Trump Sweet, Congress Sour On Turkey

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)

 

Trump Sweet, Congress Sour On Turkey

President Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) take part in a joint press conference during Erdogan’s visit to the White House on Wednesday.

Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

After welcoming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the opening day of public impeachment hearings for a second visit to the Oval Office, President Trump did something highly unusual for such encounters: He invited a select group of Republican senators to join the two leaders’ meeting.

Trump’s decision to invite fellow Republicans only from the GOP-led upper chamber of Congress was telling. Bipartisan legislation and resolutions condemning Turkey’s Oct. 9 invasion of northern Syria (three days after Trump removed U.S. forces from that area) have abounded on both sides of the Capitol, but only the Democrat-held House of Representatives has actually voted on and passed such measures.

On Oct. 16 — the same day that Trump announced sanctions against Turkey for its Syria incursion — every member of the House GOP leadership voted in favor of a bipartisan resolution opposing Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the area invaded by Turkey and calling on Erdogan to end military action there immediately. The measure passed 354-60, with only Republicans voting against it.

Trump then dropped the sanctions for Turkey’s incursion after one week, citing a cease-fire agreement worked out between Turkey and Vice President Pence.

The House was not swayed. It responded Oct. 29 with the Protect Against Conflict by Turkey Act. PACT, as the bipartisan measure was dubbed, calls for sanctions against high-ranking Turkish officials and a State Department estimate of the net worth of Erdogan and his family members.

“These sanctions are specifically designed to target the Turkish officials and institutions responsible for the bloodshed in Syria without senselessly hurting the Turkish people,” House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said in a floor speech preceding the 403-16 vote that passed the measure. “After all, it is Erdogan—not the Turkish people—that is responsible for this horror. Erdogan is an authoritarian thug.”

House Republicans joined in the condemnation of Turkey’s leader. “We’re sending a message to the Erdogan government that the U.S. will hold them liable for their actions,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. “If he does not want to act like a NATO nation, then his government will feel the repercussions of such decisions.”

The PACT floor action took place the same day the House infuriated Turkey by holding the first full chamber vote ever to condemn as “genocide” the mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians a century ago by Ottoman Turks. Again, the vote was overwhelmingly lopsided in favor, 405-11.

For decades, Turkey had successfully lobbied Congress to prevent such a vote characterizing that killing of Armenians as genocide.

“When I was ambassador to Turkey 15 years ago, there was a very deep well of public support for Turkey in the United States and particularly in the U.S. Congress, and that really doesn’t exist very much anymore,” says Eric Edelman, who served as the top U.S. diplomat in Ankara during the George W. Bush administration. “I think that the Turks have counted for some time on the personal relationship between [Erdogan and Trump] to get them out of the deep trouble they’re in in the Congress.”

Turkey’s acquisition in July of Russia’s S-400 air defense system crossed a line for many lawmakers. The Russian system is not only incompatible with NATO military equipment — it is designed to shoot down advanced aircraft such as the F-35 stealth fighter jet, 100 of which Turkey had planned to acquire as a partner in the international consortium building the Lockheed Martin warplane.

For choosing Russia’s S-400 over Raytheon’s Patriot surface-to-air missile system, Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 consortium and training of its pilots to fly the stealth fighter at U.S. military bases was suspended.

But lawmakers are demanding further punishment for Turkey’s defiance. The House’s PACT measure designates Ankara’s acquisition of the S-400 system as a “significant transaction” with Russia’s arms industry. That would automatically oblige the Trump administration to impose on Turkey 5 of 12 sanctions listed by the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA.

Under that law, it’s actually up to the executive branch to determine if a “significant transaction” has occurred. Because the Trump administration has failed to do so, Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., have introduced a privileged resolution in the Senate obliging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to make such a determination within 30 days of the resolution’s passage. Such a rarely used privileged resolution could bypass the Foreign Relations Committee and would have to be voted on by the full Senate, where it would not need the 60 votes usually required for final consideration.

“The administration is breaking the law by ignoring this provision [of CAATSA] and kowtowing to Ankara,” Menendez said last week on the Senate floor. “Turkey must be sanctioned for the S-400 system, and it should happen today — otherwise, it will send a global message that we are not serious about sanctioning significant transactions with the Russian military.”

It appears unlikely the privileged resolution will sway Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “Do we know what the political impact such sanctions will have inside Turkey?” McConnell asked late last month on the Senate floor. “Will they weaken President Erdogan or rally the country to his cause? Do we know the impact sanctions will have on U.S. companies?”

Former U.S. ambassador to Turkey Edelman sees further sanctions, which could limit U.S. arms sales to Turkey, as problematic. “It’s a little bit awkward to be saying we’re going to sanction you because you’re buying Russian military equipment, we don’t want you buying Russian military equipment,” he says, “and so the punishment is you’re not allowed to buy American military equipment.”

The U.S. has been the source of nearly two-thirds of Turkey’s imported weapons of war, according the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

“If you go back over the last few decades, Turkey is one of the major importers of U.S. weapons,” says William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. “A huge proportion of their arsenal comes from the United States.”

But efforts in both the House and Senate to curtail arms sales to Turkey, which hosts several key U.S. military bases, have failed to gain much traction in a Congress where most lawmakers have significant numbers of defense contractors in their home states.

The peril of pushing too hard on placing U.S. weapons off limits to Turkey is that Turkey may go shopping elsewhere, says Philip Gordon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“If the current trends continue — more sanctions or an absolute ban on weapons sales to Turkey — then Turkey pivots and buys all of its arms from Russia and other suppliers,” says Gordon, who oversaw Turkish affairs in the Obama White House. “And then the strategic relationship within NATO is really broken.”

Turkey’s relationship with Congress may already be broken. Not so much, though, at the Trump White House.

Author warns that Trump ‘will not exit quietly,’ even if defeated or impeached

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE USA TODAY NEWS)

 

‘Anonymous’ author warns that Trump ‘will not exit quietly,’ even if defeated or impeached

USA TODAY

The anonymous official who has written a scathing account of the presidency of Donald Trump suggests the president might refuse to leave office even if convicted in impeachment hearings or defeated narrowly in the 2020 election – and says Trump is preparing his followers to see either outcome as a “coup” that could warrant resistance.

“He will not exit quietly – or easily,” the author, self-described as a senior administration official, writes in A Warning, a book that builds on an explosive op-ed by the same unnamed author last year. USA TODAY obtained an early copy of the book.

“It is why at many turns he suggests ‘coups’ are afoot and a ‘civil war’ is in the offing. He is already seeding the narrative for his followers – a narrative that could end tragically.”

From ‘Anonymous’:Read key excerpts from inside Trump White House on Putin, Pence, Hillary

As the House of Representatives prepares to open public impeachment hearings Wednesday, the book also says that Trump ordered aides more than a year ago to pursue a “deliberate and coordinated campaign” to obstruct an impeachment inquiry and other congressional investigations. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff has said he is considering obstruction of Congress as a possible Article of Impeachment.

The book’s author is identified only as “a senior official in the Trump administration,” and its forthcoming publication has created a firestorm over both its depiction of a dysfunctional president and the decision by the writer to remain anonymous.

Cover of "A Warning" by an anonymous senior Trump administration official.

“The coward who wrote this book didn’t put their name on it because it is nothing but lies,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said.

Many of the disclosures echo news stories that have portrayed the president as impulsive, sometimes uninformed and regularly willing to defy established norms. There is already no shortage of books by Trump critics, including former FBI director James Comey and others who have served in his administration, that raise questions about the president’s fitness for office.

But The New York Times op-ed in 2018 and the new book, being published next Tuesday by Twelve, have commanded enormous attention because the author had an inside view, often participating in small White House meetings where crucial decisions were made.

The author portrays himself or herself as sharing some policy views with Trump and initially having a positive if wary view of the possibilities of his presidency.

The author says the intended audience for A Warning isn’t those who closely follow politics but rather those who don’t, particularly voters from across the country who were drawn in 2016 to Trump’s promise to shake up the establishment.

Dropping Pence from the ticket?

The book says that Trump “on more than one occasion” discussed with staffers the possibility of dropping Vice President Mike Pence before the 2020 election.

“Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley was under active consideration to step in as vice president, which she did not discourage at first,” the author writes, saying some advisers argued that putting Haley on the ticket would help the president bolster his support among female voters.

In an interview Friday with USA TODAY, Nikki Haley dismissed out of hand the suggestion that she might replace Pence. In her new book, With All Due Respect, Haley offers a generally positive portrait of Trump, and the president rewarded her with a friendly tweet urging his millions of followers to buy a copy.

Pathway of impeachment:How it works, where we are

“Anonymous” depicts Trump as impatient, immoral, cruel, even dangerous as he rejects the limits placed on presidents by Congress and the courts.

As the 2018 midterm elections approached, the book says, the White House counsel’s office began to develop a “contingency plan” to shield the administration if Democrats gained control of Congress, and with that the ability to launch investigations and issue subpoenas. New lawyers were hired and internal procedures revamped, the author writes.

“The goal wasn’t just to prepare for a barrage of legislative requests,” the book says. “It was a concerted attempt to fend off congressional oversight. When Democrats finally took the House, the unspoken administration policy toward Capitol Hill became: Give as little as possible, wait as long as possible. Even routine inquiries are now routed to the lawyers, who have found unique ways to say “We can’t right now,” “Give us a few months,” “We’re going to need to put you on hold,” “Probably not,” “No,” and “Not a chance in hell.”

Trump impeachment inquiry:Early findings and how Republicans are opposing them

The author says the administration’s refusal to comply with congressional requests and even subpoenas “go beyond standard practice and have turned into a full block-and-tackle exercise against congressional investigators across an array of Trump administration controversies.”

On the president’s actions with Ukraine, now the heart of the impeachment inquiry, the author writes that the idea Trump was trying to battle corruption abroad – rather than gain some partisan political advantage at home – was “barely believable to anyone around him.”

But the book provides no significant new information or insights into that episode.

‘Get Out of Jail Free’ cards

The author’s agent, Matt Latimer, said the author didn’t take an advance payment for the book and plans to donate a substantial amount of the royalties to nonprofit organizations that encourage government accountability and an independent press.

Among other allegations, the book says:

  • Several top advisers and Cabinet-level officials last year discussed a mass resignation, “a midnight self-massacre,” intended to call attention to what they saw as Trump’s questionable and even corrupt behavior. “The idea was abandoned out of fear that it would make a bad situation worse.”
  • If a majority of the Cabinet called for Trump’s removal under the rules of the 25th Amendment, Pence would have been willing to go along with them. But the author provides no evidence to back up that assertion, and Pence in recent days has strongly denied it.
  • Trump told officials that, if they took illegal actions on his behalf, he would give them presidential pardons. “To Donald Trump, these are unlimited ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ cards on a Monopoly board.”
  • Trump was “particularly frustrated that the Justice Department hasn’t done more to harass the Clintons.” The president suggested to his first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, that he might “un-recuse” himself from the Mueller inquiry into Russian election interference, presumably so he would feel free to order a more aggressive inquiry into Trump’s 2016 opponent. “You’d be a hero,” the president told him.

So, You Think Russia/Putin Only Interfered In The 2016 General Election, Really?

So, You Think Russia/Putin Only Interfered In The 2016 General Election, Really?

 

This letter to you today is just an opinion piece from my thoughts to your eyes, it is for the purpose of getting us all to think a little bit about the chances of, what if.  For those of you who do not know me I am a 63 year old Christian white guy who lives in the state of Kentucky. I believe my political leanings to be a registered Independent who has voted Republican and Democratic in the past but I honestly can’t see me ever voting for a Republican again because of them backing our current President. I consider myself to be a moderate, sort of right down the middle between being a Conservative on some issues and a bit Liberal on others. So, I don’t agree with either extreme to the left nor to the right. In 2016’s Presidential Election I voted for Gary Johnson, not because I thought he had any chance of winning but because I could not get myself to vote for either Hillary or Trump. I feel the same now as I did then, I could not get myself to vote for a person I totally believe to be a very intelligent, hate filled, habitual liar (Hillary) nor for a totally ignorant, hate filled, ego-maniac, habitual liar (Trump).

 

As most everyone whom has an I.Q. above 2 now knows that President Putin of Russia had his people interfering in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections in an effort to get Donald Trump elected as our 45th President. But I have a question that I would like for you to ponder, do you honestly believe that the Russians only screwed with the General Election in November of 2016? As over 20 U.S. State Election Boards also said that there is plenty of evidence that they were interfered with from the Russian Government. What I believe is that there is a very good chance that Mr. Trump did not win nearly as many of the State Republican Primaries as he was given credit for. He could never have been the Republican Nominee if he didn’t win enough of the Primaries. So, what if Trump via actual American votes did not win a lot of those Primaries that he was given credit for? Would John Kasich have been the Republican Nominee? Just as if the Democratic National Convention had not had the farce of so called “Super Delegates” I believe that Senator Bernie Sanders would have been the Democratic Nominee, not Hillary. Personally I believe that if Senator Sanders had been the Democratic Nominee that he would have beaten Mr. Trump in the November election. What I am saying is that I believe that the American voters totally got scammed in 2016 and to me it is looking like the Republican Party big wigs of today are bound and determined to make sure that we can have another Russian scam election in November of 2020.

 

Another side thought for you, something I just thought of while writing this letter to you. Thinking back to the 2016 General Election, it was a given that the Democrats would win the Congressional Elections but the question was by how much. A bigger question was how many Senatorial Seats would the Republicans lose to the Democrats. Turns out that the Democrats didn’t win near as many Congressional Seats as most Annalists thought they would and the Republicans actually picked up a few Senatorial Seats, not lose them. You know if a person wins the White House from one Party but the opposite Party rules both the House and the Senate the President will be vastly limited in getting anything his Party wants passed into law. So, how many Senate and Congressional Seats did the Republicans ‘win’ that they actually did not win with the American peoples votes? Looking at this issue through an “Independents” glasses it becomes obvious why the Republican Party’s Leadership isn’t concerned about “the Russians” interference. This letter is simply meant as ‘food for your thoughts’.

Ukraine ambassador William Taylor’s testimony backs Senate Republicans into a corner

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER)

 

Ukraine ambassador William Taylor’s testimony backs Senate Republicans into a corner

William Taylor, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, admitted in a closed-door hearing before Congress today that he had been acting under the impression that there was indeed a quid pro quo between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

This is bad news for Trump, and even worse for the Senate Republicans who will undoubtedly be forced to take a side when the Democrats’ impeachment proceedings move to the Senate for a trial.

Taylor’s opening statement, obtained by the Washington Post, confirms that the U.S. planned to withhold military and financial aid from Ukraine if the country didn’t assist the U.S. in its investigations into 2016 election interference. This might not be great diplomacy, but it isn’t illegal — the investigation into election interference is a legitimate government operation which, due to its nature, is somewhat dependent on foreign cooperation.

Forcing Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rival, however, is another matter entirely, and one that lies at the center of Taylor’s testimony. At question here is a conversation Taylor had in September with Gordon Sondland, the United States’ envoy to the European Union. “As I said on the phone,” Taylor said in September, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

To which Sondland replied: “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quos of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign.”

Taylor’s message was originally interpreted as a reaction to media reports that the U.S. was unnecessarily withholding military aid from Ukraine. But in his opening statement before Congress, Taylor confirmed that his message was not merely a reaction to the media, but a condemnation of a coordinated effort by Trump, Sondland, and the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

“I said on Sept. 9 in a message to [Sondland] that withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the U.S. would be ‘crazy,’” Taylor said in his testimony, “I believed that then, and I still believe that.”

Taylor then lays out the timeline of Trump’s interactions with Zelensky and the “highly irregular” channel of U.S. policy making in Ukraine that included then-Special Envoy Kurt Volker, Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and Giuliani. This “irregular” channel actively worked against U.S. interests and in favor of Trump’s personal interests, Taylor said.

“By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma [the Ukrainian oil company that Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, worked for] and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections,” Taylor said in his testimony. “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 soon after realized that the hold placed on security assistance to Ukraine by the Office of Management and Budget ran counter to the State and Defense Departments’ recommendation that the U.S. assist Ukraine in its battle against Russia, and that it had more to do with Sondland’s demand that Ukraine commit to an investigation into Hunter Biden’s dealings with Burisma than it did with the U.S.’s investigation into election meddling.

Taylor’s testimony is both clarifying and damning for the Trump allies and Senate Republicans who have insisted there was no quid pro quo. Ukrainian officials might not have been aware that foreign aid was being withheld, but the U.S. government certainly was aware. And if it wasn’t clear before, it is now clear that Trump had a personal agenda and used Sondland and Giuliani to further it.

Impeachment will move forward, which means the Senate will eventually need to decide whether Trump was guilty of foreign malfeasance. Taylor’s testimony just made it that much harder to rule in his favor. His congressional allies will continue to stand by him, especially if House Democrats continue to treat impeachment like a campaign promise they need to fulfill.

But there will be other Trump-skeptical senators wary of the president’s blatant abuse of power who might just drift to the pro-impeachment side. Republicans control the Senate 53-47. It takes 67 votes to convict. Taylor’s testimony might just tip the scales.

Survey: 54 percent of Americans support Trump impeachment inquiry

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWS)

 

Survey: 54 percent of Americans support Trump impeachment inquiry

A majority of Americans endorse House Democrats’ decision to launch an impeachment inquiry into President Trump and his administration’s dealings with Ukraine, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

The survey, which was released on Thursday, found that 54 percent of Americans support the impeachment inquiry, while 44 percent oppose it. The figure represents a 4-point increase in support from a similar survey in September.

That survey, which was conducted before details about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky surfaced, showed that Americans were split on impeachment, with 50 percent supporting an inquiry and 50 percent opposing.

Nine percent of respondents who voiced opposition to the inquiry last month now approve the House’s impeachment inquiry, according to Pew. Democrats make up a significant chunk of the respondents who shifted their opinion in favor of an impeachment inquiry.

Thirty-five percent of those respondents identified as Democrats, while 26 percent identified as leaning Democratic. Twenty-percent classified themselves as Republican-leaning, with 10 percent identifying as Republicans.

Just 4 percent of respondents who favored an impeachment inquiry last month now oppose it. Meanwhile, 85 percent respondents’ opinions on the impeachment inquiry have remained the same since September.

The findings come as the Trump administration faces mounting scrutiny over the president’s interactions with Ukraine, which are now at the heart of a formal impeachment inquiry. The inquiry largely stems from a whistleblower complaint filed within the intelligence community that accuses the White House of a broad effort to pressure a foreign nation into investigating 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Public opinion appears to be split as to whether Republicans and Democrats will be fair during the inquiry. The Pew survey found that just 43 percent of Americans believe the GOP will be somewhat or very fair and reasonable during the inquiry. Just 47 percent of respondents said the same of Democrats.

A slew of recent public opinion polls have shown Americans are becoming more receptive to impeachment. A Gallup poll released Wednesday showed that 52 percent of Americans endorse impeaching and removing Trump from office.

The Pew survey was conducted between Oct. 1 and Oct. 13 among a population of 3,487 U.S. adults. The margin of error is 2.2 percent.

 

Best Choice For Republicans To Keep White House In 2020: Impeach Trump Quickly

Best Choice For Republicans To Keep White House In 2020: Impeach Trump Quickly

 

President Trump is nothing but a liability to the Republican Leadership if he is still in Office come November of 2020. If Mitch (The Worthless Bitch) McConnell and his cronies want to keep control of the Presidency in January of 2021 their best chance to do so is if Trump is very quickly impeached, not just by the Democratic led Congress but with the help of the Republicans in the Senate. If Trump is on that Presidential ticket, the Republicans will lose the White House without a doubt. The only chance the Republicans have to keep one of their own in the Oval Office is if Mike (Mr. Bought And Paid For) Pence is the President at the time of the November 2020 elections. Right now the most powerful person in Washington is Senator McConnell. If he gives the green light Donald Trump will no longer be the President, it is all up to him. McConnell is like Nancy Pelosi in the aspect that the main thing they are concerned about is their political party, not the people, not Our Country. It is just my opinion on the matter but I believe that these folks are all bought and paid for trash. McConnell doesn’t give a damn about Trump as a person just as Trump doesn’t give a damn about anyone but himself. So, what I am saying is if Trump is impeached by the U.S. Senate quickly and they install Mike Pence as the President the Republicans just might hold the White House next November. You see, it doesn’t matter if the U.S. Congress impeaches Trump just as it didn’t matter when the Republican led Congress Impeached Bill Clinton back in the 1990’s, it is the Senate who controls the actual hammer. So, where are we as a Country right now? Personally I believe the Ball is in the proverbial Court of Senator McConnell. So, as a dear friend of mine used to say, now, we shall see what we shall see.

Why won’t the Senate protect American elections?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS BRIEF)
(Moscow Mitch The Trumpian Bitch?) oped: oldpoet56)

Why won’t the Senate protect American elections?

Darrell M. West and Raj Karan Gambhir

Editor’s Note:This post is part of “Cybersecurity and Election Interference,” a Brookings series that explores digital threats to American democracy, cybersecurity risks in elections, and ways to mitigate possible problems.

Cybersecurity & Election InterferenceThe United States is at risk of serious foreign intervention and disinformation in the 2020 elections. When asked during his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee whether Russia could interfere in the 2020 elections, Robert Mueller responded that they are “doing it as we sit here.” The very next day, the Senate Intelligence Committee reported that “the Russians had attempted to intrude in all 50 states” during the 2016 election. A blog post by Brookings Institution Fellow Margaret Taylor furthermore shows that our European allies have experienced similar Russian activities over the last few years in their national elections, the Brexit campaign, and European Union parliamentary races. Even as the scope of Russian intent and ability becomes increasingly clear, Senate Republicans have done nothing to address this problem.

It is not as if there aren’t good ideas to protect American elections. Four major pieces of election security legislation have been introduced over the last two years: the Secure Elections Act (introduced by Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)); Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)); Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines Act (Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)); and Securing America’s Federal Elections Act (introduced by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA19)).

As noted below, the bills demonstrate relative bipartisan agreement over several key remedies. A number of members have proposed providing additional funding for the Election Assistance Commission, sharing election security expertise with the states, providing paper ballot backups of electronic voting systems, sanctioning financial institutions that support foreign interference, authorizing retaliatory actions against any nation interfering in American elections, and requiring intelligence agencies to determine whether any foreign agents interfered in American elections. A version of these ideas already has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on a 225 to 184 vote, but has been repeatedly blocked from a Senate vote by Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY). Calling the bill “highly partisan,” McConnell blocked a unanimous consent vote on the bill just hours after Mueller’s testimony.

This Senate inaction brings to mind Albert Einstein’s infamous definition of insanity as repeating the same behavior but expecting a different outcome. With no beefing up of election defenses and high odds of continuing foreign interference, 2020 will likely see the same problems of 2016: campaigns that sow discontent and play on societal divisions, active efforts to undermine electoral legitimacy, and widespread public doubts following the campaign about the integrity of the election process itself. Americans will wake up on Wednesday, November 4, 2020 wondering how the U.S. electoral process again fell prey to foreign interference and why political leaders failed to defend our vital democratic processes.

Providing additional funding for the Election Assistance Commission

In looking across the proposed bills, there are a number of promising ideas designed to secure U.S. elections. One of them advanced in the Secure Elections Act is the creation of an Election Assistance Commission grant program that provides funding for states and localities to secure electoral processes and upgrade equipment. The idea is that since elections largely are administered at the state and local level, additional funding for those entities would enable them to update their equipment, install the latest cyber-security protections, and make sure that vital infrastructure is protected during the election.

Sharing election security expertise

Several of the proposed bills give the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) a major role in advising the states, offering them technical expertise, and being proactive in dealing with possible cyber-threats. Since this department works to counter terrorism and maintain vital infrastructure, the department has expertise to evaluate hardware and software for cyber-security risks. Armed with that information, it could provide help to state and local agencies charged with administering the upcoming elections.

Providing paper ballot backups of electronic voting systems with an audit trail

A number of local jurisdictions have moved to electronic voting machines in recent years, although in most cases, this equipment is not connected to the internet in order to minimize opportunities for hacking. However, there still could be software bugs that distort the vote or systematically under-count certain areas. Given that possibility, it is important to have paper ballot backups of electronic voting systems and the possibility of conducting an audit if any irregularities are spotted. That way, voters can feel confident their votes will be counted and there are mechanisms to evaluate the vote in case anything is contested.

Sanctioning financial institutions that support foreign interference

The Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act establishes financial sanctions that could be applied against countries, financial institutions, or individuals that “facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of Putin.” The idea is that Russians could be discouraged from malicious behavior if they think there will be serious consequences.

Authors

In addition, the bill “would give prosecutors additional authorities to pursue federal charges for the hacking of voting systems and create a National Fusion Center to respond to hybrid threats of disinformation and other emerging threats from Russia”. There are provisions that specifically would impose sanctions for “Russian interference in democratic processes.”

Authorize retaliatory actions against any nation interfering in American elections

The Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act would allow the President to impose sanctions against any country identified as a threat. Among the actions that could invite retaliation “include a foreign government or agent purchasing political advertisements to influence an election” or “using social media to spread false information, hacking and releasing or modifying election- or campaign-related information or hindering access to elections infrastructure, such as websites for polling places.”

Requiring intelligence agency leaders to determine whether any foreign agents interfered in American elections

The DETER Act would mandate that the director of national intelligence determine within 30 days of the national election whether “the government of a foreign country, or any person acting as an agent of or on behalf of that government, knowingly engaged in interference in the election.” Under threat of sanction, foreign agents specifically would not be allowed to “spread significant amounts of false information to Americans. They also cannot hack, leak or modify election and campaign infrastructure, including voter registration databases and campaign emails.”

Why the Senate inaction in the face of a clear foreign danger?

A number of arguments have been made to justify the votes of those who opposed the House bill or are supporting Senate inaction. One is a state’s rights argument suggesting that the federal government should not have a major role in electoral security given the country’s history of state and local control of balloting. While it certainly is important to maintain state and local control of elections, providing federal assistance to upgrade voting machines does not violate existing legal or constitution provisions. There is a long history of the federal government paying for voting equipment and offering technical assistance. Many states lack funding for voting machines and the federal government often has funded upgrades and improvements. There is ample precedent for national authorities to protect vital infrastructure in the face of foreign threats.

Another rationale concerns the financial cost of electoral security. The idea is at a time when America is running a trillion-dollar budget deficit, it should avoid unnecessary expenditures. Rather, lawmakers should focus on vital priorities and critical infrastructure. Yet electoral security should fall within each of those principles. Having secure elections is essential to democracy. There is no excuse for not spending several hundred million dollars (a very small portion of the overall federal budget) on meaningful steps to protect American elections. Democracy is too important to be risked for a relatively small amount of money.

Short of these criticisms, it is hard to see any justified reason not to enact some type of electoral security measures. As is clear to all who study American elections and have heeded the warnings of our European allies, the intelligence community, and the Special Counsel—the Russian threat is real. Given these dire circumstances, it is difficult to fathom why Senate leadership is refusing to allow a vote on such important legislation, and therefore risking the integrity of the democratic process. Americans should demand Senate action to protect U.S. elections from foreign interference.

Pro-Trump Republican aiming to unseat Ilhan Omar charged with felony theft

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE GUARDIAN NEWS)

 

Pro-Trump Republican aiming to unseat Ilhan Omar charged with felony theft

Exclusive: Danielle Stella, reported to support baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, held twice this year over alleged shoplifting

Danielle Stella, the Republican running for Congress against Ilhan Omar in Minnesota. Stella earlier this week described Minneapolis as ‘the crime capital of our country’.
 Danielle Stella, the Republican running for Congress against Ilhan Omar in Minnesota. Stella earlier this week described Minneapolis as ‘the crime capital of our country’. Photograph: Stella campaign

A pro-Trump Republican candidate for Congress who is aiming to unseat Ilhan Omar in Minnesota has been charged with a felony after allegedly stealing from stores.

Danielle Stella was arrested twice this year in Minneapolis suburbs over allegations that she shoplifted items worth more than $2,300 from a Target and goods valued at $40 from a grocery store. She said she denied the allegations.

Stella, a 31-year-old special education teacher, was reported this week to be a supporter of the baseless “QAnon” conspiracy theory about Donald Trump battling a global cabal of elite liberal paedophiles.

This week Stella also described Minneapolis as “the crime capital of our country”. She has in the past complained that local police were “overworked and overburdened” and said that, if elected, she would work to reduce crime.

In a series of text messages, Stella said: “I am not guilty of these crimes. In this country I am innocent until proven guilty and that is the law.”

She added: “If I was guilty of crimes, I would never run for public office, putting myself in the public eye under a microscope to be attacked by all political sides.”

An attorney for Stella, Joshua London, declined to comment.

Stella is accused of stealing 279 items valued at $2,327.97 from a Target store in Edina, to the south-west of Minneapolis, on 8 January this year. She was arrested for the alleged theft after security staff called the police.

A criminal complaint filed to Hennepin county district court alleged Stella was seen leaving the store without paying for most of her haul, after “scanning only a few other items” that were valued at about $50.

Danielle Stella. In a series of text messages, Stella said: ‘I am not guilty of these crimes.’
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 Danielle Stella. In a series of text messages, Stella said: ‘I am not guilty of these crimes.’ Photograph: Bloomington police department

The complaint said Stella told police in a statement she “remembers arriving at Target to purchase items but nothing else” due to post-traumatic stress disorder, and that she “normally she goes to Target with someone because of anxiety around people”.

Stella has said publicly that she was the victim of a severe violent assault in 2008. She is charged with the thefts under her former surname, which the Guardian agreed not to report because she said it could endanger her safety.

She is charged with felony theft over the incident at Target and faces a punishment of up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000 if convicted, according to court filings.

Police and court records said a warrant was put out for Stella’s re-arrest for alleged contempt of court on 4 April, after she failed to show up for a court hearing.

Officers in nearby Bloomington then arrested Stella on 28 April after she was allegedly seen by security staff at a Cub Foods grocery store stealing a bottle of tick spray for cats, and placing other items “under her purse so that they could not be seen”.

When they checked her identification, police officers discovered the open warrant for Stella’s arrest over her failure to appear in court for the earlier alleged shoplifting, their incident report said.

The report said Stella was arrested for alleged misdemeanour theft for taking “cat merchandise” and cat food valued at $40.46. She was issued with a citation and given a date to appear in court. It was not clear whether authorities would pursue the contempt of court allegation.

Stella’s candidacy has attracted interest from the far-right conspiracy website InfoWars, which broadcast an interview with her this week. Stella laughed and nodded as the host, J Owen Shroyer, called Omar “a witch” and said: “Everything about her is a fraud.”

Describing Minneapolis during the interview as America’s “crime capital”, Stella falsely claimed that crime in the city had risen by 80% over the past year. According to Minneapolis police data, there has been a 10.7% uptick in serious crime year-on-year, following a 16.5% decline in 2018.

The rightwing commentator Todd Starnes promoted Stella in an interviewearlier this month on Fox News’s streaming service Fox Nation. “We certainly wish Miss Stella the very best,” Starnes said, adding that he hoped for a “significant change in representation” in Omar’s district.

Last month Stella officially registered with the Federal Election Commission as a candidate for the Republican nomination in Minnesota’s fifth congressional district. She later spoke at the “Demand Free Speech” rally in Washington.

She has accused Omar of being a criminal for advising immigrants how to avoid agents from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She said in a tweet that any representatives who fail to “uphold the rule of law” should be ejected from office.

Court records say that in 2009, Stella pleaded guilty to driving while impaired from alcohol and fleeing a police officer. The latter charge was prosecuted as a felony but later classified as a gross misdemeanour as part of Stella’s plea.

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‘Very substantial evidence’ Trump is ‘guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

‘Very substantial evidence’ Trump is ‘guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors,’ House Judiciary Chair says

Washington (CNN)House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler on Sunday said Robert Mueller’s report presents “very substantial evidence” that President Donald Trump is “guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors” — an impeachable offense.

“We have to … let Mueller present those facts to the American people, and then see where we go from there, because the administration must be held accountable,” Nadler, whose committee would lead impeachment proceedings, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Mueller, the former special counsel for the Department of Justice and former director of the FBI, will testify before Congress on July 24 after House Democrats issued a subpoena for his appearance. Earlier this year, Mueller concluded a nearly two-year-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Sunday most Americans haven’t read the dense 448-page Mueller report.
Schiff said on CBS “Face The Nation” that the report contains “a pretty damning set of facts,” and said, “Who better to bring them to life than the man who did the investigation himself.”
“We want the people to hear it directly from him,” Schiff said.
Mueller said in a rare and remarkable public statement in May his investigation could not clear Trump of obstruction of justice, and that charging the President was not an option his office could consider.
“If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime.”
The former special counsel’s probe, which also investigated possible collusion, found that members of the Trump campaign knew they would benefit from Russia’s illegal actions to influence the election, but did not take criminal steps to help.
Mueller delivered a road map of how the investigation played out and the possible role that Congress could play in holding Trump accountable. He highlighted how the “Constitution requires a process other than” the criminal justice system to hold officeholders accountable, a clear signal his obstruction investigation into Trump could be carried on by Congress.
More than 80 House Democrats have called for starting an impeachment inquiry into the President — the first step in a lengthy process, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Nadler have so far resisted the pressure to open an inquiry.
The impeachment clause in Article II of the US Constitution outlines the process of removing a president, which begins with a vote in the House of Representatives. Offenses that could prompt impeachment are treason, bribery or other “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Republicans give Trump a rare rebuke over racist comments

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Republicans give Trump a rare rebuke over racist comments

(CNN)For many Republicans in Congress, President Donald Trump’s call for some Democratic congresswomen to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” was worthy of a rare rebuke.

As she entered Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office in the Capitol on Monday evening, GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said that Trump’s latest attacks were not only “not constructive” but racist.
“They’re American citizens,” she said.
On Sunday, Trump attacked unnamed “‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen,” saying they “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world.”
Usually Trump’s attacks on Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts are uniformly greeted with cheers by all Republicans (of these four first-term women members of Congress, only Omar, a Somalian refugee, was born outside the United States).
But for many Republicans, his racist comments on Sunday were, as Sen. Susan Collins of Maine put it, “way over the line.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said the comments were “spiteful” and urged a “higher standard of decorum and decency.” Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio called them “divisive, unnecessary and wrong.”
“We should defeat their ideas on the merits, not on the basis of their ancestry,” said Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
“While we can vary on what policies we support, singling out people whose opinions differ from our own is bad for discourse and public civility,” added Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas.
Still, Ernst was in an unusual position in calling Trump’s racist remark racist. Trump’s strongest supporters said his comment was not while many of his begrudging bedfellows did not make that particular charge.
Many Republicans did not directly respond to questions regarding whether the President’s comments were “racist.” Instead, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, called the comments a “mistake,” and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, called them “unproductive.”
McConnell declined to comment Monday on Trump’s tweets. He said he’d be “happy” to respond later in the week at his regularly scheduled news conference.
For years, Trump has made racist and anti-immigrant comments. He questioned the birthplace of the first African American president, Barack Obama. He called Mexicans “rapists” in his campaign kickoff speech in 2015. He then called for a complete ban on Muslims.
He said a federal judge could not be impartial because of his race. He expressed a preference for immigrants coming from Norway rather than Haiti. He blamed “both sides” for the violence emanating from a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But while Trump is historically unpopular at this point in his presidency, he still maintains a great deal of support within the Republican Party. Over the past two years, the small crew of Republicans in Congress who have criticized him has gotten smaller; some have retired, left the party or lost.
So it was no surprise that some Republicans still rallied to the President. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana tweeted that he “stood with” Trump, adding an American flag emoji.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said, “The President is not a racist.”
“I think this is really coming down to a battle about ideology,” he added. “It’s really kind of a socialist battle versus a thing that we believe within America.”
Trump himself denied that what he said was racist.
When asked if he was concerned that many did, Trump replied, “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me.”
Democrats roundly denounced the President. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump’s comments “drip with racism.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the chamber would vote on a resolution to condemn the President’s “xenophobic” comments. Rep. Al Green of Texas said he would bring an impeachment resolution to the floor in July, tweeting the hashtag #RacistPresident.
At a news conference with Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib, Pressley referred to Trump’s Twitter attacks on the four progressive Democratic congresswomen as a “disruptive distraction” and said that she would encourage the American people “to not take the bait.”
“This is simply a disruption and a distraction from the callous, chaotic and corrupt culture of this administration all the way down,” she said.