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In His Lies, Joe Biden Is Sounding a Lot Like Trump

While Biden has promised a break from Trumpism, in Tuesday’s debate and beyond, the former vice president has shown an utter disregard for the truth.

Both in Tuesday’s debate and beyond, Biden has exhibited the same kind of disregard for the truth as Trump.

One running theme of the bipartisan outrage at Donald Trump and his administration has been the constant stream of falsehoods emanating from the White House since he took office.

Ever since Kellyanne Conway defended the Trump administration’s use of “alternative facts” following the president’s inauguration, nary a week has gone by without a string of stories criticizing the president for his lies and mischaracterizations. The New York Times made a mosaic comprised of them, news outlets keep a running tally of them, and others rank them in end-of-year lists. The media, academics, institutions and other prominent individuals have charged that this “post-truth” politics is “dangerous,” rewiring our brains, leading to creeping fascism, and corroding, subverting, and otherwise threatening democracy.

And with former Vice President Joe Biden remaining a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, it’s safe to say that Trump’s mendacity is a large part of the reason many Democratic voters are putting their faith in Biden to unseat the president this year. Yet as Tuesday night’s debate showed, playing unabashedly fast and loose with the facts is one of the very things Biden shares with Trump.

Tuesday’s debate saw yet another instance of Biden being confronted about his role in leading the country to war in Iraq, and choosing to lie about it.

“It was a mistake to trust that they weren’t going to go to war,” he said in relation to his October 2002 vote to authorize the war. “They said they were not going to war … The world, in fact, voted to send inspectors in and they still went to war. From that point on, I was in the position of making the case that it was a big, big mistake and from that point on, I moved to bring those troops home.”

As fact-checkers have pointed out repeatedly, and as I detailed multiple times for In These Times, almost every part of this statement is a lie. Biden knew George W. Bush’s ultimate goal was regime change because he himself spoke openly about the need to remove dictator Saddam Hussein from power as early as February 2002. By June of that year, when asked about a leaked White House directive for the CIA to help capture and kill Saddam, Biden gave it his nod of approval on CBS’s “Face the Nation” and said that “if the covert action doesn’t work, we’d better be prepared to move forward with another action, an overt action,” which the Associated Press reported as an endorsement of an invasion. That month, Biden’s aides told Roll Call that the then-senator had told Bush he supported regime change in Iraq.

The next month, Biden said on “Fox News Sunday” that Bush would have the authority to pre-emptively invade Iraq if it was revealed that Saddam was in league in al-Qaeda—“justifiably given the case being made,” as he put it. And after voting to authorize the invasion, Biden embarked on a world tour to drum up support for the impending war, traveling to neighboring Jordan, Israel, Qatar and even to Kurdish-run northern Iraq, speaking to the Kurd parliament and assuring them the United States would stand with them.

Once the Iraq war began, far from “making the case that it was a big, big mistake,” Biden remained perhaps its most implacable cheerleader, even as the rest of the Democratic Party rapidly turned against it. Biden insisted in July 2003 that he would “vote to do it again,” referring to the invasion of Iraq, told the Brookings Institution that “Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with sooner rather than later,” and flatly replied “No” when asked if Howard Dean’s steadfastly anti-war views should become the consensus of the Democratic Party. Instead of moving to bring the troops home, in August, Biden called for an infusion of 20,000-50,000 more U.S. soldiers into the country.

Indeed, Biden held his pro-war attitude all the way through 2004 and that year’s presidential election. At the Democratic convention, he told the Pennsylvania delegation that Bush’s only “mistakes” were sending too few troops into Iraq and the administration’s poor planning for reconstruction, warning the delegation not to focus too much on Bush’s blunders lest Democrats “begin sounding like we’re rooting for failure.” As Democratic candidate John Kerry’s foreign policy advisor, Biden vowed to both party members and those watching at home that Kerry would “not hesitate to unleash the unparalleled power of our military—on any nation or group that does us harm—without asking anyone’s permission.”

As Bernie Sanders’ campaign assailed Biden for his role in the war ahead of Tuesday’s debate, Kerry, who has endorsed Biden and is now a campaign surrogate, returned the favor, lying about Biden’s record. Kerry has said that the October 2002 vote “didn’t mean you were in favor when the administration made the decision of actually going to war.”

This statement doesn’t square with Biden’s March 2003 vote for a Senate resolution backing Bush’s decision to go to war, or Biden’s words just days before the invasion: “I support the president. Diplomacy over avoiding war is dead,” and “Let loose the dogs of war. I’m confident we will win.” Nor does it square with Biden’s March 9, 2003 op-ed for the Wilmington, Delaware News Journal, which began: “I happen to think we will go to war with Iraq. And I happen to think the military phase will go relatively well. It’s a war that is justified.” Nevertheless, Kerry has insisted that “Bernie is regrettably distorting Joe’s record,” and that “Joe spoke out and criticized, Joe was against what they were doing.”

This pattern of dishonesty is nothing new. Biden has come under criticism during the campaign for repeatedly telling a moving war story that never actually happened, at one point telling his audience it was “the God’s truth” and they had his “word as a Biden.” Last year, his campaign made headlines when several passages from Biden’s climate plan turned out to be plagiarized. The candidate has also revived an old lie for this election, telling crowds that he had “come out of the civil rights movement,” and that he had “got involved in the civil rights movement as a kid.”

What’s notable about this particular lie is that it was one of the things that had ended Biden’s election hopes back in 1987. Though that presidential campaign had largely gone down in flames over a separate plagiarism scandal, it had also died a death by a thousand cuts over a series of other revelations calling into question Biden’s honesty.

One of these revelations concerned Biden’s frequent allusions to his supposed civil rights and anti-war activism, deployed particularly—though not exclusively—during his years opposing busing. In one Senate hearing, he told the former president of San Francisco State College that he had been a student demonstrator, and he had said during the campaign that “we marched to change attitudes” during the 1960s.

Reporters soon poked holes in the story, and Biden was forced to admit that “I was never an activist,” and that “the civil rights movement was an awakening for me, not as a consequence of my participation but as a consequence of my being made aware of what was happening.” Bobbie Greene McCarthy, a friend of Biden, told the media Biden had been “for a long time pretty much a supporter” of the Vietnam War, and Biden admitted that “by the time the war movement was at its peak, I was married. I was in law school. I wore sports coats,” and so not involved in such activism. He was, he explained, “a middle-class guy” and “not big on flak jackets and tie-dye shirts.”

In other words, both in Tuesday’s debate and beyond, Biden has exhibited the same kind of disregard for the truth as Trump. And this is far from the only characteristic they share.

Many liberals have despaired at the way Trump’s insults and coarse language have disrespected the office of the presidency, and more generally dragged political discourse into the gutter. Yet in December 2019, a crowd of Biden supporters clapped and cheered as the former vice president responded to a critical question from a voter about his son’s dealings in Ukraine by challenging the man to a push-up contest and an IQ test, before calling him fat. (The campaign later tried to claim Biden had said, “Look, facts”).

Democrats have rightly criticized Trump’s flouting of the rule of law, particularly his calls for his former White House counsel to ignore a Congressional subpoena. Yet Biden initially said he would similarly defy a Republican subpoena to attend Trump’s Senate impeachment trial. Much outrage has greeted the way Trump and his family have profited from his presidency. Yet Biden’s family has long profited from his political career, from his earliest days in the Senate to his final days in the White House. This mixing of family business-dealing and politics ultimately helped embroil Biden in a long-running scandal of his own.

A Biden nomination and (and presumptive victory in November) is still viewed by many Democratic voters as a way to rescue the country from the dishonesty of Trumpism. But it may be time to ask if it would instead simply usher in another version of it.


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Trump & School Prayer — President Signals Support for Evangelicals with School-Prayer Guidance

President Trump boards Air Force One as he departs Washington for campaign travel to Toledo, Ohio, from Joint Base Andrews, Md., January 9, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The Trump administration proposed a raft of policies on Thursday intended to bolster religious freedom, in a bid to court Evangelical and other religious voters.

President Trump will also hold an event at the Oval Office Thursday in support of school prayer meant to coincide with National Religious Freedom Day.

One of the administration’s proposed rules would require states to report to the Department of Education instances of public schools denying students the opportunity to pray. An administration official told Politico that the rule would be “fulfilling a statutory requirement to issue guidance on constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools.”

Federal funding for public schools would be conditioned on fulfilling the requirement to report infringements on the right to prayer. Schools would also be required to make the same facilities available to religious and secular groups alike.

In a separate proposal, the administration wants to condition federal funding for colleges and universities on an institution’s intent not to deny religious groups the same benefits and rights received by secular groups.

“We propose to remove and amend regulations that would impose burdens on faith-based organizations, provide special benefits to faith-based organizations, or treat faith-based organizations and religious individuals differently than other organizations or individuals,” the proposal reads.

The initiatives by the Trump administration come following condemnation of the President in December from Christianity Today, an Evangelical magazine founded by pastor Billy Graham but which for years has not been closely associated with the Graham family.

“To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve,” wrote editor Mark Galli in an op-ed. “Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior”

The President slammed the magazine on Twitter soon after the op-ed’s publication.

Christianity Today “knows nothing about reading a perfect transcript of a routine phone call and would rather have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President,” Trump wrote.

Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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Judge orders Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to jail

Paul Manafort is going to jail.

A federal judge ordered President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to jail as he awaits separate trials on federal conspiracy and money-laundering charges brought forward by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The judge revoked Manafort’s bail following allegations that he had reached out to potential witnesses in the special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election while on house arrest.

“I cannot turn a blind eye to this,” Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in a Washington courtroom, rejecting a suggestion by Manafort’s lawyer Richard Westling that she release Manafort with more restrictions, according to NBC News.

“This is not middle school. I can’t take his cellphone,” Jackson said.

Manafort’s first trial is scheduled to start in late July in U.S. District Court in Virginia. His second is schedule to begin in September in a D.C. federal court.

NBC reports that Manafort “did not appear to react to the ruling beyond a nod to his attorney. He was immediately taken into custody and walked into a hallway behind the courtroom. He gave a quick wave to his wife as he disappeared from sight.”

In response to news that his former campaign chairman will be going to jail, Trump tweeted,”Wow what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort, who has represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other top political people and campaigns.”

“Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the Mob. What about Comey and Crooked Hillary and all of the others? Very unfair!” Trump concluded.

The news comes one week after the special counsel indicted Manafort – again. The former Trump campaign manager was charged with obstruction of justice and witness tampering, alongside Konstantin Kilimnik, a close business associate from Russia.

Mueller’s team said they had obtained encrypted messaging, call records, and witness testimony sent by the former campaign chairman to back up the claim that he was trying to shape potential witnesses’ testimonies. They also said Manafort violated his conditions of release.

Early on Friday, reporters outside the White House asked about the president about Manafort. He said, “Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign. I feel a little badly about it.”

“You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time,” the president continued. “He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked for many other he worked for me, what, 49 days or something. Very short period of time.”

Before Friday, Manafort had been placed on house arrest, outfitted with two GPS ankle monitors while awaiting a trial set for the early fall.

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Trump impeachment: Pelosi warns ‘president’s henchmen’

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Media caption‘Hear ye, hear ye!’ Trump impeachment trial begins

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has warned Republicans not to become “the president’s henchmen” as the Trump impeachment trial began.

Mrs Pelosi renewed her call for fresh evidence and witnesses to be admitted in the forthcoming hearings.

Pre-trial proceedings have begun with the charges being formally read aloud to the Senate.

Donald Trump is the third US president ever to be impeached, but the previous two were not removed from office.

He is accused of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and brands the case against him as a politically motivated “hoax”.

Speaking at her weekly press conference on Thursday, Mrs Pelosi said: “I hope that the senators do not become part of the president’s henchmen.”

She spoke shortly before the trial of the president got underway in the US Senate, which is controlled by the president’s fellow Republicans.

The articles of impeachment were read out on the floor of the chamber by lead prosecutor Adam Schiff.

The Democratic congressman said no president had ever sought to impede an impeachment investigation so thoroughly.

Mr Schiff is one of seven impeachment managers who will make the case against the president.

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Media captionA beginner’s guide to impeachment and Trump

Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who is facing a tough re-election bid this year, was seen wiping away tears from her face as the charges were read.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was sworn in as presiding judge, before administering an oath to all 100 senators to deliver “impartial justice” as jurors.

Mr Trump’s defence team has not been formally announced, but White House lawyers Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow have been tipped to lead it.

The House officially handed over the impeachment proceedings on Wednesday, when Mrs Pelosi signed the articles of impeachment and they were walked across the Capitol in a procession and delivered to the Senate.

Republicans have criticised Mrs Pelosi over the signing event, mocking her for handing out commemorative pens decorated with her signature.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday, before trial proceedings began: “Nothing says seriousness and sobriety like handing out souvenirs as though this were a happy bill signing instead of the gravest process in our Constitution.”

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Mrs Pelosi handed out pens embossed with her signature in gold after the formal signing

Opening statements in the trial are expected next Tuesday.

The trial is still likely to be under way next month when Iowa and New Hampshire hold the first party votes to pick the eventual Democratic presidential candidate who will take on President Trump in November’s election.

Three of the candidates, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, are US senators and will have to drastically scale down campaigning to attend the trial.

Two other leading contenders, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, plan to capitalise on their rivals’ diversion by blitzing Iowa in the last few days before the crucial 3 February vote in that state.

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Bernie Sanders & Elizabeth Warren — Assuming He Said It, Just What Did He Do Wrong?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks with Sen. Bernie Sanders after the Democratic primary debte in Des Moines, Iowa, January 14, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

It’s hard to believe that behind closed doors, lifelong outspoken feminist Bernie Sanders suddenly transforms into Andrew Dice Clay and suddenly goes on about all the things a woman could never do.

But for a moment, let’s assume that Sanders said what was contended in that original CNN report — that “he did not believe a woman could win” against Donald Trump in 2020.

First, this isn’t that outlandish a belief, particularly in Democratic circles. Hillary Clinton herself said in 2017: “I started the campaign knowing that I would have to work extra hard to make women and men feel comfortable with the idea of a woman president. It doesn’t fit into the — the stereotypes we all carry around in our head.  And a lot of the sexism and the misogyny was in service of these attitudes. Like, you know, ‘We really don’t want a woman commander in chief.’” Right after the election, her running mate Tim Kaine declared America “has made it so uniquely difficult for a woman to make it into a federal office.”

In CNN’s account, the comment from Warren that preceded Sanders’ statement was Warren expressing the belief that she could “earn broad support from female voters.” But Clinton won the women’s vote, 54 percent to 41 percent, and still lost. “Broad support from female voters,” by itself, is probably not sufficient to beat Trump, unless it considerably expands upon Clinton’s margin in those key swing states. There’s no indication that a sufficient number of voters are hungering for a woman president. A 2018 Pew poll found that 38 percent of men and 51 percent of women hope to see a woman president in their lifetime.

The account from Warren didn’t include any suggestion that Sanders was mocking, belittling, or otherwise snide or hostile in his response to her presidential ambitions. There’s no indication that Sanders thought it was a good thing that, in his assessment, a woman wouldn’t be able to beat Trump. If he said it, he seemed to be warning his friend about an obstacle he thought she was underestimating. Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s wrong, but it hardly constitutes some sort of sexist attack on Warren. And if Sanders secretly harbors a sexist low opinion of Warren, he’s hidden it well. He’s certainly been, at minimum, cordial to her in the primary until recently.

For what it’s worth, I doubt he said it, at least in the way she describes. Apparently, his comment didn’t bother Warren enough for her to mention it at the time or at any other point in 2018 or 2019. No, she and her camp didn’t start telling reporters about it until two days before the last televised debate before the Iowa caucuses. The spectacularly convenient timing of this story strongly suggests deliberate political opportunism.

I happen to think the assessment that a woman couldn’t beat Trump is wrong; if politics has taught us anything in recent decades, it’s that just about anybody can beat just about anybody if the outside circumstances are right. If enough Minnesotans are unimpressed with the major party candidates, they’ll make Jesse Ventura governor. If enough Alabamans are repulsed by Roy Moore, they’ll elect Democrat Doug Jones to Senate. If the national mood is sufficiently against Democrats and Martha Coakley claims that Curt Schilling is a Yankee fan, then Republican Scott Brown can win a Senate seat in Massachusetts.

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Trump Rants About Dishwashers, Showers, Toilets at Rally

A bit of perspective is always important, particularly in a presidential primary. The remaining Democratic candidates who took to the debate stage in Des Moines Tuesday night have real differences, and we should vote accordingly. But in the heat of battle—and amid the media quest for clicks and ratings—they start to appear diametrically opposed to one another. Never mind that they all say they want to expand access to healthcare coverage, even if some may be more committed to that goal than others. You might think Amy Klobuchar’s platform lacks ambition, or Bernie Sanders’ goes too far, but an overarching consideration in all this is that these people appear to be sane. In the Year of Our Lord 2020, that is part of the discussion.

While the six candidates were rehashing many of the familiar debates over, say, Medicare For All vs. a public option, the incumbent president they all want to run against was having another episode in Milwaukee. The sitting president, you see, is certifiable. For whatever reason, people who report on him every day are reluctant to point out that he is more than a few bulbs short of a chandelier. When he’s not engaged in some racist propagandistic tirade about undocumented immigrants, he is ranting about household appliances. This is not a joke, or some sort of code.

This is the president’s way of waging the culture war against snooty coastal liberal elites who want you to “manage your water usage” or “try to save energy.” And in fairness, a shower with bad water pressure is indeed terrible. (Is he suggesting that’s a problem at the White House? Mar-a-Lago? Or is this just a bit?) But it does feel like we’ve lost our grip on normal.

This rant is approximately what it would look like if Andrew Dice Clay had to perform a standup routine Jerry Seinfeld wrote on Klonopin. (Next up: “What is it with airplanes these days? I can’t feel the left side of my face.”) It’s a fascinating look into how Trump channels the everyday frustrations of the modern world into weaponized resentment, but it’s also just nutso. The President of the United States is raving about how you have to turn the knobs, and it’s not really working, there’s no water, and you have to run the dishwasher five, six, seven, eight, nine, TEN times, and the light bulbs make “you” look orange, and he can’t say anything about toilets at the State of the Union because “these people”—the press—will give him bad reviews. That last part was a reference to his previous rant about how “people are flushing 10 times, 15 times.” In that same speech in December, the president announced he’s “looking very strongly” at sinks and showers.

In reality, the press has proven remarkably tolerant of a national leader who presumably took some time away from yelling at passing cars on a street corner to theoretically run the country. Yes, he’s relentlessly fact-checked because he lies constantly. Yes, journalists do great work digging into his blatant corruption. Yes, people have raised a stink over his decision to extort a foreign government until it attacked American democracy for his personal benefit. But really, he mostly gets a pass on the core point that he is very publicly insane.

That’s part of why there are really very few questions at the Democratic debates that seek to contrast the Democratic field with the incumbent president. Most of the framing is meant to, in the best cases, illustrate real differences between the candidates, and in the worst, to drum up bullshit beefs. But the fact is that all of the people on the debate stage last night accept that climate change is an existential threat to human civilization as we know it and must be combatted. (Again, some have shown more comprehensive commitment to that than others.) The president spends his time complaining about environmentally inclined consumer products. He’s also said windmills cause cancer. The most important consideration as we approach the actual voting season is that the Democratic candidates mostly appear to be sane. That would be different.

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Conservatives Are Flipping Out Over Nancy Pelosi‘s Pens

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When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally signed the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, she did it with pens that some conservatives, somehow, thought looked like bullet casings.

Pelosi used a stack of custom-made pens, emblazoned with her signature, to sign the articles on Wednesday so they could head to the Senate, where Trump’s impeachment trial is set to start Tuesday. The Democratic leader then gave them away to various lawmakers and her handpicked impeachment “managers,” who will present the evidence. Soon after, conservatives flocked to social media to deride the speaker for not taking the occasion seriously enough.

“Nancy Pelosi’s souvenir pens served up on silver platters to sign the sham articles of impeachment,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted out Wednesday night. “She was so somber as she gave them away to people like prizes.”

Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the GOP, commented that Pelosi was “handing out pens like party favors at the signing ceremony.”

“Just another example of how disgusting and partisan this impeachment charade has been,” she added.

Fox News personality Maria Bartiromo wrote in a now-deleted tweet, “Wow they look like bullet cases.” That set off the right-wing Twittersphere, where tons of users were suddenly posting about the bullet pens. More than a few people speculated that she’d delayed signing the articles of impeachment because she was waiting for her special order of fancy pens to arrive.

Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed Pelosi for partaking in the very normal post-signing pen-giveaway tradition.

“Well, nothing says seriousness and sobriety like handing out souvenirs,” he said on the Senate floor on Thursday. “As though this were a happy bill-signing, instead of the gravest process in our Constitution.”

On Capitol Hill, politicians often sign stuff and give away the pens they used as souvenirs. President Donald Trump has done so regularly, as do lawmakers in both the House and the Senate.

For his part, Trump is partial to a very specific pen. He broke signing tradition by using a custom-made Sharpie to sign bills. (The marker also has his signature scrawled on it.) Trump used to use the more traditional, and more expensive, Century II black lacquer and gold rollerball pen, which former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama also used.

It wrote like shit, he said.

“I was signing documents with a very expensive pen, and it didn’t write well,” Trump said in an HBO special produced by Axios. “It was a horrible pen, and it was extremely expensive. A government-ordered pen.”

So he called up the folks at Sharpie and said, “Do me a favor, can you make the pen in black? Make it look rich?” Trump told Axios.

Cover image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., second from right, gives pens to, from left, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., after she signed the resolution to transmit the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate for trial on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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Adam Schiff was an answer on ‘Jeopardy,’ but no one knew who he was

Adam Schiff (Image via Twitter)

Ouch, that’s got to sting! For nearly a month, his face was broadcast daily on network and cable TV as he led the so-called House investigation into claiming they had discovered high crimes and misdemeanors on the part of the president. Yet, when the writers of the quiz show “Jeopardy” provided the clue “1/53rd of California’s House delegation is this Intelligence Committee chairman,” along with a photo of Adam Schiff , not a single contestant could identify him.

Watch:

Trending: Dems’ latest smoking gun is neither smoking nor a gun: Discuss

It’s no secret that Americans are woefully uninformed when it comes to civics and government — only 36% of your fellow countrymen can name the three branches of government, and fully a third can’t name a single one.

Yet, even for those who noticed it only in passing, Adam Schiff’s mug is one people are likely to forget easily. Maybe the fault lies partly with the “Jeopardy” crew, who selected an uncharacteristic photo of Schiff in which his eyes are not bugging out:

Adam Schiff (Image: ‘Jeopardy’ screen grab))

In fact, until seeing the clip from the show, I wasn’t aware that there were any pictures of Schiff where his eyes looked relatively human. I guess this has been a learning experience for all of us.

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Government watchdog concludes Trump administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid

The GAO, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog, said in a decision issued Thursday that the White House budget office violated the Impoundment Control Act, a 1974 law that limits the White House from withholding funds that Congress has appropriated.

The Office of Management and Budget told the GAO it “withheld the funds to ensure that they were not spent ‘in a manner that could conflict with the President’s foreign policy,'” said Thomas Armstrong, the GAO’s general counsel. But the GAO rejected that argument.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the GAO wrote. “OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act. The withholding was not a programmatic delay. Therefore, we conclude that OMB violated the ICA.”

The decision will add fuel to the Democratic allegations that Trump’s conduct ran afoul of the law when the his administration withheld $400 million in security aid to Ukraine while the President and his team pushed Ukraine to open an investigation into the President’s political rivals.

The GAO decision comes as the President’s Senate impeachment trial is set to begin on Thursday, with Senate Democrats pushing for Republicans to allow additional witnesses and documents to be considered during the trial.

“This bombshell legal opinion from the independent Government Accountability Office demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump Administration illegally withheld security assistance from Ukraine. The publicly available evidence also shows that the President himself ordered this illegal act,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement. “The GAO’s independent findings reinforce the need for the Senate to obtain all relevant documents and hear from key fact witnesses in order to have a fair trial.”

OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel said the budget office disagrees with the GAO’s decision.

“OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President’s priorities and with the law,” Semmel said.

The White House budget office notified federal agencies that the Ukraine aid was being withheld at the direction of the President on July 18, 2019, according to testimony from the House’s impeachment inquiry. The aid was formally withheld on July 25, when OMB official Michael Duffey, a political appointee, took over the decision from Mark Sandy, a career budget official.

But Democrats seized on the decision, arguing it was both a clear sign the President violated the law and that the Senate needed to hear new information about Trump’s dealings in Ukraine.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the GAO report “confirmed that the President’s actions at the center of our impeachment articles, withholding congressionally approved military aid from Ukraine, was illegal.”

“This reinforces again the need for documents and eyewitnesses in the Senate,” she said. “You see this more and more and more in all of this, this tangled web to deceive that the administration is engaged in.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, the Maryland Democrat who sought the Government Accountability Office report on the White House violating the Impoundment Control Act, said he thought the GAO’s decision would become a significant part of the House’s impeachment case that’s presented in the Senate.

During the House impeachment inquiry, the Impoundment Control Act was not a focus, and it didn’t wind up in the two articles of impeachment, but Van Hollen said now that a non-partisan watchdog has weighed in, it should take on added importance.

“I think the House will now make that a big part of the argument,” he told reporters. “I think how that we have an independent, non-partisan legal determination from GAO, it conclusively demonstrates that the administration violated the law. And we know from other evidence that they violated the law at the direct command of the President.”

Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont, the top Senate Democratic appropriator, said the GAO decision was “damning.”

“I’ve been here since the time of President Ford, I have never, ever seen a report like this objecting so strongly to actions of the President,” he said.

And House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey of New York said that after the watchdog ruling, “I feel even more strongly that the House has chosen the right course by impeaching President Trump.”

The hold on the aid was extended nine times until a decision on September 11 to release it, which came as Congress was ramping up investigations for the delay and after a whistleblower report had been filed alleging that the aid was being withheld by the President as he sought for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, even though there’s no evidence that either broke the law.

The White House budget office told the GAO that the money was withheld because they were reviewing the programs, meaning the delay wasn’t subject to the Impoundment Control Act. But the GAO rejected that argument.

“OMB asserts that its actions are not subject to the ICA because they constitute a programmatic delay,” GAO wrote. “OMB further argues that because reviews for compliance with statutory conditions and congressional mandates are considered programmatic, so too should be reviews undertaken to ensure compliance with presidential policy prerogatives. OMB’s assertions have no basis in law.”

The GAO said its investigation is not yet complete into the matter, as the State Department and OMB did not provide information requested related to the hold of State Department funding to Ukraine. “We will continue to pursue this matter,” the watchdog wrote.

This story has been updated with additional information and reaction to the report.

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The problem with Blackburn’s call for Dem recusals in Trump trial

As the Senate prepares for the start of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, first-year Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) wants to see some of her colleagues recuse themselves from the proceedings.

Is she thinking about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who publicly vowed to be in “total coordination” with the White House during the trial? No, Blackburn’s fine with his participation.

Is she concerned about Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who’s already bragged that he won’t be “a fair juror,” and who this week said he wants the Senate to “end this crap as quickly as possible”? No, Blackburn is fine Graham’s role, too.

Instead, the far-right Tennessean is pushing for the recusals of the Senate’s Democratic presidential candidates.

Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, called on the four senators seeking the Democratic nomination for president to recuse themselves from the trial because of “unparalleled political interest” in removing President Trump from office.

The candidates, Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, are all expected to leave the campaign trail and take an oath to hear the case against Mr. Trump.

“To participate in this trial would be a failure of the oath they took to be an ‘impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws,’” Ms. Blackburn said in a statement. “Their presidential ambitions prohibit their ability to view this trial through an objective lens.”

Blackburn pushed this message on Twitter, and her missive received Donald Trump’s personal endorsement, suggesting he, too, wants Bennet, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren not to participate in the trial.

I have a hunch that’s not going to happen, in large part because the argument doesn’t make sense.

There is, in reality, no conflict of interest. Yes, these Democratic senators are seeking national office, but their votes on Trump’s fate won’t make them president: if senators weigh the evidence, come to terms with his misdeeds, and vote to hold Trump accountable, then Mike Pence would assume the office, not one of the Democratic senators.

“Their presidential ambitions prohibit their ability to view this trial through an objective lens”? I don’t follow the logic. These lawmakers want to be president, so they can’t objectively scrutinize a president’s misdeeds?

Trump’s devotees will have to do better than this.