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Bolton Will Honor Subpoena In Senate Impeachment Trial

Donald Trump’s former national security adviser said on Monday that he is prepared to testify in the Senate impeachment trial.

“Since my testimony is once again at issue, I have had to resolve the serious competing issues as best I could, based on careful consideration and study,” Bolton said in a statement posted to his website. “I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify.”

His revelation that he would honor a subpoena should he be called to testify is a major reversal from his previous stance, in which he refused to testify before House investigators until a judge ruled on whether his presence could be compelled.

It appears to be a dare to Republican senators — who currently have no plans to call any witnesses at an impeachment trial — to call him as a witness.

Bolton is a key figure in the Ukrainian scandal that led to Trump’s impeachment.

Fiona Hill, a former national security aide under Bolton, testified that Bolton thought the effort to withhold military aid to Ukraine in order to force the country’s leadership to investigate Joe Biden was wrong.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Bolton said, according to Hill’s recollection.

Bolton also called Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer who also played a role in the military aid hold up, a “hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”

It’s still unclear what a Senate impeachment trial against Trump is going to look like.

Trump-supporting Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), want to quickly acquit Trump. And calling Bolton as a witness could complicate that effort.

For now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is still holding on to the two articles of impeachment against Trump — one for abuse of power and another for obstruction — as leverage to get the Senate to hold a fair trial.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Mitch McConnell Didn’t Just Steal A Supreme Court Seat

When history gathers the men who made the presidency of Donald Trump possible, lingering in a corner behind the blinding glare of Julian Assange and the massive 6’8” frame of James Comey will be Mitch McConnell, his corners mouth shaped into a smile that resembles a twisted mustache.

McConnell will want you to believe that history owes him credit for his strategic brilliance. And it’s undeniable that his campaign of massive obstruction topped off by the historic robbery of a Supreme Court seat, helped unite a GOP that was fracturing like a fissured fibula and make Trump’s improbable rise to the White House possible.

The Senate Majority Leader calls not allowing the appointment of Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a fair hearing “the most consequential decision I’ve ever been involved in.” And as usual, he’s being both self-congratulatory and deceptive.

Yes, Trump did better with white evangelical voters than Mitt Romney, John McCain and even an actual evangelical George W. Bush, according to an analysis from Pew.

This is a result so unlikely that it’s almost unmistakable from satire.

Trump is a thrice married accumulator of failed casinos, stolen valor from other people’s charity and sexual harassment allegations. For him to even be nearly as competitive with the religious right as devout believers like Romney and Bush or even McCain, the poster boy for the Reagan Revolution, is a monumental victory for both hypocrisy and tactical politics. Trump proved that the right’s feigned concerns for other people’s marriages was absolutely negotiable as long what it was offered in return was up to four revanchist Supreme Court Justices who will reshape and regress America for as long as half a century.

McConnell understands that since Brown v. Board of Education, the Court has been the defining issue for a conservative movement that fully comprehends our justice system’s power to remake or restore old biases. Holding a seat as a lure for the right was an opportunity Trump seized by putting out a list of Heritage Foundation-approved Justices and picking Mike Pence, a walking proof point for the argument that his agenda could be captured by the religious right.

It was a brilliant strategy from a man who has led a movement that recognizing the dusk of its demographic advantages decided to drop all pretenses of pomp and statesmanship for the pure embrace of power politics.

The Senate minority led by McConnell used the filibuster to block 79 of Obama’s nominees by 2013. That’s 79 in less than five five years, “compared with 68 in the entire previous history of the Republic,” Dana Milbank notes. When Senate Republicans refused to confirm anyone to the D.C. appeals court just after President Obama became the first president elected with 51 percent of the popular vote twice, Senate Democrats went nuclear and ended the filibuster for all appointments, except the Supreme Court. McConnell completed the nuclear fallout he made inevitable last week by denying the minority the right to block a young far right Justice selected by a man who lost the popular vote by 3 million usurping an older compromise pick from a genuinely popular president.

McConnell sees shredding of tradition as no vice in the pursuit of preserving privilege.

Nothing was going to stop him from taking Garland’s seat — not even the interference of a foreign government in our election.

This takes us to what Brian Beutler reveals as the real most consequential decision of McConnell’s career” and that’s the decision to shut down any attempt to make the public aware of Russia’s interference into our elections, which had been invited and embraced by Trump himself.

Beutler notes that “leaders of the U.S. intelligence community sought a united front ahead of the fall against Russian election interference—whatever its nature—and McConnell shot it down.” And not only shot it down, promised to impugn any effort to expose Putin’s efforts as false and partisan. This was threat that the Obama Administration calculated would harm both the Clinton campaign and the fabric of our democracy.

“The upshot is that McConnell drew a protective fence around Russian efforts to sabotage Clinton’s candidacy, by characterizing any effort to stop it as partisan politicization of intelligence at Trump’s expense,” Beutler wrote.

So as the FBI investigated a presidential campaign for possible collusion with foreign power, the public only learned of the possible existence, in the days just before the election, of some emails that may have validated the hazy, wild accusations being flung at Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump and his foreign allies.

Rather than broaden its message or revamp its failed policies, the GOP has declared war on democracy. And when history notes who made this strategy and unchecked madman it elected possible, much of the credit should go to Mitch McConnell.

That will be one thing he didn’t steal.

Unhappy Anniversary: How Anthony Kennedy Flooded Democracy With ‘Sewer Money’

On today’s anniversary of the Citizens United decision, which exposed American democracy to increasing domination by the country’s very richest and most reactionary figures – the modern heirs to those “malefactors of great wealth” condemned by the great Republican Theodore Roosevelt – it is worth recalling the false promise made by the justice who wrote the majority opinion in that case.

Justice Anthony Kennedy masterminded the Supreme Court’s January 21, 2010 decision to undo a century of public-interest regulation of campaign expenditures in the name of “free speech.” He had every reason to know how damaging to democratic values and public integrity that decision would prove to be.

Once billed as a “moderate conservative,” Kennedy is a libertarian former corporate lobbyist from Sacramento, who toiled in his father’s scandal-ridden lobbying law firm, “influencing” California legislators, before he ascended to the bench with the help of his friend Ronald Reagan.

While guiding Citizens United through the court on behalf of the Republican Party’s billionaire overseers, it was Kennedy who came up with a decorative fig leaf of justification:

With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.

 As Jane Mayer’s superb new book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right reveals in excruciating but fascinating detail, Kennedy’s assertion about the Internet insuring disclosure and accountability was nothing but a little heap of happy horse-shit. “Independent” expenditures from super-rich right-wing donors have overwhelmed the opponents of their chosen candidates, promoting a durable Republican takeover of Congress — often through the deployment of false advertising and false-flag organizations.

Late last year, Kennedy confessed that his vaunted “transparency” is “not working the way it should,” a feeble excuse since he had every reason to know from the beginning that his professed expectation of “prompt disclosure” of all political donations was absurdly unrealistic.

The Citizens United debacle led directly to the Republican takeover of the Senate as well as the House. Last week, the Brennan Center for Justice released a new study showing that “dark money” – that is, donations whose origin remains secret from news organizations and voters – has more than doubled in Senate races during the past six years, from $105 million to $226 million in 2014.

During the past three election cycles, outside groups spent about $1 billion total on Senate races, of which $485 million came from undisclosed sources. In the 11 most competitive Senate races in 2014, almost 60 percent of the spending by “independent” groups came from those murky places, and the winners of those races benefited from $171 million of such spending.

In elections gone by, when anonymous smear leaflets would appear in local races — funded by nobody knew whom — political operatives would shake their heads and mutter about “sewer money.”

Today we can thank Anthony Kennedy, who was either poorly informed or willfully ignorant, for turning American democracy into a stinking open sewer.

What a legacy.

Al Franken Takes Senate Job Seriously (He’s Still Funny In Private)

By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

WILLMAR, Minn. — It must be said at this point: Sen. Al Franken is just dull.

How dull is he? He says the most memorable conversation he’s had as a senator — “hilarious” even — was a wonkish discussion with former President Bill Clinton about how to finance energy retrofits.

During travels throughout the state, he stops at Dairy Queen and always orders the same thing: a plain vanilla cone.

The former “Saturday Night Live” writer and actor generally shuns the national media unless it’s to talk about one of his obscure pet issues, such as corporate media mergers or net neutrality.

Even his re-election is a little bit boring. More than five years after the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld his razor-thin 312-vote margin of victory, the Democratic senator is low on the list of endangered incumbents this year, even as several other Democrats fight to hold their seats.

Apparently dull is good politics for Al Franken.

It’s not that Franken is no longer funny — he is, though it’s mostly out of public view. But one of the more noteworthy aspects of the former comic’s first Senate term has been his effort to avoid the spotlight and to play against type.

“I’m in a different job,” he said in an interview. “My old job was being funny, basically. And that’s not my new job.”

The transformation from comic and political commentator to one of the most understated members of the Senate is often attributed to the so-called Hillary Clinton model, a reference to how the she strove to lower her profile and focus on constituents’ needs after she was elected as a senator from New York.

Franken also faced the prospect of filling the shoes of political giants who had held the seat: Hubert H. Humphrey and Walter F. Mondale — and his friend and political inspiration, the late Paul Wellstone.

Franken says he went to Washington “to be the workhorse and not a show horse.” The acerbic comedian who once declared the 1980s as the “Al Franken Decade” has been hesitant to exploit his celebrity status in the new post. “I had years in show business and had plenty of camera time,” he said. “By being perceived as someone who was rushing to the camera all the time, it can undercut your effectiveness in the body.”

He may be stone-faced in the halls of the Capitol, but there’s one thing Franken cannot suppress: that laugh.

His cackle, notorious among lawmakers, often pierces the din of conversations on the Senate floor during votes. He credits his distinctive laugh with helping him develop relationships across the aisle.

“If you talked to almost any senator, they would say, ‘Yeah, Al laughs a lot and really loudly,'” he said.

He acknowledges that as a comic he once used his humor “very pointedly” against the GOP. Among Franken’s several left-leaning political books are “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations” and “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.”

But as he has spent time getting to know Republicans, he has worked to give them a better understanding of his commitment to issues, Franken said.

“I’ve always considered myself a serious person,” he said. “And I don’t think there’s any contradiction between being funny and being serious. I don’t think of them as being opposites.”

He quickly found that humor can be an effective tool in legislating. “It’s the great bridge-maker,” he said.

Colleagues agree that a little sense of humor can go a long way in Washington’s hyper-polarized climate.

“He has a great laugh, a disarming laugh. It’s very genuine,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), a 30-year Senate veteran. “The one thing I always notice about Franken is that when we go into the Senate for a vote … more often than not you find him on the Republican side. Once in a while you can see them laugh together. Maybe Al says something funny or something like that. That does a lot to break the ice, believe me.”

Those close to Franken, and Franken himself, often seem exhausted by the continued discussion of his past job as it relates to his current one. That’s one reason he’s tended to refuse interviews to media outside Minnesota. At the start of a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, he asked skeptically, “The headline won’t have ‘No Joke’ in it?”

On a recent trip through rural western Minnesota, Franken touted his work on three agenda items that have generated little buzz in Washington: a new farm bill, legislation that overhauled federal worker training programs, and clean energy infrastructure projects. Despite the overall stalemate in Congress, Franken emphasized where he had delivered results, and seemed to revel in discussing them in minute detail.

It was Bill Clinton’s similar mastery of energy retrofits that impressed Franken so much, he says. Launching into a spot-on impersonation of the former president, Franken recalled how Clinton even offered to walk through the finer points with Franken’s staff. “I said, ‘Wow, Mr. President,'” Franken said. “It was hilarious just being on the phone with him for an hour and getting into local bonding issues.

Franken’s campaign is highlighting a list of relatively modest proposals that Franken helped turn into law: food safety and drug compounding bills, and a provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street overhaul bill that dealt with credit rating agencies. He also played a key role in ensuring that the so-called 80-20 rule was included in the Affordable Care Act. It requires insurers to spend a large portion of premium payments on actual health-care services and is seen as one of the more widely accepted components of Obama’s health-care law.

“Working Hard for Minnesota” is Franken’s rather unflashy slogan as he runs for a new term. And in the campaign ahead, it appears that both parties are content to focus on Franken’s legislative resume rather than his comedic past.

Franken’s Republican opponent would rather highlight Franken’s votes to support Obama policies than what he’d done before going to the Senate.

“I have no interest in what Al Franken did 25 years ago, absolutely no interest,” Mike McFadden said. “I do have an interest in terms of what he’s done over the last 5.5 years in Washington.”

Republican colleagues who have worked with Franken were reluctant to say much about their partnership. Former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, whom Franken narrowly defeated in 2008, scoffed at the idea that Franken had accomplished much since replacing him.

“He’s touting the fact that he’s got a few provisions (passed) in six years,” Coleman said. “That’s not a workhorse. That’s an invisible horse.”

If anyone is playing for laughs, it’s McFadden. His most recent ad employs a Franken impersonator struggling to launch his boat in one of the state’s 10,000 lakes. (The message: Franken votes with Obama 97 percent of the time.) Another ad ends with the Republican on the receiving end of a football to the groin, prompting him to voice the “I approve this message” disclaimer in a high pitch.

Franken supporters say the focus on his accomplishments is an implicit acknowledgment of how successful he’s been at being accepted by all sides as a credible legislator.

“They spent so much money in his first campaign making him look like a buffoon,” said Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN). “You’re with him for five minutes and you see that’s not true.”

Photo: Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT/Elizabeth Flores

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