Pompeo vs. National Public Radio

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is having a nasty spat with a National Public Radio reporter named Mary Louise Kelly, and we’re sure that President Donald Trump and his most ardent admirers are loving it. The true Trump believers despise pretty much all media except for Fox News and the Sinclair Network and their favorite talk radio talkers, and have a special disdain for such fancy-pants and know-it-all outlets as NPR, so they love seeing those pesky reporters being treated rudely.
Since the age of 19 we’ve been involved in some journalism pursuit or another, and that’s been such a long, long time we’ve become inured to a certain amount of press-bashing. There was no way of avoiding someone’s anger when we covered Wichita’s divisive anti-abortion protests and pro-abortion rights counter-protests back in the ’90s, and even though we’d been interns in the office of Sen. Bob Dole and always voted for him he tried to score some points by lashing out at us, and no matter how meticulously we balanced the Republican and Democratic arguments in our coverage of ant campaign we always got hateful letters from one side or the other and usually both.
Although we well understand the conservative complaint that most of the press leans toward liberalism, and have made that case in countless editorial meetings and internet essays, but that nasty spat between Pompeo and Kelly seems another example of how it’s gone too far. We voted for Pompeo every time he ran for Kansas’ fourth district House seat, but we’ve lost a lot of respect for him since then, and in this case it appears he’s being dishonest and dodging legitimate questions and losing his temper in a way that Secretaries of State should never do.
It all started during a long-scheduled interview when Kelly asked Pompeo about the firing of Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, which is an important matter in the current impeachment trial of Trump, and Pompeo replied that “I agreed to come to on your show today to talk about Iran,” then angrily answered follow-up questions by insisting that he’d defended all State Department employees, and according to NPR he then “stood, leaned and silently glared at Kelly for several seconds before leaving the room.”
By NPR’s account, a few moments later Kelly was called into Pompeo’s private living room at the State Department, where he shouted at her for asking questions about Ukraine, which he insisted had not been agreed to when scheduling the interview. Kelly said Pompeo shouted “Do you think the American people care about Ukraine?,” with Kelly adding that he’d used the “f-word” a couple of times during the tirade. She also said Pompeo dared her to find Ukraine on a map with no names.
When NPR reported this, Pompeo charged that they’d violated a journalistic oath to keep the second conversation off the record. A later Pompeo statement called it “another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump and this administration.”
NPR is indeed a left-leaning news organization, and they have that annoying soft-spoken and haughty-sounding way of broadcasting that always grates on our ears, but their account of the matter seems more true to our experienced eyes, and they don’t just make stuff up the way the Trump administration does. Both Iran and Ukraine are matters of public interest that any experienced journalist would want to talk about with the Secretary of State, and we can’t imagine that the seasoned Kelly and her seasoned producers would have agreed to leave Ukraine out of the interview. Kelly didn’t bring a microphone into Pompeo’s personal living room, but according the the rules of the journalism game that’s not the same as agreeing to go off the record, and we can’t imagine Kelly doing that. Pompeo confirmed the part about daring Kelly to find Ukraine on the map when he “tweeted” that “Ukraine is not Bangladesh,” but we can’t imagine that a woman with a Master’s degree in European studies from Cambridge University who has also extensively reported from south Asia would make that glaring mistake.
We can far more easily imagine that Pompeo was simply in no mood to answer any questions from a pesky reporter about the arguably impeachable Ukraine matter, which he’s up to his neck in and keeps looking worse with each passing day of audio and video recordings and other evidence in the hated mainstream media, and he became, for lack of a better word, unhinged, and in a way that Secretaries of State should never do. By now lashing out at anyone who asks a question rather than answering it is either a feature or a bug of the Trump administration, depending on your point of view. He was mostly well-hinged back when he had the relatively easy job of being Kansas’ fourth district congressman, with only the decimated Kansas media and its mostly Republican audience to contended with, but he lately seems under more stress.
The die-hard fans will continue to love the administration’s robust resistance to hated media, and believe they’re just speaking truth to power, but the rest of the country will want to some hear honest answers to the pesky but quite reasonable questions that are being asked of the people who are actually in power.

— Bud Norman

A Good Day to Be in Switzerland

President Donald Trump spent the first day of his impeachment trial with all the global big wigs annually gathered in Davos, Switzerland, boasting about his unprecedented accomplishments and threatening trade wars against longtime allies and trading partners. Meanwhile, back in the states, the Republicans and the Democrats were bickering about how his impeachment trial should proceed.
The Republican position is that the whole deal is a witch hunt and a hoax and a farce and a mockery and a travesty a mockery of a travesty of justice, and that no evidence or testimony suggesting otherwise should even be considered, but that’s a hard sell to what remains of a center in a polarized electorate. The Democrats had some compelling evidence and testimony when they drew up their articles of impeachment in the House, more has been reported to the press and presented to the Congress since then, and there are a lot of people the viewing public would like to see and hear. The star-studded cast includes the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Energy and the White House chief of staff and a former national security advisor and Trump’s personal lawyer and a couple of his clients, so it’s hard to explain to a country where Trump has never won majority approval in any election or opinion poll why he doesn’t want an enrapt national television audience to hear their presumably exculpatory evidence and testimony.
This matters to a few Republican Senators running for reelection in iffy states, and a few others who are comfortably far enough away from reelection to vote on their old-fashioned Republican principles, which might yet outlast Trump, and thus the Republicans find themselves negotiating from a weakened position with the damned Democrats about what happens next. At one point, the Republicans reportedly floated the offer of allowing John Bolton to testify if they could also call Hunter Biden to the stand.
If you’re new to this riveting reality show, Bolton is one of Trump’s former national security advisors, and not the one awaiting sentence on felony convictions. He’s long been known as a Cold War hold-over and very hard-line security hawk, to the extent he was a controversial pick as President George W. Bush’s United Nations ambassador even among the old-school and internationalist Republican foreign policy establishment, and he was an even odder fit in the Trump administration. He was outspoken in his continued opposition to Russian aggression and support for the allies America had gained since its victory in the Cold War, and according to the sworn testimony of some of the witnesses called by the House he had described the administration’s dealings with Ukraine, which got Trump impeached, as a “drug deal” he wanted no part of.
Since then Bolton has been one of the many once-esteemed Republican foreign policy types defenestrated from the Trump administration, signed a lucrative deal for a presumably tell-all book, and gained a newfound respect from Democrats who once hated his Republican hawkishness but hope he’ll stay true to his stubborn Republican principle if he testifies. If so, he’ll be a more valuable witness to the Democrats than Hunter Biden will be to the Republicans.
To further catch up the new viewers in this this complicated plot, Hunter Biden is the son of former Vice President and current Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden, and he made a whole lot of money serving on the board of a Ukrainian company while his dad was in charge of America’s Ukrainian policy, and there’s no denying that looks bad. It looks so bad that one wonders why Trump be would be so stupid as to get himself impeached by withholding congressionally authorized to Ukraine in order to extort help in his reelection campaign, but Bolton’s testimony and the rest of the evidence might yet show that yeah, Trump is that stupid.
Neither Hunter Biden nor his dad have any relevant information to offer about whether Trump abused the powers of his office for personal gain and then obstructed congressional efforts to find out about it, which is the matter before the court, no matter what misdeeds they might have and probably did commit. The Republicans running this show are all old enough to remember “Perry Mason,” and might be hoping for that dramatic moment when one of the Bidens tearfully confesses that yes, they were guilty all along, and that it was the damned Democrats and Ukrainians who conspired to thwart Trump and American democracy.
We covered a lot of trials back in our newspaper days, though, and never witnessed such a “Perry Mason” moment. We’ve never seen a trial where the defense didn’t want to allow testimony and evidence from its presumably exculpatory witnesses, though, and over many years we’ve found that verdicts don’t always follow the facts. There’s no telling how this works out.

— Bud Norman

The Trials of the Centuries

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump has formally begun, with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swearing in the Senate as sworn impartial jurors, and thus far it’s the trial of this young century. In many troubling ways, it reminds us of The People v O.J. Simpson, which was the trial of the last century.
In case you’re blessedly too young to remember, we should explain that Simpson was a Heisman Trophy-winning running back at the University of Southern California who went on to set several National Football League records with the Buffalo Bills, and then parlayed that and his good looks and congenial public image into lucrative careers as a rental car pitchman and sports announcer and sometime movie actor and household name. When he was charged with the brutal stabbing murders of his glamorous ex-wife and a handsome young waiter she’d been seeing, it was a very big deal.
When the story first broke that the ex-wife of a B-list celebrity had been murdered it got little play in most newspapers, but we had a very savvy editor at the paper where we worked and he put it on the front page, as he’d been around long enough to know that ex-husbands are usually a prime suspect in a murder case and that readers are suckers for sordid stories about even B-list celebrities. We spent countless hours of our newspaper’s time following every detail that came over the wires, right up to desultory climax, and are still watching Simpson grow old and the story plays out to its ultimate tragicomic ending.
Everything that was reported in the papers and admitted as evidence and testimony in a court of law pointed to Simpson’s guilt. He was previously convicted on two occasions of violence against his ex-wife, his blood was found at the murder scene and her blood was found in his car, there was a very rare glove found at the murder scene and testimony from the glove-maker that one of them was bought by Simpson’s then-wife at Christmas time, and after Simpson led the police on a highly-rated low-speed flee from justice the best alibi he had to offer was ludicrously weak.
None of which made any difference in the outcome. Simpson is black, his ex-wife and her reputed boyfriend were white, and in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots that mattered more to most of black America. The trial judge allowed the defense to argue a conspiracy by the same justice system that had let Simpson off lightly for domestic abuse conviction, and when one of the detectives was caught lying about the using the “n word” most of black America had made up its mind. The trial judge also allowed the defense to argue that Simpson’s ex-wife might have been killed by a Colombian drug that gang that mistook her for another blonde who had a thousand dollar or so cocaine debt, and most of black America seized on that improbable explanation.
The the trial was held in the mostly black district of downtown Los Angeles, rather than the upscale white suburb where the murder occurred, and the “not guilty” verdict was expected.
We were friends with both of the two black men in the newsroom at the time, and usually enjoyed our talks about sports and inter-office gossip and the rest of the news of the day during coffee breaks and other downtime, but the Simpson trial strained relationships. Both of our friends were highly intelligent and well educated and quite competent journalists who tended to look at things a with dispassionate objectivity, yet despite all the evidence neither was willing to concede even the possibility that Simpson was guilty as charged.
They had their reasons, we must admit. American justice has indeed imprisoned a lot of innocent black people, and imprisoned a lot more guilty black people fo longer sentences than they eserved, and Simpson was just the sort of black celebrity icon the man would want to bring down. We can see how these convoluted conspiracy theories were more compelling than the clearly evident facts of the case.
This time around Trump is on trial, and once again tribal allegiances seem more important than the clearly evident facts of the case. In one of those twists of fate one should by now come to expect it is highly intelligent and well educated and rapidly aging and increasingly outnumbered white men who are ignoring all the clearly evident facts of the case to will stick by their man. Trump stands accused of abusing his executive powers by withholding congressionally authorized aid to beleaguered ally Ukraine to extort political help against a Democrat party rival, and then obstructing Congress’ constitutional authority to look into it, and so far all the -press reports and sworn testimony and admitted by court documentary evidence indicates that, yeah, Trump did that.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the moonlighting White House chief of staff and Officer of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton might and Attorney General William Barr and private Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani might offer some exculpatory testimony, but for some suspicious reason Trump is barring them from doing so. The fans don’t mind it a bit, and will hope for as little information as possible so long as it ends in an eventual acquittal.
They have their reasons, too. Those damned Democrats are indeed a bossy bunch, and might well prove the ruination of our great country if given a chance. Relatively wealthy white men are also under rhetorical assault from the mainstream media and popular culture, and at least the stock market is up and Trump is appointing conservative judges and getting pro football players to stop kneeling during the national anthem.
So what if Trump did what he’s accused of doing in his impeachment trial, as all the evidence clearly indicates? Given how awful the damn Democrats are we can understand why most Republicans still think they deserve to lose. As guilty of murder as Simpson obviously was, we can well understand why some people had less faith in American justice, We try our best to be objective and non-partisan and not all racist about these things, and instead proceed with the established facts of the matter. In both trials of the past two centuries we’ve found the defendant guilty as all get-out, but for reasons having nothing to do with the facts of the case Trump will also likely be found not guilty.
“Not guilty” doesn’t necessarily mean “innocent,” though, and history will eventually convict both Simpson and Trump, what with all those stubborn facts and the objectivity that tine affords. Chief Justice Roberts will likely run a better trial than the judge in the Simpson case did, but there will be all sorts of conspiracy theories and other distractions, and the eventual inevitable acquittal won’t satisfy anyone any more than Simpson’s did.
It should be a hit show, though, so we’ll stay tuned in.

— Bud Norman

The Impeachment Show Commences

The House of Representatives has formally forwarded articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate, and there’s no way of knowing comes next, except that it will be complicated and divisive and inconclusive and ultimately harmful to America’s international reputation.
At this point the betting line is that the slim Republican majority in the Senate, which includes some sometimes principled members in iffy states, won’t vote to summarily dismiss the charges when it comes up in a week or so, and even if they did it probably wouldn’t be the smart political play. Only so much of the viewing public is paying any attention, but most of those unwashed masses want to hear the story told by sworn witnesses and any e-mails or text massages or hand-written notes or other verifiable documents that might flesh out this fascinating tale.
There’s already enough of it in the press and sworn testimony before the House and other public records to make for a prima facie case to the Senate, and if Trump succeeds in not offering any defense he’ll look bad to objective observers, which currently seem to be a majority of the electorate. Since Trump was indicted by the House one of his personal lawyer’s currently indicted clients and associates has gone on cable television to further implicate Trump in the charges of impeachment, and even though he’s under indictment and there all sorts of other a reasons to doubt his credibility he’s also a a client and associate of Trump’s personal lawyer, who also seems tied up in this mess, and given his current legal situation he has good reason to be forthcoming and truthful under oath, which makes for another interesting plot twist in this ongoing Trump reality show.
If there’s going to be a trial with all those pesky witnesses, Trump and his Senate allies are hoping they’ll include Hunter Biden, the son of currently front Democratic presidential presidential frontrunner who was apparently cashing in on Ukrainian corruption, will be among them, along with any other witnesses who can be culled from the “deep state” conspiracy against Trump, The charges facing the Senate jury are that Trump and his administration withheld congressionally authorized aid to our ally Ukraine in exchange for damning charges against the Bidens, then obstructed Congress and the justice system at large from finding about it, but on that point of law both Bidens and any other “deep state” conspirators can believably testify they know nothing about it.
Trump will either be convicted or more likely be acquitted by a Senate trial, but in any case it won’t look good in the international or historical courts of opinion.

— Bud Norman

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Dueling Conspiracy Theories

As any right wing talk radio listener well knows, there’s a “deep state” conspiracy of intelligence and law enforcement officials, along with the legacy media and the Ukrainians, that’s been out to President Donald Trump since the day he announced his campaign. So far the conspirators haven’t been successful in their efforts, but at least they haven’t been caught.
An inspector general for the Department of Justice named Michael Horowitz was dispatched to expose the conspiracy’s efforts to launch a phony investigation of Russia’s alleged election meddling and spy on his campaign with informants and phone taps, but on Monday he issued a report concluding the investigation was based on solid evidence of wrongdoing rather than political bias and that no spying occurred. That won’t satisfy the die-hard Trump fans, though, and the conspiracy theorizing will continue.
Attorney General William Barr focused on the serious mistakes investigators had made in seeking a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, and reached his own conclusion “that the (Federal Bureau of Investigation) laughed an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.” He’s already launched another investigation led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, who took the unusual step of releasing a statement casting doubt on the inspector general’s report.
Perhaps Durham will be better luck exposing the conspiracy, but it won’t be easy. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, after all, and the “deep state” conspiracy theory makes some very extraordinary claims. All of America’s intelligence heads have confirmed that Russia ran a disinformation campaign hacked into Democratic party e-mail system and selectively leaked the most embarrassing missive, even the Trump appointees have confirmed the finding, as did a special counsel investigation that won an indictment of 13 Russians allegedly involved, and a bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence agency also agreed. So far no one’s come up with any evidence that Russia was blameless and it was Ukraine that did the meddling, or a even a reasonable explanation for why Ukraine would be hacking and leaking Democratic e-mails and planting internet pro-Trump internet trolls to get Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton elected.
Also hard to explain is why a presumably left-wing “deep state” conspiracy is still conspiring to get Vice President Mike Pence promoted. Perhaps Pence is on it, as are a number of hand-picked Trump appointees, but that’s another extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary proof.
At this point we not sure why Trump remains concerned about Russia’s meddling in the election, as it fizzled as an impeachment case and the die-hard fans don’t care if he was in on it, and it makes the Ukraine business look all the fishier, Our best guess is that Trump believes the die-hard fans will cling to the dangling possibility of Russia’s vindication also vindicating him, and neatly explain why he was heroically withholding congressional appropriated military from those nefarious Ukrainians, and that even if the House impeaches him none of the Republicans in the Senate would dare vote to remove him from office. That’s not a bad bet, as the die-hard fans have thus far proved willing to believe even Trump’s most extraordinary claims without any proof at all.
The strategy might not be sufficient by election day, however, as you have to be a pretty die-hard fan to believe any of it. If they’ve been paying any attention, all of the damned Democrats and most of those squishy independents and at least a few of us fed-up pre-Trump Republicans will conclude that Russia meddled on Trump’s behalf in the last election and intends to do so with Trump’s blessing next time around, that Trump withheld military aid from a country that is largely occupied with Russian troops, and that a president shouldn’t be doing such things.
Between the die-hard fans and all the people who aren’t paying any attention, and given the very strong possibility that the Democrats will again nominate an extraordinarily awful candidate, Trump still has a fighting chance. The unemployment rate is undeniably low despite his trade wars, even if they have hit the farming and manufacturing sectors Trump relies on particularly hard. No new wars have broken out, even if Trump has made a mess of the old ones in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan, and he’s lately having a scary lover’s spat with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. If his luck holds up, and his voters are optimally spread around the electoral map, it might not matter about what happened in such faraway places with such unfamiliar people as Ukraine and Russia.
There’s always an outside chance the Democrats won’t once again nominate someone too extraordinarily awful, however, and with the manufacturing sector in a technical recession and farm foreclosures on the rise and much of the relative economic boom going on in states and suburbs where Trump does not poll well there’s no telling how the economy will play come election day. The dictator Kim has lately threatened to once again call Trump a dotard if Trump ever calls him “Rocket Man,” and is further threatening a more belligerent stance during the upcoming election, and given the state of the world and America relationships with it there’s no telling what’s likely to come up by next November.
If Trump’s luck doesn’t hold up, as it didn’t during his career as a casino mogul, his impeachment by the House and acquittal despite clear evidence in the Senate will be a problem.

— Bud Norman

An Impeachment Spoiler Alert

The main problem with this impeachment inquiry storyline in President Donald Trump’s hit reality show is its predictability. On Thursday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed that her overwhelming Democratic House majority will soon vote to impeach the president, just as everyone expected from the outset, and although there are bound to be further plot twists that make Trump look bad it seems inevitable the slight Republican majority in the Senate will prevent Trump being removed from office.
Even so, we find it all quite riveting. If not for a vested interest in the future of the American republic, we might find downright hilarious.
For those of you who haven’t been following the complicated plot from its improbable beginnings, the gist of it is that Trump stands accused of abusing the powers of his office to coerce domestic political help from beleaguered ally Ukraine and then to cover it up by by defying congressional subpoenas and other illegal means, and all the sworn testimony and documentary evidence and the White House’s open defiance of congressional subpoenas indicate that he’s guilty as charged. The Republicans are trying to counter-program with a story about how the Ukrainians are the bad the guys, not the Russians who have invaded their country, and how all the damned Democrats and their witnesses and documents are in on it, but the problem with that storyline is its improbability.
At the risk of spoiling the plot, we expect Trump and his apologists will eventually confess to everything and shrug their shoulders in a “So what?” motion and that the argument will win enough support in a Republican Senate to keep him in office. The testimony that Trump is blocking from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security advisor John Bolton and former White Counsel Don McGahn and especially current Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and one of his recently indicted associates might move public opinion, and their lack of testimony won’t look at all good who’s paying careful attention, but the Democrats are in such a holiday rush to get this over before the early presidential primaries that they won’t have time to sway a distracted public’s attention.
At the moment there’s a significant portion of the country, even a majority according to many polls, that favor Trump’s removal from office and have from pretty much since the day he was sworn in. There’s also a sizable percentage that consider Trump even greater than President Abraham Lincoln, and will say “So what?” about anything Trump does. Most of the country doesn’t seem to be paying much attention, as with the holidays coming up they’ve got other things to do than watch the news, and Trump is hoping that come next November his support is sufficiently spread out around the electoral map to keep him in office and immune from prosecution for another four years.
That’s the obvious post-Christmas next chapter of this desultory tale, and as improbable as it is at least it’s unpredictable. We don’t much like Trump or any of these damned Democratic candidates, and are trying to retain our faith in objective reality and Constitutional principles, so we don’t expect any Christmas miracles.

— Bud Norman

The Winds of Trade War and Impeachment

President Donald Trump will spend today at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit, and it will likely be an comfortable affair for all involved.
The summit is in London, where Trump has not been a welcome guest during his past two visits, and he’s expected to further publicly and bluntly harangue the allies about how much they’re spending on defense, and many of the allies will more privately and politely but forcefully express their differences with his policies regarding Turkey and Syria and Russia and Ukraine and other matters. One of those matters will surely be Trump’s ongoing trade wars with pretty much everybody.
Before jetting off Trump announced punitive tariffs on industrial metals from Brazil and Argentina for their alleged currency manipulations, and issued a threat of up to 100 percent tariffs on NATO member France’s wine and cheese and cosmetics and other fancy French product, apparently in retaliation for passing an internet tax law Trump thinks unfair to American businesses. This comes as Trump continues his brinksmanship with the ruthless dictator running the very importantly enormous Chinese economy, and Trump will probably spend part of his trip publicly grousing about how the European automobile industries are cheating America’s workers.
Trump will continue to boast about how America is once again respected around the world, as the country at long last has a wised-up leader and we’re no longer anybody’s sucker, but it clearly hasn’t helped America’s reputation as a good global neighbor. The military and trade political alliances that have a fairly good job of sustaining peace and prosperity in the post-World War II epoch are strained, and Trump and everyone else seem to be planning for a post-Pax Americana world.
Nor does it seem to have yielded any tangible economic results. The brinksmanship with the ruthless dictator in control of China’s very consequentially huge economy hurtles toward an inevitable brink, none of those greatest trade deals ever have yet been sealed, and so far even the rather minor revisions to the re-branded North American Free Trade Agreement haven’t been ratified by any of the three governments involved. The economy continues to grow at the same 2 percent or so it did back in the bad old days of President Barack Obama, and the stock markets were hitting record highs not so very long ago, but that seems to be in spite of rather than because of Trump’s policies.
The smart money on the stock markets seems to agree, here and around the world, as all the indexes dipped precipitously after his latest trade war escalations, as they always do whenever he does that. This time around the dip was also driven by yet another report on Trump’s beloved manufacturing, which continues for yet another quarter at negative growth. The markets usually recover when Trump announces light at the end of the tunnel and peace with honor, and Trump’s fans stick with him through thick and thin, and even if the allies have no respect for Trump they’re fearful of and dependent on America and usually only object ever so politely, but we worry that it can’t go on forever.
The smart money on Wall Street and all those funny-sounding foreign exchanges is hedging its bets, all those Euro-weenie leaders will be ganging on up on Trump in London, where he’ll need extra security just to get back to the fancy hotel, and those wily Chinese seem unfazed by Trump’s mastery of the deal. They all follow American politics, and know that there’s an impeachment and it’s going badly enough that polls show half the country wants Trump out of office now, and that will likely complicate all his dealings with foreign leaders, no matter how that turns out.
Trump fans love it when he feuds with those Euro-weenies and wily Chinese and the smart money on Wall Street and the “fake news” media and the damned Democrats and all of the rest of the rascals in the globalist “deep state” conspiracy, but we doubt they’re tired of winning yet. The farmers are getting welfare checks that don’t quite make up for the honest money they used to make on the global market, the factory workers are losing jobs in a sinking sector hard-hit by Trump’s steel tariffs, and we worry some damned Democrat and self-proclaimed socialist such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders might convince them they’ve played for the world’s biggest suckers.
Although it’s hard to imagine a happy outcome, we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

Draining the Ukrainian Swamp

President Donald Trump’s strongest defense of his decision to withhold congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine, which is the basis of the impeachment inquiry against him that renews this week, is that he was trying to get the country to clean up its undeniable problem with political corruption. According to a report from The Washington Post the ploy seems to have worked, but not the way Trump probably intended.
What’s driving the impeachment inquiry is the suspicion that Trump was leaning on the Ukrainian government for dirt on potential Democratic opponent Joe Biden’s son and a confession that the previous Ukrainian government had meddled in the past election and then framed Russia for the crime. So far all the sworn testimony from respected military officers and foreign service officials and a million-dollar Trump donor, as well as some pretty damning texts and e-mails and other documentary evidence backs this up.
For now Trump is blocking any testimony from a former White House legal counsel and national security advisor and the current Secretary of State and and his-still-on-retainer personal lawyer, all of whom clearly know something about all this and there might be able to say something exculpatory, and declining to send a lawyer to the hearings, but he’s still got a plausible enough corruption argument for the talk radio hosts and Republican politicians and the die-hard fans to cling to.
Biden’s son admittedly made a lot of money in Ukraine while the former Vice President was in charge of the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy, some very funny dealings have undoubtedly occurred in the country during its long and fitful struggle toward democracy since America helped liberate it from Soviet domination, and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has assured Trump that Russia sure didn’t meddle in the last election, and according to Trump some people are saying that Ukraine has the mysteriously missing Democratic National Committee computer server with all of the e-mails that should lock up Hillary Clinton. None of this comports with any established facts or the weight of evidence, and would be laughed out of any judicial proceeding, but impeachment is a political matter and the fans seems to love it.
No matter how that works out, Trump probably won’t get what he was hoping for from Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced a purge of more than 500 prosecutors suspected of corruption, but so for none are accused of anything having to do with Biden’s son or Clinton’s e-mails, and one of them is closely tied to Rudy Giuliani, the Trump personal lawyer who’s up to his neck in this Ukrainian impeachment mess and is refusing to testify about to Congress. Now that he’s got his military aid, which came shortly after Trump learned a “whistleblower” report about an alleged aid-for-dirt deal, Zelensky can make good on his campaign promise to root out corruption and stay on good terms with whoever the next president might be, and he’s wise to stay out of America’s affairs as much as possible.
Zelensky seems a savvy fellow, and just as interesting as Trump. He was a comedian who had no apparent qualifications except that he’d starred in a hit sit-com about a comedian who became president of Ukraine, just as Trump without any apparent qualifications except that he’d starred as a successful businessman on a hit reality show. Both men have outgoing personalities, a certain buffoonish self-consciousness, ridiculously bad hair cuts, and their own agendas.As Trump did, Zelensky ran as an outsider who would shake up the establishment, and like Trump he promised to be immune to corruption.
Unlike Trump, Zelensky inherited a country that had been largely annexed by a Russian government that was working to further exert its influence, and was eager to find whatever foreign assistance he could, whereas Trump spoke openly of his ambivalence about Russia claim on Ukrainian territory and cast doubt on any claims of undue Russian influence anywhere. Zelensky was thereby obliged to say during a White House visit that he’d felt no pressure to provide any dirt on the Bidens or Clinton’s in exchange for the aid, but at this point he’s got his military aid and is surely following American politics well enough to know that he doesn’t owe Trump any further favors. If he’s following all the trend-setting television comedians in America he’s probably betting on the Democrats, and if he’s serious about rooting out corruption in Ukraine he won’t give any cover to Giuliani.
We don’t nearly know nearly so much about Ukrainian politics as the former Trump campaign chairman who’s now in federal prison, or the Trump personal lawyer who’s now under federal investigation for his dealings in that country, or the various high government officials who are barred from testifying about any of it, but Zelensky seems to have a pretty good hand for the president of such a beleaguered country. Come reelection time he can tell the Ukrainian electorate that he stood up to the bullies of two nuclear superpowers, got millions of dollars from one to deter the other, and pulled it off with sit-comic flair.
Trump’s reality show presidency will be hard-pressed to compete with that. The big bucks Biden’s son made in Ukraine were already part of the the public record and would have been more useful without leaning on Ukraine for further dirt, and the stuff about Ukraine getting Clinton elected is a hard sell to all but the most die-hard fans.

— Bud Norman

Those Darned Ukrainians

There was more bad news for President Donald Trump on Thursday’s episode of the impeachment inquiring show, which guest starred the formidable Fiona Hill. She’s the senior director for Europe and Russia on Trump’s National Security Council, is widely recognized as the government’s foremost expert on Russia, and during her hours of testimony was remarkably well-spoken in an intimidating British accent.
Basically she just backed up what all the previous formidable witnesses had testified, that Trump had sought political help from the Ukrainian in exchange for $400 million of aid that Congress had appropriated to that beleaguered ally, the easily rebuffed the Republican members’ efforts to undermine her. She further further endeared herself to us when she also took aim at one of the more preposterous theories that Trump’s apologists are trying to peddle.
“Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security forces did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, for some reason, Ukraine did,” Hill said in her opening statement. “This is a fictional narrative the has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
Well said, but we thought it a shame it needed saying. All of Trump’s appointees to head America’s intelligence agency have confirmed that Russia hacked Democratic computers and launched an internet disinformation campaign and attempted to alter voting totals, both the Republicans and Democrats on the Senate’s intelligence committee reached the same conclusion, and Trump’s own Justice Department is currently charging 12 specific Russians for pulling it off. At this point the only people who doubt it are Trump, who has Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word that it didn’t happen, and the die-hard fans who somehow still believe anything Trump says.
The most die-hard of the fans, who seem willing to believe almost anything, are convinced it was Ukraine that meddled in the election in cahoots with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. It’s a neat theory with the virtue of explaining everything Trump has been accused of, but it has the unfortunate flaw of making no sense whatsoever.
There’s no denying that somebody hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s computer and selectively leaked the most embarrassing e-mails through Wikileaks at such convenient moments for Trump as when the “Hollywood Access” tape was released, and we notice that Trump advisor Roger Stone was recently found guilty for lying about his contacts with Wikileaks, and it’s hard to explain why Ukraine or anyone else would do that Clinton’s behalf. All of the foreign disinformation was to Trump’s advantage, too, and the executives at the internet platforms which disseminated the disinformation all testified to Congress that it was coming from Russia and was often paid for with rubles. The attempts to hack the voting machines apparently failed, but they did breach a couple of levels of security and were eventually traced to Russia.
If those nefarious Ukrainians were attempting to get Clinton elected they did a damned poor job of it, but they were astoundingly successful in framing those blameless Russians. According to the most die-hard die-hards those Ukrainians a wily bunch of schemers, though, and are in cahoots with Crooked Hillary and potential Democratic nominee Sleepy Joe Biden and his big-earner son, and is currently hiding that DNC computer server that surely holds all the the secrets of the satanic and child-molesting and globalist “deep state” conspiracy.
Biden’s son did a make a lot of money in Ukraine while his dad was Vice President and overseeing Ukrainian policy, and after many decades as a subservient vassal of the Soviet Union Ukraine’s path toward democracy has been fitful and often corrupt, but that’s hardly proof that Trump didn’t lean on an ally for dirt on a potential political opponent. Nor does it mean Trump was right to do so.
We’ve been Republicans ¬†far longer than Trump, and can well remember the pride we felt in our party when President Ronald Reagan’s leadership helped liberate Ukraine from the Evil Empire and tried to welcome it into the western world of freedom and democracy. For all its faults we don’t think Ukraine is the bad guy in all this, and for all the good it has done in the past we’re not taking much pride in the Republican party these days.

— Bud Norman

As the Impeachment Soap Opera Turns

The star of Wednesday’s episode in the impeachment inquiry show was Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and despite his dull appearance he proved a fascinating character.
Sondland testified that President Donald Trump pursued a quid pro quo with the Ukrainian government to get political favors, and that the Vice President and Secretary of State and White House chief of staff and various other administration officials were in on it, and that he has e-mails and text messages and other evidence to back the claim. He also had an interesting back story about how he wound in the middle of it all.
Unlike the career diplomatic and military officials who had previously testified to a quid pro quo, having worked their way up the ranks through both Democratic and Republic administrations to find themselves working in Ukraine, Sondland had no previous foreign policy experience and seems to have bought his ambassadorship by donating a million dollars to Trump’s inaugural committee. He’s said to have made $60 million with a chain of upscale hotels, and for some reason rich guys often want to be ambassadors somewhere, and there’s a longstanding tradition of presidents rewarding big donors with a fancy title in some warm and scenic country of little economic and geopolitical importance.
Past presidents have always appointed more seasoned and well-credentialed ambassadors to the hot spots, but that’s another one of those longstanding presidential traditions that Trump cares nothing about, and he figured that his fellow hotelier was just the guy to represent America with the world’s third largest economy and our most important allies. Sondland seemed in over his head from the outset, and was unable to smooth over spats Trump was having with the EU over trade and defense issues, but Trump also dragged him into his dealings with non-EU member Ukraine, presumably because Trump expected him to loyally do whatever was asked of him.
Which is exactly what Sondland did, which is why he wound up testifying under oath on national television Wednesday. He remained loyal enough to Trump that he offered no damning testimony to a House committee in a closed session, but then hired a high-powered Washington lawyer who’s a veteran of some high-profile political scandals, and was persuaded to be more forthcoming and more in line what the career officials had testified in closed sessions and what the texts and e-mails and other evidence showed.
All of which made him a hard witness for his Trump’s dogged defenders among the Republican committee members to handle. They tried to cast the previous career professionals as traitorous “deep state” conspirators, and even one of the vice president’s top aides was slurred as a “Never Trumper,” but this was a guy who’d given Trump more than a million dollars and done the president’s bidding right up to the moment his lawyer explained the penalties for perjury and the way things often turn out for rank amateurs who find themselves in over their heads in a big political scandal. The Republicans seized on the fact that Sondland had amended his sworn testimony, which does raise credibility issues, but getting Sondland to admit that he’d erred by saying Trump hadn’t done anything wrong wasn’t much help to their cause.
Near the end of his testimony Sondland loyally testified that in his last telephone conversation with the president about the matter Trump had said he wanted nothing from Ukraine and offered no quid pro quo and asked Sondland to tell the Ukrainian president to “do the right thing.” Die-hard Trump defender California Rep. Devin Nunes demanded to know why that tidbit wasn’t in Sondland’s opening statement, and all the Republicans on the committee and the conservative media tried to make hay of it. Trump addressed a gaggle of media with Marine One’s rotor whirring in the background and dramatically read the statement, and declared he was therefore cleared of everything and everyone can move on, as there’s nothing to see here..
The show will go on though, for several reasons. For one, even someone so brazen as Trump is hard-pressed to argue that he’s been cleared by the lying rat who testified at the beginning of opening statement that Trump had pursued a quid pro quo for political gain. There’s also all that corroborating testimony from those career professionals with the impeccable records, and the texts and e-mails and other corroborating evidence. Not to mention the secular timing of that call when Trump suddenly sounded uncharacteristically high-minded about foreign policy.
Records indicate that the call came after Congress had a received a “whistle blower” complaint, deemed “urgent and credible” by two layers of Trump appointees in the intelligence community, about a shady quid pro quo Trump was working up with the Ukrainian government that was afoot, and we’re certain some Republican in Congress gave the White House warning about it. It was at that point that Trump chanting the mantra of “no quid pro,” and he’ll likely stick with the defense to the end.
Trump and the rest of his Republican party are still wanting to know everything about that “whistle blower” whose complaints started all this mess, and whatever Ukraine can say about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and potential Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s son and how Ukraine rather Russia meddled in the last election. They’re also arguing that Trump never got his quid in exchange for Ukraine’s quo in the end, so it’s no big deal, and certainly not impeachable, even as Trump insists against all evidence there was never any talk of a quid pro quo.
Even so, this byzantine reality show will surely slog on, and might well feature some big-name guest stars. Sondland’s testimony will likely result in subpoenas for the Vice President and Secretary of State and White House chief of staff and other administration officials, and if they’re compelled to testify under oath and on live television the ratings will be sky-high. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has also been frequently mentioned in the testimony, and he winds up as witness there’s no telling what he’ll say.. If they all ¬†somehow manage to dodge the duty, because of bone spurs or some legality technicality, that won’t look good.
Here’s hoping that it all ends with Sondland returning to his happy rich guy life of well-deserved anonymity, as we’ve come to rather like this character. Such an amiably idle rich guy who finds himself way in over his head in a big political scandal could have conjured only by real life or the great British satirists Evelyn Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse, and with his balding head and sad sack face Sondland plays the part perfectly. Throughout hours of grilling from Republicans and Democrats alike he seemed quite comfortable, and occasionally even jocular, as when he admitted that telling Trump the president of Ukraine “loves his ass” sounded like something he would say.
This is an entirely subjective opinion, we must admit, but Sondland struck as someone who felt blissfully unburdened by telling the truth. He seemed to realize that his rich guy hubris had gotten him in way over his head in a historic political scandal, and that like others who had pledged loyalty to Trump he was best advised to exit the public stage with truthful testimony and a since mea culpa. His hotel business is already suffering from the Democratic backlash against his million dollar donation to Trump and his shady dealings on Trump’s behalf, and the Republicans all regard him as traitor to the cause, even as they cite him as proof that Trump was blameless all along.
At this point we have no rooting interest in either side, but we liked the satisfied look on Sondland’s face when he finished his testimony. That he ended with the beginning of Trump’s “no quid pro quo” defense only made him more believable. He seemed a man that had done the right thing in the end, putting his faith in truth ahead of his faith in princes, and was free at last. How it turns out for the rest of the Trump loyalists remains to be seen.

— Bud Norman