Trump keeps trying to cash in his political capital. But it ain’t worth much

Donald Trump went to Kentucky to save the re-election chances of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. Trump had won the state by 30 points in 2016, Bevin lost it by a half point two weeks ago.

Trump also went to Louisiana several times to boost the gubernatorial bid of Republican Eddie Rispone. Trump had won the state by 20 points in 2016, Rispone lost it by three points over the weekend.

The results don't bode well for Trump in 2020, and they certainly aren't inspiring confidence in GOP lawmakers hoping that Trump's base could help secure Republican majorities in Congress next year. In both gubernatorial races, Trump begged his supporters at rallies to turn out for him lest a defeat make him look bad. In Louisiana, Trump even cited his Kentucky embarrassment, charging that the media had blamed him for Bevin's defeat. "So you’ve got to give me a big win, please,” Trump implored.

Drive up turnout, he did. It just didn't help Republicans in either case. In Louisiana, specifically, it spurred the wrong kind of turnout.

“What Trump did in Louisiana was increase voter participation. While he increased the pro-Trump turnout, he also increased the anti-Trump turnout. That’s kind of the lesson here,” Ron Faucheux, a New Orleans-based nonpartisan political polling analyst, told the Washington Post

Congressional Republicans already face a number of hurdles heading into 2020. Some 20 GOP representatives have announced they will not run for re-election. A majority of Americans have sided with Democrats so far in the need to launch an impeachment inquiry into Trump, though the situation remains fluid. Senate Democrats are also outraising their GOP counterparts in competitive races, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.

In the 14 races deemed competitive1 by election forecasters at Inside Elections, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Political Report for which we have FEC filings,2 Democrats outraised Republicans by $65.5 million to $51.4 million in total contributions through the third quarter of 2019.3

“Where’s the good news for Republicans?” Simon Rosenberg, president of the liberal think tank NDN, wondered. “In 2018 and 2019, Trump had two worst-case or near-worst elections in a row; his numbers today are below where they were on Election Day 2018; incumbents are retiring in droves, making 2020 even more challenging; and Trump’s not just trailing 2020 Democrats nationally by a significant margin — he’s not clearly ahead in any important battleground state.”

Yep.

The political landscape remains incredibly dynamic. Yet the takeaway for now is that Trump's political capital isn't worth nearly as much as he and Republicans had been banking on.

Emails show Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry knew of push to get Ukraine to open investigations

Emails exchanged between Donald Trump's point man on negotiations with Ukraine and two top Trump officials show they were kept apprised of efforts to convince Ukraine to launch the politically advantageous investigations Trump sought. On July 19 specifically, Trump charge and Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland sent emails to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and other Trump officials informing them that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was ready to assure Trump by phone that he would open the investigations and "turn over every stone," according to The Wall Street Journal.  

Mulvaney replied that he had asked the National Security Council (NSC) to schedule the phone call "for tomorrow," though it wouldn't actually happen until several days later. Mulvaney was reportedly responsible for giving the White House budget office the order to withhold aid from Ukraine.

Sondland also emailed NSC official Tim Morrison on July 13 to push him to schedule the phone call with Trump before Ukraine's parliamentary elections on July 21, timing that was important to President Zelensky. Sondland wrote to Morrison that the "sole purpose is for Zelensky to give Potus assurances of ‘new sheriff’ in town. Corruption ending, unbundling moving forward and any hampered investigations will be allowed to move forward transparently." Morrison simply responded that he was "tracking" the situation. 

What the emails demonstrate was that Sondland appeared to be very much the point man on getting Zelensky to agree to investigations in order to nail down a phone call between him and Trump, which ultimately took place on July 25 and became the source of the whistleblower complaint. In the process, Sondland kept a number of Trump officials in the loop, including Mulvaney and Perry (who have both refused to testify) and Morrison (who has privately testified and is scheduled to give public testimony Tuesday).

Fox News host surprises GOP by dismantling Republican defense of Trump’s impeachable Ukraine call

The Republican Party is sending out what passes for its top bootlicking officials to try and spin around in circles, as every day brings a new set of defenses for their corrupt president’s actions. Historically, one of the easier gigs for Republicans like Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana has been to go on Fox News and let whichever host lob softballs with little to no resistance. Fox News is predominantly a fact-free zone and so Rep. Scalise must have known that things were going to be a little rougher than usual when Fox host Chris Wallace began lightly pushing back during an interview over the weekend.

After Scalise bumbled about how the earmarked money that President Trump was holding back from Ukraine has requirements of anti-corruption—something the Trump administration has been trying to cut the budget for these last few years—Wallace did a good job of redirecting some of the facts of the case.

CHRIS WALLACE: But both in the April and July phone calls, President Trump never mentions the word “corruption.” What he talks about is investigations; investigations of the Democrats, possible interference in 2016, investigations into the Bidens and Burisma, and the phone call that David Holmes overheard on July 26, he says what the president asked was, is he going to do the investigations.

Rep. Scalise moves over to Republican fabrication of facts number two: this is all “secondhand, thirdhand,” evidence. At this time, Republican talking points on Ukraine are: All of these people are lying, Ukraine ended up getting the money after three months, Ukraine President Zelensky released a hostage video saying Donald Trump is supreme leader masculine best friend to Ukraine.

But, surprisingly, after Rep. Scalise attempted to belittle the first week of impeachment testimony, Wallace stopped him short.

WALLACE: Well, first of all, a dozen people listened in on the phone call, and a number of them were immediately upset because what the president said about Burisma.

REP. STEVE SCALISE: Well, those were Schiff's witnesses.

WALLACE: No, sir, they're career foreign service officers, and these are people who work in the—

REP. SCALISE: —Schiff's witnesses. There are other witnesses.

WALLACE: You had a woman yesterday—wait a minute—Sir, you had a woman yesterday who was on Vice President Pence's staff. She said it was inappropriate. You had Tim Morrison, who was on the NSC staff, who said that he, alarm bells immediately went off for him. Alexander Vindman immediately went to see—you say they're Schiff's witnesses, they all were working in the Trump administration. But let me get back to—

Scalise cannot let it ride, because he’s an idiot and has been taught to just keep lying out loud.

REP. SCALISE: —They were not all Trump administration folks.

WALLACE: Are you saying that the person working, Alexander Vindman wasn't—

Scalise then changes tactics and begins talking about the witnesses that Republicans want called. Wallace tries to remind Scalise that they are talking about people who already testified.

WALLACE: But I'm asking you about these people who worked in the Trump administration, who work for the Trump national security council or work for the vice president's office.

Wallace attempts to bring things back to a more neutral topic where Rep. Scalise can lie away about whatever he likes such as the upcoming Ambassador Sondland testimony, slated for Wednesday.

Unfortunately, Rep. Scalise, as we have reported over the years, is an imbecile who spends most of his time counting NRA donor money, and he could not leave well enough alone. He began to argue that the witnesses who testified publicly during the first week of impeachment hearings had testified that Trump did nothing wrong. Yes. He actually said that.

If this had been Sean Hannity, there’s a good chance his head would have been so far up Donald Trump’s ass that he might not have heard this gaslighting. Wallace is still playing at being a real journalist, and could not let that slide.

WALLACE: Sir, with all due respect, that very badly mischaracterizes what they said. They were asked, William Taylor, for instance, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, was asked whether or not these were impeachable offenses. He said I'm there as a fact witness, I'm not there to pass judgment. But he made it clear what he thought about what the president was doing.

Yes, he did. Scalise attempts to go back to the dumb ploy that Trump did release the aid to Ukraine, at which point Wallace reminds him that Trump released that aid two days after the whistleblower’s complaint surfaced in the public. Jump ahead to the five-minute mark to see the real fireworks start. x x YouTube Video

Mike Pompeo feeling the red-hot heat of Trump’s ire. Couldn’t be happening to a nicer guy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who listened in on the infamous July 25 Ukraine call between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, knew precisely that Trump was selling out U.S. national security for his personal political gain and did nothing. The career professionals and seasoned diplomats underneath Pompeo at the State Department, however, have provided the fodder that has almost certainly nourished the seeds of Trump's impeachment, if not necessarily his removal from office.

And although Pompeo turned a blind eye to the offenses he was witnessing firsthand, the fact that his underlings refused to do the same has really ticked off Trump, according to NBC News. Never mind that Trump only has himself to blame for his corrupt actions: He has reportedly been ranting about Pompeo's inability to stem the flow of information from his employees. In particular, Trump has focused on Ambassador Bill Taylor, whom Pompeo personally recruited to take the place of ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Of course, Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and his now-indicted co-conspirators Lev and Igor were responsible for pushing out Yovanovitch, a distinguished diplomat with decades of experience. But Trump being Trump, he was expecting Pompeo to hire some toady who knew nothing about diplomacy and would simply fall in line with Trump's shadow foreign policy.

Trump's rage at Pompeo’s uselessness reportedly boiled over during a lunch at the White House on Oct. 29. By then, a string of State Department officials had testified behind closed doors, including special envoy Kurt Volker, Ambassador Yovanovitch, Trump’s Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, Ambassador Taylor, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs George Kent. Volker resigned before giving testimony, but Kent, Sondland, Taylor, and Yovanovitch all remain at the State Department, which has essentially been under attack from the top down ever since Trump was elected. NBC reports that Taylor was greeted by an audience of State Department well-wishers when he dined at the agency cafeteria after providing testimony. One gets the sense that the agency's career professionals feel like they are finally getting a chance to fight back after the onslaught they've endured for the better part of three years.

Now Pompeo, once dubbed the "Trump whisperer," is on the outs with Trump. And on the other side, he's getting the squeeze from the employees he has refused to stand up for even as Trump has maligned people like Yovanovitch and Taylor. Pompeo was notably absent from pictures of Trump huddling with his national security team during the military mission that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Though Trump and Pompeo have continued their Wednesday lunches throughout the impeachment inquiry, Pompeo appears to have lost considerable clout and is said to feel "under siege."

Couldn't be happening to a nicer guy. Pompeo figured he could just build his resume while enabling Trump to sell out the country and walk away unscathed. Not so fast. Now Trump is shooting daggers at him even as he sinks further and further into Trump's impeachment scandal. 

Make Trump’s impeachment the sideshow

Many activists are engulfed in the impeachment hearings. They want Trump impeached and gone. But I got a sober reminder recently that highlighted our reality. Every year I participate in the Annual Human Library, a project of the Civic Engagement Committee at Lonestar College-North Harris County. Many students start at these community colleges for their first two years to dramatically reduce their education costs. This lends itself to the reality that you see a vast cross-section of people of all ages and ethnicities from various socioeconomic groups.

Several professionals in their craft are invited to tell their stories to the students. As students populate a table with 2-12 students a professional in their field sits at the table and tells their story. I condensed my story to four minutes or so and then I threw it back at them. I wanted to take this opportunity to get to their core. I addressed each one and asked them to just talk about what is on their minds. It shocked most but man, when they opened up the stories I heard were astounding.

The common thread was that they all wanted to succeed. That is not hard to imagine given that we are at a college, but most wanted to succeed in their family at all costs. Some wanted to just make a difference to people in society. The part that saddened me was they all felt they had no control over what is going to happen. Not one of them saw any purpose of being politically active. Saying they were apathetic is an understatement.

I found two stories that connected very well with them. I pointed out that their demographic, if they voted, is the most significant. When I explained the correlation between education costs when I was in college relative to theirs and tax-cut policies, they all came to attention. They realized that if they work together they can force politicians to address their concerns. Many of the students wanted to be teachers. When I pointed out the true power of teachers if they ever decided to assert it, the interest was there as well. It was all about finding what spoke to their realities, a sort of personalization.

Trump came up one time. One person mentioned the impeachment hearings in passing. It seems everyone is aware of “some kind of impeachment talk,” but I do not find many very closely engaged.

Checking my feed just as I got back from spending that quality time with the college students, the following appeared in my feed from a well-known Houston activist.

Sitting in the office alone and I just turned on CNN for the Impeachment Hearings, and I'm having a difficult time getting into this.

From the moment the election was called for him, I knew there was no way the racist carnival barker Donald Trump wouldn't be removed from office for some BS, and that was my primary reason for becoming this "activist" person. But I have to wonder does it even matter now. Impeachment hearings almost seem like just another day in this crazy Dark Mirror episode of "Donald Trump is the President" It's like the whole insanity of this Presidency has beaten us down, and we're all just like "meh.”

Even if he's removed from office, does it mean they won because they took the fight out of us? Or am I just having a mood?

Anyway, I'm going to watch and not with the same excitement and hopefulness I would have had two and half years ago but more like a person resigned to having to see it because CNN is always on at work.

tldr: why am I not geeked about this?

If you knew this activist as I know her one would understand my concern. Is it just a temporary burnout or is it that paradigm shift that has so redefined normal that we no longer have a functional political compass? I think it is a combination of both.

Those going through this period with that sentiment will need to refuel, grab the bull by the horns, and repair that compass. I think ultimately making the Trump impeachment a sideshow while centralizing on poor and middle-class centric policies will do just that. Most people I know outside the activist realm including the students I spoke to were not activated by anything Trump particularly. But when I touched those issues that really make a difference to their everyday life or to the life they want, they were fully engaged. Interestingly, the policies most of these people gravitate to are in fact progressive. The mythical center has nothing to offer them.

Trumpers will lie and gaslight on Ukraine and impeachment. Here’s what I learned debating one on TV

It’s always good to try new things. My new experience this week was to debate an actual Trumper on live television. When I was asked on Wednesday afternoon—a mere 40 minutes before it was going to start—to join a panel debate on France24 News, I didn’t know that one of the participants would be Marc Porter, the president of Republicans Overseas France and a member of the Trump 2020 campaign advisory board.

I suspect many of us have screamed at the television while The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote or one of his stooges has, with a straight face, lied to the American people while a host or fellow participant in a discussion failed to correct that lie. I found out first-hand what it’s like to have the opportunity to respond. I’d like to relate my experience here, as well as provide further evidence debunking the lies my Trumper told, in case such facts might come in handy for any of you.

Porter began lying in response to the very first question we discussed, namely whether acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor’s testimony on Wednesday would “have a major impact”? Porter opined: “I doubt it,” and then moved straight to gaslighting:

We first of all know that there’s a treaty that allows the President to speak about these things. It’s the treaty with Ukraine on mutual legal assistance and criminal matters.

It’s important to recognize that this is a talking point other Trumpers are pushing as well. He is referring to a real treaty—although if we’re giving him credit for not flat-out making up a treaty that doesn’t exist, we aren’t really setting a very high bar, are we? On the other hand, with a president who does things like make up out of whole cloth an entire phone call with the leader of the Boy Scouts, I guess that makes Porter better than the guy he works for.

x x YouTube Video

But let’s get back to the substance. What Trump did in the July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in no way comports with what the treaty Porter mentioned actually deals with, as Samantha Vinograd, who worked under both Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, explained last month in an aptly titled piece called “This Is What a Legitimate Anti-Corruption Effort in Ukraine Would Look Like”:

Trump and his team have another tool at their disposal to investigate corruption in Ukraine related to an ongoing criminal case: the United States’ Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with the country. MLATs are international agreements that establish a formal process for one country to gather evidence in another country for a criminal investigation.

If there were an actual U.S. government investigation into alleged criminal activity by Americans in Ukraine, or foreigners suspected of violating U.S. laws, a request for cooperation could have been made through a formal process that’s run by DOJ’s Office of International Affairs. Once MLAT requests are vetted by the DOJ, they are transmitted to a foreign country’s “central authority”—in this case, Ukraine's Ministry of Justice. If granted in the foreign country, this arrangement could allow the DOJ to obtain documents, locate people, take testimony, request searches and seizures, freeze assets and more. If the United States were actually pursuing criminal investigations into corruption in Ukraine, U.S. officials would have made a request under our MLAT for cooperation.

Trump asking Zelensky for “a favor, though”—as he did on July 25—is clearly not that. Porter just threw that gobbledegook about the treaty into the mix, figuring no one on the panel would challenge him on it unless they had known he was going to bring it up—and he was right, it turned out. I’m sure it sounded good to most viewers. It was clearly something he had in his pocket—you can see in the video that he looked down to make sure he got the name right.

Then, speaking of muddying the waters, Porter went right to claiming that “Ukraine meddled in the elections as much as anybody else,” and stated that that’s what the Senate “plans to take up”—a reference to U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s bogus goose chase, which some Republican senators are also apparently going to be promoting soon enough as another attempt to distract from what Trump actually did.

When the host, incredulous, asked if Porter was serious in claiming that Ukraine had meddled in U.S. elections, Porter replied: “Absolutely. Have you not done your homework here?” He brought up Biden supposedly having bragged that “the Ukrainians were for Hillary Clinton” in 2016. Right. Because that’s election meddling. The host noted that this wasn’t proof of anything, and Porter said “I didn’t say ‘proof,’” and added he was just pointing out that Trump has the “right” to ask about these matters in order to “get to the bottom” of things. 

Time for a fact-check: Ukraine did not interfere with the 2016 election. That is a conspiracy theory pushed by the Trump White House, in particular Rudy Giuliani. It has been completely debunked. Tom Bossert, who worked for Trump as Homeland Security adviser, called it “completely false,” and added: “At this point I am deeply frustrated with what [Giuliani] and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president.”

So, Trumper Marc Porter lied about Ukraine and 2016, and then lied about the fact that a treaty gives Trump the right to extort Ukraine’s president in order to get him to investigate that lie. And this is all without even bringing up the matter of extorting Zelensky to get him to investigate Joe Biden and his son. And, to recap, this is all in Porter’s first round of comments. A bit later, on a related note, Porter stated that his side will be looking into “how the Obama adminstration and Hillary Clinton were using foreign powers in order to meddle in the American elections.” I can’t wait to see what they come up with on that lie.

Porter later moved to undermine the testimony offered Wednesday by Ambassador Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent, arguing that they didn’t provide first-hand accounts, so they don’t matter. That’s a matter of opinion, of course, but then Porter shifted to attacking the whistleblower who, he claimed, “probably colluded with Schiff before they actually stated their statements.” There’s no evidence of any such “collusion” or that Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, in any way influenced what the whistleblower reported—although of course Porter covered himself by saying “probably.” Nevertheless, the interactions between the whistleblower and Schiff’s committee followed the law to the letter.

“Like other whistle-blowers have done before and since under Republican and Democratic-controlled committees, the whistle-blower contacted the committee for guidance on how to report possible wrongdoing within the jurisdiction of the intelligence community,” said Patrick Boland, a spokesman for Mr. Schiff.

The host asked whether the whistleblower even matters anymore, given that what he or she reported has been confirmed by multiple other sources who had first-hand knowledge. Despite the fact that the host was absolutely correct, Porter lied: “They haven’t confirmed anything.” Then he went on about how the FBI supposedly changed the rules on how whistleblowers operate just before the whistleblower came forward—another attempt to cast doubt on what he or she reported. That’s another lie that has been debunked. Then he started going on about how Trump’s fundraising has been “exploding” since the inquiry began. Happy times.

Later on, we got to Porter lying about Vice President Biden. Porter lied by claiming that Biden said he was withdrawing aid to Ukraine until the prosecutor who was investigating his son and the company on whose board he served, Burisma, was fired. The prosecutor in question was Viktor Shokin. Presumably, Porter is referencing comments Biden made about the matter in January 2018. This is a Trump talking point. It has also been thoroughly debunked, as USA Today explained:

Sources ranging from former Obama administration officials to an anti-corruption advocate in Ukraine say the official, Viktor Shokin, was ousted for the opposite reason Trump and his allies claim.

It wasn't because Shokin was investigating a natural gas company tied to Biden's son; it was because Shokin wasn't pursuing corruption among the country's politicians, according to a Ukrainian official and four former American officials who specialized in Ukraine and Europe.

[snip] Without pressure from Joe Biden, European diplomats, the International Monetary Fund and other international organizations, Shokin would not have been fired, said Daria Kaleniuk, co-founder and executive director of the Anti Corruption Action Centre in Kiev.

The reality is that Burisma was not even being investigated when, in late 2015 and early 2016, Biden—on behalf of his boss, President Obama—along with much of the international community was trying to get Shokin fired. The whole thing is a bunch of malarkey. After Porter told that lie about Biden and the Ukrainian prosecutor, I offered my response to it and to a broader comment about polarization in the U.S.:

We need to step back a second when we talk about both sides and polarization. It’s really not both sides and polarization. It’s one side that has made lying central to its messaging, and that is the Republican side … Vice President Biden did not say to Ukraine: If you don’t investigate my party’s opponent in the next election, I will take away aid that Congress has already authorized. That’s what President Trump did. Vice President Biden was carrying out a policy that was the policy of the United States, that was in the United States’ interest … It was also the policy of the European Union, and a policy of the International Monetary Fund. This was not for Joe Biden’s personal gain. So to suggest otherwise is flat-out a lie. That’s what you are doing here. Ukraine did not interfere in 2016 elections. The U.S. intelligence agencies have completely debunked that theory. There is no server … It was Russia, not Ukraine. It can’t be, ‘oh, it was Ukraine, oh there are rumors’ … The U.S. intelligence agencies have completely debunked that and you need to tell the truth.

Porter then pivoted to another false claim, namely that Trump and his people did not expect to be “sabotaged by people under them.” When the host pressed him about who was doing the sabotaging, Porter responded “the Deep State … Are you familiar with the Deep State?” He added: “They think they can create policy” and “go against Trump’s policies.” He went on about this for a while and then I responded.

I pointed out that witnesses such as Bill Taylor and George Kent didn’t stop Donald Trump from carrying out his policy. If Porter wants to say that the whistleblower was insubordinate, well, that’s what wrongdoers and their sycophants always call whistleblowers. The whistleblower didn’t refuse to carry out an order issued from above him or her in the chain of command. The whistleblower didn’t break the law, or operate outside proper channels—even though Porter accused him or her of doing that, particularly as it relates to contacts with the office of Rep. Schiff, a lie debunked above.

The debate then turned to a discussion of Trump’s foreign policy as it relates to Turkey and the Syrian Kurds. I pointed out the sheer wrongness of denying President Zelensky a White House visit to punish him for not investigating Joe Biden while rewarding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, given what he has done in recent weeks. I referred to “the malpractice of American foreign policy being carried out by this administration.” Porter responded: “Trump has his own particular way of negotiating. And many of you have been confused many times before and it works out. Trump has his own way of negotiating and so far everything’s worked out just fine.” That’s not the same kind of lie, of course, as the ones mentioned above. It’s simply Mr. Porter relating a fantasy. Repeating it twice only made him sound more delusional.

Then, I summed up the guts of why Trump should be impeached and removed: “You can’t as president of the United States use the power of your office to help you win the next election and stay in office. That’s a bright, clear line when we’re talking about high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Porter responded with a whopper of a lie: “This has happened before. Hillary Clinton and the DNC hired Christopher Steele, a British citizen, to dig up dirt on Trump … opposition research is digging up dirt.” When the host pointed out that Hillary Clinton wasn’t holding up aid to Ukraine in exchange for help digging up dirt, Porter answered: “The House is holding up aid right now by not passing the appropriations bill. There are all sorts of ways that you can hold up aid.”

This is classic gaslighting: You aren’t seeing what you think you’re seeing. One of the other panelists and I both emphasized that a candidate hiring a foreigner to help with opposition research bears no resemblance to a sitting president withholding duly authorized military aid from another government unless that government announces it has begun an official, state investigation into his political opponents. The former is normal politics. The latter, as Ambassador Taylor made clear in his testimony, is not only “crazy”—as he wrote in text messages to Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker, other key witnesses to Trump’s extortion scheme—but also unprecedented.

In Taylor’s testimony on Wednesday, he was asked: “in your decades of military service and diplomatic service representing the United States around the world, have you ever seen another example of foreign aid conditioned on the personal or political interests of the President of the United States?” His answer: “No. I have not.”

While making a larger point, Porter tried to slip in a final lie, namely that the Trump administration had been completely “transparent.” On this he is echoing the Orange Julius Caesar himself:

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I couldn’t let that one go. I asked, if they were so transparent, why did the White House put the Zelensky call transcript and other calls that were deemed politically problematic on a secret, far more secure computer system? Porter said: “Everyone does this.” However, it is in fact highly problematic—and the opposite of transparent—to take the recordings of calls that did not contain information that is sensitive to national security and put them on a special system that is supposed to be reserved for those that did contain sensitive information.

Porter then claimed this practice was started by Susan Rice. This is another Team Trump lie, one that has been debunked. As Rice explained in an interview, the Obama administration only used that system for calls that contained information that was classified at the “highest level”—a very rare thing for a call between a president and foreign leader, and something that certainly did not apply to the Trump-Zelensky call from July 25.

Furthermore, I pointed out that the July 25 call readout didn’t include the name Burisma, and also did not include Trump’s naming Joe Biden specifically in relation to supposed corruption, even though Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, who had been on the call, testified that those words were spoken and should have appeared in the readout. Why were those key words replaced by ellipses? That’s certainly not a very “Transparent” way to operate (nor was it “Transparent” when the White House released a contemporaneous readout of the aforementioned first Trump-Zelensky call, from April 21, that was completely contradicted by the actual transcript that was finally released on Friday. The initial readout, which stated that Trump had committed to cooperate with Zelensky to “implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption” has turned out to be, in Kerry Eleveld’s words, “pure diplomatic fantasy.” Trump said no such thing or anything approaching it.) 

Porter’s reply, his final substantive comment of the discussion, was that it’s just “the Mueller report all over again. Fundraising is booming. We’re very happy.” It’s worth noting that in April, Mehdi Hasan of Al Jazeera had Porter on his show and “wipe[d] the floor” with him, according to an account at Raw Story, when Porter attempted to gaslight the audience about the Mueller report.

Life is all about learning. One thing that people who participate in public discussions with Trumpers need to learn is that they are always on message. They are highly disciplined, they follow the talking points put forward by the man they serve, and they have absolutely no compunction about telling lies and gaslighting the American people. Not that I had any doubts beforehand, but debating one of them this week gave me a real-time taste of just what they are capable of.

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)

‘This whole hearing turned on a dime’: The Trump catastrophe even Fox News couldn’t ignore

Fox News is infamous for ignoring inconvenient truths for Donald Trump and his Republican party. On Election Day 2017—one of the first truly consequential elections following the 2016 presidential—Trump booster Sean Hannity spent all of six primetime seconds on Democrats' convincing sweep in Virginia, New Jersey, and elsewhere. Don't blink, viewers! Or how about last year when the FBI executed a search warrant on the premises of Trump's longtime lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen? While every actual news outlet in America was riveted by the unfolding drama, GOP everyman Tucker Carlson dazzled his viewers with a segment on aggressive, sex-crazed pandas. 

But on Friday, as Trump lashed out at a seasoned U.S. diplomat in the midst of her sworn congressional testimony, Fox News was doing what every other actual news outlet in the nation was doing—covering the impeachment hearings. Trump's witness bullying was a bombshell most Fox anchors would have ignored on any other day. But because House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff stopped the hearing to read Trump's tweets and ask Yovanovitch if she wanted to respond, Trump's intimidation became part of a hearing Fox was already covering.

"This whole hearing turned on a dime when the president tweeted about her real time," noted Fox anchor Brett Baier.  "That enabled Schiff to then characterize that tweet as intimidating the witness or tampering with the witness, which is a crime. Adding essentially an article of impeachment real time." In other words, Trump singlehandedly authored another article of impeachment. Wow, now that is some stunning straight talk on Fox.

Fox News analyst and former Clinton investigator Ken Starr told viewers Trump had clearly not been advised by counsel to send such a tweet. "Extraordinarily poor judgement," Starr remarked. "The president frequently says, 'I follow my instincts.' Sometimes we have to control our instincts, so obviously I think this is quite injurious." Nonetheless, Starr followed up with his personal conclusion that Trump's tweet didn't rise to the level of witness intimidation, but the damage was done. Just imagine, Trump watching real time in the White House residence as Fox News pundits questioned Dear Leader—he must have been fuming. 

But as delightful as it is to imagine Trump in his jam jams hurling his diet coke can at the TV, what really matters is the healthy share of Fox News viewers taking in any objective criticism at all of their chief. At the end of this year’s 3rd quarter, Fox News logged its 71st consecutive quarter as the most-watched cable news network in total day and prime-time viewership, according to Nielsen Media Research, averaging about 1.4 million daytime viewers and some 2.4 million prime-time viewers. But Fox's impeachment viewership is dusting those numbers. Of the 13.1 million viewers who tuned into the first day of the impeachment hearings, Fox claimed the greatest share of them with 2.9 million followed by MSNBC with 2.7 million. But it's the Fox viewers who are being treated to a reality check that they barely ever get glimpse of. 

"It's not just the size of the their audience," noted MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, who spent much of her career as a Republican spokesperson. "It's that those are the viewers largely represented by Republican senators who will likely be the jurors in a Senate trial."

In fact, even House Republicans seemed to understand that Trump's onslaught was playing badly to the live audience back home, and they spent a great deal of time falling all over themselves to praise Yovanovitch, in stark contrast to Trump. As a Politico lede observed, "Donald Trump is alone." Indeed not a single GOP lawmaker backed up Trump's smear and not a single one challenged Yovanovitch's version of events. Instead, they sought to paint her as largely irrelevant as a fact witness since she hadn't personally witnessed many of the central elements at issue in the impeachment probe.

But if House Republicans found Trump's conduct so repulsive they spent the next several hours doing clean-up, just imagine how the spectacle played to Senate Republicans, especially those in dicey reelection bids. Someone like Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner or Maine Sen. Susan Collins will live and die electorally based on how these hearings play to the suburbs in their states and whether that crucial slice of voters views them as independent from the president or inextricably linked to him.

Just to be clear: It's not that we're suddenly going to see a wholesale defection of Fox News viewers from Trump, it's that the outcome of 2020 will likely be decided at the margins and every shaved half point here or there could actually be decisive. 

A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken after the first day of hearings and concluding before the second day showed that 68% of Americans reported following the hearings, including 28% who watched or listened to them live, while another 25% said they were not paying attention to the proceedings. And although the first day of hearings hadn't moved the needle much at all on support for Trump's impeachment (44%) versus opposition to it (40%), it did suggest the hearings weren't playing great for Trump.

Among those paying attention, 41% said the hearings had made them “more supportive” of impeaching Trump, while 25% said they had made them “less supportive.”

Whether public opinion moves further in support or opposition of impeaching Trump or simply serves to reinforce people's pre-existing views remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: We have never witnessed a TV event like this in the hyper-polarized Trump presidency. And as expected, Trump and his impulses are his worst enemy. This week alone, Trump singlehandedly authored an article of impeachment, further alienated the very female voters he desperately needs to get reelected, and put GOP lawmakers on the Hill in a box. And these were just the “2nd-hand, 3rd-hand, and 4th-hand” witnesses, as Trump's Republican allies stressed repeatedly throughout the week. Just imagine when the nation hears from people who directly listened to Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky or his boisterous cell convo with Ambassador Gordon Sondland, which was apparently overheard by at least three witnesses.

Given that this was just the first week of hearings—the table setter as it were—it seems fair to say, the best is yet to come.