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Blast radius / November 21, 2019
The Trumpsters and their lackeys in Congress had a grand plan to run the bus over anyone who tried to tie the president to a bribery and extortion scheme with Ukraine to sabotage the 2020 presidential election.

In Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, the Trump bus backed over an IED instead.

Internationally explosive developments, idiotically executed “diplomacy” — it was all there Wednesday in the Capitol Hill committee room where Democrats and Republicans have been sparring all week in impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. None of the defenses offered by Republicans for the Trump Administration’s sleazy actions in the Ukraine scandal had been looking all that hot up to this point, but Sondland’s testimony on his role in the shakedown obliterated the GOP’s already buckling talking points, with hot shards flying everywhere.

You may have seen Sondland’s testimony for yourself, or read or heard about it on the news — I hear the boys at Fox News were even starting to go wobbly on Wednesday — but if not, here’s the upshot: the ambassador, a wealthy hotelier and Trump megadonor, a regular Republican Party fanboy if you will, testified under oath that the president ordered the halt of badly-needed military aid to Ukraine in its war against Russia unless the country’s newly elected reformist president was willing to announce two investigations. Let’s take them one by one.

The first investigation was supposed to be into Ukraine’s alleged role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Not only is this utterly daft — Ukraine didn’t do jack to influence our vote, as everyone outside the right-wing fever swamp has publicly testified to Congress — it’s also a baldface attempt to draw attention away from Russia’s efforts to smear Hilary Clinton in 2016 and get Trump elected to the White House. The U.S. intelligence community is of the unanimous view that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump and hurt Clinton (although the Trump campaign’s actions to solicit or receive help remain a matter of some debate.) This intelligence community assessment, of course, has been widely dismissed by Republicans as the “Deep State” attempting to torpedo Trump’s presidency, and if you believe this nonsense, then surely you’ve already checked out by now and hopefully have moved onto our comics page to try your hand at Sudoku.

The second investigation sought by Trump was into the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, which put Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden, on its board of directors. Look, you’ll hear no defense of Hunter Biden here, except by way of noting that palm-greasing and buck-raking is an old game played in Washington (and internationally), with bipartisan participation as far as the eye can see. (Ask Ivanka, Jared and Donald Jr. how much money their foreign sugar daddies are good for.) The Burisma/Biden investigation was cooked up solely as a pretense to charge Joe Biden with the sort of corruption that Trump enjoys every day with breakfast. Sondland noted in his testimony that Trump didn’t care about the actual investigations — he just wanted Ukraine to say it was probing the Bidens, legit reasons not required. A good rule of thumb for understanding these people is every accusation is actually an admission.

The Biden scandal, the Ukrainian interference, it’s all a crock, everyone knows it’s a crock, and for any remaining doubters, Ambassador Sondland — a Trump appointee! — laid it out in full to Congress. Trump wanted to bribe and blackmail Ukraine into launching a smear campaign against the Bidens so as to boost his re-election prospects next year. And lots of people at the highest levels of the administration knew exactly what was happening — a “quid pro quo,” Sondland testified, concerning a “logjam” on the release of Congressionally-authorized security aid to Ukraine — all because our president sought to coerce their president into doing dirty work for the Trump re-election campaign. “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret,” Sondland said.

“Everyone” in this case means Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Vice President Pence (in all likelihood) and others, most especially Rudy Giuliani, the unhinged personal lawyer to the president. What a bunch of grifters, goons and maroons. Packed together on a bus. And then it all just went boom.

If you don’t care about any of what’s happening here — that the commander-in-chief of the United States would use his presidential powers for corrupt ends to his own benefit, subverting official acts of Congress and weaponizing the United States’ foreign influence to bully a weaker and struggling ally, all the time running a thugocracy and getting away with it — then you might as well light up a pitchfork and burn the Constitution now. This is exactly the kind of corrupt intent that inspired the Founding Fathers to put impeachment language in the United States Constitution, as a removal mechanism for a would-be king in place of a president who would represent the people through democratically executed, fair elections. If Trump gets away with this, at what point in the future does he stop? Anything other than “never” is not an answer.

So, let’s drop the pretense: either we believe in our national self-conception of the United States as a beacon of liberty and democracy, a shining city on the hill to guide other more wanton nations of the world, or we don’t. Clearly the Republicans in Congress have little or no interest in upholding the nation’s integrity or rule of law, but how about the State Department and foreign advisory witnesses who have gone before Congress to bravely tell their stories — of helping other nations and other people live and breathe free, pursue dignity and happiness, out of the firm belief that the United States has a unique role in play in advancing these quests? These folks — these heroes, quite honestly — seem to believe America shouldn’t be playing the role of mob boss offering “protection” for self-interested, corrupt purpose.

So what do you think?

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