Justice, News, Politics

Trump fires Gordon Sondland as EU ambassador

Trump fires key impeachment witness Gordon Sondland as EU ambassador

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland speaks with President Trump at Melsbroek Air Base in July 2018 in Brussels. Sondland is speaking to House committees on Thursday.
But the President Trump said he does not know the ambassador, so the photo may be fake 🙂

Gordon Sondland, the US’s ambassador to the EU, became the second impeachment witness to be fired on Friday. Sondland was ousted not long after Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, another crucial witness to President Donald Trump’s Ukraine dealings, was abruptly fired and escorted from the White House.

Trump fires key impeachment witness Gordon Sondland as EU ambassador

Gordon Sondland, the US’s ambassador to the EU, became the second impeachment witness to be fired on Friday. Sondland was ousted not long after Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, another crucial witness to President Donald Trump’s Ukraine dealings, was abruptly fired and escorted from the White House.

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Justice, Lifestyle, News, Politics

How Mitch McConnell Delivered Acquittal for president Donald Trump

“We can be smart or we can be stupid,” Mr. McConnell warned his rank and file during a closed-door lunch of halibut, fried chicken and pecan pie in the Capitol, steps from the Senate floor where the trial was to convene shortly. “The choice will be up to us.”

Republicans ultimately opted, as they almost invariably do, to stick with Mr. McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and block Democrats’ attempts to allow new evidence to be considered. All but one of them voted on Wednesday to acquit Mr. Trump of both of the charges against him.

The story of how Mr. McConnell held Republicans together — even in the face of stunning revelations about the president’s conduct and uneasiness in his party about Mr. Trump’s actions — reflects how a master Senate tactician deployed his command of procedure and keen political instincts to lock down a process that posed an existential threat to the president.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves the chamber after leading the impeachment acquittal of President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In doing so, he may have cemented the president’s hold on his office and provided a defiant campaign message to propel him to re-election, uniting the party around a figure who brooks no dissent and dealing a death blow to Democrats’ hopes of removing him.

“We thought they would finally work themselves up to doing this on something,” Mr. McConnell said. “It has been threatened endlessly. We needed to come up to speed on what actually happens, and that began in earnest last fall.”

So when Mr. McConnell fielded a phone call from Mr. Trump days before Christmas, he was ready. Stung by the House vote to impeach him on two charges, the president reached out to the majority leader from his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Fla., throwing out ideas about how to handle his coming Senate trial.

Mr. McConnell had a reassuring response for the third president ever to face removal by the Senate, urging Mr. Trump to trust him to manage the confrontation.

“What I have consistently said to him is I think I know more about the Senate than you do, which he usually concedes,” Mr. McConnell recalled, saying he told the president to keep public commentary about impeachment to a minimum. “My consistent advice to him with regard to this subject was to avoid it — and for the most part, for the most part, he did.”

Throughout the process, Mr. McConnell consistently refused to say how he viewed the president’s conduct, even as other Republicans eventually said that Mr. Trump’s actions were wrong, inappropriate and even shameful.

“I say things I choose to say,” he said when pressed Thursday.

Mr. McConnell set out to create the framework for a trial that his members could get behind, that could withstand the possibility of compromising new information emerging and that would deliver the White House a quick but credible verdict of “not guilty.” It went far from perfectly for Republicans — among other setbacks, Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, voted “guilty” on the charge of abuse of power, depriving Mr. Trump of the absolute party loyalty he coveted — but Mr. McConnell reached his desired end.

“I’ve been in politics long enough to know you should never say never, but let me say this,” Mr. McConnell told Mr. Hoyer. “I will never allow the House of Representatives to dictate rules to the Senate. Never.”

Behind the scenes, Mr. McConnell was trying to nail down the backing of the handful of Republicans who could complicate his careful planning. Four senators had expressed enough qualms about the president to give them leverage to win concessions from Mr. McConnell: Mr. Romney of Utah, the 2012 presidential nominee; Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who had in the past bucked Mr. McConnell and the White House; Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a veteran politician with plans to retire, and Susan Collins of Maine, a centrist facing the re-election challenge of her career.

When Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat running for president, asked whether the chief justice overseeing a trial without witnesses would undermine the courts, Mr. McConnell scrawled a quick note to Ms. Murkowski, who was still undecided on witnesses, to point out the attack.

With his eye on the undecided senators, Mr. Cruz also counseled the White House legal team to avoid arguing that there was no quid pro quo — “a strategic mistake” that might make Mr. Bolton’s testimony seem more relevant to those lawmakers. During questioning, Mr. Cruz helped draft a question, submitted jointly with senators like Ms. Murkowski and Mr. Alexander, that asked Mr. Trump’s legal team whether, if Mr. Bolton testified to the existence of a quid pro quo, it would amount to an impeachable offense.

When Patrick Philbin, a deputy White House counsel, rose to answer, asserting that Mr. Trump had never engaged in a quid pro quo, Mr. Cruz was “a little white-knuckled,” he recalled. But then the answer he was looking for came: Even if there was a quid pro quo, it did not matter.

“I think that answer played a really important part in helping get the votes of both Lamar and Lisa,” Mr. Cruz said later.

By the next day, Ms. Murkowski had come out against witnesses, using as a rationale what she characterized as an attack on Chief Justice Roberts. She followed Mr. Alexander, who said that while Mr. Trump had acted inappropriately, his actions did not merit impeachment. The final vote on witnesses was 51 to 49 and the trial hurtled to its finale, with Mr. Romney’s vote to convict the president as the final twist.

wikipedia – talk about Trump acquittal

Mr. McConnell shrugged off fierce criticism that he had overseen a sham.

“I didn’t rig anything,” he said. “We had a vote. No vote was prevented. No debate was prevented. These guys didn’t have the votes,” he said of Senate Democrats.

But this vote was of course influenced by a dozen reasons : confrontation with re-election of senators, pressure from president Trump, the fears they will lose presidential elections and the wonderful Senate seat.

Conclusion: President Donald Trump had what he wanted – Acquittal – Not guilty!

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Justice, News, Politics

Question is : Does Trump survive the impeachment

The president’s abuse of power looks as bad as Watergate, but so far he’s enjoyed the privilege of the age: Impunity .

Donald Trump has spat out so many insults and broken so many taboos that it’s hard for any single remark to linger long in the memory. Nevertheless one line from his 2016 election campaign has endured, partly because it was a jaw-dropper and partly because it offered an early glimpse of what would later be revealed as a deep truth about both his candidacy and his presidency – and even our current world.

It came when Trump was praising his early supporters as “so smart” and so loyal that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters”. The imagery was gross, the vanity egregious but, as so often with Trump, his reptilian intelligence had landed on something that was, though ugly, true: namely, that he enjoys a rare form of impunity.

The first proof was victory itself, won despite scandals and revelations that would have felled more mortal candidates. There was his voice on tape, clear and unmistakable, bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy” – and he won anyway. Now, three years on, Trump’s impunity is being tested again, with the launch this week of the public phase of the House intelligence committee’s impeachment inquiry.

Even before the first witness had opened his mouth, Democrats had laid out what should be a slam-dunk case for the removal of a president. Americans have known since September that Trump withheld foreign aid from Ukraine as he pressured its president to reveal, or make up, dirt on Trump’s would-be 2020 opponent, Joe Biden.

 The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, now suggests, you might call it plain old “bribery”.’ Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

You can call that soliciting the interference of a foreign power in a US election. You can call it subordinating the US national interest for personal, political gain. Either way, it qualifies as a “high crime or misdemeanour” defined as an impeachable offence under the constitution. Or, simpler still, as the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, now suggests, you might call it plain old “bribery”, which the constitution explicitly lists alongside treason as grounds for a president’s removal from office.

However you slice it, the White House’s own account – not quite a transcript – of Trump’s phone call on 25 July reveals an abuse of power, one every bit as clear-cut as the abuses which saw Richard Nixon forced out in 1974. (He even added to the charge sheet on Friday, intimidating a witness via tweet, at the very moment she was testifying that she had felt threatened by him.)And, just like Watergate, there was a cover-up, as Trump aides hastily hid away that “transcript” on a top-secret server, where it would have lain undiscovered had it not been for a whistleblower.

In the Nixon case, impeachment never even got to a vote of the full House let alone a trial in the senate: a delegation of senior Republicans told Nixon the game was up, and he preferred to resign than be removed. It’s conceivable the Trump story will end the same way, and yet few expect it. The settled view in Washington – which has been wrong before – is that this will break on partisan lines: the Democratic-led House will vote to impeach Trump, but two-thirds of the Republican-dominated Senate will not be ready to convict him, as the rules demand, and he’ll be acquitted.

Why? It’s not because of the quality of the arguments Republicans are marshalling in the president’s defence. They dismissed Wednesday’s witnesses – a pair of devoted, non-partisan diplomats, as offering mere hearsay – they were like “a bunch of gossip girls”, said the Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway – because they had not personally discussed Ukraine with Trump. To which the obvious reply is: fine, let Trump’s closest aides testify instead of barring them from appearing, as the White House has done.

Others say that there’s no crime because eventually the US aid to Ukraine was unblocked and Kyiv never did produce any dirt on Biden. Memo to those Republicans: if you set a barn on fire and the barn survives, it’s still arson. Besides, the aid to Ukraine was released only once that unnamed government employee blew the whistle. It’s not much of a defence to say that you halted your criminal scheming the second you got caught. Nor will it do to say that Trump was set up by – guess who – George Soros, despite Republican efforts to point the finger in that direction.

No, it’s not the ingenuity of Trump’s Republican advocates that is saving him. Nor is it their loyalty to him, even though Trump knows his base would forgive him almost anything – even a Fifth Avenue shooting – and congressional Republicans know that too, which is why they fear upsetting the faithful. Nixon’s devotees were also passionate, prompting Republicans on Capitol Hill to stick with him far longer than is usually remembered. What flipped many of them were the notorious Nixon tapes, whose transcripts revealed the president to be, as one scholar puts it, “profane, crude, and cynical”. That proved too much for many Republicans, who abandoned Nixon. No danger of that now: Republicans have always known that Trump is profane, crude and cynical – but they’ve backed him anyway.

Indeed, there is a terrible jadedness towards Trump, manifested in the press notices for Wednesday’s hearings which declared them worthy but lacking pizazz. The “shock” threshold has now been raised so high that, unless he commits a fresh horror more spectacular than any previous, the impulse is to let Trump off with a shrug. That’s not only the media’s fault. “The responsibility lies with us all for letting this lawless, kleptocratic presidency become normalised,” wrote the New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg.

Still, the difference between 1974 and 2019 that matters most is in the political and media landscape. Partisan allegiances are now so entrenched that ever fewer Americans are able to see fault in their own side. When the evidence against Nixon was in, it took three TV networks and a half-dozen major newspapers to declare it damning and that was that: all but a fringe of society agreed on the basic facts. Now there is no such shared “fact base”. Fox News viewers are shown an alternative reality in which Biden is the villain and Trump the valiant scourge of corruption. If Nixon had had Fox News in his corner, Watergate would not have been “Watergate”.

The consequence is impunity. Note that Trump made that fateful call to Kyiv the day after Robert Mueller had testified on Capitol Hill, allowing Trump to believe he was off the hook on the Russia affair. He felt himself beyond the reach of the law. And this is the danger.

The former UK foreign secretary David Miliband warned that we are living in an “age of impunity”, in which states can murder and maim without consequence: think Assad and Syria, or Mohammed bin Salman and Jamal Khashoggi. There is a domestic analogue to that impunity and Trump embodies it. If he is allowed to get away with his crimes, the conclusion his successors will draw is that a US president is, in practice, above the law. Leaders around the world who look to the US will learn a similar lesson, that in the right circumstances you can get away with anything. That includes murder on Fifth Avenue – and much worse.

By Jonathan Freedland , The Guardian