Tonight’s debate…

Tonight’s Democratic debate will be held at Tyler Perry Studios in the former Fort McPherson in southwest Atlanta.

Local and statewide Democrats are excited about tonight’s debate. Many believe Georgia is to become a battleground state in 2020.

Worser and worser

by Tom Sullivan

Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Photo public domain via House.gov.

Military surplus sites have long peddled a cocky, in-your-face tee shirt that reads, “JOIN THE MARINES! TRAVEL TO FOREIGN PLACES, MEET EXOTIC PEOPLE, AND KILL THEM.” Millionaire Gordon Sondland thought he would be doing the diplomatic equivalent by donating enough to a presidential candidate to garner an ambassadorship. He would join the diplomatic corps, travel to foreign capitals, hobnob with heads of state. “And go to jail” was not what the naif had in mind.

Now Ambassador to the European Union, Sondland this morning takes the hottest seat yet when he is sworn in to testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. His original testimony in the Ukraine affair, already amended, will receive close scrutiny from Democrats on the committee. Their questions will look to tie President Donald Trump directly to the arms-for-political-dirt scheme revealed in a call between the White House and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Reported by an anonymous whistleblower, that July 25 call precipitated the ongoing House impeachment inquiry.

Democrats may be Sondland’s only “friends” on the panel. Republicans are setting him up (with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney) as a fall guy in the scandal.

Democrats will ask why in his original testimony Sondland failed to disclose his July 26 restaurant call to Trump in which they discussed whether Zelensky would publicly announce an investigation into Trump political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. They will ask for details of another call prior to the Trump-Zelensky conversation on July 25. Sondland is thought to have briefed Trump on what to say to Zelensky. Shortly thereafter, Trump told Zelensky, “I would like you to do us a favor though …” after Zelensky expressed interest in buying Javelin anti-tank missiles. Trump asked for an investigation into Biden and a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukraine interfering in the 2016 election. The consensus of the U.S. intelligence community is it was Russia.

The New York Times reports:

Mr. Sondland is the witness who most concerns people close to Mr. Trump, several of them said, expressing worry that he interacted directly with the president about Ukraine and that they do not know what he will say. Mr. Sondland has already amended his testimony once, in writing.

Mr. Sondland’s statements look increasingly suspect, said Chuck Rosenberg, a former United States attorney and senior F.B.I. official who is following the hearings closely. “But that doesn’t mean he can’t come in now and tell the truth,” Mr. Rosenberg added.

Mr. Sondland’s recollection of his July 26 call with Mr. Trump might never have been questioned had not another American official overheard the conversation, conducted from Mr. Sondland’s lunch table on the terrace of a restaurant in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Mr. Trump was speaking so loudly that Mr. Sondland held the phone away from his ear, broadcasting the call to his dining companions.

David Holmes, an American Embassy official in Kyiv who had joined the ambassador for lunch, said he clearly heard Mr. Trump ask whether Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s newly installed president, was “going to do the investigation.” Mr. Sondland replied: “He’s going to do it.”

“Will he do it?” is the question again this morning with cameras rolling. Sondland faces a choice of standing by his earlier testimony (contradicted by prior witnesses) or answering fully and truthfully no matter how it reflects on Trump. Courts have already convicted other Trump associates for lying under oath, including Trump confidant Roger Stone last week.

Of the witnesses appearing in public so far, none have been helpful to the president, even those requested by Republicans on the committee. Things just look worse. Trump has lost three of four statewide races this month that he’d made tests of his ability to elect Republicans. As Trump’s polling numbers erode, Republican allies may find their enthusiasm for defending him flagging unless they can pin the arms-for-political-dirt scandal on a convenient patsy. How they treat Sondland this morning may indicate their choice.

The Times continues:

Mr. Sondland once described himself as a “results-oriented,” take-charge type. Now investigators are asking him why he pushed a so-called deliverable for the president — an announcement of the investigations — that other officials have said was ethically wrong and ran counter to American national security interests.

Mr. Sondland also liked to present himself as a refreshing alternative to hidebound bureaucrats. Now some of those same bureaucrats have described him as an aggressive operator who elbowed them out of the way, rejected time-honored protocols and turned his personal cellphone into a national security risk.

Sondland’s attention-getting donations to the Trump campaign meant he could boast he was harder to reach than the president he could call on a whim. How cool is that?

Much cooler than the seat he’ll occupy this morning.

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.

ICYMI, Volker “adjusts” testimony …

It appears that there have been a few changes in Kurt Volker’s testimony from the closed-door hearing on October 3.

Here is a handy chart to compare Volker’s October 3rd testimony to other witnesses.

Today, Ambassador Sondland.

Who wore it better?

I just wish some of these GOP House Intelligence Committee members would do a small bit of research before making these kinds of jabs.

As part of their efforts to undermine Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s testimony Tuesday in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Republicans raised the issue of him wearing his Army uniform while testifying…

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Texas, suggested that it was only appropriate for Vindman to appear in uniform if he wears it daily during his work at the NSC, but if he didn’t, he shouldn’t wear it while testifying.

“When you’re wearing the uniform testifying, that testimony is then linked to the United States military, good or bad,” Perry told CQ Roll Call during a break in Tuesday’s hearing. Vindman’s testimony was full of “opinions counter” to his commander in chief, Perry said.

Let’s just clear this up.

There you have it!

That’s Lt Col Vindman to you, sir …

So, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) does not properly address this loyal public servant and then tries to pry the identity of the Whistleblower. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is having none of it.

No exit

The House impeachment inquiry continues this morning with additional witnesses to the Fall of the House of Trump. “Fall” here may not mean Trump’s removal from office, nor “House of Trump” his family, but the party he has put under his boot heel. History will be kind to neither.

NBCNews foreign correspondent Richard Engel suggests President Donald Trump will not stop the behaviors that sparked the Mueller investigation and subsequent congressional inquiry. Nor will his coterie of enabler/defenders get off the Trump train. Public opinion may be turning against Trump, but his American unfaithful remain behind him to the end, it seems.

An ABC News/Ipsos poll finds 70% of Americans think President Donald Trump’s attempt to leverage military assistance to Ukraine to obtain an investigation of a political rival is wrong. Furthermore:

… 51% of Americans say that “President Trump’s actions were wrong and he should be impeached by the House and removed from office by the Senate.” Nineteen percent of Americans say President Trump’s actions were wrong but he should not be removed from office and 25% say President Trump did nothing wrong.

None of that will move Trump defenders on Capitol Hill from supporting him. As Attorney General William Barr’s Friday speech to the Federalist Society demonstrates, they too are on the “dictator’s treadmill” with their amoral tower of insecurities.

Dahlia Lithwick concurs. Fantasies of Senate Republicans rediscovering their consciences, rededicating themselves to upholding the Constitution, and removing Trump from office “in a blaze of bipartisan glory” are the stuff of Hallmark holiday movies:

Don’t believe it for a minute. Senate Republicans may be fussing internally about how best to play out the impeachment trial, but not one of them, with the possible exception of Mitt Romney, is casting around for any kind of off-ramp here. As Renae Reints notes in Fortune, this isn’t even a close call. Republicans in the Senate are not looking for a principled reason, or even a pretext, that might allow them to follow their heart’s true desire and break with this president. “On the whole, however, Republicans side with party leadership,” Reints writes. “The latest Gallup poll on Trump’s job approval—conducted after the House launched their impeachment inquiry—show 87% of GOP voters are behind the president. This means Republican members of Congress are likely to stick behind Trump, regardless of what the independents or the other 13% of Republicans believe.”

Senate Republicans were never going to help Democrats “save constitutional norms, values, or institutions, and they won’t do so now.” As recent Republican electoral losses sink in, only the prospect of losing everything might move a few to realize the Ghost of Election Future’s shroud is only the bed curtains and there is time yet to redeem their supreme self-interest.

“President outsources his foreign policy to gangsters” ought to draw more attention than it has, writes Jonathan Chait. So far, the impeachment inquiry has focused less attention on “a pair of sleazeballs with ties to the Russian mafia” — meaning indicted Trump associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — than on Trump’s lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Is it possible Trump also sought to enrich himself through their actions?

It’s possible Trump sent Parnas, Giuliani, and Fruman to Ukraine solely for his political mission, and while there, they decided to shake down the Ukrainians for some energy money. But Trump is famous for his intense, almost fanatical hatred of hangers-on who make money for themselves off his name. Trump was so enraged in 2016 by the very thought that transition planners were making money that belonged to him — “You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my fucking money! What the fuck is this?” he screamed at Chris Christie …

Given that, Chait speculates plans by Parnas, Fruman, Giuliani and Energy Secretary Rick Perry to turn their Trump connections into natural-gas contracts might even have involved Trump eyeing a piece of the action. Who knows?

The quote Chait references above is from a 2018 column by Michael Lewis (“Moneyball” and “The Big Short”) that paints a portrait of how Trump sees his government job. Reacting to Trump’s fury about hirelings stealing his money, Steve Bannon and Christie tried to explain the nuances of federal law. His response (per Lewis)?

Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money. Bannon and Christie tried to explain that Trump couldn’t have both his money and a transition.

Shut it down, said Trump. Shut down the transition.

Three years later, he faces impeachment if not removal from office. His denialist defenders may stick with them to the end, even to their own removal from office.

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.