Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Chuck Schumer and House impeachment managers destroy Team Trump on first night of Senate trial

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to members of the media during a break of the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump January 21, 2020 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. The Senate has rejected SchumerĂ¢€™s proposed amendment to subpoena documents from the White House related to the charges against the president. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Schumer's escalator isn't gold. It's steel.

All through Tuesday afternoon, and evening, and night, and the early hours of Wednesday, the Democratic team of House managers fought the good fight, seeking subpoenas of documents and witnesses as well as procedural changes that would close loopholes intentionally built into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s design for the Senate impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump. And they lost every time. In fact, except for a single early morning vote from faux moderate Susan Collins, Republicans voted exactly as expected, giving Trump and McConnell a 53-47 party line victory on nine straight proposed amendments.

But if that made it seem that the day was a waste … it wasn’t. Yes, Republicans batted down attempts to get documents, call witnesses, and prevent the White House from flooding the zone with cherry-picked documents. However, with every amendment, House managers got the chance to lay out their case. They introduced the facets of Trump’s malfeasance step by step, pillar by pillar, with each member of the team stepping up to carry the load on a specific area. Meanwhile, Trump’s legal team was left sputtering and looping back over not just talking points, but also obvious lies. It might have been a losing effort—but it was still magnificent.

At first, it wasn’t clear exactly what was happening. After an introductory speech from both sides—during which Trump attorneys Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow burned up every talking point they had—Schumer introduced a proposal to seek documents from the White House. This provided for an hour on each side to debate the merits of the amendment. Except the Democratic team used that time for a detailed review of those documents that were being withheld by the White House and how key they were to the case ahead. Trump’s attorneys responded by repeating their talking points and throwing on more personal insults for the case managers.

This pattern then repeated for an incredible nine more amendments. After the second, it became clear just what was happening: Chuck Schumer structured the amendments not as simple requests, but as detailed explanations that mentioned specific exchanges, particular conversations, critical meetings, and other events that were known to have happened, but were missing from the evidence available to the House team. During the debate period for each amendment, different members of that House team rose to give an even more detailed defense of the need for those documents, with Zoe Lofgren, Val Demings, Hakeem Jeffries, and Jason Crow all doing spectacular jobs in dealing with requests from the White House, State Department, Office of Management and Budget, and Department of Defense.

After the OMB request, Schumer mixed things up a bit by requesting a personal subpoena of Mick Mulvaney. Again, this wasn’t just a “Give us Mulvaney” request, but a detailed summons that included a recitation of Mulvaney’s interactions with Trump, his role in blocking military assistance to Ukraine, and—wonderfully—his press conference confession, complete with the “Get over it” moment. The individual subpoenas continued, allowing Sylvia Garcia and Jerry Nadler to join in the fray. Those subpoenas bracketed additional requests for changes to the structure of the proceedings to eliminate wording that made it excessively easy for the White House to pretend to respond to a request by producing only documents that are favorable to Trump, and another section that gave Republicans multiple chances to kill future requests for witnesses.

By the sixth proposed amendment—at around 9:30 p.m.—a clearly dragging Mitch McConnell begged for mercy. He called for a quorum vote to force a delay, trying to negotiate Schumer into making all his remaining requests in a lump so Republicans could give them a single down vote and go home.

But Schumer had no inclination to make such a deal for a very, very good reason. Over the course of 10 amendments, the team of Democratic House managers introduced the case against Trump in loving detail. Without touching a minute of the 24 hours that the proposal allots to each team, the House managers made a 10-hour introduction to the case, spelling out the players and the crimes.

Through it all, both McConnell and the Trump team seemed utterly unprepared, while the Democrats had clearly practiced this maneuver for weeks. Despite McConnell’s vaunted reputation as a master of Senate secrets, he seemed utterly unable to deal with Schumer’s moves as the Democratic team slowly, methodically, and systematically bulldozed the Republican team.

There were some highlights for Trump’s attorneys, but not in a good sense. While Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin stepped in to occasionally spell Sekulow and Cipollone, it was after 11 p.m. before Trump lawyer Pam Bondi was allowed to make a five-minute appearance in which she not only failed to even mention the topic at hand, but also sat down without even noting that her moment in the spotlight was done. The other top-notch moment came when Jay Sekulow apparently misheard Val Demings talking about “FOIA lawsuits” and spent his entire time period making an incoherent rant about “lawyer lawsuits,” and “how dare” Demings talk about “lawyer lawsuits”?

The Bolton subpoena was near the end of the proceedings, and when a still-wound-up-at-midnight Nadler rose to support that amendment, he jumped in with both feet, taking a much more aggressive tone than previous House managers.

The usually much more pedantic House Judiciary Committee chair called Republican votes to suppress subpoenas “treacherous” and accused Republicans in the Senate of being part of the cover-up as they voted to shut out witnesses.

Nadler’s sharply worded performance seemed to wake up Trump’s tired team, and both Cipollone and Sekulow jumped in to flat-out scream at Nadler in response—following which Chief Justice John Roberts saw fit to waggle a finger at both sides, cautioning them about the Senate’s rules against personal insults. Notably, Roberts had not been stirred to make such a comment despite hundreds of insults and lies from the Republican team earlier in the night.

In the end, the Republicans got everything they wanted. On paper. But the Democratic team didn’t put on a pointless show. It showed that it’s come loaded for a serious fight, and that neither McConnell nor Trump’s legal team is prepared. It’s almost as if the House managers spent that time that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave them planning strategy and tactics and practicing their approach to the material. Which suggests that, like Tuesday night, the rest of the week might not go quite as well for Team Trump as they’ve been expecting.

Schumer and the House team may not have won the votes, but they absolutely won the evening. By miles. And everyone on the other side of the aisle should be sweating.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

McConnell‘s rules for the impeachment trial are a cover-up wrapped in obstruction

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has delivered his resolution proposing the rules by which Donald Trump’s impeachment trial will be conducted. And it’s not as bad as many expected—it’s far worse. McConnell has not only set up Trump to receive a hasty, perfunctory process that offers no opportunity to interview witnesses, introduce documents, or seriously discuss the issues— the man who denied a single Senate hearing to Merrick Garland has also drawn up rules intentionally designed to hide the evidence of Trump’s crimes by squeezing the case into the wee hours of the morning.

Under the proposal put forward by McConnell, each side has 24 hours to argue the case for and against Trump. On the surface, that matches the rules of Bill Clinton’s impeachment. However, while in Clinton’s case those hours unfolded in prime time over the course of a week, McConnell is requiring that the case in the Trump trial be made in just two days. And if that sounds bad, it’s actually much worse. Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial in the Senate, has already informed McConnell that he needs to be at the Supreme Court in the mornings. So each session in the Senate will begin no earlier than 1 in the afternoon.

This means that, even if there was not a single break or a moment of process, each day of hearings will carry on until at least 1 a.m. More likely, House managers would be delivering the case against Trump in the hours more commonly associated with heart attacks and robberies. Forget bills that are passed at midnight; midnight will come in the middle of these hearings.

As appropriate as it may be that Trump’s crimes are outlined during the same hours that saw the arrival of Scrooge’s ghosts, McConnell’s proposed rules ensure that the case will be conducted with the least possible scrutiny. It’s a proposal that extends the cover-up of Trump’s extortion scheme directly into the rules of the Senate trial. And the hours in which the case will be conducted are far from the only way in which McConnell has tossed a blanket over Trump’s guilt.

Because McConnell does something utterly unique, and arguably unconstitutional, by refusing to take the most basic step of any impeachment: accept the case from the House. Instead, McConnell would require senators to vote on the acceptance of each plank of the House case. This makes it likely that Republicans will simply exclude everything the House has assembled, meaning that those late-night hours are likely to be filled not with discussion of the evidence against Trump, but with Republicans objecting that none of that information is actually in evidence for the Senate trial.

McConnell has crafted a resolution in which the Republican-dominated Senate has to agree on what evidence it’s going to let in. That doesn’t mean just blocking the testimony of additional witnesses; it also means blocking admission of facts learned from witnesses who have already testified before the House. Under these rules, Republicans can literally pick and choose which evidence they accept.

When it comes to witnesses, there’s an obstacle course of stages embedded in the brief proposal. First, Republicans get a chance to simply vote down the idea of hearing any witnesses. If that doesn’t stop the process at the outset, they then get to secretly depose any witnesses before testimony. And, with that deposition in hand, they will vote again on whether witnesses will be allowed to speak. It’s a process that seems tailored to filter out anyone with less than whole-throated praise for Trump.

When everything is done, senators will get 16 hours for questioning—in a session that also begins at 1 p.m. So expect the final announcement to be accompanied by the sound of senatorial snoring.

But of course, none of this may matter. Because McConnell’s proposal also gives the Senate another option: vote to dismiss the whole impeachment. Confronted with a week of zero-dark-hearing cover-ups, Republicans could well decide to simply show their allegiance by throwing the Constitution out wholesale.

In a way, that’s probably more honest.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Senate GOP caucus meltdown! Five-alarm fire engulfs the White House

Arizona Sen. Martha McSally

Republican senators caught amid a battery of fires engulfing the White House are frantically searching for a way out. Between the Government Accountability Office report determining the Trump administration broke the law by withholding security assistance from Ukraine to the blockbuster Rachel Maddow interview of indicted Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, vulnerable members of the GOP caucus are trying to claw their way to safety on the fly.

No one solution has permeated the caucus, just a scattershot bid for survival. It's an impossible task when Republican lawmakers long ago decided their path to enduring power was to back Donald Trump and all his corruption come hell or high water.

Turns out hell was their fate as the sun arose on the morning they would take their oaths to "do impartial justice" in the impeachment trial of the 45th president of the United States. The night before, Parnas, who desperately wants to testify before Congress, gave his firsthand account of the criminal enterprise Trump has been running from the Oval Office. "President Trump knew exactly what was going on," Parnas told Maddow. "He was aware of all of my movements. I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president."

Yes, Parnas has been criminally indicted and his account must be vetted. But that's the whole point—his account must be vetted. Parnas has too many receipts in the way of texts and handwritten notes not to be taken seriously, which is exactly why GOP senators are fumbling about looking for refuge from the facts—many facts.

In fact, they want refuge from all the facts, including Parnas, the conclusions of the nonpartisan GAO, the potential testimony of John Bolton, the recently reported emails directly implicating Trump and his top deputies in the scandal, not to mention all the other evidence unearthed by the House inquiry.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins is trying to run a misdirection on the Parnas revelations, questioning why the House Intelligence Committee didn't address the very evidence it subpoenaed last October but didn't receive until two days ago.

"Doesn't that suggest that the House did an incomplete job, then?" Collins offered. No, it does not. The materials had been seized by the FBI and unavailable during the House inquiry, so Democrats pressed forward with what was available to them.

For his part, Texas Sen. John Cornyn is trying to keep the illegality of withholding aid to Ukraine from reaching Trump by compartmentalizing it. “It’s a civil matter, it’s not a criminal matter... It’s not directed at the president, it’s the Office of Management and Budget,“ Cornyn told reporters of the GAO report. “The GAO report identifies the OMB, not the president,” he adds.

Oh, okay, so how about all those emails showing that Trump ordered the freeze?

And Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, already facing an uphill climb in her reelection bid, has clearly concluded there's simply no way to deal in facts and acquit Trump. Therefore, it's time to start demonizing the press, just like Trump does. When asked by CNN's Manu Raju if the Senate should consider new evidence in Trump's impeachment trial, McSally disparaged Raju.

"Manu, you’re a liberal hack—I’m not talking to you," she said as she brushed past him and into a hearing room. McSally was so proud of herself, she tweeted out the video from her own account with the words, "You are," as in a liberal hack, in case anyone missed it the first time. Classy. 

In short, Republicans are all searching for the exits as Trump's five-alarm fire of corruption rages on, but no one knows exactly where they are and who will survive.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Moscow Mitch, perjurer

As we head into Donald Trump's impeachment trial next week, it's worth remembering this promise from Moscow Mitch McConnell:
"I'm not an impartial juror. This is a political process. There's not anything judicial about it. […] The House made a partisan political decision to impeach. I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate. I'm not impartial about this at all."
On Thursday, McConnell stood with his hand in the air in front of Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts and took the oath "I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of Donald John Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God."

When he took that oath, when he signed his name to the book proclaiming that oath, he became a perjurer. It's not just crazy liberal bloggers saying so. Former chief White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter says so, too.

Republican organization trolls Trump, posts videos of Ken Starr's 1998 testimony at Clinton trial

The group Republicans for the Rule of Law, a group you may remember produced a video of former conservative prosecutors explaining how and why Donald Trump needed to be impeached for breaking the law, has released another video.

This time, in the wake of the news that former President Clinton investigator Ken Starr is joining Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team, Republicans for the Rule of Law seems to want to remind Ken Starr of his own legal positions on obstruction of justice.

They have been releasing excerpts of video from Starr’s 1998 testimony to Congress, where he outlined his belief that then President Bill Clinton had obstructed justice as Starr investigated Clinton’s extramarital affair.

In one of the clips, Starr explains that the “invocation of privileges” by the Clinton White House was indicative of its unwillingness to comply with the legal investigation being conducted.

In the clip, with a younger, beer-loving future Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sitting behind him, independent counsel Starr tells members of Congress that he considers unmeritorious, frivolous uses of presidential privilege to be “abuses” of the power of the office. But seemingly the only job of the Trump White House the past couple of years is stopping people from testifying or talking with investigators.

The second clip is even more on the nose. In it Starr tells Congress that the Clinton White House has misused its powers of privilege to impede his investigation, and in so doing had “delayed and impeded the investigation.”
These are Republican lawyers pointing out Republican hypocrisy.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Trump's impeachment defense is heavy on Fox News and Jeffrey Epstein

US President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he walks from Marine One upon arrival on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, January 7, 2018, after spending the weekend at Camp David, the Presidential retreat in Maryland. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team got several additions Friday morning and there is SO MUCH to say. Let’s start with the new names: Pam Bondi, Alan Dershowitz, Jane Raskin, Robert Ray, Ken Starr. A few of these stand out, to say the least.

Bondi is the former Florida attorney general who took a $25,000 contribution from Trump shortly before she decided not to pursue a case against the fraudulent Trump University. She was also photographed with Lev Parnas multiple times. Bondi has been a prominent Trump defender on television.

Alan Dershowitz, a member of the O.J. Simpson defense team, was also one of sex predator Jeffrey Epstein’s lawyers and also a friend of Epstein. Dershowitz has said that yes, he got a massage at Epstein’s mansion, but “I kept my underwear on during the massage.” He has been a prominent Trump defender on television. 

Ken Starr is obviously most famous from spending the 1990s turning an investigation into a real estate transaction into impeaching Bill Clinton for a sexual relationship. As CNN’s Elie Honig tweeted, “Now House Managers can point across the well and say: ‘There’s the same guy who interviewed @MonicaLewinsky’s ex-boyfriends, WH window washers and Kathleen Willey’s dentist. Now he doesn’t want us to hear from Bolton and Mulvaney.’”

During that time, Trump had some strong feelings about Starr, telling Matt Lauer that “I think Ken Starr's a lunatic. I really think that Ken Starr is a disaster.” But Starr has been … wait for it … a prominent Trump defender on television.

True story: Starr was also one of sex predator Jeffrey Epstein’s lawyers. Oh, and he lost his job as president of Baylor University after accusations that he mishandled sexual assault allegations against football players.

Robert Ray followed Starr as independent counsel and has been, yes, a frequent Trump defender on television. In 2006 he was charged with stalking his ex-girlfriend. Jane Raskin was on Trump’s defense team during the Mueller investigation.

Trump declares exoneration from brutal GAO report because Dershowitz said so on Fox News

Alan Dershowitz (center) being led away from a conference he tried to disrupt in 2009
Sure, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office says that Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget broke the law by withholding aid from Ukraine, but forget about all that, because Fox News has exonerated Trump.

Trump tweeted a spectacularly dishonest claim made by Alan Dershowitz on Fox News’ Sean Hannnity show on Thursday night, that “The GOA (sic) got it exactly backwards. Here’s what they said. The law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities to those Congress has enacted into law. It’s exactly the opposite. The Constitution does not allow Congress to substitute its own priorities for the foreign policies of the President.” While Dershowitz had an impressive career as a criminal lawyer and legal academic, an expert in administrative law he is not—while the professionals at the GAO, though not infallible, are absolutely experts in the law they assess.

Dershowitz joined a series of other Republicans straining to argue that the GAO report is not as damning as it in fact is. Sen. Rand Paul, too, went with the “they misunderstand the law” angle, and it’s still wrong to a ridiculous “up is down” extent.

But Trump jumped so hard on the fake exoneration Dershowitz offered because it’s the best thing he’s got going. And for Dershowitz it appears to have been the final, successful audition to join Trump’s impeachment defense team, to which he’s been added along with Ken Starr and Robert Ray, and which will continue to be headed by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump personal lawyer Jay Sekulow.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Should Facebook and Twitter Stop Trump's Lies?

Robert Reich. (photo: Getty)

Robert Reich. (photo: Getty)
By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

17 January 20

acebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he’ll run political ads even if false. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says he’ll stop running political ads.

Dorsey has the correct approach, but this entire debate about ads skirts the bigger question: Who’s responsible for protecting democracy from big, dangerous lies?

Donald Trump lies like most people breathe, and his lies have grown more vicious and dangerous as he’s been cornered – conjuring up conspiracies, spewing hate, and saying established facts are lies, and lies are truths.

This would be hard enough for a democracy to handle, but Zuckerberg’s Facebook sends Trump’s unfiltered lies to 43 percent of Americans, for whom Facebook is a source of news. And Dorsey’s Twitter sends them to 67 million Twitter users every day.

A major characteristic of the Internet goes by the fancy term “disintermediation.” Put simply, it means sellers are linked directly to customers with no need for middlemen.

Amazon eliminates the need for retailers. Online investing eliminates the need for stock brokers. Travel agents and real estate brokers have become obsolete as consumers get all the information they need at a keystroke.

But democracy cannot be disintermediated. We’re not just buyers and sellers. We’re also citizens who need to know what’s happening around us in order to exercise our right to, and responsibility for, self-government.

If a president and his enablers are peddling vicious and dangerous lies, we need reliable intermediaries that help us see that they’re lies.

Intermediating between the powerful and the people was once the job of publishers and journalists – hence the term “media.”

This role was understood to be so critical to democracy that the Constitution enshrined it in the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press.

With that freedom came a public responsibility to be a bulwark against powerful lies.

The media haven’t always lived up to that responsibility. We had yellow journalism in the nineteenth century, and today endure shock radio, the National Enquirer, and Fox News.

But most publishers and journalists have recognized that duty. Think of the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate investigation, and, more recently, the exposure of Trump’s withholding $400 million in security aid to Ukraine until it investigated Trump’s major political rival, Joe Biden.

Zuckerberg and Dorsey insist they are not publishers or journalists. They say Facebook and Twitter are just “platforms” that convey everything and anything – facts, lies, conspiracies, vendettas – with none of the public responsibilities that come with being part of the press.

That is rubbish. They can’t be the major carriers of the news on which most Americans rely while taking no responsibility for its content.

Advertising isn’t the issue. It doesn’t matter whether Trump pays Facebook or Twitter to post dishonest ads about Joe Biden and his son, or Trump and his enablers post the same lies on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Or even if Russia and Iran repeat the lies in their own subversive postings on Facebook and Twitter.

The problem is we have an American president who will say anything to preserve his power, and we’ve got two giant entities that spread his lies uncritically, like global-sized bullhorns.

We can’t do anything about Trump for now. But we can and should take action against the power of these two enablers.

If they are unwilling to protect the public against powerful lies, they shouldn’t have so much power to spread them to begin with.

The reason 45 percent of Americans rely on Facebook for news and Trump’s tweets reach 67 million Twitter users is because these platforms are near monopolies – dominating the information marketplace.

No television network, cable, or newspaper comes close. Fox News’s viewership rarely exceeds 3 million. The New York Times has 4.9 million subscribers.

Facebook and Twitter aren’t just participants in the information marketplace. They’re quickly becoming the information marketplace.

Antitrust law was designed to check the power of giant commercial entities. Its purpose wasn’t just to hold down consumer prices but also to protect democracy.

Antitrust should be used against Facebook and Twitter. They should be broken up.

So instead of two mammoth megaphones trumpeting Trump’s lies, or those of any similarly truth-challenged successor to Trump, the public will have more diverse sources of information, some of which will expose the lies.

A diverse information marketplace is no guarantee against tyranny, of course. But the system we now have – featuring a president who lies through his teeth and two giant uncritical conveyors of those lies – invites tyranny.