Trump's red line? Doesn't know yet
Less than three days after Donald Trump all but rolled out a welcome mat for invasion, Turkey's military unleashed airstrikes and artillery on the Kurdish fighters in Syria who for years made the biggest sacrifices in blood to win the U.S.-led battle against ISIS. Turkey said its ground forces were on the move and civilian casualties were reported.
No condemnations of Trump's retreat were harsher than those from some of his most steadfast allies among Republicans in Congress. "Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, who's working with Democrats to impose sanctions on Turkey. “President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria is having sickening and predictable consequences,” said Rep. Liz Cheney.
Even evangelical leaders, the bedrock of Trump's base, were horrified at the president's decision. "Pray for the Christians who the Kurds have been protecting. They could be annihilated," said the Rev. Franklin Graham. Televangelist Pat Robertson said Trump "is in danger of losing the mandate of heaven" by "allowing Christians and the Kurds to be massacred by the Turks."
Evangelical radio host Erick Erickson, who had a past falling-out with Trump but more recently said he'd probably support him in 2020, tweeted: "Hey @SpeakerPelosi, maybe do a vote to initiate impeachment STAT, have the committee get out articles by tonight and over to the Senate, and perhaps we'll still have time to save some of the Kurds."
Trump insisted that his redeployment of U.S. troops whose presence had served as a tripwire to discourage Turkish attack wasn't a green light to invade, even though the White House statement Sunday night said matter-of-factly that "Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria."
In a statement Wednesday, Trump declared, "The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea." Later, he told reporters that if Turkey "doesn't do it in as humane a way as possible," he will impose "far more than sanctions" to punish Turkey.
What does "as humane a way as possible" actually mean? What is the line that Turkey must not cross? "We're going to have to define that as we go along," Trump said.
Trump: No Kurds on D-Day
During his remarks Wednesday, Trump went off on a tangent that seemed to suggest the U.S. alliance with the Kurds wasn't all that deep, historically.
"They didn't help us in the Second World War, they didn't help us with Normandy," Trump said. "Alliances are very easy," the president observed.
Trump's inspiration for that argument apparently came from a friendly columnist, Kurt Schlichter, who noted that the Kurds didn't participate in the Korean War, Vietnam War or the Afghanistan War either. "The Syrian Kurds allied with us in their homeland because we shared a common interest in wiping out the head-lopping freak show that was ISIS," Schlichter wrote.
In any case, Trump has now concluded, their service is no longer required.
Is Trump worried that the 12,000 ISIS prisoners held by Kurdish fighters will be able to escape amid the havoc? He told reporters that the worst of them have been moved to secure areas, and if the rest flee, "Well, they're going to be escaping to Europe."
Biden: Impeach him
Joe Biden said Wednesday for the first time that Trump must be impeached for abusing the powers of his office to help his own re-election by asking a foreign country to investigate the former vice president and his son.
Trump is "shooting holes in the Constitution," Biden said. "With his words and his actions, President Trump has indicted himself. By obstructing justice, refusing to comply with the congressional inquiry, he's already convicted himself," he said. "In full view of the world and the American people, Donald Trump has violated his oath of office, betrayed this nation and committed impeachable acts."
With Trump refusing to cooperate with the House inquiry, Trump predicted that the impeachment fight will end up in the Supreme Court. But The Associated Press reported it's unclear whether Democrats will go to court at all and risk a long delay. They could simply move to an article of impeachment on obstruction.
Trump's lawyers have argued that among the reasons they call the inquiry illegitimate is that there hasn't been a full House vote for it. Asked Wednesday if he would cooperate if there was a vote, Trump said, “Yeah, that sounds OK.” Trump then said “it depends” on whether the floor vote satisfied the conditions outlined in his lawyer's letter, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Legal analysts say the Constitution does not provide the executive branch power to dictate the ground rules for an inquiry.
WrestleMania with Constitution
A constitutional crisis is upon us, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Trump says he will defy the power of the Congress, which is a coequal branch of government. He seems to be warning us: Do not believe what you tell yourselves about American traditions, institutions or republican government.
A Trump ally, lawyer Joseph diGenova, defended Trump's stonewalling of the House, accusing the Democrats moving toward impeachment of trying to commit "regicide — regicide by another name."
Regicide is the action of killing a king. Spoiler alert: We don't have kings.
But for all his authoritarian poses, there is always a good chance that Trump's threats, while corrosive to the spirit of democracy, will prove as empty as they often are.
Uh-oh. Rudy clients busted
The faltering drive to demonize Democrat Joe Biden suffered a severe setback on Thursday when two Soviet-born donors to a pro- Trump fundraising committee -- who helped Rudy Giuliani’s efforts against Biden -- were hauled into court on relevant criminal charges.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Florida businessmen, are to be prosecuted, for now, on campaign-finance charges. Both were born in former Soviet republics. Like Trump, they are clients of the former mayor-turned-factotum. More details are due soon.
Rudy the Riddler
Will Trump lawyer Giuliani accept a friendly invitation to outline his Biden allegations and Ukraine conspiracy theories to Graham's Senate Judiciary Committee? "Do you think I’ll show my hand? Now? I might even change it,” Giuliani told Newsday's Emily Ngo. But he added, “Senator Graham and I are very close.”
As for the House Democrats who subpoenaed him, Giuliani said, “I’m going to be guided by the White House counsel who says it’s an illegitimate hearing.” With which he agrees. “This is about as big a kangaroo court as ever invented. The Salem witch trials have more due process than this.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Giuliani insisted Trump's call on Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky to provide him with a "favor" — launching investigations to pursue Giuliani's theories — was innocent, in part, because he used the word "favor."
“That’s a pretty mild word. ‘Do me a favor,’ ” Giuliani said. "Gee, I did a lot of extortion cases. I never heard ‘do me a favor’ as ‘I’ll break your legs, I’ll smash your head, I’ll take your kids away.’ ”
Newsday asked Giuliani about how his legacy, once defined by his leadership as New York's mayor after the 9/11 attacks, will be affected by his current role. He responded with sarcasm. “Oh, my God, my legacy. My legacy will be affected. My legacy will be affected. So, I’ll get scared and I’ll run away,” Giuliani said. He pointed to his days as a federal prosecutor who "uncovered some of the biggest criminal patterns in the history of this country" and said, "You’re just going to have to count on me that I’m right and you’re wrong.”
Speaking of Trump, Giuliani and favors
In 2017, Trump asked then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to go to bat with the Justice Department to help a client of Giuliani, Bloomberg News reported. The client was an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, Reza Zarrab, who was being prosecuted in federal court in New York on charges of evading U.S. sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program.
Tillerson refused to interfere, believing it would be illegal, and repeated his objections to then-Chief of Staff John Kelly in a hallway conversation just outside the Oval Office. Bloomberg said its sources were three people familiar with the meeting, who said those present when Trump made his request were shocked by it.
In a phone interview this month, Giuliani initially denied that he ever raised Zarrab’s case with Trump but later said he might have done so. “Suppose I did talk to Trump about it — so what? I was a private lawyer at the time,” Giuliani said.
Bloomberg reported the episode is also likely to fuel long-standing concerns from some of Trump’s critics about his policies toward Turkey and his relationship with its authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Zarrab’s release was a high priority for Erdogan until the gold trader agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in New York.
What else is happening:
- Trump's abandonment of the Kurds has shaken Israel, The New York Times reports. Across the political spectrum, Israelis are asking what prevents the same from befalling another staunch American ally — them? They fear Iran could be emboldened by U.S. disengagement.
- A Fox News reporter was told by a U.S. Special Forces soldier in Syria in a phone interview: "I am ashamed for the first time in my career." The soldier said Trump "doesn't understand the repercussions of this" and that Turkey is committing atrocities.
- A Fox News poll finds 51% of voters want Trump impeached and removed from office. By 55% to 39%, they believe Trump does what's best for himself and doesn't put the country first.
- Soviet-born Florida businessman Lev Parnas has been living large while aiding Giuliani's Ukraine sleuthing, according to banking records obtained by BuzzFeed. Though facing court judgments for hundreds of thousands in unpaid debts, Parnas stayed in top-flight hotels, dined in fancy restaurants and ran up a $657 charge at a popular Kyiv strip club, Tootsie.
- Former GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, who led a Benghazi investigation of Hillary Clinton, has joined Trump's outside legal team for the fight against impeachment.
- Trump's sudden rift with evangelicals over Syria comes as a book is in the works by Christian conservative leader Ralph Reed contending evangelicals “have a moral obligation to enthusiastically back” the president. The book's original title, “Render to God and Trump,” has been changed to “For God and Country: The Christian case for Trump,” Politico reported.
- A new book on Trump's relationships with women includes 26 new allegations of unwanted sexual contact. One woman claims Trump pulled her behind a tapestry at Mar-a-Lago in the early 2000s and grabbed her in the manner he bragged about in the "Access Hollywood" tape. Esquire published an excerpt from the book, "All the President's Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator" by Barry Levine and Monique El-Faizy.