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Elizabeth Warren spoke the most at the Democratic debate — a sign of her status as a frontrunner

Judging by speaking time, Sen. Elizabeth Warren certainly had the most to say — and the most attacks to respond to — at Tuesday’s Democratic debate.

Of the 12 candidates onstage at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Warren spoke the most by a decent margin, clocking in at 22 minutes of speaking time, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke for 16 minutes. Warren’s leadership in speaking time not only indicated how much her responses dominated the debate, it also underscored her newly minted status as a frontrunner.

The first state caucuses and primaries are still months away, so a lot could change. But in recent weeks, the Massachusetts senator has risen in the polls and is now effectively tied with former Vice President Joe Biden, according to a RealClearPolitics average.

That’s certainly a development the other candidates had noticed, heading into the October debate. Throughout it, competitors from the right and left pressed her on issues including Medicare-for-all and the implementation of a wealth tax, as Vox’s Ella Nilsen writes:

Warren and Biden are arguably the two frontrunners of the 2020 Democratic field, but it felt like Warren was getting the full brunt of her opponents’ criticism throughout much of the night. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is polling third behind the two, also largely escaped attacks — moderate candidates even commended him for saying his Medicare-for-all plan would raise taxes (disproportionately on the wealthy, Sanders pointed out).

As the progressive frontrunner, Warren is the most obvious target for moderates who are hesitant to go after Biden. And if she keeps rising in the polls, the attacks are likely to increase.

Warren recently narrowly pulled ahead of Biden in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, but Biden has since reclaimed the lead. However, Warren is leading in the critical early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, while Biden has a substantial lead in South Carolina.

In addition to responding to attacks, Warren also repeatedly highlighted her leadership on policies like a universal childcare plan as well as the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Warren and Biden were trailed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and Sen. Bernie Sanders when it came to speaking time.

Across gender lines, women candidates, on average, spoke more than men. Women spoke for 14 minutes on average while men spoke for 10 minutes. In total, men spoke more than women, largely because the number of male candidates onstage was double the number of women candidates.

Speaking time is just one measure — but according to it, Warren’s breakout as one of the top-tier candidates is looking more certain.

By |2019-10-16T05:13:35+00:00October 16th, 2019|

Giuliani’s $500,000 payout from Fraud Guarantee reveals the hypocrisy of his attacks on Hunter Biden

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For months, Rudy Giuliani has played a leading role in the ongoing effort by President Donald Trump and his allies to gin up a scandal surrounding Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine. But new reporting about Giuliani’s own business dealings with shadowy Ukraine-linked figured shines a light on just how hypocritical his posturing has been.

On Monday, both Reuters and the Washington Post reported that Giuliani received $500,000 from a company founded by a man at the center of a scheme to funnel foreign payments to Republican groups, including the pro-Trump super PAC “America First Action,” in 2018.

The company in question has the unfortunate name of Fraud Guarantee and was founded by Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian American associate of Giuliani’s who was arrested with Igor Fruman (another Giuliani associate) last week. Both men were charged with making false disclosures related to hundreds of thousands of dollars of political contributions that were meant to conceal their foreign origins. As my colleague Andrew Prokop wrote, Parnas and Fruman are often described as “fixers” for Giuliani, and the three men collaborated in a successful effort to oust the then-US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, amid the Trump administration’s efforts to cajole the new Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens.

Reuters reports that Fraud Guarantee marketed itself as helping clients “reduce and mitigate fraud,” but details surrounding the company remain murky. In interviews with the Post and Reuters, Giuliani insisted the payments he received for consulting and legal services did not originate from foreign sources — but he had a remarkably hard time explaining where else they might have come from. From Reuters:

Giuliani said he was confident that the money he received was from “a domestic source,” but he would not say where it came from.

“I know beyond any doubt the source of the money is not any questionable source,” he told Reuters in an interview. “The money did not come from foreigners. I can rule that out 100%,” he said.

He declined to say whether the money had been paid directly to him by Fraud Guarantee or from another source.

CNN reported last week that Giuliani’s “involvement in the broader flow of money” involving Parnas and Fruman is under federal investigation. That news seemed to bring an abrupt end to Giuliani’s ongoing media tour — one in which he would tell any TV host who would have him on about how terrible it is that former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter was paid $50,000 a month by a Ukrainian gas company.

Hunter has since more or less admitted he cashed in on his family name. It’s a bad look, but there’s no evidence his father did anything wrong. Giuliani, by contrast, is not only reportedly under criminal investigation, but also took money from questionable sources with links to Ukraine. And his behind-the-scenes work to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens played a key role in prompting Democrats to begin an impeachment inquiry into his client Donald Trump.

In short, Giuliani knew he was guilty of the same thing he accused Hunter Biden of doing — leveraging political connections into profits — and yet he’s tirelessly tried to pump it up into a major scandal anyway. It’s a microcosm of the same Trumpworld shamelessness that has suddenly converted Donald Trump Jr. into an outspoken opponent of nepotism.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.

By |2019-10-15T20:12:10+00:00October 15th, 2019|

Former White House official bolsters the Trump-Ukraine whistleblower’s allegations

President Donald Trump insists that his and his team’s actions toward Ukraine were nothing short of “perfect.” But Fiona Hill, who until July directed Russian and European affairs for the National Security Council (NSC), blew yet another hole in the White House’s shaky defense Monday.

Hill met for over nine hours with congressional staff as part of the House Democrat-led impeachment inquiry, kicked off by allegations last month from a whistleblower who said Trump linked held-up military aid Ukraine wanted to starting an investigation into Joe Biden’s family.

What she described is startling: a top US diplomat close to Trump pressuring Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens; national security adviser John Bolton freaking out over the meeting and even once calling Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, a “hand grenade.”

Trump and his allies claim Joe used his power as vice president to get a Ukrainian prosecutor fired for investigating a Ukrainian company, Burisma, which his son Hunter Biden sat on the board of. That narrative has long been debunked, and even some top Republicans refute that story, noting many US leaders and European governments at the time wanted the prosecutor gone for failing to combat corruption in Ukraine.

As a leader inside the White House on Ukraine policy, Hill would definitely know if Trump or others in his orbit, especially Giuliani, acted inappropriately toward Ukraine. From what she told Congress, it looks like they definitely did.

Hill, the first former White House official to testify in the impeachment inquiry, noted two episodes that will certainly intrigue House Democrats.

First, Hill recounted a July 10 meeting with senior Ukrainian officials that she, Bolton, and US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland attended. Per her testimony, Sondland brought up the investigation, leaving those in the room with no doubt that he wanted the Ukrainians to look into the Bidens. Bolton afterward told Hill to speak with top NSC lawyer John Eisenberg about his discomfort with what Sondland said and the Ukraine plan he, Giuliani, and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney were executing.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Bolton told Hill, according to the New York Times on Monday night. Apparently, Bolton was already upset at Giuliani for his Ukraine work. “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Hill recalled Bolton saying in a previous conversation.

This is a big deal. Not only did Hill outline a meeting in which investigating the Bidens came up, but also it so worried Bolton — the White House’s top national security aide — that he dispatched her to tell a lawyer. That’s not a normal thing that happens in the White House. Usually such sensitive meetings are carried out with strict, by-the-book talking points that in theory shouldn’t be overly controversial. The July 10 chat was clearly the opposite of that.

Second, Hill noted an undated conversation she had with Sondland in which the ambassador said he was leading Ukraine policy. When she asked under whose authority, he said the president’s.

Again, that’s striking. As the lead for European policy in the NSC, spearheading Trump’s Ukraine stance is actually Hill’s job (along with top diplomats at the State Department and the Pentagon who have that portfolio). Sondland is responsible for the European Union, which notably doesn’t feature Ukraine as a member. For Trump to personally give Sondland the authority to deal with Ukraine implies either the president’s great trust in the ambassador and/or a desire to keep a secretive plan out of expected channels.

It’s worth remembering that Sondland has long been a suspicious character in the Trump-Ukraine drama. As the House inquiry uncovered earlier this month, when the lead US diplomat for Ukraine Bill Taylor texted Sondland in September and asked if the military aid was “conditioned on investigations” and a presidential meeting, his simple response read “Call me.”

Put together, Hill’s testimony doesn’t just add to the file of Sondland’s sketchy actions, it also helps corroborate what the whistleblower alleged about the Trump administration.

The whistleblower, who reportedly worked for the CIA and for a time the Trump White House, filed his complaint about Trump’s handling of Ukraine back in August. Partially redacted, House Democrats released it the public on September 26, and it lit a firestorm in Washington.

Trump repeatedly attacks the whistleblower by saying he got the Ukraine facts wrong. The problem for the president is that the main allegations the whistleblower made have so far proven true, in part thanks to Hill’s testimony: Trump’s Ukraine policy seems to be tied to his own personal gain, and that White House officials were freaked out by it. It should be noted, though, that Zelensky denies feeling pressured by Trump or the US.

(The whistleblower’s complaint included a third main allegation, that the previous ambassador to Ukraine was pressured out to make way for new demands on Ukraine, but Hill’s testimony didn’t touch on that allegation, as far as we know).

Here’s how her testimony adds to the corroboration we already have for two of the whistleblower’s allegations:

Allegation No. 1: Trump pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate the Bidens

The whistleblower notes early in the nine-page complaint that Trump used a July 25 phone call to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to have his administration look into the Bidens and speak with Giuliani and Attorney General Bill Bar about it.

We know this is true because the White House released a partial transcript of that call showing that Trump asked Zelensky for a “favor” after the latter mentioned wanting weaponry, and also that Zelensky should get in touch with his personal lawyer and the attorney general.

Allegation No. 2: White House officials were freaked out by Trump’s actions

The whistleblower notes in the complaint that starting around mid-May, there was a general concern in the administration that Giuliani and his allies were starting to circumvent official Ukraine policy and run one of their own.

Note that the whistleblower in the parentheses wrote that that the “general understanding” inside the administration was that Giuliani and others wanted Ukraine to look into the Bidens. In order to have a Trump-Ukraine call, Kyiv would have to agree to “play ball.”

Hill’s recollection of the July 10 meeting between her, Bolton, Sondland, and Ukrainians fits in this timeline. After all, if what Hill says is true, Sondland spoke specifically about the Biden probe — scaring Bolton enough to want Hill to chat with the NSC’s lawyer. Plus, Hill made clear that Sondland believed he had a right from the president to lead Ukraine policy.

That fits with that the whistleblower wrote: “I heard from multiple US officials that they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decisionmaking processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President.”

Put together, House Democrats are continually proving the whistleblower right — meaning that Trump will have to try a lot harder to plead his case.

By |2019-10-15T19:14:39+00:00October 15th, 2019|

Ronan Farrow’s new book is a reminder of how silencing women helped Trump get elected

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In the midst of an impeachment inquiry regarding President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, allegations about his extramarital affairs — and the efforts by his associates to cover them up — may seem like ancient history.

But in his new book, Catch and Kill, New Yorker reporter Ronan Farrow brings those allegations back to the fore. Perhaps the most startling new detail, first reported Monday by Politico: The week before the election, executives at the National Enquirer shredded documents about Trump they’d been keeping in a safe in their offices.

“I need to get everything out of the safe,” Enquirer editor-in-chief Dylan Howard told a staffer in November 2016, Farrow writes. “And then we need to get a shredder down there.”

Howard denies shredding documents, and a spokesperson for American Media Inc. (AMI), the Enquirer’s parent company, told Politico that “Mr. Farrow’s narrative is driven by unsubstantiated allegations from questionable sources and while these stories may be dramatic, they are completely untrue.”

But the details about the shredding are the latest in a years-long series of revelations by Farrow about the lengths that executives at the Enquirer and AMI were willing to go to protect Trump, a longtime friend of AMI CEO David Pecker. According to Farrow’s previous reporting in the New Yorker, AMI paid $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal for exclusive rights to her story about an affair with Trump, which it never ran. Deals like this, known as “catch and kill” agreements, give Farrow’s book its title.

The book, published on Tuesday, is part of an ongoing effort by Farrow and other journalists to expose the ways in which powerful men can use their wealth and status to keep damaging information about them from coming to light, especially when that information includes allegations by women. And the revelation about the safe is a reminder that — long before the impeachment inquiry began, long before he was even elected president — there’s evidence that Trump was surrounded by men willing to keep women quiet so that he could acquire and hold onto power.

AMI’s relationship with Trump started before the 2016 election, Farrow writes. Pecker has called Trump a “personal friend of mine,” and in the years leading up to 2016, Farrow reports, the AMI CEO enjoyed the perks of friendship with Trump, like flying on his private jet. In return, the CEO routinely killed damaging stories about Trump; one former editor estimates that over the years, Pecker axed about 10 fully reported stories about the Apprentice host turned presidential candidate.

The details of some of these agreements have been reported in the past. By far the most famous was the agreement AMI struck with McDougal, a fitness expert and former Playboy model who says that she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. In August 2016, AMI paid $150,000 to exclusive rights to her story, then never published it, as Farrow reported in the New Yorker in 2018.

McDougal said she felt pressured to sign the agreement, which she believed prevented her from speaking publicly about her experience with Trump. (AMI told Farrow at the time that an amendment to the agreement allowed her to respond to “legitimate press inquiries.”) “It took my rights away,” she told Farrow in 2018. “I’m afraid to even mention his name.”

As Pecker was quietly killing stories that could be damaging to Trump, Farrow reports in Catch and Kill, the Enquirer and other AMI publications ran positive stories about him, with headlines like “HOW TRUMP WILL WIN,” Farrow notes. In an Enquirer feature about “Twisted Secrets of the Candidates,” Trump’s “secret” was: “He has greater support and popularity than even he’s admitted to!”

Then, in the week before the election, according to Farrow, Enquirer and AMI executives learned that the Wall Street Journal was planning to write a story on one of the catch and kill agreements. (The Journal published a story on the agreement with McDougal on November 4, 2016.)

That’s when Howard, the Enquirer editor-in-chief, called for the shredder, Farrow reports. “Later that day, one employee said, a disposal crew collected and carried away a larger than customary volume of refuse,” he writes. “A Trump-related document from the safe, along with others in the Enquirer’s possession, had been shredded.”

Howard says nothing was ever shredded, Farrow reports. But, he writes, “destroying documents would be consistent with a baseline of malfeasance that had, for years, defined the Enquirer and its parent company.”

“We are always at the edge of what’s legally permissible,” one senior AMI staffer told Farrow. “It’s very exciting.”

Some of the stories AMI is said to have killed are actually less damning for President Trump than other allegations about his behavior. McDougal, for example, says her affair with Trump was consensual and does not allege any sexual misconduct by him, unlike at least 23 other women who have said Trump sexually harassed, assaulted, or otherwise violated them.

What makes these stories an issue is the alleged cover-up around them. In September, Democrats in Congress announced hearings on the payments made to McDougal and Stormy Daniels, who was also paid to keep quiet about what she says was an affair with Trump. In Daniels’s case, the payout came from Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, not AMI, and landed him in prison for campaign finance violations.

For a time, it seemed as though the payouts to women could lead to Trump’s impeachment — Daniels sued Trump for defamation, a suit that could have given her legal team power to depose Trump and demand documents from him. As Vox’s Dylan Matthews noted at the time, it was Bill Clinton’s deposition in a lawsuit by Paula Jones that led to his impeachment, and some speculated that the same could happen to Trump. Now, however, with the inquiry into his dealings with Ukraine in full swing, the stories of Daniels and McDougal have receded somewhat from the spotlight.

But Catch and Kill is a reminder of something crucial about them: according to Farrow, Trump was able to manipulate the head of a major media company into withholding damaging information about him, almost certainly helping him win the presidency. That manipulation came at the expense of women’s ability to tell their own stories. According to Farrow’s previous reporting, McDougal didn’t even get to keep all the money she was promised by AMI, with 45 percent going to the men who set up the deal.

It also came at the expense of the American people’s knowledge about the man running for president. It’s a pattern that Farrow and others have exposed again and again in the years since the Me Too movement gained national prominence: Thanks to their wealth, connections, and power, Trump and others including Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein have been able to write the public narrative of their lives, deciding who gets to speak and who must keep silent.

The Me Too movement is only beginning to break down that pattern, as nondisclosure agreements and other ways of securing people’s silence receive more and more opposition. But Catch and Kill is the latest reminder of the extent to which men in power in America can protect one another, and the consequences when that protection succeeds.

By |2019-10-15T19:14:31+00:00October 15th, 2019|

The racial pessimism of Clarence Thomas

Most people have strong opinions about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

At 71, Thomas has been on the court for nearly three decades and his views on everything from affirmative action to abortion rights to prison reform and voting rights have delighted the right and offended the left.

And then, of course, there’s the Anita Hill fiasco.

The truth, though, is that we don’t know all that much about Thomas apart from his public pronouncements. And if a new book by political theorist Corey Robin, called The Enigma of Clarence Thomas, is correct, it turns out Thomas’s worldview is more complicated than we thought.

Arguably the most reactionary member of the Court, Thomas is also, according to Robin, a bundle of contradictions. His position on affirmative action, for instance, is basically in lockstep with the largely white Republican Party. And yet Robin argues that Thomas has always been a “black nationalist” with a very coherent and fatalistic view of race in America. And it’s that skepticism about progress and the belief in black self-determination that pushed Thomas down the road to ultra-conservatism.

Thomas’s pessimism about race and politics, as described by Robin, captures a dilemma at the core of American life: if white supremacy is baked into the DNA of America, if it’s so deeply embedded in our culture and institutions, is there any hope of moving beyond it?

Thomas seems to think there isn’t, and it’s why he regards every attempt at using the law as a tool to redress inequalities as futile. His alliance with a conservative movement that is overwhelmingly blind to these realities makes for a strange marriage indeed; it also, oddly enough, aligns him with many progressives who share his grim view of racial progress in America.

Robin, a leftist who studies the history of conservatism, made a deliberate choice in this book not to critique Thomas but instead to understand what he believes and why he believes it. The result is a deeply instructive and fair look at one of the most important political figures in the country.

I spoke to Robin about the roots of Thomas’s philosophy, why his brand of conservatism is so emblematic of this moment in history, and why it’s important to understand Thomas even if you disagree with him.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Sean Illing

Let’s start with the most eye-popping claim of your book. You make a pretty convincing case that Thomas is — and remains — a “black nationalist.” What, exactly, does that mean?

Corey Robin

The core of black nationalism begins with a recognition that the destiny of African Americans cannot be accommodated by the American political system — that African Americans have a set of interests and a destiny that lies apart from the overall American experience.

The implications of this belief vary depending on who you ask. Sometimes it has meant looking outside the US to fulfill that destiny. Sometimes it has meant looking within the US, but within a kind of self-determining sovereign enclave, what is often called “the Black Belt.” More often than not, though, it has meant creating separate parallel institutions, building up the race with the understanding that African Americans aren’t going to leave America.

But the main idea has always been that African Americans could carve out some measure of autonomy if they disengaged from the dominant institutions of white America. And this is where Clarence Thomas has always located himself. He was very active as a younger man in leftist black nationalist movements, but he begins to move to the right in the early ’70s.

Sean Illing

And how do you trace Thomas’s thinking in the book? Are you looking at his early writings, his speeches, his activism?

Corey Robin

There are several really excellent biographies of Thomas, and if you read them closely, all of this stuff is there. Most of them detail his college years when he was extraordinarily active politically. Even among a group of young black men who were recruited to Holy Cross, he sort of stood out both for the depth of his commitment and the extensiveness of his involvement.

But what’s even more interesting is when you start reading his speeches and writings as he makes his right turn in the ’70s. And you can see how all of his black nationalist assumptions remain with him as he’s making that right turn, even when he’s a very visible member of the Reagan administration.

And of course I looked at his jurisprudence. What I discovered was a pervasive thread of race-conscious conservatism running throughout all of his judicial opinions

Sean Illing

Thomas’s opposition to affirmative action or really any attempt at improving race relations looks a lot different to me after reading your book. You argue that Thomas isn’t objecting to these things because he denies the underlying injustices but rather because he rejects anything that smacks of “white paternalism.”

Can you explain this?

Corey Robin

Thomas assumes that racism and white supremacy is ineradicable in America. It’s a permanent feature of the American condition. And the problem for him with contemporary liberal America, which he thinks really begins with the New Deal, is that white supremacy to a certain degree changed its spots but not nearly as much as most people think.

Sean Illing

And that means what, exactly?

Corey Robin

For Thomas, it means that there’s an assumption among white liberals that the job of the American ruling class through the state is to improve the lot of African Americans and to use the state to rectify these past injustices. And Thomas just doesn’t believe that it’s impossible to remedy these injustices, he also believes that the acts of paternalism end up perpetuating the injustices.

Sean Illing

How so?

Corey Robin

They perpetuate the conditions of black weakness and black victimization by making black people dependent. Now, Thomas doesn’t object to dependence as such; he thinks depending on white people means depending on a force that’s as arbitrary and as whimsical as the weather, and very dangerous and ends up weakening black people and destroying the kinds of habits and skills and virtues that black people depended upon and developed over centuries of subjugation and oppression.

Sean Illing

That perspective is crucial to making sense of his conservatism. In the book, you say that Thomas’s conservatism is “race-conscious,” but in a way that will seem strange to most conservative and even liberal readers. What does black conservatism mean to Thomas? And how does it square with his black nationalism, which I suspect a lot of people instinctively identify with leftist projects?

Corey Robin

It’s true that black nationalism has had very strong leftist elements and traditions, but there’s also very strong conservative elements focused on self-help and discipline going all the way back to Marcus Garvey and, some would argue, Booker T. Washington. I don’t have a dog in that fight, and I don’t make any claims about what black nationalism ought to mean. But it’s important to at least acknowledge that history.

One thing to understand about Thomas’s conservatism is that there’s a strong belief in patriarchy. He has said quite plainly that the salvation of the black race depends upon black men. This is one area where his conservatism and black nationalism converge.

And yet, unlike many conservatives, he’s not that much of an individualist because he’s very much rooted in black communalist traditions. And he doesn’t really believe in colorblindness. All of this distinguishes him from most white conservatives.

Sean Illing

One of the strangest parts of all this is the fact that Thomas has managed to preserve his core black nationalist beliefs on the court while at the same time, as you put it, “remaining a hero to some of the most racist elements of the American polity.” Is this just a case of his supporters not bothering to understand what he actually thinks and why he thinks it? Or do many of them understand it and just don’t care?

Corey Robin

I think they haven’t bothered to understand what he thinks. It’s clear that most white conservatives just don’t see it. Even the best scholarship on the right just doesn’t touch this dimension of Thomas’s thought, at least not as far as I can tell. And this continues to be part of the paradox of Clarence Thomas. He’s probably the most well-known member of the court, everybody knows who he is, and yet no one really knows who he is.

Sean Illing

I think this is true on the left as well, but we’ll get to that. First I’d like to ask you how these background assumptions structure Thomas’s judicial philosophy. One of the contradictions you explore in the book is the fact that Thomas is an avowed originalist, someone committed to applying the Constitution as it was adopted in 1789, and yet he acknowledges that that Constitution was written by and for slaveholders.

Corey Robin

Well, the first thing I’d say is that Thomas’s originalism is pretty inconsistent, but let’s not get into the weeds on that. Here’s why I think originalism is important to Thomas and it’s partly for the reason you just mentioned: He sees it as a kind of permanent reminder of the constraints written into the Constitution under which African Americans have labored for over three centuries.

Thomas sees value in this, and he’s very upfront about it. It would be too strong to say that he would like to rewrite the Constitution as if it were a Jim Crow Constitution, but he really does believe in his heart of hearts that black people, particularly black men, flourished under the heavy yoke of subjugation that was Jim Crow.

And this is where his ideology is pretty straightforwardly conservative: he believes that under the conditions of extreme hardship, the strongest wills have a way of bashing their way through those constraints in order to overcome them, and he thinks this is what the African American community did when it was oppressed by the white majority.

Sean Illing

You say that “the story of Clarence Thomas is the story of the last half century of American politics and the long shadow of defeat that hangs over it.” This gets at the sense of racial despair a lot of people — on the left and right — feel right now. As the gains of the civil rights movement are eroding, as white nationalism subsumes the White House, it’s hard not to sympathize with Thomas’s pessimism about the possibilities of political progress.

Is that how you feel after writing this book?

Corey Robin

I didn’t need Clarence Thomas to convince me that the gains of the civil rights movement and the black freedom struggle had been cut back in a big way — that movement has been in reverse motion for quite some time. But engaging with Thomas did clarify for me how strong this ambient mood of racial despair is right now, and I think many people on the left think that that signifies the mark of progressive values.

But I don’t think that’s true at all. The beginning of the left tradition — and I say this as someone on the left — is the recognition that oppression can be undone and transformed. Oppression is the product of politics and it can be dismantled through politics — we risk forgetting this when we become overly pessimistic.

I hope wrestling with Thomas’s conservatism opens up a discussion across the country about where we think racial pessimism leads necessarily. Identifying the structures of oppression is critical, but it’s only constructive if we also identify the vulnerabilities of those structures. This is the job of the left and we’ll lose if we cease to do it.

Sean Illing

What sort of impact do you see Thomas having on the court — and the country — moving forward?

Corey Robin

For many years Thomas was a voice in the wilderness on the court, but that has changed in recent years. There are just more hardcore right-wingers with him on the Court. So he’s really having a moment. He is the most senior justice on the court. So that means that whenever he and Roberts are on opposite sides, he gets to assign the opinion.

The fact is, Thomas’s opinions matter now more than ever. And I would say that we’re in this very strange moment right now, particularly on the left, in which there’s a lot more attention being paid to questions of race. And a worldview like Thomas’s just isn’t interrogated seriously on the left, not as seriously as it should be.

I mean, this is the most powerful black person in the United States right now, and nobody knows the first thing about him. Don’t just assume you already know, because there’s a long history of that in this country, of white people just assuming they know the story of someone.

Thomas, whatever you think of him, has a fascinating story — and we all need to know it.

By |2019-10-15T17:10:56+00:00October 15th, 2019|

Trump keeps losing in court, but time is on his side

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Last Monday, a federal district court held that the mere fact that Trump is president does not make him immune him from a New York City prosecutor’s effort to subpoena Trump’s tax returns from Mazars USA, the president’s accounting firm. Then, on Friday, the powerful United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that Mazars must turn over many of Trump’s financial records to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Mazars indicated that it will comply with these subpoenas if the courts ultimately order them to do so. That sets the Mazars cases aside from other fights to uncover information about the president: Trump’s pledge of maximal resistance to the impeachment probe suggests that he will not turn over any documents in his own possession, but he can’t prevent a third party like Mazars from complying with a subpoena.

We still don’t know what’s in the financial records investigators hope to uncover, and we might not know what’s in these documents for a very long time. In the New York case, Trump v. Vance, the Second Circuit stayed the district court’s decision “pending expedited review by a panel of the Court,” which could be scheduled as early as next week.

The DC Circuit case, Trump v. Mazars, is also in limbo. Though the appeals court ruled against Trump on Friday, the court announced shortly thereafter that the order would not take effect right away — and could likely be delayed even further if Trump files a petition asking all eleven of the DC Circuit’s judges to rehear the case.

In practice, such a petition could delay resolution of this case for months. Though the DC Circuit is unlikely to agree to rehear this case, the court’s judges could spend weeks or even months arguing among themselves — and producing opinions memorializing those arguments — about whether to grant a petition for rehearing.

Looming over all of this is the Supreme Court, with its Republican majority that frequently backs Trump after the president runs into trouble in lower courts. Even if the Supreme Court ultimate rejects Trump’s arguments on the merits, it too could delay resolution of these cases by months or even more than a year — potentially letting Trump keep his finances secret until the 2020 election is over.

Current law does not support Trump’s claims that he can block the Mazars subpoenas.

In Vance, the New York case, Trump made what Judge Victor Marrero described as an “extraordinary claim” that “the person who serves as President, while in office, enjoys absolute immunity from criminal process of any kind.” There are many problems with this argument, but the biggest is probably the Supreme Court’s decision in Clinton v. Jones (1997).

Jones held that “it is settled law that the separation-of-powers doctrine does not bar every exercise of jurisdiction over the President of the United States,” and it explained that the Court has “never suggested that the President, or any other official, has an immunity that extends beyond the scope of any action taken in an official capacity.” Because the Mazars subpoenas seek financial records unrelated to Trump’s conduct in office, Jones suggests that Trump cannot block those subpoenas.

Trump’s arguments in Mazars, the congressional subpoenas case, are equally weak. As the Supreme Court explained in Eastland v. United States Servicemen’s Fund (1975), Congress’ investigatory power extends broadly to subpoenas “intended to gather information about a subject on which legislation may be had.” The House Oversight Committee says that it wants Trump’s financial records, in part because it is considering whether laws imposing financial disclosure requirements on the president need to be strengthened. That’s a matter on which legislation may be had.

The DC Circuit’s decision in Mazars did produce a dissent, from Trump appointed Judge Neomi Rao. Rao is a former Trump White House official and law professor whose academic work often resembled trolling. In a 2011 article, for example, Rao criticized a French court decision upholding a ban on a practice known as “dwarf tossing,” where little people are paid to be thrown. According to Rao, this law “coerce[s] individuals by forcing upon them a particular understanding of dignity.”

In Mazars, Rao argued that the House investigation into Trump’s finances is illegal because the House did not specifically declare it to be part of an impeachment inquiry, and impeachment is the only “way for Congress to investigate illegal conduct by the President.”

“No case law supports the dissent,” Judge David Tatel explained for the Mazars majority. Rather, as the Supreme Court held in Sinclair v. United States (1929), Congress’ power “to require pertinent disclosures in aid of its own constitutional power is not abridged because the information sought to be elicited may also be of use in” a criminal prosecution.

So Trump’s arguments are weak and, at least so far, the only judge willing to back him in these lawsuits is a Trumpy outlier whose views are well to the right of the median justice. It’s always dangerous to make predictions about how the Supreme Court will rule in a particular case. But if the justices follow existing law, there’s no basis whatsoever for a decision holding that Trump is immune from oversight.

Trump, however, doesn’t actually need to win these cases to prevent his finances from becoming public before the 2020 election — the last realistic chance to hold him accountable for anything in the Mazars documents. He just needs to prevent the subpoenas from being enforced before early November of 2020. And there’s a good chance he could succeed in this plan.

Because the Mazars case was already decided by a federal appeals court, while the Vance case is still awaiting a hearing in the Second Circuit, it’s likely that Mazars will be the first case to reach the Supreme Court. On Twitter, University of Chicago law professor Daniel Hemel lays out how this case is likely to proceed from here.

To translate this a bit, Trump’s lawyers have at least 14 days — starting from last Friday — to file a petition asking the full DC Circuit to rehear this case. Currently, the DC Circuit has seven Democratic appointees and only four Republicans, so this petition is unlikely to be granted. But Rao and her fellow Trump allies on the court could potentially delay resolution of that petition by writing a dissent from the court’s decision to deny the petition. It’s also possible that one or more of the DC Circuit’s Democrats will chose to write their own opinion responding to Rao in order to prevent her from having the last word before this case goes to the Supreme Court.

Altogether, this internal fight over the petition for a rehearing could take weeks or even months to resolve.

Once the DC Circuit announces that it will not rehear Mazars, the Supreme Court will get its first and most important crack at the case. Last May, the House agreed “to suspend the time for production set by the subpoena during the pendency of this appeal.” Thus, the House indicated that it will not enforce the subpoena so long as the DC Circuit is still considering the case.

Once the DC Circuit’s consideration ends, however, the House is unlikely to agree to a further delay — as doing so could delay resolution of this case until after the 2020 election. So Trump will likely petition the Supreme Court for a stay of the DC Circuit’s opinion permitting the House to enforce its subpoena.

If the Supreme Court grants this stay, that’s the ballgame. After the DC Circuit denies rehearing, Trump will have between 90 to 150 days (depending on whether the Supreme Court grants him a 60 day extension) to formally ask the Supreme Court to hear Mazars on the merits. If the justices ultimately decide to take the case — and the four most conservative justices can extend a stay by agreeing to hear the case — that means that the Supreme Court is very unlikely to decide this case until its 2020-’21 term. And the Court typically decides the most contentious cases in the final days of its term.

That means a decision is unlikely before June 2021 if the Supreme Court agrees to stay the DC Circuit’s decision. By that point, Trump will either be a former president or he will be firmly ensconced in his second term.

It should go without saying that a congressional oversight process that allows for this sort of delay is profoundly broken. Democrats took over the House last January, in part on a promise to subject Trump to the kind of oversight that Republicans avoided when they controlled the House. A federal district judge first held that Mazars must comply with the subpoena last May. It’s now October, and even if the Supreme Court denies a stay of the DC Circuit’s decision, we are probably months away from the day when the subpoena is enforced.

In Eastland, the Supreme Court indicated that court proceedings seeking to block congressional oversight of the president should “be given the most expeditious treatment by district courts because one branch of Government is being asked to halt the functions of a coordinate branch.” But these cases have not been given such treatment once the district court issued its order. As a result, Trump may win his bid to prevent the Mazars subpoenas from doing any damage to him, even if he ultimately loses in court.

By |2019-10-15T13:12:38+00:00October 15th, 2019|

Journalists from CNN and the New York Times are tag teaming this week’s Democratic debate

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Journalists from CNN and the New York Times are slated to tag team the moderating on this week’s Democratic debate, which will air Tuesday at 8 pm ET.

CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett will ask questions alongside New York Times national editor Marc Lacey as 12 candidates take the stage at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. The debate will be broadcast on CNN and is set to be the most crowded one yet.

The Times’ involvement on Tuesday is significant: The publication hasn’t held a presidential debate in over a decade. Given upcoming changes in DNC debate qualifications, the fourth debate also presents a last-ditch opportunity for some lower-tier candidates to have a breakout moment. To qualify this time around, the candidates needed to hit at least a 2 percent polling threshold in four DNC-approved polls and rake in donations from 130,000 people. (November’s debate qualifications are much stricter and so far only eight candidates have made the cut.)

The three moderators for the debate all cover national politics in different capacities and will be central to steering the conversation on a very crowded stage:

  • Anderson Cooper anchors Anderson Cooper 360, a daily CNN news program.
  • Erin Burnett anchors Erin Burnett OutFront, a daily CNN news program.
  • Marc Lacey is the National editor at the Times, overseeing the paper’s correspondents across the country.

The Democratic National Committee has made a commitment to increasing the diversity of debate moderators this cycle and agreed to include at least one person of color and one woman in every debate.

Given how historically white and male the debate space has been, greater diversity among moderators has been a priority for advocacy groups, including NARAL, Emily’s List, and Color of Change.

In an open letter this spring, the groups urged media outlets and other organizations to ensure that at least 50 percent of the moderators running the debates would be women and at least 50 percent would be people of color. UltraViolet Action, an organization dedicated to gender equity, spearheaded the letter, which also called out sexism in political media coverage writ large.

Thus far, the DNC has lived up to its pledge.

During the June debates in Miami, four of the five moderators involved were women or people of color and just one was a white man. During the July debates in Detroit, the moderators included an African American reporter and a woman. And during the September debates in Houston, two moderators were people of color and one was a woman.

Tuesday’s debate will continue that trend: Of the three moderators, one is a person of color and one is a woman.

By |2019-10-15T12:13:41+00:00October 15th, 2019|

The week ahead in impeachment, briefly explained

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It’s a busy, hearing-packed week for the US House of Representatives as members come back from a two-week recess to continue their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Members of the House Intelligence Committee never really left Capitol Hill during recess. Lawmakers in that committee — along with members of the two other committees investigating Trump’s contacts with Ukraine, the foreign affairs and oversight committees — have spent the last two weeks conducting hearings and deposing witnesses in order to determine whether Trump attempted to use the office of president to gain dirt on his political enemies.

So far, these sessions have revealed text messages that appear to support the allegations of a whistleblower who accused Trump of attempting to coerce Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden. The hearings have also raised new questions about the involvement of private citizens in official US foreign policy, including Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

At least four former and current Trump administration officials are testifying in front of lawmakers this week. First up is Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council adviser on Russia. Hill is expected to give her perspective on what the council did and didn’t know about the July 25 call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Biden.

As lawmakers proceed with these hearings, the committees are also waiting to hear back on whether administration officials will respond to a fresh round of subpoenas issued last week.

Here’s everything you need to know to get up to speed on another dizzying week of news in Washington.

Here’s what we know so far about the impeachment inquiry hearings scheduled so far this week:

Monday, October 14

  • Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top adviser on Russia, is appearing in a closed-door session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight Committees. Hill was a career official who served across six administrations, and is not considered a Trump loyalist. She abruptly left the National Security Council about a week before Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky. Hill is expected to testify about how the National Security Council was largely in the dark about the activities of other Trump officials and Rudy Giuliani — the president’s personal lawyer — with respect to Ukraine.
  • Semyon “Sam” Kislin, an associate of Giuliani, is scheduled to appear for a closed-door deposition with House Intelligence Committee staff.

Tuesday, October 15

  • George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, is scheduled to appear for a closed-door deposition. Kent is a career diplomat at the State Department who served in Ukraine from 2015 to 2018. He was supposed to testify earlier, but did not show up due to White House pressure.

Thursday, October 16

  • Former European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland is scheduled to appear for a closed-door deposition. Sondland was originally supposed to testify October 8, but the Trump administration initially blocked him from appearing. Sondland’s testimony could be a pivotal moment for House Democrats’ investigation, particularly as they work to determine whether Trump wanted to trade US military aid for an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter (we’ll get into that more later).
  • Counselor of the United States Department of State T. Ulrich Brechbuhl is scheduled to appear for a closed-door deposition. Brechbuhl is close to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Reports over the weekend suggest this week could be another big one for Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, particularly because of what former EU ambassador Sondland may tell lawmakers and their staff.

The Washington Post reported this weekend Sondland plans to tell Congress that explosive text messages in which the ambassador denied Trump was offering Ukraine a quid pro quo arrangement (the release of congressionally approved military aid in exchange for an investigation into Biden) was simply Sondland relaying a message that Trump himself told him over the phone.

“It’s only true that the president said it, not that it was the truth,” a source familiar with Sondland’s Thursday testimony told the Washington Post’s Aaron David and John Hudson.

If Sondland indeed follows through with that testimony, it could be a watershed moment, precisely because Trump and his White House have used Sondland’s texts saying there was no quid pro quo as a big part of its defense. If it turns out that message originated from the president himself, it could undercut that argument.

By deposing more diplomats and career service officials, lawmakers are starting to paint a fuller picture of the Trump administration’s activities around Ukraine. Last week, lawmakers talked to former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch for nearly 10 hours. Among other things, Yovanovitch told them she had been ousted from her post in May after a “concerted campaign against me,” led by Giuliani and supported by Trump. Yovanovitch also testified she was targeted for her work on anti-corruption in Ukraine, which she said was interrupting the business interests of some of Giuliani associates in the region.

Giuliani himself is also coming under more scrutiny; last week, CNN reported that prosecutors in the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York “are examining Giuliani’s involvement in the broader flow of money” involving his Ukrainian associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were arrested on charges of violating campaign finance law last week.

It’s a lot to keep up with, but it means that Trump’s personal lawyer seems to be in worsening legal trouble. This tangled web around Ukraine means Trump is only going to face more scrutiny from lawmakers going forward. If evidence keeps mounting that Trump tried to engineer his own defense, that scrutiny could result in articles of impeachment.

Democrats have a lot of subpoena deadlines to follow up on this week; they’re waiting to see if a number of current and former Trump officials will respond to their subpoenas for documents and witnesses.

  • It’s worth noting the Trump administration wrote a letter last week saying it won’t comply with any congressional requests and subpoenas related to the impeachment inquiry, so these will likely turn into court battles. However, some of the individuals Congress has requested documents from are not administration officials; they are not subject to the same broad protection of executive privilege and could comply with the subpoenas of their own accord. And some administration officials could — as Yovanovitch did — disregard the White House’s guidance and cooperate as well.

Subpoenas for current/former Trump officials and departments:

  • On October 4, congressional committees sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence requesting a list of documents to examine whether Pence had knowledge of Trump’s July 25 phone call to Zelensky. The White House has said it will not comply.
  • Sondland was supposed provide the House Intelligence Committee documents by October 14, but his attorneys said he cannot provide the documents.
  • Pentagon officials are supposed to turn over records to the committees outlining the delay in military aid to Ukraine, with an October 15 deadline.
  • Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought has been asked by the committees to turn over documents on the delay of military aid to Ukraine by the same October 15 deadline.
  • Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was subpoenaed on October 4 for documents related to the impeachment inquiry. He’s supposed to provide the documents by October 18.
  • Energy Secretary Rick Perry was subpoenaed on October 10 for documents related to his contact with Ukrainian president Zelensky in May and June. He’s supposed to provide the documents by October 18, but hasn’t yet responded.

Subpoenas for Trump associates who are not administration officials:

  • Giuliani was subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee on September 30 and ordered to produce documents about his work in Ukraine by October 15. Giuliani has said he won’t comply with the request or testify.
  • Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Giuliani associates, were requested to testify before the committees and hand over documents, and committee investigators sent them a formal subpoena on October 10. Parnas and Fruman have so far refused to cooperate with Congress, but they have also been arrested on a separate charge of violating campaign finance laws. Like Giuliani, the two men are exempt from executive privilege protections.

This list shows how wide-ranging the congressional inquiry into Trump and his administration officials’ dealings with Ukraine has become. But with most of these requests, the Trump administration has already refused to provide documents and witnesses, meaning these requests will get tied up in lengthy court proceedings.

So far, Democrats have had the most success with career administration officials who aren’t Trump loyalists. The big question is how many Trump loyalists they can get to talk to them as well.

By |2019-10-14T21:12:38+00:00October 14th, 2019|

8 Republican Senators to watch on impeachment

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Congress is back — meaning Senate Republicans are going to have to start answering pointed questions about where they stand on impeachment.

While it’s pretty unlikely enough Republican Senators will actually vote to convict President Donald Trump if articles of impeachment are brought against him, members who represent swing states, such as Susan Collins, might feel pressure to defect due to pushback from their constituents. Others, like Mitt Romney, have vocalized opposition to the president in the past and are among the most likely to do so again.

As Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman writes, it’s possible that a definitive statement from a lawmaker like Romney could be the “pressure point” to embolden other Republicans to confront Trump on impeachment.

Thus far, the Senate Republican response to a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been mixed. According to a Washington Post analysis, roughly 15 Republican lawmakers have expressed concerns or pushed for more information about Trump’s call asking Zelensky for help investigating Hunter Biden, the son of his 2020 rival Joe Biden. Several Republicans have also spoken out in response to Trump pressuring the Chinese government to investigate Hunter Biden, comments the president made publicly to the press.

The other 38 Republicans, meanwhile, have sought to undercut the whistleblower’s credibility and thrown their backing behind the president. No Republican Senators have gone so far as to express support for the impeachment inquiry.

In order for the Senate to convict the president of charges, 20 Senate Republicans would have to join with the 47-member Democratic caucus in order to reach the 67-person supermajority threshold that’s needed. Still, any breaks within the Republican conference don’t look great for Trump and help give Democrats further ammunition to use against him in the 2020 election. Trump himself is counting on Republican senators’ support, reportedly calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at frequent intervals to stress the need for GOP unity.

For now, the Republicans facing the most pressure — particularly those up for reelection in 2020 — are broadly saying they need more “facts” before they can take a conclusive stance on Trump’s calls for foreign help. Their responses offer a way to dodge questions about his behavior while maintaining some semblance of accountability.

With new information coming out seemingly every day and with Congress in session once more, here are a slew of lawmakers we’re watching and what they’ve said on the subject so far:

Romney, an on-again, off-again, critic of the president, has offered some of the strongest rebukes of Trump’s comments about China and Ukraine:

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

He’s declined to comment more directly on the impeachment inquiry, however:

“I haven’t spoken with any other Republican senator about the impeachment process, either in person or by email or text. I haven’t discussed that with anybody.” (The Salt Lake Tribune)

Collins is among the most vulnerable Republicans this cycle and will need to win over a hefty number of independents to hang onto her seat. She’s criticized Trump’s comments about China:

“I thought the president made a big mistake by asking China to get involved in investigating a political opponent. It’s completely inappropriate.” (Bangor Daily News)

But she’s declined to take a stand explicitly on the impeachment inquiry, citing her role as a potential juror:

If there are articles of impeachment I would be a juror just as I was in the trial for President Clinton, and as a juror I think it’s inappropriate for me to reach conclusions about evidence or to comment on the proceedings in the House.” (Bloomberg)

Sasse, a one-time Trump critic who’s since earned the president’s endorsement ahead of a reelection fight in 2020, has slammed the president’s comments about China:

“Hold up: Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth. If the Biden kid broke laws by selling his name to Beijing, that’s a matter for American courts, not communist tyrants running torture camps.” (Omaha World-Herald)

When it comes to the impeachment inquiry, Sasse is focused on rounding up more information:

“I’m glad the President agreed with the requests a number of us have been making that the administration release this unredacted transcript. The President should also provide all additional relevant materials to the Committee. At a time when foreign powers work every day to exploit our divisions, it’s important for public trust that Americans know what did and did not happen here. We need shared facts. As the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence fulfills its oversight responsibilities, this first release is the right choice for the country.” (Sasse press statement)

Ernst, a senator who’s fighting to keep her seat in a swing state, dodged questions about Trump’s Ukraine call during the recess:

“I don’t know that we have that information in front of us.” (Associated Press)

She’s argued, however, that the whistleblower should be shielded from potential retaliation:

“Whistleblowers should be protected.” (The Washington Post)

Murkowski, a Republican who’s broken with Trump in the past on Kavanaugh and the Affordable Care Act, has pushed for more information about the allegations raised against Trump:

“What I find equally troubling is that even before there has been any considered review, that people have decided. There is either ‘absolutely, you must get rid of him tomorrow’ viewpoint or ‘he must stay in and no questions asked.’”

“I’m also trying to think to myself, if this set of facts were to be in front of me and the president was President Hillary Clinton as opposed to President Donald Trump, would I be viewing this in a different way? Because if I do, that’s wrong. I shouldn’t view whether what is right and what is wrong based on the political affiliation of the individual that we are considering.” (The Hill)

A Murkowski spokesperson has previously said that the senator will work on informing herself while the House conducts its impeachment inquiry:

“In terms of the formal impeachment inquiry —that lies in the House of Representatives. Right now the Senate doesn’t have a part in this until the House reviews and they act. Until the point the Senate has a role in this, Senator Murkowski will wait to see the process play out in the House. Separately, she’s doing all she can to make sure she’s informed on the current allegations and will review the full transcript from the phone call in question when it’s released.” (KTUU News)

While McSally was pretty critical of an impeachment inquiry when it was first announced, calling it a “distraction,” she’s since shifted her tone quite a bit. Facing a tough election in 2020, she recently refrained from taking a decisive position on the inquiry:

“This a serious matter, like I’ve said, and I think we’ve seen some partisan dynamics going on. And I think as Americans, none of us should be throwing around the ‘I-word’ as if it’s a joke.

“I think people want us to take a serious look at this and not have it be just partisan bickering going on.” (Talking Points Memo)

“I am going to, when information is presented to me that’s been investigated by people who are not being partisan, we will share and be in our role going forward.” (Arizona Republic)

Gardner, a vulnerable Senator who’s up for reelection in 2020, evaded questions over the recess about Trump’s requests for foreign government interference:

“It’s an answer that you get from a very serious investigation.” (Associated Press)

Meanwhile, Gardner has criticized the impeachment inquiry as a partisan effort:

“I joined my Senate colleagues in unanimously supporting the release of the whistleblower report, and I support the Senate Intelligence Committee’s on-going bipartisan review to gather all of the facts. Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry to appease the far-left isn’t something the majority of Americans support and will sharply divide the country.” (CPR News)

Alexander, a lawmaker who’s retiring from his seat, has called Trump’s conduct “inappropriate” but notes that he sees impeachment as a “mistake”:

“It’s inappropriate for the president to be talking with foreign governments about investigating his political opponents, but impeachment would be a mistake. An election, which is just around the corner, is the right way to decide who should be president. Impeachment has never removed a president. It will only divide the country further.” (WREG News)

By |2019-10-14T12:14:08+00:00October 14th, 2019|

As conflict mounts at Syrian border, US will withdraw almost all its troops from the country

A thousand US troops will be withdrawn from northern Syria as “quickly as possible,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday, a day after President Donald Trump approved the withdrawal that would almost completely eliminate the US military presence in the region.

Esper confirmed the withdrawal on CBS’ Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday. The news comes amidst an incursion by Turkish military forces into Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria that has led to displacement and alleged atrocities against civilian populations. These alleged atrocities include executions, like one shared in a video that appears to depict the roadside execution of a Kurd by a Turkish fighter or a Turkey-backed Syrian fighter.

Turkey entered northern Syria last week, shortly after the US withdrew about 50 US troops from the area. Trump justified that initial withdrawal by saying he wanted to decrease overseas military engagement. Turkey has said it hopes to establish a “safe zone” for the millions of Syrian refugees it has accepted during the Syrian conflict in an area that would extend about 20 miles into northeastern Syria. It also wants to push Kurdish forces it claims are aligned with terrorists further from its border with Syria.

The US and Turkey had been working together to police the Syrian-Turkish border, but following a call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, that practice changed.

Only about 300 American soldiers will remain in Syria after this latest withdrawal, according to two US military officials who spoke to NBC News. Military officials have said that withdrawal was one of few options available to the US, because as Turkey ramps up its military engagement in the region, US forces would have become outnumbered and at risk of conflict with Turkish forces.

Critics have argued the withdrawal is not about protecting American troops, but about Trump making way for Turkish forces to enter into the region. They also accuse Trump of abandoning a key US ally in the fight against ISIS, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The SDF is considered by Turkey to be linked to Kurdish separatist groups that both the United States and Turkey consider terrorist organizations, and Turkish leaders have used this as one of their justifications for the offensive.

Also of concern for those critical of the Turkish action is the fact the SDF is in charge of a large number of ISIS prisoners. Trump’s former secretary of defense, James Mattis, said Sunday on Meet the Press that the removal of US troops could lead to ISIS’ resurgence.

More than 10,000 ISIS members have been held in SDF-run prisons, but many of the troops guarding those detention centers have left their posts in order to ward off the Turkish invasion. Some ISIS fighters have allegedly already escaped, and nearly 800 women and children affiliated with the terrorist group reportedly escaped detention on Sunday.

Beyond fears the Turkish operation could help ISIS are worries it will worsen the Syrian refugee crisis. The United Nations said that more than 130,000 people living in and around northern Syrian have been displaced as a result of conflict between Turkey and Kurdish forces, and added that an additional 400,000 civilians living in this zone may require aid. Turkey has reportedly already killed more than 20 Syrian Kurds, including at least one child.

Trump defended his decision on Twitter on Sunday, saying it was “very smart” not to get involved in a conflict at the Turkish border:

In the meantime, he has warned Turkey that atrocities against Kurds and other ethnic minorities in the region would trigger economic sanctions. He has not, however, been specific about what those sanctions might entail or what red lines Turkey would have to cross to trigger them. This lack of clarity has angered even some of the president’s staunchest allies in Congress, some of whom have begun collaborating with Democrats to prepare their own sanctions packages.

Reports coming out of Syria have been dramatic. Mortar has been falling on towns and cities along the border, and Kurds have fled some towns. Civilians, including at least one child, have been reportedly killed. The UN has warned of a growing number of displaced people, and as Vox’s Nicole Narea has reported, the Turkish operation could trigger mass displacement in a country already facing a refugee crisis: As many as 300,000 people could be affected in a country that has watched 6.6 million refugees flee, and that has seen another 6.1 million people become internally displaced since 2011.

Analysts have expressed concern that this new conflict could spill over the border into Iraq, sending tremors of instability across the region, and leading to a resurgence of ISIS. Fighters with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have reported that some imprisoned ISIS fighters have become free because security at their detention centers has waned during the conflict, although the US reportedly moved two high-profile prisoners out of the country in advance of the invasion.

Human rights observers have claimed that civilians have been executed in the days since Turkey entered northern Syria. On Saturday, pro-Kurdish demonstrations took place in Germany and France, and leaders from those countries have both said they will cease to export weapons to Turkey while this military engagement is underway.

Russia and Israel have also weighed in.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who has acted as a liaison to Damascus in high-pressure moments before, said his government will seek to “establish a dialogue between Turkey and Syria.”

“We have reason to believe that it is in the interests of both parties,” he said Thursday. “At the same time, we will negotiate that nevertheless the contacts will be established between Damascus and Kurdish organizations that reject extremism and terrorist methods activities.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, one of the only nations that supports the existence of an independent Kurdish state — a position that Turkey has stood strongly against for decades — said Thursday that Israel would offer humanitarian aid to the Kurds.

“Israel strongly condemns the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish areas in Syria and warns against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies,” he said.

On Sunday, however, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that while the Trump administration is concerned about humanitarian issues, its overall goal was not to defend Kurds, but to pull the US out of “endless wars.”

“I think the analogy that everybody’s saying is, we’re abandoning the Kurds, like the Kurds are these longstanding allies,” he told ABC’s This Week. “Our role in Syria was not to defend land for the Kurds in historical issues. Our focus was to defeat ISIS.”

Despite Mnuchin’s assertion, many lawmakers — including many Republicans — see the Kurds as key allies, and argue allowing Turkey to fight them will send a message to other potential anti-terror allies that the US cannot be trusted.

Trump attempted to head off this criticism with a tweet Monday claiming he would “destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if they committed atrocities. But as Vox’s Alex Ward reported, congresspeople were not convinced.

Critics of Trump’s initial decision to withdraw troops from Syria came from both sides of the aisle, and have led to a bipartisan effort to design specific sanctions in response to Turkey’s actions.

On Wednesday, Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced a bill in the Senate that would impose financial penalties on Turkey’s highest political leaders — including President Erdoğan — and military for invading Syria’s north. As Vox’s Alex Ward reported, the bill targets top Turkish leaders as well as its energy sector, an unprecedented move against a NATO ally:

Turkey’s energy sector would take a hit. According to the bill outline, it would target “any foreign person or entity who supplies goods, services, technology, information, or other support that maintains or supports Turkey’s domestic petroleum production and natural gas production for the used by its armed forces.”

There’s also a section about restricting travel for Turkish leaders to the US and filing reports, as well as a part on how humanitarian aid, medical assistance, election help, and intelligence sharing would be exempted. Still, if passed and signed by the president, the legislation would be a major hit on a NATO ally.

The sanctions could come off Turkey if the US certifies that it’s not unilaterally operating in Syria, meaning it either left the area or worked in tandem with the US. The administration has to make a determination on that every 90 days and report to Congress.

Sunday morning, Graham praised Trump for signaling support for the bill, saying “there is strong bipartisan support for such sanction’s and it is imperative that we do not allow Turkey’s aggression to lead to the destruction of a valuable ally — the Kurds – and the reemergence of ISIS.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has overseen ramped-up economic sanctions against Iran, said on Sunday that the US is “ready to go at a moment’s notice to put on sanctions” against Turkey.

“These sanctions could be starting small, they could be maximum pressure, which would destroy the Turkish economy,” he said on ABC’s This Week.

Sanctions could include shutting down US dollar transactions with the entire Turkish government, Mnuchin added, and he said a plan is ready to be put into action once approved by the president.

In the same tweet in which he acknowledged Graham’s sanctions efforts, Trump gave little indication as to whether he would order sanctions, noting “Turkey has asked that it not be done.” And he did not add any clarity to what would cause him to issue such an order. Instead, as the fighting rages on, he wrote, “Stay tuned!

By |2019-10-13T22:14:31+00:00October 13th, 2019|