Impeachment Trial Begins, Lev Parnas Surfaces with New Damning Evidence

With 290 days until the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the impeachment of President Donald Trump dominates the news. On Wednesday, January 15, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed the two articles of impeachment against Trump, who is charged with abuse of presidential power, and obstruction of Congress.

Prior to signing the articles, Pelosi announced the names of the seven impeachment managers she has chosen to present the case for impeachment to the Senate. They are House Representatives Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Val Demings (D-Fla.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.), and Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas). After the signing of the articles, Pelosi and the impeachment managers walked across the Capitol to the Senate chamber to deliver the articles, per protocol.

The articles charge that Trump abused his power by withholding already-approved military aid to Ukraine, as well as the promise of a White House meeting with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy in order to pressure Zelenskiy to announce an investigation of Democratic primary candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who held a high-paying job as consultant to Burisma, Ukraine’s largest energy provider. The articles further charge that Trump obstructed Congress by blocking key evidence and testimony.

The Senate formally accepted the articles on Thursday. On Thursday afternoon, Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial in the Senate, administered the jurors’ oath to all 100 senators, to swear to deliver “impartial justice.” It should be noted, however, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already openly promised not to be impartial.

“This is an example of all of the president’s henchmen,” Pelosi reflected, “and I hope that the senators do not become part of the president’s henchmen.”

The actual trial is expected to begin on Tuesday, January 21.

Meanwhile, The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that reports to Congress, has determined this week that Trump’s hold on the military aid to Ukraine was a violation of federal law governing how the White House may disburse funds approved by Congress.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the decision states. “OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act.”

Though impeachment does not require violation of a federal law, this development will no doubt be significant as the impeachment trial plays out. Republicans are already trying to point out that the GAO is pointing the finger at the OMB (Office of Management and Budget), not at the president. It was the president, however, who ordered that the military funds be put on hold.

And as impeachment trial preparations were brewing this week, additional evidence was unearthed, appearing to confirm the nature of Trump’s motivation in his plan to have the Bidens investigated.

Trump maintains that he was simply motivated by his concern about corruption in Ukraine for the sake of “the American people.” Strong evidence indicates, however, that Trump was motivated purely by personal gain — uncovering dirt on the Bidens, or, at the very least, stirring up controversy and casting doubt on Joe Biden’s integrity as he runs for president.

Lev Parnas, a former associate of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has provided documents and granted interviews containing information that indicate that Donald Trump was directly involved in the Ukraine pressure campaign, and that his motivation was for personal gain, not for the good of the U.S. Further, Trump’s intent was to investigate the Bidens, not to investigate general corruption in Ukraine.

James Hohmann of the Washington Post writes, “Evidence of the president’s hands-on role bolsters the Democratic case that Trump himself abused his power, not outside advisers who were pursuing personal interests in the president’s name.”

Included in Parnas’ documents was a message thread from March 2019 between Parnas and Robert Hyde, a current Republican candidate for Congress in Connecticut. The subject of the messages was former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled from her post by the Trump administration in May 2019. In his interviews with the media this week, Lev Parnas confirmed that Yovanovitch was seen as an obstacle to Trump’s plan for investigation of the Bidens.
The messages suggest Hyde and others may have been following the diplomat in Kiev. “They are moving her tomorrow,” Hyde wrote to Parnas. “The guys over there asked me what I would like to do and what is in it for them.”

He then noted that Yovanovitch turned off her phone and computer.

“They are willing to help if we/you would like a price,” Hyde said. “Guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money … what I was told.”

“Lol,” Parnas responded, indicating “laugh out loud.”.

Several days later, Hyde wrote: “It’s confirmed we have a person inside.”

Though the U.S. State Department continues to remain silent about the exchanges and the possibility of unauthorized surveillance of Yovanovitch by associates of Trump, Ukraine has announced that it will launch an investigation.

“Ukraine’s position is not to interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States of America,” Ukraine’s Interior Ministry stated. “Ukraine cannot ignore such illegal activities on the territory of its own state.”

Parnas has since said that he didn’t take the exchange seriously. Hyde, too, dismissed it as a joke.

Though some of Parnas’ new information still needs to be corroborated, other portions of it support the existing evidence against Trump and his associates. It’s yet to be determined whether, or if, this new evidence will be used in the Senate impeachment trial.

On the other side of the world, Russia’s entire cabinet resigned on Wednesday. Russian president Vladimir Putin had, earlier on Wednesday, announced that he would be pushing through reforms to the constitution. The changes would redistribute power so that parliament and the prime minister would have more power, but Putin’s successor as president would be considerably weakened. Putin, whose term as president ends in 2024, could then take on a new role and continue to be a powerful figure in the Russian government. (Speaking of abuse of power…)

Putin simply thanked his former government and said that “not everything worked out.”

Given what our president has successfully been able to get away with, given his statement, “Then I have an Article 2 (of the U.S. Constitution), where I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” and given that our current GOP largely disregards the checks and balances system of our three-branch government, we can only hope that Election 2020 eliminates the possibility of something similar happening in the U.S.

Impeachment process moves ahead amid new revelations from Lev Parnas | CBS News [2020-01-16]

Trump reacts to photograph of him with Lev Parnas: “I take thousands of pictures” | Global News [2020-01-16]

Trump-Putin Meeting: U.S. Thrown under Bus in Favor of Bully

Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met in Helsinki on Thursday, July 16, for private talks, which Trump said would be about, among other things, nuclear weapons. Trump’s treatment of the United States in his remarks following the meeting, however, was a lot like a parent throwing his child – and all of his child’s friends –  under the bus in favor of the kid who has been bullying his child.

“He said he didn’t do it, so I believe him,” is, in effect, what Donald Trump said about Putin in his response to a question about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Ignoring history, Trump went on to blame previous administrations for the poor relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!,” Trump tweeted on July 15.

Perhaps if the bully (Putin in this story) were an Eagle Scout and an honor student known for helping little old ladies across the street (or for not cozying up with the Afghan Taliban), we might find it plausible that a parent/Trump would take the bully’s word over that of his own child (or, say, United States Intelligence officers). Maybe if the bully were not widely known to be a thug (or a member of the KGB), jaws would not have dropped. Perhaps if the bully and his gang didn’t have a long history of ill-intentioned deeds toward others (namely, the U.S. and its democratic process, in this story), we could give him the benefit of the doubt.

U.S. intelligence has overwhelming (and supported) evidence of Russian collusion, and a U.S. grand jury has just indicted 12 Russian intelligence agents on election-related charges. Trump, however, is sticking with Putin’s story.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. Dan Coats [the director of national intelligence] came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Even many Trump supporters, however, have found Trump’s position unpalatable at best, treasonous at worst.

“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Though it’s true that McCain has long been at odds with Trump and what he stands for, other Republicans who have historically supported Trump took issue with how Trump handled the meeting.

“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Unless one is highly skilled at self-deception and the art of the spin, it seems nearly impossible not to be horrified by Trump’s remarks regarding the history of U.S. relations with Russia, who is to blame, who our friends are in the world, and, most especially, Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

That is where Vice President Mike Pence comes in. “The truth is,” said Pence, “Over the last week” (Note: During that same week, at the NATO Summit, Trump also referred to the EU – among our closest allies – as our foes), “the world saw that President Donald Trump stands without apology as leader of the free world…What the world saw, and what the American people saw, is that President Donald Trump will always put the prosperity and security of America first.”

It’s not clear what Pence meant by “putting the prosperity and security of America first.” Perhaps he was actually referring to profiting from the branding of “America First.” Clearly, the phrase, as it relates to the Trump -Putin meeting, is not to be taken literally.

Lawmakers Respond to Trump-Putin Remarks | EWTN [2018-07-16]

Trump-Putin Joint Press Conference | VOA News [2018-07-16]