Most of the other career diplomats spoke highly of Kurt Volker’s reputation and dedication to service. But somewhere along the line, probably involuntarily, Volker got sucked into the president’s vortex of corruption. (Don’t they all.) Kurt Volker was minding his own business, being a good boy, when he came across a new Mercedes with the doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition. (I know — fancy new cars don’t need keys in the ignition anymore, but let me have my metaphor.) In a split second, he made a bad decision. He decided to steal the car. In a split second, he decided to help the president extort Ukraine — and there was no turning back because now he was involved, he was dirty. Lock your car doors. Don’t leave your keys in the ignition. If you see diplomatic wrongdoing, report it to the inspector general or NSC lead counsel. Don’t let a good diplomat go bad. (scroll down for full article)
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“2ND OPEN IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS: Fmr. Amb. to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch” (11/15/2019)
“Trump Tweet-Witness-Intimidates Yovanovitch During Her Testimony; Possible Crime” (11/15/2019)
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“Mark Sandy, OMB Official Involved in Ukraine Aid Holdup, Closed-Door Testifies” (11/16/2019)
“Congress Releases Impeachment Witness Transcripts of White House Officials Tim Morrison, Jennifer Williams: Confirm Deep Concerns About July 25 Trump-Ukraine Call; Reported to Lawyers” (11/16/2019)
“3RD OPEN IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS: Jennifer Williams, Special Adviser to VP Pence on Europe and Russia; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Director for European Affairs at NSC” (11/19/2019)
“4TH OPEN IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS: Kurt Volker, Former Envoy to Ukraine; Tim Morrison, Top Russia and Europe Adviser on NSC (John Bolton Ally, Replaced Fiona Hill)” (11/19/2019)
“5TH OPEN IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS: Gordon Sondland, Ambassador to EU” (11/20/2019)
“6TH OPEN IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS: Laura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs; David Hale, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs” (11/20/2019)
“7TH OPEN IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS: David Holmes, Counselor for Political Affairs at U.S. Embassy In Ukraine; Dr. Fiona Hill, Former Sr. Director for Europe and Russia at NSC” (11/21/2019)
“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Indicted for Corruption” (11/21/2019)
This week produced a hurricane of hellacious open-hearing testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee in the Donald J. Trump impeachment inquiry hearings. Among those testifying were former envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, a career diplomat, and ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, a novice diplomat who purchased his position by contributing $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee.
It took Sondland three attempts, but he finally corrected his testimony — to save himself — and directly implicated in the Ukraine “arms for dirt” scandal President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and former envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.
Sondland’s first testimony covered up his and others’ involvement in the illegal quid pro quo, the bribery. But after hearing and reading succeeding, contradictory damning testimony from other witnesses, Gordon decided he did not want to go the route of convicted perjurers Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, and Roger Stone. Legal expert speculation is that his attorney had a come-to-Jesus meeting with him: “Either ‘fess up and tell the entire story, or I quit and you’re going to prison.” Sondland decided though he had no problem being a Trump lackey, he never signed up for prison. He rolled on Donald.
Kurt Volker appears to have had initial good intentions, as a professional diplomat with decades in foreign service. Most of the other career-diplomat witnesses testifying at the impeachment hearings spoke highly of Volker’s reputation and dedication to his job. But somewhere along the line, probably involuntarily, Volker got sucked into the president’s vortex of corruption. (Don’t they all.) He was one of “The Three Amigos,” including Sondland and Perry, designated by Trump himself to work at the direction of Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to execute the president’s plan.
The plot was to extort from Ukraine a phony Ukrainian investigation into Joe Biden and son and the debunked theory, initiated and perpetuated by Russia, that it was Ukraine — not Russia — that interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. There would be a Ukrainian presidential public announcement that would come in exchange for desperately needed, previously congressionally mandated U.S. military assistance and a coveted White House meeting to show Russia and the world that the U.S. had Ukraine’s back.
Kurt Volker was minding his own business, being a good boy, when he came across a new Mercedes with the doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition. (I know — fancy new cars don’t need keys in the ignition anymore, but let me have my metaphor.) In a split second, he made a bad decision. He decided to steal the car. In a split second, he decided to help the president extort Ukraine — and there was no turning back because now he was involved, he was dirty.
Lock your car doors. Don’t leave your keys in the ignition. If you see diplomatic wrongdoing, report it to the intelligence community inspector general or the NSC lead counsel.
Don’t let a good diplomat go bad.
Brief Ukrainian Extortion Perspective
In addition to my usual quasi-intellectual snark, this week I want simply to lay out a factual perspective of the impeachment narrative. Consider this timeline recap:
May 2019 — DOD “certifies” Ukraine has met its anti-corruption requirements to receive aid
5/6/2019 — U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, anti-corruption champion, is abruptly “recalled” by Trump after a Rudy Giuliani smear campaign
7/18/2019 — Trump orders hold on Ukraine aid, ostensibly due to “corruption” concerns
7/25/2019 — Trump talks to Ukrainian president, asks him to investigate Bidens, CrowdStrike (2016 Ukraine election interference), praises former corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor, debases and threatens former Amb. Yovanovitch
7/25/2019 — Ukrainian embassy calls DOD indicating they know about aid hold
8/12/2019 — Whistleblower complaint is filed
August 2019 — Whistleblower details begin to leak out
9/3/2019 — Bipartisan group of senators write letter to White House urging release of funds, questioning hold
9/7/2019 — Amb. Sondland calls Trump: Trump “not asking for quid pro quo,” just wants Zelensky to “go to a microphone” about investigating Bidens, CrowdStrike (2016 Ukraine election interference)
9/8/2019 — Amb. Sondland calls Amb. Taylor
[SONDLAND]: “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.”
[TAYLOR’S TESTIMONY]: “The explanation made no sense: the Ukrainians did not ‘owe’ President Trump anything.”
9/9/2019 — House officially is notified of existence of whistleblower complaint, but DNI refuses to “forward” complaint to Congress
9/9/2019 — Amb. Sondland calls Trump — The “I am not a crook” defense
[SONDLAND]: “What do you want from Ukraine?”
[TRUMP]: I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Just tell [Ukraine’s President] Zelensky to do the right thing.”
9/11/2019 — Senate prepares an amendment to force White House to release Ukrainian aid, to be voted on the next day
9/11/2019 — White House finally releases aid to Ukraine
9/13/2019 — Ukraine’s President Zelensky cancels planned CNN interview in which he was going to announce investigations into the Bidens, CrowdStrike
They Got Caught!
In the words of House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff: “They got caught.” (and louder) “They got caught!”
President Trump did not hold up the aid in the normal course of administrative procedures, as has been the case with aid to other countries.
President Trump did not release the aid because finally he was satisfied that the new Ukrainian president would be sufficiently tough on corruption.
President Trump did not release the aid because finally other U.S.-Ukrainian allies suddenly agreed to up their “burden-sharing” obligations.
Yes, as sycophantic GOP committee members love to emphasize, there was no Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens or CrowdStrike, and the Trump administration ultimately did release the aid to Ukraine.
BECAUSE THEY GOT CAUGHT!
Note that the White House meeting still has not been scheduled.
Republicans are also pressing, in lockstep, that there is still no evidence, no firsthand knowledge, that Trump said the words, “quid pro quo,” “bribery,” or “extortion,” or that he knew what his Amigos were up to.
So far. But there are several refudiations to this (— thanks to Sarah Palin):
1) There has been, in fact, firsthand knowledge, from the president’s Ukraine call transcript and the guy who overheard him ask about the Biden, CrowdStrike “investigations.”
2) The many officials closest to the president with more firsthand knowledge have all been ordered by the president not to testify, to obstruct justice.
3) As Trump’s convicted former personal lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen famously testified, “Mr. Trump speaks in code, and the people around him know the code.”
4) As plenty of former U.S. attorneys who have appeared on cable news have told us: A) circumstantial evidence legally can carry as much weight as direct evidence (if you wake up to snow on your front lawn, you can critically deduce that it snowed last night); and B) judges regularly tell juries, before they retreat to deliberate, not to leave their logic, experience, and common sense at the door.
As a general note, consider that in the transcripts of both President Trump’s calls with Ukraine’s President Zelensky, the word corruption was never mentioned by Donald — only “Biden” and “CrowdStrike.” Additionally, Trump has shown no interest, publicly or privately, in “fighting corruption” in any other country, friend or foe. In fact, in 2018 and 2019 he sought to cut funds intended to help Ukraine and other allies fight corruption, but Congress said “no.” Just sayin’.
“I wanted to share a few reflections on two words that have come up a lot in the course of these hearings, and those words are corruption and anti-corruption. We are supposed to believe, I imagine, listening to my [Republican] colleagues, that Donald Trump is a great anti-corruption fighter, that his only concern about Ukraine was that it would fight corruption. But let’s look at that argument. Let’s look at the president’s words, and let’s look at his deeds:”
The firing of anti-corruption champion, former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, because she stood in the way of Rudy Giuliani’s and Trump’s plan to extort Ukraine:
“That’s not anti-corruption — that is corruption.”
The praising of corrupt foreign Ukrainian prosecutors:
“That’s not anti-corruption — that is corruption.”
The Ambassador Sondland testimony that there was a quid pro quo and everybody knew it, conditioning a desperately needed White House meeting on the Ukrainian president’s public announcement of Biden, CrowdStrike investigations:
“That’s not anti-corruption — that is corruption.”
The Ambassador Sondland testimony that he deduced 2 plus 2 equals 4, i.e., he realized the release of military aid was conditioned upon the Ukrainian president’s public announcement of Biden, CrowdStrike investigations:
“That’s not anti-corruption — that is corruption.”
The July 25 call in which Trump asked the Ukrainian president for a “favor, though,” to investigate the Bidens, CrowdStrike, and the fictitious DNC server:
“That’s not anti-corruption — that is corruption.”
The July 26 call from Ambassador Sondland to Trump, in which Trump asked, “Are they going to do the investigations [into the Bidens and CrowdStrike]?”
“That’s not anti-corruption — that is corruption!”
“And this is the problem here. We do have an anti-corruption policy around the world. And the great men and women [of the U.S. foreign services], they carry that message around the world, that the United States is devoted to the rule of law. But when [the world] sees a president of the United States who’s not devoted to the rule of law, who’s not devoted to anti-corruption, but instead demonstrates, in word and deed, corruption, they are forced to ask themselves, What does America stand for anymore?”
(Schiff, Adam, D-Calif., House Intelligence Committee chair; President Donald J. Trump impeachment inquiry hearings; U.S. Capitol; 11/20/2019.)
Gordon Sondland’s Testimony
Here are some key points Ambassador Gordon Sondland made in his testimony yesterday:
Sondland criticized the State Department for refusing to release all of his notes and call/text records.
Sondland and the other two Amigos didn’t want to work with Rudy Giuliani but President Trump specifically directed them to.
The White House and NSC were always fully informed about the activities of The Three Amigos.
Rudy Giuliani’s efforts on behalf of the president were a quid pro quo.
Though Ukraine had passed anti-corruption muster with the DOD and the other foreign services, Trump still wouldn’t offer his support and told Sondland again to “talk to Rudy, he knows what I want.”
Sondland learned of the aid suspension July 19 and ultimately believed it would not be released until Ukraine’s President Zelensky made a public announcement of intentions to investigate the Bidens and CrowdStrike.
All Trump actually wanted was the announcement of investigations.
Trump regularly told The Three Amigos to “talk to Rudy” whenever they pushed for U.S. support for the new Ukrainian government, elected in spring 2019.
Rudy Giuliani communicated with Ukrainians including former Prosecutor General Lutsenko without the Amigos’ knowledge.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker to “talk to Rudy.”
Sondland produced a July 9 email showing that “everyone was in the loop,” including Pompeo, Mulvaney, Perry, etc.
Sondland produced an Aug. 22 email with Pompeo, receiving permission to set up the quid pro quo.
On Aug. 26, National Security Adviser John Bolton asked for Rudy Giuliani’s contact information.
Sondland said, “Rudy Giuliani spoke for President Trump. We [the Amigos] followed the president’s orders.”
Ultimately, everyone knew there was a quid pro quo, and everybody (at least tacitly) signed off on it including Trump, Mulvaney, Pompeo, Pence, Perry, Bolton, etc.
Sondland said several times that Trump didn’t necessarily want the Biden, CrowdStrike investigations per se, he just needed the Ukrainian president to announce them.
On Sept. 9, after the whistleblower complaint came to light, and in light of the continued “logjam” with scheduling a White House meeting with Zelensky and releasing Ukraine’s aid, a frustrated Sondland called Trump and asked him directly, “What do you want from Ukraine?” Trump said, “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing.”
On Sept. 11, the White House finally released the aid to Ukraine after the whistleblower complaint was publicized and after Congress threatened to legally order, the next day, the president to release the funds.
Oh — and Sondland told Trump to tell the Kardashians that Donald did his best on trying to free American rapper ASAP Rocky from a Swedish jail. (for my friend Bob O.)
Adam Schiff’s Closing Statement
“I resisted [impeachment] for a long time. But I will tell you why I could resist no more. It came down to this. It came down to timing. It came down to the fact that the day after Bob Mueller testified … that Donald Trump invited Russian interference … and later that day they tried to hack [Hillary’s] server — the day after he testified that not only did Trump invite that interference, but that he welcomed the help in the campaign, they made full use of it, they lied about it, they obstructed the investigation into it … the day after that, Donald Trump is back on the phone asking another nation to involve itself in another U.S. election. That says to me this president believes he is above the law. Beyond accountability. And in my view there is nothing more dangerous than an unethical president who believes they are above the law. And I would just say to people watching here at home and around the world, in the words of my great colleague: We are better than that. Adjourned.”
(Schiff, Adam, D-Calif., House Intelligence Committee chair; President Donald J. Trump impeachment inquiry hearings; U.S. Capitol; 11/21/2019.)
Impeachment Timeline — This Week
[RECAP]: 11/13/2019 — CONGRESS HOLDS 1ST OPEN IMPEACHMENT TESTIMONY HEARINGS — witnesses: chargé d’affaires ad interim (acting ambassador) to Ukraine William Taylor; Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent: 1) both confirm Trump extortion, damage to U.S. national security, lives lost during holdup of aid; 2) both totally debunk GOP conspiracy theories of Biden corruption, 2016 Ukrainian election interference to help Hillary Clinton, confirm “ample evidence” of Russian election interference; 3) both describe “irregular” diplomacy channel led by Rudy Giuliani for purposes of digging up false dirt on Biden, supporting self-dealing corrupt Ukrainians; 4) both confirm Biden’s intervention on Ukrainian corruption as VP was in line with public U.S., Western-allied policy; 5) Taylor reports his aide overheard a Sondland-Trump unsecured cellphone call in Ukraine July 26 (day after Trump-Ukraine call) asking Sondland for update on Ukrainian Biden probe; Sondland told aide, “President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden” than Ukraine
[IMPEACHMENT: DAY 52 — 11/14/19]
11/15/2019 — CONGRESS HOLDS 2ND OPEN IMPEACHMENT TESTIMONY HEARINGS — witness: former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch: 1) confirms she was recalled due to smear campaign by Rudy Giuliani and Trump; 2) agrees that a president can choose his staff, just doesn’t understand why her reputation needed to be besmirched
11/15/2019 — Trump tweet-witness-intimidates Amb. Marie Yovanovitch during her open impeachment testimony
11/15/2019 — State Dept. official at U.S. embassy in Ukraine David Holmes testifies to Congress: confirms: 1) Amb. Maria Yovanovitch was recalled due to smear campaign by Rudy Giuliani and Trump; 2) confirms Yovanovitch has an unimpeachable reputation for fighting corruption
11/16/2019 — OMB official Mark Sandy testifies to Congress: confirms there was an unexplained holdup of Ukraine military aid at the order of White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney per President Trump
11/16/2019 — Congress releases impeachment witness transcripts: top NSC adviser to John Bolton, Tim Morrison; special adviser to VP Pence, Jennifer Williams: both confirm deep concerns about July 25 Trump-Ukraine call
11/19/2019 — CONGRESS HOLDS 3RD OPEN IMPEACHMENT TESTIMONY HEARINGS — witnesses: special adviser to VP Pence on Europe and Russia Jennifer Williams; director for European Affairs at NSC (top NSC official, working in White House) Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman: 1) Williams had major concerns about impropriety of July 25 Trump-Ukraine call; 2) Vindman testified that upon listening to the call: “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”; 3) Vindman immediately reported call to NSC lead counsel
11/19/2019 — CONGRESS HOLDS 4TH OPEN IMPEACHMENT TESTIMONY HEARINGS — witnesses: former envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker; top Russia and Europe adviser on NSC (John Bolton ally) Tim Morrison: 1) Volker revised testimony to confirm Amb. Gordon Sondland did work to secure from Ukraine a Biden investigation in return for release of military aid; 2) Morrison confirmed that he had concerns about July 25 Trump-Ukraine call, to the point that he immediately reported it to National Security Adviser John Bolton, who directed him to “go to the lawyers”
11/20/2019 — CONGRESS HOLDS 5TH OPEN IMPEACHMENT TESTIMONY HEARINGS — witness: ambassador to EU Gordon Sondland: 1) admits clear quid pro quo; 2) implicates President Trump, VP Pence, Secy. of State Pompeo, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Energy Secy. Rick Perry; 3) says everyone knew Ukrainian aid, White House mtg. were held up until Ukraine announced Biden, CrowdStrike investigations — simply announcing the investigations was all Trump wanted
11/20/2019 — CONGRESS HOLDS 6TH OPEN IMPEACHMENT TESTIMONY HEARINGS — witnesses: deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs Laura Cooper; under secretary of state for political affairs David Hale: 1) Cooper confirmed holdup of Ukrainian aid by OMB at direction of president; no one knew why aid was held up except for a vague rumor about “some kind of corruption; 2) Cooper stated Ukraine knew about hold after, the day of, the July 25 Trump-Ukraine call; 3) Hale confirmed the smear of Amb. Yovanovitch was wrong”
11/20/2019 — CONGRESS HOLDS 7TH OPEN IMPEACHMENT TESTIMONY HEARINGS — witnesses: counselor for political affairs at U.S. embassy in Ukraine David Holmes; former Sr. director for Europe and Russia at NSC Dr. Fiona Hill: 1) Holmes relayed overheard call between Sondland and Trump in which Trump asked about Ukrainian Biden investigation; 2) Holmes relayed that Sondland told him Trump doesn’t care about Ukraine, he only cares about Ukrainian Biden, CrowdStrike investigations; 3) Holmes stated Sondland had a “direct line” to Trump, Mulvaney; 4) Holmes stated Trump and Giuliani specifically were demanding a Ukrainian presidential interview on CNN to announce Biden, CrowdStrike investigations, and Ukraine believed they “had to do it”; 5) Holmes stated aid freeze was only lifted after “significant press”; 6) Hill confirmed “diverging” Ukraine diplomatic channels between Sondland, Trump, Mulvaney, Pompeo — who were on a “domestic political errand” — and the “normal” national security channels; she predicted a “blowup — and here we are”; 7) Hill confirmed the attempt to trade, extort Ukrainian aid, White House mtg. for phony Ukrainian Biden, CrowdStrike investigations, i.e., quid pro quo, was common knowledge; 8) Hill said Sondland specifically stated that Trump put him “in charge of Ukraine” policy and often “name-dropped” President Trump; 9) Hill said Mick Mulvaney was highly involved in the quid pro quo; 10) Hill chastised Republicans for perpetuating Russia’s narrative that Ukraine interfered in 2016 U.S. election: “In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests. … These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes.”
Trump Corruption Chronicles — We Must Never Forget