GOP impeachment sideshow driven by ‘conspiracy theories’

Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for President Donald Trump, pontificates in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The president’s lawyer insists the real story is a debunked conspiracy theory. A senior White House adviser blames the “deep state.” And a Republican congressman is pointing at Joe Biden’s son.

As the Democrats drive an impeachment inquiry toward a potential vote by the end of the year, President Donald Trump’s allies are struggling over how he should manage the starkest threat to his presidency. The jockeying broke into the open Sunday on the talk show circuit, with a parade of Republicans erupting into a surge of second-guessing.

At the top of the list: Rudy Giuliani’s false charge that it was Ukraine that meddled in the 2016 elections. The former New York mayor has been encouraging Ukraine to investigate both Biden and Hillary Clinton.

“I am deeply frustrated with what he and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again,” said Tom Bossert, Trump’s former homeland security adviser. “That conspiracy theory has got to go, they have to stop with that, it cannot continue to be repeated.”

Not only did Giuliani repeat it Sunday, he brandished pieces of paper he said were affidavits supporting his story.

“Tom Bossert doesn’t know what’s he’s talking about,” Guiliani said. He added that Trump was framed by the Democrats.

Senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, meanwhile, noted that he’s worked in the federal government “for nearly three years.”

“I know the difference between whistleblower and a deep state operative,” Miller said. “This is a deep state operative, pure and simple.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, heatedly said Trump was merely asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to root out corruption. That, Jordan said, includes Hunter Biden’s membership on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either of the Bidens.

Mixed messaging reflects the difficulty Republicans are having defending the president against documents released by the White House that feature Trump’s own words and actions. A partial transcript and a whistleblower complaint form the heart of the House impeachment inquiry and describe Trump pressuring a foreign president to investigate Biden’s family.

In a series of tweets Sunday night, Trump said he deserved to meet “my accuser” as well as whoever provided the whistleblower with what the president called “largely incorrect” information. He also accused Democrats of “doing great harm to our Country” in an effort to destabilize the nation and the 2020 election.

Trump has insisted the call was “perfect” and pushed to release both documents.

“He didn’t even know that it was wrong,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, describing a phone call from Trump in which the president suggested the documents would exonerate him.

But Democrats seized on them as evidence that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” by asking for a foreign leader’s help undermining a political rival, Democrat Joe Biden. Pelosi launched an impeachment inquiry and on Sunday told other Democrats that public sentiment had swung behind the probe.

By all accounts, the Democratic impeachment effort was speeding ahead with a fair amount of coordination between Pelosi, Democratic messaging experts and its political operation.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Sunday that he expects the whistleblower to testify “very soon,” though details were still being worked out and no date had been set. Hearings and depositions were starting this week. Many Democrats are pushing for a vote on articles of impeachment before the end of the year, mindful of the looming 2020 elections.

Schiff said in one interview that his committee intends to subpoena Giuliani for documents and may eventually want to hear from Giuliani directly. In a separate TV appearance, Giuliani said he would not cooperate with Schiff, but then acknowledged he would do what Trump tells him. The White House did not provide an official response on whether the president would allow Giuliani to cooperate.

Lawyers for the whistleblower expressed concern about that individual’s safety, noting that some have offered a $50,000 “bounty” for the whistleblower’s identity. They said they expect the situation to become even more dangerous for their client and any other whistleblowers, as Congress seeks to investigate this matter.

On a conference call Sunday, Pelosi, traveling in Texas, urged Democrats to proceed “not with negative attitudes towards him, but a positive attitude towards our responsibility,” according to an aide on the call who shared the exchange on condition of anonymity. Polling, Pelosi said, had changed “drastically” in the Democrats’ favor.

A one-day NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted Sept. 25 found that about half of Americans — 49% — approve of the House formally starting an impeachment inquiry into Trump.

There remains a stark partisan divide on the issue, with 88% of Democrats approving and 93% of Republicans disapproving of the inquiry. But the findings suggest some movement in opinions on the issue. Earlier polls conducted throughout Trump’s presidency have consistently found a majority saying he should not be impeached and removed from office.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York urged the caucus to talk about impeachment by repeating the words “betrayal, abuse of power, national security.” The Democrats’ campaign arm swung behind lawmakers to support the impeachment drive as they run for reelection, according to another call participant to spoke on condition of anonymity.

The contrast with the Republicans’ selection of responses was striking.

A combative House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said that nothing in Trump’s phone call rose to the level of an impeachable offense.

“Why would we move forward on impeachment?” the California Republican said. “There’s not something that you have to defend here.”

Bossert, an alumnus of Republican George W. Bush’s administration, offered a theory and some advice to Trump: Move past the fury over the 2016 Russia investigation, in which special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of conspiracy but plenty of examples of Trump’s obstruction.

“I honestly believe this president has not gotten his pound of flesh yet from past grievances on the 2016 investigation,” Bossert said. “If he continues to focus on that white whale, it’s going to bring him down.”

Two advisers to the Biden campaign sent a letter Sunday urging major news networks to stop booking Giuliani on their shows, accusing Trump’s personal attorney of spreading “false, debunked conspiracy theories” on behalf of the president. The letter to management and anchors of shows at ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, MSNBC, CNN and Fox News added: “By giving him your air time, you are allowing him to introduce increasingly unhinged, unfounded and desperate lies into the national conversation.”

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Giuliani appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and CBS’ “Face the Nation,” while Schiff was interviewed on ABC and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Bossert spoke on ABC and Miller on “Fox News Sunday.” Jordan appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Pelosi and McCarthy appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

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Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington; writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta; and AP Polling Director Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Is Barr America’s AG or Trump’s mouthpiece?

President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Attorney General William Barr.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

As Washington plunges into impeachment, Attorney General William Barr finds himself engulfed in the political firestorm, facing questions about his role in President Donald Trump’s outreach to Ukraine and the administration’s attempts to keep a whistleblower complaint from Congress.

Trump repeatedly told Ukraine’s president in a telephone call that Barr and Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani could help investigate Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden, according to a rough transcript of that summertime conversation. Justice Department officials insist Barr was unaware of Trump’s comments at the time of the July 25 call.

When Barr did learn of that call a few weeks later, he was “surprised and angry” to discover he had been lumped in with Giuliani, a person familiar with Barr’s thinking told The Associated Press. This person was not authorized to speak about the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Giuliani, a former New York City mayor, often appears in rambling television interviews as a vocal defender of the president. Giuliani represents Trump’s personal interests and holds no position in the U.S. government, raising questions about why he would be conducting outreach to Ukrainian officials.

Barr is the nation’s top law enforcement officer and leads a Cabinet department that traditionally has a modicum of independence from the White House.

Yet to Trump, there often appears to be little difference between the two lawyers.

“I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it,” Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, according to the memo of the call that was released by the White House this past week.

Since becoming attorney general in February, Barr has been one of Trump’s staunchest defenders. He framed special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in favorable terms for the president in a news conference this year, even though Mueller said he did not exonerate Trump.

Kathleen Clark, a legal ethics professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, said Trump is treating the country’s attorney general as if he’s just another personal lawyer.

“I think it represents a larger problem with President Trump,” she said. “To him, it appears Giuliani and Barr both have the same job.”

Trump has frequently lauded Barr and his efforts to embrace the president’s political agenda. That’s in stark contrast to Trump’s relationship with his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whom the president repeatedly harangued in public.

Trump’s frustration with Sessions made clear how the president views the Justice Department — as a law enforcement agency that exists to carry out his wishes and protect him. Despite a close relationship during the 2016 campaign, Trump never forgave Sessions for withdrawing from the government’s investigation into 2016 election interference, a move that ultimately cleared the way for Mueller’s investigation.

Barr has come under the scrutiny of congressional Democrats who have accused him of acting on Trump’s personal behalf more than for the justice system. Democrats have also called on Barr to step aside from decisions on the Ukraine matter. Those close to Barr, however, have argued there would be no reason to do so because he was unaware of the Trump-Zelenskiy conversation.

The department insists Barr wasn’t made aware of the call with Zelenskiy until at least mid-August.

Barr has not spoken with Trump about investigating Biden or Biden’s son Hunter, and Trump has not asked Barr to contact Ukranian officials about the matter, the department said. Barr has also not spoken with Giuliani about anything related to Ukraine, officials have said.

Trump has sought, without evidence, to implicate the Bidens in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time then-Vice President Joe Biden was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden. There is no evidence that Hunter Biden was ever under investigation in Ukraine.

The Justice Department was first made aware of Trump’s call when a CIA lawyer mentioned the complaint from the unidentified CIA officer on Aug. 14, said a person familiar with the matter who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke anonymously. Some Justice Department lawyers learned about the accusations after the whistleblower filed a complaint with the intelligence community’s internal watchdog.

The watchdog later raised concerns that Trump may have violated campaign finance law. The Justice Department said there was no crime and closed the matter.

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Guiliani: Trump’s legal strategy is “So What?”

On CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday Jake Tapper asked Rudy Giuliani “So it’s possible that … President Trump talked to Michael Cohen about his testimony?”

Giuliani responded “I don’t know if it happened or didn’t happen. And so what if he talked to him about it?”

I can’t give Trump’s television lawyer credit for this extraordinary legal defense. The history books will note that Trump came up with it himself. It happened in a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa on January 23, 2016 when he pointed his finger like a gun and said “I could stand In the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” The full comment was “You know what else they say about my people? The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.”

No matter what crimes Trump is proved to have committed with evidence so compelling even his hardest of hard-core supporters believe he did the dirty deeds it won’t matter to them.

Conspire with the Russian to rig the election? That’s the easiest one to excuse because after all, if the Russians helped him win the election these MAGA-maggots would say “hooray for them.”

As for the oft-repeated claim in both speech and tweet of “no collusion” there’s Rudy’s “Trump campaign staff may have colluded with Russians even if Trump did not — but then, collusion isn’t a crime” and Trump’s Dec. 21st tweet “’Democrats can’t find a Smocking Gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey’s testimony. No Smocking Gun . . . No Collusion.’” Smoking gun evidence, or smocking gun, is usually prima facie evidence of guilt, but once again, so what!

Doing favors for Putin, doing his dirty work to destabilize American in the world? Why not? These lickspittle flunkies not only don’t care about his Putin-friendly statements and actions like threatening to pull out of NATO, shafting allies by levying tariffs, his alienating our allies, and arcane subjects like Ukraine and Crimea. Who cares about his revealing secrets to Russian and cozying up to a brutal dictator who has his detractors murdered? If these authoritarian leader worshipping Trumpers lived in Russia they be Putiners.

Now Rudy is saying that Trump pursued deals to build a hotel in Russia “up to the 2016 election” but then again even if this was illegal, and even though Trump lied about it numerous times, so what!

As for paying off an adult movie star and a Playboy model to keep quiet to help him win the election, great! Who cares about breaking stupid election laws if it gets your racist and xenophobic candidate into the Oval Office. Besides, all those envious randy men who voted for him wish they could have been in his custom-made Italian shoes, you know, the size 12 shoes for his size 8 feet with the one inch lifts in them to make sure he’s the tallest man in the room with the exception of James Comey. (I found this on the website Quora and don’t know if it’s true, but I choose to believe it.)

If he made a fortune off of being president and broke some obscure clause in the Constitution, and we know he did, we are talking about fans of “The Apprentice” who voted for a reality TV pretending to be a business genius, and whose tagline was a gleeful “you’re fired.” Like they could give a shit about emoluments.

As for the most recent allegation that he directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, Congress, really, if anyone among this crew of brainwashed sycophants think there’s anything wrong in the slightest to lying to Congress let them stand and be laughed out of the peanut gallery.

The “so what” defense would never hold up in a court anyplace in a sane world. No ethical honest jury with any common sense would find him not guilty. However, with Alan Derschowitz, another Trump defender, helped O.J. Simpson walk free.


AFTERTHOUGHT: If lying to the American people was a crime and was punishable by one day in person per lie, as of the latest report in today’s The Guardian, in “The ‘exhausting’ work of factcheckers who track Trump’s barrage of lies” if my arithmetic is correct Trump would be spending 21 years in an orange jumpsuit. Even if these lies were made under oath and in a normally world would constitute perjury his defense would be (sorry to be redundant, so what!


EVENING UPDATE – Jan. 21, 2019 Lawrence O’Donnell added another meme  to Rudy’s “so what” defense of Trump for talking to Cohen about what to say in advance of his testimony before Congress.

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