The longer the savagery of Russian President Vladimir Putin drags on in Ukraine, the more the conflict calls into question Donald Trump's relentless fealty to a man who is increasingly viewed as perpetrating genocide against the Ukrainian people.
The headline of one of Wednesday's lead stories on Politico read, "As Ukraine war intensifies, questions from first Trump impeachment linger."
The story notes that Trump withholding military assistance from Ukraine in exchange for a political favor from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy may seem distant, but it has "a direct tie-in to today’s war."
In the piece, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump summarily ousted from the position, says she still harbors many unanswered questions about the entire episode.
But with so many books being written by key Trump administration figures, Yovanovitch expects the truth will out eventually.
“I expect ... that there will be more details forthcoming,” she says.
Indeed, keep 'em coming.
But the basic fact that Trump tried to kneecap Ukraine and Zelenskyy must remain top of mind as Republicans try to blame some fallout from Putin's war, such as higher gas prices, on President Joe Biden. In fact, by acquitting Trump during his first impeachment trial, Republicans blessed Trump's role in weakening Ukraine and emboldening Putin.
But Trump's first impeachment scandal is just one discrete part of an entire “litany of Trump-Russia intersections," as TheNew York Times put it in a remarkable piece featuring Russia expert and former Trump national security aide Fiona Hill. In a single paragraph, the Times connected these dots:
1. Trump's decades-long pursuit of business opportunities in Moscow.
2. Trump's persistent Putin worship.
3. Trump campaign aide J.D. Gordon weakening support for Ukraine in the GOP's 2016 platform.
4. Gordon dining with Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak that same week.
5. Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone asking WikiLeaks through a third party to send along forthcoming Clinton campaign emails stolen by Russian hackers.
6. Trump announcing: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
7. The Seychelles islands getaway in which military contractor and Betsy DeVos sibling Erik Prince huddled with the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund to establish a pre-inaugural backchannel to Russia.
8. Former Trump 2016 Campaign Chief Paul Manafort sharing internal polling with Russian intelligence operative Konstantin V. Kilimnik.
9. Trump’s mysteriously undocumented two-hour meeting with Putin in Helsinki in 2018, after which Trump publicly sided with Putin over the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
10. Trump & Co. spreading Russian disinformation in 2019 asserting that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election to help Clinton.
11. Trump’s pardoning of both Manafort and Stone in December 2020.
12. Trump more recently calling Putin a "genius" and soliciting him to release dirt on President Biden's son, Hunter Biden.
That's a succinct dirty dozen, and it's still just the tip of the iceberg. But all of these threads teased out over the course of the last handful of years is exactly why the phrase "Trump-Putin axis" is so resonant, particularly in light of Russia's corrupt war and the unconscionable war crimes Putin is committing in Ukraine.
Not that we’re surprised, but isn’t failed President Trump even a little sick of himself constantly whining about losing the 2020 presidential election? Okay, I know: He didn’t lose it, it was stolen. He could have been a contender. Blah, blah, blah.
But his recent appearance on Real America’s Voice show, Just the News, with hosts John Solomon and Amanda Head was mindboggling even for the twice-impeached ex-president.
Trump didn’t waste time, talking about how the president of Russia, the man who has illegally invaded a free and Democratic-run country, leaving untold Ukrainians dead or refugees, should dig up dirt on his (Trump’s opponent) and now the sitting head of the U.S.
Last time I checked, Putin is not an ally to the U.S. Will the idiocy never end?
“As long as Putin is not exactly a fan of our country, let him explain… why did the [former] Mayor [Yuri Luzhkov] of Moscow’s wife [Elena Baturina] give the Bidens (both of them) $3.5 million,” Trump asks.
“I would think Putin would know that answer to that. I think he should release it. I think we should know that answer,” he continued.
Extended clip is worth watching: "As long as Putin is not exactly a fan of our country... I would think Putin would know the answer to that. I think he should release it... you won't get the answer from Ukraine... I think Putin now would be willing to probably give that answer." pic.twitter.com/JFGcBk4Kxd
This is just more of the same rhetoric Trump has been ranting about since his loss in 2020.
In response to Trump’s latest blathering, Rep. Ted Lieu tweeted: “Vladimir Putin is a war criminal and a butcher. Here are two responses—President Biden: This man cannot remain in power. Trump: Please help me, Vladimir. I am damn proud of our current President. And nauseated by the former President.”
Vladimir Putin is a war criminal and a butcher. Here are two responses— President Biden: This man cannot remain in power. Trump: Please help me Vladimir. I am damn proud of our current President. And nauseated by the former President. https://t.co/lO3CEnJ54d
According to Newsweek, author, journalist, and attorney Seth Abramson wrote, "President Biden is America's commander-in-chief; we're at the brink of open war with Russia; Putin is unambiguously an enemy of America.
"So one would expect any info Putin releases about our commander-in-chief to be a lie—and yet Trump now begs for Putin's aid. Open treachery.”
DNC Chair, Jamie Harrison tweeted: “Trump, the leader of the GOP, loves Putin more than he loves America. It has been evident for a while that the man seriously needs some professional help.”
Solomon, a former Fox News contributor, and formerly the editor-in-chief at the conservative newspaper The Washington Times, is also a big proponent of pro-Trump content, with multiple citings of his columns used as evidence by the GOP against impeaching Trump on allegations of pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden.
And Solomon played a key role in helping Giuliani launch the investigation into Hunter and Joe Biden
"I really turned my stuff over to John Solomon," Giuliani toldThe New York Times.
Co-host, Amanda Head, a notorious anti-masker, began her career as a model, actress, and singer, and was the first freshman to win the Miss Auburn University beauty pageant. She is best known for her turn as a vlogger for The Hollywood Conservative, launched in 2016.
What has yet to remain clear is why the Republican party refuses to call a traitor a traitor. Perhaps they’re afraid of a poison Russian pill, or of simply losing a midterm seat to a more qualified and ethical opponent, but either way, someday, (I hope) the GOP will realize that as the party once known for its “values,” lost them long ago.
This week on The Brief, hosts Kerry Eleveld and Markos Moulitsas analyzed how a month of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has played out, discussed the continued slide of the Republican Party into authoritarianism, and talked about Biden’s approval rating and how the electoral landscape is looking for Democrats heading into this fall.
As the attack on Ukraine continues, Eleveld and Moulitsas considered what the news coverage has gotten right—and wrong—so far, and how Daily Kos is offering important perspective, especially to help readers understand that the situation on the ground may not be as dire as it was initially portrayed.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine, or Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy—this battle between Soviet-style authoritarian regime and Western democracy, Eleveld notes, has crystalized for a lot of Americans the fact that this type of battle is still going on in the world. And what’s more, it is ongoing and poses a huge, continuing threat not just externally, but also internally here in the United States. While progressives and Democrats had sounded the alarm throughout Trump’s tenure about where the Republican Party has been headed, few are hearing this message of, “Look, this is an authoritarian party. They want fewer people to vote, they want to control the outcomes of the vote, they’re fine being beholden to one person as long as that person manages to secure power. They really don’t seem that interested in a peaceful transfer of power,” Eleveld added.
Eleveld also thinks that the fact that Republicans haven’t wanted to explore the events of January 6, 2021, examine it, learn from it, make sure it doesn’t happen again—and have instead become denialist— is alarming in and of itself: “And it seems like independents [and those feeling on the fence about both parties] … they haven’t really grasped what this fight, what this existential fight for democracy is about.”
This conflict has really resonated and showed us exactly what’s at stake, both at home and abroad, linking war on the international stage to democracy in the U.S., she explained:
I feel like this horrific and gut-wrenching war that we have seen play out in Ukraine has crystalized for Americans, in a way, that threat that we haven’t felt in a very real way in some way since the end of World War II. I’m not saying there haven’t been instances of attacks and people feeling vulnerable, but the existential threat ... that the whole country feels hasn’t been brought home since WWII in the way that it has been brought home here. We’ve got to win this battle in Ukraine and we’ve got to do what we can to help them and hopefully at the same time deescalate tensions there. But we’ve got to win this battle at home too, and … I don’t want to dismiss what’s happening abroad at all, but this is a fight here at home in the United States. It’s an existential threat. One of our [political] parties is no longer invested in democracy, and you can see what that yields with someone like Vladimir Putin.
Moulitsas offered additional context, tying Trump and the Republican Party’s interests to Russia and Putin: “I don’t want it lost ... that the first impeachment of Donald Trump was because he was extorting Zelenskyy over javelin missiles — the same javelin missiles that have basically stopped the Russian hordes. Those were the missiles that Donald Trump was holding hostage unless Zelenskyy literally made up an investigation against Hunter Biden.”
Highlighting the urgency and interconnectedness of all these issues, Eleveld urged, “If there were ever a time to unmask the Republican Party for how profoundly unserious it is in this serious moment in history, it is now there for the Democrats, and there for their taking.”
Moulitsas agreed, highlighting gas prices—which he noted was “a plank of the Republican 2022 playbook”—as an example of how Democrats could show leadership in this moment:
Right now, the gas companies all have record profits. It’s not like it’s just a percentage or two. We’re talking like massive windfall records. The price of crude oil has been going down; the price of gasoline at the pump has not been going down. They’re pocketing that difference. It’s really easy for Democrats—I don’t understand why this isn’t happening—where you say, ‘We’re going to cut down, we’re going to eliminate the gas taxes and then we’re going to make it up with a windfall tax on energy companies.’ Boom. You’ve just shaved 30-40 cents off of a gallon of gas right off the bat, and you have the gas companies pay for it, and make it indefinite. And go above and beyond that, but there’s a way to shift this narrative [of] ‘this is Joe Biden’s gas prices’—shift that to the gas companies and make that relentless. Gas companies and Putin and war profiteers, there is plenty of that going around. Punish those people. Dare Joe Manchin to vote against it. I don’t even think Joe Manchin would dare vote against a windfall tax on gas companies.
Where does this leave Democrats today? How are things looking as the midterms approach? Moulitsas and Eleveld shifted the conversation to focus on what trends in polling from Civiqs are telling us about this fall. Eleveld signaled that Biden seems to be coming back from a very difficult few months, as polling has shown:
I don’t think we should be super worried about exact numbers right now as much as we should be worried about trends. When I [left for medical leave a few weeks ago], Joe Biden had been on a steady downward trajectory on Civiqs for months on months on end with a few minor breaks, and it might plateau for a second, but then it was going back down. Since then, what we have seen is that it’s started to rebound, right? After the State of the Union address, it started to rebound, and I’m inclined to think that because that rebound on Civiqs has continued, that Joe Biden is getting credit for competent handling of this global response to Putin and his aggression and this completely unprovoked war. It has been, objectively, a great response.
I think that this has been a reminder for both Democrats … and independents; [among them] he’s gotten a net plus gain of about six point or seven points since Russia invaded Ukraine … I think for Democrats, some of them, it’s really reminded them, ‘Oh my God, this is why we elected Joe Biden,’ for competent handling of the pandemic. Some people have different opinions on how competent that’s been. No doubt that the rollout of the vaccine program was incredibly competent and swift—we just couldn’t get everybody to buy into it because the Republican Party was by and large telling people, ‘Don’t do it.’ … I think it reminded independents why they voted for Joe Biden.
The sentiment seems to be common even among Trump-Biden voters, the cohosts noted, citing recent focus groups. As Eleveld summarized, “Over and over, they [are] kind of saying, ‘Look at the situation in Ukraine. Like, can you imagine if Donald Trump was [in office]? We might have World War III right now, because Donald Trump is just that [unpredictable.] I mean, maybe not, but you just don’t know what he would have done. And then [they] were talking about Trump saying Putin is ‘genius’ and just saying how ‘disgraceful’ that was. It’s just disgraceful that he built Putin up for four years and now he feels this need to weigh in.”
The big picture crystallization of authoritarianism versus democracy has been brought home to the American people as they watch the conflict in Ukraine unfold, and polling is showing a slow but sure uptick in Biden’s approval ratings as this situation in Ukraine continues to play out. Eleveld thinks that ultimately, this has put Biden and Democrats on better footing:
I can’t tell you whether or not they’re going to be able to totally capitalize on this moment here, but I can tell you, as we always say, I’m not just trying to play politics here. This upcoming election is as important to the global fight for democracy and freedom as anything else that is going on, including what is happening in Ukraine. We have to win here at home, we have to win there, we have to win everywhere.
Today’s most significant news is the announcement from Russia that they intend to pull back from some areas near Kyiv, allegedly as a magnanimous gesture. We can say with near certainty that Putin’s generals aren’t doing it out of goodwill. Still, the move does seem to answer one of our most pressing questions of the past few days: With continued Ukrainian successes against Russian positions northeast and northwest of Kyiv, how close might Ukrainians be to achieving the complete encirclement of major parts of the Russian invasion force?
It would be such an enormous military victory as to be unthinkable, and few analysts appear to consider it plausible even as Ukrainian victories in the northeast led to new maps that looked perilously close to it. However, the Russian announcement hints that no matter how we outside observers were interpreting the scenario, Russian generals are now concerned enough to order troops in the most vulnerable positions around Kyiv to pull back to more protected ground.
Another recent action signals that Russia finds its position more precarious than it is willing to admit: the recent destruction of a major bridge south of Chernihiv. It was first hypothesized to be a cruel move intended to block civilian evacuations; a more plausible interpretation is that Russia has abandoned using the route to resupply its Kyiv attacks and is now (literally) burning the bridges behind it to stall Ukrainian counterattacks.
Russia may be attempting to sell its shifting of forces as a move to “focus on the Donbas” or “better enable negotiations.” The practical truth of the matter is that Putin’s generals have spent a great many lives in their attempts to push closer to Kyiv, only to now find those positions too dangerous to keep holding. Russia won’t be pulling back very far, but it’s impossible to hide its troop movements from satellites and needs an excuse for why it’s pulling troops from spots now too threatened by Ukrainian territory recaptures to keep. The preferred public answer: We meant to do that!
Again, this doesn’t mean Russian troops will be going very far, and it certainly doesn’t mean Russia doesn’t intend to regroup and attempt to push more artillery back toward Kyiv in the coming weeks. But it means Ukraine has bloodied the attackers enough that Russia’s no longer just “pausing to resupply” along the Kyiv front but doesn’t feel it can sustain its current positions in the face of Ukrainian counterattacks. That is significant, especially since we can imagine how Vladimir Putin will respond to the generals bringing him such news.
The war has been taking an increasingly partisan turn here at home. The biggest reason is that Donald Trump keeps opening his mouth, shattering whatever show of pro-Ukrainian unity his Republican Party manages to craft between his outbursts. But a new demand by House Republicans that his Ukrainian extortion scheme be officially papered over, added to a confusing move by a major television network to rehabilitate one of the Trumpites who most worked to cover up the scheme, aren’t helping. The first step to defending Ukraine would be to reject plans to extort the nation for political benefit … and they still can’t do it.
Republicans have been trying very hard to shift to a pro-Ukraine stance since Russian autocrat and far-right hero Vladimir Putin invaded the country and began a systemic program of war crimes, but it has been hard going. The Republican talking points of the Donald Trump era were that Ukraine was a hopelessly corrupt country and that we needed to support whatever crackpot schemes Rudy Giuliani and other party toadies came up with to put the screws to its corrupt-but-not-in-the-right-way government. Also oh-by-the-way maybe it was Ukraine, not Russia, who attacked our 2016 presidential elections, and maybe it was Donald Trump's political opponents who orchestrated it rather than a laundry list of Donald Trump's grifting underlings and kin.
No matter how hard walking lie dispenser Sen. Mitch McConnell or other Republicans bluster that actually the party has been pro-Ukraine, anti-Russia all along, it regularly goes to hell again when some pro-Trump House Republican pipes up with a new defense of how Donald Trump had every right to block military aid from reaching Ukraine until the Ukrainian president did him, personally, an election favor.
Sure enough, here comes Oklahoma's Rep. Markwayne Mullin, and with impeccable timing. Mullin is taking this moment to introduce a new House resolution that would "expunge" Donald Trump's first impeachment. It would officially, according to, uh, this document, never have happened. And Mullin is doing this because, he told Fox News, Democrats were "manipulating a perfect phone call with a vulnerable nation" for their "political gain."
It is possible this bearded gas station bollard was drunk when he was saying that, because nobody in full possession of their faculties would still use the phrase "perfect phone call" in the year Dickety Dickety Two unless Donald Trump was standing behind them with a gun to their back. It is a level of maudlin sycophancy that even Sen. Lindsey Graham shies away from these days.
Though we have never once said this and will never say it again: Markwayne Mullin is right. The House of Representatives should absolutely be taking time out of whatever the hell they are currently pretending to do to revisit the debate on whether Donald Trump's extortion of the Ukrainian government was, as they have insisted ever since, how the Republican Party believes their foreign policy should function. Whether it is reasonable for a president to make congressionally mandated military assistance contingent on an allied government announcing false accusations against Republican enemies. Whether the timing of Trump's delay, which took place as Russian cutouts and Russian forces were stepping up military attacks inside Ukraine as part of the overall plan to annex the eastern side of the nation outright was coincidental or conspiratorial.
We should again all be pondering whether the near-entirety of the Republican Party, its lawmakers, its allies, and its pundits sought to immunize Trump from consequences because they genuinely do not feel that a president corrupting foreign policy to gain personal, nongovernmental benefits is out of bounds—or if they believe only that Republican elected officials ought to be able to commit such crimes.
And, of course, the House needs to come to terms with the most consequential question of all: whether the near-unanimous Republican decision to immunize Trump against charges of corruption against our democracy led directly, a short time later, to Trump attacking our democracy even more directly with a propaganda-premised coup attempt that turned violent inside the halls of the U.S. Capitol. By. All. Means.
Come to think of it, Mullin's request that Trump not just be immunized from consequences for extorting the Ukrainian government, but the records "expunged" of any mention that Congress even objected, is something that would fit well with the House select committee probing the Jan. 6 insurrection. Donald Trump clearly believed that in a showdown between this nation's written Constitution and his own personal ambitions, Republicans would choose him. Why did he think so? Why was he so certain that the Republican Party would, so long as a little bit of preemptive violence was added to the mix so that all parties would understand the consequences for opposing him, fall in line and demand that the election be erased rather than acknowledge his loss?
Which, in fact, happened: The majority of Republican lawmakers did vote to nullify the election. But Democrats, at that particular moment in time, happened to outnumber them anyway.
Why would Trump think that the Republican Party would back him even if he committed sedition itself? Why was he so certain?
Mullin, author of a new resolution calling on Congress to "expunge" the impeachment charges Trump faced after an international extortion scheme looking to boost his own power even if it directly conflicted with laws passed by Congress: Do you have any insight as to why Trump would believe House Republicans would allow him to commit any crime he wanted to?
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.
TheWall Street Journalreported 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.
It would have come completely out of the blue, since there was no “perfect” phone call or whistleblower at the time. Just think about howCNN 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?
A 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.
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.
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, TheWashington Postreported
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.
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!
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 Postcolumnist 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 toThe 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.
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 Timesreported. 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.
Oh, hey, Republicans don’t think anyone should be talking about how they had Donald Trump’s back when he withheld military aid from Ukraine to extort personal political favors, and Politico is ready to report on just how unimportant Republicans think that was, drawing on quotes from six Republicans and, to rebut, one single Democrat.
Republicans “don’t see a shred of comparison” between Trump’s extortion effort and President Joe Biden not giving exactly the aid Republicans now claim to want the U.S. to send Ukraine, Politico reports. Republicans “are brushing off any suggestion that their frustration with Biden’s pace of Ukraine aid is at odds with their earlier defense of Trump’s posture toward Kyiv.”
It took three Politico reporters to come up with this, an article that alternates between the reporters’ paraphrasing of Republican dismissals, Republican quotes (sample: “That was the biggest nothing-burger in the world that resulted in an impeachment by the House,” according to Sen. Kevin Cramer), and a few carefully chosen facts about what exactly it is that Republicans are dismissing.
But lots of facts didn’t make it into Politico or are mentioned only in passing. The Washington Post reports, for instance, on the dozens of Senate Republicans who are attacking Biden for not sending more aid to Ukraine after they voted against the government funding bill including $13.6 billion in Ukraine aid. That vote and the funding at issue do not make a single appearance in the Politico article about how Republicans don’t think their past defense of Trump withholding support from Ukraine has any relevance to the current situation.
On that one, Republicans are deploying the “I voted against the thing I say I support because there were also things I opposed in the bill” argument, but as Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said in response, “Inside every piece of legislation are elements that many of us disagree with. Inside that budget that you voted against are all sorts of things that I disagree with. But in the end, in order to govern the country, you have to be able to find a path to compromise.”
Or, as Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz put it, “It’s very simple: If you don’t vote for the thing, you’re not for the thing,” Schatz said. “That is literally our job, to decide whether we are for or against things as a binary question.”
Republicans decided they were against impeaching Donald Trump for withholding military aid to Ukraine to extort personal political favors from Zelenskyy. Quite a few of them decided they were against aid for Ukraine if it involved also funding the rest of the U.S. government. And they’re getting plenty of space in Politico to explain why the first was merited without being challenged on their reasoning or asked about the second.
Republicans continue to struggle mightily with the task of distancing themselves from Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, now that Putin not only ordered the annexation of a European democracy but has committed to a campaign of war crimes to accomplish it. Putin has been a favorite of the American far-right for his nationalist policies, his contempt for human rights, and of course, his ability to govern as a "strong" autocrat who dispenses with his own political opposition using whichever tools of the state are most convenient. The admiration turned mainstream once Donald Trump started praising him, and sucking up to him, for the same reasons.
Putin is the autocrat of the exact sort that the Republican right have demanded this country also install. We have all seen Sen. Ted Cruz's mocking of the "woke" American military compared to the testosterone-heavy recruiting ads of the (now proven incompetent) Russian army. We have years of history of the most highly connected Republicans working directly with pro-Russian oligarchs to destabilize Ukrainian democracy in exchange for either cash or "favors"—in the form of fraudulent claims and documents that can be used against Republican enemies here at home. Fox News' Tucker Carlson went from cheering for Putin to vaguely condemning him to speedily shifting into a top international promoter of Kremlin "biolab" propaganda intended to retroactively justify the invasion.
The party is a wreck on this. And speaking of wrecks, here's Marjorie Taylor Greene, coming out with the straight-fascist conspiracy take. It no longer even matters whether she herself believes these things to be true; she is either a willing purveyor of hoaxes or an unwilling one, and either should be sufficient grounds to remove her from office outright.
Marge Greene issues a statement tonight against help for Ukraine. Says both sides are at fault, the Ukraine govt only exists because of Obama, and Biden, Pelosi and Romney have financial interests in the country. pic.twitter.com/9Ra8VWpKsT
Greene punctuated her speech, which was delivered soon after Ukrainian President Zelenskyy's virtual address to Congress, with repeated claims that Ukraine is certain to lose to Putin—a claim that, at this point, few outside the Kremlin are still claiming. On the contrary, the Russian advance has stalled out amid devastating supply shortages, the Putin government is urgently asking China for Chinese-made weapons to replace what they have expended, and as it currently stands Russia has devoted 75% of its total offensive forces to an effort which may end the nation's claims of superpower status.
There surely cannot be anyone left in America who believes that Marjorie Taylor Greene, of all people, has put even ten minutes of serious thought into what should or should not happen in Ukraine. But the more central point is that she is not an outlier on this.
Which Republican lawmakers have been eager to adopt Rudy Giuliani-pushed hoaxes claiming that their Democratic enemies-of-the-moment were responsible for all sorts of subterfuge in Ukraine and that the Ukrainian government was in cahoots with those efforts? Nearly all of them! And not just a little, but to the point that Republican lawmakers were willing to repeat those claims as part of their justifications for nullifying a U.S. constitutional election on behalf of the liars who invented the theories.
Which Republican lawmakers stubbornly insisted that there was no foul done when Donald Trump held up weapons shipments to an at-war Ukraine in a flagrantly crooked attempt to extort the Zelenskyy government into publicly endorsing a hoax aimed at Trump's election opponent? All of them, save one Republican senator.
Many of those same Republicans are now on television feigning great outrage over President Biden's unwillingness to directly engage Russian aircraft in combat. The very same Republicans were using Greene's arguments during Trump's first impeachment trial to argue that Trump's one-person blockade of military aid to Ukraine during a time of war was of no great consequence.
The Greene position is the basest form of the Republican position, in that she is not clever enough to couch her demands in the doublespeak most politicians use to pretend at nuance. The Republican position on Ukraine is that whatever is happening is the fault of Democrats, the answer is to do the opposite of whatever Democrats want to do, and the actual outcome—whether a European democracy lives or dies—is irrelevant. The war only exists as attack line. It is important only to the extent that it can be used to pin Bad Things on the movement's domestic enemies.
There is no unified Republican Party "position" on the Russia-Ukraine war. There are only attacks. A few senators are using the war to demand that the supposedly cowardly Biden administration do more. House Republicans who have long expressed at least subtle admirations for Putin (aka, the Trump wing of the party) is demanding their Democratic enemies do less. And all of it is a complete afterthought, as the dominant Republican theme of the war centers itself around rising gas prices, and why those rising gas prices are not Vladimir Putin's fault but the fault of Joe Biden because ... something.
There's no unified Republican Party position on what ought to happen in Europe because Republicanism no longer has any measurable, identifiable ideology that would guide such a thing. It's chaos. Tucker is promoting top Kremlin conspiracies, Greene is demanding the United States cut off supplies and let Putin win, Sen. Lindsey Graham is daring the administration to get into a shooting war, Donald Trump is still praising Putin's supposed genius even as his military gets bogged down, literally, in soggy Ukrainian fields.
The only unified party position is that of the typical fascist movement; no matter what crisis hits, it is their domestic enemies who are responsible, claims that are supported by newly constructed hoaxes supposing all of it to have been manufactured so as to benefit the secret corruption of their enemies, and whether the crisis ends well or in abject disaster is of no consequence except as a tool for further demonizing those domestic enemies.
We saw this at the beginning of the pandemic when even the most basic of emergency precautions were opposed en masse by a Republican Party devoted instead to claims that every one of those medical precautions—from masks to public closures to vaccines—was a supposed assault on nationalist freedoms. We are seeing it now, as Republicans take to the airwaves to claim that Putin only invaded Ukraine because Joe Biden tricked him into it, or looked "weak" compared to President Hamburglar, or that Biden is doing too little to protect Ukrainians but is also doing too much, which means temporarily high gas prices are his fault, which means we should be easing sanctions on Putin, but we should also be taking Russian yachts, and in the background, Tucker continues to yell about "biolabs" with all the conviction of a dog barking at passing cars.
Republicanism has long passed the point at which it can respond to a real crisis with urgency—or even competence. It cannot distinguish between true crises and its own crafted delusions, and does not care to, and instead insists that incompetence in times of crisis is itself bold. When Donald Trump botched each and every aspect of the early pandemic response, due largely to his fixation on assigning such tasks to incompetent, suck-up underlings, those failures became a newly invented ideology to rally around. No masks! No public safety measures! Testing is for cowards!
Republicanism is now obsessively a movement devoted to attacking the movement's own domestic enemies, and there is no ideology or policy that takes precedent over that. Greene is acting on reflex, but it is the reflex that the party base now demands of every one of its politicians. Anyone who can't handle the job, like Rep. Liz Cheney, is declared an enemy.
Putin is targeting and slaughtering civilians in a brutal unprovoked war against Ukraine, a sovereign democratic nation. Only the Kremlin and their useful idiots would call that “a conflict in which peace agreements have been violated by both sides.” pic.twitter.com/Ld9WomOStd
Putin is doing the world a small favor in demonstrating that an autocratic government consisting of a single Dear Leader who surrounds himself with toadying yes-men and who cares not a damn about corruption—so long as it is corruption that benefits himself and his allies—will eventually hollow out their state to the point it becomes nonfunctional. This is not a lesson any of these Republicans will learn, as they demand the United States be recrafted into a similar one-party state that frees their own Dear Leader to violate laws at will and without consequence.
They won't learn from it because the party exclusively picks incompetent would-be autocrats to rise up their ranks while scrubbing out anyone with even the slightest bit of expertise. The rest of us, though, need to be watching closely.
Romney, often touted as center-right, moderate, or simply the voice of reason in the Republican Party, has been engaged in some extreme commentary and behavior of late.
He blamed the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the Trump-touted concept of ‘America First.’
“Putin’s impunity predictably follows our tepid response to his previous horrors in Georgia and Crimea, our naive efforts at a one-sided ‘reset,’ and the shortsightedness of ‘America First,’” said Romney.
He also engaged in truly extreme rhetoric, the likes of which you’d expect to hear “The View” or CNN, rather than a supposedly level-headed member of Congress, when he accused decorated Iraq War veteran and former Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard of being a Russian asset and spreading “treasonous lies.”
Tulsi Gabbard is parroting false Russian propaganda. Her treasonous lies may well cost lives.
The New York Times usually wins the awards for the worst, shallowest political coverage most driven by the imperative of normalizing Republican extremism and attacking Democrats. But Washington Post White House Bureau Chief Ashley Parker has dropped in with a doozy of an entry. She’s taken the serious problem of a brutal war and how the United States can respond without risking a broader and even more devastating war, and making it all about the optics.
It’s appalling that she would write that war-news-as-fashion-analysis sentence,* and it’s worse that this is the sentence she was proud to use to represent her story in the tweet. “Look how clever I am,” that tweet screams. “Aren’t I just at the pinnacle of my profession?” Which, sure, given that her specific profession is the kind of media that caused every other reporter in the White House press briefing room on Wednesday to ask Press Secretary Jen Psaki the exact same question—not because they expected her answer would change, but so their networks would have their own reporters on video asking the same not very interesting question.
President Joe Biden’s comments, Parker wrote, “at times took on an almost defensive tone,” a total flipping mystery of an observation in a story blatantly aimed at putting Biden on the defensive. Parker then goes on to offer three-plus paragraphs of concrete actions Biden has taken to support Ukraine and attempt to get Russia to back away from war before writing, “But since the actual war between Russia and Ukraine began three weeks ago, Biden and his European counterparts have articulated no clear end game, and Wednesday’s Biden-Zelensky juxtaposition offered something of a split screen, with the U.S. president and his team trying to explain why the administration was falling short on meeting Zelensky’s stirring request.”
They’re not trying to explain why they’re falling short. They’re explaining why a U.S.-imposed no-fly zone would be a very bad idea—and even many Republicans committed to attacking Biden agree on that point, though many are urging him to send fighter jets, a move Psaki explained would cross the line from providing defensive weapons to sending offensive ones. As Psaki also said, “If we were President Zelenskyy, we would be asking for everything possible as well, and continuing to ask for it.” Zelenskyy is doing what he should be doing as the leader of his country. Biden’s job is to lead this country, and as long as there is any other possible option, that means avoiding war with Russia.
About Republicans, by the way: Parker quotes two of them—Sens. Ben Sasse and Susan Collins—urging the administration to send fighter jets. What she doesn’t do is what should be mandatory every time a Republican who was in office in 2020 is quoted on Ukraine: Describe how they voted on the impeachment of Donald Trump for withholding nearly $400 million of military aid and public shows of support from Ukraine and Zelenskyy while Trump engaged in a pressure campaign aimed at getting Zelenskyy help him harm Biden’s political prospects.
In a reasonable media environment, one does not get to go from defending the withholding of aid to demanding the immediate, not fully considered, provision of an entirely new category of powerful military equipment without facing some serious questions about one’s partisan motives. But as Ashley Parker went all in on showing us with this story, this is not a reasonable media environment.
* To be clear, fashion analysis is an important thing when done well. In this case, it was embarrassingly misplaced. Because it was shallow, unserious fashion analysis, it added to the overall offense of this article.