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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump will be impeached, but he will not be convicted

Donald Trump is a horrible person, he is corrupt, likely compromised by the Russians, and he is, I have no doubt in my mind, a criminal. He should be behind bars for his crimes. But he will never be held accountable for his actions. 

The Founding Fathers of this nation created a system that was designed to hold elected officials accountable for their actions. That system has been undermined by a memo from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Council that has never been tested in court, and if it were, it would likely be found unconstitutional. Nowhere in the United States Constitution does it say that a sitting president cannot be indicted for criminal activity.

The system has also been compromised by the Republican Party, a party that is so addicted to power that it refuses to follow the rule of law. The evidence against Trump is damning, yet congressional Republicans are bending over backward to protect him. Why? Why are Republicans vehemently defending Trump? 

One reason congressional Republicans are defending Trump is that he is their useful idiot. Now, this worked better when they held both the House and the Senate. But the fact of the matter is that they just need him to push their agenda without question. Trump is not smart enough to know what he is signing, and he is easily manipulated. He is the perfect patsy to sign anything they put in front of him, and will push any agenda he is given: All it takes is to praise him and stroke his ego. Feed his narcissistic fire, and he will do whatever you wish. 

They fear him. Look at how quickly Trump turns on anyone who speaks out against him; and when Trump turns on someone, his sycophants also come out for blood. Congressional Republicans fear this, as it could put them in the position of being primaried for their seats, or losing their seats to a Democrat in a general election. Looking at Trump’s polling numbers, I do question why they continue to fear him: He is increasingly unpopular across the country, and his lack of popularity is hurting Republicans more than it helps them.

Mitch McConnell and other congressional Republicans are compromised by foreign actors just as badly as Trump is. It has already come out that Rep. Devin Nunes has been involved in the pay-for-play Ukraine scandal. The Washington Post reported,

The allegation that Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.) met with Shokin to obtain information about former vice president Joe Biden and his son was made by the attorney for Lev Parnas. Parnas is one of two Soviet-born associates of Rudolph W. Giuliani who were indicted on charges that they broke campaign finance law.

Parnas’s attorney, Joseph Bondy, told The Washington Post that Shokin informed Parnas that he had met with Nunes in Vienna in December 2018.

Which country has the most to gain if U.S. aid to Ukraine aid is held up? Russia. Which country has the most to gain from a weakened United States and broken alliances in the West? Russia. It does not take a rocket scientist to connect the dots. If the Republican Party is not compromised by Russia, I would be surprised. 

Senate Republicans have already decided the outcome of the impeachment trial. According to The Washington Post, Senate Republicans and White House officials met to discuss the impeachment trial last week.

A group of Republican senators and senior White House officials met privately Thursday to map out a strategy for a potential impeachment trial of President Trump, including rapid proceedings in the Senate that could be limited to about two weeks, according to multiple officials familiar with the talks.

The prospect of an abbreviated trial is viewed by several Senate Republicans as a favorable middle ground — substantial enough to give the proceedings credence without risking greater damage to Trump by dragging on too long.

In a normal world, the people sitting on the jury for a trial would not be sitting down with a team of people working for the accused. Why would Republican Senators work with the White House on how long the trial should last? One reason: They have already decided what the verdict will be—and it will be not guilty. Imagine being a mob boss working with a jury on how long a trial would last, and what the verdict would be!

Last but not least, the Republican Party is no longer a political party. It is a cult. Critical thought, reasoning, and facts mean nothing to its members. A party that likes to say it supports the military has attacked a decorated soldier, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, for giving testimony in the impeachment inquiry into Trump. Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, without any evidence, tweeted out, 

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Vindman is neither vindictive, nor is he the whistleblower’s handler (whatever that means). He is a dedicated Army officer who is doing his duty and upholding his oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Blackburn is not the only one attacking Vindman. 

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Junior and the author of the Federalist article can enlist at any time and find out what it takes to earn a Purple Heart. Vindman is doing his duty to this nation and is serving selflessly. It enrages me to see these Trump sycophants try to tear down men and women of honor to save their own skins.

Donald Trump will not be convicted in the Senate unless the GOP has a come-to-Jesus moment—that much has become clear. Our only path to get rid of him, and the corruption that has infested the Republican Party and our federal institutions, is to make sure we all vote these traitorous motherfuckers out of office in 2020. Every single one of them must go—and once they are voted out of office, we must investigate them, try them, and convict them for their crimes. 

House, Senate negotiators reach milestone on spending package, Trump position remains unclear

The passage of a continuing resolution last week to keep government operating until Dec. 21 gave congressional negotiators breathing room to come to an agreement on the next step to passing spending bills to keep the government going for what's left of fiscal year 2020. They've agreed to the apportionment of funds to a wide range of government agencies and programs, with a glaring exception: Trump's border wall.

With this agreement between House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby, the rest of the appropriators can get to work hammering out the agreements for the 12 appropriations bills that would need to be passed by Dec. 20. The levels agreed to reflect the new budget agreement Congress reached over the summer, which increases defense spending by $22 billion and nondefense spending by $27 billion over existing 2019 budget levels.

So the first problem this faces is that there's still no agreement on how Trump is going to get the additional $5 billion he wants for a border wall. The second problem is getting 12 bills passed by Congress and signed by Trump by Dec. 20, when Congress is officially in Thanksgiving recess until Dec. 3. The third problem is impeachment, which may or may not be voted on in the House in those 17 days before funding runs out again. The border wall and impeachment are the triggers for Trump.

But there's a potentially bigger problem: a disengaged Trump who seems to be allowing Mick Mulvaney to do the driving. Mulvaney, apparently speaking for Trump, wants a budget freeze. The Mulvaney part of the White House wants a yearlong continuing resolution that prevents that $49 billion increase in spending that the White House agreed to last summer from actually happening. And if that's the case, the question is what Mitch McConnell's Senate is going to do.

Arguing on the side of getting the deal done with the House is increased defense spending, which Republican senators love. Arguing on the side of scuttling the deal and another year of operating on continuing resolutions is everything else—particularly Trump.

Intelligence experts warn of Russia’s 2020 plans while administration forces out cybersecurity staff

One of the chilling moments in testimony from this week in the impeachment hearings into Donald Trump held by the House Intelligence Committee came from Dr. Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council Russia expert. "Russia's security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election," she told the committee in her opening statement. "We are running out of time to stop them."

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We are also running out of experts in the government to do so. Jeanette Manfra, a top official with the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, announced Thursday that she is stepping down. "After 12 years at DHS, I’ll be leaving @CISAgov at the end of this year," Manfra tweeted. "This is not an easy decision, as it's been one of my greatest honors to work alongside such a remarkable team on this incredibly important mission."

That follows last month's blockbuster resignation of White House computer security chief Dimitrios Vastakis, who blasted the administration in his exit letter. "The White House is posturing itself to be electronically compromised once again," he wrote. That follows an exodus of at least a dozen top- or high-level officials who have resigned or been pushed out of the cybersecurity offices in the administration. "Allowing for a large portion of institutional knowledge to concurrently walk right out the front door seems contrary to the best of interests of the mission and organization as a whole," Vastakis warned.

At the same time, the Federal Election Commission has been rendered powerless with the resignation of its vice chairman, Matthew Petersen. That left the FEC with too few commissioners to have the necessary quorum to make decisions. Since 2015, when Moscow Mitch McConnell became Senate majority leader, not a single new commissioner to the FEC has been confirmed. So there's no elections watchdog anymore, and a shrinking cybersecurity community to combat foreign intrusions.

It's almost like Moscow Mitch is inviting Russia to collude and interfere in 2020.

This has to end. Please give $1 to our nominee fund to help Democrats end McConnell's career as Senate majority leader!

After a day of courting Senate Republican ‘jurors,’ Trump says he’s fine with impeachment trial

Donald Trump, in his endless Fox & Friends rant Friday morning, told his "Friends" he welcomes a full Senate impeachment trial. "I want a trial," he told them, and said that he wants House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Joe Biden’s son Hunter to testify. Because of course he does.

After spending a good part of his day Thursday meeting with the Senate Republicans who would act as "jurors" in that trial, it's not surprising that he welcomes it. He had lunch with a group of Republican senators that included Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, the two who for some reason conventional wisdom says would be most likely to resist him. Conventional wisdom tends not to be well-informed.

While he was doing that, his closest advisers and family members were meeting with another group of Republican jurors to work out how the trial would proceed. They decided that two weeks would be the best time frame for it, because "they believe it would be long enough to have credence without dragging on too long." It would look like they were taking it seriously if it went for two weeks, would look like they're doing their constitutional duty, on their way to what they've already determined they're going to do: acquit.

So of course Trump welcomes a Senate trial. Has nothing to fear from it. Moscow Mitch McConnell has made sure of that.

Senate Republican ‘jurors’ plot with defendant Trump to limit trial

The House should definitely not be in any hurry to wrap its impeachment inquiry. Not without delving into every dark, stinky corner of Donald Trump's plots to both obtain and keep political office. Not without racking up every possible instance of obstruction by his administration. Because they'll need to go to the Senate with such an overwhelming mountain of evidence that Republicans will have to expose themselves to the American people as the total unprincipled partisans they are. The kind of people who would plot with the White House to limit Trump's impeachment trial.

A group of Republican senators—Mike Lee (Utah), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), John Neely Kennedy (Louisiana), Lindsey O. Graham (South Carolina), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Tom Cotton (Arkansas)—met with White House counsel Pat Cipollone, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, senior adviser Jared Kushner, and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway. Just to be clear, these are the potential jurors in the forthcoming trial. They met on Thursday to "map out a strategy" or the impeachment, "including proceedings in the Senate that could be limited to about two weeks, according to multiple officials familiar with the talks." This is while Trump himself was wining and dining Mitt Romney and Susan Collins and other Republican soon-to-be jurors.

The Republicans have settled on a two-week trial because "they believe it would be long enough to have credence without dragging on too long." They'll pretend like they're doing their duty, but make absolutely no mistake: The fix is in. They've fixed it with Trump—right there in broad daylight. On the same day that testimony from former National Security Council Russia expert Dr. Fiona Hill and foreign service officer David Holmes in the House Intelligence Committee damns Trump's efforts to undermine U.S. foreign policy and national security.

This is something, by the way, that should be handled between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. They should be negotiating and determining the conduct and scope of the impeachment trial. Once again, McConnell has outsourced his job to Trump and team.

That's why the House has to send the strongest case possible to them. Not because it will convince them of Trump's guilt and bring enlightenment to them that they must remove him, but because it will expose them for what they are.

Please give $1 to our nominee fund to help Democrats and end McConnell's career as majority leader.

House passes stopgap funding until Dec. 20 to avert shutdown. Next up: Senate and White House

The House passed a continuing resolution Tuesday, 231-192, to keep government funded until Dec. 20, in hopes that by that time negotiators among the House, Senate, and White House will be able to come to an agreement on spending in all 12 appropriations bills that will fund the government fully for fiscal year 2020. Which started two months ago.

The White House said of this short-term agreement after it was released Monday afternoon, "We need to review all the details of the CR, but are heartened that at first blush it does not appear to contain provisions which impede the President’s ability to pursue his policies, or other items which could impair the ability of the President to sign it by Thursday night." At this point, Trump seems to be onboard.

The short-term bill contains some add-ons beyond just a continuation of current funding levels. It has $7.3 billion in spending authority for the Census Bureau to gear up for next year's count. It also increases military pay by 3.1%, and temporarily extends three Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provisions set to expire Dec. 15 through March 20, 2020. It also renews a number of expiring health care programs that have to keep being temporarily revived, including funding for community health centers and teaching hospitals. It also blocks a looming $7.6 billion rescission of highway funding scheduled to happen next July.  

The Senate has until midnight Thursday to pass it and get Trump to sign it. Then we do this all again in a month—when they can't put off fighting over the border wall anymore, and impeachment will still have Trump raging.

McConnell reportedly told Pelosi ‘I’m not going to do anything Trump doesn’t want me to do’

This secondhand anecdote from Capitol Hill has a resounding ring of truth:

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Of course Moscow Mitch has said that in private. He says a variation of that in public all the time. He’s taken that line repeatedly when it comes to gun safety legislation—he won’t have anything come to the floor if he doesn’t have Trump’s approval. If it can’t get Trump’s signature, the Senate won’t act. Because that whole “coequal branches of government” thing the founders came up with doesn’t count when the White House is held by Republicans.

Whether it’s gun safety bills, election protection assistance to the states, oversight of the executive branch, or, finally, impeachment, McConnell isn’t going to do anything Trump won’t allow.

Please give $1 to our nominee fund to help Democrats and end McConnell's career as majority leader.

Moscow Mitch ‘can’t imagine a scenario’ in which he abandons Trump

Never mind the damning and damaging last week Donald Trump had during the first public round of impeachment hearings: Soon-to-be juror Moscow Mitch McConnell is guaranteeing an acquittal.

"I can't imagine a scenario under which President Trump would be removed from office with 67 votes in the Senate," he said Monday, doubling down on his statement from two weeks ago, when he said, "I'm pretty sure how it's likely to end: If it were today I don't think there's any question it would not lead to a removal." Now he's even more sure—he can't imagine anything that Trump could have done that will lead Senate Republicans to convict him and remove him from office.

Not a single scenario. Maybe he's a Russian asset? Well, Moscow Mitch knows how handy being in Putin's pocket can be around election time. Trump endangers national security in every conceivable way with his huge, loud mouth on unsecured phone lines? Well, it cuts out the middle man, makes it easier for Putin to know what's going on.

Trump shoots someone on Fifth Avenue? Fine by Mitch.

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