Trump campaign is soliciting foreign assistance – again – in 2020

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This will be long, but bear with me.

Ken Vogel of the New York Times reported that vampire “Bat Boy,” Rudy Giuliani Plans Ukraine Trip to Push for Inquiries That Could Help Trump:

Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, is encouraging Ukraine to wade further into sensitive political issues in the United States, seeking to push the incoming government in Kiev to press ahead with investigations that he hopes will benefit Mr. Trump.

Mr. Giuliani said he plans to travel to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, in the coming days and wants to meet with the nation’s president-elect to urge him to pursue inquiries that allies of the White House contend could yield new information about two matters of intense interest to Mr. Trump.

One is the origin of the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The other is the involvement of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son in a gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch.

Mr. Giuliani’s plans create the remarkable scene of a lawyer for the president of the United States pressing a foreign government to pursue investigations that Mr. Trump’s allies hope could help him in his re-election campaign. And it comes after Mr. Trump spent more than half of his term facing questions about whether his 2016 campaign conspired with a foreign power.

“We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview on Thursday when asked about the parallel to the special counsel’s inquiry.

“There’s nothing illegal about it,” he said. “Somebody could say it’s improper. And this isn’t foreign policy — I’m asking them to do an investigation that they’re doing already and that other people are telling them to stop. And I’m going to give them reasons why they shouldn’t stop it because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”

Mr. Giuliani’s planned trip, which has not been previously reported, is part of a monthslong effort by the former New York mayor and a small group of Trump allies working to build interest in the Ukrainian inquiries. Their motivation is to try to discredit the special counsel’s investigation; undermine the case against Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s imprisoned former campaign chairman; and potentially to damage Mr. Biden, the early front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Soooo, the lesson learned from the 2016 election and Robert Mueller’s failure to charge anyone in the Trump crime family with conspiring with the Russians is that as long as you do it out in the open, you can get away with it. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” Trump said, and hours later Russian hackers attempted to do exactly that. So this is where we are now, unpatriotic Republican “useful idiots” like Rudy Giuliani, Trump Lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s Mysterious Ties To Russia And Former Soviet Union Go Back Decades, are openly engaging in “collusion” with foreign governments to interfere in American elections to benefit the GOP. They are “fellow travelers” of Vladimir Putin and will do it again in 2020.

More about this at the end.

But wait … what about these two right-wing conspiracy theories that “Bat Boy” is pursuing, (1) the “deep state” FBI “coup” against the Trump campaign, and (2) the attempt to smear Joe Biden with an attack on his son?

The Times article introduced the “usual suspects” right-wing cast of characters:

Mr. Giuliani has been working on the effort with other allies of Mr. Trump whose involvement has not been previously reported, including Victoria Toensing, a lawyer who was named last year, along with her husband, Joseph E. diGenova, as part of the legal team representing the president in the special counsel’s investigation.

On social media and in regular appearances on Fox News, the couple advanced the theory that the special counsel’s investigation was the result of a Justice Department effort to frame Mr. Trump. They increasingly began pushing the claim that “the real collusion began in @Ukraine,” as Ms. Toensing put it in a post on Twitter in March.

* * *

Also involved in planning the trip and pushing the investigations is Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian-American businessman who knows Mr. Giuliani well.

Mr. Parnas is an executive of an energy company that donated $325,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC last year, prompting a Federal Election Commission complaint by a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog accusing Mr. Parnas, his business partner and the company of violating campaign finance laws.

Mr. Giuliani has done work in Ukraine before, having been hired in 2017 by the Ukrainian-Russian developer Pavel Fuks.

Mr. Giuliani described that work as related to emergency management consulting, but Mr. Fuks said in an interview that he hired Mr. Giuliani as “a lobbyist for Kharkiv and Ukraine” to lure American investors. “This is stated in the contract.”

The New York Times “planted the seed” of this right-wing conspiracy theory from shady sources to smear Joe Biden’s son and lend credibility to this latest Trump talking point.

But Bloomberg News disputed the Times reporting two days before it was published. As the Washington Post’s media critic Eric Wemple explains in a richly detailed report, New York Times, Bloomberg square off over Biden-Ukraine reporting (excerpts):

There’s an important sentence in a recent New York Times story on presidential candidate Joe Biden: “No evidence has surfaced that the former vice president intentionally tried to help his son by pressing for the prosecutor general’s dismissal,” notes the story, by Ken Vogel and Iuliia Mendel. It arrives in the 19th paragraph of a story that starts with this headline: “Biden Faces Conflict of Interest Questions That Are Being Promoted by Trump and Allies.”

In those first 19 paragraphs is a knot of details bound to be mangled by cable-news hosts and pundits in the coming months.

* * *

There’s solid evidence to back up the former vice president. For example, after Biden began serving as emissary to Eastern Europe, the Obama administration pushed Ukraine to cooperate in a British investigation into Zlochevsky — something that may not have happened had the vice president been looking out for his son’s business interests.

And now Bloomberg News has challenged the Times’s reporting. Reporters Stephanie Baker and Daryna Krasnolutska cite a former Ukrainian official and “Ukrainian documents” to allege that the investigation into Burisma was “dormant” at the time that Biden had appealed for the ouster of prosecutor Shokin. The implication here is that Biden, in fact, couldn’t have been acting in the interests of his son because the prosecutor he was seeking to unseat wasn’t even investigating his son’s employer. “There was no pressure from anyone from the U.S. to close cases against Zlochevsky,” former Ukrainian official Vitaliy Kasko told Bloomberg. “It was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.”

Not so, counters the Times. The Times says it stands behind its reporting.

* * *

Bloomberg, however, disputes [the Times’] version of events. “[Lutsenko spokeswoman Larysa] Sargan said the prosecutor general hasn’t reopened the case into Burisma or Zlochevsky, contradicting a claim in the New York Times that the Ukrainian prosecutor is scrutinizing millions of dollars of payments from Burisma to the firm that paid Hunter Biden,” reads the story.

* * *

From the weeds to the weird: The Ukraine-prosecutor-Joe Biden-Hunter Biden story reflects extensive promotion from former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the Trump lawyer who’s usually “clarifying” stray remarks made on one cable TV segment or another. As the New York Times reported, Giuliani has met with both the ousted and current Ukrainian prosecutors — primarily to discuss material supporting some Republicans’ claims that Democrats worked with Ukrainians to plant the seeds for the special counsel investigation. “I can assure you this all started with an allegation about possible Ukrainian involvement in the investigation of Russian meddling, and not Biden,” Giuliani told the Times. “The Biden piece is collateral to the bigger story, but must still be investigated, but without the prejudgments that infected the collusion story.”

It’s funny how Giuliani’s investigative priorities are mirrored in the work of John Solomon, an opinion contributor for The Hill, spinner of flimsy journalism and mainstay of Sean Hannity’s conspiracy hour on Fox News. “Ukrainian to US prosecutors: Why don’t you want our evidence on Democrats?” reads the headline of a Solomon piece from last month. In another April piece — “Joe Biden’s 2020 Ukrainian nightmare: A closed probe is revived” — Solomon writes, “U.S. and Ukrainian authorities both told me Biden and his office clearly had to know about the general prosecutor’s probe of Burisma and his son’s role.”

On Monday night, Solomon’s buddy Hannity said on his Hunter piece, “And don’t forget of course allegations of international corruption that continue to creep closer and closer to [Biden’s] son and his work in Ukraine and in China.

Though the Times links to a Solomon story on Biden, the newspaper is careful to note that its story didn’t originate there. In her statement, Bevacqua says the roots of the story lie in 2015, when then-New York Times reporter James Risen wrote on the conflict of interest within the Biden family.

* * *

The Times’s Vogel-Mendel collaboration asserts that the details of the story “show how Hunter Biden and his American business partners were part of a broad effort by Burisma to bring in well-connected Democrats during a period when the company was facing investigations backed not just by domestic Ukrainian forces but by officials in the Obama administration.” The willingness of such pols to accept big bucks from foreign interests is a good story any time, including presidential election season.

Reporters have months and months to chase down some evidence that Hunter Biden’s wheeling and dealing influenced Joe Biden’s policymaking, though current signals indicate the opposite. For breathless updates, check in with The Hill, Fox News and Giuliani’s Twitter account.

Eric Boehlert of Media Matters adds, New York Times gets caught peddling bogus GOP attack on Democratic candidate—again:

If you were to create a Top Ten list of the biggest journalism sins of the 2016 campaign, The New York Times’ alliance with the partisan Republican Clinton Cash author who pushed the fake Uranium One story would surely be lodged near the top of that inventory of failures. The Times spent the 2016 election season buddying up to a Breitbart-friendly writer, Peter Schweizer, who concocted a wild tale about how Clinton, as secretary of state, sold America’s uranium supply to the highest bidder. (She did not.)

Recently, the Times was back at it, pushing the same author’s conspiratorial work, this time targeting Democratic front runner Joe Biden. Once again, the results were embarrassing and were quickly debunked. The Times newsroom appears to have learned nothing from its 2016 failures.

* * *

Schweizer has been peddling this narrative all year. And which major news outlet stepped forward to broadcast the bogus smear campaign against Biden with a front-page piece that hinted at illegal behavior and expensive pay-offs? The New York Times, which also noted that Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has been working hard to gin up the supposed Biden conflict-of-interest scandal by speaking to the Ukraine’s new prosecutor and keeping Trump updated on the story. (Both Giuliani and Trump are suggesting the Department of Justice look into the matter.)

On Tuesday though, a Bloomberg report that included more details about the Ukrainian timeline appeared to demolish the smear campaign, noting that the supposed investigation into the Hunter Biden-affiliated company had been shelved in 2014, two years before Joe Biden became involved. “It undercuts the idea that Biden, now a top Democratic presidential candidate, was seeking to sideline a prosecutor who was actively threatening a company tied to his son,” Bloomberg noted. “Instead, it appears more consistent with Biden’s previous statements that he was pressing for the removal of a prosecutor who was failing to tackle rampant corruption.”

The Bloomberg article also contains an on-the-record denial that the current Ukrainian prosecutor general has reopened the case into Burisma or Zlochevsky, which served as a lynchpin for the Times’ Biden expose. (A spokesperson for the paper told Bloomberg it stood by its original Biden report.)

“The Times’s hand-in-glove arrangement with [Steven] Bannon’s “Clinton Cash” project was one of the major press fiascoes of the 2016 cycle,” former Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon told Politico last week. “It is mind-blowing and journalistically reckless that the Times is going down this road again. The Times is making itself an accomplice to a scheme whereby Trump likely intends to put his potential Democratic opponent under federal investigation for partisan reasons.”

Update: President Donald Trump told POLITICO on Friday that it would be “appropriate” for him to speak to Attorney General Bill Barr about launching an investigation into his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, or his son, Hunter. Trump: Discussing a Biden probe with Barr would be ‘appropriate’. That’s right, a president who has undermined the independence of the Department of Justice with his “fixer,” William Barr, is openly saying he intends to use the awesome power of the DOJ to investigate and to prosecute his political opponents for partisan ends. We are officially a banana republic now.

Also thrilled were right-wing media, which feasted on the Times’ handiwork and presented it as confirmation that Biden is corrupt. “NYT Confirms Hunter Biden Was Paid by Ukrainians While Father Was VP,” blared a Breitbart headline, while Schweizer was quickly ushered onto Fox News to hype the Times report and spread more bogus claims about Biden.

All of this circles back to the Times’ Clinton Cash fiasco, in which the country’s most prestigious newspaper got into bed with a right-wing author who was peddling a patently dishonest book … And it was the Times that forged an exclusive alliance with the Breitbart-backed book (published by a Rupert Murdoch-owned subsidiary), and used the factually erroneous tome as a guidepost for Hillary Clinton gotcha articles.

And make no mistake Clinton Cash was riddled with errors, as lots of outlets detailed. From ABC News: “An independent review of source material by ABC News uncovered errors in the book, including an instance where paid and unpaid speaking appearances were conflated.” From FactCheck.org: “The author of “Clinton Cash” falsely claimed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State had “veto power” and “could have stopped” Russia from buying a company with extensive uranium mining operations in the U.S. In fact, only the president has such power.” Meanwhile, Time noted that a central Clinton Cash claim was “based on little evidence,” and even Fox News’ Chris Wallace told Schweizer he didn’t “have a single piece of evidence” to support his claim about Hillary Clinton changing U.S. policy based on donations to the Clinton Foundation.

Despite all of that fact-checking and public debunking during the 2016 campaign, the Times couldn’t find the time or space to inform its readers that the GOP book the paper wildly hyped turned out to be a dishonest, partisan hit job. Now here we are in 2019, and the Times is doing Schweizer’s deceitful bidding once again.

Which brings us back to unpatriotic Republican “useful idiots” openly engaging in “collusion” with foreign governments to interfere in American elections to benefit the GOP. They are “fellow travelers” of Vladimir Putin and will do it again in 2020, says Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post. Trump will betray his country — again:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller lll’s report established that while no criminal conspiracy with Russia could be proved, President Trump’s campaign sought and expected to benefit from Russian assistance. (Lawfare blog explains that there was “a large quantity of engagement that was apparently not chargeably criminal but that did involve covert attempts to engage with a hostile foreign government for the benefit of Trump’s campaign and business.”) Trump publicly called for the Russian government to find Hillary Clinton’s emails. Trump’s eldest son, son-in-law and campaign chairman went to a meeting to obtain “dirt” on Clinton.

While we do not know whether conspiracy/coordination occurred between Trump associates and WikiLeaks (highlighting one giant reason for getting the unredacted Mueller report), we do know that there was a pattern of inviting help and then making use of it (as when Trump blasted away at the leaked Clinton emails in the waning days of the campaign). This was not a criminal conspiracy, but rather, a betrayal of American democracy. Trump encouraged a foreign power to determine our election, to favor him over Clinton. In short, Mueller’s report states that “the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

This should be illegal, right? It’s a violation of campaign finance laws to solicit something of value from a foreign national, but it is not quite clear that opposition research or leaked emails meet the definition. (Mueller noted that the law had never been applied to cover such help.) We should — except the morally bankrupt Trump cultists — agree that it would be wrong for, say, Democrats to get opposition research from China to smear Trump, or for Trump to go to another hostile power to get help beating the Democratic nominee. The essence of our democracy is that the American people — not foreign foes — pick our leaders.

Nevertheless, Trump and his TV lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani are attempting once more to subvert U.S. sovereignty by getting help from a foreign power (citing The New York Times report).

* * *

Democrats should call this out for what it is: Betrayal of, and disloyalty to, the United States.

Beyond that, the House should expeditiously pass a law making it mandatory for a campaign to report all contacts with foreign officials, prohibiting solicitation of information or action from a foreign government for the purpose of influencing a campaign, and making it illegal to knowingly use material provided directly or indirectly from a foreign government in a campaign.

Should Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refuse to take up the measure, he would confirm the moral degradation of the Republican Party and the same unpatriotic attitude that prompted him to oppose a robust warning in 2016 about Russian interference in the election. This would be nothing less than a repudiation of democracy, a willingness to become a vassal of hostile foreign powers for the sake of winning the election. In such a circumstance, Democrats should come right out and say it: The Republicans want to get hostile powers to help them win elections because those powers figure that Republican presidents will be patsies.

I am often asked whether the Republican Party can be rehabilitated. A party is made up of individuals; in this case, a group of elected leaders who uniformly invite foreign intervention in our election should be permanently disqualified from holding office. They have violated their oaths in the most egregious manner possible and cannot be entrusted with power again. Ever.