Friday, January 31, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He was oddly quiet about John Bolton.

The Senate voted, mostly along party lines, to spare Trump from having witnesses to his conduct in the Ukraine scandal testify in his impeachment trial. This, plus a party-line vote not to demand documentary evidence, means the trial is expected to conclude next Wednesday. 

Trump has been trashing the most damning potential witness, former national security advisor John Bolton, for about a week now. But today, the Trump White House was suddenly silent on Bolton. Administration spokesperson flatly refused to comment on whether Bolton has been threatened with legal action if he doesn't delete portions of his forthcoming book that might prove damaging to Trump. 

Trump ordered Bolton to join in the efforts to force Ukraine to announce an "investigation" into Joe Biden, according to new reporting today sourced to Bolton's book. Trump denied the claim when pressed on it by reporters, but Bolton identifies other senior White House aides who were also witnesses.

Bolton submitted his manuscript to the National Security Council, an executive branch agency, for a routine check for classified material. That means that the Trump administration knows what Bolton will say about Trump. But the overwhelming majority of Americans who supported calling witnesses at Trump's trial don't, and won't until Bolton's book is published.

Why does this matter?

  • People whose behavior was "perfect" generally don't need to suppress evidence and intimidate witnesses.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said replacing NAFTA with something very similar was his main reason for being president.

Trump visited Michigan today, a state he desperately needs to win in November if he is to be re-elected and prolong his temporary immunity from prosecution. He spoke about the USMCA, the replacement (or at least renaming) of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Trump called it "probably the number 1 reason that I decided to lead this crazy life that I’m leading right now."

Even allowing for normal standards of political exaggeration, though, this doesn't really make sense. The USMCA is, by all accounts, virtually the same thing overall as NAFTA. Much of what is different was put in not by Trump but by House Democrats—so much so that the Republican-controlled Senate tried to stall it

Most importantly to Michigan voters, the USMCA is not expected to have any real effects on the deepening recession in the manufacturing sector.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he gives out top national security jobs to unqualified people.

Trump has spent much of the last week fighting desperately to keep his former national security advisor John Bolton from testifying at the impeachment trial in the Senate. Bolton has said he is willing to testify, and excerpts from his book apparently leaked by the Trump administration directly contradict Trump’s claim that there were no witnesses to his alleged wrongdoing. 

Today, Trump issued a threat to Bolton and his publisher, warning them not to publish his forthcoming book about Trump. In the manuscript, Bolton details the “favors” that Trump did for the governments of Turkey and China. He also narrates how he watched Trump order that Ukrainian military aid be withheld until that country publicly announced an “investigation” into Joe Biden. 

Trump also tried a new approach on Twitter:

In other words, Trump is saying that he appointed Bolton to lead the United States’ national security policy, even though he thought Bolton would start unnecessary wars, because Bolton “begged” him.

Bolton joins a long list of people who Trump claims—after the fact—“begged” him for things. It also includes other Republicans like special counsel Robert Mueller, and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) as well as Democrats like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Polls released in the last week are showing as much as 80% support for having witnesses testify at Trump’s impeachment trial. A Navigator poll released yesterday shows 82% of Americans want Bolton specifically to testify. 

Why is this a bad thing?

  • It’s bad if a president admits he gives out powerful jobs as favors to people he thinks will do a bad job.
  • Freedom of speech is more important than any president’s political needs. 
  • Defendants don’t need to like the witnesses testifying against them for the testimony to be important.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He cheered on abuse of reporters.

Last Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had an interview with National Public Radio's Mary Louise Kelly that didn't go well for him. Pompeo had hoped to talk about Iran, but Kelly asked about his support of State Department personnel in light of what the Trump administration—and Trump's private associates—had done to the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. 

After the interview concluded, Pompeo summoned Kelly to a private room and berated her. He cursed at her and asked her, "Do you really think Americans care about Ukraine?" He also demanded that she identify Ukraine on an unmarked map. Kelly, who has a master's degree in European studies from Cambridge, did so. She then reported on the encounter, prompting Pompeo to lash out again, calling her a liar and saying she'd broken a promise not to ask about Ukraine. (Kelly provided proof that she had made no such promise.)

Pompeo also released a statement in which he insinuated—but wouldn't say directly—that Kelly pointed to Bangladesh, an Asian country thousands of miles from Ukraine, on his surprise map quiz. He then barred another NPR reporter, Michele Kelemen, from participating in the press pool for an upcoming overseas trip.

Trump, who has a long history himself of losing his temper when challenged by women, singled Pompeo out for praise today at a White House event this morning. "Very impressive, Mike," he said, adding that Pompeo "did a good job on her."

As a prominent critic of the administration noted afterwards, Trump would have been unlikely to pass Pompeo's test. He has gotten incredibly basic facts about wrong even since taking office: putting Ireland in the United Kingdom, accusing Baltic leaders to their faces of war crimes committed by countries in the Balkans, and telling the prime minister of India that that country does not share a border with China. (It does, it's several thousand miles long, and it's a hugely important factor in the relationship between the two countries.)

So what?

  • Attacking the free press for doing its job is what authoritarians do.
  • Presidents who tolerate cowardly and vindictive appointees are responsible for their actions.

Monday, January 27, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about John Bolton's potential testimony.

Trump didn't get much sleep last night, to judge from his late-night and early-morning tweets, which were on the subject of John Bolton, his former national security advisor. Bolton is, by his own account, a witness to Trump explicitly tying anti-Russia military aid to Ukraine to that government announcing an "investigation" into Joe Biden. 

This morning, Trump tweeted this:

The House did ask Bolton to testify, and set up an appointment for him to do so. Trump himself ordered that Bolton and other executive branch officials not testify. Bolton then said that, if the House subpoenaed him, he would ask a court to decide whether he should obey the summons or not—a legal process that would still be underway long after the actual trial currently taking place in the Senate would be over.

Even if Trump's version were true, though, there is no reason that Bolton couldn't testify now. It is "up to" the Senate to conduct the trial as it sees fit. Trump, like any defendant, doesn't get to tell the court how to try him.

The overwhelming majority of Americans want evidence Trump has withheld and witnesses, like Bolton, that he has blocked from testifying to appear at his Senate trial. This is an even higher number than the roughly half of Americans who already support Trump's removal from office for his abuse of power and cover-up.

Why should I care about this?

  • It's wrong for presidents to lie to the American people.
  • Innocent people do not try to block witnesses to their "perfect" behavior.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

Stochastic terrorism.

Trump tweeted out a not-too-veiled threat about the "price" Rep. Adam Schiff would pay for leading the impeachment case against him.

This is not the first time that Trump has tried to stir up violence against political opponents, while hiding behind the technicality that he could conceivably have meant something else. He's done it at least twice with the whistleblower whose report through official channels of Trump's misdeeds in Ukraine started the whole process in the first place.

Trump also knows that this kind of threat, also known as "lone wolf" terrorism, works. He and his campaign have promoted the "QAnon" hoax, which led to a shooting at a DC area restaurant. One of his followers mailed pipe bombs to a list of media outlets and government officials that Trump attacked. 

Racist and anti-semitic domestic terrorism, committed by the white nationalist fringe that Trump has welcomed into his base, has also increased dramatically on Trump's watch. 

Why does this matter?

Saturday, January 25, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tweeted out impeachment poll numbers that don't mean what he thinks they do.

Today, Trump retweeted a story about an impeachment poll. Unusually for Trump, the poll in question is a real one (Harris/The Hill). But it's unlikely Trump read the story—or understood it if he did—because it is not good news for him.

The poll, released earlier this week, showed that 60% of Americans did not believe that Trump's trial in the Senate would result in "new and important information" coming out. 

Those 60% may very well be correct: Trump has repeatedly refused to allow potentially incriminating testimony or evidence to be released to Congress or revealed publicly, which is why one of the impeachment articles against him is for obstruction of Congress. 

But an overwhelming majority of Americans want new information to be revealed, in the form of subpoenas for witnesses and documents. 66% of Americans want to hear from witnesses, according to the most recent poll on the question.

In other words, whether he realizes it or not, Trump is gloating that he's convinced a majority of Americans that he'll get away with keeping "new and important" evidence and testimony secret. This echoes comments he made earlier in the week, predicting his acquittal because of what his defense team had managed to keep hidden: "We have all the material. They don’t have the material."

Why is this a bad thing?

  • People who are innocent do not conceal evidence or block witnesses who can exonerate them.

Friday, January 24, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to explain why he ordered a private citizen he supposedly doesn't know to "get rid of" a U.S. ambassador.

ABC News reported today on an audio recording in which Trump demands that Lev Parnas, one of his operatives in the Ukraine scandal, do something about then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it,” Trump said on the recording.

Excerpts of the recording begin at 0:45 in this ABC News video:

Yovanovitch was a non-political appointee with an anti-corruption portfolio. Trump's operatives, led by his personal fixer Rudy Giuliani, were concerned that she would become an obstacle to their plans to try to force the Ukrainian government to intervene in the 2020 election. She was physically and possibly electronically surveilled by Giuliani's associates. 

Trump himself hinted in the July 25th call, in which he presented his demands for Ukraine's "investigation" of his political rival, that Yovanovitch was "going to go through some things." Later, Giuliani bragged to reporters about having engineered her removal.

All of this was known before the recording surfaced—but Trump directly telling Parnas to "take her out" contradicts his previous explanations. Trump had insisted, documentary and photographic evidence to the contrary, that he didn't know Parnas, who is under indictment for illegally funneling foreign money to American political campaigns. 

Asked in a Fox News interview today to explain himself in light of the recording, Trump at first repeated his insistence that he didn't know Parnas—which wouldn't explain why the two were having dinner together, or why Trump was discussing such sensitive matters in front of a stranger. 

Pressed on the point, Trump hesitated. He started to say, "Well, I wouldn't have been saying that"—although the recording would be proof that he did. He stumbled briefly, then suggested he had perhaps been talking to Giuliani instead. 

Though the interviewer directly raised the point, Trump refused to explain why Giuliani, Parnas, or any other private citizens would be involved in internal State Department business. The real reason, made clear by the impeachment investigation, is that Trump's private operatives were trying to work around career State Department officials who were horrified at seeing Trump attempt to force Ukraine's government into corrupt actions.

Why should I care about this?

  • Because it is evidence from Trump's own mouth confirming the worst version of the events for which he has been impeached.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He summed up most of the lies he's told about the impeachment process in one tweet.

As of 9:00 p.m. Washington time tonight, Trump had tweeted 25 times. That's just about his average tweet-rate lately, and fell far short of yesterday's record-setting rage-fest of 142 tweets. One in particular summed up most of the rest on the subject of his ongoing impeachment trial.

Literally no part of this is true.

Specifically, Trump was invited to take part in the impeachment hearings, and to be represented by lawyers. Trump refused.

The House impeachment panels subpoenaed Trump's chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney. He refused to appear, citing orders from Trump. The House also requested that Trump's former national security advisor John Bolton testify, but did not force the issue after Bolton threatened to delay any subpoena in court.  

As Daniel Goldman, an attorney working for the impeachment inquiry, testified before the House Judiciary Committee in December:

Following President Trump’s order, not a single document was produced by the White House, the Office of the Vice President, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, or the Department of Energy in response to 71 specific, individualized requests or subpoenas. In total, 12 witnesses did not appear for their scheduled testimony before the Committees, and 10 of those individuals defied duly-authorized subpoenas. 

Three of the witnesses who testified before the impeachment inquiry in the House were ones that House Republicans requested on behalf of the White House: National Security Council advisor Timothy Morrison, former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and State Department official David Hale.

All of this happened in public. As is often the case, it's not clear whether Trump genuinely doesn't know that what he's saying is false, or simply thinks his supporters won't know any better.

Why does this matter?

  • This is not something that the President of the United States can afford to be confused or a liar about.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He thought the United States' federal debt was like a mortgage.

While on trial in the Senate, Trump is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Today, amidst billionaires and Nobel Prize-winning economists, he said this:

TRUMP: And one of the reasons I'd like to see the interest rates lowered, frankly, is because I'd like to refinance the debt and pay off the debt.

U.S. federal debt cannot be refinanced.

Trump is confusing bonds issued by the Treasury with callable debt. This is debt that, like many mortgages, can be paid back early or renegotiated. When interest rates go down, homeowners can use that ability to repay in advance—with money borrowed at the new rate, if necessary—to negotiate with banks.

But federal debt is not callable. It's a legal obligation to pay a fixed rate over a fixed period of time to whoever owns it at any given moment. Even if interest rates fall to zero, existing bonds (which may not mature for up to 30 years) issued at 2% or 3% cannot be replaced with bonds paying 0%. Instead, the government would have to overpay by repurchasing the higher-rate bonds.

The only way that the United States could pay less than its legal obligation would be to default, which would have immediate and catastrophic consequences for the world economy. (Trump, whose companies have failed to pay their debts many times, has threatened to do exactly that with the United States' credit.)

The real reason that Trump wants the Federal Reserve to slash interest rates because low rates flood the economy with money, at the cost of making future recessions harder to avoid.  (It also makes him personally richer, since he is carrying enormous amounts of callable debt, meaning he personally can refinance it and save money.)

That said, it's not the first time Trump has made this elementary mistake. He appears to genuinely believe that a Treasury bond and a bank mortgage are the same thing—or, at least, he seems to be gambling that his supporters will not know the difference.

Why is this a problem?

  • The United States economy is too important for a president to be making this kind of simple mistake over and over again.
  • Presidents should be willing and able to put the country's financial interests ahead of their own.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he "saved" historically black colleges, whose funding has decreased sharply on his watch.

While Trump's defense lawyers made heroic efforts in the Senate to protect him from having to submit evidence or allow witnesses in his impeachment trial, Trump himself was in Switzerland. 

His speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos was packed with self-congratulation—most of it either factually inaccurate or misleading. Trump seemed to have difficulty reading the script, and while he occasionally engaged in some of his usual ad-libbing, it looked as though he were just marking time until he found his place in his prepared remarks again.

One of the most bizarre moments came when Trump was discussing areas with high poverty, and then immediately pivoted to the subject of historically black colleges and universities. (The segue probably made sense to Trump: many times during his presidency, he has said things that make clear he's assuming that all black people live in poverty and all poor neighborhoods are black.) Then, he said he'd "saved" HBCUs:

We created nearly 9,000 Opportunity Zones in distressed communities where capital gains on long-term investments are now taxed at zero, and tremendous wealth is pouring into areas that for a hundred years saw nothing. The 35 million Americans who live in these areas have already seen their home values rise by more than $22 billion.  My administration has also made historic investments in historically black colleges and universities.  I saved HCBUs [sic].  We saved them.  They were going out, and we saved them.

The only real clue as to what this might have meant comes from a speech he gave at an HBCU conference last September, where he made some vague claims about having been "bigger and better and stronger" than previous administrations on the subject. In reality, though, Trump hasn't really done much beyond preside over a huge decrease in federal science funding for HBCUs, and taking credit for administering loans that they would have been legally entitled to anyway. As one of the many organizations doing fact-checks of the Davos speech put it:

Trump signed a law in December restoring money that lapsed for several months when Congress failed to reauthorize some $255 million in financing on time. The money came back because Senate education leaders reached a compromise on a broader dispute that had entangled financing for black schools. 
Neither the lapse nor the restoration was directly tied in any way to the Trump administration. 
The Trump administration generally has supported historically black colleges, as previous administrations have done, and it's true that such schools have faced financial struggles and some have closed. The Trump administration has expanded access to federal support for black schools with religious affiliations and in 2018 forgave federal loans given to several of them after hurricanes. 
But this segment of university education was not vanishing and Trump is not its savior.

Why should I care about this?

  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.
  • Declaring yourself the savior of African-Americans isn't a great idea even if you're not Donald Trump.

Monday, January 20, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to add Martin Luther King, Jr., to his impeachment defense team.

Trump spent most of the day dedicated to honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., dealing with his forthcoming impeachment trial. He attacked Democrats for failing to call John Bolton to testify during their impeachment hearings—because Trump himself claimed a fictional privilege of "absolute immunity" and threatened to file lawsuits that would outlast his term as president to prevent Bolton from taking the stand. He also saw his allies in the Senate move to adopt rules that would sideline any damaging witnesses or evidence—even testimony and evidence that the House did manage to pry loose.

But he did acknowledge King twice. He took a trip to the King Memorial spent at least one full minute in the presence of the monument. The press pool was hustled away from the scene within two minutes, and the motorcade spent a total of nine minutes on site. Trump did not speak or take questions.

He also invoked King via his surrogate Kellyanne Conway. Asked how Trump was spending the holiday—the nine-minute trip had not been announced at that point—Conway responded:

Well, I can tell you the president... agrees with many of the things that Dr. Martin Luther King stood for, and agreed with for many years – including unity and equality, and he’s not the one trying to tear the country apart through an impeachment process and a lack of substance that is really very shameful at this point. I’ve held my opinion on it for a very long time, but when you see the articles of impeachment that came out, I don’t think it was Dr. King’s vision to have Americans dragged through a process where the president is not going to be removed from office, is not being charged with bribery, extortion, high crimes and misdemeanors. And I think that anybody who cares about ‘and justice for all’ on today or any day of the year will appreciate the fact that the president will have a full throttle defense on the facts, and everybody should have that.

Trump has also said that even being investigated for abuse of power and trying to cover it up is like a "lynching." But he does have a track record on civil rights. It includes:

Why does this matter?

  • It's not a great look for the most powerful man in the world to be playing the victim to this extent.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he shouldn't be removed from office even if he did everything he's accused of.

On Saturday, Trump's legal team released a formal response to the impeachment articles drafted by the House of Representatives. Today, Trump sent one of his impeachment defense lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, out to make the case on ABC News' This Week. Dershowitz is a criminal defense lawyer whose career has been built on engineering acquittals for unpopular clients

Dershowitz began by explicitly refusing to agree with Trump's official response, which contains a number of Constitutional claims that are not widely regarded as plausible outside of Trump's immediate vicinity. As the Washington Post reported:

Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard Law emeritus professor who recently joined President Trump’s legal team, distanced himself Sunday from a response by two White House lawyers to House Democrats’ impeachment case against the president, noting that he did not sign onto the document.

“I didn’t sign that brief,” Dershowitz said in an interview on ABC News’s “This Week.” “I didn’t even see the brief until after it was filed. That’s not part of my mandate. My mandate is to determine what is a constitutionally authorized criteria for impeachment.”
Dershowitz also refused to say whether he thought Trump had done anything wrong. While shocking to hear from the man who amounts to Trump's criminal defense lawyer, it may be smart politics. Huge majorities of Americans want to hear witnesses and have evidence produced at his trial, but Trump gains nothing from actually discussing the facts of the case.

Dershowitz's main argument was that assuming Trump had done everything he's accused of, it still wouldn't warrant impeachment.
Trump is accused of trying to blackmail a foreign country into announcing a fake investigation into of one of the people running against him in the 2020 election, and then trying to cover it up by withholding evidence from Congress. 

Why should I care about this?

  • If what Trump is accused of isn't grounds for impeachment, then nothing is. 
  • The President fo the United States should hold himself to a higher standard than criminals.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said seawalls were for protecting foreign golf courses, not New York City.

Trump, for some reason, chose today to weigh in on an Army Corps of Engineers proposal to build a series of man-made islands and sea gates to protect New York City from the worst effects of storm surges. 

The Corps, like all Defense Department agencies, treats climate change as an urgent national security threat. The $119 billion (not $200 billion) proposal has been around since 2018, but is still in the preliminary stages and has not been approved by Congress. It's not clear why Trump suddenly decided to start paying attention, or why he thinks he knows better than the Army Corps of Engineers.

Trump doesn't always think that seawalls to protect property against climate change are a bad idea. He asked local officials in Ireland for permission to build a seawall in front of Trump Doonbeg, a golf resort on the Atlantic coast. The application repeatedly cited the threat posed by increased storm surges and beach erosion as a result of climate change.

Why is this a problem?

  • Presidents who won't or can't listen to experts can't do their jobs.

Friday, January 17, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He named the rest of his impeachment defense team.

On Tuesday, Trump announced that he'd be represented at his impeachment trial by his lawyer, Jay Sekulow. The same day, Sekulow was revealed by newly-released evidence to be a fact witness to the very things Trump is accused of, if not a co-conspirator.

Trump continued the theme today by adding Pam Bondi to his defense team. She, too, has a connection to a Trump/Ukraine co-conspirator, but she and Trump also have a deeper legal history together. His now-defunct "charity," the Trump Foundation, made an illegal campaign contribution of $25,000 to Bondi in 2013. At the same time, Bondi—then Attorney General of Florida—decided not to join in a lawsuit against Trump's fake "university." 

It's against the law for charitable organizations to contribute to political campaigns, and it's illegal for politicians to make decisions about prosecutions based on who has given them money.

Both the Trump Foundation and Trump University were eventually shut down as a result of other states' lawsuits against them. Trump paid millions of dollars in fines and settlements in each case.

Why does this matter?

  • Innocent people can generally manage to find a lawyer to defend them who isn't implicated in their alleged crimes.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He complained about impeachment on a day when multiple government agencies implicated him or his associates in crimes.

Trump had this reaction to the formal start of his impeachment trial in the Senate:

Strictly speaking, he was impeached a month ago, and not just for the phone call—also for trying to hide evidence and silence witnesses about the thing the phone call was about.

Also, within the last 24 hours:
  • the Government Accounting Office, a nonpartisan agency of the U.S. government, released a report saying that the Trump administration had broken the law by illegally withholding military aid to Ukraine. This was Trump's leverage in his attempt to force Ukraine to announce that it would investigate Joe Biden for corruption.
  • the FBI interviewed Robert Hyde, who apparently had former Marie Yovanovitch stalked as part of Trump's lawyer's efforts to gin up the investigation against Joe Biden that culminated in that "perfect phone call."
  • another one of Giuliani's Ukraine contacts, Lev Parnas, explicitly accused Trump of trying to bribe a Ukrainian gas billionaire, Dmitriy Firtash, with an offer of dropping criminal charges against him. In exchange, Firtash was expected to come up with politically damaging material against Trump's political rival Joe Biden, or special counsel Robert Mueller.

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents who get implicated in at least three crimes by three different law enforcement agencies in two countries and one of their own co-conspirators in a single day probably shouldn't be surprised that they get impeached.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He complained that the House hadn't heard from witnesses he'd blocked them from hearing.

Immediately after he was impeached, Trump publicly clamored for a big, showy, dramatic impeachment trial—something his defenders in the Senate thought was a bad idea. Recently, though, as more and more damning information has come to light, Trump has become worried about what an actual trial in the Senate would reveal. He is now demanding an immediate dismissal and promising to try to prevent witnesses from appearing.

Meanwhile, Republican senators are now almost entirely unwilling to vote to dismiss the impeachment counts against him, for the same reason.

Today, in an effort to create the false impression that impeachment trials don't involve witnesses and evidence, Trump complained via tweet that "all of this work"—that is, the deposition of witnesses and the presentation of evidence against him—"was supposed to be done by the House, not the Senate!" 

The second article of impeachment against Trump is for obstruction of Congress, for refusing to allow witnesses to testify before the House, or comply with subpoenas.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Presidents aren't above the law, and they're certainly not above the Constitution.
  • No innocent person has ever tried to prevent witnesses who could exonerate them from testifying.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He announced his lawyers for the impeachment trial, one of whom was (at least) a witness to what he's being impeached for.

Today, Trump announced through staff that he would be represented by several lawyers at his forthcoming impeachment trial in the Senate. They are White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, his deputies Michael Purpura and Patrick Philbin, and Trump's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow. 

Nothing about these choices was particularly surprising when they were reported this morning. And then this evening, the House Intelligence Committee released documents (available here and here) provided by Lev Parnas, the Trump associate and client/employee of Trump's "fixer" Rudy Giuliani who is under indictment for his role in the Ukraine scandal.

The documents, which news organizations are still working through, contain several bombshells. The most alarming of them deal with the efforts that the Trump/Giuliani/Parnas team took to have the then-Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, physically stalked and possibly put in physical danger. (Yovanovitch, a non-political appointee, was fired from that position by Trump after Giuliani became concerned that she would oppose his backchannel attempts to pressure the Ukrainian president to interfere in the 2020 election.)

But the documents released tonight also implicate Jay Sekulow, or at least make him a witness to Giuliani's adventures in Ukraine. Giuliani wanted to obtain a U.S. visa for Viktor Shokin, a former Ukrainian prosecutor widely regarded as corrupt and forced out by pressure from the Obama administration. When he couldn't get one through normal channels, he directed Shokin to contact Sekulow. Presumably Giuliani thought Sekulow might be able to convince Trump to bend the rules for someone who might be willing to take part in the plot to pressure the Ukrainian government.

In short, Trump intends to be represented in his impeachment trial by a lawyer who is at the very least a fact witness to the behavior he's being impeached for.

Why should I care about this?

  • Innocent people can generally manage to find a lawyer to defend them who isn't implicated in their alleged crimes.
  • Stalking witnesses is what mob bosses do.

Monday, January 13, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to take credit for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Today, Trump tweeted this:
Mini Mike Bloomberg is spending a lot of money on False Advertising. I was the person who saved preexisting Conditions in your Healthcare, you have it now, while at the same time winning the fight to rid you of the expensive, unfair and very unpopular Individual Mandate.........and, if Republicans win in court and take back the House of Representatives, your healthcare, that I have now brought to the best place in many years, will become the best ever, by far. I will always protect your Pre-Existing Conditions, the Dems will not!
Put another way, Trump is claiming that he "saved" the provision in the Affordable Care Act of 2010 that prevents health insurance companies for denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

In reality, Trump supported (failed) bills that would have substantially weakened that provision. He also called for the straight repeal of the ACA in 2017, with no replacement, arguing that it would force Democrats to negotiate a new bill in order to protect people who would be hurt by the repeal.

The Trump administration is also supporting a lawsuit, now headed for the Supreme Court, which is attempting to get the entire ACA declared unconstitutional—including the pre-existing conditions portion. This is the "win in court" he referenced today, but he doesn't want to win too quickly: Trump pleaded with the court this week not to take it up until after the 2020 election.

In other words, Trump is literally saying that he holds exactly the opposite position than the one he does, and is accusing "Dems" of trying to do what he is actually doing.

Why should I care about this?

  • Even by Trump's standards, this shows a lot of contempt for the people he thinks are dumb enough to believe him.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He basically admitted he'd lied in his most recent version of why he ordered the assassination of an Iranian general.

Ever since Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general, was assassinated by drone strike on Trump's orders on January 2, Trump has struggled to offer a reason as to what (other than his own political situation) made it necessary. The official White House explanation has shifted wildly ever since, and classified Congressional briefings given after the fact left members of both parties furious over their lack of substance. 

On Thursday of this past week, Trump declared that Soleimani was involved in a plot to "blow up" an American embassy. 

Then, in an interview on Friday with Laura Ingraham of Fox News, Trump said that Soleimani was planning to destroy not one but four American embassies. (Neither version of Trump's story about embassy attacks made it into the top-secret briefing that senators got on Wednesday.)

Today, Defense Secretary Mark Esper made the rounds of Sunday talk shows and admitted that Trump's claim about multiple embassy attacks was not based on "evidence" but rather Trump's "belief" that such a thing could happen. 

Since there is no chance that Esper would make such an admission without Trump's approval, this essentially amounts to Trump admitting that he was making it up.

Trump's decision to kill Soleimani has led directly to the Iraqi parliament voting to expel American troops, and Iran's withdrawal from the arms control agreement that was holding back its development of nuclear weapons. 

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Presidents who have a good reason for the things they do don't need to make up fake ones.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He confused his approval and disapproval ratings, then bragged about them.

Trump tweeted a boast about his approval rating this morning.

In reality, his disapproval number is 53%, as of yesterday's average of scientific polls by  

As usual, Trump didn't cite his own sources—or explain what "the Trump 'thing'" was. Even the traditionally Trump-friendly Rasmussen poll, which he has cited in the past as a rare example of good polling news, has more Americans disapproving than approving of Trump as president.

Normally it's difficult to tell if Trump is simply inventing stories about how popular he is, or is genuinely fooled by his own campaign's "push-polling," a form of intentionally biased polling meant to make candidates seem more popular than they are.

But Trump is known to have been keeping a close eye on impeachment polls, and since far more Americans favor removing him from office outright than think he should be allowed to serve out his term, he probably knew that a 53% approval rating was a lie.

Who cares?

  • One good way to be more popular as President is to actually do things that Americans approve of.
  • Most people learn by about third grade that bragging about how popular you are is not a sign of popularity.

Friday, January 10, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he'd try to block John Bolton from testifying in his impeachment trial.

It has been less than a month since Trump was impeached for abusing power by trying to force the government of Ukraine to help him in the 2020 election, and for obstruction of Congress by trying to cover it up. For much of that time, Trump has at least pretended to welcome the trial in the Senate, and—contrary to his own party's efforts to protect him—has said he wanted witnesses called. 

In this, at least, history would be on Trump's side. Every one of the fifteen other impeachment trials ever conducted, whether of a president or lesser officials, has involved testimony from witnesses.

But in an interview airing tonight with Laura Ingraham of Fox News, Trump flip-flopped on whether witnesses were a good thing—at least when the witness might actually be able to incriminate him. Trump said he would try to prevent John Bolton, his former national security advisor who objected to the "drug deal," as he called it, of Trump's political appointees trying to force Ukraine to declare a phony investigation of Joe Biden's son in order to influence the election.

Bolton, a conservative Republican, said earlier this week he would obey a subpoena to testify in the Senate trial. It's not clear whether Trump can muster up enough Republican votes in the Senate to write the rules in a way that would allow him to escape having witnesses called at his trial.

Why should I care about this?

  • In the history of trials, no one has ever tried to block the testimony of a witness who could exonerate them.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He accused Democrats of taking a page from his playbook.

Trump held a campaign rally tonight, the second he has held since being impeached for his efforts to get Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election. He used it to claim that the reason he refused to inform Congressional leaders about his assassination attack on an Iranian general in Iraq was that they would have leaked the news. "We’re having people like Nancy Pelosi…they’re all trying to say, ‘How dare you take him out that way? You should get permission from Congress…so that we can call up the “fake news” that’s back there and we can leak it,'" Trump said.

There is real irony in Trump accusing Democrats of leaking sensitive military information. Just before the Soleimani attack, he tipped off his Mar-a-Lago customers that "something big" was going to happen with Iran—which was not even the first time that paying to have dinner near Trump resulted in military secrets being exposed. Trump also accidentally revealed the identity and methods of Israeli spies to Russia, The CIA was even forced to retire a spy deep within the Putin regime in Russia for fear that Trump had exposed them—or would.

In reality, Democrats—and Republicans—in Congress were furious because Congress has a legal right to be briefed in advance about military actions it hasn't authorized. Trump's apparent inability to explain why the strike was ordered in the first place—he changed his story yet again today—has led some to suspect that he saw it as a way to distract from his impeachment

Trump has been trying hard, but with limited success, to get the image of himself as a hero for the Soleimani assassination to catch on. Trump has promoted Soleimani as the "top terrorist" in the world, but fewer than 40% of Americans approve of the order to have him killed. Worse, for Trump, Americans believe by a better than 2-to-1 margin that Trump's assassination of him made the country less safe.

So what?

  • It's wrong to accuse other people of disloyal or stupid acts you've committed yourself.
  • Campaigning on an unpopular military strike with disastrous immediate consequences is beneath the presidency.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to shift the blame for losing Iraq to Iran.

Trump addressed the nation today, beginning with a demand that Americans be "grateful and happy" for his handling of the crisis unfolding in Iran and Iraq. 

The speech was riddled with factual errors and lies. Trump said that the United States didn't need Middle Eastern oil anymore, but in reality almost 20% of American oil consumption comes from that region. He got both the beginning (2015, not 2013) and ending dates (2040, not "shortly") of the Iran nuclear agreement wrong. He claimed that to have "completely rebuilt" the entire military, which could mean anything but can't really be true regardless.

But most of Trump's lies or errors were aimed at trying to shift the blame for the debacle to President Obama. In particular, he said that "The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for by the funds made available by the last administration." 

This just isn't true.

Trump has made little secret of his hatred for Obama, or his desire to destroy his predecessor's legislative and diplomatic achievements, if only to limit the credit that Obama gets for them. Last year, Trump withdrew the United States from the deal that limited the amount of enriched uranium Iran could produce, an amount enforced and monitored by international inspectors. (Enriched uranium can be used either for generating energy, or as a precursor to building nuclear weapons.) 

Iran was complying in spite of Trump's actions until this week.

Many observers have wondered if the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general, was Trump's way of—somewhat successfully—distracting from his recent impeachment over his attempts to force Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election. He accused President Obama of doing exactly that, too, in 2011. (Obama won re-election in 2012 without going to war with Iran.)

Those suspicions were deepened today when, in a "briefing" six days after the fact for members of Congress, he refused to allow the Defense Department to actually say what imminent threat Soleimani represented. Even Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), normally a staunch defender of Trump, called it the "worst briefing on a military issue" he'd ever seen. Lee said that no evidence of any threat was presented, which fits with the similar lack of explanation for his actions that Trump has offered the American people.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Sen. Lee was visibly furious at the Trump administration's claim, delivered in the classified session, that for Congress to even discuss its constitutional responsibility to control Trump's ability to launch attacks would somehow weaken the United States. As he put it:

I find this insulting and demeaning to the Constitution of the United States. It's un-American. It's unconstitutional. And it's wrong. ...They are appearing before a coordinate branch of government responsible for their funding, for their confirmation, for any approval of any military action they might take. They had to leave after 75 minutes while they were in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and not debate this in public. I find that to be absolutely insane. I think it's unacceptable.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong for Presidents to lie to the American people, especially about something this important.
  • The most powerful person in the world probably ought to be able to take responsibility for his own actions.
  • The United States is not weakened by following the Constitution, even if it might hurt the president's political needs.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said that all was well.

Trump's first and so far only reaction to news that Iran had hit Iraqi military bases housing American troops with a dozen or more ballistic missiles was to tweet, "All is well!"

Americans' immediate reaction to the oddly cheerful tweet was generally unkind.

Because Iran launched the missiles from its own territory—and, as experts immediately pointed out, because they were likely aiming to avoid places where people might be—American forces would have had ample warning to head to fortified bases. In that light, Trump may have trying to suggest that there were no Americans killed in the attacks. (As of 11:30 p.m. EST, no announcement about casualties had been made public yet.) 

Otherwise, Trump cannot be happy with what has happened on the ground in Iraq and Iran in the five days since he ordered the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. In less than a week, he essentially lost Iraq. Soleimani was popular with the mostly-Shiite Iraqi militias fighting the Islamic State. The Iraqi government, which wasn't warned that Soleimani would be killed on their territory, responded almost instantly with a vote in Parliament to expel American troops. (The Iraqi government doubled down on that reaction again today.)

In the same short period, Iran has also used the conflict as an excuse to begin enriching uranium, which is the first step in creating nuclear weapons.

And while Trump pleasantly surprised some observers with his weirdly calm reaction—far better than the alternative—he's also losing face. Iran's attack came with a threat, delivered in English via Twitter, that if the United States responded further, they would attack Israel and Dubai. Any such attack on unrelated countries would also be a war crime, but Iran's military—while large and effective—is much more likely to actually carry out such an order than the United States armed forces would be.

In other words, by pretending he wasn't upset at having American troops attacked and being dared not to respond, Trump may be doing the only thing he can do in the situation he got himself into: declaring victory and changing the subject.

Why should I care about this?

  • Nothing that gives enemy nations this much of an advantage in this short a period of time is a good thing.
  • Telling people "all is well" when they know it isn't is pretty insulting.

Monday, January 6, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He found time in his busy schedule to claim he was too busy to be impeached.

Today, Trump had his first working day in the Oval Office since December 20, 2019, which lasted at least through a 1:00 p.m. lunch with Vice-President Mike Pence. But he began the day as usual on Twitter, and specifically by arguing that he was too "busy" to be impeached.

Trump spent the previous seventeen days at his luxury resort in Florida, and on thirteen of them spent the better part of the day at his golf course. During that time, his public schedule had zero official activities and only scattered political and social appearances. 

Of course, Trump wasn't completely idle during this period: he did order the assassination of an Iranian military leader—something his tweet today makes clear he hopes will push his impeachment out of the news. 

But the confusion and disarray in the administration's response to the aftermath doesn't make it seem like Trump is spending much time trying to work the problem. Even Trump's staunchest supporters don't seem to be able to agree on why Trump ordered the attack, what he hoped to achieve, or whether he had any good idea of what the consequences would be.

Today saw an embarrassing example of that. The commanding general of American forces in Iraq drafted a letter to the Iraqi government, dated today, in which he explained his plans for his troops' "movement out of Iraq" in "due deference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq." The Iraqi parliament voted on Sunday to expel US forces. Gen. William Seely closed by acknowledging that "we respect your sovereign decision to order our departure." It was only after the letter was leaked to the press that the Defense Department walked back the letter. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, said that Seely's letter was "poorly phrased" and was only a draft—in spite of the fact that it appears to have actually been sent to some Iraqi leaders. 

While this was unfolding, Trump was indeed "busy"—campaigning for re-election on a radio show.

Why should this matter?

  • Commander-in-chief is a job, not just a title.
  • Presidents aren't above the law, even if they're "busy."
  • Busy people generally don't have time to play golf 13 times in 17 days.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He found an interesting way to get the United States out of the "endless war" in Iraq.

Trump ended the seventeen-day Florida segment of his holiday vacation today, although not before getting in one visit to the golf course (his thirteenth of the trip). He has observed what, for Trump, is an eerie radio silence today, tweeting only once before 7 p.m. and avoiding reporters in a situation where he normally tries to find a camera. 

The reason for the reticence is probably that he managed to lose Iraq and Iran on the same day.

Trump's assassination of the Iranian military leader Qassim Soleimani took place on Iraqi soil. Soleimani had been visiting the anti-ISIS militias that Iran had supported in recent years. Today, the Iraqi parliament—which until now had welcomed American troops—voted to expel them. It is a stunning rejection by a democratically elected government that the United States essentially founded, even as Trump administration officials begged Iraqi legislators not to go through with it.

The vote, taken by under interim leadership, is not legally binding until it's ratified by a permanent government. But as the State Department announced today, the deteriorating relationship with the formerly friendly Iraqi government has forced the United States to abandon its own anti-ISIS partnerships in the country.

Asked about the vote on the way back to Washington, Trump responded with a threat to impose sanctions "like they've never seen before ever" on Iraq. Again, Iraq's government was (at least until today) a strategic ally of the United States.

Also today, Iran announced it would no longer restrict the amount of enriched uranium—which can be used to make nuclear weapons—that it would produce. Under the 2015 deal brokered between the United States, Iran, and five other countries, Iran was abiding by strict limits on the amount and type of nuclear fuel it was producing. Even after Trump yanked the United States out of the agreement in 2018 and reimposed economic sanctions—gaining nothing but the ability to say he had done so, and threatening America's closest military allies for not following suit—Iran continued to comply. 

So what?

  • It's bad to give an enemy nation an excuse to develop nuclear weapons.
  • When voters heard Trump say he wanted to pull the United States out of "endless wars," they probably didn't think he meant by having a formerly friendly government kick us out.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened a war crime.

Trump issued a bizarrely specific threat to Iran via Twitter today:

Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have.........targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.

There is almost certainly no such list of 52 targets—or at least not one that actual military commanders will take seriously in the event of further hostilities. The United States military does not draw up attack plans based on numerical symbolism.

No matter what Trump says, it is extremely unlikely that American military personnel will follow any order to attack sites "important to Iranian culture." Not only would this almost certainly involve attacking civilians directly—a war crime—it is also a war crime to target sites of cultural significance. In fact, the most recent UN resolution on the subject passed the Security Council with U.S. approval while Trump was president.

Even in much more serious military conflicts than the one Trump is trying to provoke with Iran, the United States military has a proud history of respecting and attempting to preserve culturally significant sites in warfare.

Why does this matter?

  • The honor and integrity of the United States is more important than the president's need to act tough.
  • This doesn't make Trump or the United States look strong.

Friday, January 3, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He ordered American troops into, and American civilians out of, the place he said he'd made safer.

Yesterday, Trump ordered the assassination of an Iranian military leader, Qassim Suleimani, who was traveling in Iraq at the time. Trump kept Congress in the dark, and didn't warn allies in the region either.  (Trump did, however, drop hints in advance to his paying guests at Mar-a-Lago. Surprise sneak previews of major government actions is something of a perk for guests at Trump's luxury resort.)

Not telling designated Congressional leaders is illegal, but not informing allies is dangerous, because Iran is all but guaranteed to respond with violence. And reprisals are most likely to happen in the Middle East, rather than on American soil. 

Today, Trump tried to insist that Americans were safer with Suleimani dead. "Under my leadership," he declared from his vacation resort, "the world is a safer place."

But at the same time, he was ordering at least 3,500 additional American troops into the Middle East, with more likely on the way, in anticipation of counterattacks. And the State Department today urgently warned Americans to leave Iraq—previously a relatively safe area—immediately. Americans were warned not to even approach the U.S. Embassy, which is an extremely secure compound in Baghdad.

Why should I care about this?

  • Voters who believed Trump when he said he would get the United States out of "endless wars" in the Middle East probably didn't want him to start a new one.
  • It's wrong to say things are "safer" when your government is clearly preparing for things being more dangerous.
  • Presidents are not above the law.