On Putin, Bullies, and WWIII

On Putin, Bullies, and WWIII

Cover Image: Putin meeting with China’s Xi Jinping on 2/4/22 during the Beijing Winter Olympics, shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Photo credit: http://www.kremlin.ru


Did you ever deal with a childhood bully? I did. Every day for years and years. He never stopped, and I never stopped him. I tried talking things out with him, befriending him, avoiding him, but nothing worked. It made no sense to me to use violence against him because violence itself made no sense to me. I also worried that if I allowed myself to feel enough anger to fight back, I wouldn’t know when to stop, and either I would kill him or he would kill me. And if we survived, I figured that he would treat me even worse after that. So instead I endured regular pummelings, daily humiliation and ridicule, and the constant threat of violence – either from him or from lower-tier bullies who saw from his example how easy it was to push me around.

As of this writing, nearly three weeks of war crimes have been taking place in Ukraine, some of them captured on video for all to see. The world had optimistically hoped that Putin would not be so bold as to invade another sovereign country with no provocation, but he did, plunging the citizens of Ukraine into a brutal war and a horror show of grim choices: abandon my home or fight and potentially die, split up my family or put them in danger, shoot my mortally wounded father lying in the road or let him bleed out. But how does this conflict differ from the other genocides over the past 60 years – Palestine, Rwanda, Congo, East Timor, Somalia, Myanmar, Syria? While it is potentially valuable for the Caucasians among us to examine how the skin pigment of the victims may be affecting our personal level of concern, I would argue that there is a geopolitical element that makes Ukraine different and particularly urgent: the global ambitions of Vladimir Putin and other dictators – ambitions which have only grown more intense as the United States of recent decades has come to be seen as a nation of weak, inconsistent leadership and internal disunity. In particular, Putin and China’s Xi not only wish to expand their nations’ borders, but have a feeling of entitlement to specific countries that they believe they are justified to “take back.”

Putin grew up in dire poverty in bombed-out post-WWII St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). He was bullied by local thugs and learned to become a bully and a thug himself. He had a deep sense of pride in his Soviet homeland and grew up to successfully pursue his dream of becoming a KGB officer. While many greeted the collapse of the Soviet Union with excitement and optimism, Putin viewed it as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” – the humiliating downfall of a glorious empire shattered into independent fragments as a result of American meddling. As President of Russia, Putin has decried NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an alliance of western nations formed after World War II) and sought its demise, in part because it is the most potent military force holding him back from invading the former Soviet nations, and in part because he sees more and more of those former Soviet nations seeking NATO membership.

A desire to stop NATO expansion and a nostalgic fantasy of reconstituting the USSR are the primary drives behind his invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s excuse that he is “denazifying” Ukraine is such an absurd and lazy rationale as to indicate a core belief that he shouldn’t even need an excuse to “take back what is rightly his.”

Map of NATO member nations in Europe, showing decade of membership.
Map of European nations that were once Soviet territories and Soviet satellite countries.

We have all admired the stunning bravery of Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people who have stayed to fight off the Russian invaders. From our relative comfort in the United States, we check the news, root for the Ukrainians, damn Putin, pray for a peaceful outcome, and hopefully make donations to humanitarian organizations helping civilians on the ground there. But this is nowhere near enough. The courage on display in Ukraine is not sustainable without real help, including military assistance. The 40-mile convoy of stranded Russian tanks north of Kyiv was a glaring opportunity for fighter jets to decimate a large portion of Putin’s army. Instead of providing such bombers, America sat by, with its most promising solution being a deal wherein Poland would give Ukraine Soviet-era jets and the US would backfill the Polish air force with American fighter jets. As that deal was discussed and ultimately fell apart, Russia got the needed fuel and supplies to the tanks, and now they are back on track and closing in on Kyiv.

So what do we do when they have Kyiv surrounded – with more fresh Russian troops arriving daily, when Ukrainian forces have run out of ammunition, when they’ve grown exhausted and sick because they are getting little sleep and their water and electricity and heating have all been cut off, when we wake up to the news that Zelenskyy is one of the many dead under a pile of rubble? Do we just feel sad, shrug, and wish that things had gone differently? The Ukrainians are outnumbered and outgunned, and their courage must be backed by steady outside help. We can at the very least provide them ample ammunition and weapons, including fighter jets, without hiding behind other countries in convoluted arrangements to do so. And we can also work covertly for the rapid elimination of Putin from the Russian Presidency.

A Ukrainian girl sits in a bomb shelter during a Russian attack.
Residential homes in Lysychansk, Ukraine bombed by Russia.

Putin has repeatedly mentioned his nuclear arsenal as a threat to anyone who might wish to step in and interfere with his slaughter of Ukrainian civilians. And in truth, the relative absence of the Russian Air Force from the current conflict may mean that he is keeping those forces on standby to deal with outsiders. Having grown up during the Cold War with the threat of nuclear annihilation constantly looming in the background of daily life, I take seriously the horror that a nuclear conflict would bring. But Putin seems to have turned the Cold War policy of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) on its head. Whereas in the past, it was a deterrent against Soviet use of nuclear weapons, Putin is using it as a cudgel to hold the world at bay while he does whatever he wants. And we’re accepting that.

So what is our red line before we are willing to get involved? Clearly it is not the commission of war crimes or the targeting of civilians. Is it the use of chemical weapons? Biological weapons? The death of Zelenskyy? Deliberate face-to-face executions of Ukrainian soldiers? Of civilians? Bulldozers loading them all into mass graves? The expansion of the invasion to Moldova? To Finland? Or do we simply do nothing until an actual NATO country is attacked?

Putin will decide what is or is not a provocation for him to use nuclear weapons, if he is actually willing to use them. And that provocation can be whatever he chooses – interference from America, a desire to save face after unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian resistance, a perceived slight from a world leader, anything. In the meantime, he is learning with each new atrocity that his initial calculation was correct: that he can do anything he wants as long as he occasionally uses the magic words “World War III” or “nukes.” Rest assured that China, who wishes to invade Taiwan, is learning by watching all of this as well. So do we wait for China – with a larger and far more potent military force than Russia – to make its move? Is that our red line? The farther out we push the boundary of what we will accept, the more dangerous the odds become.

Through action or inaction – either way – we are potentially provoking World War III. The difference is that action now has a chance of sending a message of deterrence to the world’s expansionist thugs. Inaction will hand us a pre-1945 world, where invasions of sovereign countries for the spoils of war are once again commonplace, borders are fluid, international rules become completely unenforceable and therefore nonexistent regarding things like the development of nuclear weapons, and fear becomes much more of a constant across the globe. Putin’s war on Ukraine is not just another military conflict in another country. It is a gateway to a new era of global lawlessness and conquest, and we have the choice right now whether we will be meekly dragged through that gate by a bully or if we will have the courage to use our strength to hold that gate shut.

– rob rünt

Impeachment Trial: Choose Your Poison, America

Impeachment Trial: Choose Your Poison, America

The Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump has left America on the brink of a decision between two horrible choices. We can empower a corrupt, amoral President to cheat in the 2020 Election without consequence, or we can enable a partisan Legislative Branch to embroil future Presidents in endless impeachments over non-impeachable acts. Neither is a good outcome.

The issue is not whether the President did what he is accused of. The issue is not even whether his actions were impeachable. Even some Republican Senators privately admit that Trump’s actions were wrong and impeachable.

The issues are our country’s highly unusual present circumstances, the flaws in the legal arguments by both sides, and the fact that supporting those flawed arguments without condition – on either side – establishes a perilous legal precedent that extends well beyond the Ukraine episode.

 

Unusual Circumstances

One unusual circumstance is simply the rarity of impeachment in our nation’s history, leaving us with little experience on which to base our thoughts about it.

Another is America’s current hyper-partisanship. Our nation’s Founders never anticipated 24/7 cable news and an internet that could allow every citizen to continuously marinate themselves in the reality of their choice – potentially to the exclusion of real facts. These separate realities keep us from truly hearing each others’ opinions even during face-to-face arguments: our ideas are not only competing on the grounds of differing logic and values, but on entirely differing “factual histories” regarding what has led up to the arguments in the first place.

Donald Trump himself adds to our unusual circumstances. He holds a sway over Republican lawmakers that is truly inexplicable. Even factoring in fear of tweets, the survival instinct of politicians, and a steady diet of Fox News, the fidelity and subservience to this President is bizarre.

As an example, in 2016, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) suggested that Trump had mafia ties, called him a “serial philanderer,” a “narcissist,” a “pathological liar,” and said that “morality doesn’t exist” for Trump. Now Cruz is an eager and aggressive defender of Trump.

Similarly, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) once believed that Donald Trump was a “kook,” “crazy,” and “unfit for office.” Now another Trump sycophant, Graham recently said that he was not interested in even hearing evidence or testimony against the President. This is the atmosphere in which the impeachment trial in the Senate is taking place.

Trump’s own behavior has added to the unprecedented political atmosphere. He has doubled down on his requests for foreign governments to interfere in America’s 2020 Election. He announced during a 6/16/19 interview with George Stephanopoulos that he would be open to hearing dirt that foreign governments might offer him on his opponents – something which the head of the FEC quickly pointed out would be illegal. And when his Ukraine activities were exposed, he publicly called on China to also investigate the Bidens during a 10/3/19 press conference. Perhaps committing a crime out in the open in broad daylight seems less criminal.

The President has also recently made a huge fundraising push for Senators who are jurors in his impeachment trial. He is believed to be using other behind-the-scenes “carrots and sticks” to ensure the votes of Republican Senators in his trial as well.

Lastly, the proximity of the 2020 Election – now just over nine months away – has also created an unusual situation. It added unique urgency for the House to move forward quickly with impeachment proceedings to prevent the President from engaging in further solicitation of interference by foreign governments before it was too late.

But Trump used that urgency to his advantage. He refused to comply with any House Democrats’ subpoenas for witnesses and documents, instead sending them off to be tied up in the courts for months or years. He then issued a blanket order that nobody in the Executive Branch was to cooperate with the investigation, potentially leaving the House without any key witnesses until past the 2020 Election, and allowing the President to continue soliciting help for his campaign from foreign governments. So the House chose not to wait for the courts, instead conducting impeachment hearings with the few witnesses and documents that they were able to get, so that they could move the issue on to the Senate for trial.

The resulting lack of key witnesses, however, enabled Trump’s defense team to say that the House had come to the impeachment trial “unprepared” because they did not have all of the witnesses and documents that they had subpoenaed, and had not waited for the court system (likely to be delayed further by numerous appeals) to compel them.

 

The Democrats’ Legal Flaw

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) argued passionately, skillfully and powerfully before the Senate for the President’s removal from office, making a strong case that Trump’s corruption, placement of self before country, and lack of judgment make him a danger to the nation that he leads. While Schiff’s case was strong, the wording of the Articles of Impeachment themselves gave Trump’s defense team a legitimate counter-argument.

The language of the Constitution is unclear regarding the level of criminal activity required to remove a President from office. The first Article of Impeachment from the House accuses Trump of “abuse of power.” While it is clear that the President did abuse his power, and it is undeniable that the Founders did not want a President to be able to abuse power, the wording of this charge is so vague and subjective that it could allow future Congresses to impeach based on simple policy disputes.

The President’s actions would fall under the specific crime of bribery, a crime which the Founders did specify as warranting removal from office. But Trump’s defense seized on the technicality of the “abuse of power” language to argue that the President should stay in office.

This is outrageous, leaving America with a dangerously corrupt President, but the legal precedent set by removing him from office for a vague “abuse of power” would also be dangerous to our country. Especially in our partisan political environment, the opposing political party will often consider disagreeable acts or policies by the President to be abuses of power. Making “abuse of power” impeachable could easily lead to impeachment and removal becoming a standard part of holding the office of President. Under such criteria for removal from office, for example, President Obama would likely have been impeached and removed for pushing forward the Affordable Care Act or other Executive Orders that the GOP viewed as abuses of power.

 

The Trump Team’s Legal Flaws

Trump’s legal team presented numerous arguments for the President: that we cannot know for certain what Trump’s thoughts and motives were when he pressured the Ukrainian President, that no new evidence or witness testimony should be allowed because the House should not have gone to trial without all the witnesses and documents, that the House had no key witnesses and therefore had a weak case, that removing Trump from office would overturn the American people’s 2016 vote (any impeachment and removal, by definition, overturns a vote).

But perhaps the most staggering argument about Trump’s coercion of the Ukrainian President was made by attorney Alan Dershowitz, who proclaimed “Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest…. If a President does something which he believes would help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

Accepting this argument by acquitting Trump means that Trump’s political campaign activities can legitimately be wrapped into official U.S. foreign policy. So what will it be? A trade deal more favorable to China in exchange for an investigation into the Bidens? Inviting Russia to help America with election security issues in 2020? All good. Given this President’s particular penchant for pushing boundaries, it is almost certain that he will engage in more such acts – and probably more aggressively than he has until now – if acquitted.

While Dershowitz’s argument is a stunning deviation from our traditional understanding of the Constitution and Presidential power, the implications of it are all the more horrifying for America’s future when one considers that if the President is acquitted (as seems likely), the argument goes into the legal record as part of why he was acquitted. In other words, it becomes legal precedent. From then on, such Presidential misconduct is no longer even worthy of the Legislative Branch’s attention. It will already have been established that using the power of the Presidency for personal campaign activities is acceptable conduct.

Another argument put forward by Trump’s defense is that, with the election coming up in just nine months, it would be wrong to remove Trump from office. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) summed it up the day before he voted not to allow new evidence or witnesses: “There is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven…. The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did.”

This might be a reasonable and defensible position under most questions about Presidential misconduct. But what Alexander said has been proven is that Trump used his Presidential power to pursue his own personal campaign advantage in the upcoming 2020 Election – an election whose outcome can easily be impacted by further misbehavior. So acquitting Trump also establishes the nonsensical legal precedent that a President cannot be removed from office during an election year, even for engaging in illegal activity to change the outcome of that election.

 

A Possible Solution

The House impeachment managers and the Trump defense team have both made their cases clearly and have had plenty of time to do so, given the Senate’s refusal to hear from new witnesses as damning new revelations coming out daily. The damage to the country by accepting either side’s arguments should be clear. Yet in our current political climate, where dire predictions have become commonplace, the warnings seem like hyperbole, and the predictions may fall on deaf ears with Senators. They are not hyperbole.

A small and unlikely hope exists for avoiding either of the potential Constitutional catastrophes. If Supreme Court Justice Roberts, who has been presiding over the trial, recognizes the perilous place that our Constitution is in as we teeter on the edge of either of two bad outcomes, he can step in. He is the one participant who has the potential to be objective, and presumably has the judicial wisdom to offer a solution.

One possibility is that he could allow the decision to proceed, but could weigh in on how the prosecution and defense arguments have diverged from the Constitution as we have known it. This would give those arguments less legal weight as precedent for handling future instances of Presidential misconduct.

Another possibility is that Justice Roberts could offer an alternative that is neither removal nor acquittal: censure. This would put on record and establish as precedent what many Republican Senators have acknowledged privately – that what the President did was wrong and unacceptable. It is not the degree of consequence that many Democrats think the President’s actions deserve, but it could alleviate some of the danger of simply acquitting the President, which Fox News commentators are already saying would mean that Trump should be seen as completely innocent.

Sadly, Roberts seems pained to intercede in the trial in any way, for fear of creating the perception that the Judicial Branch is just as biased and partisan as the Executive and Legislative Branches. Unfortunately, his courage is desperately needed right now. Without it, the best that we can likely say is that the U.S. Constitution had a pretty good 244-year run.

– rob rünt

What About Crowdstrike?

What About Crowdstrike?

Crowdstrike is the cybersecurity company that investigated the 2016 hacking of the DNC and Clinton Campaign servers and found the hack to have come from two Russian groups that they nicknamed “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear.” U.S. Intelligence agreed with this assessment. Robert Mueller’s report (p. 36-50) also agreed, identifying the groups as Russian Military Units 26165 and 74455 of the GRU, an intelligence agency of the Russian military. Mueller issued indictments for 12 members of those groups.

During the House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearings, Republicans like U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) echoed a Russia-originated conspiracy theory that Ukraine had actually hacked the DNC and Clinton servers to frame Russia, and were assisted by Crowdstrike, because its owner is “Ukrainian.” Crowdstrike’s co-owner, Dmitri Alpertovitch, is a Russian-born American citizen.

Developing evidence that Crowdstrike was part of a Ukrainian effort to meddle in the 2016 election would help Putin by shifting blame from Russia and muddying the waters of the findings of Robert Mueller and the U.S. intelligence community. It would also give Trump an opportunity to claim that his 2016 victory was made without Russian interference, or at least in spite of Ukrainian interference.


“I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike.”

Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
(From transcript of 7/25/19 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky)


“I don’t think that raising 2016 elections or Vice President Biden or these things I consider to be conspiracy theories […are…] things that we should be pursuing as part of our national security strategy with Ukraine.”

Kurt Volker
Former US Special Envoy to Ukraine
(11/19/19)


“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”

Fiona Hill
Former White House Adviser, Former Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs
(11/21/19)


For more info, visit Trump-Ukraine Central


– rob rünt

What About the Bidens?

What About the Bidens?

Burisma Holdings is the largest Ukrainian company in the oil and gas sector. From 2014 to 2019, Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden, served on Burisma’s Board of Directors and was paid $50,000/month. Because then-Vice President Joe Biden was American’s point person on Ukraine, many rightfully say that his son’s role at Burisma gave an appearance, at the very least, of conflict of interest.

Several of Ukraine’s Prosecutor Generals had investigated Burisma for corruption over the years, including during Hunter Biden’s time there. However, Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, appointed in 2015, was notable for hampering a number of anti-corruption investigations, including investigations into Burisma. Consistent with official U.S. policy, and consistent with the wishes of the EU nations, in early 2016, Vice President Biden publicly called for Shokin to be removed from office as a condition of Ukraine getting $1 billion in loan guarantees from the United States. Shokin’s removal would, of course, do the opposite of benefitting Burisma, because it would mean the potential for a new Ukrainian Prosecutor General who would go after corruption.

During the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, many Republicans pointed to Biden pushing for Shokin’s ouster as evidence of Joe Biden using U.S. government power in a corrupt effort to enrich his son. They equated this to Donald Trump withholding $400 million in U.S. military aid from Ukraine until Zelensky publicly announced investigations into Crowdstrike and Burisma. They equate the quiet, behind-the-scenes machinations of Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, with Biden’s public efforts.

Implicating Biden’s son and potentially Joe Biden himself serves Trump’s agenda by discrediting the candidate about whom Trump’s aides have said that Trump is most concerned in the 2020 election.

For then-Vice President Joe Biden to have been America’s point person on Ukraine while his son Hunter was serving. lucrative position on the board of a Ukrainian energy company gave, at best, the appearance of a conflict of interest. Was it right for Trump to ask Ukraine for an investigation of this specific situation? No. Would it have been appropriate to mention Burisma as one of many specific issues in the context of a broad statement encouraging Zelensky to take on corruption? Probably.

However, the withholding of Congressionally approved military aid, the use of a communications channel outside of the normal diplomatic channels, and the secrecy around Trump’s activities all points to the investigation of the Biden’s not being about corruption in Ukraine, but about domestic American politics.


“…in February of 2015, I raised my concern that Hunter Biden’s status as a board member could create the perception of a conflict of interest. Let me be clear, however: I did not witness any effort by any US official to shield Burisma from scrutiny. In fact, I and other US officials consistently advocated re-instituting a scuttled investigation of Zlochevsky, Burisma’s founder, as well as holding the corrupt prosecutors who closed the case to account.”

George Kent
Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Eastern Europe and the Caucuses
(11/13/19)


“We fully anticipated the Ukrainians would raise the issue of meeting, of a meeting between the presidents. Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short when Ambassador Sondland started to speak about the requirement that Ukraine deliver specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with President Trump. Following this meeting, there was a short debriefing during which Ambassador Sondland emphasized the importance of Ukraine delivering the investigations into the 2016 elections, the Bidens and Burisma. I stated to Ambassador Sondland that this was inappropriate and it had nothing to do with national security. Dr. Hill also asserted his comments weren’t proper.”

U.S. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman
National Security Counsel Ukraine Expert, Director for European Affairs
(11/19/19)


“It’s not credible to me that former Vice President Biden would have been influenced in any way by financial or personal motives in carrying out his duties as vice president.”

Kurt Volker
Former US Special Envoy to Ukraine
(11/19/19)


“As I previously testified, I have known Vice President Biden for 24 years, he is an honorable man and I hold him in the highest regard. At no time was I aware of or knowingly took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden.”

Kurt Volker
Former US Special Envoy to Ukraine
(11/19/19)


For more info, visit Trump-Ukraine Central


– rob rünt

Who Else Appears to Have Been Helping Trump?

Who Else Appears to Have Been Helping Trump?

According to testimonies during the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings people who appear to have been involved in helping the President commit potentially impeachable acts were:

  • Rudolph Giuliani, personal attorney for Donald Trump
  • Mick Mulvaney, White House Chief of Staff and head of Office of Management and Budget
  • Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State
  • Rick Perry, U.S. Secretary of Energy
  • Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union
  • Kurt Volker, former US Special Envoy to Ukraine
  • Ulrich Brechbuehl, Counselor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
  • Lisa Kenna, State Department Executive Secretary
  • Lev Parnas, associate of Rudolph Giuliani
  • Igor Fruman, associate of Rudolph Giuliani
  • Viktor Shoken, former Ukrainian Prosecutor General
  • Yuriy Lutsenko, former Ukrainian Prosecutor General

 


“I encountered an irregular, informal channel of US policy-making with respect to Ukraine, unaccountable to Congress, a channel that included then-Special Envoy Kurt Volker, US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and, as I subsequently learned, Mr. Giuliani. I was clearly in the regular channel, but I was also in the irregular one to the extent that Ambassadors Volker and Sondland including me in certain conversations. Although this irregular channel was well-connected in Washington, it operated mostly outside of official State Department channels.”

William Taylor
Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine
(11/13/19)


“Over the course of 2018 and 2019 I became increasingly aware of an effort by Rudy Giuliani and others, including his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, to run a campaign to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch and other officials at the US embassy in Kiev. The chief agitators on the Ukrainian side of this effort were some of those same corrupt former prosecutors I had encountered, particularly [inaudible 00:12:50] and Viktor Shoken. They were now peddling false information in order to extract revenge against those who had exposed their misconduct, including US diplomats, Ukrainian anti-corruption officials, and reform-minded civil society groups in Ukraine. During the late spring and summer of 2019 I became alarmed as those efforts bore fruit. They led to the ouster of Ambassador Yovanovitch and hampered US efforts to establish rapport with the new Zelensky administration in Ukraine.”

George Kent
Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Eastern Europe and the Caucuses
(11/13/19)


“I do not understand Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me, nor can I offer an opinion on whether he believe the allegations he spread about me. Clearly, no one at the State Department did. What I can say is that Mr. Giuliani should have known those claims were suspect, coming as they reportedly did from individuals with questionable motives and with reason to believe that their political and financial ambitions would be stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”

Marie/Masha Yovanovitch
Former US Ambassador to Ukraine
(11/15/19)


“From July 7, 2017, until September 27th, 2019, I was the lead US diplomat dealing with Russia’s war on Ukraine. My role was not some irregular channel, but the official channel.”

Kurt Volker
Former US Special Envoy to Ukraine
(11/19/19)


“The problem was that despite the unanimous positive assessment and recommendations of those of us who were part of the US presidential delegation that attended the inauguration of President Zelensky, President Trump was receiving a different negative narrative about Ukraine and President Zelensky. That narrative was fueled by accusations from Ukraine’s then Prosecutor General [Yuriy Lutsenko] and conveyed to the President by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.”

Kurt Volker
Former US Special Envoy to Ukraine
(11/19/19)


“After weeks of reassuring the Ukrainians that it was just a scheduling issue, I decided to tell President Zelensky that we had a problem with the information reaching President Trump from Mayor Giuliani. I did so in a bilateral meeting at a conference on Ukrainian economic reform in Toronto on July 2nd, 2019 where I led the US delegation.”

Kurt Volker
Former US Special Envoy to Ukraine
(11/19/19)


 “The suggestion that we were engaged in some irregular or rogue diplomacy is absolutely false. Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”

Gordon Sondland
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union
(11/20/19)


“We followed the president’s orders.”

Gordon Sondland
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union
(11/20/19) 


“Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the president of the United States. We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt.”

Gordon Sondland
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union
(11/20/19) 


“That included communications with Secretary of State Pompeo, his Counselor Ulrich Brechbuehl, and Executive Secretary Lisa Kenna within the State Department. They knew what we were doing and why.”

Gordon Sondland
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union
(11/20/19)


 “We saw [Giuliani] often on television making these statements, and I had already brought to Ambassador Bolton’s attention the attacks, the smear campaign against Ambassador Yovanovitch, and expressed great regret about how this was unfolding. And, in fact, the shameful way in which Ambassador Yovanovitch was being smeared and attacked, and I’d asked if there was anything that we could do about it. And Ambassador Bolton had looked pained, basically indicated with body language that there was nothing much that we could do about it, and he then, in the course of that discussion, said that Rudy Giuliani was a hand grenade that was going to blow everyone up.”

Fiona Hill
Former White House Adviser, Former Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs
(11/21/19)


“Over the following months, it became apparent that Mr. Giuliani was having a direct influence on the foreign policy agenda that the Three Amigos were executing on the ground in Ukraine. In fact, at one point during a preliminary meeting of the inauguration delegation, someone wondered aloud about why Mr. Giuliani was so active in the media with respect to Ukraine. My recollection is that Ambassador Sondland stated, “Dammit Rudy. Every time Rudy gets involved he goes and f–s everything up.”

David Holmes
Counselor for Political Affairs at the US Embassy in Ukraine
(11/21/19)


“Mr. Lutsenko also claimed that he had never received $4.4 million in US funds intended for his office, and that there was a tape of a Ukrainian official saying that he was trying to help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 election.”

David Holmes
Counselor for Political Affairs at the US Embassy in Ukraine
(11/21/19)


“Around the same time, I became aware that Mr. Giuliani, a private lawyer, was taking a direct role in Ukrainian diplomacy.”

David Holmes
Counselor for Political Affairs at the US Embassy in Ukraine
(11/21/19)


For more info, visit Trump-Ukraine Central


– rob rünt

Is There Another Explanation for What Happened With Ukraine?

Is There Another Explanation for What Happened With Ukraine?

One strategy used by criminal defense attorneys, especially when they know that the evidence points clearly to their client’s guilt, is to present as many alternative theories as possible to muddy the waters and sow doubt in the minds of the jury. During the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, many Republicans on the committee have taken on this role. This section addresses those theories.

  1. This was all part of official U.S. foreign policy 
  2. Trump wanted to root out corruption in Ukraine 
  3. Trump wanted the EU to pay its fair share of Ukraine aid 
  4. Trump was being fiscally responsible with U.S. tax dollars 
  5. The Ukrainians didn’t even know that aid was being withheld 
  6. There was no pressure on Ukraine – President Zelensky said so 
  7. Zelensky didn’t do what Trump wanted, so no crime 
  8. Trump said emphatically “no quid pro quo” 
  9. These were rogue operators – Trump was not involved 
  10. It was legitimate to ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens 
  11. It was legitimate to ask Ukraine to investigate Crowdstrike 
  12. This is how politics works: we pressure other countries 
  13. The Democrats keep changing the charges 
  14. The hearings were unfair or illegitimate 
  15. All testimony was meaningless because the Whistleblower didn’t testify 
  16. All testimony was meaningless because few of the witnesses actually talked with President Trump 
  17. It looks bad, but who knows what was really in the President’s heart


For more info, visit Trump-Ukraine Central


– rob rünt

It Looks Bad, But Who Knows What was Really in the President’s Heart

It Looks Bad, But Who Knows What was Really in the President’s Heart

This is true. None of us knows what the President was thinking, and this may be his best defense. Similarly, one does not know what is in the heart of the man in a mask pointing a gun at the bank teller and handing them a note saying “give me all the money.” He could just be making an ordinary withdrawal while exercising his Second Amendment rights and making an unusual fashion choice.

A reasonable person, looking at the evidence and witness testimony, would conclude that the President was abusing his power.


For more info, visit Trump-Ukraine Central


– rob rünt

All Testimony was Meaningless Because the Whistleblower Didn’t Testify

All Testimony was Meaningless Because the Whistleblower Didn’t Testify

This is similar to saying that the witnesses to a bank robbery have nothing of value to say unless it is made known who called the cops. The tipster’s identity is irrelevant if there is evidence of a crime.

The push to expose the Whistleblower was an attempt by Republicans to delegitimize the hearings. They knew that, realistically, the Whistleblower’s life would be in danger if his or her identity was made public, and for that reason, the Democrats would not force the Whistleblower to testify. By raising this as an issue, Republicans could make it appear that the Democrats were trying to hide some important piece of evidence that would vindicate the President.


For more info, visit Trump-Ukraine Central


– rob rünt

The Hearings were Unfair or Illegitimate

The Hearings were Unfair or Illegitimate

The way Adam Schiff ran the impeachment hearings was not ideal. He continuously silenced Republican members and would not allow many of their requested witnesses to testify. He also had a clear bias against the President.

However, his role was to uncover evidence of wrongdoing by the President, which he did, and Republican members often appeared to want to call irrelevant witnesses and divert the topic into conspiracy theories.

Objectively, it seems that it would have been appropriate for Hunter Biden or Joe Biden to have been called to testify, and Schiff prevented that from happening.

Ultimately, the hearings themselves may not have been completely fair, and some could argue that the impeachment hearings for Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon were not completely fair. However, the law was followed, the process was legitimate, and an impeachment investigation is absolutely the correct, appropriate, and Constitutionally required action when a President appears to have abused his or her power.


For more info, visit Trump-Ukraine Central


– rob rünt

The Democrats Keep Changing the Charges

The Democrats Keep Changing the Charges

“The offense itself changes depending on the day, ranging from quid pro quo, to extortion, to bribery, to obstruction of justice, then back to quid pro quo.”

Devin Nunes
U.S. Representative, CA and Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee
(11/21/19)


Most of these are synonyms. “Quid pro quo” is Latin meaning “that for this,” and is a description of bribery. From a legal perspective, bribery and extortion are the same thing, involving an attempt to persuade someone to do something in exchange for something else.

Obstruction of justice is a separate charge, and refers to the actions taken by the President to hide evidence, prevent witnesses from testifying, and intimidate witnesses and members of Congress – acts that the President engaged in during the impeachment hearings.


For more info, visit Trump-Ukraine Central


– rob rünt