Monthly Archives: September 2019

Ready or Not, Here Comes Impeachment

The recent revelations about Donald Trump’s attempt to bribe the President of Ukraine, in order to get political dirt on Joe Biden, once again raises the specter of Trump’s impeachment. What’s involved?

On Tuesday, September 24th, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, announced the commencement of a formal impeachment inquiry:

“…the Trump administration’s actions undermine both the national security and our intelligence and our protections of whistleblowers… For the past several months we have been investigating in our committees and litigating in the courts so the House can gather all the relevant facts and whether to exercise its Article 1 powers, including a constitutional power of the utmost gravity of articles of impeachment.

…this week, the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically. The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of betrayal of his oath of office and betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.

Therefore, today I’m announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry and directing our six committees to proceed with their investigation under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry.”

Pelosi’s actions carry political risk.  Until this week, the national polling on impeachment has been discouraging.  In July Quinnipiac asked, “Do you think that Congress should begin the process to impeach President Trump, which could lead to his removal from office, or don’t you think so?”  Only 32 percent of respondents said that Congress should begin the impeachment process. Now, the polls indicate positive movement.  The September 26, NPR/PBSNewsHour/Marist Poll ( ) indicates that 49 percent of respondents are in favor (46 percent opposed) and Independents are split.

It will be a slog to get impeachment to happen.  But it’s not impossible.  Here’s what’s necessary:

1.The Impeachment process has to move rapidly.  American don’t have the patience to stay with an impeachment process that drags on and on.  (That was one of the problems with the Mueller investigation and the arduous release of the Mueller report.)

One of the inherent problems is that Trump is a master at distraction.  He’s likely to do something bizarre — invade Greenland — in order to move public attention off impeachment.

Speaker Pelosi indicated that she plans to get the House to vote on impeachment this year.  That feels like the correct timeline.

2. The impeachment process must be focussed.  If the process is going to move rapidly and keep public attention, then it has to be focussed.  Pelosi is mindful of this; on September 26th, she indicated that the impeachment inquiry will focus on the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s interaction with Ukraine. (Many observers have noted that the complaint is very detailed (

That doesn’t mean that the six House committees that are investigating Trump’s improprieties should stop work.  What it does suggest is that all their findings should be funneled first through the Intelligence committee — chaired by Adam Schiff — which will do the bulk of the work on the whistleblower complaint, and then through the Judiciary committee — chaired by Jerry Nadler — which will present the impeachment motion for a vote by the House.  (That is, over the next couple of months, any relevant committee findings have to be funneled to Intelligence and Judiciary.)

3. The process has to sway independents.  We know that Trump is a polarizing figure.  With regard to impeachment, typically 90 percent of Republicans don’t want Trump impeached; around the same percentage of Democrats want him impeached.  So the critical voters are independents.  The impeachment inquiry has to be conducted in such a way that it moves the opinion of independents.  The inquiry has to be quick, focussed, and evenhanded.

4. The evidence has to be overwhelming.  In order to be seen as evenhanded the impeachment inquiry has to present overwhelming evidence of the Presidents’s culpability — there has to be “a smoking gun.”  There seems to be, in the whistleblower complaint, three very clear examples of the President’s wrongdoing:

a. Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and the Ukrainian government, to investigate Joe Biden.

b. There was a conspiracy.  Trump involved Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, Attorney General Barr, and other Administration officials in his attempt to get The Ukrainians to investigate Biden.

c. The White House made multiple efforts to hide evidence of the Ukrainian effort.  There has been an obvious coverup.

5. The White House must cooperate.  The Trump Administration is between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.”  If they fully cooperate it will move the House inquiry closer to a vote.  If they don’t cooperate, the House Democrats will have further ammunition for their “cover up/obstruction” charges.

The whistleblower report contains evidence of the equivalent of the infamous Nixon tapes.  The report indicates:

“White House lawyers directed White House officials to ‘remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored’ and place the word-for-word account on a server typically reserved for highly classified information, according to the complaint… White House officials said this was ‘not the first time’ that a presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system to shield politically sensitive information.”

The House Intelligence committee must be granted access to this special server.  If necessary, they will have to go to the Supreme Court to obtain this information.

6. The House Vote Has to Attract Some Republican Support.  If the House vote was held today, it would pass but with only Democratic support.  If the impeachment inquiry is quick, focussed, and produces overwhelming evidence of Trump’s guilt, then it should attract the votes of some Republican House members — certainly those in swing districts.

It’s possible to bring the House impeachment process to a vote before the end of the year.  Let’s worry about the Senate process in 2020.

Consequences of the Saudi Oilfield Attacks

On September 14, Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil fields were attacked by drones and cruise missiles, and approximately half of the Saudi oil capacity was “disrupted.”  The details are in dispute but Yemen’s Houthi rebels took credit for the attack that appeared to originate across the Persian Gulf — either in Kuwait, Iraq, or Iran.

These attacks have three consequences.  First, they illustrate that we have entered into a new phase of terrorist activity.  Second, they put an end to Trump’s recent attempts to forge a new “deal” with Iran.  And third, they remind us — once again — that Trump, and his family are beholden to the (effective) Saudi leader, Mohammed bin Salman — referred to as MBS.

The terrorist attacks were carried out using sophisticated drones and cruise missiles.  The Guardian ( stated: “The Houthis recently acquired much more powerful drone technology that has given them the power to strike targets up to 1,500km (~1000 miles).  [An Aramco oilfield]  is within about 1,000km of Houthi-held territory.”  (It’s widely reported that Iran helped the Houthi rebels master this more sophisticated technology.)  CNN ( ) observed: “Saudi Arabia has spent billions on state-of-the-art air defense and early warning systems, but a mix of cruise missiles and drones was able to penetrate its airspace…That suggests serious shortcomings in where Saudi systems are placed and what they’re designed to do.”

The success of the attacks on the attacks on the Saudi oilfields should be a wakeup call for Americans.  The use of sophisticated drones and cruise missiles to attack critical infrastructure suggests that most U.S. assets are now vulnerable.  For example, California is roughly 350 miles wide — west to east.  Thus, all California oil resources would be vulnerable to an attack launched at sea — as would the state’s lone nuclear facility at Diablo Canyon.

The terrorist attacks came during a period where Trump seemed to be reversing his stance on Iran.  After cancelling U.S. participation in the Iran nuclear agreement — the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” or JPA — Trump had taken a hard line with Iran.  However, recently Trump appeared to be softening his stance, indicating that at the September 24th United Nations General Assembly, he might be willing to meet with Iran President Rouhani with no preconditions for the talks.  (This reversal was one of the reasons that Trump parted ways with his national security adviser, John Bolton.)  However, immediately after the Aramco attacks, Trump blamed Iran and appeared to, once again, be taking a hard line.

On September 18, Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo described the Aramco attacks as an “act of war” orchestrated by Iran (  Pompeo said the U.S. intends to build a “coalition to deter further attacks.”  Trump ordered further economic sanctions against Iran and muttered about military action — although he’s backed down in the last couple of days.

It should be noted that the world community does not hold Iran responsible for the Saudi oilfield attacks.  On September 18th, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono remarked, “We are not aware of any information that points to Iran.  We believe the Houthis carried out the attack based on the statement claiming responsibility.”  ( )

Trump has no coherent Iran policy and has lost the support of our allies.  According to the New York Times ( ), an Iran expert observed: “Iranian hard-liners consider Trump’s inconsistency to be weakness… [They believe] their policy of ‘maximum resistance’ is working.”

Trump has extensive financial ties to Saudi Arabia.  During the 2015 presidential campaign, Trump boasted: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me… Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much… They buy all sorts of my stuff. All kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me millions and hundred of millions.”( )  There’s also evidence that Trump’ son-in-law, Jared Kushner has ties to the Saudis. ( ).  Recently the Saudi’s have been frequent visitors at Trump hotels.  According to Jonathan Chait, writing in New York Magazine ( “The Saudis spend extravagant sums of money at his hotels in Washington and New York. Earlier this summer, a Saudi entourage of more than two dozen stayed at Trump’s resort in Scotland.”

At the moment, Trump’s strongest ally in the Middle East is Mohammed bin Salman — who is a thug,  (Readers will remember that most observers blame MBS for the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi ( ).)  If MBS decides to attack Iran, then Trump will probably go along.  Such a war would have catastrophic consequences.  It would involve the entire region.  And the United States.

Most of us have grave concerns about Donald Trump’s ability to lead the United States.  We worry that, in a time of national crisis, he would be woefully inadequate.  The Saudi oilfield attacks are a wakeup call.  If terrorists can successfully attack the Aramco oil fields — penetrating Saudi Arabian and U.S. defenses — why do we think terrorists would spare domestic oil fields or other critical U.S. targets?

Trump’s Search for a Big Win

After a disastrous August, Donald Trump staggered into September. To some observers, Trump appeared to exhibit symptoms of a nervous breakdown; for example, spending a week defending his claim that Hurricane Dorian had threatened Alabama. He’s cracking under pressure.  Trump knows he is in political trouble.  He’s desperately searching for a big win.

On September 7, Trump called off a secret Camp David meeting with Taliban leaders, where he planned to sign an Afghanistan “peace agreement.”  This was Trump’s ill-considered attempt at a big win.

In the 100 plus days between now and the end of the year, there are eight areas where Trump will search for political capital: the economy, foreign policy, gun control, government funding, healthcare/drug policy, impeachment, national security, and trade.

Impeachment:  On September 12, House Democrats launchd a formal impeachment inquiry.  Trump will not be able to make the multiple inquiries go away — there’s no big win for him with this situation.  Instead, Trump will be subjected to more pressure, which will feed his desperate search for political capital.

Don’t expect Democrats to actually hold a vote on impeachment.  That won’t happened in 2019 and probably won’t happen in 2020 unless something surfaces that is so egregious that it causes a massive shift in public opinion — which is currently running about 60 percent against impeachment.

Expect Democrats to get into Trump’s face every week with some new information about his malfeasance or incompetence.  Enough to accelerate Trump’s descent into madness but not enough to change the minds of members of the Trump cult.

Gun Control: During the next couple of months, discussions about gun control will dominate the airwaves but in the end it will amount to a big nothing.  93 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun buyers, but the NRA is opposed and Trump — and Mitch McConnell — are beholden to the NRA.  Trump will bloviate and confabulate.  McConnell will say that the Senate won’t pass any legislation that Trump won’t sign.  The ball will get passed back and forth.  And then dropped.  No big win here.

The economy: The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll ( ) indicates that sixty percent of respondents feel the U.S. economy will slide into recession during the next 12 months.  However, the economic signs are mixed — the stock market is up, consumer confidence is down.

The reality is that there’s not a lot Trump can do to directly influence the economy — other than demonstrate steady leadership, which he is incapable of.  There are certain strategic actions that he might have initiated a year or two ago — such as a massive infrastructure initiative — but Trump isn’t going to do that now.

Trump will harass the Federal Reserve Board and give stock traders collective atrial fibrillation — by lying about trade progress with China.  But, there’s no big win here.

Trade: Trump’s biggest opportunity to positively influence the economy would be to stabilize trade relations with China.  That’s unlikely to happen because Trump has dug in too deep and is constitutionally incapable of admitting he made a mistake.

Lurking in the wings is congressional approval of the NAFTA-replacement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).  Trump wants this but Democrats won’t pass it unless the labor and environmental provisions are strengthened.

Will Trump agree to Democratic demands in order to secure a win with USMCA approval?  Possibly, but I bet that Speaker Pelosi will want some quid-pro-quo  — such as White House cooperation with a phase of the impeachment proceedings — and it’s unlikely that Trump will go along with that.  There’s a possibility of a Trump win here, but not a big one.

Government Shutdown:  On September 30, various federal agencies run out of money.  The latest information indicates that Senate Republicans and House Democrats will agree to a short-term funding bill to avert a shutdown.  ( )  This will kick the can farther down the road — likely until the Thanksgiving recess.

The question is whether Trump will use the threat of government shutdown to press for a big win — such as massive funding for “the wall.”  A year ago, December 22, 2018, Trump forced a  35-day shutdown but it didn’t achieve his objectives; so, it’s unlikely he will repeat this action.

Drug Prices:  There’ve been recent suggestions that Trump will seek to accomplish his big win by doing something major about drug prices.  Recently Speaker Pelosi has promoted a significant drug-price-reduction plan ( ).  Will Trump support this?  (Possibly as the quid-pro-quo  for support of his USMCA.)  It’s certainly conceivable.

Foreign Policy: Between now and the end of 2019, Trump will be desperately seeking a big win.   His best bet is to do something dramatic in the arena of foreign policy.

As this was being written, Trump fired John Bolton,  his National Security Adviser, because Bolton didn’t approve of Trump’s desire to make a big foreign policy “splash” but cutting some sort of deal with Afghanistan, Iran, or North Korea.  Now that Bolton is gone, it’s more likely that Trump will push for some sort of deal with Iran — possibly during Trump’s visit to the United Nations’ General Assembly at the end of the month.

National Security: The 18th anniversary of 9/11 reminds us that one of the reasons the United States was surprised by the terrorist attacks was that then President George W. Bush didn’t pay attention to critical briefings ( ).  Now we have another President that doesn’t pay attention to critical intelligence briefings.  Worse yet, Trump has systematically fired all the experienced White House intelligence experts and replaced them with sycophants.

The current national-security situation suggests that, between now and year end, while Trump will not get the big win he so desperately seeks, he is increasing the odds of a big loss for the country.