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Is this what that mysterious whistleblower complaint involving Trump and a foreign leader is about?

Westlake Legal Group tt Is this what that mysterious whistleblower complaint involving Trump and a foreign leader is about? zelensky whistleblower Washington Post Ukraine Trump The Blog schiff maguire Intelligence giuliani dni biden

Lots of buzz about this in political media this afternoon. But then, there were also many “bombshells” during the course of the Mueller investigation that caused a stir in political media and you know how those turned out.

Speculation about the troubling “promise” Trump may or may not have made to a foreign leader has naturally focused on Putin and Kim Jong Un. Did he promise Putin he’d make some startling international concession, like exiting NATO, in exchange for God knows what? Did he tell Kim that he’d withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea if Kim did X,Y, and Z? The mind reels. Journalist Laura Rozen flagged this passage from a story yesterday in the Independent, though, that may point in a different direction.

Note that the story has nothing to do with the whistleblower complaint. It’s about Trump’s relations with the new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. But the timeline fits. And there’s been some odd media chatter about Trump and Ukraine lately.

[T]here have been claims that Mr Trump had refused to meet Mr Zelensky after his election this year, and that US officials have warned this would continue to be the case unless the Ukrainian authorities reopened the Burisma files.

The house committees’ chairs say they will scrutinise a telephone call between the US president and Mr Zelensky on 25 July, during which Mr Trump allegedly told the Ukrainian president to reopen the Biden investigation if he wanted to improve relations with the US.

They claim that Kurt Volker, the US special representative for Ukraine, was told to intercede with President Zelensky by the White House, and they are looking into the activities of Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump’s personal lawyer.

The whistleblower complaint landed on the inspector general’s desk on August 12. “The Biden investigation” refers to allegations that Joe Biden leaned on the Ukrainian government while he was VP to fire a prosecutor who just so happened to be looking into a company called Burisma, one of whose directors was Biden’s son, Hunter. That investigation was eventually shut down but Team Trump has taken an interest in seeing it reopened since at least May. Rudy Giuliani was slated to visit Ukraine to lobby for reopening the case that month but canceled his trip when the media noticed. Was the president using his lawyer to muscle a foreign power in order to generate dirt on his most likely 2020 opponent?

A month later, Trump flatly told ABC News that he probably would accept dirt on an opponent from foreign sources. And Giuliani did finally end up meeting the Ukrainians in August to discuss the Biden case and whether any Ukrainian officials tried to damage Trump during the 2016 campaign by sharing dirt with the Democrats.

As I write this, no newspaper has claimed to know the substance of the whistleblower complaint or what the mystery call between Trump and the foreign leader was about. But whether they really don’t know or *do* know and are withholding the information right now are two different things. There may be natsec reasons not to report what they know, or it may be that they simply can’t nail down the story with sufficient sourcing yet. But WaPo published an editorial two weeks ago about Trump and Ukraine that took the unusual step of introducing some original reporting into the mix — a strange move for a feature in the opinion section.

[W]e’re reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.

“We’re reliably told”? Who told them? And why wasn’t that information reliable enough for a news story?

Maybe this was WaPo’s way of teasing what it knew about the whistleblower complaint, tucking it into an editorial while it remains technically unsubstantiated so that it doesn’t have to stake the credibility of the news division on it just yet. If so, the “promise” Trump may have made to the as yet unnamed foreign leader could be this: “Zelensky, if you reopen the Biden investigation and generate dirt on him for me, I promise that you’ll finally get that military aid we’ve pledged.” Lo and behold, after a long delay, just one week ago Ukraine did get the $250 million in U.S. military aid it had been waiting for. Not only that, according to Zelensky it’s getting an extra $140 million. Why? Unclear right now.

There’s one other thing. The Times reported today, cryptically, that the whistleblower complaint was “related to a series of actions that go beyond any single discussion with a foreign leader, according to interviews on Thursday.” It’s not just the chat between Trump and the mystery president, it’s other stuff too. That would also potentially fit Ukraine and Zelensky as the subject — there’s military aid involved, there’s Giuliani leaning on them over the Biden case, there’s the angle involving 2016 dirt. As I say, Trump’s team has showed interest in the Biden matter since at least May, shortly after Grandpa Joe entered the presidential race. There’s more to this than just a phone call, if in fact Zelensky is the leader in question.

It’s all just speculation. But if it turns out that Trump tried to extort a foreign leader into damaging his 2020 opponent and used taxpayer money to do it, yeah, he’s going to be impeached. Not even Pelosi will be able to stop that train.

You can already anticipate the response: “Why wasn’t Biden impeached when he leaned on the Ukrainians over the prosecutor sniffing around his son’s business?” We may end up spending the better part of next year on that.

There’s an interesting legal question swirling around all this, as tends to happen with Trump’s uses of presidential power. Does Congress have the constitutional authority to perform oversight of the president on national security? There’s a secondary legal question of whether they have *statutory* authority to perform oversight in this case: According to the Times, the acting DNI and the inspector general have a difference of opinion on the matter, with the IG claiming that the statute says the whistleblower complaint must be handed to Congress and the DNI claiming that Trump technically isn’t part of the “intelligence community,” in which case no, it doesn’t. (Adam Schiff is threatening to sue.)

But there’s a deeper, and frightening, question of whether Congress is entitled to the complaint under the Constitution even if the courts decide that the IG is right about what the statute says. Read this short but interesting Twitter thread from lawyer Jack Goldsmith who argues … no, Congress shouldn’t be entitled to know what the president is saying to foreign leaders even if he’s abusing his foreign-policy power. “Putting it brutally,” he writes, “Article II gives the president the authority to do, and say, and pledge, awful things in the secret conduct of U.S. foreign policy. That is a very dangerous discretion, to be sure, but has long been thought worth it on balance.” The president gets to do what he wants on FoPo and we must simply trust him and hope for the best — unless, of course, someone in the executive branch leaks his communications and accepts the criminal consequences. That person would go to prison. But Congress would have the material it needs, potentially, to impeach.

Update: If only I’d waited a few hours to write this post I could have saved myself some work. WaPo is reporting this evening that, yes, the whistleblower complaint is about Ukraine.

A whistleblower complaint about President Trump made by an intelligence official centers on Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter, which has set off a struggle between Congress and the executive branch…

In letters to the White House and State Department, top Democrats earlier this month demanded records related to what they say are Trump and Giuliani’s efforts “to coerce the Ukrainian government into pursuing two politically-motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity” — one to help Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is in prison for illegal lobbying and financial fraud, and a second to target the son of former vice president Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump…

Lawmakers also became aware in August that the Trump administration may be trying to stop [military] aid from reaching Ukraine, according to a congressional official.

The post Is this what that mysterious whistleblower complaint involving Trump and a foreign leader is about? appeared first on Hot Air.

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Are Never Trumpers ready for President Biden?

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Speaking personally, no. Nothing’s getting my big fat RINO ass off my big fat RINO couch next Election Day, even if Democrats nominate the most centrist candidate in the crop.

Old Man Biden may be a moderate relative to the competition but he’s still plenty left-wing on abortion, spending, amnesty, and so on. Even his “moderate” health-care proposal, adding a public option to ObamaCare, would deliver a total government takeover of health care sooner rather than later.

But I don’t speak for all Never Trumpers. And it stands to reason that some anti-Trump righties are more willing to pull the lever for a genial center-left known quantity like Biden than they are a would-be revolutionary like Elizabeth Warren. So, sure, it can safely be said, I think, that Biden will do better among Never Trumpers than any other Democratic candidate. How much better is debatable, but the difference could be meaningful in states like Michigan and Wisconsin.

Some Republican operatives active in Never Trump circles are discussing the timing and what form support for Biden might take. Groups such as Stand Up Republic, co-founded by prominent Never Trump Republicans Evan McMullin and Mindy Finn, could target disaffected GOP voters in key micro-battlegrounds with finely tailored advertising in a bid to boost Biden in the Democratic primary…

“If it’s Elizabeth Warren, that presents a real problem because she may have a lot of plans, but most of them are terrible,” said Sarah Longwell, a veteran GOP operative and outspoken anti-Trump Republican. “Being Never Trump doesn’t mean abandoning conservative sensibilities,” she said.

“Never Trump means what it says: Never Trump. Under no circumstances can you embrace that man coming back to the White House,” countered Jerry Taylor, who runs the Niskanen Center, a centrist Washington think tank that has become a gathering spot for anti-Trump Republicans. “Most Never Trump Republicans that I traffic with are of the mind that any electoral outcome that doesn’t return Donald Trump to the White House is a good outcome, save for the wild card of Bernie Sanders.”…

What interests Republican operatives opposed to Trump, in addition to Biden’s relative moderation, is the former vice president’s strength against Trump in key 2020 battlegrounds. In hypothetical match-ups in heartland states such as Michigan and emerging swing states such as Arizona, Biden has led Trump and tends to outperform Warren and Sanders.

To people like Longwell and Taylor, I’d imagine that Biden’s age is actually a virtue. The goal, after all, is to rid the country of Trump and the party of Trumpism, not to institute a two-term Democratic stranglehold on the White House. An elderly Dem who’s unlikely to make any sudden moves in office and then retire after a single term, clearing the way for a Republican renaissance in 2024, would be just what the doctor ordered.

As for Grandpa Joe’s supposed greater electability relative to the competition, yeah. Look no further than yesterday’s Fox News poll for the latest evidence:

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A ceiling of 40 percent for Trump against the entire Democratic top tier ain’t great. We remain 14 months away from Election Day, of course, and will live a thousand political lifetimes between now and then but Dem pollster Will Jordan caught my attention last night when he posted a bit of bizarre, fluky historical data. It turns out that in each of the last three elections, the polling on hypothetical popular-vote match-ups between the two eventual nominees 14 months out from the election turned out to be shockingly accurate. In 2008 it had Obama beating McCain by seven points and in 2016 it had Hillary beating Trump by three. 2012 wasn’t quite as accurate, but it still had Obama defeating Romney (by one point). I can guarantee that Trump won’t lose to Biden by anything like 14 points, but an incumbent doesn’t want to be staring at numbers like this even with the vote still more than a year away.

That’s not the only bad news in the poll, either: “In counties where the 2016 vote was close (Hillary Clinton and Trump within 10 points), Biden is ahead by 21 points.” Twenty-one points. And this is a Fox News poll! If stuff like this is still coming out in January showing Biden decimating Trump in swing districts, I think even many Warren fans will make a break for him. As lackluster as he is, Democrats aren’t going to pass on what appears to be a sure thing.

And needless to say, if he’s polling anywhere near those levels next year, he won’t need Never Trumpers.

For sheer bananas “how crazy will this election be?” results, though, nothing tops this:

Fifty-nine percent of voters are extremely interested in the 2020 presidential election. That’s a number typically only seen right before an election.

It’s 27 points higher than around this same time in the last presidential cycle — and only one point off the record 60 percent extremely interested the week before Election Day in 2008.

In addition, more Democrats (65 percent) than Republicans (60 percent) are extremely interested in the election and more Democrats (69 percent) than Republicans (63 percent) are extremely motivated about voting in 2020. That helps Democratic candidates top President Donald Trump in potential head-to-head matchups.

We’re 14 months out from the vote … and already one point away from matching the election-eve enthusiasm of the race that sent the first black president to the White House after the exhaustion of the Bush years. People are going to be brawling in the streets by next summer.

The post Are Never Trumpers ready for President Biden? appeared first on Hot Air.

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Fired SNL comic: Of all the possible presidential assassinations in my lifetime, Trump’s would be the funniest

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This is the guy whom SNL hired because they thought, supposedly, that he’d connect with conservatives.

Nothing charms Republican viewers in 2019 like Trump assassination material.

Jeryl Bier imagines Lorne Michaels and the SNL producers reading this, thinking, “HIRE HIM BACK.”

“As soon as they decide you’re a bad guy, you’re just alt-right now or something,” Gillis said. “For real, though, I did not vote for Donald Trump,” he added, winking at the audience. “Look at me: I didn’t, but that was tough. His whole campaign was at me. ‘Are you a fat idiot? Yeah, dude, what’re we doing?’

“Trump is funny,” Gillis continued. “He’s funnier than everyone I know. If Trump was the next comic, he’d bury me. He’d come out and be like, ‘Fat. Loser. Fired.’”…

“I don’t want you to think I’m too pro-Trump,” Gillis said. “I will say this: Of all the presidents I’ve been alive for, Trump would definitely be the funniest one to see get shot. Like, without a doubt, that’d be funny. I’m not asking for that; I don’t want that to happen, but it would be funny to see. He’d be on stage talking (expletive), the shooter would be coming at him, and he’d be like, ‘Sit down.’ He’d definitely make a funny noise when he got hit. … It would be funny.”

A little more via Variety from his stand-up set last night in NYC: “I’m from a sh–t hole and then I moved to the city and now all my friends are woke. They’re from Brooklyn. But I still have uncles. They have the internet, so I’ll get online and the first status will be someone from back home like, ‘F–cking Colin Kaepernick better stand up. Like this status if you love the troops and God. Share it if you’re not gay.’” When SNL thought he’d appeal to conservatives, did they come to that conclusion because he … simply knows a few conservatives?

Because in a way I can understand that. What would the over/under be on how many right-wingers the SNL writers’ room is collectively personally acquainted with? Single digits for sure. Five, maybe?

Gillis might have doubled the total in one fell swoop.

A question for anyone out there who’s familiar with his stand-up: Is the Trump assassination material new or has he done it before? I ask because it seems like something he might logically have thrown together after the Variety piece came out yesterday claiming that he was hired at SNL as a sop to right-wingers. Bad enough to lose your dream job a few weeks after landing it, but imagine then being branded as a conservative in an industry that is … not known for its regard for conservatives. He had a professional incentive to make clear in his first set since the firing that he’s not on Team Red. “It’d be funny if Trump got shot” achieves that for him. Even if he has done that joke before, it’s noteworthy that he included it in last night’s material: He only spent 11 minutes onstage and knew that the press would be watching to see what he had to say about SNL. The Trump material made the cut in a big spot.

Hopefully for his sake he’s now sufficiently redeemed that he can be cast in a “King of Queens” reboot or whatever.

He had a couple of good lines last night too, in all fairness. There’s an amusing bit transcribed here in which he compares racism to hunger. And he had a solid one-liner about the backlash to what got him fired, using an Asian slur in a podcast last year: “I’m fine with the consequences – that’s it, I’m not arguing. But I do want everyone to know that I have been reading every one of my death threats in an Asian accent.”

The post Fired SNL comic: Of all the possible presidential assassinations in my lifetime, Trump’s would be the funniest appeared first on Hot Air.

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Martha McSally’s GOP primary challenger: What if we let parts of Mexico become U.S. states?

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Via RCP, let me stress up front that this guy, Daniel McCarthy, isn’t some sort of Bill-Weld-style centrist running to the incumbent’s left in the primary. He’s full MAGA. He and the host, Garret Lewis, sneer at Paul Ryan and “Martha” for their repugnant RINO-ism. I’ll support Trump on the border in whatever he wants to do, McCarthy stresses, even standing for days on end on the Senate floor in a filibuster if it’ll help somehow. He’s all for the border wall too. America First.

…but once we get done with the wall, he adds at 41:00 or so of the clip below, maybe we should think about inviting Mexicans to seek annexation by the United States.

Yeah.

“There is a process to become states for the United States,” McCarthy said Tuesday morning on an Arizona radio station. “Clearly 30 million Mexican illegal immigrants want to be United States citizens, probably half the country wants to be United States citizens.”

And so, the aspiring lawmaker from a border state would like the citizens of Mexico to turn their attention to Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution. It stipulates that “new states may be admitted by the Congress into this union.”

“I want to speak above the Mexican government. Okay? When you’re talking to the Mexican citizens, ‘Rise up in your communities and petition to become states for the United States.’ That’s how that process works,” he said, before adding that “by the way, it’s not that challenging.”…

“Listen, you think anybody wants to live like that?” the wannabe senator told the show’s host.

“He’s obviously joking,” you’re thinking. “He’s mocking the left’s attitude on immigration that we can and should absorb entire national populations with no unwelcome economic or cultural consequences.”

My dude, he is not joking.

The idea, I guess, is that annexation is a constitutional process and therefore allowing Mexicans to petition Congress for annexation would be a way to steer them towards *legal* immigration — of a sort. We dislike illegal immigration from Mexico, don’t we? We’re forever telling them to get in line, right?

Well, what if 10 million or so got in line all at once, all on the same immigration “application”?

Maybe the idea is that if we convert parts of Mexico into U.S. states then the locals won’t want to travel north anymore. They’ll already be Americans! They can stay put. But of course, that’s not why Mexicans cross the border. They do it chiefly for economic opportunity; so long as most of that opportunity continues to reside north of the Rio Grande, they’ll want to reside north of the Rio Grande too.

So … what is he thinking? Ask the average MAGA fan why he opposes amnesty for illegals and he’ll tell you that handing citizenship to millions of Mexicans would end up as a massive net electoral benefit to Democrats. Now here comes McCarthy with a bold new twist on that claim: Let’s just hand electoral votes to entire Mexican provinces by converting them into U.S. states. No need to worry about Texas gradually turning blue anymore. We can simply gift-wrap a few dozen EVs for the Dems via annexation and let newly-minted Americans from former Mexico offset Texas’s electoral power that way.

Oh, and as a cherry on top, McCarthy stresses that the border wall should be built before any discussions about “Mexit” take place.

Why the hell would you want to spend money walling off a border that won’t be a border anymore if annexation happens?

I need a drink. I’ll say this for the guy, though: There are all sorts of ideas that were anathema to the right just a few years ago that are now perfectly orthodox, mainly because Trump happens to back them. Look no further than the conundrum facing the country on how to handle Iran and its attack on Saudi Arabia. Five years ago, having the White House hold itself open to Tehran for talks after the regime bombed Saudi oil facilities would be seen by Republicans as one of the cuckiest displays of weakness in American history. Today, under the MAGA-in-chief, it’s seen as cool-headed diplomatic prudence at a dangerous moment. There’s probably some convoluted populist argument for why annexing Mexico is perfectly sensible too. And if there isn’t yet, there will be.

The post Martha McSally’s GOP primary challenger: What if we let parts of Mexico become U.S. states? appeared first on Hot Air.

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Trump hits back at Lindsey Graham: If you think it was weak not to bomb Iran, remind yourself how Iraq turned out; Update: Bolton rips Trump policy at private event

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My favorite thing about Trump is how little he gives Graham on foreign policy despite Graham kissing his ass relentlessly in hopes of turning him into a hawk. It’s commendable on the merits, in that Trump’s reluctance to wage war is a welcome corrective to the McCain/Graham-style of hyperinterventionism that ruled the GOP for years. But it’s also gratifying on a gut level, even as a Trump skeptic. “One of Trump’s more likable qualities is his penchant for publicly humiliating all the lickspittle Republicans who try and ride his coattails,” writes C.J. Ciaramella of Reason, remembering how Chris Christie was treated during the 2016 campaign. It’s true! What could be more enjoyable than watching Graham toady to the president day and night after dismissing him as a “kook” and a national security threat in 2016, believing that it will buy him influence over foreign policy, and as his reward having him endure daily reminders that Trump is far more inclined towards Rand Paul’s fopo views than Lindsey’s?

This exchange last night on Twitter was especially humiliating for Graham, and thus especially enjoyable.

My first thought when I saw Trump’s tweet was that he meant it was Iran, not Graham, that didn’t understand his decision not to attack several months ago was a show of strength. They should have come to the table then, Trump was saying (I thought). Instead they went and attacked Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, destabilizing energy markets, and now they’ll have to absorb some pain.

But no, he was definitely talking about Graham.

You will not be surprised to learn that Graham’s preferred course of action is to start bombing Iranian oil refineries. You also won’t be surprised to learn that Trump is reluctant to order military action, dispatching Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia instead to “coordinate” an international response — whatever that means. U.S. intelligence sounds confident that the attack on the Kingdom did indeed come from Iran, partly because Saudi missile defenses were trained on Yemen and the Strait of Hormuz in the belief that any potential attack would originate there. Instead the missiles and drones that struck the oil sites came from southwestern Iran, evading detection. The Saudis could take the evidence to the UN Security Council with U.S. support and demand action, but Iran’s friends in Russia are likely to block any resolution imposing consequences. Trump could attack unilaterally, of course, either with conventional military action or cyberwarfare like that mysterious incident with the Iranian missile launch a few months ago.

Or he could back off and let the Saudis handle this, which would be dangerous.

“I’m a little concerned that he’ll go full Trumpian and greenlight a Saudi retaliation,” said Mark Dubowitz, head of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank that advocates a hard line against Iran. Dubowitz said such a “worst case scenario” could lead Riyadh to act with impunity if Trump kept the U.S. out of the fray, and that could prompt a serious Iranian retaliation that leads to an escalating cycle of violence.

“I’m of the view, based on decades of [Iranian] revolutionary response to American power, that if the United States uses military power, the regime is likely to back down, not escalate. If the Saudis use military power, the regime is likely to escalate,” Dubowitz said.

A Saudi attack rather than a U.S. attack might be a recipe for protracted regional war. Where does that leave the “realist” view on this? Realists sneer at neoconservatives that their regime-change fantasies never work as planned and are in fact based on the foolish conviction that democracy will somehow liberalize fundamentally illiberal cultures. We should only use military force when it serves a concrete American interest, they warn. Well, there’s a looming Sunni/Shiite war in the region right now that’ll disrupt global oil supplies for God knows how long if it gets hot. Does that mean the “realist” view is to hit Iran ourselves, expecting — fingers crossed! — that they’ll absorb the blow and not dare retaliate? Or is the realist view to eschew bombs and tighten sanctions further even though our current sanctions are already onerous and the marginal utility in increasing them is diminishing? Further, Graham is certainly right that *at some point* inaction in the face of provocation signals weakness, which will invite further provocation. If Trump decides to slap Iran on the wrist for the Saudi attack and then Iran hits more oil facilities next month, what’s the move then? America’s posture can’t be “please, please sit down with us and talk!” in response to every move Iran makes.

Exit quotation from Pompeo, speaking in the Kingdom today: “The Saudis were the nation that were attacked. It was on their soil. It was an act of war against them directly.” Gulp.

Update: Well, here we go. Nothing’s going to get an all-out war of hawks versus doves going like a standoff with Iran.

John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s fired national security adviser, harshly criticized Trump’s foreign policy on Wednesday at a private lunch, saying inviting the Taliban to Camp David sent a “terrible signal” and that it was “disrespectful” to the victims of 9/11 because the Taliban had harbored al Qaeda…

Bolton also said more than once that Trump’s failure to respond to the Iranian attack on an American drone earlier this summer set the stage for the Islamic Republic’s aggression in recent months.

At one point, Bolton, a previous chairman of Gatestone who has resumed his title at the think tank, suggested that had the U.S. retaliated for the drone shootdown, Iran might not have damaged the Saudi oil fields.

I trust the president will receive this news with his characteristic good cheer. An interesting detail to the story: Bolton was introduced as “the best national security adviser our country could have hoped for” by … Rebekah Mercer, one of Trump’s top patrons in 2016 and one of Breitbart’s top patrons to this day (as far as I know). Is Mercer siding with the hawkish establishment against the dovish populists on this one?

The post Trump hits back at Lindsey Graham: If you think it was weak not to bomb Iran, remind yourself how Iraq turned out; Update: Bolton rips Trump policy at private event appeared first on Hot Air.

Westlake Legal Group t-9-300x159 Trump hits back at Lindsey Graham: If you think it was weak not to bomb Iran, remind yourself how Iraq turned out; Update: Bolton rips Trump policy at private event Trump The Blog Saudi Arabia Oil missile Lindsey Graham Iraq Iran intervention bomb   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Trump hits back at Lindsey Graham: If you think it was weak not to bomb Iran, remind yourself how Iraq turned out; Update: Bolton rips Trump policy at private event

Westlake Legal Group t-9 Trump hits back at Lindsey Graham: If you think it was weak not to bomb Iran, remind yourself how Iraq turned out; Update: Bolton rips Trump policy at private event Trump The Blog Saudi Arabia Oil missile Lindsey Graham Iraq Iran intervention bomb

My favorite thing about Trump is how little he gives Graham on foreign policy despite Graham kissing his ass relentlessly in hopes of turning him into a hawk. It’s commendable on the merits, in that Trump’s reluctance to wage war is a welcome corrective to the McCain/Graham-style of hyperinterventionism that ruled the GOP for years. But it’s also gratifying on a gut level, even as a Trump skeptic. “One of Trump’s more likable qualities is his penchant for publicly humiliating all the lickspittle Republicans who try and ride his coattails,” writes C.J. Ciaramella of Reason, remembering how Chris Christie was treated during the 2016 campaign. It’s true! What could be more enjoyable than watching Graham toady to the president day and night after dismissing him as a “kook” and a national security threat in 2016, believing that it will buy him influence over foreign policy, and as his reward having him endure daily reminders that Trump is far more inclined towards Rand Paul’s fopo views than Lindsey’s?

This exchange last night on Twitter was especially humiliating for Graham, and thus especially enjoyable.

My first thought when I saw Trump’s tweet was that he meant it was Iran, not Graham, that didn’t understand his decision not to attack several months ago was a show of strength. They should have come to the table then, Trump was saying (I thought). Instead they went and attacked Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, destabilizing energy markets, and now they’ll have to absorb some pain.

But no, he was definitely talking about Graham.

You will not be surprised to learn that Graham’s preferred course of action is to start bombing Iranian oil refineries. You also won’t be surprised to learn that Trump is reluctant to order military action, dispatching Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia instead to “coordinate” an international response — whatever that means. U.S. intelligence sounds confident that the attack on the Kingdom did indeed come from Iran, partly because Saudi missile defenses were trained on Yemen and the Strait of Hormuz in the belief that any potential attack would originate there. Instead the missiles and drones that struck the oil sites came from southwestern Iran, evading detection. The Saudis could take the evidence to the UN Security Council with U.S. support and demand action, but Iran’s friends in Russia are likely to block any resolution imposing consequences. Trump could attack unilaterally, of course, either with conventional military action or cyberwarfare like that mysterious incident with the Iranian missile launch a few months ago.

Or he could back off and let the Saudis handle this, which would be dangerous.

“I’m a little concerned that he’ll go full Trumpian and greenlight a Saudi retaliation,” said Mark Dubowitz, head of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank that advocates a hard line against Iran. Dubowitz said such a “worst case scenario” could lead Riyadh to act with impunity if Trump kept the U.S. out of the fray, and that could prompt a serious Iranian retaliation that leads to an escalating cycle of violence.

“I’m of the view, based on decades of [Iranian] revolutionary response to American power, that if the United States uses military power, the regime is likely to back down, not escalate. If the Saudis use military power, the regime is likely to escalate,” Dubowitz said.

A Saudi attack rather than a U.S. attack might be a recipe for protracted regional war. Where does that leave the “realist” view on this? Realists sneer at neoconservatives that their regime-change fantasies never work as planned and are in fact based on the foolish conviction that democracy will somehow liberalize fundamentally illiberal cultures. We should only use military force when it serves a concrete American interest, they warn. Well, there’s a looming Sunni/Shiite war in the region right now that’ll disrupt global oil supplies for God knows how long if it gets hot. Does that mean the “realist” view is to hit Iran ourselves, expecting — fingers crossed! — that they’ll absorb the blow and not dare retaliate? Or is the realist view to eschew bombs and tighten sanctions further even though our current sanctions are already onerous and the marginal utility in increasing them is diminishing? Further, Graham is certainly right that *at some point* inaction in the face of provocation signals weakness, which will invite further provocation. If Trump decides to slap Iran on the wrist for the Saudi attack and then Iran hits more oil facilities next month, what’s the move then? America’s posture can’t be “please, please sit down with us and talk!” in response to every move Iran makes.

Exit quotation from Pompeo, speaking in the Kingdom today: “The Saudis were the nation that were attacked. It was on their soil. It was an act of war against them directly.” Gulp.

Update: Well, here we go. Nothing’s going to get an all-out war of hawks versus doves going like a standoff with Iran.

John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s fired national security adviser, harshly criticized Trump’s foreign policy on Wednesday at a private lunch, saying inviting the Taliban to Camp David sent a “terrible signal” and that it was “disrespectful” to the victims of 9/11 because the Taliban had harbored al Qaeda…

Bolton also said more than once that Trump’s failure to respond to the Iranian attack on an American drone earlier this summer set the stage for the Islamic Republic’s aggression in recent months.

At one point, Bolton, a previous chairman of Gatestone who has resumed his title at the think tank, suggested that had the U.S. retaliated for the drone shootdown, Iran might not have damaged the Saudi oil fields.

I trust the president will receive this news with his characteristic good cheer. An interesting detail to the story: Bolton was introduced as “the best national security adviser our country could have hoped for” by … Rebekah Mercer, one of Trump’s top patrons in 2016 and one of Breitbart’s top patrons to this day (as far as I know). Is Mercer siding with the hawkish establishment against the dovish populists on this one?

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Trump: That dummy Beto may have killed chances of a gun-control compromise

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Do you fully appreciate the magnitude of the mistake we’re witnessing here with O’Rourke’s “take the guns” pitch? There are three things Beto and his fans would like to see by the end of this year. One, obviously, is him becoming the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Next is him conceding defeat in the presidential race but swooping into Texas with the party enthusiastically behind him for a Senate rematch, this time with John Cornyn. And if neither of those things are in the cards, there’s always the third option — some sort of meaningful gun-control reform in Congress to move the left’s agenda forward, however incrementally.

He may have screwed himself on all three last week at the debate when he warned Americans he was coming for their assault rifles. His polling hasn’t budged so he hasn’t helped himself any towards winning the nomination. An aggressive gun-confiscation plan is obviously … problematic in his home state of Texas, such that O’Rourke may now be seen by local Democrats as damaged goods. And for the past week he’s had senators on both sides of the aisle who have been trying to midwife a compromise on background checks insisting that he’s done more harm than good by spooking righties into not giving an inch on new regulations.

Now here comes the president to inform the world that, yes, Beto may have killed a gun-control bargain.

Diehard O’Rourke fans might argue that there’s actually a fourth possible good outcome from this mess, namely that the buzz over Beto’s call for a mandatory buyback program might end up pressuring the eventual Democratic nominee into being bolder on gun control next year. It’s true that polls have showed broad support within the party for the idea, but most of the presidential field has kept its distance from the plan. Pete Buttigieg even anticipated Trump’s critique, accusing O’Rourke of potentially wrecking chances of a deal in Congress. The top tier of Biden, Warren, and Sanders have each kept their heads down about it. Only Cory Booker and the increasingly desperate Kamala Harris, both of whom are polling in the low to mid-single digits, backed O’Rourke. The eventual nominee might conclude that the politics of this issue are just too dicey to go all-in the way Beto has. And if compromise efforts in Congress collapse, Beto himself may end up sharing the blame with Trump, damaging his chances to be a Democratic standard-bearer down the road in Texas.

I mean, that’s some own-goal. Imagine wrecking your entire political future with one debate answer. Short of saying, “I support ISIS,” it’s almost impossible.

In fairness, Trump is probably scapegoating O’Rourke here for his own reluctance to make a deal, knowing that he’s bound to royally piss off one side or the other no matter what he does. But there might be a deal on the table anyway: The Daily Caller is reporting that Bill Barr has been shopping a White House proposal on expanded background checks to members of Congress. If I’m reading the fact sheet correctly, it’s basically Toomey/Manchin — all commercial sales, but not private sales, would now be required to undergo checks — except unlicensed commercial sellers wouldn’t be required to report the name of buyers to the federal government. That’s the White House’s way of trying to reassure gun-rights supporters that this won’t lead to a federal registry.

An interesting detail from the Caller:

One source familiar with the meetings said that Barr pitched the legislation by warning that a lack of action could electrify the Democratic base prior to the 2020 election. Barr also did not consider the background check legislation a gun control measure, instead painting it as a tool to assist law enforcement in cracking down on gun smugglers, the source explained.

The president likes Barr a lot thanks to his handling of Russiagate. If Barr’s telling him that expanding background checks is no big deal, that’s significant. The problem with negotiating with Trump, though, is that he’s apt to change his mind repeatedly depending upon whom he’s talked to last. Everyone remembers that gun-control summit he held with members of both parties in the White House last year, where he sounded like he’d be willing to sign anything they could agree on. Later, after Wayne LaPierre and his friends at Fox had gotten done talking to him, he was firmly pro-Second-Amendment again. In fact, White House aides are *already* hedging on the document that Barr is showing to people. Supposedly, spokesman Hogan Gidley is telling reporters that Trump hasn’t committed to it.

So imagine now that you’re Cory Gardner, facing reelection in a purple state and verrrrry nervous about having to cast a tough vote on gun control. Here comes Bill Barr to pitch you on a version of Toomey/Manchin. What do you do when you still can’t be sure what Trump will do? The president’s own AG is showing you a plan that the president may support today but might not support tomorrow after Tucker Carlson or Hannity or whoever gives him an earful about it on the phone tonight. If you commit to voting for it and then Trump turns around and says, “Only gun-grabbing cucks would vote for this!”, suddenly all the Trumpers in Colorado will think you’re a RINO. If you decide to oppose it in the expectation that Trump will oppose it too, suddenly everyone who supports expanded background checks — which is 90 percent of the country — is mad at you instead. Republicans need clarity from Trump here but they’re not getting it, as usual.

In lieu of an exit question, here’s a new ad for, uh … see, it’s about … well, just watch. It’s something.

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What were Dems thinking when they invited Corey Lewandowski to testify?

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It was a freak show all the way through, with Lewandowski mocking failed 2020 candidate Eric Swalwell at one point by calling him “President Swalwell,” goofing on Sheila Jackson Lee for ranting instead of asking questions, and playing dumb when questioned by Jerry Nadler by asking for a copy of the Mueller Report to refresh his memory about what he told the Special Counsel.

And it was all predictable. Lewandowski is what you get when you subtract policy from Trumpism. Trump displayed the same sort of relentless pugnacious bravado towards political enemies on the trail in 2016 but Trump also had some novel (by 2016 GOP standards) ideas about trade, immigration, and foreign policy. He wasn’t exclusively about Liberal Tears, he was about bringing jobs back to the Rust Belt (in theory). Corey’s political persona has nothing to do with any of that. He’ll genuflect towards Trumpist policy ideas as needed but his core shtick is undistilled “but he fights!” roundhousing at the left’s villains.

And so we come to the question in the headline: What did Democrats on the Judiciary Committee think they were going to get when they called him to testify and put him on TV? Corey is always performing for an audience of one in the White House, knowing that his relationship with Trump is his ticket to everything — influence within the party, lobbying cash, maybe even a Senate seat in New Hampshire. That last part especially should have given Nadler a reason to hold the hearing in closed session, or to cancel it altogether; Lewandowski was obviously going to treat the event as a campaign commercial for a possible Senate primary in NH (he even tweeted out the link to a campaign-ish website during a break in testimony) and do whatever he could with his time before the mic to earn Trump’s endorsement. That meant maximum grandstanding and combativeness. It worked:

The answer to the question in the headline, presumably, is that it was worth putting Lewandowski under oath in case he had something meaningful to reveal about Trump allegedly asking him to tell Jeff Sessions in 2017 that he should interfere in Mueller’s investigation. But that almost gives Corey too much credit: If he was put in a position, even under oath, between telling the truth and betraying Trump, what reason is there to think he would choose the truth? In fact, he was asked at yesterday’s hearing by the Democrats’ lawyer whether he had lied about the Sessions incident in an interview with MSNBC and his answer, bluntly, was that he feels no obligation to tell the truth to the media since they often don’t tell the truth themselves. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a congressional witness admit that he’s prone to lie in public about the subject of the hearing that’s being held.

You can hear gasps after his answer. So, again: What was Nadler expecting? Even an anti-Trumper as hardcore as Rick Wilson thinks Lewandowski “won” yesterday’s confrontation by turning it into a circus and demonstrating that Dems didn’t have the nerve to challenge him aggressively on his completely preposterous claims of executive privilege.

I kept wondering, “How is it you guys can just let this go? How is it you can just take this overt contempt and lying?” He has no privilege or immunity from testifying. He was always a private citizen. The White House letter ordering his omerta isn’t worth a damn…

Democrats should have adopted the “Sergeant at Arms, take that man into custody” strategy. Power is held by those who use it; it’s always a depreciating asset. A surly, arrogant Lewandowski taken into custody over the contempt and deception shown to a co-equal branch of government would be great entertainment and the kind of shock politics the Democrats need to break through…

By letting him escape the consequences of contempt, the House Democrats send the clear signal that ANYONE from the WH can slap them, spit on the floor, and effectively say, “F*** you.”

The best I can do as a theory for why Dems staged this circus is that they want to encourage Lewandowski’s Senate aspirations. Trump lost New Hampshire in 2016, remember — by a hair’s breadth, granted, but it was one of the few swing states that remained blue enough to prefer Hillary to him. Trump is facing a heavier lift in the state next year since his opponent is sure to be viewed more favorably by voters than Clinton was. If NH wasn’t willing to support him in 2016, odds are they’ll be unwilling to support a Trump mini-me for Senate in the person of Lewandowski, who has plenty of personal baggage Democrats can exploit and who’ll be facing an incumbent in Jeanne Shaheen with a 54 percent approval rating. Having Lewandowski on the ballot won’t even help mobilize Trump fans for the Senate race since they’ll already be turning out en masse for the presidential election. All Corey can do potentially is scare off moderate Republican voters who find him obnoxious and would be willing to support a more pedestrian Susan-Collins-type Republican.

So maybe House Dems wanted to give Lewandowski a campaign commercial yesterday. Tempt him into the race, then sit back and watch Shaheen cruise. Maybe he’ll repel so many centrist voters that it’ll help tip the state to Democrats in the presidential race again too.

Here he is this morning being interviewed by CNN, not one full day after testifying under oath that he lies to the media. I understand why Fox News has Lewandowski on, as it has an interest in serving Trump and his cronies. I don’t understand why CNN does unless Jeff Zucker has decided that POTUS is so good for ratings that he might as well use his network to try to get second-tier Trumpy celebrities elected to office too. In lieu of a single exit question, go read 33 separate exit questions from Jonathan Last stemming from yesterday’s Corey testimony. The most basic one: If Lewandowski is willing to lie to “the media,” by definition he’s willing to lie to the public that consumes that media. That being so, why should anyone believe he’s not lying at any given moment? And that being so, why should the media ever have him on?

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Did Amy Coney Barrett hurt her Supreme Court chances last week?

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Ramesh Ponnuru says yes. Before the latest Kavanaugh kerfuffle, I would have agreed.

After the latest Kavanaugh kerfuffle, I think this probably won’t matter.

These would be completely anodyne comments coming from a judge in any other administration, but Trump is Trump.

In comments Saturday at a panel at William & Mary Law School, Judge Barrett backed Chief Justice John Roberts ’s public statement last year that judges shouldn’t be seen as ideological mirrors of their patrons, which came after President Trump called a ruling that he opposed on immigration the product of an “Obama judge.”

“The chief justice, I think, articulated what members of the judiciary feel,” Judge Barrett said of his comments to Mr. Trump. “The chief justice responded and pushed back and said, ‘You know, we don’t have Obama judges.’”

The moderator, William & Mary law professor Allison Orr Larsen, asked the judges what they perceived as the greatest threat to the judiciary.

Judge Barrett said it was “people perceiving us as partisan.” While judges differ in their legal theories and methods—and their votes sometimes can be predicted along ideological lines—they aren’t driven to produce specific outcomes, she said.

“I wish it were otherwise, but I think this makes Justice Barrett less likely,” said Ponnuru about those comments. He’s not crazy to feel that way. Trump prizes loyalty above all things and what Barrett did at William & Mary was not only signal that she wouldn’t necessarily be “loyal” to him as a judge — again, standard patter in any other era — but she took John Roberts’s side against the president in a dispute that got major media attention. Remember?

That wasn’t the first time Trump had worried about disloyalty from a “Trump judge” either:

[E]arlier this year [in 2017], Trump talked about rescinding Gorsuch’s nomination, venting angrily to advisers after his Supreme Court pick was critical of the president’s escalating attacks on the federal judiciary in private meetings with legislators.

Trump, according to several people with knowledge of the discussions, was upset that Gorsuch had pointedly distanced himself from the president in a private February meeting with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), telling the senator he found Trump’s repeated attacks on the federal judiciary “disheartening” and “demoralizing.”

The president worried that Gorsuch would not be “loyal,” one of the people said, and told aides that he was tempted to pull Gorsuch’s nomination — and that he knew plenty of other judges who would want the job.

Now here’s Barrett in a public forum echoing Gorsuch’s point about Trump’s demoralizing attacks on judicial independence, albeit in more tactful terms. To top it all off, Politico reported last year that Barrett’s interview with Trump for the SCOTUS seat that eventually went to Brett Kavanaugh didn’t go well, with Barrett having “performed poorly” — whatever that means. Presumably it means they didn’t hit it off. Like I said at the time, go figure that a bookish Catholic mom and the guy responsible for the “Access Hollywood” tape didn’t have great personal chemistry.

Put it all together and you can see why Ponnuru’s concerned. For all her strengths, Barrett’s unlikely to appeal to Trump as the option available to him who’s most likely to be “loyal.” Imagine, in fact, that the current Court renders a major decision that goes against him before the next vacancy opens up, with Gorsuch or Kavanaugh or both joining the anti-Trump majority. Trump will blow a gasket. Loyalty will become even more prized to him in a nominee than it is now. That means looking beyond Barrett.

But there’s one thing she has in her favor that’s very important, so much so that Trump simply won’t be able to resist nominating her. No, not the fact that she’s a woman; there are plenty of other talented Republican women judges. And no, not the fact that her devout Catholic faith appears to make her a better bet to vote to overturn Roe than most nominees. (Barrett might even take offense at that suggestion.) What she has in her favor is that she’s unquestionably the candidate whose nomination the GOP base has concluded would own the libs the hardest. In particular, if Ginsburg’s seat were to open up, there’s probably no substitute for Barrett whom righty activists would accept at this point. If you want to see Liberal Tears — and that’s what much of Republican politics is about now — then the choice is clear.

And now that righties are newly and justifiably enraged at the latest Kavanaugh smear, Liberal Tears are the only thing that will slake their thirst.

Replacing the left’s judicial heroine, the Notorious RBG, with a judge who’s cracked up to be the female version of Antonin Scalia would be an ideological triumph for conservatives so total that I don’t think Trump could resist. He’d be reluctant to go with Barrett because of all the things I laid out above, but his arm would be twisted. Barrett’s supporters would lean on him by assuring him that literally nothing he could do between now and Election Day would get them as psyched to vote as pulling off the ultimate Court-related lib-owning would. He’d have no choice but to nominate her, whatever his personal misgivings. Watch and see.

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Report: Trump rules out Democrats’ universal background checks bill

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Not a surprise, but it’s interesting that POTUS dawdled on this for weeks after the El Paso and Dayton massacres — until Beto O’Rourke went “Leeroy Jenkins” on gun confiscation at last week’s debate. Was that a coincidence or did Beto’s stunt spook Trump into taking the Democrats’ biggest gun-control “ask” off the table?

President Donald Trump will not consider the House-passed universal background checks bill as part of his proposed gun package, according to a source familiar with the conversation on guns…

“The things that they are proposing just aren’t realistic and they know that and so it’s designed more to talk to their political base and it’s a lot more about that than I think an actual solution,” [John] Thune said…

While Trump will not support the House-passed universal background checks bill, he could still back a more limited form of background check legislation as well as so-called red flag laws. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who is working on a red flag bill with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that background checks and red flag bills should go hand in hand.

The likely reality is that Trump intended all along to take UBCs off the table and was waiting for an opportune moment, which O’Rourke, bless his heart, kindly provided. Pat Toomey sighs a weary sigh:

Republicans say the political momentum within their party to expand background checks suffered a blow last week when Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke declared, “hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15s, your AK-47s” at Thursday’s primary debate…

“This rhetoric undermines and hurts bipartisan efforts to actually make progress on commonsense gun safety efforts, like expanding background checks,” Toomey, who has been at the center of Senate negotiations, warned Friday.

There are three “tiers” of background-check reforms kicking around in Congress. One is the Democrats’ UBC bill, the proverbial full enchilada that would require background checks for online sales, gun-show sales, *and private sales*. That’s now been ruled out by the White House if you believe Politico. The next tier is the Toomey/Manchin bill from 2013, which has been momentarily revived. That would require checks for online and gun-show sales but would leave the exemption for private sales in place. The odds of Trump endorsing that don’t seem so hot either. The lowest tier is legislation that would tighten enforcement of existing background checks, with the White House reportedly considering a smartphone app that would allow private sellers to access the federal background check database remotely before a sale to see if the seller has been flagged. Manchin calls the idea “crazy,” and it seems to me self-defeating if the White House is intent on maintaining the exemption for private sales. If and when an app is in place that makes it convenient for private sellers to run checks themselves, it’ll be that much easier for Democrats to agitate to make those checks mandatory by law.

Whatever happens, there’s a lot of mental energy being expended right now on token legislation which no one believes will meaningfully reduce the rate of mass shootings!

Red-flag laws remain the most interesting possibility still on the table, and Trump might be susceptible to having his arm twisted on that since his buddy Lindsey Graham is co-writing the main bill in the Senate. If nothing ends up passing now though, it surely means that no new gun control will pass before the election. It’d be insane for Trump to hold off on signing anything a year out from Election Day and then panic six months from now, after another massacre somewhere. Righties would be much more demoralized to see him cave with the election so close than they’d be if he caved now. The best time to pass something if he’s inclined that way is ASAP and then use the next year to hammer gun-rights supporters with arguments against protesting by staying home on Election Day — “socialism must be stopped,” “gun control under a Democratic administration will be 10 times more draconian,” and so on. If Trump says no to reform this fall, he’s essentially gambling that nothing catastrophic will happen over the next year that ends up galvanizing an electoral push on gun control. That’s a reasonably safe gamble — public backlashes to gun rights after major violence are famously fleeting — but not completely riskless. To put all of that another way, if Trump’s willing to do anything on background checks *at any point*, the time to do it is now.

Here’s McConnell today reiterating his view of this subject, that Senate Republicans aren’t sticking their necks out a centimeter on gun control until they know what the president does and doesn’t support. There’s no way he’s going to force vulnerable incumbents like Cory Gardner and Susan Collins out onto a limb by asking them to take a position on a controversial bill and then have Trump saw that limb off by declaring, “Nah, I’m not signing anything.”

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