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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

A new ad for President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign is being widely denounced for including a totally “fabricrated” lie about Democratic rival Joe Biden and comes just days after House Democrats launched an official impeachment inquiry into the president over his exchange with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine earlier this year and allegations the White House has engaged in a “massive cover-up” to avoid the full truth from emerging.

Posted online late Friday night and then pinned to the top of his Twitter account, Trump included the new campaign ad—which flagrantly mischaracterizes a story about former vice president Biden, his son Hunter, and Ukraine from 2015—while declaring, “I am draining the swamp.”

According to Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for Trump’s 2020 campaign, the video is part of a new $10 million ad buy, including $2 million kicked in by the Republican National Committee.

As law requires, Trump’s voice played over the final moment of the ad, issued by his 2020 reelection campaign, with the message: “I’m Donald Trump and I approved this message.”

As is true of many falsehoods put forth by Trump, however, the false and misleading claims against Biden and his son are based on unfounded conspiracy theories circulating within the right-wing echo chamber. And the president’s insistence on spreading them—given all the available documentation and reporting—appears like willful deceit on the part of his campaign.

For Trump followers and Republican supporters, however, it very much appeared successful. Just a quick perusal of right-wing responses to the video included these reactions and countless more like them: “The mainstream media establishment cannot be trusted to report the facts.“; “Do not EVER take down this pinned tweet please. God bless President Trump.“; and “Please retweet. Many Americans still don’t know how corrupt the democrats are.”

Meanwhile, those who understand the actual facts around the case, experienced the campaign ad in a wholly different way.

“Not positive,” tweeted journalist Judd Legum in response, “but I think this is the world’s first political ad that brags about committing an impeachable offense.”

But the major issue with the ad? It’s entire premise is a big—and very easily discredited—lie. And while not surprising, the new ad, especially as it comes on the heals of House Democrats’ announcement of a formal impeachment inquiry into the president earlier this week, offers a glimpse of how Trump will run his 2020 campaign – whether its against Biden or any other candidate.

Among those journalists who have rebuffed the right-wing narrative about the Biden-Ukraine story is investigative reporter James Risen, previously of the New York Times and now with The Intercept, who—back in 2015—was among the first to explore the story involving Biden when he was Vice President, the work of his son Hunter Biden, and a Ukraine gas company.

“It’s strange to see my journalism twisted, perverted, and turned into lies and poisonous propaganda by Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and their enablers,” wrote Risen in a column on Thursday of this week. “But that’s what has happened to a news story I wrote four years ago.”

That 2015 story—titled “Joe Biden, His Son and the Case Against a Ukrainian Oligarch“—is still worth reading, but Risen wrote Thursday that even while contemporary observers of the alleged “Ukraine scandal” involving the Bidens “seem to think this suddenly hot story came out of nowhere this year,” that is simply not accurate. According to Risen:

The truth behind that story has been lost in a swamp of right-wing opposition research, White House lies, and bizarre follow-up stories. Now it appears that the Biden-Ukraine story will play a role in a new impeachment inquiry against Trump, amid evidence that he sought to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by withholding U.S. aid unless Zelensky agreed to investigate the Bidens.

While it is true that then Vice President Joe Biden travelled to Ukraine in 2015 in part to push the government to tackle corruption probes in the country with more scrutiny and force—including allegations against Mykola Zlochevsky, the owner of Burisma Holdings, on which Hunter Biden had a lucrative board seat—the reality is that the elder Biden’s efforts were directed at the prosecutor who officials at the British Serious Fraud Office in the U.K. charged “had stymied” a corruption probe into Burisma.

Reporter Sean Collins, in a Vox explainer published Friday detailing Trump’s lies and false claims about the Ukraine-Biden story, reported how the “evidence suggests Biden actually may have placed his son in legal danger by advocating for the prosecutor’s removal because he was widely accused of stymying anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine — replacing him could have led to further investigations into a company Hunter Biden had ties to.”

As Risen puts it, “when Joe Biden went to Ukraine, he was not trying to protect his son — quite the reverse.” And continued:

The then-vice president issued his demands for greater anti-corruption measures by the Ukrainian government despite the possibility that those demands would actually increase – not lessen — the chances that Hunter Biden and Burisma would face legal trouble in Ukraine.

When it first was published, my 2015 story seemed to have little impact, other than to irritate Joe Biden and his staff. It ran inside the print edition of the Times, not on the front page.

But somebody obviously read my piece, as well as others like it, because questions about the Bidens in Ukraine suddenly came roaring back this year. Giuliani, Trump, and their lackeys began spreading the false accusation that Biden had traveled to Ukraine to blackmail the government and force officials to fire the country’s chief prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, to derail an investigation into Burisma.

The facts are quite clear, concluded Risen in his column this week. “Biden did threaten to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees unless Shokin was ousted,” he explained. “But that was because Shokin had blocked serious anti-corruption investigations, not because he was investigating Burisma.”

Biden’s fellow Democrat Beto O’Rourke, also seeking the party’s presidential nomination, said Trump’s false attack ad must be identified and condemned by its proper name.

“Trump’s ad about Joe Biden is a disgrace,” tweeted O’Rourke. “Every one of us needs to call this exactly what it is: propaganda. Doing anything less is playing right into his hands.”

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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