Just another day in the impeachment news

Today in impeachment news:

via The Boston Globe – Nov. 21st, 2019

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The New Yorker’s Interpreter newsletter reminds us today of the basic charge that is at the heart of Trump’s efforts to force Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, past (2016 election) and present (Joe Biden): Corruption.

And it provides an interesting definition of what corruption is: theft of the value of a decision. “When someone is supposed to be acting on behalf of an institution, but instead acts on behalf of themselves, they prevent the institution they serve from getting the full value of their choices,” write Max Fisher and Amanda Taub.

Theft of the value of a decision.

They point out that the college admissions scandal is a good example: The coaches whom the parents bribed to get their kids admitted made decisions that benefited themselves and the rich families instead of the universities they were supposed to be serving.

In the public sphere, every resident of the US relies on government officials, especially the president, to make decisions in their interest and that of society in general. In the Trump case, foreign aid furthers US policy goals — a thing of value. And Trump “stands accused of trying to steal that value for himself.”

No more witnesses today as Republicans retreat to their caves to lick their wounds after Russia expert Fiona Hill deftly and authoritatively smashed their Ukraine 2016 election interference nonsense during her testimony yesterday.

“Based on questions and statements I’ve heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country and that perhaps somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that is being perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.

“The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies, confirmed in bipartisan congressional reports. It is beyond dispute, even if some of the underlying details must remain classified.

“I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternative narrative that the Ukrainian government is a US adversary and that Ukraine — not Russia — attacked us in 2016.”

Less noticed was how easily she swatted away the GOP’s favorite “evidence” of Ukrainian “interference:” a few criticisms of then-candidate Trump written or voiced by the Ukrainian ambassador to the US, a member of the Ukraine Parliament, etc. She pointed out that lots of officials of other countries had criticized Trump, both before and after the election, and he hasn’t accused any of them of trying to “take him down.” Only Ukraine.

“There’s a whole host of ambassadors from allied countries who tweeted out or had public comments about the president as well,” she said. “And it did not affect security assistance, having meetings with them. If it did, there’d have been a lot of people he wouldn’t have met.”

She made another salient point: She had never briefed Trump on Ukraine during the first two years of his term because he didn’t show any interest in the country. But as we now know, it became his laser focus when former VP Joe Biden entered the presidential race and Trump found out that Biden’s son Hunter had been on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. And so a conspiracy was born.

BTW, Russian President Vladimir Putin is loving this. He’s the one pushing the “It wasn’t us, it was Ukraine” propaganda that Trump and his fellow Republicans have so eagerly embraced. Earlier this week in Moscow, Putin said, “Thank God, no one is accusing us of interfering in the US elections anymore. Now they’re accusing Ukraine.”

Hill also had the perfect phrase to describe what EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland was doing on Trump’s orders: “a domestic political errand.” Not sure how Gordo feels about being characterized as an errand boy, but it fits, doesn’t it?
So what’s next? The Intelligence Committee could call more witnesses, but it looks like it’s going to join with the other investigatory committees — Foreign Affairs and Oversight — to write a report that could be given to the Judiciary Committee soon after Thanksgiving. Judiciary can hold more hearings; at some point that committee would write articles of impeachment for a vote by the full House.

One question hovering over the potential articles of impeachment: Will Democrats stick exclusively to the Ukraine affair, or also include the 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice outlined in Robert Mueller’s report? Looking back on those, it’s pretty remarkable to review what Trump did to try to stop the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

He asked then-FBI director James Comey to drop the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who had talked to Russians about sanctions during the presidential transition period. (Comey didn’t.) He later fired Comey, citing the Russia investigation as the reason.

He told the White House lawyer at the time, Don McGahn, to order the acting AG to fire Mueller, and later told McGahn to lie about what Trump told him. (McGahn didn’t do either.) Trump and his son lied about the reason for that Trump Tower meeting with Russians. (They said it was about adoptions; it actually was about dirt on Hillary Clinton). He dangled a pardon in front of his indicted former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, in an effort to get him to clam up during his trial. (Manafort did. He’s currently in prison, waiting for that pardon.)

You can read more about Mueller’s obstruction findings here.

Not that I want to ruin the end of your weekend, but CNN is airing a show at 9 p.m. Sunday that pretty much sums up the Trump presidency: “All the President’s Lies.
Meanwhile, Trump apparently is ripping off the Secret Service for hundreds of thousands of dollars to enrich himself by charging the agency exorbitant rates whenever its agents accompany Trump to his many, many visits to his own golf resorts.

The Washington Post reports that records obtained via an open-records lawsuit by the group Property of the People shows that the Secret Service paid more than $250,000 to Trump’s private businesses in just the first five months of his presidency.

If that has continued at the same rate since then, then the Secret Service alone has paid him close to $3 million.

As the Post points out, Trump set up an extraordinary arrangement when he became president: He kept ownership of his businesses, and then visited them repeatedly, bringing along aides and security officials and charging the government for what they bought, be that hotel rooms, meals, golf fees — everything.

The Post quotes Ryan Shapiro, the executive director of Property of the People, as saying that the figures show that Trump “views the American public as a bunch of marks waiting to be fleeced. Due to his overt self-dealing and refusal to divest from his sprawling business empire, Donald Trump has turned the American presidency into a racket.”
Trump has started sending asylum-seekers from Honduras and El Salvador to Guatemala under a new “safe country” agreement that lets the US turn away those seeking protection and send them instead to a nearby country. In this case, it’s Guatemala, where Physicians for Human Rights says refugees will continue to face threats and violence.
He’s also started the process of grabbing privately owned land along the Mexican border for his wall, sending letters to dozens of residents in California, New Mexico, and Texas notifying them that the government is going to survey their land. Watch for a ton of lawsuits

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