Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Rosemary Woods and Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, via ABC News

Well, I'm damned. Of all the things I could have picked to be dead wrong about, the ellipsis-gaps-in-the-phone-call wasn't one I was expecting to hear about from the testimony of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, but that's where he went, according to three people who spoke to The New York Times:
The omissions, Colonel Vindman said, included Mr. Trump’s assertion that there were recordings of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. discussing Ukraine corruption, and an explicit mention by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, of Burisma Holdings, the energy company whose board employed Mr. Biden’s son Hunter.
That is, contrary to what I've been telling everybody for weeks, at least one of the three ellipses in what The Times is now calling a "reconstructed transcript" (i.e., a transcript created by a committee, not from a recording but from a robot transcript and two or three sets of notes taken by people who listened in, and group-edited by other people who listened—Vindman, as the NSC's senior Ukraine expert, was one of the editors) really represents something that's been left out, the one in the last line below:

—where Trump apparently referred to tape recordings of Vice President Biden (apparently of a talk at the Council on Foreign Relations, January 2018, when Biden was in fact boasting, not about stopping a prosecution but pressuring the Poroshenko government to get rid of a prosecutor who wouldn't prosecute anybody).

Plus an error or omission in President Zelenskyy's reply to that, line 7 below:

—in which according to Vindman he mentioned the name of the company, Burisma.

(Incidentally, I didn't notice in previous reading how revoltingly slavish Zelenskyy sounds on the subject of Ambassador Yovanovitch; but it also begins to look snarky: "You were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador" meaning that everybody on the call except Trump himself knows she wasn't.)

Both were among the edits Vindman suggested in his part of the transcript preparation, but the text wasn't fixed—not because the omissions represent some kind of smoking gun, they don't ("Burisma" would have been one of the words the robot got wrong), but perhaps because the editing process was hurried:
One explanation for why Colonel Vindman’s changes were not made could be that the transcript had been quickly placed into a highly secure computer system, the N.S.C. Intelligence Collaboration Environment, or NICE system, making it more difficult to alter.
[NSC legal adviser John] Eisenberg ordered the transcript moved to ensure that people who were not assigned to handle Ukraine policy could not read the transcript, a decision he hoped would prevent gossip and leaks about the call.
Or maybe Eisenberg ordered it after Vindman and others told him how deeply improper the call was, but the Times reports that he did not consult his White House boss (Pat Cipollone) before doing it. A curious detail in the Times story is that while some other transcripts of Trump calls with foreign leaders went to the NICE system, the others were under tightened security from the start; the Ukraine call is the only one secured in the middle of the process.

It seems clear in any case that the testimony over all, as an eyewitness who is also an expert witness, is devastating, and not simply because of his assessment of the call, but the background that went into it, notably his experience with Gordon Sondland in a meeting with Oleksandr Danylyuk, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council for Ukraine, and National Security Advisor Bolton, plus the "amigos" Volker, Sondland, and Perry on 10 July:
Amb. Sondland started to speak about delivering the specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President, at which time Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short.
Following this meeting, there was a scheduled debriefing during which Amb. Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma. I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push. Dr. Hill then entered the room and asserted to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.
Following the debriefing meeting, I reported my concerns to the NSCs lead counsel [Eisenberg]. Dr. Hill also reported the incident to the NSC’s lead counsel.
It was in this context that, just a couple of weeks later, Vindman heard Trump himself asking Zelenskyy for the same thing, as a "favor", so you can see how serious it must have begun to seem, to him and to Eisenberg too, who decided to hide the transcript away before they had even finished editing it.
No appeal (check the whole thread) because there's no defendant: Kupperman (and probably his old boss Bolton behind him) sued not for a judgment against a person but for an opinion as to which orders. the president's or the Congress's, he should obey, and the fact that the judge is rushing this is a sign of what should be obvious, that he's going to find with Congress: the congressional requirement outweighs the executive's bizarre opinion that the president's privilege applies to any legal action he wants it to.

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