Ilargi: Vindman, the Expert

Yves here. While the main source for this piece on Alexander Vindman is Byron York of the Washington Examiner, bear in mind that the Examiner is a non-crazy right-leaning site and has even broken some important stories. It is telling that there are so few people on the left who have the patience and constitutional fortitude to pick through the impeachment evidence carefully,  see what it amounts to  and withstand the vitriol if what they find  is not what Team Dem insists is there.

And that’s before we get to our regular lament: why are the Dems choosing a line of inquiry which is a hairball (albeit less of one than Russiagate) and also has the Dems taking the position that the President is not in charge of foreign policy, and should defer to the CIA and other non-accountable insiders? Why not go after emoluments, which is in the Constitution as a Presidential no-no, where Trump has clearly abused repeatedly (you need go no further than the guest list in his DC hotel) and therefore easy to prove, and would have the added benefit of allowing Team Dem to rummage around in his finances?

By Raúl Ilargi Meijer, editor of Automatic Earth. Originally published at Automatic Earth

Let’s see what shape I can give this. I was reading a piece by Byron York that has the first good read-out I’ve seen of the October 29 deposition by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, self-labeled no. 1 Ukraine expert at the National Security Counsel, and I want to share that in a summarized form, with my comments. There’ll be some longer quotes though. And I know there are people who may not like York, but just skip his opinions and focus on the facts then.

Overall, Vindman comes across to me as a bureaucrat among bureaucrats, who also appears to be on the edge what we think of when we mention the Deep State. And who seems to think his views and opinions trump Trump’s own. “.. his greatest worry was that if the Trump-Zelensky conversation were made public, then Ukraine might lose the bipartisan support it currently has in Congress.”

A US President is elected to determine foreign policy, but Vindman doesn’t like things that way. He wants the policy to be set by people like him. It brings to mind Nikki Haley saying that Tillerson and Kelly wanted her to disobey the President, because they felt they knew better. That slide is mighty slippery. And unconstitutional too.

And the suspicion that Vindman’s report of the call may be what set off “whistleblowing” CIA agent Eric Ciaramella is more alive after the testimony than before. But, conveniently, his name may not be spoken. For pete’s sake, Vindman Even Testified He Advised Ukrainians to Ignore Trump.

Here’s Byron York:

Democrats Have A Colonel Vindman Problem

House Democrats conducted their impeachment interviews in secret, but Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman still emerged as star of the show. Appearing at his Oct. 29 deposition in full dress uniform, the decorated Army officer, now a White House National Security Council Ukraine expert, was the first witness who had actually listened to the phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is at the heart of the Democratic impeachment campaign. Even though lawmakers were forbidden to discuss his testimony in public, Vindman’s leaked opening statement that “I did not think it was proper [for Trump] to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen” exploded on news reports.

Here are four problems with the Vindman testimony:

1) Beyond his opinions, he had few new facts to offer.

[..] Indeed, Vindman attested to the overall accuracy of the rough transcript, contrary to some impeachment supporters who have suggested the White House is hiding an exact transcript that would reveal everything Trump said to the Ukrainian president. As one of a half-dozen White House note-takers listening to the call, Vindman testified that he tried unsuccessfully to make a few edits to the rough transcript as it was being prepared. In particular, Vindman believed that Zelensky specifically said the word “Burisma,” the corrupt Ukrainian energy company that hired Hunter Biden, when the rough transcript referred only to “the company.” But beyond that, Vindman had no problems with the transcript, and he specifically said he did not believe any changes were made with ill intent.

“You don’t think there was any malicious intent to specifically not add those edits?” asked Republican counsel Steve Castor. “I don’t think so.” “So otherwise, this record is complete and I think you used the term ‘very accurate’?” “Yes,” said Vindman. Once Vindman had vouched for the rough transcript, his testimony mostly concerned his own interpretation of Trump’s words. And that interpretation, as Vindman discovered during questioning, was itself open to interpretation. Vindman said he was “concerned” about Trump’s statements to Zelensky, so concerned that he reported it to top National Security Council lawyer John Eisenberg. (Vindman had also reported concerns to Eisenberg two weeks before the Trump-Zelensky call, after a Ukraine-related meeting that included Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.)

Vindman said several times that he was not a lawyer and did not know if Trump’s words amounted to a crime but that he felt they were “wrong.” That was when Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. attorney, tried to get to the root of Vindman’s concerns. What was really bothering him? “I’m trying to find out if you were reporting it because you thought there was something wrong with respect to policy or there was something wrong with respect to the law,” Ratcliffe said to Vindman. “And what I understand you to say is that you weren’t certain that there was anything improper with respect to the law, but you had concerns about U.S. policy. Is that a fair characterization?”

“So I would recharacterize it as I thought it was wrong and I was sharing those views,” Vindman answered. “And I was deeply concerned about the implications for bilateral relations, U.S. national security interests, in that if this was exposed, it would be seen as a partisan play by Ukraine. It loses the bipartisan support. And then for — ” “I understand that,” Ratcliffe said, “but that sounds like a policy reason, not a legal reason.” Indeed it did.

Elsewhere in Vindman’s testimony, he repeated that his greatest worry was that if the Trump-Zelensky conversation were made public, then Ukraine might lose the bipartisan support it currently has in Congress. That, to Ratcliffe and other Republicans, did not seem a sufficient reason to report the call to the NSC’s top lawyer, nor did it seem the basis to begin a process leading to impeachment and a charge of presidential high crimes or misdemeanors.

So Vindman was so concerned that he contacted the National Security Council (NSC) top lawyer, John Eisenberg. However, when John Ratcliffe asked Vindman: “I’m trying to find out if you were reporting it because you thought there was something wrong with respect to policy or there was something wrong with respect to the law..”, it turns out, it was about policy, not the law. So why did he contact Eisenberg? He doesn’t know the difference, or pretends he doesn’t know? Moreover, Eisenberg’s not the only person Vindman contacted. There were lots of others. And remember, this is sensitive material. Vindman was listening in on the President’s phone call with a foreign leader, in itself a strange event. Presidents and PM’s should be able to expect confidentiality.

2) Vindman withheld important information from investigators.

Vindman ended his opening statement in the standard way, by saying, “Now, I would be happy to answer your questions.” As it turned out, that cooperation did not extend to both parties.

The only news in Vindman’s testimony was the fact that he had twice taken his concerns to Eisenberg. He also told his twin brother, Yevgeny Vindman, who is also an Army lieutenant colonel and serves as a National Security Council lawyer. He also told another NSC official, John Erath, and he gave what he characterized as a partial readout of the call to George Kent, a career State Department official who dealt with Ukraine. That led to an obvious question: Did Vindman take his concerns to anyone else? Did he discuss the Trump-Zelensky call with anyone else? It was a reasonable question, and an important one. Republicans asked it time and time again. Vindman refused to answer, with his lawyer, Michael Volkov, sometimes belligerently joining in. Through it all, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff stood firm in favor of keeping his committee in the dark.

[..] Vindman openly conceded that he told other people about the call. The obvious suspicion from Republicans was that Vindman told the person who became the whistleblower, who reported the call to the Intelligence Community inspector general, and who, in a carefully crafted legal document, framed the issue in a way that Democrats have adopted in their drive to remove the president from office. Vindman addressed the suspicion before anyone raised it. In his opening statement, he said, “I am not the whistleblower … I do not know who the whistleblower is and I would not feel comfortable to speculate as to the identity of the whistleblower.”

Fine, said Republicans. We won’t ask you who the whistleblower is. But if your story is that you were so concerned by the Trump-Zelensky issue that you reported it to Eisenberg, and also to others, well, who all did you tell? That is when the GOP hit a brick wall from Vindman, his lawyer Volkov, and, most importantly, Schiff. As chairman of the Intelligence Committee, charged with overseeing the intelligence community, Schiff might normally want to know about any intelligence community involvement in the matter under investigation. But in the Vindman deposition, Schiff strictly forbade any questions about it. “Can I just caution again,” he said at one point, “not to go into names of people affiliated with the IC in any way.” The purpose of it all was to protect the identity of the whistleblower, who Schiff incorrectly claimed has “a statutory right to anonymity.”

Schiff’s role is beyond curious. Sometimes you think he’s the boy with his finger in the dike, mighty fearful that it could break at any moment. But then Vindman’s lawyer jumps in as well:

That left Republicans struggling to figure out what happened. “I’m just trying to better understand who the universe of people the concerns were expressed to,” said Castor. “Look, the reason we’re objecting is not — we don’t want — my client does not want to be in the position of being used to identifying the whistleblower, okay?” said Volkov. “And based on the chair’s ruling, as I understand it, [Vindman] is not required to answer any question that would tend to identify an intelligence officer.”

[..] Vindman’s basic answer was: I won’t tell you because that’s a secret. After several such exchanges, Volkov got tough with lawmakers, suggesting further inquiries might hurt Vindman’s feelings. “Look, he came here,” Volkov said. “He came here. He tells you he’s not the whistleblower, okay? He says he feels uncomfortable about it. Try to respect his feelings at this point.” An unidentified voice spoke up. “We’re uncomfortable impeaching the president,” it said. “Excuse me. Excuse me,” Volkov responded. “If you want to debate it, we can debate it, but what I’m telling you right now is you have to protect the identity of the whistleblower. I get that there may be political overtones. You guys go do what you got to do, but do not put this man in the middle of it.”

Castor spoke up. “So how does it out anyone by saying that he had one other conversation other than the one he had with George Kent?” “Okay,” said Volkov. “What I’m telling you right now is we’re not going to answer that question. If the chair wants to hold him in contempt for protecting the whistleblower, God be with you. … You don’t need this. You don’t need to go down this. And look, you guys can — if you want to ask, you can ask — you can ask questions about his conversation with Mr. Kent. That’s it. We’re not answering any others.” “The only conversation that we can speak to Col. Vindman about is his conversation with Ambassador Kent?” asked Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin. “Correct,” said Volkov, “and you’ve already asked him questions about it.”

“And any other conversation that he had with absolutely anyone else is off limits?” “No,” said Volkov. “He’s told you about his conversations with people in the National Security Council. What you’re asking him to do is talk about conversations outside the National Security Council. And he’s not going to do that. I know where you’re going.” “No, actually, you don’t,” said Zeldin. “Oh, yes, sir,” said Volkov. “No, you really don’t,” said Zeldin. “You know what?” said Volkov. “I know what you’re going to say. I already know what you’re going to do, okay? And I don’t want to hear the FOX News questions, okay?”

[..] It should be noted that Volkov was a lawyer, and members of Congress were members of Congress. The lawyer should not be treating the lawmakers as Volkov did. Volkov was able to tell Republicans to buzz off only because he had Schiff’s full support. And Republicans never found out who else Vindman discussed the Trump-Zelensky call with.

Looking at this, you get to wonder what the role is of GOP lawmakers, and why anyone would want to be one. Their peers across the aisle pretend they can tell them exactly what and what not to do or say. Is that why they are elected? I couldn’t find one question or even word in here that would be labeled unfitting, or out of place, or aggressive or anything like that. But even then, they hit a brick wall.

So what makes Vindman the expert on Ukraine? I get the idea that it’s his compliance with whatever anyone says is the desired and required policy, and in this case, what is not. He certainly doesn’t appear to know everything. Maybe that’s because he left the country at age three.

3) There were notable gaps in Vindman’s knowledge.

Vindman portrayed himself as the man to see on the National Security Council when it came to issues involving Ukraine. “I’m the director for Ukraine,” he testified. “I’m responsible for Ukraine. I’m the most knowledgeable. I’m the authority for Ukraine for the National Security Council and the White House.” Yet at times there were striking gaps in Vindman’s knowledge of the subject matter. He seemed, for instance, distinctly incurious about the corruption issues in Ukraine that touched on Joe and Hunter Biden.

Vindman agreed with everyone that Ukraine has a serious corruption problem. But he knew little specifically about Burisma, the nation’s second-largest privately owned energy company, and even less about Mykola Zlochevsky, the oligarch who runs the firm. “What do you know about Zlochevsky, the oligarch that controls Burisma?” asked Castor. “I frankly don’t know a huge amount,” Vindman said. “Are you aware that he’s a former Minister of Ecology”? Castor asked, referring to a position Zlochevsky allegedly used to steer valuable government licenses to Burisma. “I’m not,” said Vindman.

“Are you aware of any of the investigations the company has been involved with over the last several years?” “I am aware that Burisma does have questionable business dealings,” Vindman said. “That’s part of the track record, yes.” “Okay. And what questionable business dealings are you aware of?” asked Castor. Vindman said he did not know beyond generalities. “The general answer is I think they have had questionable business dealings,” Vindman said.

[..] Vindman had other blind spots, as well. One important example concerned U.S. provision of so-called lethal aid to Ukraine, specifically anti-tank missiles known as Javelins. The Obama administration famously refused to provide Javelins or other lethal aid to Ukraine, while the Trump administration reversed that policy, sending a shipment of missiles in 2018. On the Trump-Zelensky call, the two leaders discussed another shipment in the future. “Both those parts of the call, the request for investigation of Crowd Strike and those issues, and the request for investigation of the Bidens, both of those discussions followed the Ukraine president saying they were ready to buy more Javelins. Is that right?” asked Schiff.

“Yes,” said Vindman. “There was a prior shipment of Javelins to Ukraine, wasn’t there?” said Schiff. “So that was, I believe — I apologize if the timing is incorrect — under the previous administration, there was a — I’m aware of the transfer of a fairly significant number of Javelins, yes,” Vindman said. Vindman’s timing was incorrect. Part of the entire Trump-Ukraine story is the fact that Trump sent the missiles while Obama did not. The top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council did not seem to know that.

York goes on to explain just how much of a bureaucrat Vindman is, as exemplified by things like “..there’s a fairly consensus policy within the interagency towards Ukraine,”. The “interagency” doesn’t set -foreign- policy, the President does.

4) Vindman was a creature of a bureaucracy that has often opposed President Trump.

One of his favorite words is “interagency,” by which he means the National Security Council’s role in coordinating policy among the State Department, Defense Department, the Intelligence Community, the Treasury Department, and the White House. [..] He says things such as, “So I hold at my level sub-PCCs, Deputy Assistant Secretary level. PCCs are my boss, senior director with Assistant Secretaries. DCs are with the deputy of the National Security Council with his deputy counterparts within the interagency.” He believes the interagency has set a clear U.S. policy toward Ukraine. “You said in your opening statement, or you indicated at least, that there’s a fairly consensus policy within the interagency towards Ukraine,” Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman said to Vindman.

“Could you just explain what that consensus policy is, in your own words?” “What I can tell you is, over the course of certainly my tenure there, since July 2018, the interagency, as per normal procedures, assembles under the NSPM-4, the National Security Policy [sic] Memorandum 4, process to coordinate U.S. government policy,” Vindman said. “We, over the course of this past year, probably assembled easily a dozen times, certainly at my level, which is called a subpolicy coordinating committee — and that’s myself and my counterparts at the Deputy Assistant Secretary level — to discuss our views on Ukraine.”

The “interagency” doesn’t set policy, the President does -and with him perhaps the House and Senate. But not an alphabet soup of agencies.

I’ve said it before, and I fear I may have to say it again, this is a show trial. And no, it’s not even a trial, that happens next in the Senate. Jonathan Turley said the other day that he thinks Nancy Pelosi wants a quick -before Christmas- resolution to the House part, but I’m not convinced.

The reason is that the Democrats lose the director’s chair once this moves to the Senate. They can’t silence the Republicans there the same way Adam Schiff does it in the House. Pelosi herself said in March that impeachment MUST be a bipartisan effort. It’s unclear why she abandoned that position in August, but I think it could be panic, and that it was the worst move she could have made.

Because this thing in its present shape is unwinnable. To impeach Trump, the Dems would need Republican votes. But how could they possibly get those when they lock out the Republicans of the entire process?

 

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49 comments

  1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    I certainly have no legal expertise & knowledge relating to what it takes to impeach a president, but it does all strike be as being pretty threadbare & if it it all falls apart only likely to strengthen Trump’s support. I get the feeling that the only truly smart thing about these people is in their ability to constantly fill their rice bowls & perhaps we need an extra definition for that word.

    Smart :

    adj. Having or showing intelligence; bright. synonym: intelligent.
    adj. Canny and shrewd in dealings with others.

    IMO, I also don’t believe that the above applies to gadgets, apps or whatever.

    Reply
    1. Ignacio

      I always think of something similar to your second definition when I hear/read that someone is smart. It is a subclass of self-serving intelligence. If I put myself in Vindman’s position, what would I do? What would be smart and what would be on the general interest?. His actions reflect where he feels his obligations belong and it shows clearly he was “obligued” to the interagency, not to the President. It is not clear to me if he thougth that the interagency represents, better than the president, the interest of the US or if he was being smart and thinking of his own career within the interagency.

      Reply
    2. False Solace

      Trump’s primary defense is that he’s too incompetent to successfully bribe a foreign head of state. Everyone admits he tried do it. He’s just not as good at the follow through.

      Congress can impeach over whatever it wants. Republican senators will never convict him. But that’s the game as it’s played.

      Reply
  2. The Rev Kev

    I might have to disagree with Vindman being labelled ‘a bureaucrat among bureaucrats’. I would judge that his allegiances lay elsewhere and by that I do not mean the dual loyalty to the Ukraine, even though he appears to be acting in the roll of Kiev’s man in Washington. I suppose that you would say that he is a member of the deep state and the policies that they formulate with little regard to who is in power. That is the thing about these hearings. The moment that the Republicans pull at a loose thread of this narrative, the Democrats stomp on it before it goes any further. But the connections are all there on record and can be followed up. Here are some examples.
    Burisma, who is at the heart of this whole matter, has been giving the Atlantic Council $100,000 a year for the past three years which is deep state central. You can see their name in the $100,000 – $249,999 section at https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/support-the-council/honor-roll-of-contributors/ and is just below the British Consulate General Istanbul and two entries above CNN. Burisma “also reimbursed speaker travel and event costs, which … amounted to around [$50,000 to $70,000] per year.” One of the staffers that went there was Thomas Eager who worked for Schiff’s Intelligence Committee, and the group at one point met with Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. Bill Taylor is now one of the main witnesses.
    If any sort of proper investigations start then it will open up all these people and their connections and the lucrative payments that they have been receiving from places like Burisma. Maybe when this case first came up the DNC thought that this was an impeachment case to die for but they may very well get their wish. It is all there online and it does not take much to find a very dubious group of people, organizations and companies with it seems the Atlantic Council acting as some sort of clearing house. Below is just one article talking about some of this stuff as an example-

    https://sports.yahoo.com/ukrainian-energy-company-tied-to-hunter-biden-supported-american-think-tank-paid-for-trips-015132322.html

    Reply
    1. Off The Street

      Burisma is just one of numerous examples of the payoffs and shady deals that poison the American political system and disgust citizens. Schiff has been given the impossible task of trying to defend that against mounting evidence of corruption. How can he or anyone else rationalize that little gas board activity, or countless others including those benefiting those people related to elected officials across the aisle.

      That defense of the widespread corruption permeating the DC culture is the real subject of Schiff’s fool’s errand. When he fails, that will set back whatever good works the Dems have been trying to accomplish, and undermine what remains of an alleged two-party system. That is the Hill upon which he has been sent to die.

      Reply
  3. divadab

    How can the Party that inflicted Christine Blasey Ford on us and turned a Supreme Court nomination into a Jerry Springer show demean the institutions of the Republic further into disrepute? With this going nowhere piece of political theater.

    What a crock of Schiff.

    Reply
  4. S Weil

    Yes, the President controls foreign policy, no one is saying that he doesn’t have that power (strawman argument), but he cannot use that power to corrupt or illegal ends. Remember one of the Articles of Impeachment against Nixon was the illegal bombing of Cambodia- there were some pilots who refused to falsify their flight logs – Deep State Actors trying to thwart the President’s will no doubt! Also, the statement that “But how could they possibly get those when they lock out the Republicans of the entire process” – this is a clear falsehood where in fact Republicans were allowed to question all the witnesses including Vindman.

    Reply
    1. TimmyB

      Two questions:

      1) Why is it not corrupt when a US Vice President withholds a billion dollars in foreign aid to Ukraine and refused to release it unless the prosecutor who is investigating the man who just recently hired the vice president’s unqualified, drug addled son at over $50,000 per month is fired?

      2) Why is it corrupt when the next president asks the Ukraine’s new president to investigate the above?

      I have never voted GOP in my life and will never vote for Trump, but the impeachment case as far as Trump’s dealing with Ukraine go are complete nonsense.

      Reply
    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Making shit up is against our written site Policies. Lambert has provided NUMEROUS examples, and I’m not going to strain myself to reproduce them, showing repeatedly that sources for the investigation, various Dems, and the press all have repeatedly depicted Trump intervening in the Ukraine policy he inherited as illegitimate. This is in no way, shape or form an exaggeration. Pretending otherwise is either evidence you are behind the curve on this topic or bad faith.

      Reply
  5. voteforno6

    I have a hard time believing that any Lieutenant Colonel could be sufficiently high enough in the food chain to have any impact on policy. I wonder if people are focusing on him too much, at the expense of what’s really going on here.

    This isn’t just a matter of the bureaucracy at odds with the President – it’s also Congress. Despite what many people seem to think, the President does not have carte blanche in the conduct of foreign policy. Congress passed legislation to provide military assistance to Ukraine. The President does not have the authority to decide on his own on whether to execute that legislation or not. Unless there are conditions attached to that legislation, or previously existing, the President cannot attach conditions of his own to that legislation.

    The U.S. system of government, as clearly envisioned by the founders, was set up with the legislative branch to have more power than either the executive or judicial. Only Congress can initiate legislation, and if the President vetoes it, Congress has the power to override that veto. You can argue the merits of providing military assistance to the Ukraine (which I personally think is a bad idea), but Congress did approve of it in accordance with the Constitution. Trump withholding that assistance most likely did not. There are a lot of bad actors on both sides of this controversy, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain principles worth defending. In my mind, Congress reasserting itself over the President is an important enough principle to support impeachment (assuming they make their case). Long term, such a position could also be used to reign in the blob.

    Reply
    1. pjay

      “In my mind, Congress reasserting itself over the President is an important enough principle to support impeachment (assuming they make their case). Long term, such a position could also be used to reign in the blob.”

      You are stubbornly focusing on a tree or two while failing to see the rather obvious forest in this whole charade. This is not Congress reasserting itself. This IS the blob attempting to oust a President who threatens its geopolitical agenda. In this Trump has something in common with the ousted President of Bolivia. Rather ironic, given Trump’s comments on the latter coup.

      As Yves and others have said, there are a number of Trump actions that warrant investigation, if not impeachment. But this is something else entirely.

      Reply
    2. lyman alpha blob

      Trump withholding that assistance most likely did not.

      Except Ukraine got the assistance, and they didn’t do any investigation for Trump to get it.

      So all of this is really about trying to make it seem like Trump said something that both he and the Ukrainian president deny and that is not in the transcript of the call. In other words, a nothingburger.

      Reply
    1. TheCatSaid

      And older brother Leonid. Fined $1.3B (yes Billion) for money-laundering.

      The identical twin brother Yevgeny also worked at White House.

      Lots more info on all the Vindman connections: Search George Webb’s YouTube channel and twitter.
      Copious documentation available in public records. Including pic of father & the 3 sons.

      Reply
  6. Henry Moon Pie

    One of the wonderful aspects of Empire is that you get to house all the right-wing exiles from around the world. Whether it’s Batista-ites from Cuba, Curveballs from Iraq, rich, right-wing “refugees” from Chavismo in South America or Ukrainians like Vindman. They’re happy to use the host country to further a color revolution back home, and the CIA is happy to use them as cover for another Empire resource grab.

    Trump has been getting in the way.

    Reply
  7. David

    What I find amusing about all this is that there is an influential school of American political science writing going back to Huntington and Janowitz which shows an almost paranoid distrust of career military officers and their potential impact on policy, and advocates their close “control” by civilian political authorities to prevent them influencing government too much. Now, suddenly, every General who ever led a military coup because they feared that the government was doing things that were bad for the country will be feeling retrospectively justified. The position in any democracy is quite clear: the government makes the decisions in the context of existing laws, including the Constitution. Government officials, in uniform or not, are not there to substitute their judgement of the interests of the country for the judgement of the political leadership.

    Reply
    1. Carolinian

      One might even entertain the suspicion that the reason so many keep accusing Trump of fascism is that they keep flirting with it themselves. That “interagency consensus” thing is much scarier than Trump and indeed some of his more despicable moves –Venezuela, Bolivia(?)–may track back to that very source. Some of us have long thought that what the USG does in Latin America is what they would like to do here if they could get away with it. The previous Clinton impeachment, Bush v Gore, the media’s lockstep approval of imperialistic militaristic “narratives,” the wild, over the top rejection of Trump’s defeat of Hillary–all show a deep contempt for the democratic process by both parties. Letting military or IC figures opine on policy is part of this. How long before some general tells Trump he should resign to “restore order”?

      Reply
  8. Watt4Bob

    These Deep-Staters, who aren’t so deep anymore, remind me of those Japanese theatre stage hands that dress in black and by convention, are invisible to the audience, even though they move about the stage in plain sight.

    They’ve gradually become more and more visible, what with color revolutions abroad, and election fraud at home, and finally, one would hope, they are throwing a tantrum, insisting not only that they are still ‘invisible’ but that their efforts to pull off regime change here at home are legitimate.

    Which reminds me of a good friend’s definition of a politician;

    “A politician is a person who would try to steal a red-hot stove with their bare hands.”

    Reply
  9. Reality Bites

    I agree with the author’s overall view that this does not rise to impeachment. However I think we need to avoid over-egging the pudding like the Dems.

    The author says it is strange that so many people listened in on the President’s call. It is not. Any senior official meeting or call has multiple people on both sides that sit in and listen/transcribe the call. It also allows people not in the meeting to follow up on the outcomes.

    Regarding this scary interagency, the government is large and complex. The primary purpose of the NSC is to coordinate the views and authorities of the various cabinet agencies provide consensus. The different agencies have very divergent views based on where they sit and their various areas of authority. The Preseident sets broad foreign policy but the NSC makes sure that the details are fleshed out.

    No President has time to get into the weeds of every foreign policy matter. You need to push that down to a more technical level. The President is usually briefed on the consensus and written conclusions of every meeting are filed. At a certain point, people either want a professional bureaucracy that has some ability to move things forward or they want the old spoils system, or simply less government.

    The current system has a professional bureaucracy with political leadership appointed by the President. It has problems but the people at those NSC meetings are the political leaders chosen by the President. It is not the mysterious faceless people that some are finding as so spooky.

    I am skeptical of Vindman’s motives and like Yves, I fell that going after Trump on emoulements or migrant detention was far better. But the author’s dislike of Vindman’s objections to policy (I agree it was policy and not legal disagreements) places him in the same category as Chelsea Manning. Manning likewise has strong disagreements with US policy and chose leaking over raising objections internally.

    Reply
    1. urblintz

      If there is a legit way to take out Trump I am all for it and agree that Ukrainegate is weak tea. But I am confused by Yves’ comment regarding emoluments because several essays here convinced me that it too was a “nothingburger.” From the link below:

      …one of many bad Democratic ideas: using the emoluments clause as some Trump-busting version of kryptonite, a veritable gotcha. Rather than doing hard political work and figuring out how to beat the Donald, those proud of their ability to spell “emoluments” – and even moreso, to define what the word means – have tried to wield this seeming superweapon, to eliminate or harass post hoc the specter their Chosen One failed to vanquish in 2016.

      Alas, courts have so far declined to agree, as I indeed predicted, in previous posts (see US Constitution’s Emoluments Clause: a Nothingburger for Trump, Law Profs Sue Trump, Alleging Violation of the Emoluments Clause; Senate Democrats Discuss Doubling Down on Losing Strategy of Suing Trump on Emoluments; and Party On! Congressional Democrats Pile On to Another Bogus Emoluments Clause Lawsuit).and Emoluments Decision: No Way Back Machine).

      The basic problem. Standing. Translation: Just because something’s unconstitutional, doesn’t mean anyone has standing to do anything about it…

      https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2019/08/trump-transition-emoluments-clause-aint-kryptonite.html

      Has the “standing” issue changed?

      This comment should not be read as support for the odious Trump…

      Reply
      1. Reality Bites

        Federal courts have limited jurisdiction and standing is how they adjudicate that jurisdiction. Not every right has a remedy in court. Impeachment is a special remedy specifically outside of the court process. That is why it completely wipes away the separation of powers structure by having Congress impeach and hold a trial where the Chief Justice presides.

        Congress, through impeachment, can declare that Trump’s actions in regards to the hotels and such is a high crime and misdemeanor. The Dems know this. They went the court route because they wanted the courts to do the hard work for them. As with most things, the Dems wanted to virtue signal while doing little to change the status quo and then claim they tried. Don’t buy the emoluments argument that they are putting out.

        Reply
    2. Katniss Everdeen

      Oh fer cryin’ out loud–vindman is not fit to shine Manning’s shoes.

      Manning exposed WAR CRIMES. I’m too sure she was going to “report” them to the same people who were committing them. And once they were made public, everybody went berserk about how awful and “illegal” they were, and that the perpetrators should be punished, right?

      vindman was preaching to the choir.

      If Manning was the same as vindman, she would have gone up the chain and said, “Hey, this civilian double-tapping is working great. We need to do more of the same, and anyone who tries to stop it is a treasonous traitor who needs to be impeached.”

      vindman is a leaker who wants his way in Ukraine instead of Trump’s, and is willing to say, do or imply anything to get it.

      Reply
      1. Reality Bites

        You might want to go back and revisit all of the stuff she revealed and her stated reasons for revealing it. There was a lot outside of Iraq related matters that she leaked simply because she did not like what the US was doing and said as much. So yes, that is the same thing as Vindman. It’s easy to pick and choose your hero based on the outcome but it doesn’t make the underlying problem any easier.

        Reply
        1. lyman alpha blob

          Manning may have differed on policy – I really don’t know her overall feelings on the Iraq war – but it’s quite clear that she leaked evidence of war crimes, and the article above does try to make a distinction between legal and policy differences.

          Reply
  10. Mike

    I am always amazed at the amount of useful information left out of mainstream media reports, but one item is missing here to explain Vindman in fullest detail – he is Ukrainian, and has worked with other diaspora Ukrainians, most of whom are vehemently anti-Russian and further to the Right on most issues than the majority of Democratic Party voters. The fact that this party would cooperate with and give support to such political actors says volumes about the leadership of the party, particularly about the proto-Right-wing status of that leadership and its cooperation with Republicans of the same bent regarding domestic and foreign policy.

    What appalls me and others is the ability (disability?) of voters to see this and question its reasons for being – one of which, as I see it, is the desperate need for the executive action committee of the ruling class (now called the “deep state” to de-class-ify it) to eradicate any opposition to its goals, and to seek money and support anywhere in the world where like-thinking agents can be found. The Democratic Party never gets the money it needs from domestic fund-raising, in spite of support from Wall Street, Silicon Valley, “Left” Miami, and Hollywood. The Clinton Foundation has been well examined for their overseas fund-raising tied to federal perks given to fund-raisers, thus fueling her takeover of the DP and her anointment as “next President in waiting”.

    The myth of “America” does double duty to erase and smear such inconvenient facts.

    Reply
  11. Matthew G. Saroff

    Also, by focusing on this they are ignoring that Trump is mobbed up and that wewe now have sworn testimony in the Stone Trial that Trump lied in his written statement to the Mueller investigation, among other bits of corruption.

    Reply
  12. charles Yaker

    I may be naive but opinions and why’s don’t mater to me. Did Trump threaten or otherwise use the promise of military aid to coerce a foreign government to investigate or otherwise dish dirt on a domestic opponent?

    In more simple terms did Trump try and BRIBE the Ukrainians for a heads up in the next election?

    Reply
  13. ex-PFC chuck roast

    Military hagiography.

    We have a very bad case of it, and it is gets worse as the Empire frays around the edges. Witness Veterans Day. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing camo as the fashion of choice. Now the military is viewed as the most trusted institution in in the US. Perhaps that’s just a commentary on a corrupt and moronic political class that can’t even deliver clean water or paved streets. Historically, the military was viewed with very little esteem by the greater American public, and following a career in the military was seen as not a very prestigious choice. Of course those were the Free Trade and Open Door policy days that allowed the expansionist to follow the latest British port bombardment.

    The greatest take away from my brief PFC-days was how the officer under-class developed. The Lieutenants and Captains that had concern for the troops and were cautious and caring never made Major. The Lifer life was not for them, and if the tried it they became drunks because it was the only way to cope. I found the hard-case Company Grade Officer careerists to be distant, focused, driven, humorless and bright, but not too bright. Perfect for giving and taking orders, and potentially dangerous to the greater polity.

    Reply
    1. John Wright

      I am surprised that conservatives, in the theme of “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” (Reagan, Jan 20, 1981 inaugural speech) are not more skeptical of the US military, US state department, CIA and NSA.

      The left, in prior years, WAS skeptical of these organizations as I remember during Vietnam era.

      To judge from the political support, right and left, the US military is what the US government does well.

      The Deep State must be very happy with the current order.

      Reply
  14. shinola

    The Dem’s may very well end up shooting themselves in the foot on this. If this goes to the R dominated senate, and I was an R senator, I would start pounding on just what it was that Trump wanted investigated. Ya know, was there some sort of “quid pro quo” involved in the dealings between the Bidens & Burisma?

    People in glass houses…

    Reply
  15. Harry

    “Why not go after emoluments, which is in the Constitution as a Presidential no-no, where Trump has clearly abused repeatedly (you need go no further than the guest list in his DC hotel) and therefore easy to prove, and would have the added benefit of allowing Team Dem to rummage around in his finances?”

    Exactly the right question. Up till now I have assumed that they really dont care about getting rid of him. What they care about is preventing any change to the established Russia and Ukrainian policies. Everything else is either unimportant or a lower priority than these two objectives.

    Otherwise we are left to conclude they are idiots. Am I wrong to rule that out?

    Reply
  16. Susan the Other

    Three guesses/quetions: 1. Somebody told Nancy Pelosi to allow the impeachment proceedings to go forward. She knew better but she followed orders. Who? 2. Vindeman is a nervous wreck so it looks like maybe he’s protecting someone. Who? 3. The Democrats can’t be this dumb. There is a reason they are committing suicide. What is it?

    Reply
  17. mauisurfer

    “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

    ― Desiderius Erasmus

    Vindman advanced to the rank of Lt Colonel because he was the only person around who spoke Ukrainian. He has no real expertise or training. But he does possess lots of ambition and self righteousness.

    Reply
    1. pjay

      Thank you for this. That this woman was “the senior director for Russia at the NSC” and “somebody who’s been working on Russia for basically my whole entire adult life” is just mind-boggling — and scary as hell. What kind of background, education, and social network ties allow someone so blindingly Russiaphobic to end up in such a position? I urge anyone whose knowledge of Hill’s testimony comes from skimming the MSM to read Helmer’s discussion. Both humorous and disturbing.

      Reply
  18. mauisurfer

    Stockman:
    . Foreign policy has been totally taken over by the Democratic paranoia about Russia and Putin and meddling in our elections.

    Now it’s extended to the whole impeachment inquiry and Ukraine-gate. That’s what the whole debate is going to be about. The debate is going to be about a sideshow.

    The underlying issues are why we are constantly steaming warships into the Black Sea. That’s like the Gulf of Mexico to Russia.

    Why are we sending warships into the Baltic?

    Why are we constantly doing big maneuvers in Poland and in the Baltic states, right on Russia’s doorsteps with these tens of thousands of forces going through these maneuvers and exercises? What the hell are we doing all this for?

    Those are the issues. But they’re not even going to get debated.

    One last point: Trump had raised the question, isn’t NATO obsolete? The Soviet Union is gone. The 50,000 tanks allegedly on the central front facing western Europe have been melted down for scrap. And yet, he can’t even do anything about NATO.

    He’s had to double-talk his way into saying, “Well, the other countries are going to commit some more money they don’t have. They’re going to waste more money on defense.” That’s all that’s come of it.

    The point is we ought to be debating what the hell are we doing with NATO 25 years after the Soviet Union disappeared from the face of the earth?

    Why isn’t Washington and the president leading the world with this disarmament conference so that we can begin to reduce this massive expenditure for weapons that nobody can afford?

    This is what Washington should be doing. The president of the United States should be leading the great global disarmament conference of 2021, and yet that won’t even come up. It’s not even on the radar screen.

    It’s not even mentioned because, as I say, the Warfare State machinery essentially squelches any kind of debate, suffocates any kind of thought that at all deviates from the status quo.

    The big issue in the world today is war and peace, and we’re facing a campaign in 2020 where it won’t even be mentioned.

    https://internationalman.com/articles/david-stockman-on-how-the-deep-state-really-works/

    Reply
  19. John

    Going after the emoluments would be a dangerous move for the payday politicians of both parties in Washington. Trump is just stupid and arrogant enough to not be willing to endure the opportunity cost of a few empty beds in his hotels and wait for a really big post presidential payoff a la Reagan, Clintons and Obama. But bringing the whole system of political payoff into daylight would beg the question about when the fee is paid for services rendered by politicos. And that could lead to reform . Something no one at the pig trough wants.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, the Emoluments Clause is specifically about taking foreign $ or titles (or bribes from individual states) while in office.

      The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them….

      And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

      On top of that, you can be sure that just about none of this post Presidential payoff was ever formal enough to be provable…..and what are you gonna do after they’ve left office? Try to impeach Saint Ronnie so he could never hold a Federal office again?

      Reply
  20. Plenue

    It occurred to me today that what Trump is being accused of, withholding aid as a way to apply pressure to get what he wanted, aside from being literally what Biden did that set this whole thing off (which I find utterly hilarious), is also what Obama did in regards to the early days of ISIS:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/09/opinion/president-obama-thomas-l-friedman-iraq-and-world-affairs.html

    The reason, the president added, “that we did not just start taking a bunch of airstrikes all across Iraq as soon as ISIL came in was because that would have taken the pressure off of [Prime Minister Nuri Kamal] al-Maliki.” That only would have encouraged, he said, Maliki and other Shiites to think: ” ‘We don’t actually have to make compromises. We don’t have to make any decisions. We don’t have to go through the difficult process of figuring out what we’ve done wrong in the past. All we have to do is let the Americans bail us out again. And we can go about business as usual.’”

    But I guess it’s okay when Democrats do it.

    Reply
    1. Prairie Bear

      True. It happens every hour on the hour, and all the time in between, at every level and branch of government from POTUS and Congress down to small-town councils and city clerk’s office. In other countries, too. It’s carrots AND sticks, all day long. Trump, as with everything else, was just too openly brazen and ham-handed about it.

      Reply

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