By Robert A. Vella
They say that when you’ve dug a hole you can’t climb out of, you should stop digging. Likewise, when you’re fishing and not catching anything, you should consider doing something else. For the Republican Party, a pivotal point may be approaching in its support of President Trump. They know that they rose to power under his frenetic leadership. They know that the party base is fanatically behind him. They know that any disloyalty to him will be met with swift retribution. They know that, without Trump, enthusiasm among Republican voters would decline perhaps dramatically. Now, they know something else even more distressing. As damaging revelations from the impeachment inquiry of Trump’s Ukraine scandal hit the daily headlines and impact public opinion, the GOP finds itself facing the likely prospect of a huge defeat in next year’s elections.
No matter how much they resist the idea of opposing Trump, political self-preservation will be an increasing factor for many Republican politicians in Congress and elsewhere going forward. This doesn’t mean they will suddenly rediscover their moral and ethical selves and abruptly turn on Trump en masse, far from it. But, it does mean that they’ll probably act more independently and in their own self-interest on an individual basis as the impeachment process progresses. With an impeachment vote in the House of Representatives almost assured of passage, Republicans will be on the hot-seat as the trial to remove Trump from office is held in the Senate. For each of them, the question becomes: Do I dump Trump, or not?
Right now, the political consensus suggests that a majority of senators would vote to convict President Trump but not enough to reach the 67 vote threshold necessary to remove him from office. Still, that outcome would further damage Trump’s reelection chances as well as his allies’ chances in Congress and in the states. This is why Republicans in red states are enacting additional voter suppression measures designed to mitigate the anti-Trump wave they’re facing in 2020.
Today’s stories provide more detail on this evolving political dynamic plus the latest impeachment developments and other news.
WASHINGTON — Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, told House impeachment investigators on Tuesday that the White House transcript of a July call between President Trump and Ukraine’s president omitted crucial words and phrases, and that his attempts to include them failed, according to three people familiar with the testimony.
The omissions, Colonel Vindman said, included Mr. Trump’s assertion that there were recordings of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. discussing Ukraine corruption, and an explicit mention by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, of Burisma Holdings, the energy company whose board employed Mr. Biden’s son Hunter.
Colonel Vindman, who appeared on Capitol Hill wearing his dark blue Army dress uniform and military medals, told House impeachment investigators that he tried to change the reconstructed transcript made by the White House staff to reflect the omissions. But while some of his edits appeared to have been successful, he said, those two corrections were not made.
Trump and his allies on TV lashed out at Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who said his concerns about what he heard in Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky drove him to notify his superiors. Trump dismissed Vindman as a “Never Trumper,” while some of his allies questioned the patriotism of the Army combat veteran because his family emigrated from the Soviet Union when he was 3.
Trump’s attack on the Purple Heart recipient unnerved Republicans in Congress, with several pushing back, albeit without naming the president. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called the offensive “misplaced and very unfortunate,” and said he had “full confidence” in Vindman “as an individual and his patriotism.”
The response from Trump’s party created an unusual dynamic in which Republicans were defending a man who was simultaneously accusing the president of undermining national security for his own political purposes. Privately, several Republicans found Vindman’s testimony to be damaging and lamented that once again they were forced to defend the president.
The GOP reaction to Vindman comes as the party faces frontal attacks on two of its major talking points in Trump’s defense. Vindman’s account of the phone call deprives Republicans of the complaint that the witnesses called by Democrats have relied on hearsay when discussing the president’s interactions with Zelensky. And as Democrats moved to vote on a resolution to hold open hearings on impeachment, Republicans faced the prospect of losing their complaint that the inquiry is being conducted in secret.
“The Republican Senate majority, once considered relatively safe, suddenly looks in serious jeopardy. Democrats are raising more money, and polling better, than Republican incumbents in battleground after battleground,” Axios notes. “President Trump trails every major Democratic candidate nationally and in swing states — and his favorable ratings remain well under 50%.”
U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior political strategist Scott Reed, calling it a “three-alarm fire,” tells Axios the Republican Party “was shaken” by news of poor fundraising by vulnerable Senator.
“All these incumbent senators have terrible job approvals and terrible favorables,” Reed observes.
Upon hearing from a series of career foreign service and national security officials, some Democrats say Sondland lied to three House committees investigating President Trump’s contacts with Ukraine, particularly in regard to pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch two investigations that would help President Trump politically.
Now, some Democrats want Sondland to return to Capitol Hill to testify about the conflicting accounts of his involvement, while others are saying he should be charged for misleading the House committee.
The latest development comes after Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the director for European affairs on the National Security Council (NSC), on Tuesday testified for roughly 10 hours with House investigators. Vindman said Sondland had direct involvement in pressuring Zelensky for investigations into both the 2016 election and Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s top 2020 political opponents.
Some Democrats said Vindman’s testimony uncovered a crime: Sondland, they charged, had lied under oath.
Testimony from a senior White House official on Tuesday appeared to contradict Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s ardent denials that he ever heard former Vice President Joe Biden or his son Hunter discussed in relation to U.S. requests that Ukraine investigate corruption.
In his opening statement, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official overseeing Ukraine policy, told House impeachment investigators that he objected to EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s comments in a July 10 White House briefing — attended by Perry — requesting that Ukrainian officials investigate the 2016 U.S. election, the Bidens and the Ukrainian energy company Burisma that had employed Hunter Biden.
WASHINGTON — National security adviser John Bolton warned U.S. diplomats in June that Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney, could pose an obstacle to improving the White House’s relations with Ukraine, according to prepared testimony by a State Department official.
Christopher Anderson, who served as special adviser for Ukraine negotiations for two years until July 2019, is set to testify to House impeachment investigators on Wednesday that Mr. Bolton in a June 13 meeting supported “increased senior White House engagement” with Ukraine. But Mr. Bolton, who left his post last month, expressed concern that Mr. Giuliani “was a key voice with the President on Ukraine,” which could hamper efforts to strengthen the relationship, according to a copy of Mr. Anderson’s opening statement obtained by The Wall Street Journal.
WASHINGTON – Two State Department officials who focus on Ukraine are scheduled to appear on Wednesday before lawmakers investigating the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson are both scheduled to appear Wednesday morning before the House Oversight, Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees. Their insight could be helpful to Democrats hoping to learn more about the dual strategies that the U.S. was taking on Ukraine — the official one and the operation that multiple officials have told lawmakers hinged on the country investigating political rivals of the president.
House Democrats unveiled new procedures for the impeachment inquiry of President Trump on Tuesday, responding to Republican demands for due process by setting out rules for future public hearings delving into whether Trump should be removed from office.
The resolution backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hands the lead role to the House Intelligence Committee and its chairman, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who would have broad latitude to organize extended questioning of potential public witnesses. Two other committees that have so far participated in the closed-door investigation into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine — Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform — would not be permitted to directly participate in the open proceedings under the legislation.
It also sets out for the first time the ability of House Republicans to make their own requests for testimony and documents, though those requests will be subject to a vote of the Democratic-majority committee — a practice that matches the minority powers in the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
The move comes ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The state will also have an unusual “double-barreled” Senate contest, with both of its seats up for grabs at the same time.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office said that it plans to send notices to voters who have been inactive for the past couple of elections and the notice will come with a paid return postage to give voters the opportunity to remain active. People have 30 days to return the notice.
The 2018 gubernatorial election between now-Gov. Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state at the time, and Democrat Stacey Abrams was roiled by accusations of voter registration purges and suppression. Kemp won by less than 2 percent. Also, in July 2017, Georgia canceled more than 530,000 registration — the largest in state history, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
WASHINGTON – In a remarkable rebuke of a NATO ally, the House on Tuesday approved a biting sanctions bill that could cripple Turkey’s economy and would punish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally by requiring an assessment of his net worth amid questions about his finances in Turkey.
Lawmakers also passed a deeply contentious measure to commemorate the Armenian genocide, a historic move that will almost certainly exacerbate U.S.-Turkey tensions. The genocide measure officially recognizes the systematic killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg faced withering questions from senators Tuesday about two crashes of 737 Max jets and whether the company concealed information about a critical flight system.
“We have made mistakes, and we got some things wrong,” Muilenburg conceded.
Some members of the Senate Commerce Committee cut Muilenburg off when they believed he was failing to answer their questions about a key flight-control system implicated in both crashes.
Boeing successfully lobbied regulators to keep any explanation of the system, called MCAS, from pilot manuals and training. After the crashes, the company tried to blame the pilots, said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s two main backers have agreed to work to remove him from office as protests against his government gained momentum in Baghdad and much of the Shi’ite south only to be met with violence.
Populist Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who leads parliament’s largest bloc, had asked Abdul Mahdi to call an early election. When the premier refused, he called on his main political rival Hadi al-Amiri to help oust him.
Amiri – who leads a parliamentary alliance of Iran-backed Shi’ite militia that holds the second-largest amount of seats in parliament behind Sadr’s alliance – issued a statement late on Tuesday agreeing to help oust the prime minister.
The armies of Syria and Turkey traded deadly fire Tuesday for the first time since Ankara launched an anti-Kurdish offensive in early October, as Russia announced Kurdish forces had withdrawn from the key border area.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Kurdish forces had pulled back from the entire Turkish-Syrian border in accordance with a deal struck between Ankara and regime backer Moscow in Sochi earlier this month.
But the situation was complicated by clashes between Syrian and Turkish forces on Tuesday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that “heavy fighting erupted for the first time between the Syrian and Turkish armies”, adding that six Syrian soldiers were killed near the key border town of Ras al-Ain.