debunked theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Hillary Clinton. They said if Poroshenko went along he would be rewarded with a state visit to the White House. That would have been a boon to Poroshenko, who was in a tough campaign for reelection against Zelenskyy.

Now imagine an alternate history in which Ukraine’s top prosecutor had announced an investigation of the Bidens in March 2019. Poroshenko was pushed to the brink, but did not yield to the pressure.

Poroshenko and Trump in 2017

It would have come completely out of the blue, since there was no “perfect” phone call or whistleblower at the time. Just think about how CNN or The New York Times would have reported on the investigation. How would Biden have reacted to a nasty smear campaign against his sole surviving son, who was in a fragile state as he struggled to recover from substance abuse problems? 

New York Times story dated Feb. 26, 2019 said Biden had held a family meeting earlier that month in which there was a “consensus” that he should run for president. But at the same time, Biden acknowledged in a speech at the University of Delaware that he had been uneasy about “taking the family through what would be a very, very, very difficult campaign” against Trump. “I don’t think he’s likely to stop at anything, whomever he runs against,” Biden said.

If Ukraine had done Giuliani’s bidding, Biden might very well have decided against entering the race. At best, Biden would have entered the campaign as a weakened frontrunner, with a dark cloud hanging over his head. Either way, Democrats would have faced an even more contentious primary contest, which might have yielded a weakened candidate whom Trump would have had a better chance of defeating.

A second Trump term would have posed an undeniable threat to our democracy. As for Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s puppet would have continued undermining NATO and done little to help Kyiv resist Russian aggression.

In Trump’s mind, Ukraine, not Russia, was his enemy. 

***

Let’s look more closely at what happened in the months before Zelenskyy’s inauguration on May 20, 2019. What happened after his inauguration was well-documented by Daily Kos’ Laura Clawson in March 14’s “Trump’s Ukraine extortion campaign didn’t begin or end with `I would like you to do us a favor.”

In August 2018, polls showed that Biden was leading Trump in a head-to-head matchup, and also leading the potential Democratic primary field. Biden indicated that fall that he was strongly considering a 2020 presidential bid. Around the same time, Giuliani Partners was hired by the Boca Raton, Florida, company Fraud Guarantee, co-founded by Parnas, a Ukrainian-American businessman. Giuliani ultimately was paid $500,000 for undisclosed business and legal advice, according to Reuters.

Lev Parnas in 2020
Parnas and his associate Igor Fruman were later convicted in a campaign fraud finance case, for using funds from a foreign investor to try to influence political candidates through campaign donations. There was a $325,000 donation to the pro-Trump American First PAC from a shell company set up by Parnas and Fruman. That was enough for both men to get invited to an exclusive donors’ dinner in April 2018 with Trump at his Washington hotel, at which both men urged the president to fire U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, an anti-corruption crusader, claiming that she was unfriendly to Trump, The Washington Post reported
Parnas and Fruman became Giuliani’s facilitators and translators as he revved up efforts to go after Biden, even though he had yet to declare his candidacy.
 

WAS RUDY A “USEFUL TOOL” FOR A DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN BY RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE?

Now there’s one big unanswered question: Was Giuliani wittingly or unwittingly acting as a “useful tool” to spread disinformation prepared by Russian intelligence aimed at derailing Biden’s presidential campaign? It’s not implausible, because U.S. Intelligence has already confirmed that Russia was spreading disinformation about Biden’s mental health
Giuliani and Trump in 2016
The Washington Post reported in October 2020 that U.S. intelligence agencies had warned the White House in 2019 that Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence and being used to feed disinformation to Trump. Giuliani did ask Ukraine to probe accusations that Ukrainian officials plotted to rig the 2016 presidential election in Hillary Clinton’s favor, by leaking evidence against Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager. Giuliani wanted Ukraine to investigate a mysterious Democratic National Committee server that Trump believed was hidden in Ukraine.
During the November 2019, House Intelligence Committee hearings, Fiona Hill, the former Russia expert for the National Security Council, called out House Republicans for pushing the conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
“This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves,” Hill said.
Giuliani was pushing allegations that Biden, while vice president to Barack Obama, pushed to get Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin dismissed, in order to avoid a corruption investigation of Ukraine’s Burisma energy company, whose board members included Hunter Biden. But Giuliani could not have come up with this conspiracy theory on his own, because it was totally baseless. It’s logical to assume that this notion was spoon fed to Giuliani, who eagerly swallowed it.
One method used by Russian intelligence operatives is to put ideas into the head of someone who is receptive to the same goal—in this case derailing Biden’s candidacy. The notion that Biden stood a good chance of defeating Trump in 2020 must have really stuck in Giuliani’s craw. It was Biden who turned “America’s mayor” into a national laughingstock in an October 2007 Democratic presidential debate.

“Rudy Giuliani. There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence — a noun, a verb, and 9/11. There’s nothing else! There’s nothing else! And I mean this sincerely. He’s genuinely not qualified to be president,” Biden said.

At the time, Giuliani was the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. He ended up running one of the most humiliating campaigns in modern U.S. political history, raising more than $60 million and winning only one delegate before dropping out. Giuliani then vanished into the political wilderness for eight years, only to reemerge as Trump’s personal lawyer and hatchet man.

Giuliani had access to Trump, who had repeatedly expressed his willingness to get dirt on his political opponents from foreign sources. Giuliani’s international consulting practice had clients in Ukraine dating back to at least 2008, including Kyiv’s Mayor Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing champion.
During Trump’s first impeachment trial, Giuliani put out this intriguing tweet:

...incriminating documents. It was already a fully-intact bribery/extortion case. The reason you don’t know about it is because of the cover up by the corrupt Democrats and their establishment media!

— Rudy W. Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) January 27, 2020

The dossier was allegedly handed to Giuliani sometime in the fall of 2018. That raises some obvious questions: Who prepared it? What were its contents? Who were the witnesses? And who gave the dossier to Giuliani?

There are many possible suspects. A month before Trump’s first impeachment trial, NBC News published a guide to the controversial figures helping Giuliani dig up dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine. The story noted that “most of them have ties to pro-Russian political figures or oligarchs.” Three names stand out in this rogues’ gallery: Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russia member of Ukraine’s parliament; Kostiantyn Kulyk, a former prosecutor; and Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian energy tycoon with deep ties to Russia.

Derkach studied at the FSB intelligence service academy in Moscow in the 1990s. Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin wrote that a top-secret CIA assessment had concluded that Putin and his top aides are “probably directing” a Russian foreign influence operation which involves Derkach, identified by U.S. intelligence as a Russian agent, who has been providing anti-Biden information to Giuliani.

Kulyk did prepare a seven-page, English-language dossier in late 2018 that accused Hunter Biden of corruption related to his service on Burisma’s board, according to The New York Times. The dossier also made the dubious claim that U.S. diplomats covered up for crimes committed by the Bidens. Ukrainian officials said Kulyk had ties to a warlord in eastern Ukraine, accused of working for the Russian intelligence services. It’s not clear whether this was the same dossier that Giuliani was referring to in his tweet.

Firtash has been fighting extradition from Austria to the U.S. on bribery and racketeering charges. Parnas has alleged that Giuliani offered help with Firtash’s U.S. legal problems, in exchange for helping with the hunt for compromising information on the Bidens. Federal prosecutors also alleged that Parnas received a $1 million loan from a lawyer for Firtash. 

Firtash was also involved in investment projects with Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who previously was paid millions of dollars to work as a political consultant for Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

HOW GIULIANI PUT THE SQUEEZE ON UKRAINE BEFORE ZELENSKYY’S ELECTION 

At the annual White House Hannukah party on Dec. 6, 2018, Parnas and Fruman held a private meeting with Trump and Giuliani. CNN reported that Trump tasked them to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens, according to associates of Parnas. 

Parnas and Giuliani in 2018

In December 2018, Parnas and Fruman arranged a Skype call between Giuliani and Shokin, the former Ukraine prosecutor general who was the source of the debunked reports that Joe Biden had him fired to stop him from investigating wrongdoing in Burisma.

Biden actually was among multiple Western officials who had urged Ukraine to dismiss Shokin from his post at the country’s top prosecutor because of his insufficient efforts to combat corruption.

Bloomberg News reported that Giuliani met for the first time with then-Ukraine Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko in New York on Jan. 25-26, 2019. Giuliani held another meeting with the Ukrainian prosecutor in Warsaw, Poland, in mid-February. Parnas and Fruman attended both meetings.

And then in late February we get to the quid pro quo, with Giuliani’s associates telling Poroshenko that if Ukraine announced an investigation of the Bidens, he would be rewarded with a state visit to the White House.

Yet why didn’t the Trump administration try to extort Poroshenko by withholding shipments of lethal weapons? Perhaps because there might have been a previous quid pro quo.

In March 2018, the Pentagon approved the sale of 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. In early April, a Ukraine anti-corruption prosecutor froze four cases involving Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, The New York Times reported. Ukraine also announced it was halting all cooperation with the Mueller investigation. One of the cases resulted from the mysterious black ledger. In August 2016, Ukraine officials revealed the existence of a secret ledger, which appeared to detail payouts totaling $12.5 million to Manafort for his work as a consultant to Yanukovych.

But there was a catch that rendered the Javelin sale mostly symbolic. The U.S. insisted that the missiles be stored in western Ukraine, hundreds of miles from the frontlines in the eastern Donbas region, where Ukrainian forces were battling pro-Russian separatists, The Atlantic reported.

During their early 2019 meetings, Lutsenko fed some information to Giuliani, including bank records that detailed Burisma’s payments to Hunter Biden. But the records did not indicate any wrongdoing by Hunter Biden, according to a New Yorker profile of the Ukrainian prosecutor. Lutsenko told The New Yorker that he suggested to Giuliani that, if U.S. authorities opened an investigation into the Bidens’ activities in Ukraine, the prosecutor-general’s office would share any relevant information.

But Lutsenko soon realized that what seemed most important to Giuliani was to get him to announce investigations into the Bidens and into claims of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to The New Yorker. Lutsenko said he didn’t have any grounds to open such investigations under Ukrainian law. Lutsenko said he sensed that Poroshenko was worried that publicly announcing such investigations would damage Ukraine’s relations with the Democratic Party.

Ukraine had enjoyed strong bipartisan support until Trump came along. Trump’s Republican loyalists were already spouting conspiracy theories put forth by Russian intelligence that Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 election to help Clinton.

“I was near the red line, but I didn’t cross it,” Lutsenko told The New Yorker. “I was wondering what kind of game he (Giuliani) was playing. I felt like we were getting scammed.”

WE NEED A COUNTERESPIONAGE INVESTIGATION OF TRUMP, GIULIANI, MANAFORT, ET AL.

Imagine the consequences today if Poroshenko and Lutsenko had crossed that red line back in early 2019.

Instead, Giuliani and his associates were back at square one with Zelenskyy’s election. That set in motion the series of events leading to Trump’s “perfect” phone call to Zelenskyy, the arms-for-dirt extortion plot, and the president’s eventual impeachment (the first one, anyway).

The Mueller probe barely uncovered the tip of the iceberg, because its scope was limited to looking only into collusion between Russia and Trump during the 2015-2016 presidential campaign.

The DOJ should make a deal with Parnas and/or Fruman to reduce their sentences in exchange for information about whether Russian intelligence used Giuliani to interfere in the 2020 election by undermining Biden’s campaign. It is also high time that a counterespionage investigation be opened against Manafort, if it is not already under way.

And above all else, we need a comprehensive investigation of Trump’s dealings with Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs over the decades. With the help of former Attorney General William Barr and others, Trump has been able to escape any consequences for his ties to Russia.

Our nation will never be secure until these criminals are exposed and held to account.

Giuliani’s home searched, phone seized, as investigators finally get past roadblocks laid by Trump

Multiple sources are reporting that federal investigators executed a search warrant at a Manhattan apartment owned by former mayor, current Trump surrogate, and leader of the effort to overturn the 2020 election, Rudy Giuliani. According to The New York Times, that search is directly connected to an investigation of Giuliani’s actions in Ukraine.

For literally years, Giuliani has been pushing false stories about President Joe Biden, his son Hunter, and actions that were taken in Ukraine during the Obama administration. The stories that Giuliani brought back from Ukraine led directly to the dismissal of a talented ambassador, generated a whole series of congressional investigations, and encouraged Donald Trump to make a phone call to the Ukrainian president that led directly to Trump’s first impeachment

Wednesday, Apr 28, 2021 · 7:08:34 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

The New York Times is now reporting that investigators have extended their search to Giuliani’s office, and to the home of Guiliani associate Victoria Toensing, who also worked with Giuliani on several of his efforts to convince former Ukrainian officials to create false charges against Joe Biden or Huntet Biden. Toensing is closely associated with Russian organized crime figure Dmytro Firtash, who was also connected to Parnas and Fruman.

Wednesday, Apr 28, 2021 · 7:13:39 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Rudy Giuliani is not appearing on his 3 pm radio show on 77 WABC today.

— lvl 46 dog-faced pony potus (@thetomzone) April 28, 2021

Wednesday, Apr 28, 2021 · 7:19:42 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

I concur that Rudy Giuliani is in deep trouble

— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) April 28, 2021

Wednesday, Apr 28, 2021 · 8:10:56 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

A reminder of the legal standard: A federal magistrate judge concluded there was probable cause evidence of a crime or crimes would be present at the residence of Victoria Toensing. https://t.co/U0LJV9G8IX

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) April 28, 2021

Despite multiple denials, Trump eventually admitted that he sent Giuliani to Ukraine specifically for the purposes of finding—or creating—dirt Trump could use against Biden. In the process, Giuliani worked worked with a pair of scam artists who were arrested trying to leave the country and charged with bribery, conspiracy, and funneling foreign funds into U.S. elections. Considering all this, it’s not surprising that as far back as October of 2019, Giuliani was known to be the subject of a criminal investigation.

What’s amazing is that it’s taken this long for investigators to get around to searching Giuliani’s East Side apartment. But then, as people say, elections matter.

There’s an irony in The New York Times breaking the news that Giuliani is being investigated for his actions in connections with Ukraine, because it was the Times which provided Giuliani with breathless reporting in which they pasted pages of unverified charges made against the Biden family. Some actual investigation by Bloomberg in May of 2019 showed that there really was a scandal, but it didn’t involve Biden. It involved Giuliani and a cohort of pro-Russia Ukrainians working to create a deceptive image of what had happened that was exactly backward from actual events.

Somehow, despite what seemed to be heaps of evidence that ensnared Giuliani into the schemes for which his associates Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas were indicted, Giuliani was left free to wander about the country, spreading lies about the election and heading up the team that generated the second Trump impeachment.

For a guy who once said he was worried about becoming a “laughingstock,” it’s really hard to see how Giuliani could have done much better.

According to reporting both the Times and at CNBC, investigators have been trying to get a search warrant for Giuliani’s residence “for months.” However, those attempts were repeatedly blocked. Now that Trump and former Attorney General Bill Barr aren’t in place to keep the wheels of justice stuck in the mud, it seems that investigators have finally gotten around to not only searching Giuliani’s apartment, but seizing all his electronic devices.

The Wall Street Journal reports that investigators arrived at Giuliani’s place at 6 AM before beginning their search. So expect Fox News to be filled with the same umbrage that greeted a search of Roger Stone’s home before his arrest, and the offices of Michael Cohen, before his arrest. 

The investigation into Giuliani is, as might be expected, directly connected to the cases against Parnas and Fruman. Both of those indictments featured false names to cover what was clearly Giuliani’s involvement. The investigation is expected to extend from illegal lobbying for Ukrainian officials in the United States, to Giuliani’s business dealings in Ukraine, and his involvement in the removal of experienced ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

The story of Giuliani’s attempt to manufacture dirt on Biden, assist a collection of foreign criminals, and thwart the will of American voters isn’t over. But the lawyer who helped get Trump impeached—twice—may finally be getting his real day in court.

Trump and the right are buzzing with hatred toward Hunter Biden … and Bill Barr

To be absolutely clear: Bill Barr is a terrible attorney general who has used his position to grossly distort the whole purpose of the Justice Department. He auditioned for the role with a letter claiming the Russia investigation was illegal, substituted his own “summary” for the findings of the actual Mueller report, and personally signaled for his prison guard shock troops to begin a violent attack on unarmed protesters. Barr has spent most of the last two years trying to fulfill Donald Trump’s every conspiracy theory dream by appointing special investigators, providing an endless stream of disinformation to right-wing media, and traveling the world in an attempt to find an ally willing to roast U.S. intelligence agencies. And all of that is on top of Barr’s previous star turn in which he played a central role in dismissing charges resulting from Iran-Contra. He’s a bad attorney general, a bad American, and simply a bad man.

But just because Barr is determinedly malevolent, and saved Trump from what should have been an impeachment over the plain fact that his campaign engaged in every form of cooperation with the Russian government in order to subvert the outcome of a U.S. election, it doesn’t mean that Trump is always going to be happy with him. And now, in the twilight of both their careers, Trump is increasingly treating Barr as an enemy.

In Trump’s mind, there are only two possible roles anyone can serve: Completely subservient bootlicker, or infuriating opponent. There is no in between.

So the fact that Barr didn’t wholeheartedly join in with Rudy Giuliani and his parade of Hunter Biden laptops as confirmed by blind shop owners before the election had already made Barr suspect. Trump repeatedly tweeted a mixture of disdain and distaste for Barr in the weeks before the election as it became clear that, unlike 2016, there was not going to be some last-minute statement from the DOJ or FBI to provide Trump a last-minute vote infusion. And now a story from The Wall Street Journal has Trump hammering away at Barr again while Trump supporters are calling Barr a traitor and Republican senators are demanding yet another very special counsel. 

The claims from the WSJ began with a story in which Hunter Biden admitted that his federal income taxes are under investigation. Of course, Donald Trump has claimed that he could not reveal his tax returns for the last ever because he’s perennially under audit. It’s also widely known that Trump’s taxes are the subject of investigations by the State of New York. However, what’s routine for Trump is apparently supposed to be scandalous for Joe Biden’s surviving son—a son who will have no role in the upcoming administration. The investigation into Hunter Biden’s taxes apparently predates both Barr and Trump’s phone call to Ukraine but is said to be restricted to tax issues and “doesn’t implicate other members of his family or the president-elect.”

But what has the whole right wing in an uproar is the idea that … Barr knew. Barr knew, and he didn’t make a statement that Trump could use before the election. For Trump, this isn’t just an excuse to attack Barr for failing to come through the clinch, but also to claim that Biden’s term is going to be “so plagued by scandal” that the Supreme Court just might as well hand the election to Trump and save everyone some time and embarrassment.

And of course, Barr did know. He knew that while Hunter Biden’s taxes were being investigated by an office of the department he controlled. Barr also knew that no crime has been alleged, no one has been indicted, and that nothing appeared to be connected to the actual candidate for office. A fuming Trump supporter inside the DOJ also complained that Barr knew about another investigation involving Hunter Biden, an investigation that the WSJ was quick to highlight … before reaching the point where it admits that its sources indicate Hunter was “never a specific target for criminal prosecution.” Connected to the first investigation, this appears to be more a matter of looking at a bank that may have made some shady deals rather than anything specifically done by Hunter Biden.

So what Barr knew was that Hunter Biden’s taxes were being examined in one investigation, and Biden was not the target of a second investigation. Still, Barr’s failure to jump up and down and scream about a family of criminals is apparently all that was required to toss him from the good graces of Trump and his supporters.

Of course Barr may think that trying to at least approximate normal behavior on this one topic at a time when Trump is about to depart center stage might be enough to get him accepted back into normal society. He’s going to be disappointed.

Trump expected splashy Wall Street Journal coverage of Hunter Biden’s emails. He was disappointed

Rudy Giuliani’s ridiculous waterlogged laptop story wasn’t supposed to be the way the public learned about an alleged trove of Hunter Biden emails. It was supposed to come from a much more reputable Rupert Murdoch-owned publication. Not even Fox News, which passed. No, some ostensibly more reputable Trumpsters were trying to sell the email story—minus the laptop angle—to The Wall Street Journal. 

Eric Herschmann, the former Trump impeachment lawyer turned White House adviser, former deputy White House counsel Stefan Passantino, and a public relations person who’s buddies with Don Jr. met with WSJ reporter Michael Bender in early October, The New York Times’ Ben Smith reports. At that meeting, they handed over Hunter Biden emails—including some of the same ones Giuliani supposedly got from the laptop—and put his former business partner, Tony Bobulinski, on speaker phone to make allegations that Joe Biden had profited from Hunter’s corrupt use of the family name. That effort to sell the story ran into one big problem: The Wall Street Journal took its time investigating and decided there wasn’t a lot of there there.

While that investigation was ongoing, Giuliani got the New York Post to run his laptop story, which quickly came under question. (Questions like “Are you f’ing kidding me?” and “So Rudy’s basically a Russian asset now, right?)

But Donald Trump knew that The Wall Street Journal was supposedly going to be doing a story on the emails, and he was excited, telling aides that an “important piece” was coming in the paper. While “The editors didn’t like Trump’s insinuation that we were being teed up to do this hit job,” a reporter told Smith, the investigation into the emails continued. But it didn't go on Team Trump’s schedule, which called for a major, splashy article before last week’s debate. Instead, the eventual WSJ article came after Bobulinski went to the press himself, and Trump tried to make him an issue in the debate. The headline of the short article eventually published? “Hunter Biden’s Ex-Business Partner Alleges Father Knew About Venture.”

That’s not exactly what the White House lawyer and former White House lawyer were looking for—they wanted the New York Post insinuations laundered through the respectability of the WSJ. And of course the whole story is further discredited by having multiple overlapping sets of Hunter Biden emails being pushed around by different parts of Team Trump. The laptop story is dubious enough on its own—man from California delivers laptop to Delaware repair shop where blind Trump-supporting owner can’t identify him as Hunter Biden but figures it out from Biden-related sticker on the laptop, etc etc etc, improbability stacking upon improbability—but when you know that that wasn't the only set of supposed Hunter Biden emails, well, it really screams Russian influence campaign. And it screams Trump desperation for any game-changer in the campaign, however illegitimate.

Giuliani’s smear on Hunter Biden is so ridiculous, Fox News passed on it … then covered it 24/7

Once upon a time—also know as 2019—Donald Trump tried to blackmail the president of Ukraine into making false claims about Hunter Biden. Trump got caught, got impeached, and got not even a slap on the wrist from Senate Republicans who were willing to allow Trump to do anything in exchange for a flood of conservative judges. After all, when you’ve already waved off the Hatch Act, ignored federal laws over nepotism, and blown off an endless stream of lies … what’s a little extortion of an ally for political advantage?

When Trump didn’t get what he wanted from from Volodymyr Zelensky, he put both U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr and Rudy Giuliani on the case. Barr grabbed U.S. attorney John Durham and opened up an investigation that saw him flying around the world in an attempt to find someone reputable who would lend the slightest credence to Trump’s incredible claims. Giuliani … just skipped out on the “reputable.” Instead, he grabbed a pair of foot soldiers for a Russian oligarch, latched onto some officials who had been kicked out for corruption, and worked directly with an “active Russian agent” to produce a whole series of false claims and fake evidence. 

That brings us to now. Barr’s efforts have apparently come up dry. One part of his investigation has already shut down, Durham’s top assistant has resigned, and there’s no report worth even a patently false summary before Election Day. The Giuliani side has produced a hard drive. A hard drive supposedly dropped off in Delaware by a man who lived in California, at a shop owned by a vocal Trump supporter, where the security footage was mysteriously wiped, the blind shop owner could not identify the person who dropped it off, there was no name or contact information provided, and no one ever returned for it. 

Giuliani’s story is so ridiculous that both Fox News and the New York Post reporter who was forced to write it both disowned it. After years of trying to smear Biden, this really is the best they can do.

As Mediaite reports, the New York Post was hardly Giuliani’s first choice in trying to get this contemptible last-ditch effort into the media. It’s unclear how many other places he went first, but it is clear that he came to Fox News with his story of an unclaimed laptop. Fox News looked at the story, got out their 10-foot pole, and carefully pushed the whole pile back to Giuliani.

After all, this is far from the first time that Giuliani has come up with supposedly shocking information that just happens to support Trump’s every delusional claim. In September, it became clear that Giuliani was working closely with U.S. Sec. of State Mike Pompeo. It’s since come out that the packet of information that Pompeo shared with Republican lawmakers, but not with Democrats, did not come from sources within the State Department. He was simply laundering pages for Giuliani. Naturally, Trump’s personal attorney could not stop bragging about this. At the start of October, he told CNN that he was the source for the Biden information in Republican’s hands. 

This information was enough that Louie Gohmert and Paul Gosar, DDS were willing to scrawl their signatures on a letter to the Justice Department, along with nine other Republicans out of 250 in the House and Senate. But the many, many places where the Giuliani’s claims weren’t just wholly unbelievable but clearly connected to a known Republican disinformation campaign against Biden did bother a few other people.  

Not only is there the little problem of there being absolutely no provenance concerning the hard drive itself—everything about the story of where it was found has holes the size of ocean liners. The shop owner has given various accounts about how the laptop (or laptops, since he at one point claimed there were three), entered his shop; he’s been completely contradictory about how it came to the attention of the FBI; and when and how Giuliani became involved in the affair is as clear as mud. Also, there’s a little matter of how dates on the files found on the machine seem to be from months after the machine was supposedly dropped off.

But just because Fox News wouldn’t take it directly, that doesn’t mean that Rupert Murdoch wasn’t willing to step in to help out his pals. After the story was turned away from Fox News, it was shuffled over to the Murdoch-owned paper where New York Times reports reporter Bruce Golding was tasked with taking the documents, and Giuliani’s ravings, and turning them into an article. But once he heard the whole tale, Golding refused to put his name to the piece. So did other journalists in the Post news room … and this is a paper that just last year went with a front page emblazoned “Bezos exposes Pecker.”

Instead, the story eventually ran under the byline of Emma-Jo Morris. Morris is a former booker for Sean Hannity’s show on Fox, who made the trip across to the Post just in time for Giuliani’s Russian fabrication to be her very first article. A second name on the article was Post reporter Gabrielle Fonrouge. Fonrouge’s name ended up there in the most efficient manner. The Post’s editors put it there, and didn’t tell Fonrouge until after it was published.

All of this works perfectly for Fox, for the Post, for Giuliani, for Trump, and most importantly, for Putin. Fox doesn’t have to front the story. With the story in the Post, Fox can report on it. They can ask Republicans to comment on it. They can construct great rambling opinions from Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. The Post can then report on the comments their story is getting on Fox. Trump can retweet it all. Republicans in the House can cite all of the above as justification for demanding William Barr whip up a special investigator. And Vladimir Putin … can laugh. 

The ‘wet laptop’ story absolutely is a scandal, but it has nothing to do with Joe Biden

An official in a foreign country stumbles on a briefcase left behind by his opposing number from another delegation. Sneaking a peak at the information inside, the official discovers that it contains not only the usual stacks of diplomatic reports, but secret information providing insight into an upcoming military operation. Immediately, the official rushes this information to his superiors who … have just fallen into one of the most timeworn traps of intelligence tradecraft. The “accidently” left-behind wallet, briefcase, or letter is an absolute classic of Soviet-era dezinformatsiya schemes.

In the argot of spies, a “cobbler” assembles a dezinformatsiya packet, accompanied by more truthful “litter” and “chicken feed” that makes it appear as if a deceptive document is real. If possible, the information is left where it’s handily accessible to the target of the dezinformatsiya campaign, but a special purpose “floater” may be used to pass the information along—often without that person understanding their role in the scheme. 

Now, substitute “hard drive” for “briefcase” and “email” for “document.” Because that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday as the New York Post ran a story about a soggy computer left behind by a mysterious stranger at a Delaware repair shop. That computer was supposed to kick off a scandal about Hunter Biden. But what it really proves is that Rudy Giuliani and Rupert Murdoch are neck-deep in a scheme to spread disinformation to the American public.

That the story of this left behind computer ran in the New York Post on Wednesday isn’t the sign of a successful disinformation campaign—it’s a clear signal of its abject failure.

According to the story, the computer was dropped off at a repair shop in April 2019—as in over a year and a half ago. The computer was left apparently without signing any form or even providing a name. In fact, the shop owner declared that because he is legally blind, he could not identify the person who brought in the supposedly water-damaged computer. However, that shop owner eventually concluded that it was Hunter Biden’s computer because … there was a sticker from the Beau Biden Foundation on the computer.

This shop owner has been identified as 44-year-old John Paul “Mac” Isaac. Isaac is a vocal Trump supporter whose social media profile is full of not just statements about voting for Trump, but also  comments about Joe Biden. That includes mention of a “Biden bubble” that keeps Biden from being affected by bad news. His social media also shows that Isaac likes to wear kilts, but that seems beside the point. 

In any case, Isaac is a Trump supporter who has been open about his disdain for Biden and his belief that the media goes easy with stories about Biden. Then in spring of 2019, a computer lands in his lap with a Biden sticker attached. 

What happens next is massively unclear, because in interviews Wednesday afternoon, Isaac gave completely contradictory statements about his follow-up actions. What seems to be clear is that at some later point, Isaac hooked up the hard drive, read the emails, and watched a video that supposedly shows Hunter Biden having sex with a prostitute while smoking crack. Apparently Isaac could see that much.

At some point between April and December, Isaac contacted the FBI. Or at least, that appears to be the case since the Post included an image of a Dec. 9, 2019 grand jury subpoena—though since that subpoena has the name blacked out and the objects to be provided are obscured, it’s only their word that it is actually connected to this incident. However, before giving the laptop to the FBI, Isaac first made a copy of the hard drive which, like his original perusal through the emails and videos, is very likely to have been a violation of Delaware privacy laws. It’s also worth noting that nothing Isaac did appears to be related to actually fixing the damaged laptop. 

At some point Isaac talks to Giuliani and eventually gives him a copy of the hard drive. But what’s extremely confusing is the order of any of these events. Did Isaac talk to Giuliani before or after he spoke with the FBI? Was it Giuliani who told Isaac to take the computer to the FBI? Taking one step back, why did a Delaware computer repair store owner think to call Giuliani in the first place, and how did he get in touch with Giuliani?

However it happened, Isaac made the copy at some point before December 2019. According to a Daily Beast interview, Isaac “switched back and forth” between saying that he contacted the FBI and saying the FBI contacted him. He also claimed that the FBI asked him for help in accessing the drive, though he didn’t indicate that the drive was encrypted or protected in any way. 

There’s are several huge missing pieces in this story. For example, what did Isaac say to the FBI? “Hello, someone brought in a computer, and I think it belongs to Beau Biden.” If so, why would the FBI say anything other than, “Then give it back?” Why would Beau Biden dropping off a wet laptop cause the FBI to have any interest at all?

This, then, is the “official” story from the Post and Giuliani: A mysterious stranger drops off a laptop at a shop belonging to a legally blind Trump supporter who has said disparaging things about Biden. Nine months later, the FBI asks for that computer. Then 10 months after that, Giuliani hands over to the New York Post what he says is a copy of that computer’s hard drive. In between those dates, we have nothing. Well, nothing except for more Facebook statements from Isaac, who does devote some time to saying that Trump’s impeachment is a sham, but says nothing at all about Hunter Biden’s crack-smoking video that he found on a computer left at his store. And we have a lot of statements from Giuliani during this period, many of them essentially identical to what will eventually appear in the Post story.

So … let’s look at this from a different angle.

Giuliani has spent over two years traveling back and forth to Ukraine, making promises that he had found red-hot information supporting Trump’s conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden. In the process, Giuliani has made numerous statements to the media—frequently in The New York Times—claiming that he has the “smoking gun” for Biden’s misdeeds. That included a letter supposedly showing that Biden had worked to protect Burisma holdings from investigation. Except that a few weeks later, a Ukrainian legislator admitted to making up the information to “curry favor with Trump and Giuliani.” The timeline of events showed that the story Giuliani was peddling was not even possible.

But at the same time Giuliani is waving letters in front of the media, someone is dropping off a computer at Isaac’s shop. Then nothing happens in April, or May, or June … nothing happens at all. Until for some reason Isaac decides to take a closer look at that computer. A reason like, perhaps, a phone call from someone who already knew what was on it. That someone might even suggest that Isaac contact the FBI, or they might contact the FBI and tell them to talk to Isaac, because the information now available has it both ways.

Even then, 10 months after the FBI has taken receipt of the laptop, nothing has happened. Christopher Wray is not on TV making an announcement about emails. The DOJ has not announced that it is opening an investigation. No one is talking about Hunter Biden’s laptop, dammit!

So with the clock ticking down to the election, Giuliani takes the hard drive straight to the one person he can trust to make a big deal about it: Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch then points a finger at a booker on Sean Hannity’s show, turning her into an instant editor for the paper he owns, the New York Post, and this brand spanking newly minted “journalist” then publishes Giuliani’s story.

That doesn’t make this an “October surprise.” This makes this an abject failure of a con job. Giuliani and Murdoch are absolutely not in the position they wanted to be at this point. In their ideal world, Emma-Jo Morris would be back in Hannity’s green room, booking Giuliani for his guest appearance to discuss the how The New York Times is running with the astounding breaking news that the FBI is looking into revelations from Hunter Biden’s laptop.

That did not happen. What happened instead was that Giuliani had to hand-carry the dezinformatsiya to Murdoch, and Murdoch had to get his mitts all over this mess to package it up for a multiday run on Fox and the Post. This is what is generally known as very, very, very bad tradecraft. 

This is a busted operation from a man whose whole Ukrainian adventure has been marked by:

What Rudy Giuliani and Rupert Murdoch have on their wrinkly fingers is a big ball of dirty tricks shading toward outright espionage, supported by Vladimir Putin.

Sorry, comrades, you’ve been caught.

The most important accomplishment of impeaching Trump was its impact on Joe Biden

Impeaching The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote was incredibly important, and not only because it was the right thing to do. Yes, he committed crimes and abused the power of his office, and yes he deserved to be impeached and removed from that office—the record of every Republican Senator other than Mitt Romney will be forever stained by their votes to acquit. History will remember their cowardice.

Beyond the morality, impeachment has had a clear, long-lasting political benefit, one that will pay dividends for Vice President Joe Biden this November. Thanks to impeachment, everyone knows that the charges Trump leveled against Joe and Hunter Biden on Ukraine—the ones he tried to blackmail that country’s president into investigating, or least announcing an intention to investigate—are utter malarkey.

Trump always feared running against Biden, and he acted corruptly in a failed bid to get enough dirt to derail the former VP’s quest to win the Democratic nomination. The impeachment process shone a bright light on Trump’s actions, and on his lies about Biden, ensuring that the smear campaign ultimately backfired.

Since the end of the impeachment trial, Trump and his minions have continued to bleat on with their completely invented and thoroughly debunked stories about the Bidens. I won’t dignify them by repeating the specifics here. Recently, Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who heads the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, have been “investigating”—i.e., trying to keep the story in the media—this bullshit.

Never mind that by falsely smearing Biden over Ukraine, Johnson and his fellow Republican senators are all but doing the work of Vladimir Putin for him, as this Associated Press article explained

But the stark warning that Russia is working to denigrate the Democratic presidential candidate adds to questions about the probe by Johnson’s Senate committee and whether it is mimicking, even indirectly, Russian efforts and amplifying its propaganda.

The investigation is unfolding as the country, months removed from an impeachment case that had centered on Ukraine, is dealing with a pandemic and confronting the issue of racial injustice. Yet allegations about Biden and Ukraine remain a popular topic in conservative circles, pushed by Russian media and addressed regularly by President Donald Trump and other Republicans as a potential path toward energizing his supporters.

[...] “Particularly as a public official and somebody who’s responsible for keeping the country safe, you should always be suspicious of narratives that are trying to sort of damage or target the electoral process in your country,” said former CIA officer Cindy Otis, a foreign disinformation expert and vice president of analysis at Alethea Group. “You should always be suspicious of narratives that foreign countries are pumping out.”

As Daily Kos’ Kerry Eleveld pointed out, Johnson even admitted that his so-called probe would “would certainly help Donald Trump win reelection and certainly be pretty good, I would say, evidence about not voting for Vice President Biden.” It amazing; these Republicans always manage to say the quiet part out loud, which I guess is helpful. Nevertheless, to paraphrase what Otter said to his nemesis (and professional Republican, according to the character futures provided) Gregg Marmalard in Animal House, “Gee, you’re dumb.”

Then the Orange Julius Caesar himself got into the act. On August 16 he retweeted material that our own intelligence agencies had previously identified as Russian disinformation—part of its effort to directly influence the presidential election by “denigrating” Biden. As CNN put it: “By retweeting material that the US government has already labeled as propaganda -- and doing so with the 2020 Democratic National Convention kicking off on Monday -- Trump demonstrated once again that he is willing to capitalize on foreign election meddling for his own political gain.” Here’s Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner:

The President of the United States should never be a willing mouthpiece for Russian propaganda. https://t.co/9y6L6uMKbM

— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) August 17, 2020

Then came the four-day marathon of lies known as the Republican National Convention. Former Florida (where else?) Attorney General Pam Bondi went before a national audience and, once again, did Putin’s bidding by lying about the Bidens and Ukraine. The truth? When Joe Biden sought the removal of Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shukin he did so, as Greg Sargent of the Washington Post noted, “because the prosecutor was corrupt.” Sargent added some more important facts: “This was U.S. policy, backed by international institutions. GOP senators had no problem with it in real time. As The Post’s fact-checking team puts it, Bondi’s story is ‘fiction,’ and in reality, Joe Biden ‘was thwarting corruption, not abetting it.’” Bondi told some other lies about Hunter Biden, which the WaPo fact-checking team also debunked

When these latter day Marmalards now issue their breathtaking press releases or repeat Russian disinformation about the Bidens and Ukraine, the media—thus far at least—has been taking them for what they are: Utter horseshit. I won’t say the media has learned their lesson, but unlike 2016, when “but her emails” was literally the most reported story of the campaign, this year everyone who isn’t directly sucking at the Trump teat is treating these debunked charges with the (lack of) seriousness they deserve. 

For that, we can thank the impeachment of Donald Trump, which exposed the lies against the Bidens for what they are. The impeachment process inoculated the media and the American public by preparing them for what Trump is now trying to pull on this matter. So thank you Nancy Pelosi, thank you Adam Schiff, thank you Val Demings, thank you Jerry Nadler, and thanks to the rest of the Democratic impeachment team. I’m sure Joe Biden is thanking you as well.

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)

Lindsey Graham’s next big round of sucking up to Trump is coming in new Russia probe

Lindsey Graham, one of Donald Trump’s chief lapdogs in the Senate, will have sweeping subpoena power to try to belatedly exonerate Trump and incriminate the Obama administration in the investigation into Russian election interference in 2016. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along partisan lines to give Graham, who is the committee chair, that subpoena power while rejecting—also along partisan lines—Democrats’ efforts to get subpoena power as well.

Graham plans to subpoena Obama administration officials including former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former FBI Director James Comey. All part of the plan to delegitimize the investigation into what Russia did to help Trump win rather than investigating … what Russia did to help Trump win.

“I am very intent in making sure this never happens again,” Graham said. “This” is the investigation into Russian election interference, not the Russian election interference itself.

It’s not just Graham and the Judiciary Committee, either. The Senate Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Ron Johnson, will also be investigating the Russia investigation, and, as an extra-partisan bonus, he’s investigating Hunter Biden, too. Because nothing says “this investigation is aimed at uncovering the truth about a very important issue, not attacking my political opponents” like waiting until years after the fact during an election year and following the lead of a president who was impeached for abusing power to create a scandal around the same figure you’re now “investigating.”

Trump had Park Police and National Guard troops violently clear a peaceful protest so he could get a photo op. His attorney general has lied about it and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has apologized for being party to it. But Senate Republicans—the same Senate Republicans who protected him during the impeachment trial—couldn’t care less. Neither do they care that a foreign nation attacked U.S. democracy four years ago. They just want to keep the truth from getting out and do whatever it takes to protect Trump from ever facing a consequence for anything. 

There’s a nationwide movement against police brutality and a global pandemic that’s killed more than 100,000 Americans, in large part because of Donald Trump’s refusal to admit it might be a problem. And Senate Republicans don’t care about anything but keeping Trump in power.

Not defending Hunter Biden, but Republicans are lying about him (of course)

Now that Joe Biden is headed toward the Democratic nomination for president, Republicans are reviving their efforts to smear him via his son, Hunter, and Hunter’s service on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Nothing untoward has ever been proved against Hunter, not even alleged (beyond generic) “corruption,” and the search for something untoward is all an effort to create this cycle’s version of “but her emails.” 

Key to the Republican argument is the notion that the younger Biden had no qualifications for the job. “When speaking with ABC News about his qualifications to be on Burisma's board, Hunter Biden didn't point to any of the usual qualifications of a board member," Donald Trump lawyer Pam Bondi said at his impeachment trial. "Hunter Biden had no experience in natural gas, no experience in the energy sector, no experience with Ukrainian regulatory affairs. As far as we know, he doesn't speak Ukrainian."

Trump being Trump, he’s whittled all that down to the claim that Hunter Biden was appointed to the board because he “didn’t have a job.” 

Since we’re going to be hearing about this nonstop for the next eight months (ugh), here’s the reality.

Hunter Biden is a graduate of Yale Law School, by far the best and most prestigious law school in the country (sorry, Harvard). Notes Trump fact-checker extraordinaire Daniel Dale, at the time that “Hunter Biden was appointed to the board of Burisma in 2014, he was a lawyer at the firm Boies Schiller Flexner, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's foreign service program, chairman of the board of World Food Program USA, and chief executive officer and chairman of Rosemont Seneca Advisors, an investment advisory firm. He also served on other boards.”

Boies Schiller Flexner was founded by David Boies, the same Boies who defeated Microsoft in an antitrust case, who represented Al Gore in the 2000 election recount, and who successfully challenged California’s ban on gay marriage. (Also, the firm represents Harvey Weinstein, and Boies himself represented fraudulent firm Theranos, so … I’m not saying it’s all happy unicorns—I’m just reinforcing that it’s not some backwater ambulance-chasing firm. These are powerful heavy hitters.)

His teaching gig in Georgetown’s foreign service program, which is focused on international development, shows that Hunter did have expertise and an active interest in international relations and development. That makes sense, because World Food Program USA is focused on ending global hunger (and is currently raising money for relief efforts among Syrian refugees).

Rosemont Seneca was co-founded by Christopher Heinz, son of Teresa Heinz (of ketchup fame) and stepson of John Kerry. There’s little information about the firm online, but it looks like a garden-variety hedge fund. No one has alleged anything shady about it yet. But what it does show is that Biden had connections to the world of high finance that would be of interest to any conglomerate looking to raise capital and expand into new markets. 

And by all indications, Hunter was an active member of the board of Rosemont Seneca, investigating possible expansion opportunities and connecting the company to legal and financial resources in the United States. 

Was he on the board, likely, because of his last name? Probably. Was it a stupid idea to join such a board while his father was vice president? Of course. But no less stupid than pretty much everything the Trump children have done since their father entered the White House. Still, ugh. It sure would’ve been nice to head into the general election with a candidate unencumbered by such baggage. 

We now get to spend the rest of the year playing the “both sides are corrupt” game, muddying the waters on an issue (corruption) we should own easily. But pretending that Hunter had zero qualifications for the job, or worse, had no job? It’s utter horseshit, and we should be very clear to call it out as such. 

Republicans are going to believe whatever they want to believe. That’s the power of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. If Trump says it’s okay to go to work even when infected with COVID-19? Okay then! Mission accomplished. All is well.

But we should fight and make sure the traditional media doesn’t repeat those claims as fact. Because, like pretty much everything else that comes out of Trump’s mouth, it’s utter horseshit. 

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden tries to expand Ukraine investigation into an actual Ukraine investigation

In 2016, Sen. Ron Johnson was one of a number of Republicans who signed a letter encouraging the president of Ukraine to fire the country’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin. Naturally, that fact has not even been a speed bump in Johnson joining with his colleagues Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley to accuse former Vice President Joe Biden of a nefarious act when he … encouraged the president of Ukraine to fire the country’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin.

Back in November, in the midst of the House impeachment hearings into Donald Trump’s extortion and slander plot, the trio of Johnson , Grassley, and Graham began a distraction campaign by demanding documents both from and about Ukraine. This has continued post-impeachment, with the three lickspittles rummaging through Secret Service records to see if they can catch Joe Biden in the act of associating with his own son. 

And now Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden has decided to join them—to dig up documents that Republicans would rather stay buried.

As The Washington Post reported last week, Republican senators were eager to demonstrate that their toadying for Trump didn’t end with their cover-up vote on his removal from office. Johnson, Grassley, and Graham are all well aware that in asking for the dismissal of Shokin, Biden was actually:

Following the instructions of Barack Obama and others at the White House who had repeatedly noted the Ukrainian prosecutor’s obstruction and corruption. Supporting a request from officials of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund who saw Shokin’s corruption as a fundamental roadblock to investment in Ukraine. Acting on the request of U.K. prosecutors upset that Shokin would not pursue an investigation into Burisma and other companies at the heart of a possible money laundering scheme.

But just because they know upfront that not only did Biden not take steps to illegally protect his son’s position, but that in helping to sack Shokin, he was also actually putting his son at risk, they are still more than willing to demonstrate that their loyalty to Trump is more important than facts. Or honesty. Or much less any concept of honor.

With that in mind, Buzzfeed News reports that Sen. Wyden has decided it would be a good thing to just open up this investigation and request a few more documents that don’t involve Hunter Biden’s airline records or what Joe Biden ate for lunch. Instead, Wyden sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directing him to turn over everything that the State Department has on Ukraine policy, both under President Obama and under Trump. That includes records of the department’s interactions on Ukraine with individuals such as Rudy Giuliani and his friends Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

Wyman’s letter makes it clear that he understands the purpose behind the much more limited requests made by Johnson, Grassley, and Graham. By restricting their search to a handful of Biden-related documents, the Republicans can continue to string together apparent connections by looking at overlapping dates or locations—connections that may, once again, show Joe Biden talking to, or even meeting with, his only surviving son. Which, as far as Republicans are concerned, is somehow much worse than bludgeoning an allied nation into providing political slander through an existential threat.

Or, as Wyden writes in his letter, “I am concerned that, in the absence of additional information … the Department's production of information requested by the Senate Committees could create an incomplete and biased record of the State Department's activities related to Ukraine.”

It can. And it still will. Because there’s almost no doubt that Pompeo, along with Attorney General William Barr, will find that the requests from the Republican senators are urgent and proper, completely worthy of their time, and deserving of a response. Wyden, on the other hand, probably forgot a comma in the fourth line, or didn’t use the right form, or … is a Democrat. If Pompeo needs another reason to ignore a document demand from the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, he can always ask the White House counsel. As these people demonstrated during Trump’s impeachment trial, they’re full of excuses. Or at least full of something.