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Michelle Malkin | » Laura Loomer: Disrupter for Congress

Laura Loomer: Disrupter for Congress
by Michelle Malkin
Creators Syndicate
Copyright 2019

The Beltway swamp is clogged with miserable crapweasels: smug incumbents, status quo lemmings, Constitution infringers of all flavors, Silicon Valley lackeys, jihad apologists, open borders freaks and, oh, that Trump-deranged lurker, Mitt “Pierre Delecto” Romney.

In a country of 325 million people, can’t we just have one elected official on Capitol Hill with the guts to call out the rest of the swamp things?

This is why I support Laura Loomer for Congress. Last week, the fiery investigative journalist and activist based in Florida announced that her campaign had raised nearly $160,000 in just 60 days of fundraising. More than 2,300 donors across all 50 states, with Florida leading the way, provided their financial support in the third quarter of the year for Loomer’s upstart bid. The average contribution was $66.

By comparison, Loomer’s campaign points out, socialista darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raised $59,000 in her first combined two quarters for her congressional campaign as a political newcomer in New York. Meanwhile, Loomer’s opponent, incumbent Democrat and Pelosi pal Rep. Lois Frankel only raised $107,000 in the same time period, and just one of Loomer’s GOP rivals of the five candidates in the FL-21 field raised any money (less than $20,000). As a political newcomer, her campaign noted, Loomer outraised all of her opponents combined.

“I’m humbled at the outpouring of support for my campaign,” Loomer told me. “This early showing puts career politician Lois Frankel and the do-nothing-Democrats in Congress on notice that no seat is safe, and that I’m running to win.”

[DONATE TO LAURA’S CAMPAIGN HERE.]

Any way you slice it, this is news. It’s especially noteworthy because Loomer is the most banned woman on all of social media. Almost a full year ago, the 26-year-old independent reporter was suspended permanently from Twitter (where she had built up a formidable following of more than 250,000 users) during the crucial midterm election season. Loomer had lambasted Twitter for curating an Ilhan Omar tweet in its coveted “Twitter Moments” feature. “Ilhan is pro Sharia,” Loomer wrote. “Under Sharia, homosexuals are oppressed & killed. Women are abused & forced to wear the hijab. Ilhan is anti Jewish.”

Omar, of course, is the first-term Somalia-born Democratic Muslim congresswoman from Minnesota, who has since been caught giggling about al-Qaida; downplaying the 9/11 terrorist attacks; apologizing for anti-Semitic comments and then doubling down on others; calling for a United Nations takeover of American borders; reportedly engaging in purported marriage, tax, immigration and campaign finance fraud related to a bizarre marital arrangement with two different men (one of them suspected to be her own brother); and reportedly larking around with her married campaign manager. Loomer was the first to directly and publicly confront Omar about the brusband marriage scandal before she was elected.

Loomer was also at the vanguard exposing what I call Silicon Valley Sharia. After being kicked off Twitter, she was ruthlessly expunged from Paypal, Instagram, TeeSpring, Facebook, Uber, Uber Eats, Lyft, Venmo, GoFundMe and Medium. She is suing Twitter and the speech-squelching grievance-mongers of the Council on American Islamic Relations to expose collusion against conservatives between the company and the unindicted co-conspirator of Islamic terrorist financing. She is also suing conservative speech-suppressing Google in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently rejected the social media giant’s bid to have her lawsuit summarily dismissed.

Now, of course, pundits and politicians are falling all over themselves to jump in front of the parade against Silicon Valley censorship. But last fall, many of those same opportunists laughed at Loomer for disrupting a dog-and-pony House Energy and Commerce hearing with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. When he denied that the social media site discriminated against conservatives, Loomer roared: “You are a liar, Jack Dorsey!” and boldly charged him with “committing perjury.” Instead of challenging Dorsey, Republican Rep. Billy Long mocked Loomer and drowned her out with an auctioneering chant. Virtue-signaling conservatives (even on Fox News) ridiculed Loomer instead of heeding her warnings about systematic de-platforming and partisan rigging of the social media playing field.

But here’s the thing: Loomer’s campaign is about far more than getting back a Twitter account. It’s about giving Floridians (and the rest of us) a clarion voice against Beltway business as usual on everything from mass, uncontrolled immigration to antifa violence to political corruption enabled by Frankel’s pal, Nancy Pelosi. Karen Giorno, Trump’s 2016 Florida state director and chief strategist for the Loomer campaign, told me: “Laura is proving that she is a serious candidate and committed to flipping this seat.”

Political analysts on both sides of the aisle should not underestimate this bellwether candidacy. Just look at the actions of those who fear Laura Loomer most: Mere hours after she announced her run in August, Twitter announced it was changing its verification policy for authenticating congressional candidates. Previously, announced candidates could receive a verified checkmark. The Loomer Rule now requires candidates to win their primaries first.

They keep throwing up obstacles, but the gonzo journalist/activist persists. She’s made all the right enemies. Now, it’s time for friends of the First Amendment to put their time and money where their mouths are. Help elect a one-woman Free Speech Squad to counter the anti-American congressional Brat Pack. Disruption, not deference, is the key to defeating the Democratic resistance.

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In a bid for peace, Ukraine swaps 200 prisoners with pro-Russian separatists

The Ukrainian government exchanged 200 prisoners with pro-Russian separatists in the embattled eastern region of the country on Sunday afternoon — a move experts say represents a step toward peaceful relations between Ukraine and Russia, which have been locked in a conflict for more than five years.

The prisoner swap was agreed upon earlier this month in Paris during the first face-to-face talks between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin, a meeting that was mediated by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The swap is a big deal in the context of Ukraine-Russia relations and the ongoing war,” Christopher Miller, a Kyiv-based journalist, told Vox. “Momentum for solving the war had stalled for nearly three years under Ukraine’s previous president, Petro Poroshenko. Peace talks between Kiev and Moscow were revived after Zelensky was elected.”

This prisoner exchange, which comes after a previous swap of dozens of prisoners earlier in September, saw each side release all of the prisoners it had, and symbolizes a tentative advancement in those peace talks.

The trade of prisoners took place at a checkpoint close to the industrial town of Horlivka in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine. Many of the captives carried their possessions in plastic bags and met tearful family members as they got off buses.

One woman being returned by the pro-Russian separatists had the message “My country is Ukraine!” hand-written onto her clothing as she walked off her bus.

Ukraine’s presidential office livestreamed footage of the swap online, and is likely to hail the move as evidence that Zelensky is making positive process towards achieving his promise of moving Ukraine toward peace with Russia, as he pledged to do before winning a landslide victory in April.

But not everyone in Ukraine was happy about the swap. More nationalist-minded Ukrainians are protesting the fact that Kyiv handed over five riot police officers who shot at demonstrators in 2014 during protests against then-president Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian policies.

Critics of the swap argued the officers should have remained in custody until they could be tried for the deaths of more than 100 protesters. The Ukrainian government has promised those officers will still face the courts, and that they will be required to cooperate with law enforcement officials despite their release.

Despite the move being somewhat controversial within Ukraine, European leaders said they see the captive exchange as a step toward peace.

“The prisoner swap that was completed today is a long-awaited humanitarian measure,” Macron and Merkel said in a joint statement. “In line with the decisions taken at the Paris summit, it must now be followed by the full implementation of the ceasefire.”

Ukraine and Russia had agreed to a full ceasefire by the end of 2019 at the Putin-Zelensky summit; thus far, that has not come to pass. The two nations have fought over the Russian annexation the Ukrainian territory of Crimea since 2014, when Russia began to back pro-Russian separatist rebels in Ukraine. The fighting has killed more than 14,000 people, making it the bloodiest European conflict since the Balkan war.

Zelensky hoped for President Trump’s support in dealing with Russia, but hasn’t gotten it

Ending the conflict is not expected to be easy for Zelensky, in part because Russia has far greater military resources, and also because and Putin is an aggressive negotiator who is always angling to expand Russian influence in the region.

And complicating things further are Zelensky’s ties to the US impeachment saga.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump attempted to make military aid Ukraine relies on to combat Russia conditional on whether Zelensky agreed to Trump’s demands to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden. That aid was eventually released, but Zelensky has yet to obtain a key White House meeting he has repeatedly asked Trump for. Such a meeting would send a signal to Russia that Washington is firmly behind Kyiv — and the fact that it hasn’t happened has weakened Zelensky’s negotiating position with Putin, experts say.

Lacking that meeting — and any public gestures on behalf of Ukraine by the US president — Zelensky has had to find other ways to advance peace, including working with EU allies like France and Germany. While the prisoner exchange did not mark the end of the conflict, for now, it would seem that things are moving in the direction of stability.

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Why Trump’s North Korea gamble didn’t pay off

When President Trump agreed to met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018, flying in the face of all past precedent and protocol, both Koreas jumped at what appeared to be the biggest opportunity in decades to shake up the situation on the Korean peninsula.

After all, for 25 years, U.S.-led efforts to curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions had been seemingly stuck in a cycle of provocation, panic, attempts at diplomacy with simultaneous hand-wringing about the wisdom of it, and the subsequent unraveling of the fruits of those efforts. Each go-around ended with increased U.S. skepticism about engagement, followed by years of impasse during which North Korea would surprise the world by making strides in its development of nuclear weapons and powerful missiles to deliver them.

Trump’s willingness to flout all that came before him was welcomed by the leaders of North and South Korea. After his first summit with Trump in Singapore, North Korea’s Kim praised the U.S. president’s “unique approach”; a couple of months later, South Korean president Moon Jae-in told Trump he was “the only person who can solve this problem.”

Trump himself also touted the idea that he was singularly positioned to reach a breakthrough with North Korea.

“People said, ‘Trump is crazy,’” he told reporters at a Rose Garden press conference in February, ahead of his second meeting with Kim. “And you know what it ended up being? A very good relationship…. Nobody else would have done that.”

Three summits, several praise-filled letters and many months later, the U.S. finds itself back in familiar waters with North Korea.

This undated picture released by Korean Central News Agency in October shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un riding a white horse in the first snow at Mt. Paektu, a place of symbolic and historic importance for North Korea.

(AFP via Getty Image)

After a hiatus, North Korea has returned to regular testing of ballistic missiles, firing off more than a dozen rounds of short-range missiles this year. It has turned a cold shoulder to entreaties from U.S. negotiators to engage in working-level talks on the details of a potential agreement, and to all outreach by South Korea. In increasingly ominous pronouncements in state media, North Korean leaders have warned the U.S. has until year’s end to come up with a new proposal for a resumption of nuclear talks. Analysts, negotiators and military officials in the U.S. and South Korea are bracing for renewed military provocation from the North in coming days.

Stephen Biegun, the chief U.S. negotiator, during a visit to South Korea this month urged North Korea to “seize this moment,” calling it a “window of opportunity.” “We are here and you know how to reach us,” he said — a plea that fell on deaf ears.

The stalemate in some ways harks back to President Clinton’s second term, when a 1994 nuclear freeze-for-energy assistance deal teetered amid U.S. suspicions that North Korea was cheating, and North Korea’s accusations that the U.S. was not holding up its end of the bargain. In 1998, North Korea fired off its first ballistic missile over Japan as Washington was preoccupied in the midst of an impeachment and negotiators were deadlocked.

In a speech in Seoul last month, Robert Carlin, who was then an advisor in the State Department on negotiations with North Korea, quoted a memo from the time, saying it could just as well describe the situation today as it did in October 1998.

“The situation on the Korean peninsula is rapidly deteriorating. It could become extremely dangerous within a few months. Once the present structure of agreements and negotiations collapses, there are few if any safe exits and no safety nets,” Stanford political scientist John Lewis wrote at the time, Carlin noted.

In a flurry of diplomatic efforts to save the deal in the final days of his administration, Clinton weighed visiting Pyongyang to finalize the agreement at the eager invitation of Kim Jong Il — the current leader’s father — but decided against it. The George W. Bush administration, with John Bolton as undersecretary of State for arms control, scrapped the deal with the nation it had newly termed part of the “axis of evil,” and started at square one.

Now, it’s North Korea thumbing its nose at additional summits with Trump.

“We are no longer interested in such talks that bring nothing to us,” Kim Kye Gwan, a North Korean foreign ministry advisor, said in a statement last month, according to state media. “As we have got nothing in return, we will no longer gift the U.S. president with something he can boast of.”

President Trump during a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Feb. 28, 2019, in Hanoi. Kim is accompanied by Kim Yong Chol, a North Korean senior ruling party official and former intelligence chief, front right; Trump has by his side national security adviser John Bolton, front left.

President Trump during a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Feb. 28, 2019, in Hanoi.

(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Before Trump, diplomats and negotiators would have met for days or weeks on end to work out an agreement before the leaders would even consider meeting. In agreeing to meet with Kim on the spot, and putting outsized emphasis on his own role in the talks, Trump turned that process on its head, setting in motion a summit before any details about what the two men would agree to were discussed by their respective staff.

The four-paragraph agreement in Singapore last June was, as a result, without teeth, with North Korea only vaguely pledging that it “commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” — far less than it had agreed to in 1994. This February’s second summit in Hanoi was hamstrung by the same problem, with both sides discovering only after traveling thousands of miles, with hordes of international media eagerly awaiting, that their positions were too far apart to be bridged in one afternoon.

The impromptu meeting at the DMZ between the two Koreas this summer, again, yielded myriad photos and proclamations of history being made, and little by way of concrete steps or agreements to curtail North Korea’s nuclear program, improve relations and communication and lessen the threat of military conflict on the peninsula.

Each time, when U.S. negotiators tried to follow up to talk specifics, they said they were rebuffed.

Carlin, of Stanford, said he was concerned Kim had since written off diplomacy with Trump and would make a bold move to signal as much, miscalculating the potential U.S. response with rapid escalation the result.

“Kim looks like he’s made completely new decisions that have been in place for months,” he said. With the U.S. focused on the Senate impeachment trial into the new year, he said, “my concern is that he figures this is an open road. You have to hope that he doesn’t lunge into something stupid.”

David C. Kang, director of USC’s Korean Studies Institute, said despite the fanfare surrounding the summits, Trump’s approach to North Korea was ultimately not all that different from that of his predecessors — that North Korea must give up its nuclear program in its entirety first, before the U.S. will agree to sanctions relief or normalized relations.

“Isn’t that the definition of insanity, doing the same thing and expecting a different result?” he said. “The idea that somehow North Korea is going to be scared into backing down, that little bit of more pressure and they’ll crack, is false.”

This Sept. 23, 2017, photo released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency shows an anti-U.S.  rally in Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang.

This Sept. 23, 2017, photo released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency shows an anti-U.S. rally in Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang.

(AFP via Getty Images)

In the meantime, North Korea continues to add to its nuclear arsenal, producing fissile material for 10 additional bombs in the last 18 months for a total of about 40, according to Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford nuclear scientist who has visited North Korea to inspect its plutonium enrichment facilities.

“The longer the United States waits, the more the overall nuclear threat will grow,” he wrote in September on the site 38 North. “The dialogue will need to get past its herky-jerky phase and, through a series of smaller steps, create the momentum crucial to overcoming inevitable bumps in the difficult road ahead.”

Trump says he continues to have faith in Kim. Earlier this month, Trump tweeted: “He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November.”

Kang said North Korea had already proved itself inured to the various economic sanctions placed on the country for its weapons and nuclear testing. Kim doesn’t have an upcoming election or term limits; if he doesn’t get a deal he wants with the current U.S. president, he can wait for the next.

“This regime has found many, many ways to survive,” he said. “Time has been on North Korea’s side forever.”

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Growing rumblings about an Ocasio-Cortez presidential run

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Image: Daily Caller screen grab)

Just when you thought liberals couldn’t become further untethered from reality!

You may have thought that point of no return had been reached when the Left began championing the rights of mental patients who think they were born into the wrong body or the party’s field of candidates for the 2020 election turned out to be an assortment of far-left misfits.

But the final separation came in Friday with a report in Politico that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s work as a surrogate for Bernie Sanders was prompting buzz about a future presidential run of her own.

“As she’s drawn massive crowds,” the outlet fawns, “progressive insiders and activists are increasingly whispering about Ocasio-Cortez inheriting the movement one day — and running for the White House with it behind her.”

Trending: Amazon refuses to help authorities track down employee who stole package from porch

It’s rather difficult to digest whether Politico is actually sensing a groundswell of support for the notion or the buzz is in the head of the author, Holly Otterbein.

Here’s The Buzz

Politico’s piece begins with a screaming headline: “AOC for president? The buzz has begun.”

The sourcing, however, is weak.

“Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez’s fans have also begun thinking about AOC 2024 or 2028,” the report reads. “At their rally in Los Angeles, chiropractor Samuel Aguilera predicted that Ocasio-Cortez will eventually run for the White House.”

“I’m excited about that. She’s intelligent,” Aguilera proclaimed. “I’ve got three daughters, and I’m excited that she’s opening up our opportunities for women.”

While proof of a buzz surrounding Ocasio-Cortez’s presidential plans is sparse, there is no shortage of fellow socialists and Democratic party figures heaping praise on her as the future of America.

“She’s an important national voice and adding her weight to the political revolution is a real coup for us,” one long-time adviser to Sanders stated.

“She has gripped the attention of fellow millennials across the country,” adds Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, president of the California Young Democrats. “The Green New Deal has changed the conversation on environmental action in the Democratic Party.”

If making a mockery of your own party is the future for Democrats then, by all means, the donks should keep holding this woman up on a pedestal. This is the same woman who recently complained that multiple health insurance choices were too complex to understand.

She is currently leading the party off a cliff, as evidenced by the impeachment charade and Trump’s polling numbers.

Furthermore, Ocasio-Cortez just turned 30 in October. The Constitution states that eligible candidates be at least 35. Meaning she would be unable to pursue the presidency until at least 2024.

That doesn’t mean she won’t play an integral role in the White House well before then if Sanders somehow defeats President Trump.

“If I am in the White House, she will play a very, very important role,” Sanders told ABC in November. “No question.”

If that happens, America may not survive until 2024.

Cross posted at the Mental Recession

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Kamala Harris Is Gen X’s Only Top-Tier 2020 Candidate

If a Gen Xer doesn’t win in 2020, there will be another chance in 2024. But by that time the field may be crowded with Millennials—born from 1981 to 1996—whose ranks include Buttigieg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and rising Republican stars such as Representatives Dan Crenshaw and Matt Gaetz. Sandwiched between two larger and more politically consequential generations—Boomers and Millennials—Generation X may never produce a president at all.

This electoral weakness isn’t coincidental. It reflects an ideological problem. Rubio, Cruz, Walker, Booker, O’Rourke, Castro, and Harris all entered adulthood between the Reagan and Clinton eras, and launched their political careers around the turn of the millennium. That means they likely began forming their political beliefs at a time when the Republican Party had a strong pro-immigration wing and leading Democrats embraced free trade, tough anti-crime policies, and charter schools. Then, as they came closer to running for president, an ideological earthquake hit.

Since 2016, the Democratic Party has lurched left. Nativists have taken over the GOP. Among activists in both parties, views that were once mainstream are now widely reviled. Gen X politicians have responded by either downplaying or repudiating their prior positions. That’s unfortunate, because not everything that leading Republicans and Democrats believed before the parties reinvented themselves has been proved wrong. Gen X politicians could help check the hubris of the present—if only they would now defend what they once believed.

According to social scientists, events that occur while people are entering adulthood have a disproportionate influence on their political views. That doesn’t mean everyone who comes of age around the same time interprets those events in the same way. Rather, particular eras create particular intragenerational arguments. Think about the way Baby Boomers have spent their political careers debating the legacy of the Vietnam War.

The fight that has defined Generation X is between conservatives who came of age idolizing Ronald Reagan and liberals who came of age embracing Bill Clinton’s response to him. As ideological children of Reagan, who granted legal status to nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants, Cruz, Walker, and Rubio expressed sympathy for immigration before the 2016 election season. Cruz argued for doubling the cap on the number of immigrants America could admit every year; Walker supported a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; and Rubio helped write a 2013 Senate bill to create a path to citizenship.

Then, in 2015, Donald Trump—who, as a political neophyte, was largely unconstrained by traditional Republican views on immigration—jumped to the top of the polls in the Republican presidential race by denigrating Mexican immigrants and demanding a wall to keep undocumented immigrants out. Finding themselves on the wrong side of a tectonic shift in the GOP, his Gen X competitors jettisoned their earlier views. Asked in a 2015 debate why he no longer supported a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants—a position, the moderator noted, that he had held “from 2002 until as recently as 2013”—Walker responded that he had “listened to the American people.” Rubio said that although he had helped draft the 2013 Senate bill that provided a path to citizenship, he hadn’t expected it to become law. Cruz claimed that an amendment he’d supported to dramatically increase the number of H-1B visas for foreign workers had been a ploy to sabotage the passage of any immigration bill at all.

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Trump’s Impeachment Timeline and the 2020 Election

Amid the many words spoken—some passionate, some false, some bitter—in the late-night session of the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday, one line, in a speech by Representative Hank Johnson, Democrat of Georgia, had particular resonance. Johnson quoted Fiona Hill, a former national-security official who, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, had described a “blowup” she had had with Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, with regard to Ukraine. After hearing Sondland’s own testimony to the committee, Hill said, she’d had an epiphany about the source of their conflict: though she’d believed that they were both engaged in the grand mission of foreign policy, the President had actually dispatched Sondland on “a domestic political errand.”

That errand, Johnson said, was to make Ukrainian officials “an offer they could not refuse.” In the words of the first of two articles of impeachment that the Judiciary Committee’s clerk read on Thursday morning, at the start of a tense and long debate, Donald Trump “corruptly solicited” the Ukrainians, attempting to trade military aid and a White House meeting for two investigations. One involved a specific conspiracy theory about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election; the other concerned Vice-President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Trump wanted Ukraine “to target an American citizen,” Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York, said. Democrats have described this scheme, with some justice, as extortion or bribery, but the charge in the first article is abuse of power.

The Republicans on the committee used the debate to try to peddle a different story. “Show me the Ukrainian that was pressured!” Matt Gaetz, of Florida, said, although multiple witnesses had already testified that a number of Ukrainians were. Ken Buck, of Colorado, brought up the money that Hunter Biden received as a member of the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, and argued that Trump was within his rights to ask for an investigation: “This isn’t smearing. This is seeking the truth about corruption.” (Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, argued that Trump’s truth-seeking impulse arose only after Joe Biden declared his Presidential candidacy.) And Jim Jordan, of Ohio, offered his theory on what the meaning of “us” was when Trump, in the now infamous July 25th phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, said, “I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot.” This “us” was not “the royal we,” reflecting a request for a personal favor, Jordan said, but an example of Trump’s “working on behalf of the American people.” In case that didn’t clear things up, Jordan had a simpler explanation for why anyone would want to impeach Trump. “They don’t like us,” he said. “All of us common folk in Ohio, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Texas.” Republican after Republican goaded the Democrats with the notion that they were just scared that Trump would win again.

The focus of the first article of impeachment is, of course, what Trump has already done to try to secure that victory—namely, enlist foreign officials in his reëlection campaign. His demand for the Ukrainian investigations, according to the charge, was not a backward-looking effort to get to the bottom of a corruption case but an attempt to anticipate and influence the 2020 election. That prospective threat is one reason the Democrats have given for moving the articles of impeachment along with great speed. They do not pretend that they have collected all the available evidence. For that shortfall, they have blamed what Jamie Raskin, of Maryland, described as Trump’s “blockading and intimidating.” At the President’s direction, witnesses under subpoena have failed to appear, and the Administration has refused to turn over documents. (During the debate, Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona, offered the weak riposte that no “retribution” had been inflicted on the witnesses who did testify.) There are court fights under way now over the subpoenas, but the Democrats, rather than wait, made the President’s defiance the subject of the second article of impeachment: obstruction of Congress.

“The President is the smoking gun,” Pramila Jayapal, of Washington, said, adding, with a slightly too picturesque extension of the metaphor, “The smoking gun is already reloaded. And whether or not it gets fired—that’s up to us.” At a press conference on Tuesday, during which Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi introduced the two articles, Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said that to ask “Why not wait?” is the equivalent of asking “Why not let him cheat just one more time?” That may be a resounding appeal, but on its own terms it doesn’t make much sense. The rushed timeline almost certainly means that impeachment is hurtling toward an acquittal for the President in the Republican-controlled Senate by February, with nine months left before the election. A longer investigation might have been a better way to monitor and restrain Trump; it’s worth remembering that his call to Zelensky came the day after the testimony of the special counsel Robert Mueller in the House, which, he felt, had lifted a “phony cloud” from over his head.

This schedule may help get moderate congressional Democrats reëlected and the Democratic senators who are running for President back out on the campaign trail (and get Hunter Biden out of the spotlight). But, adding to the sense of missed opportunities, the articles largely bypass other issues that have been raised about Trump, such as violations of the emoluments clause and matters covered in the Mueller report—notably, a long list of possible examples of obstruction of justice.

The hearings in the Judiciary Committee provided a sad confirmation of the likelihood of the President’s acquittal. “Do we have abuse of power? Yes: Adam Schiff!” Guy Reschenthaler, Republican of Pennsylvania, shouted. He added that the committee had voted down his attempt to subpoena the whistle-blower: “That is obstruction of Congress!” (By way of compensation, Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, recited a list of names that included a person suspected of being the whistle-blower.) In the coming trial, the tone of the Republican senators may be more restrained, but it is unlikely to be more edifying.

Val Demings, of Florida, was one of several Democrats who spoke of the historic weight of the moment, and to an extent she was right: Trump will always be a President who was impeached, and the two articles describing his offenses will be scrutinized in textbooks. But domestic politics impose their own burden. Not one of the House Republicans is expected to vote yes on either article. They know their President, and they know their errand. ♦

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Figures to watch as White House mounts impeachment defense

Speculation is increasing about the defense team being assembled by the White House as President TrumpDonald John TrumpNorth Korea holds political conference before year-end concessions deadline set for US Gabbard says impeachment will only ’embolden’ Trump Warren: ‘If there’s a lawful order for a subpoena, I assume’ Biden would comply MORE stares down an impeachment trial in the GOP-controlled Senate. 

While Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: Senate gears up for impeachment trial after holiday break Let’s remember the real gifts the president has given America Biden clarifies previous statements about not testifying in Senate impeachment trial MORE‘s (D-Calif.) decision to delay transmitting the articles of impeachment has created uncertainty around the contours and timing of the trial, it’s still widely expected the Senate will begin the proceedings in January.

The Trump administration has disclosed very little about its forthcoming defense apart from signaling that White House counsel Pat Cipollone will play a significant role, but the president is considering tapping others to play a part in the trial.

Here are the key figures to watch as Trump mounts his impeachment defense.

Pat Cipollone 

The White House counsel has played a key role in the impeachment response from Day One, and he’s expected to be a major player in Trump’s defense when the trial gets underway.

“It looks like that, yeah,” Trump told reporters when asked recently whether Cipollone would be his lead defense attorney. “We have a couple of others that we’re going to put in, but Pat’s been fantastic as White House counsel.”

Cipollone has been meeting regularly with GOP senators in recent weeks to discuss strategy and impeachment trial procedures. He has been accompanied on Capitol Hill by Eric Ueland, Trump’s legislative affairs director who was a top Senate aide during the impeachment of former President Clinton.

Cipollone authored much of the correspondence sent to House Democrats as they investigated whether Trump abused his power when he pressed Kyiv to launch probes into 2016 election interference and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWarren: ‘If there’s a lawful order for a subpoena, I assume’ Biden would comply Former Democratic senator on McConnell impeachment strategy: ‘Unfathomable’ Biden clarifies previous statements about not testifying in Senate impeachment trial MORE and his son’s dealings in Ukraine during the Obama administration.

He wrote the Oct. 8 letter that characterized the impeachment inquiry as a partisan and unconstitutional effort to “overturn the results of the 2016 election” and conveyed the White House’s decision to refuse cooperation despite congressional subpoenas issued by Democrats. 

Trump tapped Cipollone to replace Don McGahn as White House counsel in October 2018. A leading role in the impeachment trial is likely to come with more of a public spotlight than Cipollone, a former Washington commercial lawyer, has been used to during his legal career.

Cipollone’s deputies in the White House counsel’s office — Patrick Philbin and Michael Purpura — are also likely to be involved in the defense preparations.

Alan DershowitzAlan Morton DershowitzTrump chats with attorney Alan Dershowitz at Mar-a-Lago From high crimes to misdemeanors Overnight Defense: Senate sends .4T spending bill to Trump | Lawmakers fail to reach deal on impeachment trial before holidays | Pompeo hits Iran with new sanctions MORE 

The White House is said to be considering Dershowitz, a Harvard Law professor emeritus, to help with Trump’s defense.

Dershowitz has frequently criticized the two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — passed by House Democrats last week.

In a recent opinion piece for The Hill, Dershowitz argued that the articles failed to “satisfy the express constitutional criteria for an impeachment, which are limited to ‘treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.’”

He recently appeared at the White House to participate in a Hanukkah reception where Trump signed an executive order aimed at combating anti-Semitism on college campuses. Trump invited Dershowitz to speak briefly at the Dec. 11 event.

Dershowitz could prove a controversial addition, however, given his prior work for clients like alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide in a federal jail over the summer while awaiting trial.

“The White House would be best served by using Dershowitz in a public facing role as one of their top surrogates during the impeachment trial, rather than inviting the negative media scrutiny that would certainly come with selecting him to work the trial,” said one source close to the administration.

Dershowitz has refused to say anything publicly about his conversations with the White House, telling The Hill on Monday he had nothing to share on the topic.

Jay SekulowJay Alan SekulowOvernight Defense: Senate sends .4T spending bill to Trump | Lawmakers fail to reach deal on impeachment trial before holidays | Pompeo hits Iran with new sanctions Trump indicates White House counsel Cipollone will play lead role in Senate trial GOP lawmakers jockey for positions as managers MORE 

Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, hasn’t played much of a role in impeachment. But that could change as the Senate trial draws near. 

The chief counsel for the conservative Christian advocacy group American Center for Law & Justice signed on as part of Trump’s personal legal team in June 2017, a month after the appointment of Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a ‘failure’ Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE as special counsel to investigate Russian interference and contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow in 2016.

Along with White House lawyer Emmet FloodEmmet FloodMORE and Trump attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiLawyer for Giuliani associate to step down, citing client’s financial ‘hardship’ Former pro golfer advanced business interests of indicted Giuliani associates: report Republican group to run ads in target states demanding testimony from White House officials in Trump impeachment trial MORE, Sekulow was a key player in the president’s defense during the 22-month Mueller investigation.

Sekulow, who declined to comment for this article, has plenty on his plate, which could factor into any decisions on his level of involvement in the Senate trial.

He is representing Trump in various legal matters, including the fight over the president’s tax returns. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear three cases involving Trump’s financial records, scheduling arguments for the high court’s session in March.

Trump’s House GOP allies 

There’s been talk that Trump could bring in some of his Republican allies in the House to play some role in his defense. 

GOP Reps. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeMcCarthy recommends Collins, Ratcliffe, Jordan to represent Trump in Senate impeachment trial Trump’s GOP allies huddle at White House on eve of impeachment vote The Hill’s Morning Report – Busy week: Impeachment, Dem debate and USMCA MORE (Texas), Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen Collins2019 in Photos: 35 pictures in politics McCarthy recommends Collins, Ratcliffe, Jordan to represent Trump in Senate impeachment trial House votes to impeach Trump MORE (Ga.), Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanMcCarthy recommends Collins, Ratcliffe, Jordan to represent Trump in Senate impeachment trial Trump’s GOP allies huddle at White House on eve of impeachment vote The Hill’s Morning Report – Busy week: Impeachment, Dem debate and USMCA MORE (Ohio) and Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonTrump’s GOP allies huddle at White House on eve of impeachment vote GOP lawmaker on Trump tweet about Pelosi’s teeth ‘falling out’: ‘It’s not the way that I talk’ GOP lawmakers jockey for positions as managers MORE (La.) are all under consideration for possibly contributing to Trump’s defense, though the White House has said no decisions have been made and lawmakers have said very little about the possibility.

“I’m really not at liberty to talk about that,” Johnson said on CNN after the Dec. 18 impeachment vote in the House. “I would be delighted to serve on the defense team. I feel very strongly in the president’s case, and if he asked me to serve in that capacity I certainly would.” 

Republican sources argue that lawmakers who participated in the House impeachment hearings are best suited to present a defense of Trump because of their knowledge of the facts.

“This is a complicated fact pattern and there’s a lot of details here you really have to have lived in order to appreciate the detail,” said a senior GOP official. 

“To that end, nobody understands the facts better than the House members that were in all these depositions, that sat through all these hearings, that have already fought this fight with [House Intelligence Committee Chairman] Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSenate GOP wants speedy Trump acquittal House GOP vows to use impeachment to cut into Democratic majority Trump’s tweets became more negative during impeachment, finds USA Today MORE [D-Calif.],” the official added. 

Both Jordan and Ratcliffe are members of the Intelligence and Judiciary panels and sat through hours of public hearings during which witnesses testified about their knowledge of the administration’s contact with Ukraine about investigations sought by Trump and Giuliani. Collins and Johnson both sit on the Judiciary panel, Collins is the top Republican on the committee.

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Activist predicts extraterrestrial Disclosure in 2020, blames Trump for secrecy

Nobody wound up being able to “see dem aliens” during the Storm Area 51 events this year (or if they did, they didn’t live to tell the story), but that doesn’t mean that everyone has given up hope. Other groups like Tom DeLonge’s To The Stars Academy have been applying pressure in an attempt to get the government to give up the goods and tell us what, if anything, they know about unidentified flying objects and the possibility of non-human intelligent life being active and present on our planet. Thus far we haven’t gotten much beyond those three Navy videos and rumors of some “exotic” materials being looked at by the Army.

But is that about to change? That’s the opinion of Stephen Bassett, executive director of Paradigm Research Group. He told the UK’s Daily Star that Disclosure from governments around the world will probably be coming in 2020. Further, he suspects that we would already be living in a post-disclosure world right now if Hillary Clinton had been elected in 2016 instead of Donald Trump, but the process will speed up if Americans dump Trump next November.

Stephen Bassett, who set up Paradigm Research Group in 1996 to lobby for the extraterrestrial “truth embargo” to be lifted, exclusively told Daily Star Online that if not for Donald Trump being elected President in 2017 we would already be living in a post-disclosure world…

“Disclosure is getting very close,” he said.

“In fact, had it not been for the extraordinary events of the last election in the United States we would already be a couple of years into the post-disclosure world.” …

He added: “If we could get this little political problem in the United States resolved and get back to a normal, functioning government, though I’m sure it will never be perfect, I think this ET thing and the To The Stars Academy will explode.

First of all, we should keep in mind that the person making these claims is Stephen Bassett. He’s been running PRG for nearly a quarter of a century and its sole purpose in this world is to get the United States and other governments to spill the beans on UFOs, aliens and all the rest. He’s pretty much a one-trick pony in that regard, and the longer we go without any such disclosure, the more he seems to need to find someone to blame.

Don’t get me wrong here… it’s an admirable goal and one that I’ve always personally supported. Of course, any sort of serious, world-altering “Big D” Disclosure relies on the assumption that the government actually has any hidden information to disclose. I’m sure they know more than we’re being told and have more data than three grainy videos that are only a minute or two long. But it’s far from established that they’re actually in contact with or even directly aware of any sort of extraterrestrial presence.

I’ll go one step further and say that I remain unconvinced that our government is sitting on a fleet of crashed flying saucers, tic-tacs or other alien craft. Not that they wouldn’t love to have such a secret project to work on, mind you, but just think about it for a moment. If these aliens are so massively advanced in their technology that they can travel the cosmos at will, how is it that they keep managing to crash like some Florida grandmother in the Walmart parking lot every time they get here?

Getting back to the political angle in Bassett’s comments, pointing the finger at Donald Trump seems a bit off the mark to me. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both claim to have asked the military and the intelligence community about UFOs and/or aliens and both say that they were told nothing. Personally, as I’ve written here before, I believe them. Whatever there is to be known is probably compartmentalized in one of the deeper silos of the government and shared with only a sparse handful of people deemed to have a need to know.

Have you seen the way Donald Trump lights up the social media landscape about every issue under the sun with his Twitter account? If you were the guy or gal in charge of keeping some deep, dark secrets about aliens and advanced spacecraft, would you tell Trump about it? I hardly think so.

What bears repeating here is that there needs to be a line drawn between what qualifies as a legitimate national security interest and what is being kept secret for the wrong reasons or no reason at all. If one of the major military powers on Earth (including America) is tinkering with some incredibly advanced technology that they reverse-engineered from alien gear, then that might justify keeping the details of the hardware under wraps. But the mere knowledge of the existence of such a civilization (or more than one of them) would be one of the most incredible revelations in the history of mankind. It’s not a national security threat. And if the government knows something about it they should tell us.

And no, I don’t believe Hillary Clinton would have gotten any further in disclosing anything if she’d been elected and she knows it. Her husband already tried once and failed. If anything, Donald Trump would probably be the most likely person to tell us if he knew. But I sincerely doubt that he does.

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Ukraine, Russia-backed rebels swap prisoners in latest sign of peace efforts

The Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatist forces held a prisoner swap in the country’s war-ravaged east Sunday in the latest sign of efforts to ease tensions between the two warring sides.

The exchange was agreed upon by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin during peace talks in Paris earlier this month.

The negotiations did not result in a peace deal to end the deadly five-year military conflict, but the two parties committed to further talks and a prisoner exchange before the year is out.

Ukraine said 76 of its prisoners were returned, while media reports suggested Kyiv released 123 prisoners to the rebels.

SBU, Ukraine’s security service, said after the swap that 12 of those returned were servicemen, while the other 64 were civilians.

“This exchange is proof of how important it is for Ukraine’s president to protect every Ukrainian who is in difficult circumstances because of Russian aggression,” said SBU chief Ivan Bakanov in a statement.

Armed troops from both sides looked on as buses arrived at the swap site Sunday morning, a checkpoint near the industrial town of Horlivka in the Donetsk region.

Photos shared in Ukrainian media showed prisoners being loaded on and off buses, with some being greeted by their loved ones.

Others were handed hot drinks and slices of cake to celebrate their release.

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Released prisoners eat cake after they were exchanged in a swap at the Mayorsk crossing point in eastern Ukraine on Sunday. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service / via Reuters

The last major prisoner exchange between separatist rebels and Ukrainian forces took place in December 2017, with 233 rebels exchanged for 73 Ukrainians.

Sunday’s swap comes several months after a direct prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia in September. That saw 24 Ukrainian sailors detained by Russia in a naval confrontation in late 2018 freed, among others.

The swap was considered a major victory for Zelenskiy, who made the return of the sailors one of his election promises.

The Ukrainian leader, who was a comedian without any political experience before he took office earlier this year, was thrust into the international spotlight following a phone conversation with President Donald Trump in July.

The call has become the focal point of an impeachment inquiry in the U.S. that will see Trump face a Senate trial after being impeached by the House earlier this month.

The saga has dominated Washington politics, and been a distraction for Zelenskiy as he juggles peace negotiations with efforts to revive the country’s struggling economy and tackle rampant corruption.

Eastern Ukraine has been ravaged by years of war between government forces and separatists backed by Russia, sparked in the aftermath of the 2014 mass protests in Kyiv.

The talks in Paris earlier this month renewed hopes for a resolution to the conflict, which has claimed more than 13,000 lives.

The United States has backed Ukraine throughout the conflict, fearing Putin’s efforts to extend Moscow’s geopolitical influence.

It has also heavily sanctioned Russia for its military intervention and the annexation of Crimea.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv welcomed the prisoner swap.

“Recognizing that Russia’s ongoing aggression confronts Ukraine’s leadership with difficult choices, we stand in solidarity with our Ukrainian partners and the many Ukrainians who remain in captivity in Russia and Crimean,” the embassy said in a statement.

Trump’s decision to put a temporary hold on U.S. military aid, a central issue in the impeachment process, has raised concerns it could undermine Ukraine’s efforts to contain Russian aggression.

Zelenskiy campaigned on ending the conflict, which is ongoing despite a ceasefire signed in 2015. He has taken a number of steps toward peace since coming into power, culminating in his face-to-face talks with Putin in Paris.

He has faced some opposition at home for what some have dubbed a “capitulation” to Russia. However, a recent poll showed 75 percent of Ukrainians support his talks with Putin to resolve the conflict.

Reuters and Associated Press contributed.

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POLITICO’s Holiday GIF Guide – POLITICO

The Spanish Side-Eye

This year, we saw six Democratic primary debates, each of which spawned a multitude of memes. It was hard to pick the best, from the “Orb Queen” Marianne Williamson to Bernie Sanders mocking John Hickenlooper mocking Bernie Sanders. But the winner was Senator Cory Booker’s reaction to former Representative Beto O’Rourke’s use of Spanish in the first debate.

High Hopes

In September, a reporter shared a clip of Buttigieg campaign volunteers performing a choreographed dance to the Panic! at the Disco song “High Hopes.”

And it turned out that it wasn’t the only instance of his campaign doing the routine.

More clips emerged of others across the country practicing and performing it, and before long, it was a viral sensation.

‘I Want Nothing’

After Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified in November before Congress, gracing us with his own memeable face, President Donald Trump walked out of the White House to speak to the media, and some cameras caught glimpses of his notes, written with giant Sharpie marker. It could have been a moment straight out of “Veep.” Some folks on Twitter observed that Trump’s notes resembled song lyrics, and people quickly delivered a plethora of cover versions of this year’s newest hit:

The Greta Staredown

When Trump entered a lobby in September at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, caught on camera behind him was Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist, staring him down. The moment was instantly memed, and it gave rise to a 1,100-word artistic analysis in the New York Times Magazine. Julián Castro summarized the moment more directly, tweeting, “I think a lot of us can relate.” And CNN commentator Ana Navarro tweeted, “We are all Greta.”

The SOTU Clap

Pelosi became the “Queen of Condescending Applause” in February, when a fleeting moment of the speaker’s seemingly sarcastic clapping during Trump’s State of the Union speech caught the world’s attention and prompted its own digital applause.

The Memer in Chief

Trump is something of a meme warrior. His creations in 2019 ranged from absurd to confusing to juvenile to copyright-infringing, and many had a tendency to backfire (much like the attempts of his meme-loving son). But on at least on one occasion, the president made such effective use of an old meme that Nickelback, the Canadian rock band whose music it appropriated, asked for it to be taken down. Trump posted a short clip of the first few seconds of the band’s music video for the song “Photograph” edited to include a picture of the Bidens on a golf course with a Burisma board member.

Can a candidate be ruined by memes?

No one embodied the year in GIFs and memes—not for a single moment but for an entire body of work—more than Kamala Harris. In October, her press secretary created a viral misfire of meme-making when he photoshopped his boss in the place of Trump in an image of Nancy Pelosi staring down the president at a White House meeting. Kamala 2020 is over, but the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the memes will never die.

Jezebel asked if the multitude of “Kamala is a Cop” memes, which took aim at her record as a prosecutor, contributed to the demise of her campaign.

We might not see any more of Harris on the campaign trail, but with one endlessly reusable able GIF that shows no sign of dropping out of our digital lexicon, we can wave goodbye to 2019 and look forward to even more memeable moments to come in 2020.

The Top GIF of the Year

What was, literally, the No. 1 political GIF of 2019? We asked GIPHY, a popular online GIF database, which told us that these perplexed and horrified reactions from an Italian translator in the Oval Office in October were the year’s most shared political GIFs.

At one point, Trump said of Syria, “They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So there’s a lot of sand they can play with.”