Search This Blog

Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

"As Long as We Have Money, We Can Buy Him"

In Defying the Oddswe discuss Trump's character and record of dishonestyThe update -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

Anna Fifeld at WP:
Though the U.S.-China relationship has been rocky over the past 18 months, many in China’s halls of power hope that the American leader will win a second term next year.
For although he may seem unpredictable, Chinese officials are betting that Trump’s transactional approach to politics might be preferable to a more principle-driven president, whether Democrat or Republican.

Trump is a businessman. We can just pay him money and the problems will be solved,” said a politically connected person in Beijing, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about sensitive international issues. “As long as we have money, we can buy him. That’s the reason why we prefer him to Democrats.”

Trump’s unfiltered tweets help China in negotiations because he is “easy to read,” said Long Yongtu, a former vice minister of foreign trade and China’s point man during its accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, at a conference in Shenzhen this month. “We want Trump to be reelected; we would be glad to see that happen.”

Another influential voice in Beijing, Tsinghua University international relations professor Yan Xuetong, wrote recently that, thanks to Trump, China was facing “the best strategic opportunity” since the Cold War.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Kamala Harris Plummets

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the early stages of the 2016 campaign, when many candidates were unknowns.  The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.  We are now ending the early stages of the 2020 race.

Jonathan Martin, Astead W. Herndon and Alexander Burns at NYT:
The 2020 Democratic field has been defined by its turbulence, with some contenders rising, others dropping out and two more jumping in just this month. Yet there is only one candidate who rocketed to the top tier and then plummeted in early state polls to the low single digits: Ms. Harris.

From those polling results to Ms. Harris’s campaign operation, fund-raising and debate performances, it has been a remarkable comedown for a senator from the country’s largest state, a politician with star power who was compared to President Obama even before Californians elected her to the Senate in 2016.
Yet, even to some Harris allies, her decline is more predictable than surprising. In one instance after another, Ms. Harris and her closest advisers made flawed decisions about which states to focus on, issues to emphasize and opponents to target, all the while refusing to make difficult personnel choices to impose order on an unwieldy campaign, according to more than 50 current and former campaign staff members and allies, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations and assessments involving the candidate.
Many of her own advisers are now pointing a finger directly at Ms. Harris. In interviews several of them criticized her for going on the offensive against rivals, only to retreat, and for not firmly choosing a side in the party’s ideological feud between liberals and moderates. She also created an organization with a campaign chairwoman, Maya Harris, who goes unchallenged in part because she is Ms. Harris’s sister, and a manager, Mr. [Juan] Rodriguez, who could not be replaced without likely triggering the resignations of the candidate’s consulting team. Even at this late date, aides said it’s unclear who’s in charge of the campaign.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Trump Approves of War Crime

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.   The update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.


Richard Spencer, former secretary of the Navy, at WP:
The case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was charged with multiple war crimes before being convicted of a single lesser charge earlier this year, was troubling enough before things became even more troubling over the past few weeks. The trail of events that led to me being fired as secretary of the Navy is marked with lessons for me and for the nation.
...

President Trump involved himself in the case almost from the start. Before the trial began, in March, I received two calls from the president asking me to lift Gallagher’s confinement in a Navy brig; I pushed back twice, because the presiding judge, acting on information about the accused’s conduct, had decided that confinement was important. Eventually, the president ordered me to have him transferred to the equivalent of an enlisted barracks. I came to believe that Trump’s interest in the case stemmed partly from the way the defendant’s lawyers and others had worked to keep it front and center in the media.
...
On Nov. 14, partly because the president had already contacted me twice, I sent him a note asking him not to get involved in these questions. The next day, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone called me and said the president would remain involved. Shortly thereafter, I received a second call from Cipollone, who said the president would order me to restore Gallagher to the rank of chief.

This was a shocking and unprecedented intervention in a low-level review. It was also a reminder that the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.
...

More importantly, Americans need to know that 99.9 percent of our uniformed members always have, always are and always will make the right decision. Our allies need to know that we remain a force for good, and to please bear with us as we move through this moment in time.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy

In  Defying the Oddswe discuss the people surrounding Trump (The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.)
The choice of servants is of no little importance to a prince, and they are good or not according to the discrimination of the prince. And the first opinion which one forms of a prince, and of his understanding, is by observing the men he has around him; and when they are capable and faithful he may always be considered wise, because he has known how to recognize the capable and to keep them faithful. But when they are otherwise one cannot form a good opinion of him, for the prime error which he made was in choosing them.
-- Machiavelli
Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Rebecca Ballhaus and Shelby Holliday at WSJ:
Subpoenas issued to people with ties to President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, indicate a broad federal investigation into possible money laundering, obstruction of justice and campaign-finance violations and show that prosecutors are probing Mr. Giuliani’s consulting businesses and other sources of income, according to people familiar with the matter.
In recent weeks, prosecutors have sent subpoenas and other requests to potential witnesses seeking records and information related to Mr. Giuliani and two of his associates, according to the people. The investigation, led by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has already led to campaign-finance charges against the associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.
A concern of the investigation is whether Mr. Giuliani violated federal lobbying laws by serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign government or hid his work for foreign nationals, said one person familiar with the investigation. Mr. Giuliani has denied ever serving as a lobbyist or agent of a foreign government.

President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, negotiated earlier this year to represent Ukraine’s top prosecutor for at least $200,000 during the same months that Giuliani was working with the prosecutor to dig up dirt on vice president Joe Biden, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The people said that Giuliani began negotiations with Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko, about a possible agreement in February. In the agreement, Giuliani’s company would receive payment to represent Lutsenko as the Ukrainian sought to recover assets he believed had been stolen from the government in Kyiv, those familiar with the discussions said.

The talks occurred as Giuliani met with Lutsenko in New York in January and then in Warsaw in February while he was also gathering information from Lutsenko on two topics Giuliani believed could prove useful to Trump: the involvement of Biden, and his son, Hunter, in Ukraine and allegations that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 election.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Karl Rove on the Digital Battlefield

In Defying the Oddswe discuss campaign finance and campaign technology  The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.  

Karl Rove at WSJ:
Instead of resting on their laurels, Republicans have continued to grow their data edge. In 2018 Data Trust collected information daily on who voted early or requested or returned an absentee ballot. This allowed Republicans to stop spending money calling, mailing or knocking on doors of people who’d already voted, and instead focus on those who hadn’t. This saved an estimated $100 million.
Republican dominance of the digital battlefield is hardly complete. Since creating the ActBlue online fundraising platform in 2004, Democrats have steadily built a vast universe of small-dollar donors, giving their candidates a huge financial edge. In response, Data Trust helped this year to create WinRed, a unified Republican donor site. Mr. Trump boosted WinRed by placing his re-election’s small-dollar fundraising on its platform. Still, it will take much more investment and experimentation to grow a pool of GOP small-dollar givers comparable to what Democrats have.
Nor will the Republicans’ data supremacy go unchallenged. Stymied for 18 months by state chairmen reluctant to lose the revenue from renting their voter lists, in February DNC Chairman Tom Perez launched a data-sharing entity led by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Uncharacteristically for the DNC, money may not be a worry. LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman earlier said he’d invest $35 million in such an effort. There are also big potential clients: former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg vows to spend $500 million to defeat Mr. Trump with a significant slug going for data, while a new dark-money group called Acronym has paired with Pacronym, a political-action committee, to mount a $75 million anti-Trump digital effort. If that’s not enough, both the talent and political money in Silicon Valley are overwhelmingly left-wing.

Monday, November 25, 2019

A Very Bad Candidate in the 25th District

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race. The update -- recently published -- looks at political and demographic trends through the 2018 midterm.

Will Sommer at The Daily Beast:
Progressive internet personality Cenk Uygur wants to take his trash-talking attitude to the halls of Congress, launching a bid for the California seat recently vacated by former Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA).
But activists in the district say Uygur will be dogged by the many inflammatory remarks he’s made in the past about women and minority groups—and they fear his controversial reputation could squander Democrats’ chances to retain a hotly contested district.
Uygur has become a hero for some progressive Democrats as a co-founder of The Young Turks, a left-wing video site. But voters in California’s 25th District may be less thrilled when they learn about many of Uygur’s past remarks, which include calling women genetically “flawed” because not enough women wanted to sleep with him.
...
 Zakia Kator, a progressive activist and Afghan refugee who lives in the district, said Uygur and his Young Turks video network helped inspire her to get involved in politics and work to elect Hill and other Democrats in the purple district. 
But when Kator found out last week that Uygur himself planned to run for the seat, she said her heart sank. Uygur’s campaign is headquartered in Newport Beach, California, far from the district.
 Kator, who backs [Assembly member Christy] Smith, fears that Uygur could split the Democratic vote and prevent any Democrat from making it through the all-party primary into the two-candidate runoff. 
“I’ve never once seen Cenk at anything,” Kator said. “He’s truly a carpetbagger. Nobody knows him, other than the people like me who actually listen to his show.” 
...'
Uygur, a Turkish-American, has also been skeptical in the past of the Armenian genocide. While Uygur now acknowledges that it happened, his previous stance could be another stumbling block for him in the district, according to Casselberry.
“We have a significant Armenian population in Southern California, it’s one of our largest minorities,” said Casselberry, the president of the Simi Valley Democratic Club. “It’s really troubling that he didn’t consider that.”

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Foggy Bottom Breakdown

In Defying the Odds, we discuss foreign policy issues in the 2016 campaign. Our update takes the story through the 2018 election.

Sean Collins at Vox:
A tranche of State Department documents obtained by the advocacy group American Oversight suggest Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani discussed US-Ukraine policy as early as March 2019, further tying Pompeo to the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
The documents — obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request — lay out Giuliani’s efforts to establish direct contact with Pompeo. They also seem to support the public testimony of US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, who told lawmakers Wednesday “everyone was in the loop” when it came to Trump’s campaign to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Biden family.
The nearly 100 pages of new documents could point to the beginning of that involvement for Pompeo, who has worked to distance himself from the pressure campaign.
Jim Wyss at The Miami Herald:
Two of Colombia’s top diplomats — caught in a moment of candor in a surreptitiously taped conversation — declared the U.S. State Department “destroyed” and said a Washington-backed effort to force humanitarian aid into Venezuela earlier this year was “a fiasco.”
Colombian newspaper Publimetro earlier this week released a 24-minute audio of Colombia’s Ambassador to the United States Francisco Santos and the country’s Foreign Minister-designate Claudia Blum. The paper said the pair had been recorded last week in a Washington, D.C., café by an unnamed third party.
In the animated and muddy recording, Santos — the country’s former vice president and a longtime diplomat — offers Blum advice about navigating the Washington power structure.
“The U.S. State Department, which used to be important, is destroyed, it doesn’t exist,” he said. In particular, he said President Donald Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, “salió con un chorro de babas” — a colorful expression that translates literally to “let out a stream of drool,” and which means, roughly, he was all talk and ineffectual.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Parroting Russian Disinformation

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.     The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. Impeachment is becoming likely.

Fiona Hill's opening statement to the  Intelligence Committee:
Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves. The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies, confirmed in bipartisan Congressional reports. It is beyond dispute, even if some of the underlying details must remain classified. 
The impact of the successful 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today. Our nation is being torn apart. Truth is questioned. Our highly professional and expert career foreign service is being undermined.  U.S. support for Ukraine—which continues to face armed Russian aggression—has been politicized.  The Russian government’s goal is to weaken our country—to diminish America’s global role and to neutralize a perceived U.S. threat to Russian interests. President Putin and the Russian security services aim to counter U.S. foreign policy objectives in Europe, including in Ukraine, where Moscow wishes to reassert political and economic dominance.  I say this not as an alarmist, but as a realist. I do not think long-term conflict with Russia is either desirable or inevitable. I continue to believe that we need to seek ways of stabilizing our relationship with Moscow even as we counter their efforts to harm us. Right now, Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We are running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.  
 Julian E. Barnes and Matthew Rosenberg at NYT:
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.
...
This time, Russian intelligence operatives deployed a network of agents to blame Ukraine for its 2016 interference. Starting at least in 2017, the operatives peddled a mixture of now-debunked conspiracy theories along with established facts to leave an impression that the government in Kyiv, not Moscow, was responsible for the hackings of Democrats and its other interference efforts in 2016, senior intelligence officials said.
The Russian intelligence officers conveyed the information to prominent Russians and Ukrainians who then used a range of intermediaries, like oligarchs, businessmen and their associates, to pass the material to American political figures and even some journalists, who were likely unaware of its origin, the officials said.
That muddy brew worked its way into American information ecosystems, sloshing around until parts of it reached Mr. Trump, who has also spoken with Mr. Putin about allegations of Ukrainian interference. Mr. Trump also brought up the assertions of Ukrainian meddling in his July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, which is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry into whether he abused his power by asking for a public commitment to investigations he stood to gain from personally.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Alternate Universes

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.     The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. Impeachment is becoming likely.

Ryan Broderick at Buzzfeed:
But there are two impeachment hearings unfolding in the nation's capital. One, carried out by the Democrats, is designed to ascertain the truth as to whether Trump sought a "quid pro quo" deal with Ukraine to get the country to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 presidential election in exchange for aid money. The other, being carried out simultaneously by the Republicans, is quite different. Instead of trying to learn the truth, it seeks to create not just a counternarrative but a completely separate reality.
Each round of GOP questioning is not meant to interrogate the witnesses, which today included Sondland, but instead to create moments that can be flipped into Fox News segments, shared as bite-size Facebook posts, or dropped into 4chan threads. Their alternate universe — built from baseless online conspiracy theories and reading the tea leaves of Trump’s Twitter feed — dominates Fox News and Facebook. And the Republicans’ strategy, as confusing and bizarre as it may seem to those on the outside, is working.
...
These exchanges may seem irrelevant, but they create content for the pro-Trump information machine, which is running parallel to the hearings. Nunes’ probes of Vindman were the perfect hook for right-wing outlets like Gateway Pundit to publish stories connecting the lieutenant colonel to the CIA officer and former National Security Council staffer whom pro-Trump media has accused of being the whistleblower. (BuzzFeed News does not know the identity of the whistleblower.) Those stories have gone viral, despite Facebook telling BuzzFeed News earlier this month that it would be blocking the CIA officer’s name. Since it was published on Monday, Gateway Pundit’s article had been shared a thousand times on the platform.

Hill and Holmes

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.     The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. Impeachment is becoming likely.

Mike Shear sums up at NYT:

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Sondland

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.     The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. Impeachment is becoming likely.


  • I know that members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a “quid pro quo?” As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes. Mr. Giuliani conveyed to Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and others that President Trump wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing to investigations of Burisma and the 2016 election. Mr. Giuliani expressed those requests directly to the Ukrainians. Mr. Giuliani also expressed those requests directly to us. We all understood that these prerequisites for the White House call and White House meeting reflected President Trump’s desires and requirements.
  • In response to our persistent efforts to change his views, President Trump directed us to “talk with Rudy.” We understood that “talk with Rudy” meant talk with Mr. Rudy Giuliani, the President’s personal lawyer. Let me say again: We weren’t happy with the President’s directive to talk with Rudy. We did not want to involve Mr. Giuliani. I believed then, as I do now, that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for Ukraine matters. Nonetheless, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the efforts to schedule the White House phone call and White House visit between Presidents Trump and Zelensky, which was unquestionably in our foreign policy interest -- or we could do as President Trump had directed and “talk with Rudy.” We chose the latter course, not because we liked it, but because it was the only constructive path open to us.
  • Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret. Everyone was informed via email on July 19, days before the Presidential call. As I communicated to the team, I told President Zelensky in advance that assurances to “run a fully transparent investigation” and “turn over every stone” were necessary in his call with President Trump.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Impeachment: Minds that Won't Change

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.     The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. Impeachment is becoming likely.

The country is witnessing one of only a handful of times in its history that Congress has gone through with public hearings on whether to impeach a president. And yet, the overwhelming majority of Americans across parties say nothing they hear in the inquiry will change their minds on impeachment, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.
Half of Americans said they approve of the impeachment inquiry — about the same as the poll found last month. Respondents are also split on whether they think Trump should be impeached and removed from office.
But 65% of Americans say they can't imagine any information or circumstances during the impeachment inquiry where they might change their minds about their position on impeachment. And 30% say yes, it's possible.
The figures for partisans who won't change their minds: 68% of Democrats, 73% of Republicans. And wait, there's more:
By 47%-41%, Americans say they are more likely to support impeachment based on what they've heard or read from the testimonies and evidence presented. And the testimonies could actually be serving to harden their views — 86% of Democrats said they are now more likely to support impeachment after hearing testimony and evidence, while 83% of Republicans said they are less likely to now support impeachment.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Russian Media Still Love Trump, Like Gabbard, Hate Biden

 In Defying the Oddswe discuss social mediafake news, and Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign  The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

The historic impeachment proceedings against President Trump are big news in Russia. And there is little question which side the government — or the influential TV networks it controls — is on.

Asked about the impeachment hearings, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov coyly replied: “It’s none of our business, we would prefer not to comment.” But he then immediately contradicted himself by attempting to discredit the inquiry: “Let’s just say that there are a lot of far-fetched things, various scandalous stories, where Russia was mentioned, where, in fact, there are very few — negligibly few — facts that have any relation to truth and reality. We’re not going to comment on everything happening right now with the impeachment.”

Kremlin-funded Russian state television has openly sided with Trump throughout the Ukraine scandal and even during the events that led up to it. For months on end, Dmitry , the host of a Sunday news show called “Vesti Nedeli” (or “The Weekly News”) on state-controlled television station Rossiya-24, encouraged Trump’s push for a Ukrainian investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son, as well as the groundless theory that Ukraine — not Russia — interfered in U.S. presidential elections in 2016.
Clint Watts at the Foreign Policy Research Institute:
To understand Russia’s upcoming influence and interference activities, I offer an alternative approach: read and listen to what Russia says publicly first before scouring piles of social media data in search of their trolls. Whether it’s 2016 or 2020, the Kremlin doesn’t hide its opinions on who it’d like in the White House. Analysis of overt foreign propaganda provides essential reconnaissance for searching out covert social media influence. Collation of Kremlin talking points about candidates also helps to distinguish international disinformation from domestic disinformation and misinformation.

To understand where, why, how and for whom Russia might interfere in the 2020 presidential election, the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s (FPRI) Foreign Influence Election 2020 (FIE 2020) Project has assembled a research team to read, analyze and report on what Kremlin state-sponsored news outlets say with regards to the 2020 U.S. election and the presidential candidates.

The FIE 2020 Project’s first batch of analysis examines the following question:
“What does Russian state media say about the Democratic candidates?”

The research team analyzed 1,711 Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik News articles from January 1 to November 10, 2019 that pertained to the 2020 presidential election (705 RT stories, 1,006 Sputnik News stories). Those 1,711 stories hosted 2,772 mentions of either the president, Republican candidates or Democratic candidates for president in 2020. More than half of those mentions referenced President Trump, which will be analyzed in a separate upcoming post. The team also logged an additional 319 mentions of former presidents and presidential candidates, which will be analyzed separately as well. Mentions were evaluated as “neutral,” “favorable” of the candidate or “unfavorable” of the candidate. (For more on the FIE 2020 methodology, see here.)
...
Russian outlets clearly do not like former Vice President Biden
  • Of the 331 times Biden surfaced in RT and Sputnik News, 53% of the mentions were negative.
  • Biden received the most mentions of any Democratic candidate and is the only candidate in the entire presidential field to receive more negative mentions than neutral mentions, or than neutral mentions and positive mentions combined.
  • For Russia thus far, Biden is to 2020 what Hilary Clinton was to 2016.
...'
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is the overwhelming favorite of Kremlin news outlets
  • Since January 1, 2019, Gabbard has been mentioned 61 times, ranking sixth in total mentions just behind O’Rourke.
  • Gabbard is the only candidate assessed to receive more positive mentions (28) than negative mentions (6), and more positive mentions (28) than neutral mentions (27).

Monday, November 18, 2019

Trump on Torture and War Crimes

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.   The update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

During the campaign, Trump endorsed torture.

Last May, then-White House counsel Don McGahn wanted to withdraw Gina Haspel's nomination for CIA director. McGahn told colleagues that Haspel's role in the CIA's controversial "enhanced interrogation" program could kill her in her Senate confirmation.
Driving the news: President Trump disagreed. Trump actually liked this aspect of Haspel's resume, according to three sources who spoke to the president at the time. In fact, Trump told aides that Haspel's support for "torture" or "waterboarding" (Trump uses these words interchangeably in his private conversations) was an asset, not a liability.
  • Trump told advisers that he asked Haspel her opinion on whether waterboarding works. In Trump's telling, Haspel replied to him that she was "100%" sure it works, a source who spoke to Trump about it told me.
  • "He seemed impressed with how sure she was about something so controversial," the source said. "That she did not bat an eye, did not sugarcoat it, that it works. When it comes to national security, she does not hesitate."
President Trump intervened in three cases involving war crimes accusations on Friday, issuing full pardons to two soldiers and reversing disciplinary action against a Navy SEAL despite opposition raised by military justice experts and some senior Pentagon officials.

The White House said in a statement Friday night that Trump, as commander in chief, is “ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted.”

“For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country,” the statement said.

The service members were notified by Trump over the phone late Friday afternoon, according to lawyers for Army Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn and former Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, the SEAL. Golsteyn faced a murder trial scheduled for next year, while Gallagher recently was acquitted of murder and convicted of posing with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter in Iraq.
 The third service member, former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, was expected to be released Friday night from prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 2013 and sentenced to 19 years for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three men in Afghanistan.
Golsteyn and Lorance received full pardons, while the president will direct the Navy to restore Gallagher to his previous rank before he retires, the White House said. His demotion marked the only significant penalty he received following his acquittal on the murder charge.


Sunday, November 17, 2019

Louisiana and Blue Suburbs

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race. The update -- recently published -- looks at political and demographic trends through the 2018 midterm.  Last night, Democrat John Bel Edwards won reelection as governor of Louisiana.
Before the results came in, Jonathan Martin wrote at NYT:
[The] traditional regional divide is giving way to an urban versus rural political chasm that is shaping elections across the country. Republicans are dominating the countryside across much of the state, while Democrats are running up large margins in the cities in both the north and south while gaining strength in the suburbs.
...
Remarkably, his strong showing [in last month's first-round vote] included Jefferson Parish, which is the largest locality in suburban New Orleans and was where modern Republicanism first took root in the state. But with an influx of Hispanic, Vietnamese-American and African-American voters, and with the drift of college-educated whites away from the Trump-era G.O.P., the parish has become more friendly to Democrats.
“These suburbs used to be reliably Republican,” said former Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat. “But now you’ve got some moderate Republican women who find what’s going on in the White House appalling.”
Mr. Edwards received 53 percent of the vote in Jefferson Parish in the October primary. In 2003, when Bobby Jindal, a Republican, was making his first bid for governor, he captured nearly 63 percent of the vote there even as he lost statewide.
Even as recently as 2008, when John McCain was being routed nationally, he still managed to capture 65 percent of the vote in Jefferson Parish. But by 2016, Mr. Trump was winning only 55 percent there as he easily carried the state.
“McCain was the kind of Republican who could put together the crazies and country clubbers,” observed Roy Fletcher, a longtime political strategist here.
Yesterday, Edwards got 57 percent in Jefferson Parish and about 90 percent in Orleans Parish (New Orleans). 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Trump Calls Kiev

Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.     The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. Impeachment is becoming likely -- and became even likelier on November 15.

David Holmes a career Foreign Service Officer serving as Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.  In a statement to the Intelligence Committee, he recounted a July 26 phone call that he overheard.
During the lunch, Ambassador Sondland said that he was going to call President Trump to give him an update. Ambassador Sondland placed a call on his mobile phone, and I heard him announce himself several times, along the lines of "Gordon Sondland holding for the President." It appeared that he was being transferred through several layers of switchboards and assistants. I then noticed Ambassador Sondland's demeanor change, and understood that he had been connected to President Trump. While Ambassador Sondland's phone was not on speakerphone, I could hear the President's voice through the earpiece of the phone. The President's voice was very loud and recognizable, and Ambassador Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time, presumably because of the loud volume.

I heard Ambassador Sondland greet the President and explain that he was calling from Kyiv. I heard President Trump then clarify that Ambassador Sondland was in Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland replied, yes, he was in Ukraine, and went on to state that President Zelenskyy "loves your ass." I then heard President Trump ask, "So, he's gonna do the investigation?" Ambassador Sondland replied that "he's gonna do it," adding that President Zelenskyy will do "anything you ask him to." Even though I did not take notes of these statements, I have a clear recollection that these statements were made. I believe that my colleagues who were sitting at the table also knew that Ambassador Sondland was speaking with the President.

The conversation then shifted to Ambassador Sondland's efforts, on behalf of the President, to assist a rapper who was jailed in Sweden, and I could only hear Ambassador Sondland's side of that part of the conversation. Ambassador Sondland told the President that the rapper was "kind of f----d there," and "should have pled guilty." He recommended that the President "wait until after the sentencing or it will make it worse," adding that the President should "let him get sentenced, play the racism card, give him a ticker-tape when he comes home." Ambassador Sondland further told the President that Sweden "should have released him on your word," but that "you can tell the Kardashians you tried."

After the call ended, Ambassador Sondland remarked that the President was in a bad mood, as Ambassador Sondland stated was often the case early in the morning. I then took the opportunity to ask Ambassador Sondland for his candid impression of the President's views on Ukraine. In particular, I asked Ambassador Sondland if it was true that the President did not "give a s—t about Ukraine." Ambassador Sondland agreed that the President did not "give a s—t about Ukraine." I asked why not, and Ambassador Sondland stated that the President only cares about "big stuff." I noted that there was "big stuff" going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia, and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant "big stuff" that benefits the President, like the "Biden investigation" that Mr. Giuliani was pushing. The conversation then moved on to other topics.

Yovanovitch

Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.     The update  -- recently published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. Impeachment is becoming likely.

Some pundits said that the Wednesday hearings lacked drama. The Friday hearing delivered it. Trump tweeted an attack on Marie Yovanovitch, arguably committing a federal crime