S3E33:impeachment, syria and RIP Rep Cummings

On the podcast we discuss impeachment, Donald Trump, Syria, Shepard Smith leaving Fox and the death of Atatiana Johnson.

Our coverage of the debate will occur tomorrow, Friday Oct 18 and/or Saturday Oct 19.

As the democrats debated, the news quickly swung back to Donald Trump, yesterday (one could be forgiven if they forgot there was a debate). 

Nothing appears to be more damaging to the President and his base then his decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

An attempt by speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to meet with Trump yesterday to discuss the plan going forward, devolved into what the speaker and minority leader Schumer called a “meltdown”.   

Meanwhile impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill has had more and more people come in and testify and things are looking worse and worse everyday.

What’s going on with Trump?  How bad is this for the Republicans?  Is the pressure is getting to the commander in chief?

Listen to our thoughts here:

RIP Elijah Cummings

Rep Elijah Cummings, chair of the House Oversight committee passed away early this morning.  Cause of death has not been released but Cummings had apparently been battling a number of health-related issues.

The flag was flown at half staff at the House and the president, whom Cummings sparred with, sent warm condolences.    The investigations of the president is what propelled Cummings into the limelight.

But it was also Donald Trump’s attack on the city he represented, Baltimore, Maryland. After calling the city rat-infested and later tweeting when the congressman’s house was burglarized, Cummings was constantly reminding America that we were “better than that”.

The meltdown

According to reports, the speaker of the House, minority leader Schumer and Steny Hoyer walked out of a meeting at the White House after Trump began berating the speaker Pelosi.

This occurred after an overwhelming bipartisan resolution was passed in the House condemning the withdrawal of US troops from parts of Syria controlled by US allies the Kurds.

The trio and other Democrats and Republicans went to the White House to talk strategy going forward in Syria.   A heated exchange occurred at which time Pelosi reportedly implied the president was working on behalf of Putin.  To which the President called her a “third rate” politician.

At that point Shummer, Pelosi and Hoyer decided to leave.   Others stayed, but nothing got done.

Instead the speaker and her allies held a news conference:

Trump responded by tweeting the picture at the top of this blog post calling Pelosi “nervous Nancy”.

The art of the deal

As if the spectacle wasn’t enough, the President sent to the media (Trish Regan of Fox)  a letter he wrote to the president of Turkey.  Many are criticising the writing as “third grade” level.

Reports are Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threw the letter in the garbage and continued his attack on the Kurds.

Of course the late night comics had a field day:

A Syrian deal?

But according to reports, Mike Pence has brokered a deal for a cease fire.

The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow for the withdrawal of YPG forces from the safe zone for 120 hours,” Pence said at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Ankara, referring to the name the Turkish government has used to describe its incursion. “All military operations under Operation Peace Spring will be paused and Operation Peace Spring will be halted entirely on completion of the withdrawal. Our administration has already been in contact with Syrian defense forces and we’ve already begun to facilitate their safe withdrawal from the nearly 20-mile-wide safe zone area south of the Turkish border in Syria.”

Pence went to Turkey overnight along with Mike Pompeo. And, according to Politico, spent more than four hours talking with Turkey’s president and others.

From the outset, the mission had long odds: Pence and Pompeo landed in the Turkish capital on Thursday to the news that Erdogan had tossed a letter from Trump in the trash. Walking out of the ambassador’s residence here en route to the presidential palace to meet with Erdogan, they wore stern looks and declined to take questions.

The ceasefire agreement salvages a foreign-policy fiasco in the making for the United States as it sought to halt an invasion that has killed civilians, driven America’s former Kurdish allies into the arms of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad and caused the release of hundreds of ISIS prisoners.

And it represents a political respite for President Trump, who had come under fierce criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for seeming to abandon a vulnerable population the U.S. had sworn to protect.

Gordon Sondland

The US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland testified today before the House and told the impeachment investigator that President Trump delegated foreign policy on Ukraine to his personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani. 

This seems to contradict reporting that Mick Mulvaney, the chief of staff, told deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s European and Eurasian Bureau, George Kent, the so-called “three amigos” of Kurt Volker (envoy to Ukraine), Sonland and Rick Perry (sec. of energy) were put in charge of the deal with Ukraine. 

Kent, a lifelong career in government, was shocked to see career specialist sidelined in favor of three men who had no experience with the country.

Also, reporting is, John Bolton the national security advisor did not want anything to do with the group likening what they were doing to a “drug deal”.  Not long after, Bolton left the NSC and the administration.

According to the Times, some lawmakers are not buying it:

Some lawmakers who heard it said that Mr. Sondland’s story appeared to be designed to insulate himself from blame. As she emerged from the first two hours of questioning, Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California and a member of the Intelligence Committee, called his remarks “a lot of C.Y.A.”

Regarding the famous text that Sondland sent, Politico reports:

Sondland told congressional investigators he did not realize “until much later” that Giuliani was seeking a Ukrainian-led investigation into Biden and his son — even though Trump himself and Giuliani had been calling publicly for such probes for weeks.

He said any effort to solicit foreign assistance in an American election — an allegation central to the House’s impeachment inquiry — “would be wrong,” adding that he was “disappointed by” the May 23 meeting with Trump because he believed a Trump-Zelensky meeting “should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions.”

Sondland now says he only claimed there was no quid pro quo because Trump repeatedly assured him of it in a direct phone call — regardless of whether it was true.

“And I recall the president was in a bad mood,” Sondland said in his opening statement.

Sondland’s testimony also underscores the outsized influence Giuliani has had on Trump’s foreign policy, even though the former New York City mayor is not a government official.

“It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the president’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani,” Sondland said.

Rudolph Giuliani

The former of mayor of New York, according to Sondland during impeachment hearing, was instrumental in making the connection between a White House visit to Ukraine and investigating possible democratic candidate Joe Biden.

“Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the president wanted a public statement from President [Volodymyr] Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anti-corruption issues,” Sondland said.

“Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two anti-corruption investigatory topics of importance for the president,” he added.

Mulvaney confirms quid pro quo

Curiously, and perhaps to get on the same page, chief of staff Mulvaney apparently confirms the existence of a deal between the US and Ukraine involving an investigation into Biden’s son.

Washington Post characterizes it as this:

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters Thursday that President Trump blocked nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in part to force the government in Kyiv to investigate his political rivals, a startling acknowledgment after the president’s repeated denials of a quid pro quo.

Mulvaney defended the maneuver as “absolutely appropriate.”

“Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that’s it, that’s why we held up the money,” Mulvaney said, referring to a conspiracy theory that a hacked Democratic National Committee computer server was taken to Ukraine in 2016 to hide evidence that Kyiv, not Moscow, interfered in the last U.S. presidential election.

Mulvaney also said the funds had been withheld because European countries were being “really, really stingy when it comes to lethal aid” for Ukraine. But he characterized the decision to leverage congressionally approved aid as common practice, citing other instances in which the Trump administration has withheld aid to foreign countries and telling critics to “get over it.”

Believe it or not, impeachment hearings continue.