A Complete Analysis Of Trump’s 144th Unpresidented Week As POTUS

The Justice Department is now criminally investigating its own Mueller probe and more evidence of Trump's extortion of Ukraine was testified to.
President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, addresses his remarks Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, addresses his remarks Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Trump’s first major typo after winning the election was spelling Unprecedented incorrectly. He infamously tweeted “Unpresidented.” This typo is emblematic of his administration: An impulsive, frantically thrown together group of characters with virtually no oversight. After Trump was sworn in, I started writing the weekly “Unpresidented” column, analyzing every day of his presidency. This is week 144.

This was yet another week of authoritarian developments and corruption evidence.

Ambassador Bill Taylor’s Tuesday testimony to House impeachment investigators was the most daming testimony of Trump’s presidency. In what many are calling a quid pro quo, Taylor detailed how the Trump Administration sought to extort the Ukrainian government into investigating the Bidens and the 2016 election. Multiple administration officials were aware of, or complicit in, this effort. This includes Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

On Wednesday, rather than try and defend President Trump’s indefensible actions, House Republicans stormed a SCIF where House impeachment investigators were deposing witnesses. It didn’t matter that these were bipartisan committees or that that many of the Republicans who were waging this political stunt were actually on the committees in the SCIF. No, facts have never stopped the GOP. They did this reportedly with the blessing of President Trump himself in an effort to falsely claim the impeachment process is being run improperly.

By Thursday, we got news of a major development in the Trump Administration’s effort to investigate Trump’s political targets. The Justice Department’s “administrative review” of the origins of the Mueller probe is now a criminal investigation. William Barr is executing on President Trump’s worst authoritarian impulses and probing his most dubious conspiracy theories.

Donald Trump and his sycophants are abusing the full power of the U.S. government to investigate his political targets and extort foreign powers to aid him in these efforts, all in his pursuit to maintain power. As this proceeds publicly, the Republican Party remains behind him. We’ve entered a new phase of the Trump presidency.

Let’s dive into yet another Unpresidented week.

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As The Impeachment Inquiry Looms, Trump Lashes Out

Day 1,005: Monday, October 21

Monday’s top stories:

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Bill Taylor’s Bombshell Testimony

Day 1,006: Tuesday, October 22

President Volodymyr Zelensky meets with President Donald Trump at the UN General Assembly - September 25, 2019 (Source: The Presidential Office of Ukraine)

President Volodymyr Zelensky meets with President Donald Trump at the UN General Assembly – September 25, 2019 (Source: The Presidential Office of Ukraine)

As President Trump compared the constitutional impeachment inquiry to a lynching, the top diplomat in Ukraine was delivering damning testimony that showcased how necessary that impeachment inquiry is. Taylor’s testimony lasted 9.5 hours. Although we don’t know what was said in his full testimony, the opening statement he delivered outlined a timeline of events for impeachment investigators to follow.

Ambassador Bill Taylor testified to the quid pro quo/extortion saga at the heart of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Taylor said that a White House meeting and military aid was withheld in an effort to pressure Ukrainian President Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and the 2016 election. Taylor said that the decision to withhold the aid, and the reluctance to have a White House meeting, was directly from President Trump. Taylor also alleges the quid pro quo was explicitly relayed to President Zelensky by then-Ambassador Gordon Sondland.

Several moments of Taylor’s testimony appeared to contradict Sondland’s depiction of events, sparking perjury speculation. Taylor’s testimony came after Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitted to a Trump-Ukraine quid pro quo last week, later reversing himself.

Bill Taylor has had a distinguished 50-year career of service to the U.S., from a West Point cadet, military officer, and subsequently at the State Department under both President W. Bush and Obama. He’s a nonpartisan official, which makes what he said today even more damning.

Bill Taylor replaced then-Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, in June of this year after she was smeared by Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr., and now-indicted Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

Bill Taylor’s 15-page opening statement goes into excruciating detail highlighting the chronology of the Trump Administration’s corrupt effort based on contemporaneous notes. Let’s dive into the testimony.

The Key Moments Of Bill Taylor’s Statement, From Start To Finish

Bill Taylor opened his chronicling of events by noting that when he arrived in Kyiv, Ukraine in July, he noticed there were “two channels of U.S. policy-making and implementation.” There was a regular one, which he was part of, and an irregular one that involved then-Special Envoy Kurt Volker, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and Rudy Giuliani. What transpired next alarmed him.

Talyor testified that in late June, it became clear there were preconditions that were necessary to be met before Trump would agree to meet with Zelensky. Taylor said:

“On June 27, Ambassador Sondland told me during a phone conversation that President Zelensky needed to make clear to President Trump that he, President Zelensky, was not standing in the way of ‘investigations.'”

Taylor said that on June 28, Sondland told him he didn’t want to include regular participants on a planned call with Zelensky that day. Sondland allegedly said that he wanted to make sure no one transcribed the call, which was set to involve Volker, Perry, and Taylor. Taylor then gave damning testimony that signaled the quid pro would be explicitly relayed to Zelenksy:

“Also, before President Zelensky joined the call, Ambassador Volker separately told the U.S. participants that he, Ambassador Volker, planned to be explicit with President Zelensky in a one-on-one meeting in Toronto on July 2 about what President Zelensky should do to get the White House meeting. Again, it was not clear to me on that call what this meant, but Ambassador Volker noted that he would relay that President Trump wanted to see rule of law, transparency, but also, specifically, cooperation on investigations to get to the bottom of things.”

We see later in the testimony that the quid pro quo was indeed explicitly communicated to Zelensky. But more on that later. Taylor went on to summarize the first quid pro quo involving the Whtie House meeting he soon saw unfolding:

“By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on the investigation of Burisma [gas company Hunter Biden was involved with] and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani.”

Taylor went on to discuss how the military aid was withheld, how it left officials astonished, and that Mulvaney was the one who pushed for it. Taylor testified about the quid pro quo again, stating:

“In the same July 19 phone call, they gave me an account of the July 10 meeting with Ukrainian officials at the White House. Specifically, they told me that Ambassador Sondland had connected “investigations” with an Oval Office meeting for President Zelensky…”

Taylor then testified that Sondland told him a phone call between Trump and Zelensky would take place soon, and that it was most important for “Zelensky to say that he will help investigation – and address any specific personnel issues – if there are any.” Taylor testified that later on July 20, Sondland told him that he would “leave no stone unturned” regarding investigations when Trump spoke to Zelensky.

After the July 25th phone call where President Trump pressured President Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and the 2016 election, Taylor didn’t get a readout of the call until the memo was publicly released on September 25.

Taylor said he was contemplating resigning after a phone call with National Security Council aide Tim Morrison. The call took place on August 22, and when Taylor asked about Ukraine’s military aid, Morrison said that the “President doesn’t want to provide any assistance at all.”

On September 1, the day Vice President Mike Pence met with Zelensky, with this is when things really begin to heat up as it pertains to the explicit quid pro quo. Taylor testified that on a September 1 phone call, he learned of a situation involving Zelensky aide Andrey Yermak:

“During this same phone call I had with Mr. Morrison, he went on to describe a conversation Ambassador Sondland had with Mr. Yermak at Warsaw. Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that the security money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation. I was alarmed by what Mr. Morrison told me about the Sondland-Yermak conversation. This was the first time I had heard that the security assistance – not just the White House meeting – was conditioned on the investigation.”

After this, Taylor sent a text message to Sondland on September 1 and learned of President Trump’s direct involvement:

“Very concerned, on that same day I sent Ambassador Sondland a text message asking if ‘we [are] now saying that security assistance and [a] WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?’ Ambassador Sondland responded asking me to call him, which I did. During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S election.

“Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations – in fact, Ambassador Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky “in a public box” by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.”

Taylor went on to highlight how U.S. foreign policy was undercut by this endeavor:

“I had been making (and continue to make) this point to all my Ukrainian official contacts. But the push to make President Zelensky publicly commit to investigations of Burisma and alleged interference in the 2016 election showed how the official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr. Giuliani.”

Taylor then further implicated President Trump by highlighting what Morrison told him on a September 7 phone call:

“According to Mr. Morrison, President Trump told Ambassador Sondland That he was not asking for a ‘quid pro quo.’ But President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference and that President Zelensky should want to do this himself.”

In a September 8 phone call, Ambassador Sondland further confirmed this and expanded upon the explicit quid pro quo evidence:

“Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President Zelensky and Mr. Yermak and told them that, although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelenksy did not ‘clear things up’ in public, we would be at a ‘stalemate.’ I understood ‘stalemate’ to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance. Ambassador Sondland said that this conversation concluded with President Zelensky agreeing to make a public statement in an interview with CNN.”

Sondland also attempted to explain away this conduct to Taylor:

“…during our call on September 8, Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who ows him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.”

On September 9, Taylor then sent his now-famous text to Ambassador Sondland, stating “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” As we now know, Sondland called President Trump who told him to respond to Taylor saying there was no quid pro quo.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has been a staunch supporter of President Trump, responded to a question about impeachment in an interview with Axios that aired on Sunday. When asked whether he could ever support impeachment, Graham said: “Sure. I mean… show me something that… is a crime… If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing.”

Maybe it’s time for a follow-up question.

In other news…

As Ukraine Evidence Mounts, GOP Pull Stunts

Day 1,007: Wednesday, October 23

President Trump (AP), Trump's Personal Lawyer Rudy Giuliani (Gage Skidmore/Flickr), and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (Vadim Chuprina)

President Trump (AP), Trump’s Personal Lawyer Rudy Giuliani (Gage Skidmore/Flickr), and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (Vadim Chuprina)

Wednesday’s top stories:

As Ukraine Evidence Mounts, GOP Pull Stunts

Day 1,008: Thursday, October 24

Trump’s Authoritarian Fixer

Day 1,009: Friday, October 25

President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr - February 14, 2019 (Department of Justice)

President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr – February 14, 2019 (Department of Justice)

In Attorney General William Barr, Donald Trump has found another personal fixer. Since the day Barr became Trump’s Attorney General, he has operated without regard for democratic norms or the constitutional framework he is bound by. William Barr has positioned himself as President Trump’s instrument of authoritarianism. But even with Barr’s track record in mind, his latest move crosses a startling line.

The New York Times was first to report this significant development, and it has since been corroborated. William Barr’s “review” of the Russia investigation is now reportedly a criminal investigation:

Justice Department officials have shifted an administrative review of the Russia investigation closely overseen by Attorney General William P. Barr to a criminal inquiry, according to two people familiar with the matter. The move gives the prosecutor running it, John H. Durham, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to convene a grand jury and to file criminal charges.

What we’ve known about this probe has been far from reassuring, but this is a stunning escalation. The Justice Department is now investigating President Trump’s political targets. President Trump and Attorney General William Barr have sought cooperation from Ukraine, Italy, the UK, and Australia (that we know of) in their probe of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The Justice Department probe is reportedly honing in on former CIA director John Brennan as they seek to discredit the Intelligence Community’s core conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

We don’t yet know exactly when this review turned into a criminal investigation. We also don’t know whether there is a legitimate basis for this probe or if it was based on a criminal referral from the Inspector General. As The New York Times noted, the Department of Justice guidelines dictate that “there must be an objective, factual basis for initiating the investigation; a mere hunch is insufficient.” What we do know for sure is that President Trump has long wanted his political targets investigated based on conspiracy theories, and Barr is delivering.

For two years, President Trump has tweeted about how those behind the Russia investigation were corrupt, spread lies about spying on his campaign, and has even falsely accused former FBI Director James Comey, former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI Agent Peter Strozk, and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page of treason.

Barr has previously stated that one of the focuses of his probe is whether there was improper surveillance on the Trump Campaign and if there was any corrupt behavior at the FBI. Barr is probing this in spite of the fact the “Spygate” conspiracy theory has been widely debunked and the only improper behavior that the Trump Administration has cited are Peter Strozk and Lisa Page’s anti-Trump text messages (they also sent anti-Clinton and Bernie messages.)

This is far from the first action Attorney General William Barr has taken to protect President Trump. A zealot of the conservative “unitary executive theory,” Barr indicated in his 19-page memo attacking former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s obstruction investigation that he believes the President is above the law. Once he became Attorney General, Barr wrote a 4-page summary of the Mueller report, in which he lied about Mueller’s findings and attempted to exonerate President Trump. The DOJ also refused to pursue Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson’s criminal referral about Trump’s July 25th call with Ukraine.

Anyone who knows about Attorney General William Barr’s history could’ve seen this coming. As we’ve previously reported, in 1989, then-Assistant Attorney General William Barr in the Office of Legal Counsel wrote a memo entitled “Common Legislative Encroachments On Executive Branch Authority.” In the memo, Barr embodied the unitary executive theory by claiming restrictions on the President’s “removal power,” legislative vetoes, and “attempts to gain access to sensitive Executive Branch information” are legislative encroachments. In 1992, then-Attorney General William Barr worked with President George H.W. Bush on the Iran-Contra pardons which depicted the investigation as partisan.

As House Democrats gather damning testimony in their impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s abuse of power and effort to extort Urkaine into probing Biden, Trump is clearly looking for a counter-narrative. The public must be vigilant not to give William Barr’s probe undue credence, but at the same time, take it as the very serious threat to American democracy it is.

In other news…

Over the weekend…

The United States launched a raid that resulted in the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But the circumstances surrounding the event sparked discussion.

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Unpresidented // Donald Trump / Ukraine / William Barr