Trump’s likely criminal “promise” to Ukrainian President Zelensky and the DOJ’s campaign to keep it from Congress

A senior intelligence officer apparently heard something so troubling in a call between Donald Trump and a foreign leader that he or she sought out legal counsel with experience in whistle-blower cases, and, then, on August 12, through said attorney, reported it to the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (IGIC), Michael K. Atkinson. Atkinson, finding the information contained in the report to be both “credible” and “urgent”, then, as required by law, forwarded the information to Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Joseph Maguire. [“Urgent,” says House Intelligence Committee member Jackie Speier, “means it’s impacting our national security… at the highest level of concern.”] Maguire, as I understand it, then had seven days, according to federal law, in which to hand this “credible” and “urgent” information over to both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, which he did not do. Instead, it would seem, he consulted with Bill Barr’s Department of Justice and determined that the information contained in the whistle-blower’s letter should be kept from Congress. This, as you can hear Congressman Adam Schiff stating here, is clearly a violation of the law.

While we don’t yet know the specifics of the whistle-blower’s letter, a few important facts have already come to the surface. We know, for instance, that the the whistle-blower’s concern stemmed from not one, but “multiple acts” on the part of Donald Trump, at least one of which involved a conversation between Donald Trump and a foreign leader in which something was “promised.” And, as of right now, it looks as though it all centers around the Ukraine. I should add at this point that Donald Trump denies that he said anything to a fellow world leader that might be construed as illegal. He says he’s too smart to say something like that when he knows that intelligence officers are listening.

Assuming this does involve conversations between Trump and recently elected Ukraine President Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky, one imagines it had to do with recent Republican attempts to manufacture dirt on Joe Biden, someone who Trump clearly fears facing in the 2020 general election… The following background, for those of you who might be unaware of what Trump and Guiliani have been doing in the Ukraine in service of their 2020 reelection campaign, comes by way of Just Security.

…The reporter’s questions to Pence struck at the heart of a controversy roiling U.S.-Ukraine relations since even before Zelenskyy’s election win in April. Starting at least late last year, President Donald Trump and his personal attorney and advisor, Rudy Giuliani, have agitated for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden, the current frontrunner in the Democratic presidential race and the candidate they apparently think could be Trump’s biggest rival for a second term.

Trump and Giuliani allege, contrary to evidence, that Biden improperly pressured the Ukrainian government in 2016 to fire then-Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin in the midst of a corruption investigation of one of Ukraine’s biggest gas companies, Burisma Group. Biden’s youngest son, Hunter, was serving on the company’s board at the time.

But the prosecutor, in fact, was the target of pressure by Ukrainian anti-corruption advocates and a host of international supporters of Ukraine, who argued he should be fired for failing to pursue major cases of corruption. And it was the widely known and publicly espoused position of the U.S. government, across a half dozen agencies, that the prosecutor’s ouster was among crucial anti-corruption measures that the Ukrainian government needed to take to move forward economically and politically. As President Barack Obama’s point man on Ukraine, Biden dutifully relayed those messages at every opportunity.

Yet Trump and Giuliani have turned that real-life scenario on its head, falsely alleging that Biden sought to corruptly influence a Ukrainian prosecutor’s decisions in his son’s favor. The Trump camp’s steady volley of tweets, interviews and supportive articles by pro-Trump authors echoes the persistent Republican accusations against Hillary Clinton related to the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on Benghazi, Libya, when she was Secretary of State…

So, given all of this, could it be that Donald Trump threatened to withhold U.S. aid, or arms, in until the Ukrainians agreed to deliver dirt (either real of manufactured) on Joe Biden? It certainly seems plausible, and Giuliani’s performance just now on CNN didn’t do very much to convince me otherwise. [He first adamantly denies that he asked the Ukrainians to look into Biden, and, just seconds later, says, “Of course I did.”]

I’m going to try not to get my hopes up, as we’ve seen other impeachable offenses come and go without much in the way of action on the part of Congress, but it does seem to me that things could be different this time, especially if there are recordings of Donald Trump offering a bribe to the leader of Ukraine in exchange for dirt on his political opponent. That, one thinks, would be difficult for Trump to worm his way out of.

update: Well, it looks like Giuliani just admitted it, tweeting out that Trump told Zelensky that he’d “better investigate” Biden.

update: Elizabeth Warren, as usual, is spot on.

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Stand up to the Republican suicide cult, join the Climate Strike

We’re fast approaching the global climate strike. While events around the world are going to run for an entire week, beginning on September 20, and running though the 27th, it looks as though most of the local activity, here in Southeast Michigan, will be on the first day of the campaign, which is this Friday. If you’d like to participate, it sounds as though people will be leaving their classes and places of work at 11:00 AM, and making their way to Ingalls Mall [915 East Washington Street] in Ann Arbor, were organizers are hoping some 20,0000 people will gather for a noon rally, attend workshops, etc. Additional information can be found on the Act On Climate website, but here’s the general overview.

[A complete list of regional events can be found at the Action Network website. Rally sites in southeast Michigan include, Grand Circus Park in Detroit, the Capital Building in Lansing, the Somerset Mall in Troy, Riverside Park in Auburn Hills, and the Brighton Chamber of Commerce.]

As I suspect that almost all of you appreciate how dire the situation is, having read the reports and witnessed the ever-worsening devastation wrought by extreme weather over the past decade, I won’t spend my time right now trying to make the case that decisive action is needed. Instead, I thought that we could discuss the following quotes and headlines, which collectively demonstrate, I think, the aggressively retrograde approach to climate change being pursued by our current administration.

1. Bloomberg: “EPA to Unveil Plan to Take Away California’s Authority on Car Emissions

The Trump administration, according to reporting by Bloomberg, plans to announce their plans tomorrow to rescind California’s authority to enact state laws intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions in autos. So, just two days before the above-mentioned Global Climate Strike, the Trump administration, assuming this Bloomberg report is accurate, will have the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) come out and say that California cannot set emissions standards that are more aggressive than those put forward by the Trump administration. So, just to sum up… the pro “states rights” Republicans, who, generally speaking, hate it when the federal government interferes in state business, will be stepping in to aggressively take action against the state of California, forcing them to roll back the emissions laws passed passed by their democratically elected legislature. And, not just that, but they’ll be using the EPA to do it… I have to give them credit. It never would have occurred to me to use the EPA to go after states that are stepping up to protect the environment. It’s so fucking Orwellian.

2. Wall Street Journal: “Justice Department Launches Antitrust Probe Into Four Auto Makers

Not only is the Trump administration going after California for imposing stricter fuel economy and emissions standards, but the Department of Justice, according to recent reimporting from the Wall Street Journal, is going after automakers who have agreed to conform to those emissions standards set by California. Senator Tom Carper of Delaware explains the action this way. “This investigation is nothing but an attempt by the Trump Administration to retaliate against these companies and stoke fear in others,” he said. So, not only do we have an administration using the EPA to go after California for attempting to confront the climate crisis in a serious way, but we have an administration going after those automakers who have agreed to take action, claiming that their discussions on the subject violate antitrust laws. In other words, the government is claiming that automakers are guilty of conspiring to address climate change, and forcing them to continue practices that we know are killing the earth.

3. Marcy Wheeler: “Trump’s going to go to war because MBS has promised to keep oil prices low thru the election.

Today, when asked about his comments earlier this week about how the U.S. was ready to go to war in Iran on behalf of Saudi Arabia if Jamal Khashoggi’s murderer, Mohammad bin Salman, gave the word, Donald Trump referenced gas prices and how the Saudis were in a position to “help us out”. So, it’s not difficult to see why Wheeler, whose analysis I respect, might get the idea that Trump’s willingness to come to the rescue of Mohammad bin Salman might have something to do with keeping oil prices down through the 2020 election. Personally, I think the fix was in for the Saudis a long time ago — let’s remember that almost every veto Trump has issued as president has been for the benefit of the House of Saud, who, it’s worth noting, have a suspiciously close relationship with the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner — but I don’t doubt for a minute that everything being done by the administration right now is being done primarily to keep our President from being forced from office and prosecuted for his numerous crimes.

I could go on… but I think you probably get the point. We’re living inside a climate death cult. The American Republican Party is the only party in the democratic world that denies the science of climate change, and, if we don’t stop them, they’re going to be the end of humanity. They didn’t just pull us out of the Paris Climate Accord, but they’re prosecuting companies that are trying to move the needle on climate change. They are in bed with big oil. They are completely dependent on fossil fuel money. And, if we don’t stop them, they’ll be the death of us all. We need to be in the streets, fighting for a Green New Deal, clean energy jobs, and an end to fossil fuel subsidies. If we want to remain on this planet, there’s really no alternative.

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Donald Trump commands the Department of Justice to “come to (Brett Kavanaugh’s) rescue” amid newly substantiated claims of sexual assault

In today’s New York Times, there’s an incredible piece of journalism from Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, the authors of the forthcoming book The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation. The article’s focus is on Deborah Ramirez, a undergraduate classmate of Brett Kavanaugh’s at Yale. Ramirez, as you may recall, made a claim prior to Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, stating that, during a party in 1983, a drunken Kavanaugh had exposed himself to her, thrusting his penis toward her face. This particular accusation didn’t get much traction in the media at the time, as people seemed to be more captivated by the accusation made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh had attempted to rape her when they were both in high school. [Ford was 15 at the time, and Kavanaugh was 17.] Well, Pogrebin and Kelly have been spent the past several months doggedly investigating the claim made by Deborah Ramirez, and, having now interviewed a number of sources, they’ve found it to be highly credible. I’d encourage you to read the entire article, but here are some of the highlights.

…During the winter of her freshman year, a drunken dormitory party unsettled her deeply. She and some classmates had been drinking heavily when, she says, a freshman named Brett Kavanaugh pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her, prompting her to swat it away and inadvertently touch it. Some of the onlookers, who had been passing around a fake penis earlier in the evening, laughed.

…We also uncovered a previously unreported story about Mr. Kavanaugh in his freshman year that echoes Ms. Ramirez’s allegation. A classmate, Max Stier, saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student. Mr. Stier, who runs a nonprofit organization in Washington, notified senators and the F.B.I. about this account, but the F.B.I. did not investigate and Mr. Stier has declined to discuss it publicly. (We corroborated the story with two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier.)

…Ms. Ramirez’s legal team gave the F.B.I. a list of at least 25 individuals who may have had corroborating evidence. But the bureau — in its supplemental background investigation — interviewed none of them, though we learned many of these potential witnesses tried in vain to reach the F.B.I. on their own.

Two F.B.I. agents interviewed Ms. Ramirez, telling her that they found her “credible.” But the Republican-controlled Senate had imposed strict limits on the investigation. “‘We have to wait to get authorization to do anything else,’” Bill Pittard, one of Ms. Ramirez’s lawyers, recalled the agents saying. “It was almost a little apologetic”…

I know we’ve got our collective hands full right at the moment, as there are already several ongoing Congressional investigations in response to the rampant criminality of the Trump administration, but one would think that we’d eventually want to look into that decision by the White House and Republican controlled Senate to limit the investigation into Kavanaugh, instructing the FBI not to pursue the claims made by Ramirez, follow up on the calls offering corroborating evidence, etc. We need to know how that order came to be. We need to know who exactly was involved in making the decision to have the FBI stand down. And, while we’re at it, we should probably also investigate Kavanaugh’s repeated lies under oath, the mystery surrounding how his numerous debts came to be paid-off, and the circumstances surrounding Anthony Kennedy’s decision to abruptly leave the high court, leaving a seat open for Kavanaugh to move into… All of these are things that deserved to be looked into.

One last thing. This morning, after the news broke about the Ramirez story, Donald Trump sent out the following tweet…

Any other president in United States history, if confronted by credible evidence of a Supreme Court Justice having engaged in sexual assault, likely would have responded with a thoughtful statement, acknowledging the seriousness of the allegations, and promising that they would be looked into.

Donald Trump, however, chose to publicly demand that the Department of Justice “come to (the) rescue” of the accused. No promise of an investigation. No sympathy for the victim. Just a demand that federal law enforcement agencies do the President’s bidding… This is not the America that my ancestors fought for. We are witnessing the birth of criminal dictatorship.

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Enjoy this beautiful weekend in Oceania

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Daniel Johnston, one of my favorite musicians and artists, has passed away

One of the most genuinely talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure to have known, the visionary artist and musician Daniel Johnston, passed away today at the age of 58. Here, for those of you who might not be aware of Johnson’s work, is the song Story of an Artist, from his self-released 1982 recording Don’t Be Scared. The song, which was used by Apple to great effect in a 2018 ad campaign, begins with the following phrase, which I’m finding incredibly poignant today. “Listen up and I’ll tell a story about an artist growing old,” Johnston sings. “Some would try for fame and glory; others aren’t so bold.”

There’s quite a bit that I could say about Daniel, the struggles that he endured, and how fucking much his painfully honest and absurdly brilliant music has meant to me over the years. I think, however, that I’ll just take the night off, find my very old, well-worn cassette of 1983’s Yip Jump Music, head out to the porch with a drink, and listen to it in the rain.

Goodbye, Daniel. And thank you for everything… Rest in peace.

update: It’s not one of my better interviews, but, here, from Crimewave USA issue 14, is my first real attempt at a discussion with Daniel. It seems like yesterday. It’s hard to be believe it’s been almost 20 years.

[Part: 1, 2, 3, 4]

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