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Impeachment Turmoil on Ukraine Cannot Distract Us From Putin’s Game There

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.

D.J. McGuire – a Never Trump neoconservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Ben Cline Betrays Conservatives and Beclowns Himself in Joining SCIF Stunt

by D.J. McGuire

There was a time when conservatives in general – and Republicans in particular – took national security seriously.

We can argue about when that era ended; after Wednesday, no one can argue the fact that it has ended. Dozens of Republican Congressmen proved that when they chose to violate the Secured Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) where the current impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump is being conducted. In the process, these clowns delayed testimony for nearly five hours and violated all sorts of security regulations by bringing in their phones (a flat-out violation).

One of these fools – at least in rushing the SCIF – was Virginia’s own Ben Cline (R-6th District), as can be seen from this Washington Post story (third video, titled “Desperate”: Lawmakers react to Republicans disrupting impeachment inquiry testimony; Cline can be seen about 24 seconds in as he pats his fellow committee crasher on the back).

Thus, less than two weeks before Election Day, Cline provided the perfect reason why I will be voting for the straight Democratic ticket on November 5 – with the full understanding that I am possibly the only one against the rest of the Bearing Drift contributors on this.

At first, I was going to be merely theoretical (although I still think correct) about how the GOP needed to by punished – hard and deep – for Trump, how the lesson needed to be sent to every single Republican on a ballot from now until he is defenestrated (either via impeachment and conviction or by losing re-election). I would then shift to how the Virginia Republicans behaved over the last two decades (three tax increases and rejected Medicaid expansion with a tax cut while accepting Medicaid expansion with “work requirements” that disincentivize entrepreneurial behavior and increase regulation of poor people).

Cline’s clown show, however, took this to an entirely new level of mandatory punishment for the GOP/RPV.

Nearly all of my fellow BD contributors who weighed in on the 6th District race in 2018 insisted that Ben Cline was the nice guy in the race for the GOP nomination. He was more reasonable than Cynthia Dunbar. His experience as a Delegate would mean he would keep his head down and do for his constituents – just as the Republicans running for state and local office this year are supposed to do.

Instead, he violated clearance rules in a manner that would make Hillary Clinton’s private server explode. He participated in the compromising of a SCIF. Mieke Eoyang (a former staffer of the House Intel Committee) explains what these fools did:

“Foreign adversaries are constantly trying to figure out what goes on inside those rooms to figure out what the US knows about them, to out US high-level sources in their governments, to know what the US government knows and use it against us.

“But in ‘storming the SCIF’ without observing the security protocols, Rep. Gaetz et al, endangered our national security & demonstrated they care more about a political stunt than protecting intelligence information. I cannot emphasize enough how serious this is.”

So if Ben Cline can beclown himself like this, what can we expect of the rest of this bunch?

No one can say with a straight face that the Republican Party of 2019 is anything remotely like the party the led us to victory in the Cold War, fought for freer trade, and defended American interests robustly abroad. For many 2019 Republicans, that’s a feature rather than a bug.

However, we now also know that the Republican Party of 2019 thinks “more about a political stunt than protecting intelligence information” – and that Virginia Republicans, rather than an exception to this rule, have become an example of this rule. That is what Ben Cline showed us all on Wednesday.

Ben Cline deserves neither power nor office. He exemplifies a party that needs to be taken to the woodshed, and the only way they will listen is if the voters replace them – all of them – with Democrats (I can’t even bring myself to accept Republican-in-all-but-name Chris Peace – sorry, Andrea). It’s a harsh remedy, but the Republicans have done this to themselves …

… especially Ben Cline.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Rudy’s Partners In Crimea (Ep. 227)

This MPU episode covers the Turkish incursion into Syria and what ethnic cleansing of the Kurds might look like, Rudy’s unfortunate Ukrainian pals and what a straw donor scheme might look like, Trump’s growing impeachment headaches and what a senate impeachment trial might look like, what the fourth Democratic debate might look like, and AOC’s 30th birthday and what a $300 haircut actually does look like.

Whistleblowers-palooza (Ep. 226)

This episode covers developments in the Trump impeachment imbroglio and the latest from the Democratic primary campaign trail.

Donald Trump Should Be Removed From Office

by D.J. McGuire

The opinion expressed in the title of this post is almost certainly a minority position among the Bearing Drift editors and contributors. It is still my view, however. While I have multiple reasons, I will focus on the most recent one to come to light: President Trump’s attempt to strong-arm the popularly elected leader of Ukraine to smear an American political opponent.

That attempt was revealed last week, ironically by the Trump Administration itself, via the Memorandum of Telephone Conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (via Washington Post). For anyone who grew up in the Tri-State Area (North Jersey, West Connecticut, NYC, Long Island, and Downstate NY) – as Trump did – it reads as a classic Mafioso conversation: Nice country you have there, Volodymyr; be a shame if something happened to it.

What makes this worse – and more obvious – is that something is happening to Ukraine – it’s being invaded by Putinist Russia. Zelensky himself noted his country’s need for military support – right down to the specific missile type he thought would be most helpful for his military. Trump – who had already frozen Congressionally-appropriated aid for Urkaine, over the objections of his own Pentagon (WaPo) – responds with a request for two personal political favors.

The first is a bizarre request to “get to the bottom of” a mythical conspiracy theory involving Ukrainian officials and Democrats supposedly framing his campaign and Putin. David French explains the horror in National Review Online:

In fact, his commitment to this absurd theory is so complete that he apparently tossed aside his advisers’ repeated warnings that it had been debunked and allowed it to taint American diplomacy. This weekend, former Trump homeland-security adviser Thomas Bossert spoke on the record to ABC News and the New York Times and noted that members of the administration had “repeatedly” tried to convince Trump that there was nothing to the notion that a Crowdstrike server in Ukraine held the key to questioning the reality of Russian election interference.

Think of Zelensky’s position. His nation desperately needs American military assistance, and so he makes a direct ask for a key weapons system. Trump responds not with a reasonable request but rather with a question about a conspiracy theory, and then he urges Zelensky to work not just with the proper conduit for investigations of election interference, Attorney General Bill Barr, but also with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani — the same man who Bossert said would “feed” him “all kinds of garbage,” including that conspiracy theory.

Trump was thus placing immense pressure on the government of Ukraine to validate a thoroughly debunked theory, and in so doing to place an even greater strain on American politics.

Amazingly enough, this wasn’t even the worst of the call. After dropping this whopper, Trump went on to smear Joseph Biden – insisting that Biden demanded the firing of Ukrainian prosecutor Victor Shokin to stop an investigation into Hunter Biden in 2016. The problems with that assertion are legion and well known: Shokin had stopped probing the owner of the firm for which Biden worked a year prior; the events under investigation were before Hunter Biden came on board; Biden was joined by nearly all the democratic world in demanding Shokin’s ouster (WaPo and Bloomberg).

In other words, the President of the United States used hundreds of millions in taxpayers’ money (in theory in the phone call and in practice by holding up Congressional appropriations) to strong-arm another nation into smearing his political opponents. As Tom Nichols put it (cited by yours truly last week): “If this, in itself, is not impeachable, then the concept has no meaning.”

As if that wasn’t enough, Trump has spent the last week threatening to execute the sources of the information provided in the initial whistleblower complaint on this matter – itself an impeachable offense on multiple fronts, as Nichols noted in USA Today.

I will acknowledge that I am the loudest Trump critic here on Bearing Drift (and, as far as I know, the only conservative Democrat among the editors and contributors). I am also aware that even if the House chooses to impeach the president, the Senate is likely to acquit him. That doesn’t mean the effort shouldn’t be taken. This kind of abuse of power must be resisted with every effort – even if the effort fails.

Donald Trump has attacked – and arguably destroyed – several of the constitutional “guard rails” that were supposed to limit him. He has used a fake national emergency to run roughshod over Congress’ power of the purse. He has defied court orders and Congressional subpoenas on a massive scale. He has used his EPA to cripple states rights in order to score political points against California …

… and now, it has been shown that he has been abusing the power of his office to roll a fellow democracy into smearing his political opponents.

The Founders specifically had behavior like this in mind from a president when they considered the Impeachment and Trial method of removing a president from office. Congress must use the tools given them by the Constitution to remove the threat of further abuses of power. This can only be done by impeaching, convicting, and removing Donald Trump.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Will Ukraine Shift the Never-Trump Ground on Impeachment?

by D.J. McGuire

House Democrats deciding whether or not to support impeaching President Trump have faced numerous pressures in either direction – usually, folks to their left all but demand, while those to their right forswear it.

One of the loudest impeachment-is-a-bad-idea factions has been the slowly dwindling but still influential group known as Never Trump Conservatives (of which, full disclosure, I still consider myself to be one). Then the Ukraine story hit (Washington Post):

A whistleblower complaint about President Trump made by an intelligence official centers on Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter, which has set off a struggle between Congress and the executive branch.

The complaint involved communications with a foreign leader and a “promise” that Trump made, which was so alarming that a U.S. intelligence official who had worked at the White House went to the inspector general of the intelligence community, two former U.S. officials said.

Two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed, Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian and political newcomer who was elected in a landslide in May.

That call is already under investigation by House Democrats who are examining whether Trump and his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani sought to manipulate the Ukrainian government into helping Trump’s reelection campaign.

In particular, there was concern about whether or not Trump tried to pressure Zelensky to rehash old and disproven charges surrounding the family of Joe Biden. That later became the explicit accusation (WaPo).

President Trump pressed the leader of Ukraine to investigate the son of former vice president Joe Biden in a call between the two leaders that is at the center of an extraordinary whistleblower complaint, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Trump used the July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to pressure the recently elected leader to pursue an investigation that Trump thought would deliver potential political dirt on one of his possible challengers in 2020, the people said.

The descriptions of the call provide the clearest indication to date that Trump sought to use the influence of his office to prod the leader of a country seeking American financial and diplomatic support to provide material that could aid the president’s reelection.

On one level, this was just one more log for the Trumpster-fire, as Trump supporters and opponents took their usual positions…

…except for Never Trump Conservatives, some of whom took the additional step of moving past their previous skepticism about impeachment.

For example, Max Boot (WaPo)…

Until now, I have been willing to accede to the judgment of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to go slow on impeachment proceedings that are unpopular with voters and could imperil the Democratic majority. But if the new scandal involving President Trump and Ukraine is as bad as it seems — and that is, of course, a very big if at this early stage — the House will have no choice but to impeach, consequences be damned.

…George Conway (WaPo)…

To borrow John Dean’s haunting Watergate-era metaphor once again, there is a cancer on the presidency, and cancers, if not removed, only grow. Congress bears the duty to use the tools provided by the Constitution to remove that cancer now, before it’s too late. As Elbridge Gerry put it at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, “A good magistrate will not fear [impeachments]. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.” By now, Congress should know which one Trump is.

…Tom Nichols (The Atlantic)…

If this, in itself, is not impeachable, then the concept has no meaning. Trump’s grubby commandeering of the presidency’s fearsome and nearly uncheckable powers in foreign policy for his own ends is a gross abuse of power and an affront both to our constitutional order and to the integrity of our elections.

…and none other than Rick Wilson himself, in reaction to ex-Congressman David Jolly’s recommendation for an impeachment inquiry: “We’re in new territory, and this is clearly the only way to move this past the WH/Barr/DNI obstruction.”

I am not going to say we should expect impeachment to happen tomorrow. The Ukraine story is evolving; people are reacting; and where predictions are concerned, I’m terrible.

am saying that one of the redoubts of the impeachment-is-mad argument appears to be coming down. Democrats in the House who have not yet decided to support it are less likely to hear Wilson et al warn against it. Indeed, they might hear encouragement for it from their right.

That makes impeachment more likely today than it was yesterday.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.