Two years after blowing off a House subpoena, former White House Counsel Don McGahn finally testified to the Judiciary Committee last week, and the whole exercise was a vapid dick-swinging contest, with each member less impressive than the last. Just an absolute waste of time and expression of contempt for congressional oversight.
On the one side, Oversight Committee Counsel Sarah Istel gamely plowed through hours of questions about the events depicted in the Mueller Report. But she did it with her hands tied behind her back thanks to the ground rules McGahn's lawyers and the DOJ managed to foist on the Committee, which restricted her to asking solely about already available public information from the report itself. So the entirety of the hearing consisted of exchanges like this:
ISTEL: As reflected in what I just read, during that meeting, the President learned of the special counsel's appointment. Can you tell us the President's reaction to that appointment?
McGAHN: Well, I think the report goes on to describe it in some detail.
ISTEL: I'm asking for your recollection of what the President's reaction was at the time.
McGAHN:Well, again, you know, you're asking about something 4 years ago, but what you've read in the report is accurate, and the next sentence is also what happened.
In theory, House Democrats could have fought to force McGahn give a full and honest account of all the events. But with the Supreme Court packed with hacks who spent their entire adult lives flogging ridiculous ideas about an all powerful unitary executive, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was unwilling to risk an adverse ruling that would severely circumscribe congressional oversight powers forever. Getting McGahn's testimony, even under these ridiculous conditions, was the least worst option, and so House Dems were stuck with this pointless charade.
On the other side, Republicans on the Oversight Committee were represented by Steve Castor. Remember this dork from the impeachment hearings?
As during the impeachment, Castor deployed his signature move — longwinded, leading questions, implying nefarious behavior which would justify the president's obstructive conduct, and inviting the witness to endorse his theory.
CASTOR: So, if the FBI is coming in to interview Flynn based on the Logan Act, on one hand, or they're coming in to interview Flynn because they want to get him to lie, either one of those — and those seem like the two options here — either one of those is not an honorable way to conduct oneself, you know, in terms of being a Federal agent conducting a Federal investigation of the President's National Security Advisor. Is that fair?
Yes, why ever would the FBI care if the National Security Advisor had lied about his contacts with the Russian government? It's not like that guy turned out to be a crazed lunatic, right?
And in the middle was McGahn himself, bobbing and weaving and showing utter contempt for the proceedings while flanked by a lawyer for the Justice Department, dispatched to ensure that every single executive branch communication was characterized as privileged — a totally ahistorical interpretation of precedent. And if that wasn't protection enough, McGahn's personal lawyer Bill Burck was there to harrumph that all of McGahn's subjective opinions on the legality of Trump's conduct were informed by conversations with private counsel and thus covered by attorney client privilege.
Which left McGahn free to deflect most of Istel's queries while generally affirming Castor's insinuations that it's totally fine to attempt to obstruct justice if you are really mad about something, especially if you're too incompetent to actually succeed in your effort.
"And so, going back to the President's concerns about the witch hunts, you know, his concerns that Crossfire Hurricane was unfair, the Mueller Report was unfair, and now there's another data point where, you know, the rungs of government are coming after one of his top advisors — you know, he's not the chief of staff, he's not the White House counsel, but National Security Advisor is certainly in that upper echelon of most critical advisors to the President," Castor pressed. "Isn't it fair to say that, everything we now know about the Flynn matter, the President was right to be frustrated about what was going on?"
And with very little prodding, McGahn endorsed it: "Like I said, I don't disagree with it. I don't know."
Almost nothing of note happened in the hearing, which was conducted last Friday and published yesterday. There was a minor revelation that McGahn was actually a source for a January 26, 2018, Washington Post story about Trump's repeated demands that McGahn order Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The story contains the line, "McGahn did not respond to requests for comment." Which is not a great look for the Post.
In describing the episode, McGahn likened himself to his hero Robert Bork, whom he described as a "role model." Here's McGahn explaining that his main goal was to protect Trump better than Bork protected Nixon — not because firing Robert Mueller was objectively inappropriate and quite possibly obstructive, but because they might be able to keep all Trump's dirty secrets under wraps if they just held still and didn't make any reckless moves to provoke a public outcry.
We are still talking about the "Saturday Night Massacre" decades and decades later. And, looking back, you always, as a student of history, wonder, could things have gone differently if different people made different decisions? And here my thought was, fast-forwarding, you know, what this is going to look like down the road. This seemed to be an inflection point. It was time to hit the brakes and not make a phone call to Rod to raise this issue that the President had continued to raise with me.
And clearly, by his own metric, he succeeded. So slow fuckin' clap for Don McGahn, a modern day Robert Bork. You succeeded in burning down American democracy for a guy who asked you to do "crazy shit," but you protected your Nixon to the bitter end.
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Grandpa Huffing Paint really believes this shit! Both grandpas!
When Donald Trump made his perfect call to Ukraine's president — demanding Ukraine "do us a favor though" and announce bullshit investigations into the Bidens and into fake Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election in exchange for things like a White House visit between Trump and President Volodomyr Zelenskyy as well as the military aid Ukraine desperately needed from America to fight off Russia — Zelenskyy mentioned that his people had been talking to Rudy Giuliani "just recently." Oh really? Why ever could that have been?
Trump's call was on July 25, 2019. We learned about parts of Giuliani's call with Zelenskyy's top adviser Andrey Yermak, which happened on July 22, 2019, back in the winter, as Donald Trump's second impeachment trial for trying to get people to help steal him an election from Joe Biden was getting under way. BuzzFeed got the READ TEH TRANSCRIPT!11!11!! in April.
Now CNN has gotten the audio.
Never-before-heard audio, obtained exclusively by CNN, shows how former President Donald Trump's longtime adviser Rudy Giuliani relentlessly pressured and coaxed the Ukrainian government in 2019 to investigate baseless conspiracies about then-candidate Joe Biden.
The audio is of a July 2019 phone call between Giuliani, US diplomat Kurt Volker, and Andriy Yermak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
During the roughly 40-minute call, Giuliani repeatedly told Yermak that Zelensky should publicly announce investigations into possible corruption by Biden in Ukraine, and into claims that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election to hurt Trump. (These separate claims are both untrue.)
"All we need from the President [Zelensky] is to say, I'm gonna put an honest prosecutor in charge, he's gonna investigate and dig up the evidence, that presently exists and is there any other evidence about involvement of the 2016 election, and then the Biden thing has to be run out," Giuliani said, according to the audio. "... Somebody in Ukraine's gotta take that seriously."
Just need an "honest prosecutor," sir! To "dig up the evidence" that is very real and not a hallucination about how Ukraine was the one that really attacked the election, for HIllary Clinton! "And then the Biden thing has to be run out."
As CNN notes, this very much debunks what Trump was yelling at the time, about NO QUID PRO QUO! NO QUID PRO QUO! YOU ARE THE QUID PRO QUO! Evidence that came out surrounding Trump's first impeachment trial for trying to get people to help him steal the election from Joe Biden showed that, as Wonkette put it at the time, it was more like Quid Pro Qu-OOOOLY SHIT!
With the benefit of a few years of recent history, CNN was able to type this astounding summation of everything we've been covering in the news since 2019:
The call was one of the opening salvos in the years-long quest by Trump and his allies to damage Biden and subvert the 2020 election process — by soliciting foreign meddling, lying about voter fraud, attempting to overturn the results, and inciting the deadly January 6 assault on the Capitol.
Truly everything Donald Trump has done the past several years is because he's afraid of Joe Biden, terrified of losing to Joe Biden, and became humiliated to the point of no return when he eventually did lose to Joe Biden (and lost hard).
Giuliani is currently under criminal investigation by the Southern District of New York, which he used to run, for his own dealings in Ukraine, which appear to be related to Trump's sick need to beat Biden. Far as we can tell, the disease invades everyone Trump touches. (CNN is careful to note that we do not know if this specific PERFECT CALL! is part of that investigation. We will let SDNY tell us if/when it writes out a criminal indictment. Oh, what a narrative that would be.)
Over and over, Giuliani pressed for the investigations, according to the audio recording. Giuliani even said the US-Ukraine diplomatic relationship would improve if Zelensky launched the probes. Giuliani and [Trump special envoy to Ukraine Kurt] Volker suggested during the call that a public announcement could clear the way for Zelensky's much-desired visit to the US, or for in-person meetings with Giuliani.
"That would clear the air really well," Giuliani said, according to the recording. "And I think it would make it possible for me to come and make it possible, I think, for me to talk to the President (Trump) to see what I can do about making sure that whatever misunderstandings are put aside ... I kinda think that this could be a good thing for having a much better relationship."
All the things Ukraine wanted could be theirs! They could get the support they needed from America in their war against Russia, which Ukraine did not start, support that was a given in any other administration, especially during the previous administration, when Russia decided in 2014 to invade and start stealing parts of Ukraine. Ukraine could get the White House meeting with Trump, to show America was on Ukraine's side.
Trump just needed a couple tiny things in return, like for Ukraine to help him make up a narrative that Russia wasn't the real 2016 election-meddler, Ukraine was, and to dig up fake dirt on Joe Biden to help Trump steal the 2020 election.
For Wonkette's coverage of Rudy's many adventures in Ukraine, which started long before this phone call, click HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and ... HERE and ... oh, just Google around. We have a thousand articles on it. As CNN notes, it was a big deal that in July, Giuliani was on the phone with the closest adviser to the new president of Ukraine, and not just the pro-Russia chucklefucks and literal actual Russian spies who went to literal actual KGB spy school that he had been dealing with up to then.
What it must have been to be on the Ukrainian side of that phone call, listening to grandpa huff paint about conspiracy theories:
"I got information from a reliable investigator, international investigator, that there was a certain amount of activity in Ukraine during the 2016 election," Giuliani said to Yermak during the call, pushing the false claim that US embassy officials tried to "produce dirt on then-candidate Trump and Paul Manafort."
"Another one was involved with (George) Soros ... Soros apparently is behind a lot of this," Giuliani said, referring to the liberal billionaire philanthropist who is the subject of many GOP conspiracies.
GEORGE SOROS IS IN MY UNDERPANTS, PLZ HAAAAALP!!!!!!
Giuliani also brought up the false claim that Biden acted corruptly as vice president when he urged Zelensky's predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, to fire the country's top prosecutor in 2016. (Multiple witnesses in the impeachment inquiry testified that Biden was simply following bipartisan US policy, and that the Ukrainian prosecutor needed to go because he was corrupt.)
"To me, as a lawyer, it sounds like a bribe," Giuliani said. "A bribe is offering something of value in exchange for official action. So, he offered Poroshenko a $1.2 billion loan guarantee, critical to Poroshenko's success as president, in exchange for getting rid of a prosecutor general."
That's the Opposite Day story they all wanted us to believe, that's for sure.
By the end of the call, it seemed clear to Yermak what needed to happen to get on Trump's good side. "I'm sure that Zelensky will say that," Yermak said, referring to the requests from Giuliani and Volker that Zelensky should mention the investigations during his upcoming call with Trump.
"Good," Volker said.
"Believe me, Andriy, that would be good for all of us," Giuliani replied. "That would move it along very fast. And I can assure you that, as far as I'm concerned, I think they should talk this week."
Volker said, "I will press that as well," referring to getting Trump to call Zelensky.
Three days later, Trump and Zelenskyy had their perfect call, and the rest is history, and it is breathtaking history.
CNN quotes Igor Novikov, a former adviser to Zelenskyy who heard the call, who put this call in its proper context:
"We're a country fighting an active war with Russia for many years," he said. "So, anything to do with swapping favors within our bilateral relationship in exchange for trying to get us involved in US domestic politics is just wrong, on many levels, morally, ethically and probably even legally."
In related news, President Joe Biden announced yesterday that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will be coming to visit the White House this summer. They made sure to announce this literally right before Biden travels to Europe and meets with Vladimir Putin, just after Biden finishes at the G7, which Putin got kicked out of because he started a hot war with Ukraine and stole its land.
So that's a message sent.
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All of it, Katie.
Well, well, well. Ever since Joe Biden became President of these American United States, we've been learning a whole lot about what happened during the election. No, not the one Donald Trump and his leaking minions are going to deny the results of until they die of natural human causes. The one that installed Trump in the office in the first place. The one that it's getting harder and harder to deny was probably literally actually stolen.
We are of course talking about Paul Manafort, Trump's 2016 campaign crime manager.
When President Biden's Treasury Department announced new Russian sanctions last month, it went the furthest we have seen so far in explaining exactly what Manafort was doing with that Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik in 2016. Kilimnik, who is currently Most Wanted by the FBI, was one of Manafort's main squeeze business partners, and the Treasury Department said in April unequivocally that "Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy." We already knew where Kilimnik got that data — it was from Manafort! It was internal Trump campaign Rust Belt polling and modeling data!
And where did Trump "win" that election by a handful of votes, even though Trump's final tally in the 2016 popular vote was "fuck you"? Yes, that would be the unlikeliest inside straight ever, in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
But back in the days of the Mueller Report, we didn't have information about exactly what Kilimnik was doing with the info Manafort was giving him. It always seemed pretty obvious Kilimnik was giving it to the Russian government in some way or another, but "seemed pretty obvious" did not rise to the level of proving the conspiracy. Hell, it wasn't until the then-GOP-led Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) issued its final Russia report in the summer of 2020 that anybody was willing to say outright that Kilimnik was a Russian spy. SSCI did that.
Well, there have been some very important UNREDACTIONS this week about Manafort's lies that blew up his plea deal with the Justice Department, and surprise, they confirm just about everything that seemed pretty obvious at the time but nobody could say for sure out loud. What did he lie about? Oh, just all the Kilimnik shit. And some other shit.
it's a lot of documents, and you can hop in here and splash around if you'd like.
We'll let Adam Klasfeld at Law & Crime do some summarizing, because he's smart, and Jesus, there is a lot of news today:
Both the Mueller report and the bipartisan Senate committee found that Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates "periodically" gave Kilimnik the Trump campaign's internal polling data, even though Gates told the special prosecutor that he suspected that Kilimnik was a Russian "spy." [...]
Weissmann [said] Manafort falsely claimed he did not tell Gates to share the polling data with Kilimnik, but emails and testimony showed that Manafort personally authorized that.
He lied about what he was telling Rick Gates to give to the Russian spy!
And remember the "peace plan" for Ukraine? Remember how we learned that any time you talked about "peace plan" you were talking about "sanctions" and a back door for letting Russia get away with stealing Ukraine without consequences? That's the other thing Manafort lied to the investigators about just repeatedly:
According to the Mueller report, Kilimnik had been pursuing a Ukrainian so-called "peace plan" at least four times before and after the 2016 presidential election, and Manafort misled prosecutors about these plans.
"Over the course of several interviews, Manafort lied about the fact and frequency of his discussions with Kilimnik about a Ukraine peace plan," Mueller's deputy Andrew Weissmann wrote in December 2018, in a sentence whose conclusion remains redacted.
"The plan involved the creation of an autonomous eastern Ukraine," the memo states, an outcome that Mueller eventually revealed to be "a 'backdoor' way for Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine."
Manafort had acted like he just talked to Kilimnik once about it and they never spoke of it again. "Manafort said he told Kilimnik the idea was crazy and the discussion ended," the documents say. But in fact, they talked about it a lot.
Funny how those are the two things Manafort just lied and lied and lied about. One might think that was the thing Russia wanted in return for however its intelligence services were using the polling data being supplied by Manafort through Kilimnik. Yes, one might think.
Maybe that's why Andrew Weissmann in early 2019 told Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who just unsealed these documents, that these issues went "very much to the heart of what the Special Counsel's office [was] investigating." Also remember that the main reason Robert Mueller couldn't prove conspiracy was because all these assholes constantly deleted their communications and also lied to him.
One more biggie:
According to the unsealed memo, Manafort claimed after signing his plea agreement that he had "no direct or indirect communication with anyone" in the Trump administration—"on any subject matter."
"The evidence demonstrates that Manafort lied about his contacts," the memo stated. "The evidence demonstrates that Manafort had contacts with Administration officials."
Well that is just a lot of lies. He lied to investigators about passing secret notes, in effect, to the Kremlin. He lied about discussions about creating "peace" in Ukraine, by handing it to Russia. And he lied about whether he was still cahoots-ing with the Trump administration after he agreed to cooperate with the investigation.
As we said, none of this is unexpected. But it sure is interesting how all the pieces of what we've been talking about for years are just falling into place now that we have a real president.
NO COLLUSION, though.
Here's Adam Schiff talking to Lawrence O'Donnell about these unredacted documents last night:
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Yes, yes, yell at the court about Deep State, that will work.
Rudy Giuliani is mad as hell, and he's not going to take it any more. In a screaming 17-page letter to US District Court Judge J. Paul Oetken, Rudy and his lawyers demand that the court put off the review of materials seized during the April 28 raid of his home and office so that these legal eagles can first litigate the secret warrants that allowed the government to seize his electronic communications from Apple and Google in 2019. Careful with that link, kids, the spittle fairly rises off the page to baptize you with bile!
In a show of DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHO I AM that would make Meghan McCain blush, Giuliani howls at length about the injustice of a man of his stature being treated like a common criminal.
"Unfortunately for Giuliani, and even more unfortunately for the attorney-client privilege and executive deliberation privilege, and the public's perception that those privileges are real, the SDNY simply chose to treat a distinguished lawyer as if he was the head of a drug cartel or a terrorist, in order to create maximum prejudicial coverage of both Giuliani, and his most well known client – the former President of the United States," huffs the man who pioneered the use of the perp walk for accused white collar criminals.
There's the requisite noise about Hunter Biden's laptop, along with an attempt to prove that Giuliani wasn't lobbying on behalf of foreign agents from Ukraine, by repeatedly referring to all the times Giuliani approached United States government officials to lobby them about Ukraine. Which may or may not be exactly the PWN he thinks it is.
How could Rudy be lobbying on behalf of foreigners when he marched right in the front door of the State Department and tried to get our ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, fired in accordance with Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko's wishes? And what about Rudy's cooperation with deputy US Attorney Scott Brady in the Western District of Pennsylvania, whom Bill Barr seems to have assigned to babysit the president's lawyer as he drove around in a cul-de-sac spinning his wheels about Ukraine?
Reading this rancid pile of goat entrails, Giuliani seems to be claiming that the government lied to the judge who approved the initial application for a secret warrant for his communications. As proof, Rudy cites the years-long campaign he coordinated with shady Ukrainian figures who are now on the Treasury Department's sanctions list for efforts to interfere with the 2020 election.
It's a bold strategy, Cotton!
The histrionics continue at length, with Giuliani demanding to know whether the judge who approved the April 28 warrant was told that Bill Barr and his successor Jeffrey Rosen blocked earlier efforts by SDNY to conduct similar searches, as if internal DOJ deliberations are something prosecutors are obliged to disclose.
Then the guy whose pals at the New York FBI field office sure did seem to be leaking a raft of shit about Hillary Clinton to him in the lead-up to the 2016 election accuses SDNY of leaking to Rep. Adam Schiff — arrest this man for the murder of irony! — and demands that the underlying affidavits for the first warrant be released so that he can test this theory. (Please don't waste a lot of time trying to make that make sense.)
Rudy Giuliani, the same man who defied a House subpoena and refused to answer any questions about his work in Ukraine -- because PRIVILEGE! -- insists that all the government had to do was ask him if he was lobbying on behalf of a foreign government, and he'd have told them anything that wasn't privileged. (In his version of privilege, we thiiiiiink that entails giving the finger to investigators while simultaneously going on Hannity to scream nonsense.)
"The search of an attorney's office should be done rarely and only under extraordinary circumstances. Otherwise, such high profile and heavily publicized searches such as those of President Trump's attorneys will just continue to erode and finally extinguish citizen reliance that communications for legal advice are really seriously protected," he spews.
Think of the public!
This argument is echoed by hairball lawyer Victoria Toensing, who filed a substantially less wacko request asking for substantially the same thing. Instead of having the data sorted by a special magistrate, she wants the government to give her back her phone and issue her a subpoena for documents, after which she'll hand over anything she thinks isn't privileged. And if you can't trust someone who set up shop in the back room of the Trump hotel to run a disinformation campaign using dubious foreign intelligence to target a presidential candidate, who can you trust?
Meanwhile, the Daily Beast reports that Rudy is still convinced that any minute now Daddy Trump will swoop in to save the day. It's not clear whether the rescue will come in the form of a public announcement that everything Rudy did was 100 percent legal work for Trump, or a motion to assert attorney-client privilege over the documents seized in the search (as he did with Michael Cohen), or possibly just a good, old-fashioned infusion of cash to pay Rudy's lawyers. Maybe all three!
But if Rudy's waiting on Trump to stick his neck out and suddenly claim ownership of every hinky thing Rudy did when he was gallivanting all over Eastern Europe rolling around with Russian agents, he probably shouldn't hold his breath. On the other hand, the former president can raise infinity dollars for his "legal defense," so maybe he'll be willing to throw some of that funny money at this case.
The important thing is to stay positive, Roods! Chin up, little fella. And keep that shirt fully tucked!
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