Jan 21 2020

The Kangaroo Court

True story this. In one of my U.S. History Courses (indeed all of them but I may not be cudgeling my memories with sufficient vigor) I was asked one question I didn’t know the answer to, didn’t even have a good guess-

What political innovation was imported from Australia in 1888?

The answer is the secret ballot, sometimes called the blanket ballot because it listed all candidates regardless of Party (Yup, leaving opposing Candidates off the ballot used to be a thing), labeled Party Identification (Yup, misleading Voters about your affiliation used to be a thing), oh, and above all it was secret so nobody knows how you voted because beating up the opposition was a thing too.

I of course answered, “Kangaroos!” If political innovation was not in the question I would have been technically correct and I misremember if it was simply implicit in the nature of the test but I didn’t quibble because I was already ruining the curve for everybody else and they hated me for it.

What? You don’t read your whole History book at the beginning of the Semester? You’re missing the flow of the narrative.

Anyway, I think we can all agree on what a “Kangaroo Court” is and if you don’t understand the reference look it up yourself.

Barely past noon only halfway through my daily reads and I’m already super cranky.

A big tell in Trump’s own legal brief exposes McConnell’s coverup
By Greg Sargent, Washington Post
Jan. 21, 2020

Now that Mitch McConnell has rolled out the rules for President Trump’s impeachment trial, the full dimensions of the Senate majority leader’s efforts to cover up Trump’s bottomless corruption are coming into view. They’re worse than expected, which is really something given McConnell’s long-running devotion to shielding Trump from accountability.

As it happens, the formal legal brief that the White House just released in Trump’s defense itself illustrates the true nature of this attempted coverup as clearly as anyone could ask for.

McConnell’s rules, which are in a draft resolution, appear designed to make it politically as easy as possible for GOP senators to facilitate Trump’s coverup. After opening statements and questioning from senators, the Senate will vote on whether any subpoenas for new witnesses and documents will be permitted.

If 51 GOP senators then vote “no,” that would be it. Senators would not have to vote specifically on whether to subpoena former national security adviser John Bolton or acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Nor would senators have to vote on whether to subpoena any of the specific documents and evidence that the administration refused to turn over to the House impeachment inquiry. It would be politically harder to vote against specific demands, and McConnell’s rules appear designed to spare GOP senators from that.

Trump’s legal team has submitted a lengthy brief in his defense that is packed with the same old nonsense. It insists Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s activities in Ukraine out of genuine concern over corruption, a reference to Biden’s work as vice president to oust a Ukrainian prosecutor, supposedly to protect his son Hunter.

That narrative is fabricated. And the notion that Trump was genuinely concerned about this invented corruption, as if it were just pure coincidence that Trump also worried he might face Biden in 2020, is laughable on its face.

What’s notable in the White House brief, however, is its treatment of Trump’s conditioning of political acts — a White House meeting and hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid — on Zelensky doing his bidding.

The brief argues that two of the people who spoke directly to Trump about the freezing of military aid both exonerated him. That’s a reference to Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who personally conveyed the extortion demand to Ukraine but said he only “presumed” the money was conditioned on announcing investigations and testified Trump told him “no quid pro quo.”

It’s also a reference to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who asserted Trump personally told him he’d “never” demand such a quid pro quo, after Johnson had expressed deep concern about the frozen aid.

But note how the document references Sondland and Johnson: It repeatedly describes them as the only two people on record who discussed this with Trump.

This is the “central fact” in this case. But the very use of the phrase “on record” gives away the entire sordid game.

Here’s why. The whole reason Sondland and Johnson are the only people “on record” — that is, the only people who directly discussed the frozen aid with Trump who testified to the House impeachment inquiry — is because Trump blocked all the other people who also discussed this with him from testifying.

Mulvaney froze the aid at Trump’s direction. Bolton privately argued with Trump over it. They both defied House demands for their testimony — at Trump’s direction. And if GOP senators vote against hearing any witnesses, they will be carrying out Trump’s bidding once again.

And so, Trump’s own brief itself underscores the truth about the coverup — that it’s all about keeping all of these other witnesses with direct knowledge of Trump’s freezing of the aid off of “the record.” It’s all about keeping them from sharing what they know under oath.

“The brief reveals the secret sauce to the coverup — to try to keep others who directly communicated with the president from going on the record,” Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University, told me.

As it is, the argument that Sondland and Johnson exonerated Trump is nonsense. In the same call where Trump supposedly told Sondland “no quid pro quo,” Trump also told him to convey to Zelensky that he must do Trump’s bidding, even as Trump continued withholding the money.

“The brief carefully relies on these third-person accounts to claim what the president did or did not say,” Goodman told me. “The irony is the Sondland call is actually one of the most incriminating parts of the record. When Sondland told other officials of this very call, it set off alarm bells.”

And Johnson’s statements actually undercut Trump’s case, because Johnson’s concern about what Trump had done itself illustrated how indefensible it was. There is zero reason to accept Trump’s phony denials to Johnson or Sondland at face value: The extortion demand actually was conveyed to Zelensky by Sondland, who was acting at Trump’s direction throughout, and Trump himself directly expressed it to Zelensky on July 25.

What this all shows is that, if GOP senators vote as McConnell hopes, they’ll actually be voting to never hear from the people with the most direct knowledge of the very conduct Trump and his defenders say was entirely above reproach. After all, Trump blocked them from speaking to the House as well.

Those GOP senators will be voting to carry Trump’s coverup all the way through to completion.