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Tag: devin nunes

How Bill Barr Is Trying To Clean Up His Declining Reputation

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Former Attorney General Bill Barr's record leading the Justice Department is coming into clearer light as Merrick Garland takes the reins of the agency, and new revelations are bringing the much-maligned Trump acolyte under new scrutiny. It's now clear that under his watch, DOJ obtained the communication records of multiple journalists, a disturbing use of government power that is supposed to face stringent restrictions. Some argue it should never happen at all. The news was revealed when the new administration contacted the journalists to inform them of what had happened.

And the public has also learned that Barr's DOJ sought to force Twitter to unmask an anonymous account critical of California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, a close Trump ally. Shortly after Garland was sworn in as attorney general, DOJ dropped the subpoena against Twitter.

So how is the former attorney general reacting to the new administration airing his dirty laundry? From all appearances, it looks like he's trying to launder his reputation by anonymously giving Trump administration scoops to reporters.

There've previously been signs that Barr has a tendency to plant stories in the press when it serves his interest, but a recent piece in Politico may be one of the most blatant and transparent efforts from the former AG to manage and rehabilitate his reputation.

The piece is titled "Inside Trump's push to oust his own FBI chief," and it's sold as delivering an "explosive" story about scandal in the White House, a genre that's become quite common in the past four years. But read just a little bit between the lines, and what's happening is clear: Barr is personally pushing this story to sell a narrative about himself as principled and independent from Trump. It's not clear if it's coming in direct response to the other revelations about Barr mentioned above, or if he's just more broadly concerned about differentiating himself from Trump; perhaps both motivations are playing a role.

The story, like so many tales of White House intrigue, is sourced anonymously, so how am I able to confidently say it came from Bill Barr? Because without saying so directly, the story as written makes it unambiguously clear.

Consider this passage:

It all came to a head in late April, when Barr went over to the White House for a routine meeting in then-chief of staff Mark Meadows' office.
Instead, a staffer from his office intercepted Barr and told him he was actually going to meet in the Roosevelt Room, where such meetings were not usually held.
Barr found it strange to be put in that room, especially given that no one else was there when they entered it. Soon afterward, John McEntee, the powerful head of the presidential personnel office and a hard-core Trump loyalist, entered. Then [William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, also came into the room.
Barr asked McEntee, "What's this all about?" recounted one of the former Trump officials.
McEntee demurred and checked his phone. They were waiting on others, he told Barr.
Fuming, Barr walked out of the room and barged into Meadows' office. "What the f--- is going on?" he asked.

The story is clearly told from Bill Barr's point of view. We're told Barr "found it strange" to be in a room — who would know his feelings but Barr himself? Then when others enter the room, it's Barr who is active. His remarks come in direct quotes, and we're told they were recounted by "one of the former Trump officials." That leaves only three possibilities for the source of the information, and Barr is the only plausible candidate.

McEntee is described having "demurred and checked his phone." That's not how someone tends to talk about their own actions. And then when McEntee speaks, the words are not in quotation marks. This makes sense if Barr is telling the reporter the story — Barr can be directly quoted for his own past remarks that he recounts, but his recounting of any responses from others is more likely to be paraphrased, so these words don't merit quotation marks.

And here's the clincher: As the setting of the story changes, the narrative follows Bill Barr leaving the room and going to another room, where he talks to Mark Meadows. This is Barr's story, he's the protagonist, and it's being told from his point of view. He's the primary source for the narrative.

The story continued:

Then, in a meeting later that day with both Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Barr demanded to know what was happening. When told that Trump wanted to replace Wray with Evanina and make Patel the deputy director of the FBI, Barr calmly told them he couldn't stay in his job if Trump's preferred picks were installed at the FBI over his objection, two of the former officials familiar with the encounter said.
Cipollone, who also said he was completely unaware of what was going on until that day, sided with Barr: He told his two colleagues that the attorney general should be involved in the decision process about who should be FBI director, and that Wray should stay.
And that was it: The White House ultimately backed off on the plan once they realized Barr would quit, according to two of the former Trump officials.

Now we have two sources for the story. We know Barr is one of them. The other is Cipollone, Barr's ally in the story. He, like Barr, comes off looking like one of the "heroes" of the narrative after they take a stand together.

Further corroboration of these inferences comes near the end of the story, which noted:

A spokesperson for Trump didn't respond to a request for comment. Patel and Meadows also didn't respond to requests for comment. Evanina and McEntee declined to comment.

Politico doesn't say Barr or Cippolone declined to comment, because they did comment, anonymously. If they hadn't, the outlet would've felt compelled to reach out to them for comment on the story and note if they had declined to comment.

The opening of the story says it had three sources "familiar with the episode" in total — though the key passages only indicate two sources present for the events. This suggests there is a third source, perhaps a Barr aide, who was told contemporaneously about the events but didn't witness them directly.

In the end, it's not that revelatory a story. We know that Trump and many of his allies would've liked to see Wray gone, but many obstacles stood in his way. It's not clear this episode is really as dramatic as it was framed — it might have been more of a casual discussion than it seems in this recollection.

What we already know about Barr and Trump's relationship is frankly more interesting. Barr did indeed stand up to Trump in the end of his term in office, declaring that the DOJ hadn't found evidence of substantial fraud in the 2020 election. And Barr was sharply critical of Trump after the January 6 insurrection, pinning blame for the mob's actions on the then-president. Those public events don't erase Barr's complicity in many of Trump's worst actions in the prior two years — perhaps most notably, his eagerness to sow doubt in the 2020 election before it was carried out — but they're more significant than the episode recounted by Politico.

But the fact that he is trying to spread the story now does tell us something interesting about Bill Bar. He's tried to give the impression that he doesn't care what people think of him. When asked about the damage working for Trump had done to his reputation, Barr gave a memorable answer.

"I am at the end of my career," he told CBS in 2019 ."Everyone dies, and I am not, you know, I don't believe in the Homeric idea that, you know, immortality comes by, you know, having odes sung about you over the centuries, you know?"

As I've long argued, though, that isn't true. He cares deeply about his reputation. Barr was clearly obsessed with the media coverage of the Trump administration He saw it as his job to, in part, protect Trump from his critics in the press and sometimes bent or broke Justice Department rules to do it.

Now he's out of office, and perhaps he's abandoned the project of helping Trump. But he's still obsessed with what the media is saying.

Seedy Trump Loyalist Punted From Key National Security Post

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The Washington Post's Ellen Nakashima reports that long-time Trump loyalist Michael Ellis had resigned from his position as top lawyer for the National Security Agency after almost three months of being "sidelined" during Joe Biden's presidency. Journalist Steve Benen, in an op-ed for MSNBC's website, lays out some reasons why Ellis' departure from the NSA is an important development and a positive thing.

"Last fall, the day after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential race, Team Trump tapped Ellis to serve as general counsel of the National Security Agency, but the news wasn't well received," Benen explains. "Gen. Paul Nakasone, the NSA's director, didn't want Ellis for that post. In response, Christopher Miller, Trump's acting defense secretary, ordered the NSA director to install the Trump loyalist as the agency's top lawyer, whether Nakasone wanted him or not."

Benen notes that after Biden was sworn into office almost three months ago, "a gradual process began in which the new administration cleaned house, at least to the extent possible" — and Nakasone placed Ellis on administration leave.

"NSA general counsel is an important job, and not a position for partisan operatives," Benen points out. "With this in mind, it didn't come as too big of a surprise when Nakasone put Ellis on administrative leave literally the same afternoon as Biden's inauguration — at which point, the NSA director no longer had to worry about Team Trump's directives."

To understand just how Trumpian Ellis' history is, one should take a look at his activities during Trump's presidency. Ellis is a major ally of GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, and he was a counsel to the House Intelligence Committee when it was still being chaired by the far-right California congressman. During the Trump era, Ellis and fellow Trump loyalist Ezra Cohen-Watnick were the two White House officials who gave Nunes intelligence reports claiming to show that former officials in ex-President Barack Obama's administration had improperly "unmasked" members of the Trump transition team in late 2016 -- early 2017. Sen. Richard Burr, chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the "unmasking" narrative was "all created by Devin Nunes."

Ellis' name was also heard in connection with the Ukraine scandal. Trump's first of two impeachments stemmed from a July 25, 2019 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who Trump tried to pressure into helping him dig up dirt on now-President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. And Ellis was the White House lawyer who ordered NSC officials to move the transcript of that conversation to a classified server.

Biden was the Democratic presidential hopeful Trump feared the most in 2019, and it isn't hard to understand why he dreaded the possibility of Biden receiving his party's nomination. Biden, in November 2020, defeated Trump by more than 7 million in the popular vote.

Trump was hardly the first politician to pursue opposition research on a political rival, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — when she called for Trump's impeachment in 2019 — stressed that it was wildly inappropriate for Trump to make that request from a foreign leader. And to make matters worse, Pelosi said, Trump made that opposition research a prerequisite for military aid to Ukraine.

In March 2020, Politico's Kyle Griffin reported that Ellis had been named senior intelligence director on the NSA.

Benen wraps up his op-ed by making it clear that he is glad to see Ellis resigning from his NSA position.

"There are still plenty of Trump appointees who've 'burrowed' into career civil-service positions," Benen observes, "but as of now, they won't be in the NSA's general counsel's office."

Kremlin Assets Aided Pro-Trump 2020 Documentary Featuring Caputo, Nunes

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Russian government proxies "helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network" as part of the Kremlin's wide-ranging effort to influence the 2020 presidential election by falsely accusing President Joe Biden of corruption in Ukraine, the U.S. intelligence community revealed in a report Tuesday.

The report does not explicitly identify the documentary or network in question. But the timeline and subject matter match The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, and Mass Murder, which the pro-Trump One America News Network aired in late January 2020. Former Trump aide Michael Caputo hosted that one-hour special, which featured separate interviews with a former Ukrainian official later sanctioned by the federal government for his role in a Russian influence operation and with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), at the time the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

According to the report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized Russian influence operations aimed at undermining Biden's campaign and supporting then-President Donald Trump during the 2020 election cycle. The report assesses that Russian intelligence services and their Ukraine-linked proxies -- including "Russian influence agent" Konstantin Kilimnik and Ukrainian legislator Andriy Derkach -- sought to use U.S. media outlets and prominent Americans to launder allegations of corrupt ties between Biden, his family, and Ukraine, and to falsely accuse Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

The report does not specify which Americans or media outlets were caught up in the Russian plot. But it's clear to anyone who followed political news in 2019 that the intelligence community is referencing Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani's anti-Biden disinformation campaign. Giuliani sought to bolster Trump's reelection by working with shady Ukrainians, some with links to Russia, to dig up dirt on Biden and then spread itthrough right-wing writer John Solomon, Fox News, and OAN. The effort blew up in Trump's face when the then-president's corrupt effort to pressure the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into the Bidens became public, triggering his first impeachment by the House of Representatives later that year.

According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as part of the effort by Kilimnik, Derkach, and their associates to use U.S. media outlets to damage Biden's political standing on behalf of the Russian government, the Russian proxies "helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network in late January 2020."

That timeline matches the release of The Ukraine Hoax, which first aired on January 25, 2020. Moreover, the content of Caputo's film echoes the Kremlin-backed narratives described in the report, as well as other Russian government talking points.

OAN CEO Robert Herring Sr. described the special as "exactly what our One America News Investigates series is all about" in a press release announcing its premiere. That's undoubtedly true -- in keeping with his network's general aesthetic, The Ukraine Hoax is an hour of conspiracy theories united by slavish devotion to Trump. Caputo argues that Trump's impeachment is an unjust persecution that emerged from U.S. meddling in Ukraine, corrupt dealings by the Bidens, and joint efforts by Democrats and Ukrainians to stop Trump's election that resulted in Robert Mueller's special counsel probe. He concludes, "as Democrats pursue Trump, they're destroying America and Ukraine."

Caputo denied Russian government involvement in his film and said he had not talked to Derkach or Kilimnik, the proxies named in the report, in an interview with Mother Jones.

But Caputo's star interview is with Andrii Telizhenko, a former low-level Ukrainian diplomat and Giuliani ally who the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned in January for his role in a "Russia-linked foreign influence network associated with" Derkach.

Treasury's press release describes Telizhenko as a member of Derkach's "inner circle" and states that he participated in Derkach's disinformation campaign aimed at influencing the 2020 U.S. presidential election. According to the release, Telizhenko "orchestrated meetings between Derkach and U.S. persons to help propagate false claims concerning corruption in Ukraine." Telizhenko previously sought to distance himself from Derkach.

In his interview with Caputo for OAN, Telizhenko falsely claimed that the Ukrainian government, with the encouragement of the Obama administration, interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.


Telizhenko became a fixture in right-wing media circles for that allegation because it allowed Trump propagandists to argue that Clinton, and not Trump, had been the real beneficiary of foreign interference in the 2016 election. The intelligence community report released Tuesday describes the effort to "falsely blame Ukraine for interfering in the 2016 US presidential election" as one of the aims of the Russian proxies.

The documentary also features an interview with then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Nunes. Nunes was one of several Trump allies that congressional Democrats said received materials from Derkach aimed at smearing Biden during the impeachment push.

In his interview, Nunes criticized pro-democracy organizations backed by American philanthropist George Soros, saying that they "have agendas" and that Soros "is extreme left-wing and he supports extreme left-wing causes." He apparently agreed with Caputo's claim that Soros was "building an extreme left-wing government" in Ukraine. Nunes also lashed out at "the Russia hoax," saying that "if people are not held accountable, you're going to have generations of Americans, part of the Republican Party, who will never trust the FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA."

Elsewhere in the film, Caputo described the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, in which protesters ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, as a violent coup instigated by the U.S. government and Soros.


The description of the revolution as a U.S-backed coup echoes language used by Putin in defending Russia's invasion of Ukraine later that year, while the Russian presidentand Russian-backed governments have for years targeted Soros over his pro-democracy efforts.

Caputo also revived the false right-wing smear that as vice president, Biden improperly pushed the government of Ukraine to fire Viktor Shokin, the country's prosecutor general, to stop the investigation of a Ukrainian company and benefit his son Hunter Biden. The Ukraine Hoax includes clips from Shokin himself making that claim.

In fact, Shokin had been widely faulted by Western governments and Ukrainian anti-corruption activists for failing to prosecute corruption, including corruption by the company's founder; the probe had reportedly been "shelved" under Shokin; and his successor acknowledged that there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens. The intelligence community report appears to reference this false claim, stating that the Russian proxy network "sought to discredit the Obama administration by emphasizing accusations of corruption by US officials."

After producing a pro-Trump documentary, allegedly with Russian assistance, Caputo went on to bigger and better things. Less than three months after OAN aired his special, Caputo joined the Trump administration as assistant secretary for public affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services. He subsequently drew criticism for politicizing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about the coronavirus pandemic, and took a leave of absence after his Facebook video accusing CDC scientists of "sedition" became public.

In an interview promoting his special with OAN correspondent and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, Caputo bemoaned that some of the people he wanted to interview "ghosted" him during the filming process. But apparently he found help from other sources.

Devin Nunes Says Democratic Party Is ‘Socialist...Like The Old Soviet Union’

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) on Tuesday compared the Democratic Party to Soviet Russia and the Chinese Communist Party. His comparisons are wildly false.

Soviet Russia, or the USSR, which existed from the early 1920's to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, was led for a few years by Vladimir Lenin and then for decades by Joseph Stalin. The dictator Stalin was responsible for the deaths of millions.

"The Democrat Party is a socialist party, set up similar to the Chinese Communist Party, or the old Soviet Union or even Russia today where you have a politburo style system," Nunes said, in his false statement.

It did not go well on Twitter for the California Republican, who is closely tied to Trump.

‘Completely Unhinged’: Nunes And Jordan Blame Pelosi For Insurrection

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Four Republican members of Congress, including Ohio's Jim Jordanand California's Devin Nunes, on Presidents' Day sent Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi a three-page letter effectively blaming her for the deadly January 6 insurrection, urging her to end "this political charade."

The sum of their letter, that the speaker – and not then-President Donald Trump – is responsible for the events of January 6 flies in the face of a mountain of facts, including those presented during last week's impeachment trial. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly agreed with at least seven other Republicans, 48 Democrats, and 2 independents, that Trump was responsible for the deadly riot.

Jordan and Nunes have been among Trump's most ardent supporters. Trump awarded both Congressmen the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Pelosi on Monday announced she is forming a 9/11 style congressional commission to "investigate and report on the facts and causes" of the January 6 insurrection.


The "political charade" remark was co-opted from a speech Pelosi gave after the November election, urging Republicans to admit defeat and end their "political charade."

Pelosi's spokesperson Drew Hammill issued a response to the Jordan-Nunes letter:

"Clearly, these Members are trying to deflect responsibility for the Capitol attack from Donald Trump," Hammill told Forbes. "We look forward to these Ranking Members asking these same questions of former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell."

Here's the Jordan-Nunes letter, followed by a few reactions from political experts:

The attempt to blame Pelosi started last week:


Trump Awards Rep. Devin Nunes The Presidential Medal Of Freedom

Donald Trump presented Rep. Devin Nunes (R-FL) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday afternoon.

In Trump's eyes, Nunes is deserving of the highest civilian honor due to his support during the Russia investigation, the scandal that clouded his presidency from the beginning.

"What he's gone through, and his bravery, he should get a very important medal," Trump said during an October 2018 Fox and Friends interview.

The Medal of Freedom is normally reserved for those who have gone above and beyond in protecting national security or world peace, not assisting a sitting president in an investigation of wrong-doing. The news comes as Trump has used his final days in office for political attacks, threats to democracy, and rewarding his closest allies, like Nunes.

Ali Velshi, an MSNBC host, took to Twitter perfectly summing up the news by saying, "Need a belly laugh?"

Velshi's tweet prompted high profile responses, one coming from Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing editor for The Atlantic.

"This is so beyond disgraceful," he said. "The Presidential Medal Of Freedom has ben revered. Precious. The highest civilian honor, reserved for those who make extraordinary contributions to the country. Trump despoiled it with Limbaugh. Now destroying it as a positive honor and symbol."



Trump is expected to reward Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) with the same honor. The Government Accountability Project also sharply criticized the award to Nunes.

"Rep. Nunes abandoned the bipartisan tradition of whistleblower protection and chilled future whistleblowers from coming forward when they witness wrongdoing," said Irvin McCullough, a national security analyst with the group, referring to the whistleblower who triggered the impeachment investigation of Trump. "This [award] isn't honorable; it's despicable. It's dangerous to award [Nunes'] misconduct."

#EndorseThis: Greed And Hypocrisy As Trump Cronies Glom PPP Loans

You may recall how the Treasury Department and the Trump White House strenuously opposed any oversight of the hundreds of billions of dollars distributed by the PPP loan program. "I'll be the oversight," barked Trump. And now we know why: His friends, family, and political cronies have bellied up to federal cash box, grabbing with both hands.

In just 90 seconds, the liberal SuperPAC #MeidasTouch delivers a sharp summary of several egregious "borrowers" in a new ad titled "Leave Me A Loan." The offenders range from Jared Kushner to Kanye West and include that lifelong anti-government crusader, Grover Norquist. (Grover no longer wants to drown big government in a bathtub. He just wants to drown his principles in million-dollar hand-outs.)

Yes, businesses owned by Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Rep. Devin Nunes are among the connected outfits that got some easy loan action too. Meanwhile, deserving small businesses were left to go under.

Which stinks worse, the hypocrisy or the greed? We report, you decide.


Former Trump Loyalist Sondland Delivers Damning Testimony

On Wednesday morning, EU ambassador Gordon Sondland decided to save himself. In dramatic testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Sondland — a Donald Trump appointee who gave the president $1 million for his inaugural party — gave up the president and pretty much everyone else.

Like former ambassador Kurt Volker on Tuesday, Sondland painted a picture of himself as a hapless naïf, unaware that the proposed “investigations” Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, kept demanding from Ukrainian leaders were actually an effort to fabricate conspiracy theories about former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democratic officials.

It’s not a likely story. Giuliani was, at the time, talking up this conspiracy theory to anyone who would listen, including New York Times reporter Ken Vogel. But it really doesn’t matter. Because, in his effort to save himself, Sondland had to rat out huge chunks of the senior staff at the White House, including President Trump himself.

“We followed the president’s orders,” Sondland said, in a statement full of these blunt statements that fit beautifully in headlines.

“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland said of the scheme to extort Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky into making public statements to back Trump’s conspiracy theories.

“A lot of senior officials,” he noted, naming names: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and their respective staffs — and he brought emails to back these accusations up. Pompeo, in particular, is implicated in discussions about the specific language they wished Zelensky to use in order to stoke lies about Biden.

Sondland also threw Vice President Mike Pence under the bus, saying he spoke with the veep before a Sept. 1 meeting “with the Ukrainians” and explicitly told Pence “that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations.”

Lest there be any doubt, Sondland made quite clear that he knew for a fact that Trump had explicitly demanded a quid pro quo of Zelensky’s public announcement in exchange for a White House meeting.

He also made clear that he believed military aid was conditioned on this public announcement, so much so that he pulled aside Zelensky’s aide and told him “that I believed that the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine took some kind of action on the public statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”

House Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman focused heavily on the issue of public announcements, repeatedly asking Sondland about how important it was for Zelensky to make a public statement meant to bolster Trump’s conspiracy theories.

As he “understood it,” Sondland answered, Zelensky only “had to announce the investigations” to get his White House meeting and military aid, and “didn’t actually have to do them.”

This was critical, as it underlines how much the Ukraine extortion scheme was not about “corruption,” as Trump has insisted, but about fabricating evidence to be used against Biden, who Trump sees as his likely opponent in the 2020 election. Trump simply wanted Zelensky to go on TV and imply that Biden had done something that needed investigation, likely in a U.S. TV interview that Trump and Giuliani clearly intended to use to stoke lies about Biden for the rest of the election cycle.

Throughout the testimony, Sondland’s affect was giddily nervous, a contrast to the more serious, composed faces of the professional diplomats who have testified previously. Sondland’s nervous smile only reinforced how much he is a man in over his head. He started this journey as just a typical wealthy Republican doofus, buying himself an ambassadorship and loving his big, dumb president. He is no elite criminal, but a guy who got caught up in Trump and Giuliani’s conspiracy — and who has the money to pay a lawyer sharp enough to know when the jig is up.

As for the Republicans, it’s clear that they had no idea what to do with this Trump enthusiast-turned-songbird sitting before them. House Intelligence ranking member Devin Nunes’ expression, before the Republicans started their questioning of Sondland, said it all:

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Nunes resorted to his usual strategy in these hearings, which is to ask a bunch of non-questions that are just an excuse to name check a bunch of right wing conspiracy theories, like a rapper rattling off fancy brand names. Republican counsel Steve Castor tried valiantly to poke holes in Sondland’s account, but to little avail, since there’s overwhelming public evidence to support the story Sondland tells of an extortion campaign masterminded by Trump himself. Castor’s effort will give the Fox News propaganda corps stuff to chew over, but had little value outside of that.

Above all, what Sondland’s testimony does is drive home how much this extortion scheme was Trump’s baby. Sondland argued that he and the career diplomats he was tasked with working with supported Ukraine and wanted Trump to do more to support that nation in its war against Russian invasion. But in Sondland’s telling, Trump and Giuliani were only interested in extracting public statements from Zelensky that Trump could use to promote his conspiracy theories. This doesn’t just go all the way to the top. The top is where the entire conspiracy began.