CIA director hanging by a thread as Trump eyes releasing US intelligence on Russian interference

When White House counsel Pat Cipollone opposes something Donald Trump is intent on doing, you know it's got to be bad. But it's exactly where Cipollone stands on Trump's deep desire to declassify U.S. intelligence on Russian interference in the 2016 election, which would be incredibly damaging to national security and U.S. intelligence-gathering moving forward.

Trump has always viewed the Russia investigation as a cloud hanging over his tenure from Day One, delegitimizing his big triumph in 2016 as impossible without the help of foreign interference. It may be the one instance where he's right. But his intention to declassify U.S. intelligence on Russia to support his pet project at any cost to national security has met with stiff opposition from CIA Director Gina Haspel and divided Republicans into two camps, according to The New York Times. You're either a Trumpist or a traitor.

Trump also remains miffed at the CIA over the agency's failure to neutralize the whistleblower complaint regarding the July 2019 call with Ukraine that ultimately led to his impeachment. But releasing the intelligence on Russia appears to be the main motivation behind Trump's fixation on axing Haspel, who has shared her concern with congressional members.

The Times writes that GOP lawmakers "came subtly to Ms. Haspel's defense" Tuesday when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invited her to a meeting at his office—a signal of support for her, however weak. Of course, McConnell isn't willing to do something more overt because he's too busy kowtowing to Dear Leader so Republicans can get Trump’s help in the upcoming Georgia runoffs, which will decide the fate of the Senate majority.

Trump has already moved to consolidate power in the intelligence community, installing loyalists this week at key intelligence posts at the Defense Department and National Security Agency. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, who oversees the 17-agency intelligence apparatus, is already a tried and true Trumpist. So the only major barriers to Trump's near-total takeover of the intelligence community are Haspel and FBI Director Chris Wray, who reportedly have both been on Trump's post-election chopping block.

Just imagine what Trump would have done if he had won.

New Bolton revelation: ‘The kind of bombshell Mitch McConnell has been afraid of all along’

Former national security adviser John Bolton’s new revelation about White House counsel Pat Cipollone being in on Trump’s Ukraine conspiracy as early as May 2019 is dropping like a bomb on Washington. "This is the kind of bombshell that Mitch McConnell has been afraid of all along," reporter Kasie Hunt said on MSNBC.

Indeed, a day that seemed almost certainly headed toward a no-witness vote and fast acquittal just in time for Donald Trump’s victory laps on Fox News and at next week’s State of the Union address now holds a slew of question marks. Hill reporters are now musing that the Senate trial could go into next week, “maybe even mid-week,” tweeted Politico’s John Bresnahan. Trump’s already in damage control, tweeting out fantasies like a drunken sailor on hallucinogens. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski still hasn’t announced her vote on witnesses, which is bad news for McConnell because she hasn’t owed the GOP caucus anything since 2010, when she won reelection as a write-in candidate. Murkowski’s now a “no” on witnesses.

As Americans, we should still be rooting for witnesses. The citizenry deserves to hear from Bolton in his own words, among others.

But as Democrats, we can also feast on the political peril this represents for Republicans, who have now admitted that Trump did everything House managers said he did and that they just don’t care. As commentators on MSNBC absorbed the new Bolton bombshell, they almost unanimously declared it an electoral disaster in the making for Senate Republicans, especially given where public opinion has been on witnesses all along. 

"This makes that vote against witnesses political suicide,” former GOP operative Nicolle Wallace observed, adding, “I hope they take it."

Even former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill was bullish on the prospects for Democrats. “If these Republicans shut this trial down and say, No more,” she said, “it is a great gift to the Democrats in November.”

As Sen. Kamala Harris noted before the news dropped, "There can be no true exoneration if there's not been a fair trial. Period." Now more than ever, Senate Republicans are also on trial. At least some of them seem to know it.

Bolton’s book says Trump impeachment attorney Pat Cipollone was directly involved in Ukraine plot

As the Senate sits down to go through four hours of debate over hearing witnesses in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, The New York Times has released more information on what’s contained in former national security adviser John Bolton’s upcoming book. That information includes how Donald Trump ordered Bolton to squeeze Ukrainian officials for damaging slander of political opponents two months earlier than was known. Trump ordered Bolton to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shortly after his election and tell the incoming leader to meet with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, specifically to orchestrate an announcement of investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden.

And just to cap off a week in which Republican senators admitted that they believe that Trump is guilty but aren’t going to do anything about it, it turns out that one of the conspirators in Trump’s Ukraine scheme has been sitting right on the Senate floor through the entire not-a-trial. Bolton’s book says that White House counsel Pat Cipollone was in the room when Trump gave Bolton his marching orders to extort lies from Zelensky.

Friday, Jan 31, 2020 · 5:44:21 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Donald Trump has made a response to the claim, saying that he “never instructed John Bolton to set up a meeting for Rudy Giuliani” while at the same time calling Giuliani “one of the greatest corruption fighters in America.” He also mentions that the meeting never happened.

Which might be because Bolton says he never made the call Trump demanded.

The Times says that the order from Trump came at a meeting attended by Bolton, Cipollone, and acting chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney’s involvement in the Ukraine plot has been evident from the beginning, as he directed the withholding of funds from Ukraine through the Office of Management and Budget. Bolton had previously referred to the whole affair as a “drug deal” dreamed up by Mulvaney.

But the claim that Cipollone—officially the lead counsel in Trump’s impeachment defense—was directly involved in the events at the core of the case should be explosive. Cipollone has been standing in front of the Senate denying that there are firsthand witnesses available, when he himself is a firsthand witness. He’s been denying facts of which he is a fact witness.

His direct involvement in the Ukraine plot should be an enormous siren sounding through the Senate proceedings. In legal terms alone, it’s indefensible.

However, since Republicans have already determined that the House team has proved its case, and they’re sticking with the Dershowitz Defense that Trump can do as he pleases … it’s not at all clear that learning that Trump’s lead counsel has been directly, repeatedly lying and covering up information right to the Senate’s face will have even a tiny effect.

Trump’s legal team closed out his ‘defense’ by showing that it had no defense

On Tuesday, Donald Trump’s legal team stood before the Senate to give its closing argument … and discovered it didn’t have one. Instead, Pat Philbin spent half an hour adding some footnotes to Alan Dershowitz’s Monday night muddle. Pat Cipollone devoted 10 minutes to running some 20-year-old video of Democratic representatives complaining about Bill Clinton’s impeachment. And Jay Sekulow provided America with an hour of television too incoherent even for Alex Jones.

Sekulow’s final speech wasn’t so much an argument as it was the world’s angriest tone poem, a dissociative spew that drew from more conspiracy theories than four seasons of X-Files. And if it sometimes seemed that Sekulow was channeling the robot from Lost in Space, he was most definitely lost. But Sekulow did have a theme: Why won’t everyone stop picking on Donald Trump?

James Comey, Nellie Ohr, FISA warrant, Senate floor Foreign agent, Robert Mueller, Crossfire Hurricane   Peter Strzok, phone text, CrowdStrike, what’s next? Whistleblower, Lisa Page, they don’t know in Ukraine   Adam Schiff, Hamilton, “Danger” is back again, John Bolton, Manuscript, Inadmissible   Trump’s shoes, FBI, investigate the sad guy Dossier, filed away, what else is there left to say?  

Well … quite a lot, actually. Sekulow’s speech wasn’t rambling or inarticulate so much as simply pointless. He touched on more conspiracy theories than can be composed by a whole alphabet of secret Twitter sources, but even when accepting such ideas as Joe Biden being corrupt, or Donald Trump being the downtrodden underdog, Sekulow failed to knit the threads together into something that looked more organized than dryer lint. If Adam Schiff gave a moving speech for the ages, and he did, Sekulow’s coda didn’t merit a moment.

Mostly, what Sekulow achieved in an hour was the same thing his compatriots managed in a much shorter period—a statement that he had nothing. That there was no defense of Trump’s actions. That there was no answer to the challenges posed by new evidence. And he demonstrated that Donald Trump selects lawyers by loyalty, not competence.

Not one of Trump’s attorneys could produce anything that looked like a closing argument. Because that first requires an argument.