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Fri Oct 4, 2019, 08:26 PM


Friday Talking Points -- Quid, Meet Quo

{Program Note for DemocraticUnderground.com readers:
This is a weekly roundup column of what is going on in the political world. For the duration of the 2020 campaign, I've been instructed to post it under the "Democratic Primaries" category rather than the "General Discussion" category, whenever the primary race is discussed. This discussion may be a large part of the column, or a very small part. Just wanted to clarify this up front, to avoid any objections that most of the post is "off topic."}

The impeachment whirlwind shows no signs of slowing down, and in fact each day brings more and more evidence that President Donald Trump is using American foreign policy as his own personal opposition research to undermine his Democratic political opponents. Which, of course, is an eminently impeachable offense.

This week alone, we've learned: that Trump's attorney general has been pressuring Italy and Australia (and, most likely, other countries as well) to help out with the investigation into the conspiracy theory that the Mueller investigation was improperly begun; that Trump begged the leader of China for some dirt on both Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren during a phone call; that Rudy Giuliani sent a document dump to the State Department outlining his version of various conspiracy theories -- including one against the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine (who was later removed from her post); that Trump held out both the military aid to Ukraine and a personal White House meeting in what can only be called a quid pro quo arrangement; that Trump thinks there is nothing wrong with any of this as evidenced by his begging China for dirt on Biden while the television cameras were rolling; that there is a second whistleblower accusing a Trump political appointee with attempting to influence the I.R.S. in their audits of Trump's tax returns; and that Trump wanted to shoot people crossing the southern border in the legs or possibly build a moat on the border and fill it with alligators and snakes. Trump later denied this in a tweet about a "Moot stuffed with alligators," because of course he did.

And all of that was before the text message dump. Just another fun week in Trumpland!

Last night, text messages between former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, U.S. chargé d'affaires in our Kiev embassy Bill Taylor, and the U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland were released, which clearly show how all three were working behind the scenes to explicitly pressure the new Ukrainian leader to do exactly what Trump and Rudy Giuliani wanted -- open investigations into their conspiracy theories about the 2016 election and about Hunter and Joe Biden. The quid pro quo is so obvious that at the end of the chain of texts Sondland -- who, unlike the other two is not a career diplomat, but rather a political appointee -- felt it was necessary to state that nobody should use the phrase quid pro quo and the three should be calling each other instead of leaving a paper trail of texts.

To call these texts stunning is understating the case. Calling them a smoking gun might be more accurate. Here are just a few of excerpts:

Taylor: "Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?"

Volker (to Andrey Yermak, top advisor to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky): "Heard from the White House. Assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate/ 'get to the bottom of what happened in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington."

Yermak to Volker: "Once we have a date, will call for a press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the US-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations."

Burisma is the gas company that employed Hunter Biden, of course.

Taylor: "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign"

Sondland paused for five hours here, perhaps to consult with a lawyer or two, and then texted back in suspiciously formal language: "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign. I suggest we stop the back and forth by text."

This is a pretty transparent attempt at covering his ass, quite obviously. Perhaps his worst nightmare was that the whole text thread would someday figure in a congressional investigation... which is precisely what just happened.

These are just some of the texts -- there are plenty of others, including one in which the diplomats pass around a draft of a statement they want the Ukrainian president to make, which explicitly promises to get to the bottom of Rudy's conspiracy theories.

It is crystal clear throughout all of these that (1) a White House meeting with the Ukrainian president is the carrot they are dangling to pressure him to investigate both Hillary Clinton's servers and Hunter Biden, and, later on, (2) that blocking the military aid promised to Ukraine is the stick to increase the pressure on the Ukrainian president to do exactly what Trump and Giuliani want him to do. There can be no doubt of either of these things, in fact. Quid, meet quo.

Trump has now moved on to a rather novel defense -- sure, he did it, but hey, presidents do this sort of thing all the time and he would in fact be negligent in his duties if he didn't pressure foreign governments to dig up dirt on his political opponents. This is why he flat-out said he was thinking about pressuring the Chinese for more dirt on Hunter Biden (to prove a separate conspiracy theory Rudy holds dear). On camera, in front of the world, Trump just self-impeached.

You just can't make this stuff up, folks. Here's how the Washington Post began their report of this stunning admission:

President Trump on Thursday appealed to a foreign country to take action involving his electoral opponents. It was the third time we know of that he has done so.

The first time, when Trump asked Russia to find Hillary Clinton's "missing emails," his campaign insisted he was joking. The second time, when Trump asked Ukraine's president to launch two other politically convenient investigations, we learned about it only after the administration tried to keep it under wraps.

Now, for his third act -- this one involving China -- Trump just came out and said it.

In Trump's own words:

And by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.

When asked whether he had brought the matter up with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump answered:

I haven't, but it's certainly something we can start thinking about because I'm sure that President Xi does not like being under that kind of scrutiny where billions of dollars is taken out of his country by a guy that just got kicked out of the Navy. He got kicked out of the Navy. All of a sudden he's getting billions of dollars. You know what they call that? They call that a payoff.

Actually, a payoff would be if Trump sweetened a trade deal with China in exchange for dirt on his political opponent. Or offered a visit to the White House to the Ukrainian president. Or withheld military aid to get dirt on the Bidens.

What's really stunning is that all of this was already out in the open in Ukraine long before the Trump phone call:

One Ukrainian oligarch in particular, a figure close to President Volodymyr Zelensky, claims to have first-hand knowledge of Giuliani's activities because, he says, Giuliani's business associates tried to rope him into the scheme. When this Ukrainian business tycoon, Ihor Kolomoisky, rejected Giuliani's request for help, Giuliani attacked him on Twitter and called for him to be investigated. Kolomoisky then gave an on-the-record interview on Ukrainian television in which he predicted that Giuliani was soon going to be the center of a "big scandal" in the United States.

In May, Kolomoisky told Ukrainian media, in an interview barely noticed in Washington, that two of Giuliani's business associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, came to visit him in Israel in April to "demand" he set up a meeting between Giuliani and Zelensky. This was months before Ambassador Kurt Volker eventually did set up a meeting between Giuliani and Zelensky's adviser Andriy Yermak.

"They wanted to have a meeting with Zelensky and show Giuliani that they had organized everything," Kolomoisky said. "A big scandal may break out, and not only in Ukraine, but in the United States. That is, it may turn out to be a clear conspiracy against Biden."

. . .

"Look, there is Giuliani, and there [are] two clowns, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were milking the bull here. They are Giuliani's clients," Kolomoisky told the Ukrainska Pravda website. "They came here and told us that they would organize a meeting with Zelensky. They allegedly struck a deal with [Prosecutor-general Yuriy] Lutsenko about the fate of this criminal case -- Burisma, [former vice president] Biden, meddling in the U.S. election and so on."

That was back in May -- long before the rest of the story unfolded.

The head of the Federal Election Commission retweeted something she had originally sent out months ago, with the line: "Is this thing on?" and an image of a microphone, just in case anyone was unclear on the illegality of all of this:

Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office. It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.

So far, Republicans are desperately trying to keep up with Trump's shifting storyline, although a few of them have jumped off this crazy train already. Mitt Romney tweeted out his feelings today:

When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China's investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated.

By all appearances, the President's brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.

Other Republicans are avoiding the media and the public, for obvious reasons. It's easier to hide than to try to defend the indefensible, after all.

At this point one has to wonder two things, which are somewhat contradictory in nature. First, do we really even need anything further to prove that Trump should be impeached and removed from office? And second, as the investigations continue apace, what else is going to be uncovered? We aren't even two weeks in to the impeachment inquiry, and we've already had document dumps and testimony from two separate inspectors general, testimony from a diplomat who quit his post last week specifically so he could tell the truth to Congress, multiple breaking stories about how deep both this collusion and the coverup went, and Trump himself opening up a whole new line of impeachable behavior on camera. And, again, that's before we even take the new texts into account. At this pace, you have to wonder what's going to come out in the next week.

Throughout it all, the most amusing thing is that Trump is convinced that he's the master of manipulation and he doesn't need any help crafting his message as he tries to explain away his obviously-impeachable behavior. He just keeps digging the hole deeper, to be blunt. Some of these efforts are downright delusional -- it was even reported that Trump is trying to sweet-talk House Democrats in vulnerable districts to vote against impeaching him. Good luck with that, Skippy!

Up until now, we've all wondered (and feared) what Trump might do in an actual crisis. We are now getting an answer to that, and it isn't pretty. Trump is spiraling completely out of control, and things are going to get far worse very soon, if the past week is any indication. Buckle up, folks, because this is going to be a very wild ride.

If we had, say, $27 for every time a pundit wrote off Bernie Sanders's campaign, we'd have... well... $25 million. That's the amount Bernie raised in the third quarter of the year, and it is also the highest number any Democratic candidate has yet posted in any fundraising quarter.

Bernie Sanders has the most-admired donor list of any Democrat in politics, which that impressive total shows beyond a shadow of a doubt. Elizabeth Warren is catching up -- her third quarter fundraising total was only slightly behind Bernie's -- and both of them are proving that relying on small donors rather than holding high-priced events for fatcats is indeed a viable strategy for a presidential candidate. Bernie already proved this the last time around, in fact, but he's proving it all over again this time.

The press either refuses to cover Bernie's campaign, or they write smug articles about how Bernie's campaign is "in trouble." His supporters continue to back his revolutionary call, however, and he's shown he's not going anywhere any time soon.

We also have to add a personal note, wishing Bernie a full recovery from his recent heart stent procedure. He's already confirmed that he will indeed be in the fourth Democratic debate, which is less than two weeks away now. Get well soon, Bernie, and get back out there on the campaign trail!

For his record-setting fundraising number alone, though, it was a pretty easy choice to award Bernie Sanders the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. Outraising candidates who do rely on big donors is an incredibly impressive feat. So is sticking to your principles of only relying on small donors throughout the whole campaign.

{Congratulate Senator Bernie Sanders on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.}

Perhaps we missed something during the whole impeachment circus, but we just don't seem to have any Democrat who massively disappointed us this week. So we'll have to put the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award back on the shelf for another week, unless someone's got a nomination to make in the comments.

Volume 545 (10/4/19)

Most of the talking points this week deal with the impeachment public relations battle. At the end, however, we've got yet another "conservative denouncing Trump" opinion piece, this time from a Fox News legal analyst. Which includes the phrases "crazies who crave violence" and "a dog whistle to the deranged," so you've got all of that to look forward to.

Enough introduction, though, let's just dig in....

Do-Nothing Mitch and Do-Nothing Donald

This is crucial. Democrats believe, with good reason, that Bill Clinton survived impeachment by continuing to get things done throughout the process. Trump is trying to turn this on House Democrats, calling them "do-nothing Democrats." So turn it right back around!

"It is laughable that Donald Trump thinks House Democrats are doing nothing. In fact, the House has passed hundreds of bills -- on gun safety, on fighting election interference, on prescription drugs, on all sorts of important issues -- that are being completely ignored by Mitch McConnell over in the Senate. House Democrats do indeed want to get things done, and they are leading by example. Meanwhile, Mitch is so terrified that Trump is going to support a bill one day and then denounce it the next that he's in a defensive crouch. He hasn't passed anything because he's waiting for Trump to tell him what to do. If the label 'do-nothing' is going to be used, let's use it correctly, because what's really going on is that Do-Nothing Mitch is following Do-Nothing Donald's orders. We could pass all sorts of compromise bills next week, if Mitch and Trump would only get off their rear ends and act."

Collusion most foul

The shifting nature of defining this word can now work in Democrats' favor.

"You know what I'd like to ask Donald Trump right now? I'd like to ask him how he defines the word collusion. He spent over two years insisting that there was 'no collusion' between him, his campaign, and Russia, after all. Now we've got Trump colluding with a foreign government to provide political help to his re-election effort in Trump's own words. This is a textbook definition of collusion, in fact. Trump is colluding with foreign governments right out in the open now, as he just attempted to do with China. There is collusion everywhere you look -- collusion out the wazoo! After insisting for two years that he hadn't colluded with Russia, Trump now apparently believes that it's OK to collude with any country on the planet -- on live television, no less. So I'd dearly love to hear some journalist ask him what his current definition of the word collusion is."

Quid pro quo, doubly so

Those texts make this so painfully obvious, so hammer it home!

"When the Ukraine call was first released, Donald Trump insisted there was no quid pro quo. Now that the texts between the diplomats have been made public, it is patently obvious that there was indeed not just one quid pro quo instance, but two. Trump dangled the carrot of a personal meeting at the White House with him to the Ukrainians, and then he doubled down by using the stick of withholding military aid -- both directly intended to pressure the Ukrainians to open investigations into his political rivals. It is impossible to call either of these things anything but a quid pro quo, in fact. Do what Trump and Rudy want, and you can visit the White House and we'll release the hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid. Don't do what they want, and you get no visit and no aid. There's just no other way to read it, folks."

Just the icing on the impeachment cake

This is worth pointing out, over and over again.

"Trump committed an impeachable offense merely by asking a foreign leader for dirt on his political opponent. Even if he never actually got any dirt, even if they refused, and even if nothing else was involved, this is already an impeachable offense. Trump doesn't understand this, and tried to deny there was any kind of quid pro quo at all, but even without it, Trump has still been caught doing something illegal. The quid pro quo -- which is obvious to anyone who has read those diplomatic texts -- is merely the icing on the impeachment cake. It is not strictly necessary to impeach the president, it merely makes the case that much stronger."

What more proof does anyone need?

This is a useful all-around talking point, from this point onward.

"Seriously -- what more proof does anyone need that Trump deserves impeachment? It's all right there, and most of it is in Trump's own words. Gathering further evidence will just make the articles of impeachment a little longer and more detailed, but at this point it isn't even all that necessary. Seriously, after reading the call transcript and those texts, what more proof does anyone need?"

This is not normal

Trump, by inviting China to the collusion party, is attempting to "normalize" such behavior. Don't let him get away with it.

"Does it really even need to be said? This is not normal. This is not what United States presidents do. This is not the way our founders imagined American foreign policy would be conducted. It is in no way normal for a president to look into the cameras and invite China to dig up dirt on Trump's political opponent. It is in no way normal to offer a quid pro quo to a foreign leader to provide such dirt, either. Not only is none of this normal in any way, shape, or form, it is in fact solid evidence that Trump must be removed from office, because he quite obviously does not understand either his oath of office or the Constitution he swore that oath to uphold."

A dog whistle to the deranged

We close today with our recurring "conservative denouncing Trump" segment. This time we've got a scathing article written by Fox News in-house legal expert Judge Andrew Napolitano. Here is an extended excerpt, but the whole article is well worth reading.

Has Trump committed any impeachable offenses?

A C.I.A. agent formerly assigned to the White House -- and presently referred to as the "whistleblower" -- reported a July 25, 2019 telephone conversation that Trump had with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky. That conversation manifested both criminal and impeachable behavior.

The criminal behavior to which Trump has admitted is much more grave than anything alleged or unearthed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and much of what Mueller revealed was impeachable.

. . .

Trump has also admitted to accusing the as-yet publicly unnamed whistleblower of treason, and suggesting that the whistleblower and those who have helped him are spies and ought to be treated as spies were in "the old days" (Trump's phrase) -- that is, by hanging.

The president's allusions to violence are palpably dangerous. They will give cover to crazies who crave violence, as other intemperate words of his have done. His words have already produced offers of "bounties" in return for outing and finding the whistleblower.

Trump also suggested that his impeachment would produce a second American Civil War. This language is a dog whistle to the deranged.

. . .

Is violating campaign finance law by involving a foreign government in an American presidential campaign an impeachable offense? Yes, it is.

The expressed intention of those who wrote the Constitution and those who wrote the campaign finance laws 200 years later -- and the lesson of the post-2016 election and Mueller-investigated angst in America -- was to keep foreign governments out of the American political system.

For heaven's sake, Trump was just investigated by Mueller for two-and-a-half tumultuous years for allegedly bringing the Russian government into the 2016 election and now he has attempted in one phone call to bring the Ukrainian government into the 2020 election! Does he understand the laws he has sworn to uphold?

It was to remedy just such reckless, constitutionally destructive behavior that impeachment was intended.

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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