By Robert A. Vella
After his numerous and constantly changing attempts to explain why he withheld authorized military aid to Ukraine (which still hasn’t been fully paid yet) in exchange for that foreign government’s interference in the 2020 election (on his behalf) all failed, and after his rabid supporters in the House of Representatives failed to disrupt and obfuscate the impeachment inquiry, President Trump resorted to a two-pronged strategy to turn the upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate into a retributive show trial intended to deride the charges against him and to impugn prosecuting Democrats while continuing to pressure the Department of Justice into officially validating his disproven and Russian-planted conspiracy theory about the 2016 election (i.e. that Ukraine interfered to help Hillary Clinton, and that Russia didn’t interfere to help him win).
But, like those previous attempts (which also include ongoing concealment of evidence and testimony which constitute criminal obstruction of justice and contempt of Congress), Trump’s current strategy appears to be crumbling too. Senate Republicans are balking at the show-trial move, and the DOJ officials who were hand-picked (by Attorney General William Barr and Trump himself) are reportedly saying that no evidence exists to validate the conspiracy theory.
Meanwhile, Trump’s “personal lawyer” and point-man Rudy Giuliani is back in Ukraine meeting with unscrupulous individuals in a last-ditch move to bolster his mob boss’ strategy. Ukrainian officials are avoiding him like plague as Vladimir Putin’s henchmen lurk in the shadows. The intrigue with Russia is so palpable there and throughout Europe that it gripped the attention of this week’s NATO summit (along with Trump’s buffoonish behavior) and triggered diplomatic and investigative actions concerning murder and assassination attempts. This is very serious stuff, folks.
There’s much more important news to cover today, but I’ll leave readers to explore those stories for themselves.
Trump defense strategies are crumbling
On Wednesday, a conservative backbencher in the House issued an explosive request to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham: Subpoena the phone records of House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.
On Thursday, Graham had a succinct response: “We’re not going to do that.”
The demand from Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) reflects House Republicans’ eagerness to see Democrats squirm once impeachment moves to the GOP-controlled Senate and out of the “sham” process they’ve derided in the House.
But Senate Republicans are beginning to deliver a reality check to the president and House Republicans that there are limits to what they can do.
“You got two different bodies here,” Graham, a stalwart Trump ally, told reporters on Thursday. “Are we going to start calling House members over here when we don’t like what they say or do? I don’t think so.”
Senate GOP leaders have signaled they intend to defend Trump wholeheartedly, but they’re also loath to let the upper chamber descend into chaos or divide their caucus ahead of a tough 2020 cycle. And even if Senate Republicans wanted to embrace the hard-line posture of the House, the party’s narrow majority makes that all but impossible under Senate rules.
Trump has played up two probes into the origins of the Russia investigation — one by Inspector General Michael Horowitz and one by U.S. Attorney John Durham — and in both cases he has built up the men themselves. But Washington Post reports on both investigations now suggest the duo are not endorsing Trump’s chief conspiracy theory: that the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was an unfounded witch hunt.
The Post’s Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett reported Wednesday that Durham has told Horowitz he cannot endorse a theory espoused by Trump and other Republicans that the Russia investigation was some kind of setup — in Trump’s words, a “coup” — by U.S. intelligence to take Trump down:
Among Horowitz’s questions: whether a Maltese professor who interacted with a Trump campaign adviser was actually a U.S. intelligence asset deployed to ensnare the campaign, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the inspector general’s findings have not been made public.
But the intelligence agencies said the professor was not among their assets, the people said. And Durham informed Horowitz’s office that his investigation had not produced any evidence that might contradict the inspector general’s findings on that point.
Barrett, Zapotosky and The Post’s Ellen Nakashima also previously reported that Horowitz himself has concluded that a now-former FBI employee may have altered a document related to a warrant to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser, but that it didn’t change the fact that the probe had a proper legal and factual basis.
Giuliani and the Russians
Federal prosecutors in New York who are investigating Rudy Giuliani and his associates have deepened their focus on Ukraine’s state-run oil-and-gas company, having interviewed its CEO, Andriy Kobolyev, and seeking in recent weeks to speak to a key US embassy staffer in Ukraine, according to Kobolyev’s attorney and people familiar with the matter.
Prosecutors have interviewed Kobolyev, the head of Naftogaz, which stands at the center of an attempted scheme by Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman to replace Kobolyev with someone who could be more favorable to their own business interests.
Retirements from Congress
UPDATE (Dec. 6, 2019, 11:57 a.m.): Two more Republican House members have announced they are retiring. On Thursday Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia announced that he’s retiring, and on Friday, Rep. George Holding of North Carolina announced that he is also retiring. With their exits, that means 18 Republicans have announced they aren’t seeking reelection in 2020.
UPDATE (Dec. 5, 2019, 1:30 p.m.): Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia announced on Thursday that he’s retiring, too. With his exit, that means 17 Republicans have announced they aren’t seeking reelection in 2020, and as another Republican from a safe district, this is one more data point that suggests Republicans might not be terribly confident about their chances in the 2020 House elections.
When things look bad, people have a tendency to head for the exits. The same is often true of Congress. Back in early August, nine Republican House members had said they would not seek reelection in 2020 and would instead retire. That number has now grown to 16 “pure” GOP retirements (in other words, excluding those who left to seek another office.)
In sum, Republican retirements since early August — particularly those by veteran GOP members — collectively suggest a lack of confidence in winning back the House in 2020. That’s understandable, too, given the last time control of the House changed hands in a presidential cycle was 1952. Big swings are just more likely in midterm years. Moreover, the electoral environment doesn’t look all that promising for Republicans: Democrats have about a six-point lead in early generic ballot polling, a measure that even this far out tends to be fairly predictive.
U.S. tax revenue as a proportion of GDP drops the most of any country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2018, according to a new report.
Thanks to Trump’s tax cuts, the U.S. tax-to-GDP ratio falls 2.5% from 2017 to 2018, the OECD finds.
The 2017 tax cuts dramatically alter the U.S. tax landscape for the first time in decades, though the promised surge in economic growth and investment does not result.
Commentary by The Secular Jurist: These regressive tax cuts also ballooned the budget deficit and national debt.