Democrats Say Stonewalling Will Boost Case
Boris Johnson Referred to Police Watchdog
McConnell Urged Trump to Release Ukraine Call
An Absolutely Epic Scandal
Army Official at Mar-a-Lago Uploaded Child Porn
What Trump Told Russian Officials In 2017
• Maguire Speaks Much, Says Little in Testimony before House Intelligence Committee
• Support for Impeachment Is Growing
• Wanna Bet Trump Gets Impeached?
• While You Weren't Looking
• Issa to Challenge Hunter in California
• Tom Price May Be Back
With the current administration, you never quite know what's going to happen until it actually happens. And so, we couldn't be 100% certain the whistleblower complaint would be released, as promised. But it was, and it's a doozy (read it here if you haven't already, and wish to do so).
Let's start with the main revelations in the document. There are at least five of them:
- Team Trump tried hard to make this disappear: For at least a week,
we've known that the White House was trying very hard to keep Congress from receiving the
whistleblower's complaint. Now, however, we know that the cover-up was actually vastly more
extensive. Most notably, according to the whistleblower, the transcript of the phone call to
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was placed into a computer system managed directly by the
National Security Council (NSC) Directorate of Intelligence Programs. The purpose of this system is
to make it very difficult for people to access sensitive intelligence unless they have the proper
high-level clearance. It was not meant, as the whistleblower observes, for the use of presidents
(and their accomplices) who might wish to bury their mistakes. Needless to say, all of this makes
very clear that folks in the White House knew very well Trump crossed a bright, red line.
In this case, the crime is more important than the cover-up, but there could be a second article of impeachment about the cover-up.
- And this is not the first time: The whistleblower alleges that the
call to Zelensky was not the first one to be put into the NSC's secure system. The report does not
say much more, but the obvious implication is that Trump has tried to make other "deals" with
foreign leaders for his own personal political (or financial?) benefit. Obviously, this claim will get a
very thorough examination from House Democrats.
- What did the Ukrainians know, and when did they know it?: This is a
detail that got garbled a bit in some Wednesday coverage, including ours. It has been established
that Donald Trump put a hold on U.S. aid to Ukraine well in advance of his call to Zelensky. It is
not entirely clear whether the Ukrainians were aware of the hold when the phone call took place,
however—they may have only learned later. The whistleblower is unable to entirely clear up
this issue, but does say that: (1) at the very least, the Ukrainians were well aware that their aid
could be at risk, and (2) that Trump definitely dangled the possibility of a meeting with Zelensky
if the Ukrainian leader demonstrated his willingness to "play ball."
- The President is not a one-man show here: Obviously, there have been a
number of folks involved in the effort to cover up the Ukrainian phone call (and others?), up to and
including AG William Barr. According to the whistleblower, there were also multiple people involved
in the effort to turn the screws on Zelensky. This is hardly surprising; Trump has historically
delegated the real dirty work to others, so they are the ones left holding the bag if things go
south (think: Michael Cohen). Trump's lawyer, and apparently his current fixer, Rudy Giuliani, was
definitely used to ferry messages to Zelensky. Other folks may have done so as well; the
whistleblower is not certain. Mike Pence also had, at the very least, peripheral involvement. He was
supposed to represent the U.S. at Zelensky's inauguration, and at the last minute, Pence was
downgraded to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who went instead. It is easy to read this snub as a
message to Zelensky about how he would be treated by the U.S. if he chose not to "play ball." And,
as a sidebar, it raises some questions about the mysterious cancellation of the Veep's trip to New
Hampshire at the start of July, which was never really explained in a plausible fashion.
- Nor is the whistleblower: According to the report, there were and are many other people in the White House who were concerned about Trump's behavior. Assuming that the whistleblower is being truthful—and there's no reason to believe otherwise—then those folks could be called by House Democrats to testify, and could really cut the administration off at the knees. Of course, Trump will resist having them testify with everything he's got. And, as another sidebar, let us recall that the person who wrote the "resistance" op-ed for the New York Times a little over a year ago has never been unmasked. Are they still on the job? If so, they could end up being Donald Trump's John Dean. It's also not impossible (though probably not likely) that the op-ed author and the whistleblower are the same person.
So, those are the key parts of the report. Now, let's talk a little more about the identity of the whistleblower. There is a major media outlet that published some specific details of that person's identity on Thursday. That, in turn, has led to a robust debate about whether or not that media outlet did the right thing. We tend to side with folks like Tom Mueller, who argues they erred badly. His main points are that outing the current whistleblower puts that person's job (and possibly their life) in danger, and that only that person has the right to decide if they wish to accept those risks. Further, outing this whistleblower (even partially) will serve to cause future whistleblowers to think twice.
Consequently, we will not be relying on any details that were revealed by that major media outlet, nor will we be linking to their coverage. However, it is entirely apropos for us to talk about what we can learn from the complaint itself. And upon reading it, it is very clear that this person is a high-level employee who knows what he or she is talking about. On multiple occasions, the complaint demonstrates detailed knowledge of executive orders and other policy directives, as well as a complex understanding of what these things do and do not mean. No low-level secretary or contractor (e.g., Edward Snowden) could have written this document. This person, whoever it is, is a seasoned pro. That is why the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, deemed the whistleblower to be credible.
In addition, we now know that the whistleblower definitely wasn't a party to the original conversation, and heard about it second-hand. However, while "hearsay" might be a useful way to discredit a witness in a court case, it's not going to work here. The whistleblower spoke to several people who were in the loop on the conversation and the transcript, and each provided a very similar set of facts. Further, the report was written well before the phone transcript was released, and yet was extremely accurate in its accounting of the conversation. And so, "this person didn't even hear the conversation" may impress those who are also impressed by the claim that this is all a "witch hunt," but it shouldn't impress anyone else.
And that brings us to Trump's response to all of this. He is demonstrating his usual bravado, and is even using impeachment to raise money hand-over-fist (more than $5 million so far). But make no mistake, his bravado is as shallow as...well...he is. He is clearly scared witless, and spent the day on Thursday lashing out at anyone and everyone, which is exactly what he does when he's feeling cornered. There was, of course, an endless barrage of tweets and retweets, like this one:
Liddle’ Adam Schiff, who has worked unsuccessfully for 3 years to hurt the Republican Party and President, has just said that the Whistleblower, even though he or she only had second hand information, “is credible.” How can that be with zero info and a known bias. Democrat Scam!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2019
Trump also had some rather choice words about whistleblowers while talking to some State Dept. staffers:
I want to know who's the person, who's the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.
In case you missed his meaning, Trump is saying that the whistleblower and their sources should be executed. Later in the day, the President warned that if he's impeached, the stock market will collapse. Interestingly enough, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman wrote yesterday that impeachment is good for the economy because it distracts Trump and keeps him from doing any more damage than he already has.
So, Trump is flailing about. Beyond that and the fundraising e-mails, however, the administration seems to have no real strategy for how they're planning to respond to all of this. It is instructive that the fellow who may be tapped to oversee the response is...Corey Lewandowski. Think, for a moment, how mind-boggling that is. If your presidency, and very possibly your freedom, were in jeopardy, would you really want to place your fate in his hands? Indeed, is there any job or task on this planet that Lewandowski would be best person to undertake? Or even the 100th best person? Let us not forget that he got fired as Trump's campaign manager for incompetence, and was replaced by a fellow so crooked that he's now in prison (Paul Manafort). For fans of Trump, all of this does not augur well. (Z)
As the fallout from Whistleblowergate continues, Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire was called to the Hill to testify before the House Intelligence Committee and to account for himself and his efforts to keep the whistleblower report from Congress. At least he showed up, which is more than can be said for many folks who are called to testify.
That said, Maguire didn't reveal very much. His primary (and really only) purpose on Thursday was to protect Joseph Maguire. To that end, while he did defend the whistleblower, he also refused to say anything adverse about Donald Trump. In particular, he refused to address whether or not he discussed the complaint with the President. Since the Donald would be thrilled to have Maguire say "no, it never came up," that means that the message communicated by Maguire's silence is: "Yes, we did discuss it, but if I say so on the record, then I will have given evidence that could be used toward an obstruction of justice charge, so I'm going to say nothing."
The primary thing that Democrats on the committee wanted to know was why Maguire did not transmit the whistleblower complaint to them, since federal law requires him to do so within 14 days. His answer is based on a rather...interesting reading of the relevant law, which is the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998, which was codified as 50 U.S. Code 3033. What the law says is that Congress must be advised of such complaints if they raise an "urgent concern." The statute also lays out three circumstances that are deemed to be "urgent concerns;" the relevant one here is the first one on the list:
A serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation of law or Executive order, or deficiency relating to the funding, administration, or operation of an intelligence activity within the responsibility and authority of the Director of National Intelligence...
Maguire's defense of himself, which he says he double-checked with White House lawyers, is that the president is not "within the responsibility and authority of the Director of National Intelligence," and so nothing he does qualifies as an "urgent concern" under the terms of the law. Most Democrats on the Committee were flabbergasted by this.
Most of the Republicans on the Committee, meanwhile, had little interest in learning anything from Maguire. As so often happens these days, they largely spent their time grandstanding, or else trying to cut the inquiry off at the knees. For example, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), slammed the Democrats and their "media assets" for cooking up another "public spectacle." Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) attacked his colleagues across the aisle as political stooges, and tried to make the case that the real criminal here is the whistleblower. Stewart, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) and others tried to make hay out of the secondhand nature of the complaint, declaring that it is therefore invalid. That, as we note above, is not a strong argument.
There was at least one Republican who spent his time trying to get to the bottom of the matter. That was Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), who made clear that he did not think highly of Maguire's explanation of why he withheld the whistleblower complaint from Congress. After it was all over, the Representative took to Twitter to express his support for the investigation:
There is a lot in the whistleblower complaint that is concerning. We need to fully investigate all of the allegations addressed in the letter, and the first step is to talk to the whistleblower.— Rep. Will Hurd (@HurdOnTheHill) September 26, 2019
Of course, Hurd is well known as a man who speaks his mind, is about as far from a "Trump Republican" as one can be and still remain in the Party, and is retiring at the end of this term. So, his is definitely a minority position within the GOP caucus.
In the end, the Maguire hearing was essentially a footnote to the big news of the day, which was the release of the actual complaint. It is likely that he will eventually be forced to state, on the record, whether or not he discussed this matter with the President. Beyond that, however, he is just one player in this little drama. The Democrats heard enough to let them know that it's well worth it to talk to the many other people who were witnesses to what happened. And some of those people are likely to be a bit more forthcoming than the acting DNI, either out of a sense of civic duty, or to protect themselves against the possibility of spending 3-5 years at Danbury Federal Penitentiary. (Z & V)
Polling on impeachment is tricky because the news is coming in so fast. All reliable pollsters avoid doing a poll on a single day to avoid interfering with the randomness of their sample. If the computer tries to call, say, (212) 123-4567, and no one answers, it tries again multiple times, including the next day. Otherwise the sample may be biased by underweighting busy people (e.g., mothers with young children, people with two jobs) and overweighting people with a lot of free time (e.g., retired folks). When polling spans several days and the news is coming in fast and furious, it is hard to interpret the results.
That said, Morning Consult ran a poll for Politico from Sept. 24-26. It began after Nancy Pelosi announced her support for impeachment but ended before the news items about the Maguire hearing hit the airwaves and the intertubes (let alone print media). The result is that 43% of registered voters want the impeachment inquiry to go forward and 43% don't want it to go forward. How's that for a nation divided? That said, support for impeachment is up 7 points from Morning Consult's poll taken a week ago.
Support for impeachment among Democrats is up from 66% to 79%. It is also up among Republicans, from 5% to 10%. Among independents, it is now 39% for impeaching the president. Here are the data since May.
As you can see, public opinion has strongly opposed impeachment until now, though it has spiked after certain incidents (for example, Sept. 2018 was when the the "resistance" op-ed was published in the New York Times). Whether this poll is just a blip or the new normal remains to be seen. Other pollsters are bound to be asking the same question in the coming week, so keep an open mind. Never put a lot of faith in a single poll.
Looking at the crosstabs doesn't yield a lot of surprises. Young people, liberals, and people with post-graduate degrees are more pro-impeachment than old people, conservatives, and non-college voters. One slight surprise, though, is that support for impeachment drops as income rises. People making under $50K are +5 points for impeachment while those making over $100K are +6 points for not having an impeachment inquiry. Opinions also differ by race. White voters are against impeachment by 12 points while black voters are for impeachment by 62 (!) points, 72% to 10%. Another big split is on religion. Atheists are for impeachment 70% to 15% while evangelicals are against it 58% to 32%. (V)
If so, the bookies (at least, the ones in Europe) are happy to accommodate you, albeit at less favorable odds than you could have gotten a week ago. At the moment, the odds that Trump will be impeached are 10/11 according to PaddyPower, 5/6 according to BetFair, 8/11 according to Smarkets, and 3/2 at PredictIt. That works out to a little more than a 50% chance at the first three books, and 40% at the latter. Presumably, they and their bettors understand that impeachment does not mean "automatic removal from office," because the books have it as only a 30% chance (give or take) that Trump does not complete his first term.
As long as we're at it, we might as well take note of the state of the Democratic field, as the bettors see it. At the moment, the average of odds, across the 20 or so books that will let you bet on the Democratic nominee, has Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) at 11/10 (48%), Joe Biden at 9/2 (19%), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at 10/1 (9%), and Andrew Yang, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) all at 16/1 (6%). In short, the gamblers don't like Joe Biden to lead wire-to-wire, and foresee a day when he falls back to the pack.
We provide this information for entertainment purposes only, of course. No, actually, we provide it because it's kind of a form of polling. Yes, there are things built into the gambling model that make these numbers imperfect (like, for example, the house's take). However, when people are backing their opinions with cold, hard cash, it does have a way of revealing what they're really thinking, which sometimes doesn't happen with polls. (Z)
All this week, talk of impeachment has sucked up nearly all of the oxygen. In the long term, that could be bad news for one party or the other or both. In the short term, it does carry a little bit of a silver lining for the GOP, in particular, as it affords cover to sneak some things in under the radar.
The Senate, for example, was considering Eugene Scalia as Donald Trump's Secretary of Labor. Historically, the Secretary of Labor is, you know, the Secretary of Labor. That is to say, he or she is an advocate for the workingman and workingwoman. Scalia most certainly is not that; one can scarcely imagine a more anti-labor Secretary. This is why Trump and the GOP like him (well, that and who his pop was), but it's also what makes him controversial among some elements of Trump's base (like, say, labor). No problem, the Senate snuck him by, 53-44 on Thursday, while everyone else's attention was directed elsewhere.
Similarly, it is no secret that the Trump administration—particularly Stephen Miller—does not much care for refugees. For two years, they've been trying to dramatically cut the total number of refugees accepted into the country. And now they've done it. Team Trump gave serious consideration to setting the number at zero, but finally decided that 18,000 was few enough. That is the smallest number since the current structure for handling refugees was established in 1980. Under normal circumstances, that would be pretty big news, but under current circumstances, it led to barely a peep.
These were the two most controversial things on the Senate's and the White House's radar, so they may be done sneaking things by for now. Or maybe next week will bring Muslim Travel Ban v3.0, an executive order outlawing Planned Parenthood, and the elimination of the Senate filibuster. You never know. (Z)
Last year, Darrell Issa bowed to the reality that his district, CA-49, was probably a lost cause and retired from Congress. He was proven right, as Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) claimed victory in a landslide, winning by 13 points. Issa thought he had a job in the Trump administration lined up, but that (along with anything Trump-related) is now in peril. So, the former representative has decided he would also like to be a future representative, and on Thursday announced a run for CA-50's seat.
CA-50 is not a random choice. That just so happens to be the seat currently occupied by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA). Hunter is running for reelection, at least at the moment, but inasmuch as he is currently under indictment and is scheduled to go on trial early next year, he may prove to be unavailable. This district is R+11, so it theoretically should be a safe hold for the red team. On the other hand, Hunter won it by just 3 points over an unknown last year. How much of that was Hunter's personal baggage, and how much of that was the migration of the suburbs toward the blue team is anyone's guess. However, we should get a pretty good answer if Issa is able to grab the nomination. (Z)
It would appear that Darrell Issa is not the only one who misses Washington. Former representative and Trump HHS Secretary Tom Price would like to move back, too. So, he is angling to be the person that Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) picks as a replacement when Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) steps down at the end of this year due to ill health.
Kemp has given no indication as to his intentions, but Price is pretty well connected within the Georgia GOP, so he might just get the nod. If so, Democrats will be dancing in the streets. They are really hoping to put Georgia's Senate seats in play, and it would be much easier to do so if one of them is occupied by a deeply flawed candidate like Price. There is, first of all, the corrupt behavior (like buying stocks with apparent insider information) that he got away with while in office. There is also the corrupt behavior (expensive airplane trips on the taxpayer's dime) that forced him to resign. Plus, he's closely associated with Donald Trump, who could very well be toxic by this time next year. Indeed, the blue team could scarcely hope for a better target than Price, unless Roy Moore happens to move to Georgia. Presumably Kemp realizes this, and will file Price's application in the circular file, but you never know. (Z)
Programming Note: Tomorrow's Q&A is likely to be focused on impeachment-related questions. So, if you have any, please send them along. We are also thinking about posting a selection of reader comments about impeachment, etc. on Sunday, so if you have those, once again please send them along. For both types of submissions, do make sure to include your name/initials and city of residence.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep26 The Historian's Perspective
Sep26 Whistleblower Complaint Sent to Congress
Sep26 Senate Republicans Express Disdain for Impeachment Articles
Sep26 Is This 1974 or 1998?
Sep26 Warren Leads Nationally
Sep26 Warren Leads in California
Sep26 Progressive Candidates Announce Progress
Sep25 An Im-Peachy Day in Washington
Sep25 Trump Distractions Aren't Very Distracting
Sep25 Democratic Debates Lurch Forward
Sep25 The State of the State Polls
Sep25 Bevin Hires New Campaign Manager
Sep24 Whistleblowergate Picks up Steam
Sep23 Ann Selzer: Warren Leads in Iowa
Sep23 Trump Admits That He Discussed Biden with Ukrainian Leader
Sep23 Pennsylvania and Wisconsin Have Lost Factory Jobs This Year
Sep23 Democrats Will Target 26,000 Local Races
Sep23 Alaska Cancels Republican Primary
Sep23 What Are the Candidates Worth?
Sep23 Bill de Blasio Calls It Quits
Sep23 Booker Is Close to Calling It Quits
Sep23 Rand Paul Tries to Block Liz Cheney's Senate Ambitions
Sep21 Saturday Q&A
Sep20 The ?-gate Plot Thickens
Sep20 McConnell Now Wants $250 Million for Election Security
Sep20 Trump's Tax Returns Are Keeping the Courts Busy
Sep20 Withdrawn FEMA Nominee's Issue: He Got into a Bar Fight
Sep20 Harris All-in on Iowa
Sep20 National Polls Say the Democratic Race Is as Easy as 1, 2, 3
Sep20 DNC Has Lots of Oppo Research on Trump
Sep19 Polls: Warren and Biden are Neck and Neck in Iowa
Sep19 Poll: Biden Leads in Florida
Sep19 Trump's FEMA Nominee Is a Disaster
Sep19 Whistleblower Targeted Trump
Sep19 NSA #3 Blasts Trump
Sep19 Trump Picks Robert O'Brien as NSA #4
Sep19 Trump May Face a Domestic Crisis: A General Motors Strike
Sep19 Americans Are Not Keen on Impeaching Trump
Sep19 Fed Lowers Interest Rates Again
Sep19 Sanders Unveils "Housing for All" Plan
Sep19 Warren Took 4,000 Selfies in New York
Sep19 Nine Democrats Will Take Part in an LGBTQ Town Hall on CNN
Sep19 Joe Kennedy Is In
Sep18 Lewandowski Speaks a Lot, Says Little
Sep18 About that Wall Construction...
Sep18 List of Candidates to Replace John Bolton down to Five
Sep18 Trump Administration Throws Down the Gasoline Gauntlet in Battle with California
Sep18 Sanders Campaign Hits a Rough Patch
Sep18 Rep. Paul Cook to Retire