By Robert A. Vella
The pressure campaign waged by Donald Trump and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell against Republican senators amenable to allowing witness testimony and documentary evidence in President’s impeachment trial appears to be working. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who is retiring this year, announced last night that he will vote against witnesses even though he doesn’t approve of Trump’s actions in the Ukraine scandal. Alexander is considered a key vote; and, unless something unexpected happens, McConnell’s plan to ram through a quick sham trial is likely to succeed.
Although the Republican Party might see this official cover-up as a political victory to protect Trump and to keep his fanatical base motivated to vote in the November elections, a larger group of voters are seeing it as an unethical submission to a criminal president intent on subverting America’s constitutionally-based rule of law and representative democracy for his own autocratic ambitions. It remains to be seen what effect this unleashing of dictatorial power will have on the 2020 election. Will it be fair? Will it be corrupted? Will it even be respected?
Meanwhile, former National Security Advisor John Bolton – who would have been the star witness in the impeachment trial – is getting annoyed with Trump’s attempts to stop his tell-all book from being published. If Bolton really wants to tell his side of the story, he and/or his publisher might have to take bolder action. We’ll see if that happens.
In other news, the inversion of treasury bond yields in conjunction with the coronavirus threat that broke-out in China is reviving global recession fears (see: The inverting yield curve is about more than recession this time). Trump is ramping-up his assault on Medicaid, more information is coming out on the Trump Administration’s violation of Iranian-Americans’ civil rights, the FBI is investigating an Israeli company for aiding cyber-security attacks, banks are trying to silence the victims of robocall scams, and there’s more news too.
From: Trump Acquittal Near With Senate Likely to Deny Witnesses
The most consequential day in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial begins in the Senate on Friday, with Republican leaders likely to muster enough votes to block witnesses and rapidly move to acquit the president.
The decision late Thursday by Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a Republican who had been considered a potential supporter of testimony, to vote against new evidence largely dashed Democrats’ hopes of prevailing.
His announcement is a victory for Trump’s legal team and, especially, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had been steering the trial to a quick conclusion after two weeks of debate and questioning.
Sen. Alexander calls Trump’s actions ‘inappropriate’ but rejects witnesses in impeachment trial
All eyes on Murkowski as decision looms on witnesses – Live updates of Senate proceedings
Chief Justice John Roberts emerges as potential wild card in Trump’s Senate impeachment trial
John Roberts blocks mentions of alleged whistleblower’s name
‘Is that true?’: Here are questions senators asked during Trump’s impeachment trial
Analysis: The 5 most interesting Q&As from the Senate impeachment trial, so far
Trump Lawyer’s Impeachment Argument Stokes Fears of Unfettered Power
Bolton hits back, decries impeachment witness ‘retribution’
Bolton Presses White House in Standoff Over Ukraine Chapter
New recording shows access Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman had to Trump at Mar-a-Lago donor event
Pompeo visits Ukraine as Trump impeachment trial advances
From: Trump’s audacious new plan to cut Medicaid, explained
These spending caps would fundamentally change how the program is financed, ending Medicaid’s days as an open-ended entitlement by putting new hard limits on how much the government is willing to spend on health care for certain enrollees. Medicaid would no longer pay whatever is necessary to provide medical care to the people in or near poverty who qualify for its benefits. Instead, spending would be limited in states that got a waiver from the federal government, and they could impose cuts on benefits.
Trump has already tried to fundamentally alter the Medicaid program through work requirements, though he’s been stopped in the courts. But the block grants represent an even more basic remaking of Medicaid on his watch, one that would lead to spending cuts and fewer benefits.
The block grants are also, like work requirements, a roundabout way to roll back Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid specifically. Under the guidance released by CMS, it would be benefits for people newly eligible under the health care law — mostly childless adults and parents who are living in or near poverty — that would be subject to the block grants. In that context, despite Trump’s campaign promise not to cut Medicaid, these policies make sense as a means to an end for the conservatives whom Trump has put in charge of his health department.
From: Internal CBP memo directs vetting of travelers with Iran, Middle East ties
An apparent internal U.S. Customs and Border Protection memo issued within the Seattle field office and obtained by POLITICO directed “frontline” officers to target Iranian nationals or individuals who had traveled to Iran for specialized vetting procedures.
The memo, issued by the office’s Tactical Analytical Unit, ordered officers to vet “all individuals” meeting certain criteria. The document specifically calls for officers to target men and women “born after 1961 and born before 2001 with links” such as place of birth, travel or citizenship to Iran and Lebanon.
It also calls for officers to vet “any other nationality that has traveled to Iran or Lebanon.”
POLITICO obtained the memo from Blaine, Wash., immigration attorney Len Saunders, who received it from an anonymous source. The Peace Arch border crossing in Blaine became the subject of a nationwide uproar earlier this month as dozens of Iranian Americans reported being held for questioning there about their family and military ties to Iran.
From: Exclusive: FBI probes use of Israeli firm’s spyware in personal and government hacks – sources
(Reuters) – The FBI is investigating the role of Israeli spyware vendor NSO Group Technologies in possible hacks on American residents and companies as well as suspected intelligence gathering on governments, according to four people familiar with the inquiry.
The probe was underway by 2017, when Federal Bureau of Investigation officials were trying to learn whether NSO obtained from American hackers any of the code it needed to infect smartphones, said one person interviewed by the FBI then and again last year.
NSO said it sells its spy software and technical support exclusively to governments and that those tools are to be used in pursuing suspected terrorists and other criminals. NSO has long maintained that its products cannot target U.S. phone numbers, though some cybersecurity experts have disputed that.
From: After Falling for a $40K Phone Scam, His Bank Offered to Help—If He Stayed Quiet
The bank couldn’t guarantee it would recoup any of the money, but under the terms of the agreement, if the elderly man is asked about the funds he sent scammers or efforts to recover it he must say “the matter has been resolved,” according to a copy of the document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Such agreements help conceal losses to scammers, consumer advocates say, limiting awareness of increasingly sophisticated forms of fraud that many victims already find embarrassing. Many of the scams spring from the billions of robocalls in which fraudsters attempt to dupe victims into sending wire transfers or buying retail gift cards.
Banks and credit unions in the U.S. submitted nearly 48,000 suspicious activity reports to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network relating to suspected fraudulent wire transfers in 2019, more than double the number submitted five years earlier. Meanwhile, the number of robocalls of all varieties continues to mushroom, opening the door to more potential financial losses.
Trump administration to roll back restrictions on land mine use: report
Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $344mn over pelvic mesh claims
Bob, you wrote: If Bolton really wants to tell his side of the story, he and/or his publisher might have to take bolder action.
In ordinary circumstances, I would agree with you. But stuff that goes against Trump’s wishes rarely makes the cut. It’s speculation as to WHY this is, but sometimes imagination isn’t that far off.
I don’t buy that “Trump is omnipotent” nonsense. He is a very big asshole, but he is no god.
Bolton could call a press conference today and spill the beans on Trump. Or, his publisher could release the book without Trump’s approval. Or, he could testify before a House committee. Those actions would probably end up in court, but Bolton cannot be timid and expect to right this wrong. It’s all up to him.