Parnas, Bolton, and the Impeachment Mess

The Democrats in the House of Representatives had some very compelling testimony and documentary evidence from credible witnesses when they impeached President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and since the news has been full of interviews and documents and surreptitious video recordings that seem to bolster their case. For now the president and his defenders would prefer the public not hear about it during the impeachment trial.
Two relevant witnesses who did not testify in the House but are very much in the news lately are former national security advisor John Bolton and a fellow named Lev Parnas, a Russian-born American citizen and associate of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani who is currently under federal indictment for funneling Russian and other foreign campaign contributions to Republican candidates. Both are problematic for the president’s defense.
Parnas and his lawyer have gone on two cable news networks to describe how he assisted Giuliani’s efforts on the president’s behalf to extort the Ukrainian government’s help in smearing potential Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden, which is basically what all this impeachment brouhaha is about. He’s undeniably a shady character, being an associate of Giuliani and under indictment for funneling foreign money to Republican candidates and all, and Trump has said he doesn’t even the know the guy, but at this point we’re inclined to believe him than the President of the United States.
Presidents get their pictures taken with a lot of people, but the news media have come up with a lot of pictures of Trump and his sons and administration officials looking very chummy with Parnas, and Giuliani admits that Parnas and fellow indictee Igor Fruman were involved in his efforts on Trump’s behalf to get dirt on Biden from the Ukrainian government. Parnas has also handed over to the news media some surreptitiously taken audio tape that clearly shows Trump knew him well enough to host him at a dinner in Trump’s swank Washington hotel’s restaurant, and to share some laughs with him about ousting the Ambassador to Ukraine, which is one of the very suspicious subplots in this impeachment drama.
Bolton, who has reportedly written a soon-to-be-published tell-all book alleging that Trump did indeed demand the quid pro quo deal with the Ukrainians that Trump is accused of in the articles of impeachment, is another problem. He’s got a lucrative book deal, and after his rude defenestration from the Trump administration while this Ukraine business was going down he’s arguably a disgruntled former employee, but if he’s called to testify under oath before the Senate he’ll bring both a begrudging credibility from the right and a newfound respect from the left. Trump can’t credibly claim to hardly know the guy, as he once entrusted Bolton with the job of national security advisor, and they’ve been photographed together a gazillion times, and Bolton got the job because he was once a hero of the erstwhile Republican party’s most hawkish foreign policy wing. The liberals hated him for that, even if it brought him into conflict with Trump’s Russia-friendly and post-war world order policies, but if Bolton keeps a promise to honor a Senate subpoena and says what he’s expected to say, and what his book reportedly says he wrote, the liberals will dearly love him for that.
All the polls show the viewing public will disappointed if such intriguing characters in this his reality show aren’t given sufficient camera time, which is a problem for the Republicans, who had once hoped to dismiss the charges without any bother of witnesses and testimony. Recent news reports indicate a sufficient-for-a-majority number of four Republican Senators and maybe even as many ten will join all of the Democrats in a vote to allow witnesses and evidence in the trial, which will likely make it much harder for any of them to justify a vote for Trump’s acquittal.
On the other hand, Trump could call to the stand Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and moonlighting Office of Management and Budget director and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump attorney Giuliani, along with everyone else in the administration that’s been implicated in the mess, and let them clear up this whole whole mess up with their sworn testimony. He could also have his crack legal team and Senate allies call back to the stand the respected ambassador to Ukraine that he removed and the ambassador appointed by his Secretary of State to her succeed her and the respected military man and Purple Heart recipient and the million-dollar Trump donor who testified against Trump in the House impeachment hearings.
For whatever reason, though, Trump would prefer you just take his word for it that he did nothing wrong.

— Bud Norman

When There’s No Getting Over It

Ambassador William Taylor spent 10 hours testifying to a House oversight committee on Tuesday about the Ukraine brouhaha, and by the time it was over President Donald Trump and his apologists needed yet another new defense.
Ever since a “whistleblower” report alleged that Trump had sought election help from the Ukrainian president during negotiations over aid and arms sales Trump and his defenders have insisted it was “fake news” and even if it did happen there was no quid pro quo, which does not let them off the hook for illegally soliciting foreign influence in American election, but doesn’t sound as bad,┬áso it’s no big deal. In fact, the president insists, the phone call was “perfect.”
Since then both friendly and hostile witnesses have testified, texts have been released, and all of it made it sure like that there had indeed been a quid pro quo, even if no one was careless enough to use the term. It didn’t help when White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told a news conference that Trump did indeed withhold help to Ukraine unless it agreed to investigate a possible Democratic presidential nominee, adding that “we do it all the time — get over it,” or when Gordon Sondland, the big bucks Trump donor was tabbed as Ambassador to the European Union without any diplomatic experience, testified about his involvement in what sure sounded like a quid pro quo.
Taylor’s testimony the defense even harder to sell. A West Point graduate and a veteran of the Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq wars with an unblemished record of service to both Democratic and Republican administration over the past 50 years, he’ll be hard to smear as an America-hating “deep state” operative, but Trump tried that with war hero and respected public servant Robert Mueller, so maybe they’ll try it again.
Along with his stellar reputation Taylor brought documents and notes and other evidence to back up his account, which pretty damning to Trump. He was acting ambassador to Ukraine during that disputed phone call, and he describes how Sondland and soon-departing Energy Secretary Rick Perry and envoy and longtime Trump loyalist Kurt Volcker were running an “irregular” foreign policy with Ukraine that worked against longstanding principles of the United States government. He also testified that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and two of his recently indicted-and-jailed associates were also involved in gaining political help from the Ukrainians, and had undermined well-regarded and soon removed Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch because they saw her as an impediment to a possible deal.
Trump will continue to chant his “no quid pro quo” mantra, if only to calm himself, but at this point his best defense is probably “So what?” He might as well come right out and reiterate that “We do it all the time — get over it,” as his die-hard fans don’t seem to mind. He’s already selling “Get over it” t-shirts at his campaign’s web site, and we expect to see a lot of them at the next Make America Great Again rally.

— Bud Norman

Only the Very Best People, Trump Style

President Donald Trump frequently vowed during his improbably successful campaign that he would hire only the very best people, rather than the “political hacks” that he accused the past several administrations of picking, but so far it’s a promise he’s had much trouble keeping. On Wednesday alone there were four more problematic front page stories about Trump’s old and recent hires.
The most prominent story featured Admiral Ronny Jackson, Trump’s pick to replace his previous pick to head the vast and troubled Veterans Affairs Administration. Jackson has been the non-controversial White House physician since President George W. Bush’s administration, and won Trump’s admiration with a suspiciously effusive report about the current president’s health, which anew seems to have added an inch to Trump’s height and taken off a few pounds of his weight, but critics in both parties immediately argued that’s hardly a qualification to run a complex and long screwed-up bureaucracy with 370,000 employees spread out over all 50 states.
That was before more than 20 active and retired military personnel started telling Congress that Jackson’s management style in his much, much smaller office is abusive and demoralizing, that he tends to get inebriated at inopportune times, and hands out sleeping pills and wake-up potions so freely that he’s known around the White House as “The Candy Man.” After that Trump told the press he’d told Jackson that he’d fully understand why Jackson might decide to withdraw his nomination rather than face such scurrilous accusations and “be abused by a bunch of politicians who aren’t thinking nicely about our country,” and after the press seized on that Trump insisted he was sticking his by man. After that Jackson told the inquisitive press corps he would answer all the allegations at the confirmation hearings, but the latest report from The Washington Post has him telling his friends that he might withdraw from the nomination before those postponed hearings get underway.
If he’s not at all the mean and drunk Dr. Feelgood that more than 20 current and retired military personnel describe, we’d advise the telegenic Jackson to forthrightly answer their allegations at the confirmation hearings, and then admit that there’s bound to be somebody in a nation of more than 330 million people who’s better suited to cleaning up the Augean stables sort of mess that has been piling up at the VA over the past several administrations.
Just below that headline is the ongoing tale of Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, and after the Jackson story inevitably fades into the distance that will regain prominence. Cohen has publicly admitted that one of the “fixes” he did for Trump was making a $130,000 payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to stop talking about a sexual encounter she claims she had with Trump not long after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and it looks as if he made a similar arrangement with a Playboy centerfold model through Trump’s friends at The National Enquirer, which has recently settled it’s own case. Because that all happened while Trump was running for president and involved some suspicious bank transfers he recently had his office and home and hotel room raided by agents from the Justice Department’s southern New York district, which was the big story a while back. The latest update is that Cohen intends to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the ensuing investigation.
Cohen has every right to do so, and Trump and his apologists will argue he has good reason given the vast Deep State conspiracy out to get him, but back when the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices during the campaign they had a different view of the long forgotten Clinton campaign’s information technology guys who pled the Fifth. Even erstwhile “chief strategist” for the Trump campaign and administration Steve “tweeted” Trump’s past statements about how only mobsters take the Fifth, and there’s no shortage of audiotape of Trump’s talk radio defenders saying the same thing. Invoking Fifth Amendment rights seems a sound legal move for Cohen, which we’ll ascribe to the presumably more capable lawyers he’s hired, but it doesn’t do much to help with Trump’s political problems.
Cohen was also involved with Trump’s efforts to build one of his branded Trump Towers in the Russian capital of Moscow, negotiations for which were ongoing during a campaign when Trump was promising the American electorate he had no deals in Russia, and was on board during all sorts of suspicious meetings between the Trump campaign and various Russians, so of course all the information seized from his office and home and hotel room are bound to be of interest to the special counsel investigation into that even more problematic “Russia thing.”
Meanwhile, although it’s less titillating, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt is headed to Congressional hearings amid criticism from both parties. The left hates Pruitt for reigning in the agency’s zealous overregulation, but although even such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves appreciate there’s a bipartisan concern about the way Pruitt lives high on the taxpayer dollar with first class tickets and traffic-stopping motorcades and $43,000 soundproof booths straight out of “Get Smart,” and a sweetheart apartment deal he got from some lobbyists. Stalwart Republican and fellow Oklahoman Sen. James Inhofe said he has been pleased by Pruitt “rolling back regulations and restoring EPA to its proper size and scope, but these latest reports are new to me. While I have no reason to believe them, they are concerning and I think we should hear directly from Administrator Pruitt about them.”
Deeper in the news, interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Mick Mulvaney boastfully told a meeting of bank executives that as a South Carolina congressman he had a strict policy of never meeting with an out-of-state lobbyist until a significant campaign contribution had been paid. The CFPB was created during President Barack Obama’s administration by Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and bunch of other far-left types to protect consumers from predatory banks, and there are sound Republican reasons for reducing its size and scope, but a guy who openly brags to bankers about he’s open for business probably isn’t the best choice for the job.
And that’s just Wednesday’s headlines. Already long forgotten are the reality star who ran the communications department, the guy who didn’t get to replace her because of a profanity-laden rant to a New Yorker writer, the national security advisor who’s since pleaded guilty to perjury charges, the former campaign chairman under indictment for a whole lot of “Russia thing” stuff, the recently little-seen son-in-law in charge of everything from the opioid crisis to Middle East peace and reinventing government, and so many others that Rachel Maddow giggles uncontrollably whenever the list of small type departures fills the screen on her MSNBC show. Not to mention all the past employees of the New Jersey General and Trump Airlines and Trump Casinos and Trump University and numerous other failed Trump enterprises who didn’t prove the very best people.
Which is not to say that Crooked Hillary would have done any better at draining the swamp, which Trump and all of his apologists will surely note, but still.

— Bud Norman