Plus, the second whistleblower and what it means.
Today’s read: 9 minutes.
Today’s newsletter is as long as Tangle will ever be, but it’s one of the wildest days in the news I can remember. We cover a second whistleblower, the news that has Trump allies turning on him and a lawsuit to get Trump’s taxes.
Photo: Kurdishstruggle / Flickr
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What D.C. is talking about.
The second whistleblower. On Sunday, lawyers representing the whistleblower who filed a complaint against President Donald Trump said a second intelligence official is now being represented by their team. The official is yet to file a formal complaint, but he’s hired the same legal team as the first whistleblower and his lawyers say he has “firsthand knowledge” related to the complaint that President Trump organized a pressure campaign on his Ukrainian counterparts to investigate Joe Biden and his family. News of the second whistleblower comes just days after President Trump, from the White House’s South Lawn, called on China and Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Many were baffled to see the president openly calling on foreign powers to investigate his political rival in public, the very act that is at the center of the current impeachment inquiry.
What Democrats are saying.
They’re supportive. Democrats are doing everything they can to pave a safe path forward for any current or former administration officials who want to turn over damaging information on the president. “We thank them for their courage,” Adam Schiff, who Tangle covered last week, said. “We thank them for their patriotism. And we hope others will follow their courageous example.”
Jim Himes, the second-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, echoed the sentiment. “What’s happening is that people around the president, professionals, who are in the Oval Office, who are in the Situation Room, are watching what is happening and are finally saying, ‘My God, this cannot happen anymore,’ and they are coming forward,” Himes said.
Democrats say the mere existence of another whistleblower is proof that the president has acted in such concerning ways that the people around him are constantly alarmed. They’re also crossing their fingers about the phrase “firsthand knowledge.” One of the top defenses from Republicans throughout this entire ordeal was that the whistleblower was a “deep state actor” who was working on hearsay and secondhand knowledge. Now, a new whistleblower could be stepping up with firsthand witness testimony of what they’ve seen from the president behind closed doors. That has a lot of Democrats licking their lips.
What Republicans are saying.
Who cares? We already know the first whistleblower contacted Adam Schiff before filing his complaint, didn’t disclose that contact to the inspector general, and then Schiff lied about it on national television. It’s all clearly a “deep state” tactic to take down Trump.
Another new talking point is emerging on the right, too: the president was “baiting the press.” That’s how Republicans handled President Trump using a brief press scrum from the White House to call on China and Ukraine to look into the Bidens last week. Take a look at how these three Republican Senators responded, via Axios:
- Sen. Marco Rubio to reporters on Friday: "I don't think it's a real request. I think he did it to get you guys. I think he did it to provoke you."
- Rep. Jim Jordan on ABC's "This Week": "You really think he was serious? ... I think he's getting the press all spun up about this."
- Sen. Roy Blunt on CBS' "Face the Nation": "I doubt if the China comment was serious… I don't know what the president was thinking, but I know he loves to bait the press, and he does that almost every day."
Unfortunately for their defenses, neither President Trump nor the White House has claimed he was “joking.” Later, though, Sen. Blunt did take a less defensive posture for Trump. He said he was interested to hear more from the new whistleblower and offered no defense of what Trump may have done to pressure Ukraine into investigating Biden behind closed doors. Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican from Utah, said he was “not at all” concerned about the new whistleblower because he felt the transcript from Trump’s call with Zelensky — which many Democrats saw as incriminating — totally absolved the president of any wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson was at the center of a Wall Street Journal story on Friday. Johnson told the WSJ that the U.S. ambassador to the European Union told him in August that Ukraine’s aid was tied directly to Trump wanting to open certain investigations, the exact charge Democrats are making. Johnson claims he confronted POTUS about it, who denied the charge. Now Johnson appears to be stepping in line behind the president, telling NBC’s Chuck Todd during a heated exchange that he didn’t trust the CIA or FBI.
Sen. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is taking a strong stance against POTUS. “When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated,” Romney said on Twitter. He called it “appalling.”
Things are just getting interesting. First off, this is just about the only Trump story I can remember that has stayed squarely in the news for more than a week during Trump’s time as president. The only thing that came close was the “grab ‘em by the p*ssy” video, but that was before he was in office. And more is going to come out. This week, two senior American diplomats responsible for relationships with Ukraine earlier this year are going to be testifying to House Democrats. Both were removed for “running afoul of the White House,” as The New York Times put it, so I imagine they’ll have plenty to say. It’s impossible to know what new information — if any — another White House whistleblower will bring forward. To hear some Democrats tell it, the content of new whistleblower information is almost irrelevant: Trump’s impeachable offenses are now happening in public. Which is part of the “Trump genius” his supporters (and critics) can hardly fathom. Trump has so successfully moved the goalposts of what’s acceptable in office it boggles the mind. Imagining a President Obama openly calling for China or Ukraine to investigate Mitt Romney or John McCain is incomprehensible. Every Republican in the Senate would have probably called for his impeachment or an impeachment inquiry, and they would have lined up for primetime television spots to decry him as a lawless leader. But now that it’s Trump they are mostly dodging and staying silent.
Even the defenses are getting a bit absurd. As Rep. Justin Amash saliently pointed out, the same Republicans who are now taking the stance that they “don’t trust” the FBI or CIA have repeatedly voted to expand their powers to spy on Americans, foreigners and — apparently — even politicians in Congress.
The premise of the allegations against Biden is starting to fall flat, too. On Fox News, Rudy Giuliani resorted to reading from a right-wing conspiracy blog called HopelesslyPartisan and held up printouts of the articles claiming they were “affidavits.” You could clearly see the “affidavits” were a printout of the right-wing blog, which he then read from moments later. Trump claimed a photo came out of Biden playing golf with the head of Burisma, the company where his son Hunter worked. The photo actually showed Biden golfing with a longtime American business partner of Hunter’s, who also joined the board of Burisma. Tom Fitton, conservative activist and president of Judicial Watch, said Mitch McConnell should “change the rules to protect the constitution” and not have an impeachment trial, a pretty Bizzaro World take for Republicans who claim to be staunchly against any fundamental changes to how the Constitution dictates what happens in Congress.
And that’s just half of it. On Sunday, the Associated Press reported that President Trump’s circle of allies may actually be guilty of similar crimes they are accusing Biden of. According to the AP’s reporting, a circle of businessmen and Republican donors with ties to Trump were trying to install new management in Ukraine’s top state gas company, and then use that management to “steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies.” It’ll be interesting to see how this story evolves and whether it comes back to bite Giuliani.
In the meantime, the whistleblower’s innocence and the politics of impeachment are still being debated. The Inspect General said the whistleblower did not disclose speaking with House intelligence aides before filing the complaint, even though it’s not uncommon. Also, White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is telling friends that Trump will win 45 states in 2020 landslide if the House impeaches him.
Your questions, answered.
If you have a question you want answered, simply reply to this email and write in. Tangle is all about helping you, the reader, get the information you want without having to wade through the news.
Q: Can you explain what is happening in Syria and why everyone is so upset with Trump?
- Cassandra, Albany, NY.
Tangle: The story about Syria could easily be today’s top piece, as it has lit D.C. on fire this morning, so I’m excited to tackle it. Here’s the general breakdown: Last night, the White House released a surprise statement that they would move out of the way to allow Turkey to execute a long-planned military operation involving what will amount to an invasion of northern Syria. “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” the White House said in a statement released just before 11 p.m. in Washington. “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”
The operation will almost certainly lead to fighting between Turkish forces and the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds. The Kurds are an ethnic group in the area that, for the most part, operates separately from Syria’s government or Turkey. Their best known in America for being a reliable partner in the fight against ISIS, though Turkey claims that the Kurds themselves are a terrorist insurgency. Yes, it’s as messy as it sounds.
So what does this mean? It depends who you ask. In practical terms, it means President Trump is ordering the U.S. military to stand down and get out of the way. Troops are reportedly abandoning the border, where they’ve been supporting the Kurds for many years. To his supporters, and even to lots of liberal critics, this is consistent with Trump’s foreign policy approach. He wants to pull the U.S. out of “endless wars” overseas and let other countries work conflict out on their own. That’s the Trump doctrine (when it’s convenient). To everyone else, the move amounts to Trump abandoning our most staunch ally in the region after years of asking them to fight for us. The Kurds have lost tens of thousands of soldiers while combating ISIS on behalf of the U.S., and now — when the pressure is on — we’re leaving them out to dry. Here are some reactions, including from allies (Lindsey Graham and Nikki Haley), critics (Chris Murphy) and an Obama holdover who was temporarily Trump’s special envoy to combatting ISIS (Brett McGurk):
The move has even set off critics in what are usually reliable Trump-friendly spaces like Fox News’s morning show Fox & Friends. This morning, Brian Kilmeade excoriated Trump and called it a “disaster,” asking what message we were sending to our allies. The moment clearly caught his co-hosts off-guard, who tried and failed to assuage him and steer the conversation into a positive direction for Trump.
While President Trump claims ISIS has been defeated, reporters and diplomats on the ground insist ISIS is still finding ways to thrive despite the amount of the territory its lost in the last few years. Ceding this area of northern Syria to Turkey will, as the Trump critics tell it, lead to an ISIS renewal and destabilize the region in a way we haven’t seen for years.
Other more staunch critics of POTUS are pointing to his two Trump towers in Turkey and his cordial relationship with Turkey’s president as key to this entire policy decision. Those critics are saying it’s just another classic case of Trump looking out for personal relationships over the country.
Trump, often the best at delivering his administration’s defense, has drawn his line in the sand. He issued the following statement through a thread of tweets: “The United States was supposed to be in Syria for 30 days, that was many years ago. We stayed and got deeper and deeper into battle with no aim in sight. When I arrived in Washington, ISIS was running rampant in the area. We quickly defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, including capturing thousands of ISIS fighters, mostly from Europe. But Europe did not want them back, they said you keep them USA! I said “NO, we did you a great favor and now you want us to hold them in U.S. prisons at tremendous cost. They are yours for trials.” They again said “NO,” thinking, as usual, that the U.S. is always the “sucker,” on NATO, on Trade, on everything. The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades. I held off this fight for almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their “neighborhood.” They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!”
A story that matters.
In a New York Times op-ed, columnist David Leonhardt says the “400 wealthiest Americans last year paid a lower total tax rate — spanning federal, state and local taxes — than any other income group.” His piece breaks down how the richest households in America are paying a lower tax rate than everyone else, touching on the crux of several left-wing political campaigns for president right now, including Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’. Perhaps most importantly, the op-ed explains how this reality is far different from the one in America in the 1950s or even 1980s. You can read it here.
Speaking of taxes.
This morning, President Trump was ordered to hand over eight years of his personal and corporate taxes by a Manhattan judge. Trump’s lawyers quickly appealed the ruling, which temporarily blocked the ruling and means he doesn’t have to hand them over right now. But the judge’s strongly-worded order caught a lot of people’s attention. In it, Judge Victor Marrero essentially said there are no kings in the United States. He adds that the president’s lawyers’ argument, which amounted to him being immune from criminal investigations because he was president, was “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values.”
- 44 percent. That’s the number of Americans who support impeaching President Trump as this inquiry begins. Support for impeachment has risen 11 points to 46 percent amongst independents and 8 points to 14 percent amongst Republicans since May, according to CNN.
- 38 percent. That’s the number of Americans who supported impeaching Nixon when the House opened its inquiry against the former president.
- 90. That’s the approximate number of former national-security officials, from both Democratic and Republican administrations, who released a letter calling on the government and media to preserve the whistleblower’s anonymity.
Have a nice day.
A Nigerian neurosurgeon is spending up to 12 days a month providing free health care in Nigeria. Dr. Olawale Sulaiman, 49, lives in Louisiana but was born in Lagos, an experience he says motivates him to provide health care in the developing world. "I am one of 10 children born into a polygamous family. My siblings and I shared one room where we often found ourselves sleeping on a mat on the floor," he told CNN. You can read more about his story here.