'Worse than Democrats'
With some Senate Republicans lately voicing less than full-throated opposition to impeachment, would you expect President Donald Trump to try a charm offensive to keep members of his party who could waver from turning on him? Try again.
Trump tweeted Wednesday: "The Never Trumper Republicans, though on respirators with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats. Watch out for them, they are human scum!"
Based on previous tweets, Trump appeared to be specifically referring to William Taylor. He's the diplomat his administration installed in Ukraine after ousting the ambassador who was seen as not playing ball with Trump and Rudy Giuliani's demand to have that country's government investigate Democrats. Taylor's testimony Tuesday, detailing how military aid became leverage, inflicted a body blow to Trump's "no quid pro quo" defense.
So Trump declared Taylor and his lawyer John Bellinger were "Never Trumper" Republicans and complained "it would be really great if the people within the Trump Administration, all well-meaning and good (I hope!), could stop hiring Never Trumpers." (Bellinger has spoken against Trump, but the president offered no evidence of bias against him by Taylor.)
The "hiring" gripe could be aimed at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Taylor aside, Bloomberg News reports Pompeo has gotten Trump's assent to bring aboard several former critics to deepen an otherwise shallow talent pool for critically important jobs.
Trump's reaction Wednesday suggests the White House may have viewed Taylor's testimony as more damaging than the nothing-to-see-here take offered by House Republicans who were inside the room. With impeachment by the Democratic-led House looking likely, the Senate will become Trump's last line of defense against removal from office, which requires a two-thirds vote.
The conservative Daily Caller website said it contacted all 53 Republican Senate offices Monday and Tuesday, and only seven senators explicitly rejected impeachment, though more were highly dubious. But new concern about the inquiry's revelations came from the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Thune of South Dakota. “The picture coming out of it, based on the reporting that we’ve seen, I would say is not a good one,” he said. "But I would say also that until we have a process that allows for everybody to see this in full transparency, it’s pretty hard to draw any hard and fast conclusions."
Trump cheers another invasion
Dozens of Trump-allied House Republicans on Wednesday stormed the secure facility inside the Capitol where impeachment investigators from both parties have been deposing witnesses behind closed doors. Their tweets arguing that Democrats are trying to "hide this process from the American people" got approving retweets from Trump.
The stunt delayed for more than five hours the scheduled questioning of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper, who appeared despite an effort by the Pentagon to block her cooperation. She had fought internally to get military aid to Ukraine released.
Republicans on the three investigating panels — the Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees — have been permitted to attend the depositions and ask questions. The GOP members who occupied the room and aren't members of the panels left after the House sergeant-at-arms intervened.
Several lawmakers said some of the Republicans brought their cellphones into the secure room even though electronics are not allowed.
Report: Ukraine knew
One of the Trump defenses against a "quid pro quo" is an assertion that Ukraine wasn't aware that U.S. military aid was being withheld while President Volodymyr Zelensky's government was getting pressed to investigate Joe Biden's son and conspiracy theories about Democrats.
But word of the aid freeze had gotten to high-level Ukrainian officials by the first week in August, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times. That's weeks earlier than U.S. and Ukrainian officials had acknowledged, and falls within the period when Giuliani and American diplomats working with him were pressing Zelensky to make a public commitment to the investigations.
The Associated Press, meanwhile, reported that Zelensky was already worried in May about pressure to conduct the investigations, not wanting to get entangled in American politics. The report cites three people familiar with a meeting Zelensky held back then with a small group of advisers.
Janison: Hugs for the Constitution
Has Trump, deep into his third year as president, embraced the Constitution? White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham caricatured the House impeachment inquiry as a plot by "radical" presidential foes "waging war against the Constitution."
Just like in Syria, the players on that battlefield suddenly changed. Newsday's Dan Janison writes that Trump's displays of disrespect for the founding document keep piling up.
Just this week, he referred to the Constitution's clause against taking privileges and payments from foreign leaders as "phony." That's because his decision to award the location of the G-7 international conference to his own golf resort appeared to violate it. Trump also has claimed, "I have an Article 2 where I have the right to do whatever I want as president."
No, the Constitution doesn't say that. And it doesn't give him a free pass to sic a foreign government on a domestic political opponent without potential consequences.
Number 1 with a bullet
Still, Trump's legal team is pushing their expansive view of presidential power to mind-boggling places. On Wednesday, while battling in a federal appeals court to keep the Manhattan DA from getting his tax returns, Trump's attorneys argued the president has absolute immunity from criminal indictment or investigation.
One of the judges took note of Trump's famous boast that he could stand in the middle of New York's Fifth Avenue and shoot someone without losing any voters. But does that mean the president couldn't be charged with the crime?
"The local authorities couldn't investigate? They couldn't do anything about it?" asked Judge Denny Chin. Not while in office, responded lawyer William Consovoy.
One hand clapping
Trump announced Wednesday he will end the sanctions imposed on Turkey after a bipartisan uproar over his decision to clear the way for its invasion two weeks ago of northeastern Syria, territory that had been held by U.S.-allied Kurdish forces.
Trump said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had agreed to a lasting cease-fire though he also said it was "somewhat questionable" if it could remain permanent. Trump continued to play down concern that the removal of U.S. forces and the retreat of the Kurds who have held thousands of ISIS prisoners could lead to a resurgence of the terrorist group in the region while troops ordered in by Russia's Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Assad fill the vacuum.
"There were a few that got out, a small number relatively speaking," Trump said. "They've been largely recaptured." Both Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Jim Jeffrey, the U.S. special envoy for Syria and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, have recently said that at least 100 suspected Islamic State fighters had escaped from detention in the area.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it was "delusional and dangerous" for Trump to believe that Turkey would secure the detained ISIS fighters, and the lifting of sanctions "after despots like Assad, Erdogan, and Putin already got everything they wanted is another nonsensical and counterproductive foreign policy decision." GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said, "I do not trust or believe that Turkey, Russia, or Assad have the capability or the desire to protect America from radical Islamic threats like ISIS."
For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
What else is happening:
- It turns out that Trump's comparison of impeachment proceedings to a "lynching" had precedent. Some Democrats, both black and white and including then-Sen. Joe Biden, used the same term more than 20 years ago to condemn Republican efforts to impeach President Bill Clinton. On Wednesday, Biden apologized but tweeted Trump's comment is worse because he "continues to stoke racial divides in this country daily."
- A CNN poll indicates Biden has surged back into a sizable lead over his Democratic rivals nationally, with support from 34% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters, compared with 19% for Elizabeth Warren and 16% for Bernie Sanders. Tied for fourth with 6% are Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris.
- House Democrats are looking into whether Dmytro Firtash, a Ukraine natural gas oligarch with alleged ties to organized crime, provided funding to two associates of Giuliani who are now charged with making illegal campaign contributions to Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said Wednesday. See Politico's story.
- The two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, entered not-guilty pleas in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday. A lawyer for Parnas, Edward B. MacMahon Jr., said he may try to claim executive privilege on the novel basis that Giuliani served as a lawyer for both Parnas and Trump.
- Giuliani, reportedly under investigation by Manhattan federal prosecutors, is looking for a defense attorney, CNN reported. Last week, he said he wouldn't be retaining a lawyer unless he felt he needed one.
- Maryland’s attorney general on Wednesday sued a real estate company run by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner's family over allegedly “unfair or deceptive” rental practices for Baltimore-area apartments. The suit charges tenants "have had to endure living in units that are infested by rodents and vermin, plagued with water leaks that have caused mold and other issues."
- Trump's Doonbeg golf resort in Ireland billed the country's police force for more than 100,000 euros, or $111,000, to provide meals for officers who provided security during the president's two-night June visit, The Irish Times reported.
- MSNBC announced it will have an all-female panel of moderators for the next Democratic debate on Nov. 20. Three are from the network and NBC: Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell and Kristen Welker. The fourth is Ashley Parker of The Washington Post.