Here’s a thread.
In November, the House of Representatives Impeachment Inquiry entered a new phase: public hearings. The House Intelligence Committee, led by committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff, has called several witnesses to testify in the inquiry, including Dr. Fiona Hill, David Holmes, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, George Kent, Bill Taylor, Kurt Volker, and Gordon Sondland.
Something has bothered me since Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Let’s look at the letter appointing him special counsel:
- Robert S. Mueller III is appointed to serve as Special Counsel…
Not Special Prosecutor, as he is often titled. Special Counsel.
- any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump…
Based on these words, I expected a very different report from Mueller.
Mueller acted more as a prosecutor than an investigator. Perhaps I am getting this wrong; in internet parlance, IANAL, I am not a lawyer.
Mueller prosecuted cases against Paul Manafort and the the Internet Research Agency of St. Petersburg. His investigations supported Michael Cohen’s conviction and Michael Flynn’s guilty plea to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. There are probably others, but that is not my point. His investigation seems to have been for the purpose of finding prosecutable crimes.
I expected that “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” would have included a great deal more than what was in the report.
There were a great many contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign, or near misses like Maria Butina, who got cozy with the NRA, which supported Trump. The Russians used hacked files from the Democratic National Committee to help Republicans beyond Trump.
The Republican platform was changed to weaken support for Ukraine; the Mueller report mentions this, but notes that Trump seems to have been unaware of the change. The person who seems to have been responsible for it, J. D. Gordon, also is connected to Carter Page, who has his own Russian connections. And then there is George Papadopoulos, also with Russian connections.
Perhaps some of these Russian connections, like Butina, can be said not to have been connected with the Trump campaign. The hacked files used against other candidates, again not related to the Trump campaign. Although the platform change may not have involved Trump, his campaign certainly was involved with it, and with those other folks with hinky Russian connections. But these were investigated cursorily, if at all.
I don’t understand how Mueller interpreted the charge and why. I would like to know more about that.
It seems to be difficult to report on connections to Russia without being accused of paranoia. Additionally, some popular voices have greatly exaggerated connections to Russia on the basis of inadequate information.
I do not believe Putin is minutely directing a campaign to destroy the United States. He does not work like that. He remains a KGB colonel with access to the power of a state. He is a tactician rather than a strategist. He wants Russia to be recognized as a great power. Russia is in a strange position internationally. Its nuclear arsenal is equivalent to that of the United States, but its economy is about the size of Texas’s, based primarily on extractive industries. A nuclear great power, but not much else.
The way for Russia to be a great power is to lessen the influence of other great powers. Hence a campaign to divide Americans and Europeans, internally and from each other.
The campaign is loosely run – more a matter of “Who will rid me of these turbulent adversaries?” than of detailed planning and late nights in the Kremlin. Thus, multiple Russian actors, backed by multiple oligarchs, show up in the Mueller Report and in other ways.
Trump always has something bad to say about America’s allies, but never about Vladimir Putin and other autocrats. The connections across the Republican Party to Russia are many, as far as we know now, largely through donations. The Dallas Morning News has had major articles on this means of influence (August 2017, December 2017, two in May 2018) . Why haven’t other news outlets joined the investigation? Why isn’t this mentioned as common knowledge when Tucker Carlson sides with Russia over Ukraine?
There are so many stories that need more investigation.
Kevin McCarthy’s comment about Putin paying Trump and Dana Rohrabacher. McCarthy received a campaign contribution from Rudy Giuliani’s associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, which he is returning. He is not the only one to receive money from them.
Parnas and Fruman are currently a focus of media attention. Parnas would like to testify to Congress, but there is little reason to believe anything he says until we understand better his connections to Giuliani and Trump and to people like Dmytro Firtash.
Eight Republican members of Congress spent the Fourth of July, 2018, in Moscow. They met with senior Russian officials. They are Richard Shelby (AL), Ron Johnson (WI), John Neely Kennedy (LA), Jerry Moran (KS), Steve Daines (MT), John Hoeven (ND), John Thune (SD) and Rep. Kay Granger (TX). Johnson and Kennedy have been extremely vocal lately in spreading the Russian propaganda meme that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the campaigns in 2016.
And, oh yes, the US Intelligence Community report of January 2017 said that the Republican campaign was hacked too. We haven’t seen any more about that.
That’s the list I come up with over a day or two of thought. I’ll bet there’s more.
There is a throughline to all this: Russian interference in American politics. It’s a big story, to be sure, but one that we need to hear. Most of it was not covered in the Mueller investigation. The House Intelligence Committee hearings have been on a very small part of it. News organizations are working on parts of it. We need more.
Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner
CSPAN CALLER: “Howdy. I just want to apologize first & foremost for all the morons on the calls earlier, especially from Alabama. Secondly, I just want to say impeach the fucker. Have a great day!”
CSPAN HOST: “That’s it for phone calls right now.” ?? pic.twitter.com/qPfACW2AfY
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 21, 2019
One thing for everyone to keep in mind heading into 2020: the gop in the house refused to hold the president accountable and they lost the house by a historic margin. If senate refuses to do same, the result in 2020 could easily be the same.
— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) November 21, 2019
A quick recap of Hill and Holmes’s impeachment inquiry testimony, in 6 minutes pic.twitter.com/5bAiBdR2Tn
— Mahlia Posey (@mcposeyy) November 21, 2019
Schiff with an impassioned closing statement for today’s hearing and an homage to Elijah Cummings: “There is nothing more dangerous than an unethical president who believes they are above the law…We are better than that!” pic.twitter.com/fXp6atTIG5
— Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) November 21, 2019
Schiff nails it: “The difference between [Watergate] and now is not the difference between Nixon and Trump. It’s the difference between that Congress and this one.”
— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) November 21, 2019
I don’t know what the short term ramifications will be, but Adam Schiff over the past two weeks has laid out a case against this president that will stand the test of history and will damn every Republican who votes to keep him in office.
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) November 21, 2019
Here’s Adam Schiff’s closing statement, in parts, and a few other tweets of interest. They’re rough, but worth listening to.
Long thread by a historian on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion
You know what to do. I’m going to let the kitties explore the snow.
Schiff is in the chair and the witnesses are coming in. And it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, since this thing is going to start with Chalupa Nunes.
Update: Looks like this might be a longish recess – for six House votes – so OPEN THREAD
The beat goes on. I’m grateful to C Span for putting their coverage on YouTube, so it’s easy to embed. I never could figure it out otherwise.
Fiona Hill is a Russia expert who was at Brookings before she went to Trump’s NSC. David Holmes is the foreign service political officer who overheard the famous July 26 phonecall between Trump and Gordon Sondland. He’s been described as an aide, but the political officer at an embassy is a lot more than that, in charge of learning about political goings-on inside the country and reporting to the Ambassador.
It’s raining here again today, so I have an excuse not to take the kitties out for their morning walk, but I may give it a try when the Republican questioning starts. And I think I’ll make biscuits and creamed chicken for lunch – comfort food.
So, to recap today
* President’s ambassador says there was indeed a quid pro quo
* Ukrainians did know/inquire about the hold of aid in late July
* OMB rep said hold was at Trump’s direction
* Trump has declared complete exoneration.
— Sam Stein (@samstein) November 20, 2019
“members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) November 20, 2019
The republicans requested these televised public hearings https://t.co/vdtRX5tpOK
— Zerlina Maxwell (@ZerlinaMaxwell) November 20, 2019
“Be careful what you wish for” is a real thing. https://t.co/OiEcsQzoFN
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) November 21, 2019
The top of tomorrow’s New York Times front page. pic.twitter.com/5LhbHW1Hex
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) November 21, 2019
The good news for Republicans is the only ones they need to convince are themselves so it doesn’t matter that their case makes no sense https://t.co/qtNXM80L7r
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) November 20, 2019
In Memoriam: The GOP’s “No Quid Pro Quo” Defense pic.twitter.com/g28PL9N0C5
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) November 20, 2019
Starting up again. That was a short lunch break.
I have questions for him.
Sondland is in a heap of trouble. Other testimony puts him at the center of the President’s demands for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelinsky to announce an investigation into the Bidens. Sondland has changed his deposition to the House Intelligence Committee.
So Vindman’s testimony began with him reassuring his father that in this country you won’t be punished for telling the truth, and continued with Devin Nunes trying to elicit information from him that might expose a protected whistleblower.
— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) November 19, 2019
Some of the Republicans chewing on his ankles, well, I’m not so sure.
Vindman corrects Nunes after he called him “Mr. Vindman”:
“Ranking member, it’s Lt. Col. Vindman.”
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) November 19, 2019
Vindman: “It is the consensus of the entire intelligence community that Russia interfered in the elections of 2016.” #ImpeachmentHearings
— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) November 19, 2019
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman gets to the heart of it: “I was concerned by the call, what I heard was improper, and I reported my concerns…It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent.”
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) November 19, 2019
Worth noting that many in the Russia/national security universe initially thought Vindman was the whistleblower. He is not. #ImpeachmentHearings
— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) November 19, 2019
very on-brand for former osu wrestling coach jim jordan to argue that people who see crime happening shouldn’t tell anybody about it https://t.co/gsffuOSVub
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) November 19, 2019
Vindman: It is a Russian narrative, promoted by Vladimir Putin, that Ukraine interfered in the US election in 2016.
— Kate Brannen (@K8brannen) November 19, 2019
When @Jim_Jordan questions Vindman’s judgment, Vindman responds by quoting his performance review from Fiona Hill: “He is brilliant, unflappable” and top 1% of military officers she’s worked with.
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) November 19, 2019
“sure we were assholes, but hey, a better man than us was up to the challenge” https://t.co/Lq0JeHc3QA
— Greg Dworkin (@DemFromCT) November 19, 2019
These two witnesses were requested by the Republican minority. Not clear to me they’ll help Trump, but we’ll see. Volker is a particular enigma.
I expect that Jennifer Williams’s and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s testimony this morning will confirm other witnesses’ testimony, with few if any surprises.
The most interesting testimony this week is likely to come from Kurt Volker (this afternoon) and Gordon Sondland (Wednesday). It is hard to predict what they will say. A report last night said that Sondland is changing his deposition again.
Volker has been the Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, the negotiations on getting Russia out of eastern Ukraine. He has been a foreign service officer, like Chargé d’Affaires William Taylor and others who have testified. And yet he was one of the “Three Amigos,” Sondland and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry being the other two. He seems to have known about the Giuliani channel into Ukraine and worked with it. Seemingly working for the United States of America, but with some special stuff on the side for Donald Trump personally. Perhaps we will learn how he reconciled those two things.
Sondland’s career has been building a hotel chain. As a big donor to the Trump Inauguration Committee, he got in line for an ambassadorship and is now Ambassador to the European Union. There is nothing in his history that suggests he is in any way qualified for that job. He stretched (or was told to stretch) his responsibilities to Ukraine, which is not part of the EU. In fact, having the American Ambassador to the EU messing around with Ukraine would be likely to irritate Russia and raise questions in other places about US intentions.
Adam Schiff and the House Intelligence Committee are doing a great job in the hearings, but I have some questions of my own for Gordon Sondland.
1) Did Donald Trump suggest the job of Ambassador to the EU, or did you?
2) How did he describe what he wanted you to do in the job? Do you have a written job description?
3) Did you contact current or former ambassadors to learn how to ambassador? If you did, was that before or after the job offer?
4) Do you know that Ukraine is not a member of the EU? That Russia feels strongly about that? Did you know when you told Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch that you were in charge of Ukraine?
5) Did you at any time meet with or take instruction from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo?
6) Did you have any training in security issues? Did Trump tell you to disregard security precautions?
7) Are you aware that the Federal Records Act applies to your communications with the President?