In this episode the MPU gang looks at the upcoming impeachment trial, Trump’s Iran brouhaha, the Iowa caucuses, their choices for the Oscars, and who among them would win a hot dog eating contest.
This episode covers the new hostilities with Iran, whether it’s good for Democrats to have John Bolton testify at the senate impeachment trial, and what it means now that Biden, Buttigieg and Bernie (the three B’s) have risen to the top in Iowa.
by D.J. McGuire
“So he was murdered. I have no problem with that; the man was a pig. But it was a decision we should have all made together.” – Viktor Slavin, as portrayed by Boris Lee Krutonog, The Hunt for Red October
The United States sent a message to the Middle East with the attack on Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani last night – but it’s not the message the president thinks is being sent. Instead of projecting strength and resolve, he has projected callousness and self-absorption. Only Donald Trump could make the death of the Iranian Quds Force boss a buzzkill, but here we are.
To understand why this tactical strike is far removed from an actual strategy – let alone a successful one – we have to remember what has been happening recently (and is still happening) in Iraq right now. Iraqis in Shiite-majority cities and in Baghdad have been protesting October, with two objectives: end corruption and end Iran’s heavy hand in their nation’s politics. This was reflective of the parliamentary election last year, when Shia Iraqis gave their votes to the most anti-Iranian leader they could find (bizarrely enough, that was Muqtada al-Sadr). Much like in 2010, however (when a broad-based anti-Tehran coalition initially won the election), Iran-allied parties used political machinations to maintain Tehran’s influence. Shia Iraq, watching their leaders fleece the country and lean on foreigners for strength, had enough.
For the mullahcracy in Tehran, this was a true crisis – the regime’s sole source of legitimacy is its supposed leadership of all Shia Islam – and after attempting to quell the protests with violence (Reuters), they tried changing the subject, sending one of their Iraqi-allied militia after American personnel (Politico). That worked, and American retaliation led to said militia violently harassing the US Embassy this week. That didn’t stop the Shia protests against Tehran (Al Jazeera), but it did get Trump’s attention – thus the attack on Soleimani.
In other words, the Trump Administration cares more about some embassy walls in the Green Zone than over 400 dead Iraqis. Iran-backed militias did both, but only the former roused the president. When the shock and euphoria of Soleimani’s death wears off, that will be noticed. Maddeningly, the Administration is broadcasting it even today, with Secretary of State Pompeo insisting America “remains committed to de-escalation” (WaPo).
That’s not the only thing that takes the bloom off the rose here. The continued emphasis on killing enemy leaders instead of defeating enemy forces has further distorted American policy. Al Qaeda has now survived Osama bin Laden by nearly a decade; al-Baghdadi’s death did not kill Daesh; and Soleimani’s death, while a welcome development per se, doesn’t mean Tehran is defeated.
A broader strategy would have recognized and reached out to the Iraqi protestors (and their counterparts in Iran) and challenged the mullahcracy across all fronts – including Syria and Lebanon. It would go beyond the ridiculous yet stubborn false choice of nothing or full military force. It would work with regional and global allies to press the case for true democracy and the stability that comes with it. It would make clear that the Tehran regime itself is the problem, and that we recognize its behavior is but a feature of its tyranny and the anxiety that always comes from a lack of popular legitimacy.
Much of this was present when George W. Bush announced the change in policy toward Iraq in 2007 (known as “the surge”). He made it clear he recognized the mullahcracy was an enemy of the American and Iraqi peoples. The latter certainly noticed, and helped turn the tide against both the Quds Force and al Qaeda in Iraq as a result (that realization was forgotten in the Obama Administration, but that’s for another day).
None of it has been on display this week, or we would have seen greater coordination with our allies and with the Iraqi people, and would be in a far better position to take advantage of this. Instead, we got a reaction to an embarrassing incident at our embassy and nothing more.
Trump and his Administration have no strategy. They have no real goal besides finding an excuse to pull out of the region. They have no real concern for the peoples of the Middle East. As these realizations dawn, our enemies will exploit them for their own gain. They may have lost the battle, but thanks to Trump’s ignorance and myopia, I fear they will win the war.
On this week’s podcast, Rebekah and DJ fly solo as they discuss the impeachment standoff, the latest Democratic debate, the person running to be the Aaron Sorkin president, and how the evangelical right has been co-opted by the conservative right (or vice versa).
This column is a compilation of separate thoughts on impeachment and the state of American politics.
As I predicted on the podcast, the two limited and obtuse articles of impeachment that Nancy Pelosi and company adopted are woefully inadequate for the task at hand: galvanizing the nation’s attention and exposing President Trump’s lack of fitness for office. First, they do not allege actual criminal acts, a charge that Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans may very well use to prematurely dismiss the charges in the senate as legally meaningless. The terms bribery and extortion should have peppered the articles’ text, which should have contained one separate article just titled “Bribery and Extortion.” Similarly, opting for the amorphous term “Obstruction of Congress” instead of the criminal code crime of “Obstruction of Justice” was a fatal wimp out on the Democrats’ part.
Moreover, leaving out the Don McGahn incident and other obstruction of justices outlined in the Mueller Report allows Republicans to claim that the entire impeachment is over “one telephone call” instead of the panoply of Trump’s unconstitutional misdeeds over three (or more) years. Campaign finance corruption, emoluments, unlawful executive actions – these should all be in the mix on the senate floor. Make senators Susan Collins, Thom Tillis and Cory Gardner vote to acquit Trump of everything he’s done, instead of hiding behind a very limited single incident. That would have produced a national outrage commensurate with an impeachment trial.
I understand that the House majority’s expensive lawyers probably argued against using those legal terms. But having clashed with attorneys all through my television producing and corporate training careers, I’ve learned that lawyers have a very narrow view of the world that often misses the bigger picture. In this case, they lawyered the Democratic caucus right out of a meaningful impeachment trial.
For Mitch McConnell to stand on the senate floor and complain that Democrats have talked about impeachment since the start of Trump’s administration is the height of hypocrisy coming from the man who announced his goal of making Barrack Obama “a one term president” on the very first night of his first term in office.
Democrats had good reasons to anticipate impeaching Donald Trump. He showed a personality and temperament highly likely to violate the the oath of office. He had talked about forcing himself on women. He had run a scam university and was known for stiffing his contractors. He urged Russia to commit international computer hacking. He refused to sever his ties with his vast business empire, which right there promised to violate the emoluments clause (as he has for three straight years). He lied about charitable donations and it was common knowledge that he misused and abused his charitable foundation. He spoke in vulgar terms and showed little respect for women, children, minorities, international treaties, contracts, and laws. He hid his tax returns and lied about the reason. He regularly defied court orders (one of the charges he was eventually impeached over). His first national security advisor lied to the FBI within two weeks of his appointment to the job. His former campaign chairman was a known international scam artist. He fired his FBI Director for purely personal political reasons and lied about it on national television. He held private, off-the-record meetings with Putin. And as we later found out, he hectored his attorney general and White House counsel to obstruct justice for him. We would also learn he was negotiating with the Russian government to build a hotel in Moscow while actively running for president (the height of poor judgment and bad faith), and he used private channels to run his nefarious schemes, scams, illegal use of campaign funds, and he’s been a serial cheater on every wife he ever married. And his hero is Roy Cohen.
So yeah, people who weren’t mesmerized by his silly tweets and vulgar rallies could read his character and expect he would run afoul of his oath of office. What’s amazing is that 197 congressmen, 53 U.S. senators, and some 60 million Americans did not see it coming.
Trump keeps complaining about the Obama administration spying on him (which is factually untrue). Yet no one ever mentions that he professed to send private investigators to Hawaii to privately spy on President Obama regarding his birth certificate, an invasion of privacy that Trump had no legal standing to commit since he is neither a journalist nor a member of law enforcement. Now, it’s quite possible that he was lying about sending lawyers to Hawaii. But he still made the claim, just as he still keeps making the bogus claim that he was the one who was spied on illegally. People who live in glass houses should not be throwing private investigators.
The Republican Party has allowed itself to become the party of Trumpism. But as the defeats of Matt Bevin, Eddie Rispone, and Ed Gillespie demonstrate, even in red states, you can’t win on Trumpism if you aren’t Donald Trump. Someday The Donald won’t sit in The White House. And the politicians who anchored their careers to him and his perverse style of governing may just find themselves submerged in the anti-Trump backlash that will inevitably rise.
Many Americans think that the senate impeachment trial will be no big deal because the outcome is pre-ordained. Nothing could be further from the truth. There has only been one impeachment trial in modern American history, which established a limited set of precedents for how presidential impeachments should proceed. But Mitch McConnell shows the potential to rewrite the impeachment process and with it all future presidential impeachments ad infinitum.
If McConnell refuses to allow any prosecution witnesses, he’ll upend the precedent set by the Clinton impeachment trial, when Monica Lewinsky and two other witnesses gave video taped depositions. Or worse, he might submit the entire case for early dismissal which, if successful, could drastically minimize the significance of the impeachment process and forever alter the precarious balance of power between the three branches of government. Should McConnell rig the process to avoid a real final verdict of guilt or acquittal, future Congresses may be more empowered to use the impeachment process as a glorified form of presidential censure.
It is imperative that impeachment not be dumbed down or diminished to be something other than what the Founders meant it to be: a sober and serious examination of a president’s fitness for office. If the majority party can swat away articles of impeachment without a serious examination of the charges brought by the House, future presidents will be emboldened to break the law whenever their party controls the upper chamber.
Impeachments will always be a political and partisan endeavor, as they are the product of a political system. But that doesn’t mean we should allow one party to summarily revise the rules that have held U.S. presidents accountable to the people for 232 years.
Article 1 of the Constitution gives the senate sole power to” try all impeachments.” But it does not give the senate majority leader sole power to rewrite the impeachment language in Article 1 for posterity.
The MPU gang wraps up 2019 with a look at the pending senate impeachment trial, the rumored China trade deal, and the winnowing of the Democrats’ presidential primary debate stage. The hosts end their final 2019 podcast with a personal glimpse at their wishes for the holiday season and year to come.
by D.J. McGuire
“You may not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you.” – Leon Trotsky
One of the apparent consequences of the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump over his attempt to strong arm Ukraine into smearing Joe Biden is the fading of Russia and of Vladimir Putin from the drama. Putin himself celebrated his regime’s return to the shadows recently (NBC).
Russian President Vladimir Putin says he’s pleased that the “political battles” in Washington have put on the back-burner accusations that Russia interfered in U.S. elections.
“Thank God,” he told an economic forum in the Russian capital on Wednesday, “no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore; now they’re accusing Ukraine.”
Of course, this is exactly what Putin wanted. The worst case scenario is part of what he’s getting now – less attention for what he had his regime do in 2016 to help Trump amid the arguments about whether Trump committed impeachable offenses (spoiler: he did). On top of that, Putin knows that millions of Americans are gaslighting themselves into believing he didn’t interfere, but rather was framed as part of a Rudy Goldberg scheme hatched out of Ukraine. So he’s already playing with house money.
That does not mean, however, that Putin has stopped paying attention to Ukraine, or to Washington. In fact, Putin is slowly getting the very thing Robert Mueller reported Russia wanted vis a vis Ukraine when its intelligence apparatus reached out to the Trump campaign in the first place.
Lest we forget, this is what Mueller reported back in April:
Separately, on August 2, 2016, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met in New York City with his long-time business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who the FBI assesses to have ties to Russian intelligence. Kilimnik requested the meeting to deliver in person a peace plan for Ukraine that Manafort acknowledged to the Special Counsel’s Office was a “backdoor” way for Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine; both men believed the plan would require candidate Trump’s assent to succeed (were he to be elected President).
What was that “peace plan”? Mueller answered thusly:
Under the Yanukovych-backed plan, Russia would assist in withdrawing the military, and Donbas would become an autonomous region within Ukraine with its own prime minister. The plan emphasized that Yanukovych would be an ideal candidate…
According to Mueller, Manafort claimed he “had said to Kilimnik that the plan was crazy.” Yet Mueller also reported that Manafort lied to him on numerous occasions, an assessment backed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson (CNN).
How did Judge Jackson come to this conclusion? Mueller answers in a foot note:
In resolving whether Manafort breached his cooperation plea agreement by lying to the Office, the district court found that Manafort lied about, among other things, his contacts with Kilimnik regarding the peace plan…
So we know a Russian intelligence agent reached out to his associate in the Trump campaign about a plan to cement Putin’s control over Eastern Ukraine, meaning it was a priority for Putin. Recent events are showing us something else: battered by the revelations regarding Trump, Ukraine’s president is close to giving Putin what he wanted (DW).
The Ukrainian government signed an agreement Tuesday with pro-Russia separatists, Russia and European monitors that will allow a local election to be held in separatist-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine.
The agreement was signed after the parties met in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, and is seen as a major step by the new Ukrainian government under President Volodymyr Zelenskiy toward resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv and pro-Russia separatists.
In preparation for the election, the Ukrainian government and separatist leaders said they would withdraw troops from two locations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions next week.
… The president has faced criticism that Ukraine is giving concessions to Moscow and for following a policy of appeasement with Russia.
That came less than a week after the memorandum of the Trump-Zelensky call was released to the public.
One might also note that Manafort’s assertion that he blew off Kilimnik’s plan has an additional weakness: Germany has long been a fan of it, minus Yanukovych (Reuters). Indeed, it was originally called the “Steinmeier formula” – after Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who first floated it in 2016. As the Kyiv Post notes, it has never been popular in Ukraine itself.
That hasn’t stopped Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel from pushing it, however. Meanwhile, whatever Trump might think of the idea himself, those who might tell him why it’s a bad idea have been … otherwise occupied, as the editors of the Washington Post noted over the weekend:
Virtually every senior official who worked on the relationship in the past two years has resigned or testified in the impeachment inquiry and been denounced by the president.
That makes it a lot more difficult for anyone serious about resisting Putin’s irredentism from having Trump’s ear …
… which is just another benefit to Putin of this scandal.
This episodes covers Trump’s interference with Navy discipline, the closing testimony in the House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearings, the most recent Democratic debate, and DJ’s latest crush on a candidate.
This episode looks at Roger Stone’s conviction, the latest impeachment testimony, new twists in the 2020 primary race, and how the latest high school shooting affected the hosts personally.
This week’s podcast looks ahead to the opening of the public impeachment inquiry, the entry of Michael Bloomberg into the Democratic primary race, the new education plans proposed by Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris, and what the “OK boomer” culture war is really about.