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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Impeachment Battle to Turn for First Time on a President’s Ties to a Foreign Country - The New York Times

The emerging battle over the future of the presidency will explore, as never before, the scope and limits of a commander in chief’s interactions with other countries.

"WASHINGTON — Alexander Hamilton, as usual, got right to the heart of the matter. When the framers were designing the Constitution and its power of impeachment, one of the high crimes they had in mind was giving into what Hamilton called “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.”

For the authors of the country’s charter, there were few bigger threats than a president corruptly tied to forces from overseas. And so as the House opened an impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s interactions with Ukraine this past week, the debate quickly focused on one of the oldest issues in America’s democratic experiment.

The emerging battle over the future of Mr. Trump’s presidency will explore as never before the scope and limits of a commander in chief’s interactions with other countries. His adversaries echo the fears of the founders in accusing Mr. Trump of committing high crimes by pressuring Ukraine to dig up dirt on Democratic opponents while holding up American aid. Mr. Trump contends that impeaching him would infringe on the ability of future presidents to conduct foreign policy.

Unlike the impeachment battles involving Andrew Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton, the debate over Mr. Trump turns on whether a president can solicit or accept help from abroad to advance his political fortunes and where lies the line between the national interest and personal interests.


Shortly after the latest revelations about Mr. Trump’s pressure on Ukraine, Senator Christopher Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, denounced what he called “the president’s corrupt efforts to press a foreign nation into the service of his re-election campaign.”

“To use America’s global credibility as a casino token, to be cashed in for personal political gain,” he added, “is an intolerable abuse of power and totally anathema to the rule of law.”

Mr. Trump has maintained that he was the one trying to stop illicit foreign involvement in American politics by pressing President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to examine whether Ukrainians helped Democrats during the 2016 campaign and to look into unsubstantiated corruption allegations involving former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“If that perfect phone call with the President of Ukraine Isn’t considered appropriate, then no future President can EVER again speak to another foreign leader!” he wrote on Twitter on Friday.

While the framers of the Constitution might never have imagined an impeachment battle waged 280 characters at a time, they did essentially foresee a showdown over foreign influence on an American president. In fact, in the early years of the republic, one of the most dominant fears of the political class was falling under the sway of other powers.


“There was a concern, even a paranoia, about foreign intervention, about people who don’t have the interests of a new country being taken advantage of by an old power,” said Corey Brettschneider, a political-science professor and constitutional scholar at Brown University and author of “The Oath and the Office.”

The framers expressed this explicitly by inserting what is now called the emoluments clause in the Constitution, barring international payments or gifts to a president or other federal elected official: “No person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

Once a forgotten element of the Constitution, it has attained new popular recognition in the Trump era as multiple critics of the president wage legal battles arguing that he has violated the emoluments clause through hotels and resorts of his that are patronized by Middle East sheikhs and other foreign potentates.

Indeed, Mr. Trump’s entire presidency has been shadowed by questions of foreign ties. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, concluded his investigation by saying he had not found sufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Russia and Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, but that was a narrow legal judgment.

While the president has sought to interpret that report to mean that Russia’s ties to the campaign were a “hoax” made up by his opponents, in fact Mr. Mueller’s investigation documented extensive contacts between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russian figures.

It concluded that the Kremlin sought specifically to help Mr. Trump get elected, and Mr. Mueller said Mr. Trump’s campaign welcomed Russia’s help. Mr. Trump at one point even publicly called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails, and within hours Russian agents sought to do just that by trying to break into her computer servers.

In the end, House Democrats shied away from trying to impeach Mr. Trump on those grounds since Mr. Mueller said he could not establish a criminal conspiracy. But it set the stage for the current impeachment battle.


The concept of impeachment was adopted from Britain, where there had been plenty of misadventures in foreign policy involving bribes, treaties and ill-advised royal marriage matches over the years.

“Foreign policy mistakes or corruption of foreign policy is a big component of the body of British impeachment precedents that the framers had in mind,” said Frank O. Bowman III, a law professor at the University of Missouri and author of the new book, “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

The fear of foreign powers likewise animated the discussion over impeachment. The delegates who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787, seeking to replace the dysfunctional Articles of Confederation, wanted to create a stronger executive but not a king immune from accountability. The challenge was figuring out what would trigger the most radical remedy of removal from office.

At first, the delegates adopted a phrase from Hugh Williamson of North Carolina making a president “removable on impeachment and conviction of malpractice or neglect of duty,” a phrase so broad as to allow Congress to force out a chief executive not just for corruption but for ineffectiveness, more akin to a prime minister who loses a vote of confidence.

That went too far for some delegates and the debate was reopened. What they were looking to avoid, among other things, was a president abusing power for his own personal gain — and the thought of a president who subordinated the national good to foreign interests was high on the list.

James Madison feared that a president might “betray his trust to foreign powers,” while Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, who at first opposed including an impeachment clause at all, agreed that they needed recourse for “the danger of seeing the first Magistrate in foreign pay.”

So they crafted a clause empowering Congress to impeach a president “for treason, or bribery.”

George Mason of Virginia argued that was too limited; there were plenty of abuses that did not add up to treason. He proposed adding “maladministration.” But that again seemed too open-ended to Madison, who complained that it would mean a president served essentially at the pleasure of the Senate.


Mason then suggested “other high crimes and misdemeanors,” the compromise that was then accepted.

But Americans have been debating ever since just what qualified as a high crime. Again, the framers had illicit ties with foreign powers in mind. During the Virginia ratifying convention, Edmund Randolph linked impeachment to foreign money, saying that a president “may be impeached” if discovered “receiving emoluments from foreign powers.” Others suggested that lying to the Senate about information related to a foreign treaty would qualify for impeachment.

That concern would continue to be a preoccupation of the country’s early leaders. In his farewell address, George Washington spoke of “the insidious wiles of foreign influence,” calling it “one of the most baneful foes of republican government” and urging America “to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” Thomas Jefferson echoed that in warning against “entangling alliances” with foreign powers.

Other presidents have been accused of crossing lines when it came to foreign affairs and personal political interests. As a candidate in 1968, Mr. Nixon sought to secretly throw a “monkey wrench” into Vietnam peace talks conducted by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration to help his own election chances, although that took place before he was himself the president.

That was not included as part of the articles of impeachment later drafted against him over Watergate. Some Democrats wanted to charge Mr. Nixon with high crimes for concealing the bombing of Cambodia but the House Judiciary Committee rejected that. Mr. Nixon resigned before the full House voted on whether to impeach him.

People associated with Ronald Reagan’s campaign in 1980 were accused of striking a secret deal with Iran to delay the release of American hostages until after the election, but a bipartisan House investigation later concluded there was no merit to the allegations.

Mr. Clinton came under fire after Chinese interests tied to the Beijing government funneled large sums of money into Democratic coffers during his 1996 re-election campaign. But that controversy was soon overshadowed by revelations of his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky, leading to his impeachment and acquittal on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

The only impeachment involving foreign policy came in the case of a senator, William Blount, who was accused in 1787 of scheming to transfer parts of Florida and the Louisiana territory to Britain. The House impeached Blount but he fled Washington and the Senate opted to expel him rather than convict him at trial.

A mere 232 years later, Congress and the country will now again confront the question of where the line sits between national interests and personal political interests."

Impeachment Battle to Turn for First Time on a President’s Ties to a Foreign Country - The New York Times

Friday, September 27, 2019

Cracks form in Republican defense of Trump behavior on Ukraine

Cracks form in Republican defense of Trump behavior on Ukraine

Opinion | Just How Corrupt Is Bill Barr? - The New York Times

"By now you have probably read the opening of the whistle-blower complaint filed by a member of the intelligence community accusing Donald Trump of manipulating American foreign policy for political gain. But the whistle-blower’s stark, straightforward account of stupefying treachery deserves to be repeated as often as possible.

“In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the president of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election,” the whistle-blower wrote. “This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the president’s main domestic political rivals. The president’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well.”

Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well. The whistle-blower’s complaint was deemed credible and urgent by Michael Atkinson, Trump’s own intelligence community inspector general, but Bill Barr’s Justice Department suppressed it. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion saying that the complaint needn’t be turned over to Congress, as the whistle-blower statute instructs. When Atkinson made a criminal referral to the Justice Department, it reportedly didn’t even open an investigation. And all the time, Barr was named in the complaint that his office was covering up.

Under any conceivable ethical standard, Barr should have recused himself. But ethical standards, perhaps needless to say, mean nothing in this administration.

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning, with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

In the Ukraine scandal, evidence of comprehensive corruption goes far beyond Trump. Former prosecutors have said that Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, may have been part of a criminal conspiracy when he pressed Ukrainian officials to open an investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Vice President Mike Pence is also tied to the shakedown of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, having met with him this month to talk about “corruption” and American financial aid. When this administration complains about Ukrainian “corruption,” it almost inevitably means a failure to corruptly pursue investigations that would bolster conspiracy theories benefiting Trump.

The whistle-blower wrote that White House officials moved a word-for-word transcript of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky from the computer system where such transcripts were typically kept into a separate system for the most highly classified information. “According to White House officials I spoke with, this was ‘not the first time’ under this administration that a presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive — rather than national security sensitive — information,” the whistle-blower said.

According to Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University School of Law, any lawyers involved in hiding these transcripts might have done something illegal. “The rule is it is both unethical and a crime for a lawyer to participate in altering, destroying or concealing a document, and here the allegation is that the word-for-word transcript was moved from the place where people ordinarily would think to look for it, to a place where it would not likely be found,” said Gillers. “That’s concealing.”

Then there’s Barr’s personal involvement in the Ukraine plot. In the reconstruction of Trump’s call with Zelensky that was released by the White House, Trump repeatedly said that he wanted Ukraine’s government to work with Barr on investigating the Bidens. Barr’s office insists that the president hasn’t spoken to Barr about the subject, but given the attorney general’s record of flagrant dishonesty — including his attempts to mislead the public about the contents of the Mueller report — there’s no reason to believe him. Besides, said Representative Jamie Raskin, a former constitutional law professor who now sits on the House Judiciary Committee, “the effort to suppress the existence of the phone conversation itself is an obvious obstruction of justice.”

But Barr’s refusal to recuse creates a sort of legal cul-de-sac. It’s only the Justice Department, ultimately, that can prosecute potential federal crimes arising from this scandal. Barr’s ethical nihilism, his utter indifference to ordinary norms of professional behavior, means that he’s retaining the authority to stop investigations into crimes he may have participated in.

“The administration of justice is cornered because the ultimate executive authority for that government role includes the people whose behavior is suspect,” said Gillers.

That makes the impeachment proceedings in the House, where Barr will likely be called as a witness, the last defense against complete administration lawlessness. “Just as the president is not above the law, the attorney general is not above the law,” said Raskin. “The president’s betrayal of his oath of office and the Constitution is the primary offense here, and we need to stay focused on that, but the attorney general’s prostitution of the Department of Justice for the president’s political agenda has been necessary to the president’s schemes and he will face his own reckoning.”

I hope Raskin is right. But until that day comes, people who care about the rule of law in this country should be screaming for Barr’s recusal, even if he won’t listen. He is now wrapped up in one of the gravest scandals in American political history. Can America’s chief law enforcement officer really be allowed to decide whether to criminally investigate misdeeds he might have helped to commit or to conceal? The answer will tell us just how crooked the justice system under Trump has become."

Opinion | Just How Corrupt Is Bill Barr? - The New York Times

House Republican: President Donald Trump's Ukraine Call "Not O.K." | Not one Republican on the House Intelligence Committee defended President Trump's call with the leader of Ukraine, despite Schiff and Pelosi both saying Trump's actions amounted to a betrayal of his oath of office. Aired on 09/26/19..

Sen. Bernie Sanders: The Impeachment Inquiry Needs To Move Quickly

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Make Donald Drumpf Again - John Oliver, Last Week Tonight

Opinion | Congress Steps Up, Trump Blinks - The New York Times

"It’s a start, maybe.
The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.
It turns out President Trump can push his fellow Republicans too far. Senate Republicans stuck up for themselves, and their institution, on Tuesday by joining unanimously with their Democratic colleagues to call on the president to stop stonewalling. They asked him to release to the relevant congressional committees the complaint from a whistle-blower that an inspector general had said raised an “urgent concern” about the president’s behavior.
On the need for greater transparency from this White House, lawmakers from both parties are in unusual agreement, at least for now. And the White House showed signs of backing down, signaling not that it would release the full complaint but that it might not block the whistle-blower from testifying.
The rare display of institutional solidarity in defense of American democracy may prove ephemeral. On the other hand, it can be hard to recognize turning points in the moment, and this week Mr. Trump’s outrages seemed to be stirring lawmakers from their state of political rigidity and passivity.
On Tuesday, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, announced she would open an impeachment inquiry. But when reports surfaced this spring that Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, had been pushing Ukrainian officials to pursue a corruption investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, there was no mass outrage, no collective gasp of horror.
But over the past couple of months, and more intensely the past couple of weeks, has come an accelerating accretion of more, and more alarming, information: a whistle-blower complaint had been filed with the inspector general of the intelligence community accusing Mr. Trump of, among other acts, pressing the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, about Mr. Biden; the Department of Justice was blocking the inspector general from passing along the complaint, contra federal law; just days before speaking with Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Trump had directed the White House staff to withhold close to $400 million in military aid from Ukraine.
This episode of extreme politicking by Mr. Trump seems to go straight to questions of national security, and Democratic lawmakers who had been hesitant to call for impeachment began suggesting that it might be inevitable. On Sunday, Ms. Pelosi, a devout impeachment skeptic, gave the administration until Thursday to hand over the whistle-blower complaint or face “a whole new stage of investigation.” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, felt moved to tweet that it was “critical” for the facts to come out.
Come Monday, and rolling into Tuesday, Washington was buzzing with a nervous energy. Everyone was on high alert, frantically scanning for signs of where things were headed next. Ms. Pelosi was canvassing her members about impeachment. With every House Democrat who stepped forward to speak about Ukraine — Debbie Dingell, Rosa DeLauro, John Lewis — the scramble to analyze the odds of impeachment began anew. In a Monday op-ed in The Washington Post, seven freshman House Democrats, including some from districts Mr. Trump won in 2016, came out in favor of a formal impeachment investigation. Twitter was awash in clichéd metaphors describing the shifting politics — the dam was breaking, the tide was turning, the winds were shifting. (In the real world, it always bears remembering, most people were less transfixed by the news from Washington.)
Republicans remained notably tepid about rushing to the president’s defense. The Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Richard Burr of North Carolina, opened an investigation into the matter and made clear it wanted to hear from the whistle-blower as soon as possible. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, publicly asserted that he had pushed for the funding for Ukraine and received no explanation for why it had been held up by the administration.
At some point Tuesday, the rumbling began that Ms. Pelosi would hold an afternoon news conference to announce the opening of a formal impeachment inquiry. Shortly after 2 o’clock, Mr. Trump tweeted that he had authorized the release of the “complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript” of his call with Mr. Zelensky.
If the president was hoping this would ease the rising pressure, he was mistaken.
Democrats are not content to receive a transcript provided by the administration. Nor should they be. The allegations at hand are complicated and serious and call for the whistle-blower complaint in its entirety to be handed over to Congress. (The complaint is said to be about multiple concerning acts.) Ms. Pelosi conveyed this to the president Tuesday morning.
At 5 o’clock, Ms. Pelosi went before the nation and, in a five-minute statement, laid out the basic concerns about the president’s behavior, including his attempt to prevent Congress from learning about that behavior. “The president must be held accountable,” said Ms. Pelosi. “No one is above the law.”
There will be no more push and pull among Democrats about whether to hold an official impeachment inquiry. With apologies to Twitter, the trigger has been pulled, the Rubicon crossed, the die cast.
After months — years even — of watching Mr. Trump behave as though he answered to no one, many lawmakers seemed almost relieved that the showdown had arrived. Now that it has, lawmakers of both parties must proceed with care. Rarely have the stakes been so high."
Opinion | Congress Steps Up, Trump Blinks - The New York Times

How the Impeachment Process Works - The New York Times

The Trump administration refused to share a whistleblower complaint, related to Mr. Trump’s communications with Ukraine’s president, with Congress.

"WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday that the House would launch a formal impeachment inquiry in response to the dispute over Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his potential 2020 rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
The rising furor has heightened interest in how the impeachment process works. Here’s what you need to know:
What is impeachment?
The Constitution permits Congress to remove presidents before their term is up if enough lawmakers vote to say that they committed “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Only two presidents have been impeached — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 — and both were ultimately acquitted and completed their terms in office. Richard M. Nixon, resigned in 1974 to avoid being impeached.
What is a “high crime”?
The term “high crimes and misdemeanors” came out of the British common law tradition: it was the sort of offense that Parliament cited in removing crown officials for centuries. Essentially, it means an abuse of power by a high-level public official. This does not necessarily have to be a violation of an ordinary criminal statute.
In 1788, as supporters of the Constitution were urging states to ratify the document, Alexander Hamilton described impeachable crimes in one of the Federalist Papers as “those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”
What is the process?
In both the Nixon and the Clinton cases, the House Judiciary Committee first held an investigation and recommended articles of impeachment to the full House. In theory, however, the House of Representatives could instead set up a special panel to handle the proceedings — or just hold a floor vote on such articles without any committee vetting them.
When the full House votes on articles of impeachment, if at least one gets a majority vote, the president is impeached — which is essentially the equivalent of being indicted.
Six House committees are expected to continue investigating President Trump on impeachable offenses and to send their strongest cases to the Judiciary Committee.
The findings are determined to be insufficient evidence of wrongdoing.
The findings are determined to be sufficient.
Trump remains
in office
The House holds a floor vote on one or more articles of impeachment.
Democrats currently
control the House.
A majority of House members vote to impeach.
Less than a majority of the House votes to impeach.
Trump remains
in office
Trump is
The articles of impeachment move to the Senate, which then holds a trial.
After the trial, the Senate holds a vote to convict the president.
Republicans currently
control the Senate.
Two-thirds of members present do not vote to convict.
Two-thirds of members present vote to convict.
Trump remains
in office
Trump removed
from office
Six House committees are expected to continue investigating President Trump on impeachable offenses and to send their strongest cases to the Judiciary Committee.
The findings are determined to be insufficient evidence of wrongdoing.
Trump remains
in office
The findings are determined to be sufficient.
The House holds a floor vote on one or more articles of impeachment.
Democrats currently control the House.
Less than a majority of the House votes to impeach.
A majority of House members vote to impeach.
Trump remains
in office
Trump is
The articles of impeachment move to the Senate, which then holds a trial.
After the trial, the Senate holds a vote to convict the president.
Republicans currently control the Senate.
Two-thirds of members present do not vote to convict.
Two-thirds of members present vote to convict.
Trump remains n office
Trump removed from office
Next, the proceedings move to the Senate, which is to hold a trial overseen by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
A team of lawmakers from the House, known as managers, play the role of prosecutors. The president has defense lawyers, and the Senate serves as the jury.
If at least two-thirds of the senators find the president guilty, he is removed, and the vice president takes over as president. There is no appeal.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has claimed that the panel is already engaged in an impeachment investigation.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has claimed that the panel is already engaged in an impeachment investigation.
This has been a subject of dispute. During the Nixon and Clinton impeachment efforts, the full House voted for resolutions directing the House Judiciary Committee to open the inquiries. But it is not clear whether that step is strictly necessary, because impeachment proceedings against other officials, like a former federal judge in 1989, began at the committee level.
The House Judiciary Committee, led by Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, has claimed — including in court filings — that the panel is already engaged in an impeachment investigation. Mr. Trump’s Justice Department has argued that since there has been no House resolution, the committee is just engaged in a routine oversight proceeding.
Ms. Pelosi did not say in her announcement that she intended to bring any resolution to the floor.
Whether or not it is necessary, it has not been clear whether a resolution to formally start an impeachment inquiry would pass a House vote, although the number of Democrats who support one has recently been surging. As of late Tuesday, The New York Times counted 203 members who said they favored impeachment proceedings, 88 who said they opposed them or were undecided, and 144 who had not responded to the question.
What are the rules for a Senate trial?
There are no set rules. Rather, the Senate passes a resolution first laying out trial procedures.
“When the Senate decided what the rules were going to be for our trial, they really made them up as they went along,” Gregory B. Craig, who helped defend Mr. Clinton in his impeachment proceeding and later served as White House counsel to President Barack Obama, told The Times in 2017.
For example, Mr. Craig said, the initial rules in that case gave Republican managers four days to make a case for conviction, followed by four days for the president’s legal team to defend him. These were essentially opening statements. The Senate then decided whether to hear witnesses, and if so, whether it would be live or on videotape. Eventually, the Senate permitted each side to depose several witnesses by videotape.
The rules adopted by the Senate in the Clinton trial — including ones limiting the number of witnesses and the length of depositions — made it harder to prove a case compared with trials in federal court, said former Representative Bob Barr, Republican of Georgia who served as a House manager during the trial and is also a former United States attorney.
“Impeachment is a creature unto itself,” Mr. Barr said. “The jury in a criminal case doesn’t set the rules for a case and can’t decide what evidence they want to see and what they won’t.”
What are the standards for impeachment and removal?
The Constitution does not specify many, making impeachment and removal as much a question of political will as of legal analysis.
For example, the Constitution does not detail how lawmakers may choose to interpret what does or does not constitute impeachable “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Similarly, there is no established standard of proof that must be met.
Is the Senate obligated to hold a trial?
The Constitution clearly envisions that if the House impeaches a federal official, the next step is for the Senate to hold a trial. But there is no obvious enforcement mechanism if Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, were to simply refuse to convene one — just as he refused to permit a confirmation hearing and vote on Mr. Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016.
Still Walter Dellinger, a Duke University law professor and a former acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, said it is unclear whether it would be Mr. McConnell or Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. who wields the authority to convene the Senate for the purpose of considering House-passed articles of impeachment.
Either way, though, he noted that the Republican majority in the Senate could vote to immediately dismiss the case without any consideration of the evidence if it wanted.
To date, Senate Republicans have given no indication that they would break with Mr. Trump, especially in numbers sufficient to remove him from office. In their internal debate about what to do, some Democrats have argued that this political reality means that they should instead focus on trying to beat him in the 2020 election, on the theory that an acquittal in the Senate might backfire by strengthening him politically. Others have argued that impeaching him is a moral necessity to deter future presidents from acting like Mr. Trump, even if Senate Republicans are likely to keep him in office.
In that same Federalist Paper written in 1788, Mr. Hamilton wrote that the inherently political nature of impeachment proceedings would be sure to polarize the country.
Their prosecution, he wrote, “will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt."

How the Impeachment Process Works - The New York Times

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Watch live: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at Atlantic's Ideas Summit in Washington. She refuses to answer direct questions regarding impeachment. She is not telling the truth. Pelosi is pathetic. She is Trump's biggest enabler. Pelosi even quotes segregationist Ronald Reagan.

Trump called the ratcheting up of impeachment talk a "ridiculous witch hunt" and insisted his call with Zelensky "was perfect."

Image: President Donald Trump briefly attends the United Nations (UN) Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23, 2019 in New York City.

Trump has teased the possibility he may release a transcript of his phone call with Zelensky, a move that several Republicans have publicly pushed him to do.
On Saturday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said he didn't think Trump pressured Zelensky during the phone call. Trump and Zelensky are set to meet face to face this week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York.
Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani have engaged in a monthslong effort to have Ukraine probe the Bidens — an effort aided by the State Department.
It centers on the former vice president's 2016 call, widely backed by the international community, for Ukraine to crack down on corruption. That included a call to remove a Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was seen as ineffective and was later removed by the country's Parliament. One of the cases that Shokin was investigating involved Burisma Holdings, a natural gas company, whose board at the time included Biden's son.
Earlier this year, Bloomberg News, citing documents and an interview with a former Ukrainian official, reported the Burisma investigation had been dormant for more than a year by the time Biden called for the crackdown on corruption. The then-Ukrainian prosecutor general told the news agency he found no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden and his son. And PolitiFact reported it found no evidence to "support the idea that Joe Biden advocated with his son's interests in mind."

Monday, September 23, 2019

Opinion | Nancy Pelosi’s Failure to Launch - The New York Times

"Elizabeth Warren on Friday evening sent out a series of tweets that, in addition to calling out Donald Trump for his criminality, rebuked Congress for enabling him. “After the Mueller report, Congress had a duty to begin impeachment,” wrote Warren. “By failing to act, Congress is complicit in Trump’s latest attempt to solicit foreign interference to aid him in U.S. elections. Do your constitutional duty and impeach the president.”
Warren was not impolitic enough to refer directly to the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, but the implicit criticism was clear. It was also well deserved. Pelosi’s calculated timidity on impeachment is emboldening Trump, demoralizing progressives, and failing the country.
The House speaker is a master legislator, and by all accounts incomparable at corralling votes. But right now, Democrats need a brawler willing to use every tool at her disposal to stop America’s descent into autocracy, and Pelosi has so far refused to rise to the occasion. As Representative Jared Huffman tweeted, “We are verging on tragic fecklessness.”
Part of Pelosi’s rationale for not impeaching after the release of the Mueller report was that such a move didn’t have majority support in the country or bipartisan support in Congress. Her allies worried that were Trump to be impeached in the House but not convicted in the Senate, he could emerge stronger than ever. Many Democrats in swing districts wanted to steer clear.
These were reasonable concerns, but inaction signaled to Trump that he would face no consequences for obstructing justice or for seeking a foreign power’s help in undermining a political opponent.
Now Trump has used the power of the presidency to do just that. We don’t yet know all the details in the whistle-blower report filed by a member of the intelligence community, which is now being kept, possibly illegally, from Congress. But there’s little question that the president tried to pressure the government of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden; both Trump and his ranting disgrace of a lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have admitted as much on television.
The idea was to try to force Ukraine to provide grist for a thoroughly debunked right-wing conspiracy theory that as vice president, Biden targeted a Ukrainian prosecutor on his son’s behalf. While Trump was strong-arming the reformist Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, his administration had frozen $250 million in security aid that the country desperately needed to defend itself against Russia, which invaded in 2014. It doesn’t matter if there was an explicit quid pro quo; Zelensky knew what Trump wanted from him. Trump deployed American foreign policy to extort a vulnerable nation to help his re-election campaign.
Trump’s latest defilement of his oath of office has pushed some previously reluctant Democrats, like the House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff, toward impeachment. Schiff reportedly coordinated his recent pro-impeachment comments with Pelosi, yet she remains resistant to moving in the same direction. One of Pelosi’s advisers told the CNBC reporter John Harwood that her impeachment calculus hasn’t changed, saying, “See any G.O.P. votes for it?” It was almost as if the adviser was trying to troll scared, desperate Democrats, rubbing their faces in the speaker’s baffling determination to give Trump’s party veto power over accountability.
The most Pelosi has done is to write that if the whistle-blower’s complaint is kept from Congress, the administration “will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation.” Given the impunity Trump has enjoyed so far, this does not seem like a threat with teeth.
Ultimately, no one can know the political consequences of impeachment in advance. I find it hard to imagine how months of televised hearings into a widely hated president’s comprehensive corruption could help him, but I can’t see the future. Perhaps impeachment in the House without removal in the Senate would allow Trump to convince some voters he’s been exonerated, though so does the failure to impeach him at all.
Polls show that impeachment doesn’t have majority support, so there’s a political risk for Democrats in trying to lead public opinion rather than follow it. But surely there’s also a risk in appearing weak and irresolute. Already, frustration with Pelosi in the Democratic base is threatening to curdle into despair. “I see the grass-roots activists who helped build the wave last year really wondering what they built that wave for,” Ezra Levin, co-founder of the progressive group Indivisible, told me.
In the end, our system offers no mechanism besides impeachment to check a president who operates like a mob boss. It’s true that Democrats will remove Trump only by beating him in 2020, but he is already cheating in that election, just as he did in 2016, and paying no price for it.
A formal impeachment process would, if nothing else, give new weight to Democratic claims when they go to court to enforce subpoenas or pry loose documents the administration is trying to hide. It would show that Democrats are serious when they say that Trump’s behavior is intolerable, and potentially allow them to seize control of the day-to-day narrative of this rancid presidency. Trump does not want to be impeached — a Monday Politico headline says, “Trump’s team is trying to stop impeachment before it starts.” It’s hard to imagine why any Democratic leader would assist them."

Opinion | Nancy Pelosi’s Failure to Launch - The New York Times

Democrats Pressure Republican Senate to Join Ukraine Inquiry - The New York Times

"This is the type of political pressure Democrats should be engaging in, but on a much wider scale.

'WASHINGTON — The top Senate Democrat on Monday called on Senate Republicans to join Democrats in demanding that the administration furnish details about explosive allegations that President Trump pressured a foreign leader to help produce damaging information on a leading political rival.
Seeking to apply political pressure to Republicans who have so far been unwilling to criticize Mr. Trump, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, warned that Republicans would be complicit in Mr. Trump’s actions if they failed to demand that the White House release a transcript of a call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, and subpoena a related whistle-blower complaint.

Doing otherwise, Mr. Schumer wrote in a letter to Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, would show Republicans to be “silent and submissive, shying away from this institution’s constitutional obligation to conduct oversight.”
“This is a whistle-blower complaint that has been labeled ‘urgent’ and ‘credible’ not by Democrats, but by a senior-level Trump appointee,” Mr. Schumer wrote. “It is the Senate’s duty to take this national security matter seriously and to take action now.”
Mr. Schumer made his call as pressure was building on Democrats to move more aggressively toward impeaching Mr. Trump over the new revelations, and his administration’s refusal to disclose the whistle-blower complaint about them, as required by law.
Mr. Schumer called on Mr. McConnell and relevant Senate committee chairmen to hold hearings with the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who has said he is not required to hand over the complaint; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; and Russell Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget. He also asked for an investigation to determine why the Trump administration had temporarily withheld $250 million in military aid from Ukraine this summer, at the same time that Mr. Trump and his personal lawyer were reportedly making demands that the country investigate Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former vice president."

Democrats Pressure Republican Senate to Join Ukraine Inquiry - The New York Times

These Divers Search For Slave Shipwrecks and Discover Their Ancestors | ...

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Navy Confirms Existence of 'Unidentified' Flying Objects in Leaked Footage | Time

"A Navy official has confirmed that recently released videos of unidentified flying objects are real, but that the footage was not authorized to be released to the public in the first place.

Joseph Gradisher, the spokesman for the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare, confirmed to TIME that three widely-shared videos captured “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.”

Gradisher initially confirmed this in a statement to “The Black Vault” a website dedicated to declassified government documents.

“The Navy designates the objects contained in these videos as unidentified aerial phenomena,” Gradisher told the site.

He tells TIME that he was “surprised” by the press coverage surrounding his statement to the site, particularly around his classification of the incursions as” unidentifiable,” but says that he hopes that leads to UAP’s being “de-stigmatized.”

“The reason why I’m talking about it is to drive home the seriousness of this issue,” Gradisher says. “The more I talk, the more our aviators and all services are more willing to come forward.”

Gradisher would not speculate as to what the unidentified objects seen in the videos were, but did say they are usually proved to be mundane objects like drones—not alien spacecraft.
“The frequency of incursions have increased since the advents of drones and quadcopters,” he says.
In December 2017 and March 2018, three videos of UFOs were published by the New York Times and “To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science“, a self-described “public benefit corporation” co-founded by Tom Delonge, best known as the vocalist and guitarist for the rock band, Blink-182.
The first of the videos, known as the “GIMBAL footage” shows a 2004 encounter near San Diego between a Navy fighter jet and an unidentified aerial phenomenon.

Trump Acknowledges Discussing Biden in Call With Ukrainian Leader - The New York Times

"Trump Acknowledges Discussing Biden in Call With Ukrainian Leader
President Trump defended his July phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine as appropriate, but confirmed that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. came up during the discussion.
Pete Marovich for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump acknowledged on Sunday that he discussed former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. with Ukraine’s president as Democrats ramped up calls for an investigation into whether he improperly pressured a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent.
While Mr. Trump defended his July phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine as perfectly appropriate, he confirmed that Mr. Biden came up during the discussion and that he accused the former vice president of corruption tied to his son Hunter’s business activities in that former Soviet republic.
“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, with largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place and largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” Mr. Trump told reporters before leaving for a trip to Texas and Ohio.
Mr. Trump did not directly confirm news reports that he pressured Mr. Zelensky for an investigation. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Mr. Trump urged Mr. Zelensky about eight times during the July 25 phone call to work with the president’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, on an investigation of Mr. Biden and his son.

Mr. Giuliani has already publicly acknowledged pressing Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens, and Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday and again over the weekend that the former vice president should be investigated without saying whether it came up during the phone call.
The president’s interest over the summer in a Ukrainian investigation into Mr. Biden, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination and the right to run against Mr. Trump in next year’s election, coincided with his administration’s decision to hold up $250 million in security aid to Ukraine. But there have been no indications that Mr. Trump mentioned the money during the call. The president finally agreed to release the money this month after coming under bipartisan pressure from Congress.
Mr. Trump’s interactions with Ukraine are at least part of a whistle-blower’s complaint that has generated intense interest on Capitol Hill. The administration has refused to release the complaint to Congress. Mr. Trump said on Sunday that he would “love” to release a transcript of the call “but you have to be a little bit shy about doing it.”
The revelations increased pressure on Democrats to impeach Mr. Trump after months of stutter-start investigation into other matters and after resistance by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pursue such an effort, with polls showing only limited public appetite for Congress removing the president from office.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and Mr. Trump spoke in July shortly after the Ukrainian was elected as a reformer and inaugurated.

Wojciech Olkusnik/EPA, via Shutterstock
“This would be, I think, the most profound violation of the presidential oath of office, certainly during this presidency, which says a lot,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “There is no privilege that covers corruption.”
Mr. Schiff, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said impeachment “may be the only remedy” if Mr. Trump did in fact withhold aid to Ukraine in the hopes that the country would pursue an investigation into the Biden family. “The president is pushing us down this road,” he said. “We may very well have crossed the Rubicon here.”
Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, said Congress had to take action. “If we do have the evidence from this whistle-blower that the president indeed did try to bully a foreign power into affecting our elections, then we have to do something about it,” he said on “Meet the Press” on NBC as he called for release of the whistle-blower’s complaint.
Mr. Murphy, who recently visited Ukraine, said Mr. Zelensky expressed consternation to him that the security aid was held up. The senator said administration officials gave him two explanations for holding up the money — that Mr. Trump was concerned about corruption in Ukraine and that he thought Europe should be the one to assist Kiev rather than the United States.
But Mr. Murphy cast doubt on those explanations and said the situation was clearly suspicious. “Obviously, the timing of this looks really terrible,” he said.
While most Republicans remained silent, one prominent senator added his voice to the chorus of concern. “If the President asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme,” Senator Mitt Romney of Utah wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “Critical for the facts to come out.”
In Kiev, Mr. Zelensky has not commented on the matter since the issue erupted in news reports in recent days, but Ukraine’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, was quoted telling a Ukrainian news outlet on Saturday that the country’s leaders did not take Mr. Trump’s phone call as pressure.
“I know what the conversation was about and I think there was no pressure,” Mr. Prystaiko said. “This conversation was long, friendly, and it touched on many questions, sometimes requiring serious answers.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday denied any link between the security aid and Mr. Trump’s interest in an investigation into his potential rival. “Well, that I can tell you, that there was no connection,” Mr. Mnuchin said on “Meet the Press.” “I have been involved with Secretary Pompeo and others on the national security team on the issue.”

Pool photo by Mandel Ngan
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appearing on several Sunday shows, did not answer in specifics when asked if there was a “quid pro quo” agreement between Mr. Trump and Ukrainian officials. He insisted more generally that any discussions of aid delivered to Ukraine were “100 percent appropriate” and “100 percent lawful.”
On the other hand, Mr. Pompeo did not hesitate to advance allegations that Mr. Biden should be investigated for wrongdoing.
“If there was election interference that took place by the vice president, I think the American people deserve to know,” he said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. If “Vice President Biden behaved in a way that was inconsistent with the way leaders ought to operate, I think the American people deserve to know that.”
While vice president, Mr. Biden threatened in 2016 to withhold $1 billion in American loan guarantees if Ukraine’s leaders did not dismiss the country’s top prosecutor, who was widely seen as failing to fight corruption. Ukraine’s Parliament complied and the prosecutor was forced out.
That was the policy of the Obama administration at the time, a consensus policy to try to strengthen the rule of law in Ukraine as it fended off military intervention from Russia. But Mr. Biden’s son Hunter served on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch who had come under scrutiny by the fired prosecutor.
Mr. Biden asserted on Saturday that he had never spoken with his son about overseas work. On Sunday, Mr. Trump and Mr. Mnuchin both accused him of lying or misstating that, without citing any evidence.
The New Yorker this summer quoted Hunter Biden saying that his father did discuss his Ukrainian business but just one time. “Dad said, ‘I hope you know what you are doing,’” the younger Mr. Biden told the magazine, “and I said, ‘I do.’
“Donald Trump tried to bully a foreign leader into creating a false smear campaign against me and my family,” Mr. Biden said in a fund-raising solicitation on Sunday. “He is intentionally misleading the American people in order to win four more years.”
Mr. Trump spoke with Mr. Zelensky in July shortly after the Ukrainian was elected as a reformer and inaugurated in May. The White House readout of the call that day said only that Mr. Trump congratulated him on his election and that the two “discussed ways to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Ukraine, including energy and economic cooperation.”

Hilary Swift for The New York Times
The Ukrainian readout of the call at the time, however, hinted at other topics, saying that Mr. Trump had expressed his faith in the new Ukrainian government to “complete investigations into corruption cases that have hampered Ukraine-U. S. cooperation.”
In his comments to reporters on Sunday, Mr. Trump said there was nothing wrong with the call. “The conversation, by the way, was absolutely perfect,” he said. “It was a beautiful, warm, nice conversation.”
Making an unscheduled appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Giuliani tried to focus attention on Mr. Biden’s actions rather than his own or the president’s.
In an 11-minute, often rambling interview, Mr. Giuliani delivered accusation after accusation against Hunter Biden, painting the former vice president’s son as a grifter and career criminal. “And the kid, unfortunately, is a drug addict,” Mr. Giuliani said.
He called out various Ukrainian officials and the Democratic donor George Soros by name as being involved in a vast criminal conspiracy, connecting the dots on “Ukrainian collusion” that was aimed at influencing the 2016 presidential election.
“When the rest of this comes out,” Mr. Giuliani said, referring to additional allegations about Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China, “this will be a lot bigger than Spiro Agnew.”
Mr. Trump, too, mentioned China and attacked Hunter Biden, saying he was unqualified to be making the money he did with his overseas ventures. “The son, he knew nothing, the son is a stiff, he knew nothing,” the president said.
Other than Mr. Romney, most Republican lawmakers remained silent over the weekend. “I can’t imagine why people have lost their minds so much over these, these daily reports of one thing or another,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said when reporters encountered him in Houston while waiting for Mr. Trump to arrive for a visit. “They seem to consume everybody’s attention in the news coverage.”
Mr. Cornyn demurred when asked whether a president should pressure a foreign leader to investigate a political rival. “I’m not going to speculate,” he said. “I think the president ought to be able to talk to world leaders and have a conversation without necessarily being public because that you need to have those discussions.”
Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said more needed to be known to draw a conclusion. “Look, it is not appropriate for any candidate for federal office, certainly, including a sitting president, to ask for assistance from a foreign country. That’s not appropriate,” he said on NBC. “But I don’t know that that’s what happened here.”

Emily Cochrane and Chris Cameron contributed reporting from Washington, and Michael D. Shear from Houston.

Trump Acknowledges Discussing Biden in Call With Ukrainian Leader - The New York Times