Trump Impeachment

October 9, 2019
Matt Drudge, an influential figure in conservative media, sours on Trump as he faces impeachment

New York (CNN Business)President Donald Trump, facing an ever-deepening scandal that threatens to swallow his presidency, appears to have lost a key ally in conservative media: The Drudge Report.

The narrative-setting news aggregation website, founded in 1995 by Matt Drudge, has spotlighted an overwhelming amount of negative news for the Trump White House in the last several weeks. It’s marked a major shift from how the outlet had previously covered the President.
“He’s reacting to changing circumstances,” a person close to the media mogul, who said Drudge had grown exasperated with Trump, told CNN Business.
Matt Drudge (L) and President Trump

This should worry Trump as he faces an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives for pushing Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democratic presidential contender, and Biden’s son Hunter.
In the coming weeks and months, right-wing media will be crucial to whether Trump is able to survive the growing scandal. If he loses support in that space, it would offer Republicans wiggle room to turn on him, which could endanger his presidency.
Drudge, who did not return requests for comment, is especially influential in conservative media, having the ability to shape or even create news cycles. Drudge’s website has for years helped set the agenda and worked as a gravitational force that has drawn other media outlets to his preferred narrative. The power he has wielded has led observers to characterize him as the de-facto assignment editor of the conservative media.
“He’s one of the dominoes that would have to fall for the right-wing media to allow Trump to be removed from office,” said John Ziegler, a conservative who was an occasional guest host on Drudge’s old radio show and writes columns on media for Mediaite.
Drudge rarely reports or writes stories himself. Instead, he and his site serve as an aggregator, linking to other news organizations — and often providing them with large volumes of traffic. Drudge’s views can be ascertained by looking at which stories he links to and how he frames those stories with his headlines.
Previously, Trump could count on Drudge to be in his corner. During the 2016 presidential election, and in the early days of the Trump administration, Drudge was a fervent supporter. On the Drudge Report, Trump could do no wrong. The sun was almost always shining.
There were signs that the honeymoon period was wearing thin in the summer of 2017, but despite some wobbliness in their relationship, Drudge ultimately seemed to be staying loyal to the President.
At least until now.
Not only is Drudge’s website aggressively covering the impeachment news, it is doing so by featuring commentary from some of the president’s fiercest critics or the harshest criticism of him.
For instance, on Friday the top link on the Drudge Report, colored in red, was a link to Fox News judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano calling Trump’s behavior “criminal and impeachable.”
Other links Drudge featured that day included Fox host Shepard Smith suggesting Trump may have violated the law on live television and “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd saying the current scandal is a “national nightmare.”
The change in tone toward Trump hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Jim Hoft, the founder of the right-wing Gateway Pundit blog, recently published a blog post asking, “What Happened to Matt Drudge?” Contending that the website had taken a “pro-impeachment slant,” Hoft wrote, “Dear Matt Drudge — Please come home.”
Jerome Corsi, a prominent right-wing conspiracy theorist, has repeatedly tweeted about the change in coverage, saying Drudge has “lost his mind,” “turned left,” and become a “leftist hack beating [the] impeachment drum.”
Even Rush Limbaugh, a friend of Drudge’s, has commented on the matter. In late August, Limbaugh told a caller in that he’s repeatedly been asked about the matter. “My email inbox every day, ‘What’s happening to Drudge, Rush?'” Limbaugh said. “And I tell people, ‘Have you ever heard of clicks?'”
After suggesting Drudge could be turning on Trump for web traffic, Limbaugh said, “I actually don’t know,” adding that as a “professional courtesy” he doesn’t “ask him.”
It’s not clear whether Drudge had a falling out with the White House that prompted his change in coverage. After Trump ascended to the Oval Office, Drudge was known to visit the White House, spending time with the President, Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump.
A former White House official told CNN Business that Kushner had always maintained the White House’s relationship with Drudge. The former official said it was unclear if that relationship had hit a snag. The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
One explanation for Drudge’s aggressive coverage could be that he wants to play a role in a second presidential impeachment. Drudge rose to notoriety during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, famously breaking the news of Clinton’s relationship with then-intern Monica Lewinsky.
“Impeachment is where Matt Drudge entered,” the person close to Drudge told CNN Business. “This is a great story. And Drudge is breaking out the popcorn.”
Ziegler offered another theory.
“My basic view on Drudge is that people mistake him as an ideologue,” said Ziegler. “Matt Drudge loves chaos. And impeachment is chaos.”
Another suggestion, from a second person close to Drudge, was that it’s a story consistent with the overarching theme of the website.
“It’s the swamp,” said the person. “The dirty nature of politics. I think it’s not inconsistent.”
Whatever the reason for Drudge’s change, it’s unclear whether it will cause other conservative news publications to bend to his preferred narrative.
Much of right-wing media has sprung to defend Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Conservative television personalities, radio hosts, and media outlets know they serve an audience exceedingly loyal to Trump, and that turning on him could alienate the people who effectively sign their paychecks.
“If you’re a conservative talk show host working for Salem, and you open up the Drudge Report and see negative commentary about Trump, is that going to change your commentary on Trump?” asked conservative commentator Charlie Sykes, referring to the right-wing media company Salem, which has pressured its radio hosts to cover Trump positively. “I doubt it.”
Trump himself has used his Twitter feed in a way that mirrors the style of Drudge, aggregating positive news and opinions about himself. The President routinely posts video clips of television segments flattering toward him. He also retweets his supporters and uses his Twitter account to boost media outlets whose coverage is favorable to him.
“I think Twitter has diminished Drudge’s power within the right-wing media sphere,” said Ziegler. “The retweet has replaced the link as the gold-standard.”   Source

October 3, 2019
Ukraine: Text messages show U.S. diplomats believed U.S. aid was linked to Trump’s demand for Biden probe

WASHINGTON – At the behest of President Trump and his personal lawyer, U.S. diplomats engaged in a frenetic, months-long effort to push Ukraine’s newly elected president to publicly promise he would order an investigation into Joe Biden’s son and also probe a conspiracy theory about Ukraine’s alleged role in the 2016 U.S. election.

In exchange, the diplomats believed, Trump would reward Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with a highly sought-after meeting with Trump at the White House and the release of nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid that Trump had put on hold.

Text messages between Kurt Volker, then-Trump’s special envoy for Ukraine, and other U.S. diplomats – released late Thursday by House Democrats leading an impeachment inquiry – paint a picture of American foreign policy decisions being driven by Trump’s domestic political concerns and an ad-hoc agenda crafted by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s private attorney.

“Heard from the White House,” Volker wrote in a text to a top Zelensky adviser on July 25, just before Trump and Zelensky were scheduled to speak by phone in a call that helped spark the impeachment inquiry.

“Assuming President Z (Zelensky) convinces trump he will investigate/”get to the bottom of what happened” in 2016, we will nail down a date for visit to Washington. Good luck!,” Volker told his Ukrainian counterpart.

House Democrats released the text messages after Volker, who resigned from the Ukraine envoy post last week, spent more than nine hours Thursday testifying behind closed-doors as part of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

“These text messages reflect serious concerns raised by a State Department official about the detrimental effects of withholding critical military assistance from Ukraine, and the importance of setting up a meeting between President Trump and the Ukrainian President,” the chairmen of the three House committee’s leading the impeachment probe said in a statement released Thursday night. The three chairmen are: Intelligence Committee Chair Adam B. Schiff, Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Elijah E. Cummings, and Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot L. Engel.

The Democrats said the messages show that State Department employees were deeply concerned that U.S. military assistance and a Trump-Zelensky meeting “were being withheld in order to place additional pressure on Ukraine to deliver on the President’s demand for Ukraine to launch politically motivated investigations.”

Republicans characterized the proceedings as a sham that did little to provide Democrats any ammunition to impeach Trump.

Speaking to reporters outside the hearing room as Volker was still testifying, Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, slammed Schiff, D-Calif., for not allowing State Department lawyers to participate in the session. He also said the testimony he heard from Volker did not support Democrats’ impeachment narrative.

“Ambassador Volker has been very impressive and has said nothing that coincides with what the Democrats are seeing with their whole impeachment narrative,” said Jordan, the top Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

But the text messages demonstrate a high level of apprehension among State Department officials that Trump had linked U.S. assistance to Ukraine to an agreement from Zelensky that he would reciprocate by taking steps that would help Trump politically at home.

“Most impt is for Zelensky to say that he will help with investigation,” Volker wrote in a July 17 message to two other U.S. diplomats with purview over Ukraine policy: Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, and Bill Taylor, the top American diplomat stationed in Ukraine.

After Trump and Zelensky spoke on July 25, Zelensky’s top aide, Andriy Yermak said the call “went well,” adding: “Please remind Mr. Mayor to share the Madrid dates.” That’s a reference to Giuliani’s plans to meet with Zelensky’s advisers, in Madrid in August, to follow up on the Trump-Zelensky phone call.

For months, Giuliani had been pressing the Ukrainians for damaging information on Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company when Biden was Obama’s No. 2. Trump and Giuliani have alleged wrongdoing by the Bidens, but Ukrainian officials have said they have not found any evidence to support those charges.

Taylor, the lead diplomat in Kiev, seemed the most alarmed by the apparent connection between Trump’s freeze on U.S. aid to Ukraine and the president’s demands for probes into Biden and the 2016 presidential election.

“Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Taylor asked in a Sept. 1 text message to Volker and Sondland. “Call me,” Sondland texted back.

Taylor later raised a “nightmare” scenario, in which Zelensky would promise to order the investigations that Trump wanted, but the U.S. would still not release the military assistance, which Ukraine needed to counter Russian aggression.

“The Russians love it,” Taylor texted on Sept. 8. The next day, he texted again that the U.S. had already “shaken (Ukraine’s) faith in us” and warned Sondland: “Counting on you to be right about this.”

Sondland suggested he wasn’t sure what would happen. “Let’s hope it works,” he texted to Taylor on Sept. 9.

Taylor responded: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Sondland pushed back, saying Trump had been “crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” He told Taylor to call “S,” presumably referring to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, if he wanted to discuss the matter further.

Zelensky never made a public commitment to launch any U.S.-related investigations. And Trump eventually released the military aid under bipartisan pressure from U.S. lawmakers.

Trump ordered the hold on the aid to Ukraine in mid-July, shortly before he spoke with Zelensky. He has given contradictory explanations for that decision, initially saying he wanted to be sure Ukraine would crack down on corruption and later suggesting he wanted European allies to contribute more to Ukraine’s defense.

Democrats emerged from Thursday’s session convinced the aid was used as part of an attempted quid-pro-quo.

“It was further evidence of the underlying fact that has now spurred this formal impeachment inquiry,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., told USA TODAY Thursday evening. The president “used military aid and other leverage to attempt to extort (the Ukrainian leader) for a narrow partisan domestic political reason: getting dirt on his prospective political opponent.”

A second Democrat, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, said Volker’s testimony demonstrated that Trump held out the prospect of a White House meeting with Zelensky on the condition that Ukraine investigate Biden – as well as Ukraine’s alleged involvement in interference with the 2016 U.S. election. The American intelligence community has concluded that Russia tried to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor, a fact that has clouded Trump’s presidency.

“For Zelensky to get a meeting with Trump, Zelensky had to, one, investigate the 2016 election, essentially go back and exonerate the Russians’ role,” Swalwell told reporters after Volker’s deposition ended. “And two, that Zelensky would have to investigate Biden. That was an understood predicate for the meeting.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican, suggested that Democrats had cherry-picked from Volker’s texts to provide a misleading account of his testimony.

“Instead of House Dems releasing Ambassador Volker’s texts drip by drip, just release all of his texts in Congress’ possession right now as well as today’s transcribed interview,” Zeldin tweeted Thursday night. “Just give the media & public EVERYTHING so Americans can form their own independent conclusions.”

More: Here are 5 questions about the Trump-Ukraine controversy we still don’t have answers to

Volker, a former foreign service officer and longtime Europe expert, is the first official interviewed by House Democrats as they investigate potentially impeachable allegations that Trump used the power of his office to seek foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election. Thursday’s deposition, led by staff lawyers with the House Intelligence Committee, was attended by a handful of lawmakers from both sides.

The Democrat-led House launched an impeachment inquiry last week to examine the president’s pressure campaign, which became public when the White House released a summary of a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky.

More: Impeachment pressure: Trump says China should investigate Joe Biden, family

Volker played a central role in connecting Giuliani  with Ukrainian officials – a step critics say is highly inappropriate. And he was named in the explosive whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment proceedings.

Volker resigned less than 24 hours after Giuliani posted a private text message from the special envoy – in which Volker offered to set up a meeting with a top adviser to Zelensky. Giuliani was trying to get Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden, the former vice president who is seeking to unseat Trump in 2020.

According to the whistleblower complaint, Volker and Sondland had met with Giuliani to try to “contain the damage” his efforts were having on U.S. national security. The whistleblower said Volker and Sondland also met with Ukrainian officials to help them navigate the “differing messages” they were getting through official U.S. government channels and Giuliani’s private outreach.

Volker agreed to Thursday’s deposition, even as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has delayed other State Department officials from testifying.

The complaint: Read the full declassified text of the Trump whistleblower complaint

Volker was named as Trump’s special envoy in July 2017, by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He came to the post with a stellar resume: a former U.S. ambassador to NATO in the George W. Bush administration and former adviser to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a longtime Russia critic.

He took the envoy job on a volunteer basis, while continuing to serve as executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University.

More: Democrats see echoes of Russia in Trump’s call for China to investigate Joe Biden

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