Rough and Rudy
They both stepped up to try to satisfy Donald Trump's hunger for vengeance against his enemies, real or imagined, of the past, present and future. But Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, and William Barr, the nation's attorney general, aren't working off the same script, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Barr has been carrying out Trump's wishes to look for skulduggery behind the origins of the Russia investigation. But he has privately claimed to have been blindsided upon learning the president pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to contact both Barr and Giuliani in pursuit of dirt on Joe Biden and supposed Ukraine-connected Democratic plots. The Justice Department said Trump never asked Barr to contact the Ukrainians.
Barr and Giuliani's styles are no match. The Journal notes Giuliani saturates media with combative interviews and exaggerations, while Barr is a more measured figure who speaks carefully. Also in the report: Barr complained to Trump in the aftermath of the Mueller investigation when Giuliani, instead of declaring victory and moving on, went on TV to attack former White House counsel Don McGahn, who is Barr's friend.
Trump likes the rambunctious Rudy, whose behavior Barr finds unhelpful. Much of what Giuliani says is unsubstantiated or contradicted by available evidence. NBC News on Tuesday caught Giuliani in a blatant flip-flop.
Earlier in the year, Giuliani was praising Ukraine's then-chief prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, as a "much more honest guy" than his predecessor. Trump lamented Lutsenko's dismissal in the call with Zelensky. But Lutsenko told NBC and other outlets over the weekend that he could find no evidence of legal violations involving the Bidens. Not hearing what he wanted to hear, Giuliani turned on Lutsenko Sunday as "exactly the prosecutor that Joe Biden put in in order to tank the case.”
On Monday, Giuliani was subpoenaed by three House committees for documents. He has now lawyered up, retaining Jon Sale, a former Watergate prosecutor and assistant U.S. attorney. Also subpoenaed were two Soviet-born businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have helped Giuliani pursue his theories.
Digging into the businessmen's backgrounds, the Miami Herald reports on lawsuits alleging the pair have left extensive trails of bad debts in South Florida, where they live. According to a couple who tried to recoup $500,000, they were warned to back off and were told "the Ukrainians had ties all the way up to the State Department and the White House and they were partners with Rudy Giuliani.”
State of suspense
Will there be a whistling sound inside a secure room on Capitol Hill Wednesday?
As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warred with Democratic-led House chairmen seeking witnesses and documents, the State Department's inspector general made a sudden, surprise request to give an "urgent" briefing to congressional committees. The subject: documents obtained from the department’s Office of the Legal Adviser related to the State Department and Ukraine, ABC News reported.
The inspector general is the department's internal investigator and watchdog, and the office generally operates independently of the department's political leadership.
Pompeo and the Democrats accused each other Tuesday of trying to intimidate State Department officials called as witnesses in the probe. Pompeo said five State Department officials called to give depositions would not appear as scheduled. But Democrats were able to set closed-door appearances for Thursday for the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, and next week for ousted U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Volker was an intermediary between Giuliani and Ukrainian officials. Yovanovitch, called "bad news" by Trump in his call with Zelensky, seems to have gotten in Giuliani's way.
Trump's coup-coup tweet
Trump tweeted Tuesday night, "As I learn more and more each day, I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP." The aim, he said, is "to take away the Power of the … People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of The United States of America!"
Impeachment is a legal process provided for in the Constitution.
Janison: Mitch's power play
Early in his presidency, Trump stood back and let then-ally Steve Bannon try to engineer a scheme to diminish Mitch McConnell through primary challenges of GOP Senate incumbents. Don't expect a repeat. If Trump is impeached, his acquittal in a Senate trial is assured only if the GOP majority sees its own future as benefiting from the president's survival, Newsday's Dan Janison writes.
By going along last week with a Democratic resolution to get hold of the whistleblower's complaint and by stating he would have "no choice" but to take up impeachment if the House sends it his way, McConnell is sending a message that he will not jump on grenades to shield Trump from himself should the president's GOP viability erode. With Trump's fate potentially in his hands, the power dynamic has shifted McConnell's way.
Whistleblower's GOP defender
Again on Tuesday, Donald Trump insisted he should be given the name of the Ukraine scandal whistleblower, asking why he was not “entitled to interview” the anonymous intelligence officer.
Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Senate's most senior Republican, would like the president and others seeking the identity to knock it off. The individual whose complaint sparked an impeachment inquiry "appears to have followed the whistleblower protection laws and ought to be heard out and protected," said Grassley, long a champion of those laws.
Grassley, usually supportive of the president, also pushed back at the attacks from Trump and his allies on the whistleblower's credibility because some of his allegations didn't come from firsthand knowledge. "Complaints based on secondhand information should not be rejected out of hand, but they do require additional leg work," the senator said.
While the whistleblower wants to meet with lawmakers, extraordinary steps may be needed to preserve the person's safety and anonymity. Fox News reported that a secret session away from the U.S. Capitol complex is under consideration. Mark Zaid, a lawyer representing the whistleblower, said, “The law and policy supports protection of the identity of the whistleblower from disclosure and from retaliation."
Trump's borderline thinking: Snakes
A new book by a pair of New York Times reporters chronicles some Trump ideas to stop the migrant flow from Mexico that haven't happened.
Among them: fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench stocked with snakes or alligators and having soldiers shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down.
One that almost happened last March was shutting down the entire 2,000-mile border with Mexico on short notice, which advisers feared would trap American tourists in Mexico, strand children at schools on both sides of the border and create an economic meltdown in two countries. The book, "Border Wars: Inside Trump's Assault on Immigration" by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear, goes on sale next week.
The March episode led to a mass shake-up including the ouster of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. On Tuesday, the acting DHS chief who replaced her, Kevin McAleenan, took his beefs with the Trump administration public in a Washington Post interview.
“What I don’t have control over is the tone, the message, the public face and approach of the department in an increasingly polarized time,” he said. “That’s uncomfortable, as the accountable, senior figure.” He was referring to recent DHS appointees who won their jobs after advocating aggressively for Trump on TV.
Protecting Trump's tax secrets
The Justice Department has decided to intervene on Trump's side against a subpoena by the Manhattan district attorney for eight years of Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns.
DA Cy Vance has sought the documents as part of an investigation into hush-money payments made to women who said they had sexual encounters with Trump. A federal probe of the payments led to a prison sentence for former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen but no charges against Trump.
Trump’s lawyers have argued that his immunity as president from criminal investigation covers state as well as federal cases.
What else is happening:
- While Trump likes Giuliani's loyalty, he hasn't always been kind to him, according to The Wall Street Journal. He berated Giuliani in front of others at the wedding of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in 2017 to complain that Giuliani was spitting while talking.
- Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee raised $125 million in the third quarter of the year, a presidential fundraising record, The Associated Press reports.
- Bernie Sanders' campaign raised $25.3 million in the third quarter — the biggest haul for any Democratic presidential candidate this year, ABC News reported. Pete Buttigieg collected $19.1 million; Kamala Harris reeled in $11.6 million.
- Trump tweeted "Congratulations to President Xi and the Chinese people" on the 70th anniversary of communist rule. Many Republicans chose to differ. McConnell said the occasion should serve as a reminder of the “many millions of lives lost under Chinese communist rule.”
- Residents of Suffolk County's 1st Congressional District received a mailer designed to look like a census form, reports Newsday's Michael Gormley. It asks voters if they plan to vote for Trump. Upon a closer look, it clearly states that it is “commissioned by the Republican Party."
- Former Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller has gone back to his old law firm in Washington, WilmerHale. His focus: high-profile investigations and crisis management.
- The U.S. and North Korea plan to resume working-level talks next week, according to the State Department. Negotiations on Kim Jong Un's nuclear arms have stalled since February.