This Will Come Back to Haunt Trump and His Enablers

The president was acquitted by the Senate, but the American people are smarter.

The vote to acquit President Trump was a dark day for the Senate. Uninterested in hearing from witnesses (and likely scared by what they would say), uncritical of outrageous legal arguments made by the president’s lawyers and apparently unconcerned about the damage Mr. Trump has done to the integrity of America’s elections, a majority of senators insisted on looking the other way and letting him off the hook for a classic impeachable offense: abuse of public office for private gain.

But while the Senate got it wrong, the American people learned what’s right. This impeachment was about much more than the final vote of 100 senators. It was a process, and that process yielded a public education of extraordinary value. While the Senate may emerge from the process weakened, the American people, on the whole, emerge from it strengthened by a sharpened sense of what’s right and what’s wrong for an American president; of what it means for a political party to show moral courage; of what it looks like when dedicated public servants speak truth no matter the consequences; and of the importance of whistle-blowers for ensuring accountability.

The past few months have shown Americans a president who abused the public trust for his personal benefit. Before this process, we suspect, few Americans had dwelled on the question of when it crosses the line for a president to exploit for private political gain the tools of national power placed in his or her hands.

But impeachment has forced Americans to confront it — a question, it turns out, that was central to the framers’ decision to include impeachment in our Constitution. And Americans overwhelmingly reject what Mr. Trump did, with 75 percent saying in December that his Ukraine extortion scheme was wrong (a view that even some Republican senators have endorsed). That’s huge: For all that divides Americans today, this is a dominant consensus on what it means to abuse public office and distort American democracy.

Americans have also seen that, despite the intense pessimism and even disillusionment that many feel about politics, a political party still can show moral courage — regardless of the political costs. The Democrats were told constantly that impeachment would hurt them in November. Mr. Trump himself has boasted that it will, and what’s more he has relished the chance to claim exoneration and to take a victory lap at the same time as Democratic hopefuls began duking it out in earnest in the primaries. The Democrats knew all this, and what’s more, they knew they faced an uphill battle: That’s what the constitutional requirement of a two-thirds Senate majority to convict imposes from the beginning.

But they still did the right thing. They called out impropriety so glaring that it could not be suffered in silence. And they reminded all of us that a political party can pursue what’s right over what’s expedient — and so can a lone politician, as Senator Mitt Romney showed.

Americans saw on vivid display another form of courage: the incredible bravery of public servants who testified before the House of Representatives, the nation and the world — people like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Dr. Fiona Hill. They did so despite the gag orders issued by Mr. Trump to disobey Congress. They did so knowing they’d face death threats. They did so not knowing whether their testimony would yield the president’s impeachment or removal. And they spoke up because they believed in truth as an end in itself.

That’s a reminder, in our disinformation-fueled times, that candor is a value we must recover. And it’s a lesson for the American people that those who serve our government by working long hours for little pay and even less glory aren’t the “deep state” that Mr. Trump denounces but, instead, patriots.

Americans also received a lesson in the critical importance of whistle-blowers in holding our government to account. The role of whistle-blowers is as old as the government itself, dating back to the Continental Congress. But never has their necessity been put on display as clearly as when a courageous whistle-blower filed the complaint that, ultimately, led to the exposure of Mr. Trump’s Ukraine extortion bid.

In this, Americans can see why the United States has been protecting whistle-blowers by law since 1777: Through proper channels, they can provide internal accountability that other actors — like Congress and the press — often can’t achieve, especially when an administration like the current one so relentlessly tries to hide its misdeeds and resist oversight.

Remember also that the investigation into Mr. Trump’s Ukraine extortion scandal isn’t over. Trump’s own lawyers insisted that key witnesses like John Bolton should testify in the House, rather than in the Senate. And Mr. Trump’s entire defense was that the people should decide in November. So be it. The House has a continuing duty, as part of its oversight and legislative functions, to get to the bottom of what happened so that November will be a fully informed choice. Recall that it was Mr. Trump’s central defense that there weren’t witnesses who testified that they saw, firsthand, his extortion of Ukraine. The House now has an opportunity to do so. And it must, according to Mr. Trump’s own arguments, so that the November election can serve the function that Mr. Trump, in warding off impeachment, claimed it should.

President Trump may remain in office for now, but he now serves an American people that’s stronger for the journey our country has just taken. It’s a country energized by a sense of when a president has abused his office; reminded of how a political party can choose morality over political expediency; enlightened by the display of candor from public servants; and educated about the crucial nature of whistle-blowers and thus of the legal protections afforded them.

Regrettably, one political party has resisted acknowledging, let alone embracing, these lessons. That’s a danger to the Republic. And it’s one that Americans now need to address through their public advocacy, their community engagement — and, ultimately, at the voting booth in November.

Steve Castor: Annoying Style of Asking Questions Over and Over

Before Castor started working for Congress, he practiced commercial litigation in Philadelphia and Washington D.C. His style of questioning has been described as annoying to witnesses and those representing them. He likes to ask the same questions over and over again, and during the hearings, it’s expected that he will follow a dialogue of questioning that will please Trump.

During the closed-door depositions, Castor has interrogated officials about Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company where Joe Biden‘s son, Hunter Biden, used to serve as a board member. Even after Pentagon Official, Laura Cooper, said, “I have no level of personal knowledge or detail on these,” he continued to ask the same question three more times.

.. After it was revealed that Fiona Hill’s lawyer, Lee Wolosky, wanted it on the record that Castor laughed in response to Hill being targeted by Alex Jones and Info Wars, he received a lot of ridicule on Twitter.

House Panels Hear Official’s Concerns About Trump’s Ukraine Call

White House aide Alexander Vindman also will testify Sondland made Ukraine meeting contingent on probes

House committees heard testimony on Tuesday from an official who listened in on the pivotal July 25 call between President Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart and said he was so alarmed by the call that he reported his concerns to a White House lawyer.

In the call, Mr. Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into matters related to the 2016 election and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Those requests, and a temporary hold on aid to Ukraine, are at the center of House Democrats’ impeachment probe.

Alexander Vindman, the director of European affairs at the National Security Council, said he was concerned by Mr. Trump’s July 25 call because he didn’t think it was appropriate to ask another country to investigate a U.S. citizenAccording to his opening statement obtained by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Vindman said he was worried that the requests could be viewed as a “partisan play” that would cause Ukraine to lose the bipartisan support that is the basis for years of American aid in Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression.

Mr. Vindman, who arrived at the Capitol Tuesday morning to offer his closed-door testimony, is the ninth witness to be interviewed by Democratic-led committees and the first person who was on the summer call to speak before the panels. His testimony comes as Democrats prepare to launch a new phase of the investigation that will include public hearings and release transcripts of witnesses who have testified previously.

[Read Mr. Vindman’s opening statement here.]

Mr. Vindman reported to Fiona Hill, the NSC’s former top Russia adviser, who has already testified. Ms. Hill in turn reported to John Bolton, the former national security adviser. Mr. Vindman, who was three years old when his family emigrated from Ukraine in the former Soviet Union, is an Army officer who served in Iraq and was awarded a Purple Heart.

Timeline: Interactions Between Trump's Camp and Ukraine

Timeline: Interactions Between Trump’s Camp and Ukraine
President Trump’s efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, have set off an impeachment inquiry by House Democrats. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday lays out a timeline of interactions between the president’s inner circle and Ukrainian officials. Photo Composite: Laura Kammermann/The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Vindman said that he raised concerns to colleagues inside the White House about two critical moments—the July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and Ukraine’s President Zelensky, as well as a July 10 meeting that Mr. Vindman attended between White House and Ukrainian officials. After both, Mr. Vindman said he reported his concerns to the National Security Council’s lead counsel.

Mr. Vindman, who appears pursuant to a subpoena, said that at the July 10 meeting, U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland started speaking about Ukraine delivering specific investigations to secure a meeting with Mr. Trump when Mr. Bolton cut the meeting short. Mr. Vindman said that at a debriefing after the meeting, Mr. Sondland “emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma,” the Ukrainian company where Hunter Biden was a board member.

In his prepared testimony, Mr. Vindman said that he then told Mr. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate as the request to investigate Mr. Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security.

Mr. Sondlandin his own testimony earlier this month, acknowledged raising investigations in the July 10 meeting but said he doesn’t recall any NSC officials expressing concerns to him. His testimony is at odds with that of Mr. Vindman; Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine who testified last week; and Ms. Hill, who testified earlier this month.

Mr. Sondland’s lawyer declined to comment on Mr. Vindman’s testimony.

Mr. Trump sought to play down the testimony Tuesday morning, tweeting: “Why are people that I never even heard of testifying about the call.” He added: “How many more Never Trumpers will be allowed to testify about a perfectly appropriate phone call when all anyone has to do is READ THE TRANSCRIPT!”

The White House, under pressure from Capitol Hill following an unnamed whistleblower filing a complaint about the call, released the rough transcript of the July 25 call last month. Mr. Vindman said in his prepared testimony that he is not the whistleblower and doesn’t know who it is.

Some allies of the president, including Fox News host Laura Ingraham and former Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wis.), questioned on cable news shows whether Mr. Vindman’s stance on Ukraine and Mr. Trump’s comments was related to his being born there, and they questioned his motivations. But prominent House Republicans rejected doubts about his loyalty or patriotism.

We’re talking about decorated veterans who have served this nation,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.), a member of GOP leadership. “And it is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation, and we should not be involved in that process.”

Democrats panned the criticism of Mr. Vindman.

If that’s all they’ve got, to question the patriotism of a lieutenant colonel who took a bullet for us and has a Purple Heart on the battlefield, well, good luck to them,” said Rep. Ron Kind (D., Wis.). “My goodness.”

Mr. Vindman’s brief opening statement sheds no light on another facet of the controversy involving Ukraine—the holdup of nearly $400 million of aid to Ukraine over the summer. The hold on U.S. aid to Ukraine came at the request of acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on direction from Mr. Trump.

Mr. Vindman’s testimony took place behind closed doors but could become public under a resolution expected to be voted on later this week. House Democrats will use the vote to formally set up a process for the next stage of the inquiry, including holding hearings, authorizing the disclosure of transcripts and outlining procedures to transfer evidence to the Judiciary Committee, which traditionally drafts articles of impeachment. The resolution will also set forth due-process rights for the president and his counsel.

Republicans have said that the resolution does little to legitimize an inquiry that they deride as a sham. They claim that the damage to the president has already been done by a closed-door probe that they say has been marred by selective leaks of information harmful to the president. A federal judge late last week determined that the House inquiries have legal standing as an impeachment investigation.

THE UKRAINE WITNESSES

Scheduled to Testify:

  • Oct. 30: Kathryn Wheelbarger, the acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs; Catherine Croft, who served at the State Department as special adviser for Ukraine; Christopher Anderson, who was a special adviser to Kurt Volker, the former U.S. envoy for Ukraine negotiations
  • Oct. 31: Tim Morrison, the National Security Council’s Russia and Europe director

Trump’s new Russia expert wrote a psychological profile of Vladimir Putin — and it should scare Trump

Well, now the Trump team has its own dossier on Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s better sourced, convincingly written, damning in its conclusions — and its author is scheduled to start working at the White House on Monday.

.. In this telling, Putin sees the United States as a malicious, incompetent and disrespectful power, an obstacle in his relentless effort to restore and expand the might of the Russian state.

.. list six identities that they think make up Putin’s “mental outlook, his worldview” —

  1. the Statist,
  2. the History Man,
  3. the Survivalist,
  4. the Outsider,
  5. the Free Marketeer and
  6. the Case Officer.

.. underlying everything in this book is a vision of Putin as manipulator — he is “a master at manipulating information, suppressing information, and creating pseudo-information” — and as extortionist, deploying blackmail against opponents, allies and (take note here, President Trump) foreign leaders. “As he can fully trust only himself,” Hill and Gaddy write, “Putin applies extortionary methods to everyone else — basically mutually assured incrimination to ensure loyalty.”

.. Putin regards Russia’s post-Soviet stumbles of the 1990s — beholden to the West, rudderless at home — as an unforgivable humiliation he must avenge.

.. “Putin pledged to rebuild the Russian state, protect Russia’s sovereignty, preserve domestic stability and unity, and ensure national security,”

.. The tools at his disposal include deft historical symbolism

.. Every survived calamity reaffirms the special status of Russia in history.

.. He relishes inappropriate humor (testicle-related jokes, in particular, are a Putin specialty) and likes to make a show of dressing down subordinates or oligarchs. “The public loves to see him admonishing figures they do not like in the same language that they would use if they had the opportunity,”

.. Putin is a Free Marketeer in sort of an “Art of the Deal” sense.

.. “Capitalism, in Putin’s understanding, is not production, management, and marketing. It is wheeling and dealing.

.. Here is the Case Officer. Because of his 15 years in the KGB, Putin is skilled in “studying the mind of the targets, finding their vulnerabilities, and figuring out how to use them.” This is how he has managed Russia’s oligarchs, the authors say, using their wealth — and their desire for more — against them.

.. Participants in the system are not bought off in the classic sense of that term. They are compromised; they are made vulnerable to threats. . . . Corrupt, even illegal, activity will be kept secret as long as the individual continues to play the game.”

.. It is not clear, though, that he has a good sense of the West, or of the United States in particular. This country is an abstraction for him; he knows few Americans, and those he knows, such as George W. Bush and Obama, he does not like.

.. He believes all local protesters are driven by “fringe minorities and professional oppositionists, or by foreign funding and intervention.”

.. Does he believe that or, like other leaders we know, is he simply deligitimizing legitimate protests?

.. “Putin has spent a great deal of time in his professional life bending the truth, manipulating facts, and playing with fictions,” they write. “He is also, we conclude, not always able to distinguish one from the other.”