By Robert A. Vella
After two weeks of impeachment inquiry testimony in the House of Representatives undisputedly exposed President Trump’s scheme to pressure the Ukrainian government into interfering in the 2020 election on his behalf, congressional Republicans have been left scrambling to find alternative ways to defend him. With the facts stacked against Trump (and possibly more to come), and with their failed attempts to discredit the witnesses fallen by the wayside, Republicans (and now even those in the Senate where the impeachment trial will be held) are resorting to push a fake conspiracy theory to shift public attention away from Trump and to justify his corrupt and illegal behavior.
But, they have a very big problem. Over the last few weeks, U.S. intelligence officials have again informed the Senate that the false narrative Trump and his Republican allies are pushing was deliberately planted by Russian security services to obfuscate its proven meddling in the 2016 U.S. election to help elect Trump and to instead blame Ukraine (a country Vladimir Putin wants to re-conquer) for meddling to help elect Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton. This U.S. intelligence assessment has been confirmed by bipartisan reports in both houses of Congress, and it poses a grave political risk for Republicans who chose to ignore it. That risk opens the door to wide public perception of Trump and his allies as traitors to America.
In fact, this Russian-planted conspiracy theory can be traced back to the conclusion of the 2016 election and shortly after Trump assumed office. Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian businessman with close ties to Russian intelligence, offered the theory to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort who is now in federal prison. Their relationship is central to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia in 2016 (see: Key figure that Mueller report linked to Russia was a State Department intel source). There is little doubt now that Trump has been and still is aiding Putin’s plan to undermine American democracy and its constitutional system based on the rule of law; and, the GOP – willingly or not – is apparently complicit.
That’s the focus of today’s post along with some other related news stories; and, lastly, there is a link to a new two-hour NOVA documentary aired this week on PBS – titled The Violence Paradox – which I highly recommend for those interested in human nature, its tendency towards violence, how the advent of civilization and biological evolution have mitigated violence, how increasing social inequalities in recent decades are exacerbating violent behavior, and what we can effectively do to reduce violence.
WASHINGTON — Republicans have sought for weeks amid the impeachment inquiry to shift attention to President Trump’s demands that Ukraine investigate any 2016 election meddling, defending it as a legitimate concern while Democrats accuse Mr. Trump of pursuing fringe theories for his benefit.
The Republican defense of Mr. Trump became central to the impeachment proceedings when Fiona Hill, a respected Russia scholar and former senior White House official, added a harsh critique during testimony on Thursday. She told some of Mr. Trump’s fiercest defenders in Congress that they were repeating “a fictional narrative.” She said that it likely came from a disinformation campaign by Russian security services, which also propagated it.
In a briefing that closely aligned with Dr. Hill’s testimony, American intelligence officials informed senators and their aides in recent weeks that Russia had engaged in a yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election, according to three American officials. The briefing came as Republicans stepped up their defenses of Mr. Trump in the Ukraine affair.
The revelations demonstrate Russia’s persistence in trying to sow discord among its adversaries — and show that the Kremlin apparently succeeded, as unfounded claims about Ukrainian interference seeped into Republican talking points. American intelligence agencies believe Moscow is likely to redouble its efforts as the 2020 presidential campaign intensifies. The classified briefing for senators also focused on Russia’s evolving influence tactics, including its growing ability to better disguise operations.
President Donald Trump on Friday advanced a Russian disinformation campaign aimed at the U.S. and its allies, endorsing a conspiracy theory less than 24 hours after his former top aide testified under oath that it was part of “a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services.”
The conspiracy theory, which took root and later spread among far-right Internet websites, conservative media and members of Trump’s inner circle, holds that Ukraine conspired against Trump during the 2016 election and colluded with his rival, Hillary Clinton, by hiding the Democratic National Committee’s email server. The theory claims that CrowdStrike, a security firm hired to investigate the hacking of emails from the DNC, covered up Ukraine’s role and framed Russia instead. In the President’s July 25 call that helped trigger the impeachment inquiry, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to do him a “favor” and look into Crowdstrike.
The Ukraine theory has been dismissed as false by several of Trump’s current and former top advisors, including his former Homeland Security advisor and others, and by Russia policy experts who say circulating it benefits Moscow. Nevertheless, Trump once again made the false accusation Friday during a nearly hour-long call-in to the “Fox & Friends” morning show in an apparent attempt to defend himself against this week’s House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearings.
The State Department late Friday released 100 pages of court-ordered documents that show President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke on the phone at least twice in late March within the same time frame of events currently under investigation in a House impeachment inquiry.
The released records seemed to confirm testimony from several key witnesses, including U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who testified this week that senior Trump administration officials were involved in the president’s efforts to convince Ukraine to launch a probe into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in the country. The 100 pages also included information related to House Democrats’ claims that Giuliani launched a so-called “smear campaign” against then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, leading to her ouster.
The documents were published by American Oversight, a nonprofit ethics watchdog investigating the Trump administration, which filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act for information related to the Trump administration’s dealings in Ukraine. The group seemed to find a loophole in the White House’s objections to cooperating in House impeachment hearings after Congress issued a subpoena for similar information.
WASHINGTON — Former national security adviser John Bolton appears to be dangling the possibility of testifying late in the impeachment process about President Donald Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine, potentially providing an account that could fill in crucial gaps in the current record.
“Bolton understands that the impeachment process is only in the seventh-inning stretch of a one-run ballgame — there is much more that is going to happen,” said one such person, speaking on condition of anonymity. “He now has a lucrative book deal, and he will do everything in his power to maximize public anticipation and revenues from the book.”
A longtime Republican lobbyist close to Bolton noted that the former national security adviser has legal and political factors that could cause him to delay testifying.
“He’s got something to say, but he also wants to stick around in the party,” the lobbyist said. “If he’s ordered by a judge, it’s harder for Trump-world to say he did this on his own because of some grudge.”
A lawyer for the associate of Rudy Giuliani is pushing the impeachment committee to call him to testify about what he knows about Trump’s plan to bully Ukraine.
“The evidence of #POTUS knowingly interacting with him is beyond cavil, and he has hard — hard — first-hand evidence. So, #LetLevSpeak,” said Joseph Bondy on Twitter early Friday morning.
Parnas, who was indicted along with partner Igor Fruman for his role in a campaign finance scheme to benefit Trump, was a key player in Giuliani’s effort to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and Democrats in Ukraine.
Once a diehard Trump supporter, Parnas has become disillusioned as Trump sought to distance himself from the pair.
Igor Fruman, the Soviet-born South Florida businessman at the center of a federal campaign finance probe involving the President’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, said he put more than $300,000 in political donations on company credit cards in hopes of jump-starting a new business, according to a court hearing transcript obtained by CNN.
Fruman, testifying with the aid of a Russian interpreter, said he did so because his New York-based firm FD Import & Export, to which he charged the donations, was “going out of business” and he needed to promote a new company “in order for my family not to drown.”
His testimony, given in a July 17, 2018 divorce hearing in Miami, offers fresh detail about the finances behind the political giving of Fruman and his associate Lev Parnas. Two months before the hearing, according to federal prosecutors, the pair began funneling money into the US political process to further their own financial interests and the political interests of at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working. In October, both men pleaded not guilty to charges they violated campaign finance laws.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is withholding more than $100 million in U.S. military assistance to Lebanon that has been approved by Congress and is favored by his national security team, an assertion of executive control of foreign aid that is similar to the delay in support for Ukraine at the center of the impeachment inquiry.
Three years after chants of “build that wall” became a rallying cry for the candidacy of Donald Trump, his administration is engaged in an increasingly aggressive land grab along the Southwest border to make a new wall a reality, a CNN review of federal court filings shows.
Through November 15, the Trump administration had filed 29 eminent domain suits tied to border-wall construction this year, up from 11 each of the past two years, according to federal court records. All but four of this year’s suits were filed in Texas. Eminent domain is the right of a government to seize private land for public use, while providing compensation.
New NOVA documentary
Watch: The Violence Paradox – Is violence actually declining? If so, why? And can we build a more peaceful future?
Despite the constant news of violence, from mass shootings to wars, psychologist Steven Pinker believes we may be living in one of the most peaceful periods in human existence. Could it be true that physical violence has been in decline for centuries? And can it be prevented—or is it simply part of human nature? NOVA takes you on a journey through history and the human mind to explore what triggers violence and how it may have decreased over time. Taking clues from a Kenyan archaeology site, modern laboratory experiments, and even literature, researchers trace the social and neurobiological roots of human violence. They look at how forces like income equality and personal contact may curb violence in modern societies. And in places like Baltimore, where violence “interrupters” treat violence like a contagious disease, NOVA examines evidence-based approaches to making the world more peaceful. (Premiered November 20, 2019)