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Rudy Giuliani, Our Secretary Of State

The Zelensky transcript is out -- and it's a semi-smoking gun. But the real scandal is Rudy's role
Screen Shot 2019-09-25 at 10.30.18 AM

The official transcript of the phone call between President Trump and Ukraine’s President Zelensky is out now. Here’s the link. And here’s the key part:

Here’s what I think, on first read:

1. It’s deeply cringeworthy to read the Ukrainian president’s sucking-up to Trump. He’s practically begging to be Trump’s prison bride. On the other hand, he surely knows that flattery is the best way to get Trump to give you what you want. He’s lying back and thinking of Ukraine England.

2. Trump did pressure the Ukrainian president for a favor that would help him (Trump) against a domestic political opponent.

3. The way Trump did it — the language he used, and the context — is not going to move many, if any, Trump supporters away from their position. Trump may be an idiot (only an idiot pulls something like this), but he’s not stupid; he spoke in an indirect way that clearly conveyed his meaning, but that doesn’t sound like the rhetorical equivalent of a smoking gun. For people who were looking for the slightest shred of plausible deniability, this transcript gives it to them. It’s paper-thin, but I think it’s there. (To be clear, I don’t buy it personally, but I’m trying to think about how this is going to play politically.)

4. Interestingly, back in May, in comments to The New York Times, bigmouth Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, said that he was going to Kiev to lobby for an opening of an investigation into the Bidens. From the story:

Mr. Giuliani’s plans create the remarkable scene of a lawyer for the president of the United States pressing a foreign government to pursue investigations that Mr. Trump’s allies hope could help him in his re-election campaign. And it comes after Mr. Trump spent more than half of his term facing questions about whether his 2016 campaign conspired with a foreign power.

“We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview on Thursday when asked about the parallel to the special counsel’s inquiry.

“There’s nothing illegal about it,” he said. “Somebody could say it’s improper. And this isn’t foreign policy — I’m asking them to do an investigation that they’re doing already and that other people are telling them to stop. And I’m going to give them reasons why they shouldn’t stop it because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”

Giuliani told the Times that Trump “basically knows what I’m doing, sure, as his lawyer.”

Think about how … irregular that is: the personal lawyer of the US president plans a trip to a foreign country, on the authority of the US president, to lobby that country’s new leadership to open an investigation that would have direct political impact on the 2020 US presidential election.

5. This is a serious, serious problem. Trump basically turned this portfolio over to his personal lawyer, and shoved aside US officials who have responsibility for planning and executing US foreign policy. From the Washington Post:

President Trump’s attempt to pressure the leader of Ukraine followed a months-long fight inside the administration that sidelined national security officials and empowered political loyalists — including the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani — to exploit the U.S. relationship with Kiev, current and former U.S. officials said.

The sequence, which began early this year, involved the abrupt removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, the circumvention of senior officials on the National Security Council, and the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars of aid administered by the Defense and State departments — all as key officials from these agencies struggled to piece together Giuliani’s activities from news reports.

Several officials described tense meetings on Ukraine among national security officials at the White House leading up to the president’s phone call on July 25, sessions that led some participants to fear that Trump and those close to him appeared prepared to use U.S. leverage with the new leader of Ukraine for Trump’s political gain.


Giuliani cancelled the trip after the report, but he still met with a Ukrainian government representative in Madrid. The Post story goes on to say that Giuliani got the US Ambassador to Ukraine, a career State Department officer, sacked because he thought she was politically unreliable vis-a-vis Trump’s personal needs. The hijacking of the foreign policy process by the president’s personal lawyer, particularly involving a country that’s at the center of US-Russia tensions, caused problems within the establishment:

Then-national security adviser John Bolton was outraged by the outsourcing of a relationship with a country struggling to survive Russian aggression, officials said. But by then his standing with Trump was strained, and neither he nor his senior aides could get straight answers about Giuliani’s agenda or authority, officials said. Bolton declined to comment.

“We had the same visibility as anybody else — watching Giuliani on television,” a former senior official said. Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev were similarly deprived of information, even as they faced questions from Ukrainians about whether Giuliani was a designated representative.

“The embassy didn’t know what to do with the outreach,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who traveled to Ukraine this month.

One more quote from the Post‘s Trump story:

“Rudy — he did all of this,” one U.S. official said. “This s—show that we’re in — it’s him injecting himself into the process.”

This is truly insane. The president is the captain of the ship of state. He’s allowing his buddy to take the wheel, and decide that it might be fun to sail to Jamaica, despite the fact that all the passengers are expecting to go to England. What I mean is this: whether or not Trump offered a quid pro quo to the Ukrainian president over the Biden investigation, it is becoming clear that he subverted the normal national security and foreign policy process for the sake of personal advantage, by making his personal lawyer a de facto US envoy.

If Trump gets away with this, it sets a terrible precedent. It is corrupt, anti-democratic, and dangerous for America. Trump is the Commander in Chief of the US military. A C-in-C who believes that he has no responsibility to follow the proper chain of command, and can use his power, and the mechanism of US government, to pursue his personal political vendettas — is that really what America is now? Is that the kind of America you want?

What Trump did in that phone call may or may not be legal. But what he did by outsourcing US foreign policy to his personal lawyer, and putting the screws to a foreign leader to act in a way that would help his 2020 re-election campaign, is radically destabilizing of the presidency, and the US government at its uppermost level.

I can live with President Pence. I don’t know that I can live with this.


The President should not demand foreign powers investigate his political rivals.

The President should not demand the Attorney General investigate his political rivals.

The President should not demand the Attorney General work with his personal lawyer and a foreign power to investigate his political rivals.

That’s the ballgame, folks. We’re done here.

I agree. I would also add that the President should not treat his private lawyer as an agent of the state.



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