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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "romney"

Romney: What we’ve done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain on American history

Westlake Legal Group m-4 Romney: What we’ve done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain on American history Turkey Trump The Blog Syria stain Speech romney mazloum Kurds floor Blood

I … can’t help but feel that this lecture won’t be warmly received by most righties.

And that the plainly obvious fact that Republicans would be annihilating a Democratic president who had overseen this Syria debacle won’t provide Romney with much of a defense.

He goes on here for nine minutes but his points are simple. What we’ve done is dishonorable and weak, letting Turkey essentially dictate U.S. policy in Syria towards an American ally. It’s also difficult for him to understand why Pence and Pompeo weren’t sent to Turkey after Erdogan first told Trump on the phone that he was prepared to invade. They might have prevented an incursion altogether instead of negotiating a ceasefire after the fact. I think that one’s actually easy to answer: Trump called Erdogan’s bluff. He’s threatened before to push the Kurds off the Syrian border and Trump didn’t believe he’d follow through. It turned out he wasn’t bluffing this time.

The most noteworthy bit comes at the end, when Romney calls on the Senate to hold public hearings about how the administration behaved here. I think there might have been a chance of that if no deal had been reached today in Ankara between Erdogan and Pence. As it is, Senate Republicans are going to hold their breaths, hope that the ceasefire sticks, and try to put all of this behind them.

Trump spoke today after the ceasefire announcement, naturally praising it as an unprecedented deal. He referred at one point to Turkey “cleaning out” the border area of terrorists, an unfortunate choice of words when critics are accusing the U.S. of complicity in the de facto ethnic cleansing of Kurds under Pence’s deal:

“We got exactly what we wanted out of the meeting,” said one Turkish official of the negotiations with Pence and Pompeo. The leader of Kurdish forces in Syria says he’s willing to give the deal a try, though:

Mazloum Abdi tells Ronahi TV that the extent of the cease-fire stretches 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the town of Tal Abyad to Ras al-Ayn.

That appeared to conflict with Turkey’s insistence that its “safe zone” from which Kurdish forces must be removed should stretch the entire length of the border from the Euphrates River to Iraq.

“We will do whatever we can for the success of the ceasefire agreement,” Mazloum said Thursday, describing it as a “tentative agreement.”

Why are the Kurds suddenly willing to “clean” themselves out of the territory Turkey wants? It’s not that they fear the Turkish military; if that were the case they would have withdrawn years ago rather than risk an offensive from Erdogan. Some experts think the Kurds have calculated that there won’t be a real solution to this crisis until Erdogan consults with the true superpower in the region in the Trump era — Russia. Putin is set to meet Erdogan five days from now in Sochi to discuss the fate of northern Syria. A five-day ceasefire negotiated by the U.S. is useful to the Kurds in pausing Turkish operations until then. Hopefully Putin can cajole/threaten the Sultan into leaving the area with assurances that Russia will fill the void left by the Americans. If he can’t or won’t, the ceasefire will end and the Turks and Kurds can get back at it. There may be a limit to how far Turkey can advance anyway: With Russian and Syrian troops now in the area, a renewed offensive might turn into a multinational free-for-all, which would be messy for Turkey.

That is, maybe Erdogan banked today’s ceasefire in the expectation that he’d have to cease fire soon regardless, if only at Russia’s behest. Might as well sign a deal with Pence and get the United States to commit to Turkey’s position that the Kurds don’t belong in the parts of Syria that Erdogan wants under Turkish rule.

Your exit quotation:

The post Romney: What we’ve done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain on American history appeared first on Hot Air.

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Report: Romney refusing requests to primary Trump — but could try to bring him down via impeachment

Westlake Legal Group r-2 Report: Romney refusing requests to primary Trump — but could try to bring him down via impeachment Trump The Blog Senate romney removal impeachment impeach

Superb clickbait from Gabriel Sherman, although not for a moment do I believe there’s a war chest out there of half a billion dollars which establishment Republicans are prepared to immolate in the futile hope of successfully primarying Trump. Especially with Romney as the anti-Trump alternative. He’s beloved in Utah but last I checked he wasn’t popular within the GOP. No doubt he’s less popular today, now that he’s picked up his criticism of the president.

But a story doesn’t need to be true for it to be eminently readable. If you’re a left-winger or a Never Trump righty, rumors of Romney plotting some sort of GOP rebellion against Trump are irresistible fanfic. Whereas if you’re a Trump fan, rumors of Romney plotting some sort of GOP rebellion against Trump are irresistible hate-read material. “The adults in the room are going to finally stop Trump!” “The RINOs are plotting a coup against the president!”

For the record, Romney isn’t going to bring down the Trump presidency during a Senate impeachment trial. They won’t get close to 67 votes to remove. But he might be able to persuade three colleagues to vote that way, which would give the Senate a clear majority in favor. (Unless Joe Manchin gets cold feet, of course.)

“There’s been a real increase in nervousness over the past three or four weeks,” a prominent GOP member told me. “Everybody sees what Trump did as such a clear abuse of power,” said another prominent Republican. “Whether it’s criminal or not is another issue. But it’s so blatantly over the line.”…

In the Senate, Ben Sasse and Susan Collins have made their usual equivocal noises—but not surprisingly, its Mitt Romney, longtime Trump antagonist and sometime suck-up, who’s become the standard-bearer, leading to questions as to what his game is. According to sources, donors have in recent days called the Utah senator and encouraged him to run against Trump in the primary. “There is a half-billion dollars on the sidelines from guys who are fed up with Trump,” a GOP donor told me…

According to people close to Romney, he’s firmly decided against primarying Trump, an enterprise he believes to be a sure loser given Trump’s enduring GOP support. Romney has also told people that, as an unsuccessful two-time presidential candidate, he’s the wrong person to take on Trump. Instead, a Romney adviser told me, Romney believes he has more potential power as a senator who will decide Trump’s fate in an impeachment trial. “He could have tremendous influence in the impeachment process as the lone voice of conscience in the Republican caucus,” the adviser said. In recent days, Romney has been reaching out privately to key players in the Republican resistance, according to a person briefed on the conversations. “Romney is the one guy who could bring along Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Ben Sasse. Romney is the pressure point in the impeachment process. That’s why the things he’s saying are freaking Republicans out.”

Collins, Gardner, and Sasse? They’re all running for reelection next year! Voting with Democrats to remove Trump would lead to them either getting bounced in a primary or shellacked in the general election when pro-Trump Republicans stayed home in protest. If Romney really is targeting people to rebel, he’s better off with someone like Rubio, who’s stayed far away from confronting Trump thus far but who’s also pretty clearly miserable in the Senate and whose presidential prospects are long gone in a post-Trump GOP. He’s not up for reelection until 2022 either so he’d have a little time to either try to repair relations with the party later or to announcement his retirement long before the next primary starts shaping up. Remember, he was prepared to retire in 2016 before he got talked out of it.

If Romney’s looking for more nothing-to-lose votes, he could try fellow Utahn Mike Lee. Lee’s not up until 2022 either and anti-Trump Republicans are safer in Utah than they are in any other red state. Romney could even pledge to campaign for Lee to try to help him save his seat. One more possibility: Richard Burr, the senator from North Carolina who’s spent the duration of Trump’s presidency chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee. Importantly, Burr has said before that this would be his final term in the Senate. He has nothing to lose by crossing Trump, which may help explain why his committee’s investigation of Russiagate was more bipartisan and independent than its counterpart in the House.

Romney, Rubio, Lee, and Burr would mean 51 votes for impeachment, or 50 if Manchin balks. Plus, there’s always Murkowski!

Nah, I’m just kidding. Rubio wouldn’t have the nerve to vote to remove, even if he has little to lose at this point by doing so. Mike Lee circa 2016 would vote to remove but Mike Lee circa 2019 is pretty friendly with Trump and remains on the SCOTUS shortlist. Burr keeps a low profile and seems to like it that way, which makes an earth-shaking vote against Trump seem unlikely. I think Dems might get Romney and Murkowski and that’s probably it barring some explosive new evidence confirming Trump’s hand in a quid pro quo with Ukraine. The “remove” faction won’t even reach 50 votes, especially considering that the “bad but not impeachable” get-out-of-jail-free card is always available.

Exit question: What if the punchline to all this Trump/Romney drama is that Romney ends up voting against removal?

The post Report: Romney refusing requests to primary Trump — but could try to bring him down via impeachment appeared first on Hot Air.

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Romney: Trump’s appeal to China and Ukraine to investigate Biden is “wrong and appalling”

Westlake Legal Group r Romney: Trump’s appeal to China and Ukraine to investigate Biden is “wrong and appalling” Ukraine Trump The Blog romney credulity China biden appalling

The next episode in this fiasco will be Trump dialing up world leaders and asking them to investigate Romney for “corruption.”

Here’s a similar sentiment expressed today by another well-known RINO. Guess who.

Donald Trump should not have been on the phone with a foreign head of state encouraging another country to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden. Some Republicans are trying, but there’s no way to spin this as a good idea. Like a lot of things Trump does, it was pretty over-the-top. Our leaders’ official actions should not be about politics. Those two things need to remain separate. Once those in control of our government use it to advance their political goals, we become just another of the world’s many corrupt countries. America is better than that. That’s also why it’s good that there are finally investigations looking into the extent to which the Obama FBI may have used our government — and even foreign governments — to try to crush Trump in the last election.

That’s Tucker Carlson, writing today with Neil Patel at the Daily Caller. Trump is right — Fox News really isn’t on the team anymore!

It’ll be lost amid all the huffing and puffing at Romney about “treason” and “coups,” etc, that he raises a good question in his tweets, one which could help quiet criticism of Trump if the correct answer is provided by the White House. *Is* Joe Biden the “only American citizen” whom Trump has asked about in connection with corruption during his chats with foreign leaders? Trump keeps insisting that he’s interested in corruption by U.S. officials in the abstract, not in damaging Joe Biden specifically. There’s reason to doubt that. Like I said yesterday, his interest in Biden seems to have blossomed only this year, with Grandpa Joe finally poised to enter the Democratic race. The Republican House could have investigated Biden two years ago if “corruption” was a priority for Trump. Likewise, there are other government officials who have been accused of benefiting from their relationships with foreigners, e.g., Mitch McConnell and Elaine Chao. Has Trump ever expressed any interest in seeing them investigated?

The more evidence he can produce that he’s nudged foreign leaders about investigating U.S. officials besides Biden, the stronger his case is that he’s telling the truth. This isn’t about Biden specifically, this is about draining the swamp — the whole swamp, of which Biden is but one part. Trump was asked about that in a short press conference today. Can he think of any cases where he asked a head of state for help investigating a former official who doesn’t just so happen to be the Democratic frontrunner for president? Answer:

He can’t think of any offhand. Has he ever talked at length in a *speech* about corruption abroad, which would lend a little credence to the idea that he was concerned about Ukraine’s justice system? That would be unlike him, since normally he displays no moral qualms about transacting with cretins like Putin, Duterte, and so on. But maybe there’s a speech somewhere in which he talked at length about foreign corruption. Is there?

If there is, the White House should be circulating the text to support their claim that none of this is about Biden specifically. One more question, per Republican consultant Stuart Stevens: If Republicans in Congress intend to go along with this idea that this is a story about corruption generally, not the Bidens in particular, where’s the evidence of their concern that the Trump family is benefiting from its own foreign relationships while dad is in office?

The good news for the White House today is that there is a report floating around of Trump having mentioned an American citizen other than Biden in a phone call with Xi Jinping back in June. The bad news is … it’s another Democratic candidate:

During a phone call with Xi on June 18, Trump raised Biden’s political prospects as well as those of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who by then had started rising in the polls, according to two people familiar with the discussion. In that call, Trump also told Xi he would remain quiet on Hong Kong protests as trade talks progressed.

The White House record of that call was later stored in the highly secured electronic system used to house a now-infamous phone call with Ukraine’s President and which helped spark a whistleblower complaint that’s led Democrats to open an impeachment inquiry into Trump.

That’s awfully vague. What was the context for Trump bringing up Biden and Warren in a call with China’s supreme leader, particularly now that we know Trump is eager to see China investigate the Bidens for corruption? It could be they were just making chitchat about the coming presidential race; certainly there are world leaders (like Boris Johnson) whom you can imagine bantering with Trump in friendly conversation and the election coming up in passing. Xi Jinping does … not seem like one of those leaders, particularly while there’s a trade war raging between the two countries. CNN wants us to infer that a sinister quid pro quo was on the table in this case too, with Trump suggesting that he’d keep his mouth shut about Hong Kong if Xi sniffed around for dirt on Biden and Warren. Warren had this to say about it:

But all it is is an inference. There’s no direct claim by CNN of a quid pro quo between Trump and Xi.

Although there is this from later in the CNN story:

One Trump ally outside the White House described receiving a message [yesterday] from Chinese government officials asking if Trump was serious when he suggested China open an investigation into Biden. The response: investigating corruption is an easy way to earn goodwill with Trump.

We’re left to wonder if Trump is telling the truth when he claims he never intended a quid pro quo with Ukraine — and China — or if the quid pro quo offers are farmed out to cronies like Giuliani and the unnamed “Trump ally” in the CNN piece, so that Trump can keep his fingerprints off of them.

In lieu of an exit question, here’s a little something from a guy who knows exactly how to get under Trump’s skin. I doubt there’d be more than two or three Republican senators willing to vote to remove Trump at this point, although Ben Sasse did sound annoyed about Trump’s appeal to China yesterday to investigate the Bidens: “Hold up: Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth. If the Biden kid broke laws by selling his name to Beijing, that’s a matter for American courts, not communist tyrants running torture camps.” The only suspense left in this process is whether the Senate will get to 51 votes to remove, which won’t be nearly enough to actually end Trump’s presidency but will hand Democrats a 2020 talking point that majorities in *both* chambers of Congress think the president should go. We’ll see.

The post Romney: Trump’s appeal to China and Ukraine to investigate Biden is “wrong and appalling” appeared first on Hot Air.

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Republican “insider”: Dam may start to break among GOP on impeachment if there’s evidence of a Trump quid pro quo with Ukraine

Westlake Legal Group t-16 Republican “insider”: Dam may start to break among GOP on impeachment if there’s evidence of a Trump quid pro quo with Ukraine Trump The Blog Senate romney republicans quid pro quo House giuliani evidence drucker

My dude, let me assure you that the proverbial dam is not going to proverbially break.

In fact, I’m so sure that the dam isn’t going to break that I suspect the “insider” interviewed by David Drucker for this piece is actually pro-Trump and has it on good authority that there’s no evidence of the president himself making any threats to the Ukrainians. This is the sort of thing you’d say only if you knew there was no chance of it coming back to bite you. It’s PR to make Republicans seem more open to impeachment than they really are: “Of course, if there’s irrefutable proof that he did the worst possible thing we could think of, which is unlikely, then we would have no choice but to regrettably etc etc etc.”

If evidence if a quid pro quo were to emerge (and how would it, realistically?), at worst we’d see a replay of the “Access Hollywood” episode from October 2016. Some congressional Republicans would immediately flee Team Trump, whether out of disgust at his behavior or fear of a coming political backlash. Trump, however, would dig in. His defiance would please grassroots righties. Slowly, the Republicans who ran would start inching back towards his camp. He might lose a few extra votes on removal in the Senate but they wouldn’t get anywhere near the 67 needed to oust him. A legal defense on the quid pro quo would be patched together and would give GOPers cover to support him, however reluctantly. Probably it’d be a constitutional argument: Yes, it’s bad that the president is threatening foreign leaders unless they help him damage presidential candidates from the other party, but yes, he’s entitled to do that under Article II because the president can conduct foreign policy however he likes. The remedy is at the ballot box, not in impeachment.

And what if he were to do the same thing in a second term, when he’s no longer accountable to voters at the ballot box? Unclear.

Anyway, this is untrue and we all know it:

Congressional Republicans are skeptical Trump told Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky that assistance from Washington was contingent upon his government launching a probe of Biden’s dealing with Ukraine while he was serving as vice president. But Republican sources told the Washington Examiner Tuesday, just before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry, that enlisting a foreign capital to target a Democratic presidential contender would constitute an abuse of power.

A Republican insider who has been privy to conversations on Capitol Hill said, “If there is evidence of a quid pro quo, many think the dam will start to break on our side.”

“Maybe if he withheld aid and there was a direct quid pro quo,” said a chief of staff for a House Republican.

That was published before the transcript of the call was released. Was Trump’s request for a “favor” in the transcript after Zelensky brought up Javelin missiles enough evidence of a quid pro quo to satisfy Republicans? Considering that only Mitt Romney seems “troubled” by the conversation today, it appears not. There’s always the chance that the whistleblower complaint will contain proof of a quid pro quo, but how could it? What would that evidence even look like? You’d need some high official who (a) was privy firsthand to Trump’s thinking on Ukraine, (b) observed the president somehow dangling military aid at the Ukrainians, and most importantly (c) is willing to tell the world about it.

John Bolton, basically. He’s probably the only person in the world who might conceivably have the goods *and* be willing to share them.

Drucker’s piece is interesting insofar as it’s one in a series of stories over the past 24 hours describing the uncertainty on both sides about how impeachment might play out. Early this morning, before the transcript was released, CNN reported that some House Democrats were nervous that Pelosi had now gone too far in the opposite direction on impeaching Trump. For months she’s resisted the idea at every turn as lefties have begged for action. Now she’s at risk of having leaped before she looked:

Many of the moderate members who have come out in support for impeachment have made their support conditional: If it is true Trump withheld military funding to Ukraine in order to elicit dirt on a political opponent, then it is impeachable.

But, Pelosi’s announcement yesterday caught some by surprise even as members were racing to come out in support of impeachment. A senior Democratic aide with insight into moderate Democratic thinking told CNN that many members preferred for Pelosi to wait until the end of the week when the contents of the complaint and transcript were fully known.

Is the transcript enough to convince red-district Democrats to take the plunge? There aren’t many Republican voters out there today who think it’s damning enough to risk ousting Trump from office over it.

On the other hand, for all the tough talk from Trump aides about how they welcome impeachment, believing it’ll be rocket fuel for GOP turnout next fall, the reality is that they don’t want it. They can and will use it for campaign purposes — when Pelosi gives you lemons, make lemonade — but no, of course Trump doesn’t want to spend the next several months bogged down in preparing a formal impeachment defense, not to mention going down in history as just the third U.S. president to be impeached. And if nothing else, it would mean that any small chance of further legislative accomplishments before the election, like the USMCA, would be fully extinguished.

Plus, the conventional wisdom that impeachment will backfire on the party besieging the president is shaky. It could work out that way, of course; Republicans suffered in the ’98 midterms, a lesson that’s kept Pelosi away from impeachment. But Clinton was a popular president and Trump is not. What Trump has been accused of, using the power of his office to coopt a foreign government into damaging his political opponent, will seem graver to some voters than Clinton’s offenses. And there’s the fatigue factor, in which other voters might tune out the specifics of the Ukraine matter but conclude that there’s too much drama around Trump generally to reward him with four more years. Impeachment could work out for him — for sure, it’ll increase Republican engagement in the election — but it’s not a cinch. Both sides are stuck in uncharted territory here.

One more thought for you on the Republican dam potentially breaking:

Here’s Romney earlier today being asked why he’s the only Republican in the Senate who seems willing to criticize Trump on the Ukraine matter. His reply, essentially, is that his colleagues are too intoxicated with the power and prestige of being a senator to care about the good of the country — although he phrases it much, much more tactfully than that. (“This is a shot aimed directly at his colleagues and he knew exactly what he was doing. Romney irritation been building since Friday,” claims NYT reporter Jonathan Martin of his remarks.) The not so minor fact that Romney may be the only Republican in the country who’s probably primary-proof in his home state also gives him unique freedom to criticize Trump. He doesn’t mention that.

The post Republican “insider”: Dam may start to break among GOP on impeachment if there’s evidence of a Trump quid pro quo with Ukraine appeared first on Hot Air.

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Romney: This Trump/Zelensky transcript is “deeply troubling”

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Ed’s done a bang-up job of going through the transcript itself so read him if you haven’t yet. I sifted through reactions on political social media and it’s already clear as can be that this is an unusually stark Trump Rorschach test even in an era where virtually everything in American politics is a Trump Rorschach test. If you’re well disposed towards Trump, the transcript is a nothingburger. If you dislike him, the impeachment rocket has just lifted off. Case in point:

Pelosi sounds impeachment-minded this afternoon too:

“The release of the notes of the call by the White House confirms that the President engaged in behavior that undermines the integrity of our elections, the dignity of the office he holds and our national security. The President has tried to make lawlessness a virtue in America and now is exporting it abroad.

“I respect the responsibility of the President to engage with foreign leaders as part of his job. It is not part of his job to use taxpayer money to shake down other countries for the benefit of his campaign. Either the President does not know the weight of his words or he does not care about ethics or his constitutional responsibilities.

“The transcript and the Justice Department’s acting in a rogue fashion in being complicit in the President’s lawlessness confirm the need for an impeachment inquiry. Clearly, the Congress must act.

The Democratic presidential candidates are also uniformly shocked and appalled, as you’d expect. Longtime Trump friend turned enemy turned friend turned enemy Mitt Romney strongly disapproves too, although because he’s a Republican he stops short of the I-word:

I expect the political class will spend the next few days debating what precisely Trump meant in the not-quite-transcript when Zelensky brought up U.S. missiles and Trump went on to mention a “favor.” Ed argued in his post that in context the “favor” refers exclusively to Trump’s interest in Hillary’s email server. Only after that did he bring up the Bidens. Philip Klein argues that “favor” clearly refers to both — and, what’s more, that these favors were obviously designed to benefit Trump politically, not the United States strategically:

Reading the full transcript, and understanding the broader context, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Trump was using the power and influence of the U.S. to advance his own political interests rather than the national security interests of the nation. There was not much talk about what Ukraine could do for America’s interests in the region, and a lot more talk about what he could do for Trump personally that would benefit him politically.

One point about the transcript that’s been overlooked in the commentary I’ve read is that Zelensky — not Trump — brings up Rudy Giuliani after Trump mentions CrowdStrike, assuring Trump that his assistant has already spoken to Rudy. Spoken to him about what? Here’s the exchange.

Westlake Legal Group 1-5 Romney: This Trump/Zelensky transcript is “deeply troubling” zelensky whistleblower Ukraine transcript The Blog romney quid pro quo atlantic 2020

There’s some as yet unknown backdrop to this conversation about the “favor” Trump wanted from Ukraine, which involved Giuliani and of which Zelensky was clearly already aware. What was it? Remember, Rudy had already openly declared his interest in pressuring Ukraine to reopen the Biden investigation back in May in a story in the NYT:

Mr. Giuliani said he plans to travel to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, in the coming days and wants to meet with the nation’s president-elect to urge him to pursue inquiries that allies of the White House contend could yield new information about two matters of intense interest to Mr. Trump.

One is the origin of the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The other is the involvement of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son in a gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch

“We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview on Thursday when asked about the parallel to the special counsel’s inquiry.

“There’s nothing illegal about it,” he said. “Somebody could say it’s improper. And this isn’t foreign policy — I’m asking them to do an investigation that they’re doing already and that other people are telling them to stop. And I’m going to give them reasons why they shouldn’t stop it because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”

Again, this was two and a half months before Trump’s call with Zelensky. So here’s Zelensky in July acknowledging that his people had already been in touch with Rudy, and per the excerpt above, we know that Rudy was keen to talk to them about the Biden probe. So maybe Trump didn’t need to lean hard on Zelensky during the call … because Giuliani was already leaning hard on them behind closed doors. That is, if the defense to all this is that Trump never demanded a quid pro quo, that defense would be complicated if it turned out that *Giuliani* had demanded a quid pro quo privately on Trump’s behalf, with the president’s knowledge and blessing.

Which is how one would do something like this if one were intent on doing it, no? Why would Trump issue an ultimatum to Zelensky knowing that natsec aides were listening in on his call when he could have his loyal crony Rudy do it with no record of the threat being made?

Either way, Trump did know that Giuliani was trying to reach out to them in May according to Rudy himself. Giuliani told the Times that month that “his efforts in Ukraine have the full support of Mr. Trump.” Per WaPo, officials inside the government are also irritated at Rudy’s role in Ukraine diplomacy. “Rudy — he did all of this,” said one official to the paper. “This s—show that we’re in — it’s him injecting himself into the process.” Interestingly, though, aides worried that Trump himself might pressure Zelensky improperly during a call and reportedly tried to keep them from making contact:

The sequence, which began early this year, involved the abrupt removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, the circumvention of senior officials on the National Security Council, and the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars of aid administered by the Defense and State departments — all as key officials from these agencies struggled to piece together Giuliani’s activities from news reports.

Several officials described tense meetings on Ukraine among national security officials at the White House leading up to the president’s phone call on July 25, sessions that led some participants to fear that Trump and those close to him appeared prepared to use U.S. leverage with the new leader of Ukraine for Trump’s political gain.

As those worries intensified, some senior officials worked behind the scenes to hold off a Trump meeting or call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky out of concern that Trump would use the conversation to press Kiev for damaging information on Trump’s potential rival in the 2020 race, former vice president Joe Biden, and Biden’s son Hunter.

In other words, even some people inside the building feared that Trump and possibly Giuliani were involved in an illicit influence campaign, or so WaPo’s sources claim. But if Giuliani did demand a quid pro quo from Zelensky’s government on Trump’s behalf, how could House Democrats possibly prove it? Rudy will deny it, of course, and the Ukrainians certainly won’t risk Trump’s wrath by acknowledging it.

In lieu of an exit question, one other point to note about the Romney clip up top. Romney is asked about a quid pro quo and dismisses it as borderline irrelevant, which is the least Trump-friendly way of framing the issue here. Most Republicans insist that, absent an explicit threat to withhold military aid unless Zelensky played ball on the Biden probe, there was no wrongdoing. Romney counters by saying that it doesn’t matter if there was a threat or not. Merely *requesting* an investigation of an American political rival that would benefit you electorally is “deeply troubling,” even if it’s no more than a request. That’s the same argument Dems will make (and are already making) if they impeach Trump. Or, rather, when.

The post Romney: This Trump/Zelensky transcript is “deeply troubling” appeared first on Hot Air.

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Romney: Trump should release the whistleblower complaint or else the House will have to decide how to proceed

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Action by the House if Trump refuses to comply with a demand?

Gee, Mitt. Whatever do you have in mind?

Whether you love Trump or loathe him, we should all agree that it would be high comedy watching the few remaining Trump-skeptic Republicans in the Senate forced to sweat it out on whether to vote to remove the president from office after he’s been impeached.

Trump has said that he’d consider releasing the transcript of his July phone call with Ukraine’s president. He hasn’t said (as far as I know) that he might release the complaint. Romney’s pushing him here.

Whether to vote to remove Trump for leaning on Ukraine on the Biden investigation is one question. Whether to vote to remove him for refusing to turn over a whistleblower complaint to Congress is an entirely different one. There are always separation-of-powers defenses when the two branches clash, and Trump would have an argument that his authority over foreign policy and national security means that Congress has no right to demand information from the executive branch about how he’s performing his duties in both areas. Congress would counter that they have constitutional authority to police the president for the commission of high crimes and misdemeanors and therefore absolutely have the right to see a formal allegation of wrongdoing. Where would SCOTUS come down in that dispute?

With Congress, I think. Although they might require Pelosi to initiate some sort of formal impeachment proceeding first.

Elsewhere in the Senate today, the comedy of watching Senate Republicans try to duck questions about Trump and Ukraine is already under way. Six months ago, Ben Sasse would have lambasted the president for allegedly courting foreign interference in a U.S. election and using taxpayer money as leverage. Nowadays he’s too focused on winning another six years in the Senate to have any deep thoughts about it. If you want answers, ask “James,” whoever that is:

CNN tried to corral some Republicans into commenting, with limited success. Chuck Grassley told them that he’d love to talk to the whistleblower, so maybe CNN could use its platform to encourage that person to come forward.

Why should the whistleblower have to come forward, though? The whole point of having a formal legal whistleblower process is so that people can report misconduct to the DNI and, by extension, to Congress through a specified channel. The whistleblower used that channel. Grassley wants him to out himself anyway.

Seems like Chuck’s complaint here isn’t, or shouldn’t be, with the whistleblower but with the executive branch for refusing to share the allegations.

In fairness to Sasse and other Republicans, “no comment until we have more facts” is the prudent — and politically safe — way to go. But it gets us back to Romney’s point. What are Senate Republicans prepared to do if Trump decides that he doesn’t feel like supplying more facts? If the idea, per Romney and Grassley, is that Congress has the right to know of potential presidential wrongdoing, how far are they prepared to go if Trump counters that they have no such right?

National Review is out with an editorial about the Ukraine matter tonight. Trump was wrong to lean on Zelensky, they acknowledge, but impeachment isn’t the remedy here. Next year’s election is. Pelosi couldn’t say it better herself!

[W]hatever Joe and Hunter Biden’s vulnerabilities might be, pursuing them is obviously not an appropriate goal of U.S. foreign policy. It’d be even worse if Ukraine were presented with a quid pro quo, an investigation of Biden in exchange for U.S. defense aid…

The way Democrats and the media now wish to proceed — starting with the public release of transcripts of conversations between Trump and foreign leaders — would set a perilous precedent. For the sake of American national security, it is vital that leaders communicate frankly and that their negotiations include the most sensitive matters. This can only happen if there is a reciprocal assurance of confidentiality.

As for impeachment, if Democrats are intent on going down this road, it ought to lead to searching inquiry into the analogous behavior of past presidents. We would want to learn, for example, about the Obama administration’s dealings with Kyiv in 2016, when a Ukrainian investigation involving Trump campaign official Paul Manafort was suddenly revived, and a leak of documents — sourced to a Ukrainian legislator tied to the Clinton campaign — resulted in Manafort’s ouster as campaign chairman. We would also want to learn more about the investigation of alleged Trump–Russia “collusion,” which appears to have been encouraged by the Obama administration and whose origins are currently being probed by the Trump Justice Department.

I know I’ve said it numerous times today but I’ll say it again: I don’t think Trump will hand over the transcript or the whistleblower complaint. Whatever’s in them, it’s unlikely to be flattering to him. Handing them over would also undercut his “but he fights!” image with the right. The safest play is to exert executive privilege and hope the public loses interest. Foreign policy rarely captures voters’ imagination, especially foreign policy towards a country as obscure to the average American as Ukraine.

He’d just better hope that the whistleblower doesn’t come forward and/or that no one in the natsec bureaucracy leaks the document. But the odds of that are low: Natsec people love Trump, right?

In lieu of an exit question, here’s Shep sounding extra Sheppy about all this today on Fox.

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Kasich on Trump and Ukraine: “Where are the Republicans?!”

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Good lord. This Ukraine thing isn’t going to end up producing a John Kasich presidential candidacy, is it?

Then it really will be a national crisis.

He wants to know where the outrage is among Republicans over what Trump’s accused is. Well, there’s this guy:

That’s as close as Senator Mitt gets to “outrage.” Pat Toomey allowed yesterday on “Meet the Press” that “it is not appropriate for any candidate for federal office, certainly, including a sitting president, to ask for assistance from a foreign country” while stressing that we don’t know the facts yet — even though Trump has now confirmed that he raised the Biden investigation in his July phone call with Ukraine’s president.

That’s about it from Senate Republicans so far. Some doubtless are lying low, hoping that the facts here turn out to be better than they seem. Others known to call out Trump in the past, like Ben Sasse, decided awhile back to trade their right to criticize him for his support in their upcoming Senate primaries.

In some cases, the answer to Kasich’s “Where are the Republicans?” question is “Leaving Congress to get away from Trump”:

Three days later, [GOP Rep. Paul] Mitchell was awaiting a prime-time CNN appearance when he saw footage of Trump rallygoers chanting “send her back,” aimed at one of the congresswomen, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Stunned, Mitchell said he scribbled question marks on a notepad to silently ask an aide: “How do I even respond to this on TV?”

But one of the final straws was the unwillingness of people in Trump’s orbit to listen. Mitchell implored Vice President Pence, his chief of staff, Marc Short, and “any human being that has any influence in the White House” to arrange a one-on-one conversation between him and the president so he could express his concerns…

“We’re here for a purpose — and it’s not this petty, childish b——t,” Mitchell, 62, said in an interview in early September. Pence’s office declined to comment.

Ten days after the “send her back” incident Mitchell announced he was retiring, one of 18 Republicans so far this year to announce that they’re leaving the House. If the Ukraine scandal metastasizes, that number will accelerate.

There’s a third possible answer to Kasich’s question, though: Where are the Democrats? Everyone understands that the congressional GOP is now a mix of Trump personality cultists and Trump skeptics who are terrified of wrecking their future in the party by criticizing him. Democrats have the opposite incentive, though — the more adversarial they are towards Trump, the more their base loves it. So why aren’t they being more adversarial on the Ukraine matter? That’s what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wanted to know yesterday, and it’s what other Dems are whispering to the media about today:

[I][nterviews with more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers this weekend made clear that they believed the latest allegations had the potential to be singularly incriminating, with the potential to advance the impeachment drive just as it appeared to be losing steam. Not only do the allegations suggest that Mr. Trump was using the power of his office to extract political gains from a foreign power, they argued, but his administration is actively trying once again to prevent Congress from finding out what happened…

Several first-term lawmakers who had opposed impeachment conferred privately over the weekend to discuss announcing support for an inquiry, potentially jointly, after a hearing scheduled for Thursday with the acting national intelligence director, according to Democratic officials familiar with the conversations. A handful of them declined to speak on the record over the weekend, with some still reluctant to go public and others looking for cues from Ms. Pelosi and their freshman colleagues…

Strikingly, some traditionally cautious veteran Democrats said the party might have no choice but to move toward impeachment. They believe that Senate Republicans, who are clinging to their majority of 53 seats, would pay a political price for protecting Mr. Trump if they voted to exonerate him in the face of damning evidence of malfeasance and a House vote to impeach.

Schumer is already trying to tighten the screws on McConnell over this, inviting Cocaine Mitch today to join him in asking the White House to release the transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky and the whistleblower complaint. One key political mystery at the moment is what Democrats will do if the White House succeeds in withholding both documents. Can they possibly impeach him based on what the evidence is *alleged* to say, without seeing it firsthand themselves? If not, can they possibly *not* impeach him if he successfully stymies an investigation by withholding alleged evidence of wrongdoing? Imagine if they went ahead and impeached him and then the transcript and complaint came out and the evidence wasn’t as damning as it was cracked up to be. Trump’s instinct is to withhold information rather than supply it and risk being caught in a trap (e.g., refusing to sit for an interview with Mueller) so that’s probably what he’ll do here. Your move, Nancy.

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Romney: I’m not endorsing anyone for president in 2020

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You didn’t think I’d deny you a thread to stomp on him for officially withholding his endorsement from Trump next year, did you?

He *is* showing some loyalty to Trump here. Kind of. There are now three different primary challengers to the president; Romney happens to be buddies with one of them, Bill Weld, and would doubtless heartily agree with another, Mark Sanford, that the Trump administration needs to take America’s looming fiscal crisis more seriously. And no one in the race this year sounds as much like Romney did in his (in)famous 2016 speech lambasting Trump as Joe Walsh, who lashes the president every day in media appearances for his character deficiencies. Instead of backing one, Mitt’s staying neutral.

You may remember that Trump endorsed Romney in 2012 in one of the more awkward joint photo ops in recent political history, when he was still mainly known in politics as the Birther-in-chief. Romney returned the favor four years later by writing in his wife’s name on his presidential ballot. Weld, of course, ran against Trump in 2016 as the Libertarian Party’s VP nominee before endorsing Hillary Clinton shortly before Election Day. Can’t any of these dudes pick a winner?

“I’m not planning on endorsing in the presidential race,” Romney, who has periodically sparred with Trump, told CNN in the Capitol. “At this stage, I’m not planning on endorsing in the primary or in the general.”…

On Thursday, Romney told CNN that he has concerns with the move by several states to cancel their primary contests in a bid to help Trump as he faces challenges from Weld, former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh and former South Carolina congressman and Gov. Mark Sanford.

“I would far prefer having an open primary, caucus, convention process … where people can be heard,” said Romney, who reiterated that he’s not running himself.

Should we read anything into him saying “at this stage”? I don’t think so. He’d gain nothing by endorsing Weld and would lose what little influence he has with Trump. He’s better off staying neutral and keeping up his mix of sporadic lacerating criticism of the president tempered by occasional praise.

A more interesting question than what Mitt will do is how many of the people on this list of former Never Trumpers will end up endorsing Trump for reelection. There were a lot of prominent Republicans who held out on backing the nominee in 2016, way more than I remember. People with some sort of personal grudge against Trump, like the Bushes or Carly Fiorina, will likely continue to hold out, I assume. But as an incumbent president, he’s likely to improve dramatically among Republican senators: Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee will definitely back him this time and Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, and Rob Portman are likely to. Trump may even flip the two Alaskans, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. As for Ben Sasse, what choice does he have but to return the favor after Trump endorsed him earlier this week? The president may have saved his Senate seat for him by discouraging a primary insurrection among Trump fans in Nebraska. If Sasse were to insult him by withholding his support again, who knows how Trump — and Trumpers — would react.

We can safely say that if Sasse is planning to stay neutral, he won’t make that fact plain until after his primary.

I think ex-Never-Trumpers could actually be a useful campaign tool for Trump next year. Many swing voters will be wary of giving him a second term; an ad featuring someone like Mike Lee discussing Trump’s accomplishments and how he came to be more comfortable with the idea of Trump as president should be more relatable to those voters than someone doing the full Lou Dobbs “WE HAVE ENTERED A GOLDEN AGE” pitch for POTUS. Lee’s reluctance in 2016 would prove to skeptics that he understands their concerns about Trump, making his decision to back Trump this time that much more powerful.

In lieu of an exit question, here’s Dobbs last night sounding exceedingly Dobbs-ish.

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Romney: I might vote for the Toomey/Manchin background checks bill

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I’m trying to figure out how seriously to take this. On the one hand, he hasn’t even read the bill yet. If you’re willing to cross the Republican base on a cultural flashpoint, you might want to at least peruse the legislation before saying so. Why invite grief for yourself if you don’t need to?

On the other hand, this is a vivid example of just how insulated Romney is from the political pressures that most of his other colleagues in the Senate have to contend with. If you’re a Republican from a swing state who’s facing reelection next year, like Thom Tillis, you don’t utter a peep about gun control until Trump has taken a position. If POTUS endorses universal background checks then it’s safe for you to do so without risking a populist backlash, and not a moment sooner.

Romney, though? He doesn’t care. “Sure, I might vote for it,” he says, not bothering to wait to see what Trump will do or whether McConnell will even bring the bill to the floor. He won his Senate primary in Utah last year by more than 40 points and the general election by more than 30. Trump’s intentions don’t matter as much in Utah as in other red states either: A poll conducted there in July found 53 percent disapprove of his job performance. Combine that with the fact that expanded background checks polls at around 80-90 percent even among Republicans nationally and Romney likely regards this as a cost-free way to get out in front of the caucus on a hot legislative topic.

Another way of putting that is that maybe Mitt, like Beto O’Rourke, is in the “f*** it” phase of his career.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said Monday that he believes all commercial gun sales should be subject to a background check and signaled he’s open to supporting bipartisan legislation from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

“It certainly should be applied to commercial sales and finding a more comprehensive way to make sure that people are in the system that ought to be in the system,” Romney told reporters when asked about expanding background checks.

Asked if he would support legislation from Manchin and Toomey, which would expand gun background checks to all commercial sales, Romney said he had spoken with Toomey and was reviewing the bill.

“I’m looking at that. … Directionally, that is something I would support, but I have not read the legislation. That is something I would have to look at before I signed on,” Romney added.

The only two Republicans in the Senate who voted for Toomey/Manchin when it came to the floor in 2013 were Susan Collins and Toomey himself, notes the Hill. Add Romney to that if you like. That’s 50 votes even, assuming that all 47 Democrats vote yes. (A very safe bet.) Schumer needs 10 more Republicans to beat a filibuster. Where on earth are those votes coming from?

Potentially they’d come from Trump. If POTUS endorses expanded background checks, that would give the Tillises of the world political cover to vote yes — in theory. In practice, I wonder if even reliable Trump toadies like him would dare risk alienating gun-rights supporters by supporting the president. Normally it’s safe for Senate Republicans to take a position pro or con on a given issue so long as King Donald holds the same position. In this case, Trump endorsing background checks might trigger a small but meaningful backlash on the right that would endanger GOPers like Tillis who sided with him. The safe play in this case for a senator who’s up for reelection might be to oppose expanded background checks no matter what Trump does.

But Trump’s unlikely to support it either. Remember, the Trump campaign allegedly polled the issue of gun-control legislation recently and found that it would be “politically problematic” for the president with his base if he got behind gun control, although they’ve been coy in refusing to provide hard numbers or even to say what public opinion looks like on different proposals. (No doubt background checks are much less controversial than a mandatory buyback program.) Trump himself continues to dither on it, likely torn between wanting to gratify the 90 percent of the public likes the idea and not wanting to enrage the 10 percent that really, really hates it. In the end he’ll stick with the latter: Trump’s strategy is always to double down on his base in the belief that they have the numbers to out-vote Democrats next fall and that he can’t afford to alienate anyone who’s already in his corner when his job approval is stuck permanently at 42 percent or so.

Trump himself has been nearly impossible to pin down on the issue. Top GOP leaders in the House and Senate — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Whip John Thune, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise — will meet with Trump on Tuesday to discuss the fall agenda, according to three sources familiar with the meeting. That gives Republicans the opportunity to hear the latest from the president himself…

McConnell made clear on Monday afternoon that the Senate’s focus this month will be on spending bills to avoid a shutdown on Sept. 30 and fund the government into next fall, a potential setback to moving quickly on gun legislation in the wake of several recent mass shootings. McConnell did not mention gun legislation, though he has said in previous media appearances the Senate will consider whatever the president will sign.

Romney, meanwhile, has been telling newspapers back home in Utah that expanded background checks and a ban on bump stocks are the two gun-control measures he might conceivably support. Nothing else can pass anyway. He also says he’s been in touch with Toomey to make sure that the bill would accommodate rural gun-buyers who might face hardship having to travel for a background check before a purchase and was assured that it would. Nothing’s happening without McConnell, though — and as far as McConnell’s concerned, nothing’s happening without Trump: “I said several weeks ago that if the President took a position on a bill so that we knew we would actually be making a law and not just having serial votes, I’d be happy to put it on the floor.” The guy’s not going to put his caucus through a tough vote that’s destined to piss off one group of voters or another unless he knows up front that that legislation will become law. If Trump wants to commit to that in advance, that’s one thing. If he refuses, forget it.

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Romney: I’m voting against this garbage budget deal

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He *did* once say that he was “severely conservative,” remember. Who could have guessed at the time that he was telling the truth?

“Utah balances its budget every year, and while it may not be in fashion in Washington, we still care deeply about fiscal responsibility. The federal government, however, has followed a very different course, and our national debt now totals over $22 trillion,” Romney said in a statement to The Hill.

“This deal unfortunately perpetuates fiscal recklessness by adding another $2 trillion to the debt, and I cannot support it. We must repair our fiscal foundation and set a course to a balanced budget now so that we avoid a future debt crisis that would pose grave hardships for our children and grandchildren.”

Romney joins Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in opposing the deal. Other Republicans, including Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and John Kennedy (La.), are still undecided.

This is a rare instance in which it’s low-risk for a Republican in Congress to be on the wrong side of an issue from Trump:

It’s always low-risk for Romney to be on the wrong side of Trump because, unlike most senators, he’s more popular in his red home state than Trump is. POTUS couldn’t give him the Jeff Flake treatment even if he wanted to. And since Romney got elected to a six-year term just last year, the soonest he’d need to worry about Trump backing a primary challenger to him is 2024, when Trump will be in the final year of his presidency (assuming he wins next fall, of course) and his influence over the party will be waning. This was, then, a safe vote for Mitt. But it’s also relatively safe for Johnson, Braun, Lankford, and Paul simply because the deal is all but guaranteed to pass both chambers of Congress with Democratic support. It’s an unusual case of Trump not needing (many) votes from his own party to get something done, in which case the logical thing for congressional Republicans to do is maintain the pretense that they’re interested in shrinking government and vote no. That’ll keep fiscal conservatives back home happy. And Trumpers who might otherwise be unhappy at their defiance of King Donald won’t care since the bill will pass anyway.

No wonder, then, that the Trump cheering squad known as the Freedom Caucus decided to go their own way on this vote. In fact, a majority of House Republicans voted no today as the bill passed the lower chamber, 284-149. Pelosi had the votes she needed from her own party so Kevin McCarthy’s crew was free to engage in a bit of harmless tea-party nostalgia.

As for Trump’s own spending priorities, a former senior administration official (Bannon? Scaramucci? Kelly?) told Politico that “He doesn’t care about the cost. Wall Street is happy. The defense folks are happy. That’s good enough.” Trump allegedly told Senate Republicans in a meeting a few days ago how pleased he was at the complacency from Fox News and the rest of conservative media about the deal. Part of that complacency is due to the reality of the new Congress: Pelosi gets a say here, and as she proved with the standoff over funding for the wall this past winter, she’s not prone to blink in a staredown. Why force another standoff that’s destined to end in compromise, if not capitulation? But partly too it’s a matter of recognizing that the central fraud of the tea-party era, the idea that rank-and-file Republicans care meaningfully about limiting government, is now so transparent that it would be pathetic to have another big fight about it, particularly with the debt ceiling in the middle. Let’s just acknowledge reality. Trump has drained the swamp, says Philip Klein — of the tea party:

There are many ways in which the Trump presidency has been disruptive to the status quo. But when it comes to spending and deficits, he has restored Washington to a much more conventional place in which both parties agree to ignore warnings of fiscal disaster, and resolve their differences by simply agreeing to spend more money…

Should investors eventually demand higher interest rates [as a condition of purchasing U.S. treasuries], or should the economy falter — making Americans more dependent on public assistance, leading to federal stimulus, and reducing revenues — deficits will only get much deeper. This is especially true given the tacit agreement of both parties to do nothing to address the crisis facing Medicare and Social Security…

The Freedom Caucus, founded to supposedly represent the Tea Party values of limited government in Congress, has devolved into a PR shop for Trump. Mick Mulvaney, one of the founders of the group, has discounted the importance of deficits as the president’s budget man and chief of staff. And even Rush Limbaugh recently declared that, “Nobody is a fiscal conservative anymore. All this talk about concern for the deficit and the budget has been bogus for as long as it’s been around.”

One of the few lasting spending successes of the tea-party era, notes Klein, was the Budget Control Act passed in 2011, which placed caps on discretionary spending. The new Trump-backed budget deal repeals the final two years of that statute. “There’s stories being written that this is the final nail in the coffin of what used to be the tea party movement. That’s sad. But maybe true,” said Rand Paul. But don’t worry. He’ll be cheerleading again for Trump tomorrow.

Exit quotation from Patterico, attempting to answer the question “What is the point of the Republican Party?”: “This party stands for owning the libs and for nothing else.” Indeed.

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