NDN Blog

NDN Calls On The House To Conduct A Broad Security Review

Once the House appoints its Impeachment managers and the rules of the Senate trial are set, it is our hope that Congress also begins a project just as urgent – a broad review of the damage done to our standing in the world and our national security by the President’s willingness to put his own interests and the interests of others before the interests of the American people. 

After learning earlier this week that Trump's Ukraine "plumbers" had received money directly from a dirty oligarch close to Putin, yesterday the Washington Post published an alarming new story about Putin's influence over our President:

......"Almost from the moment he took office, President Trump seized on a theory that troubled his senior aides: Ukraine, he told them on many occasions, had tried to stop him from winning the White House.

After meeting privately in July 2017 with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Trump grew more insistent that Ukraine worked to defeat him, according to multiple former officials familiar with his assertions.

The president’s intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign — and the blame he cast instead on a rival country — led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine’s culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

One former senior White House official said Trump even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because “Putin told me.””

While a great deal of time and effort has been spent by Congress and the Mueller team looking into what happened in 2016, what Congress has to focus on now are the gifts the President has repeatedly given to other nations which have appeared at odds with stated US foreign policy. While time should be spent looking into his relationship with the Gulf Arab states and Turkey, the most important part of this review should be looking into a series of alarming decisions the President has made in just the past year which have helped Russia and harmed the security interests of the United States. 

I go into detail about these decisions in this recent analysis, but in sum the President has taken aggressive steps in recent months to change our policy towards Syria, Iran, Ukraine, Venezuela and Europe/NATO in ways which seem to be designed to achieve only one thing – advantaging Russia. The great fear we all had about Putin helping get Trump elected was that one day he could call in the chit – and based on what Trump has done in the last twelve months it sure looks like he’s called it in.

What would a broad security review look like? As I wrote recently, it could manifest in many ways, but it seems like it should be led by the Intelligence Committee with the support of Armed Services and Foreign Affairs.  If Chairman Schiff becomes one of the Impeachment managers, perhaps the Intelligence Committee’s Vice Chair, the very able Rep. Jim Himes, could take the lead for the House.  Concurrent public hearings could be held, and a report released this summer, perhaps in July.  We can view the Mueller, Horowitz and House Impeachment Reports as early evidence that can be flowed into whatever final report this process produces. 

Taking a step back, the testimony we heard from the parade of foreign service officers just a few weeks ago was as much about concerns that what the President was doing in Ukraine would benefit Putin and Russia as it was about how it would harm our democracy and elections here in the US.

Friends, there is just far too much evidence now that Russia’s Putin has some kind of dangerous and unnatural hold over our President.  It is time for these often whispered concerns to become front and center in our national debate.  If President Trump remains in office after the Senate trial, we simply cannot go through another election without the American people having a clearer understanding of the influence foreign leaders have had over our President, and how this influence has harmed the standing of our great nation abroad and made the world far more dangerous for all of us.

Trump Is Losing The Argument On Impeachment

In a new analysis this morning, Simon makes the case that right now all there is for Trump and Republicans is bad news.  The President was caught betraying the country, something his own aides have confirmed on camera.  He's losing the Impeachment argument with the public.  Close advisors are getting investigated and arrested again, and this new SDNY/FBI investigation into Russia and his campaign will be playing out all next year it appears.  He's historically unpopular, got beat badly in elections in 2018 and 2019, and is losing to Biden by 9 pts.  McConnell’s promise to rig the Senate trial is a sign of panic and weakness, not confidence and strength.

Let’s drill down on two aspects of this narrative – his bad Impeachment numbers and his even worse 2020 numbers:

Impeachment - The Fox News poll released yesterday was a huge, important corrective to an emerging media narrative that things are going the Donald’s way.  Its numbers were just brutal for the President and once again confirmed that there is no backlash.  54% Impeach, 50% remove, only 41% not Impeach.  53% say he abused his office and only 22% say it’s okay to solicit foreign help in an election.  As historian Kevin Kruse reminds us, just a few weeks before Nixon resigned he was at 46% remove, better than Trump now.  Diving into the Fox poll, which is consistent with other recent reputable polls, it is clear that Trump is not winning the Impeachment argument with the public – a big problem for him as this all heads to the Senate.

2020 - Part of the reason Trump isn’t winning the Impeachment argument is that his overall standing with the public is terrible, and he’s in far worse electoral shape today than he ever was in 2015/2016.  This chart summarizes the big numbers out there right now, and they all suggest that Trump is structurally down by high single digits. 

Polling Links: 123456   

By comparison Trump trailed Clinton by just 3-5 points for most of the 2016 election, and Clinton’s margin was above 6 for only a few weeks during the entire 17 months they were both in the race.  As Trump lost the popular vote by 2 points, 48-46, he is at least 5-6 points worse off today than he was on Election Day 2016.  Using the Real Clear Politics aggregates, Biden is ahead outside of margin of error in GA, NH, MI, NC, PA, OH and WI, while AZ, FL, IA, and TX are toss ups, inside the margin of error.  What all this says is that if the election were held today, Biden would beat Trump badly.  Trump is right now not definitively ahead in a single 2020 battleground. 

Related Readings From NDN – “To Defeat Illiberalism, Democrats Must Embrace Their Success As A Governing Party” (link here); and new pieces on Russia’s hold over Trump (link here), and how the House should split Impeachment into three parallel tracks now (link here). 

To Defeat Illiberalism, Democrats Must Embrace Their Success As A Governing Party

Over the past few years, NDN has been advancing an argument that we believe is essential to understanding American politics today – that the two parties are not the same; that over the past thirty years in this new age of globalization, when Democrats have been in power, things have gotten better.  When Republicans have come to power, things have gotten worse. 

The data for establishing this basic framework is overwhelming, and as we discuss in our recent piece excerpted below, those Americans who have come of age since the late 1980s – those in their mid forties and younger – see the world that way and recognize that there are vast differences between the two parties.  There is no “pox on both your houses” talk for younger Americans. 

Why does this matter? First, in our primary debate, we believe that Democrats should be making Republican policies the central cause of our ills today, not globalization, wealth concentration, inequality, or corruption.  Imagine what America would be like today without the trillions spent on failed geopolitical adventurism, a Great Recession and global financial crisis, plutocratic tax cuts, the resistance to climate change policy, universal health care, smart and sound immigration policy, and the Trump presidency?

Second, when it comes to the urgent task of defeating illiberalism here and abroad, it is critical that we establish that center-left governance has and can work; that it has brought a growing economy, rising wages and incomes, booming stock markets, and lower deficits; provided health care and modern skills and education to help our workers succeed; and worked tirelessly to give everyone – truly everyone – a chance to chase the American dream.  Unlike many of the left and center-left parties in Europe, the center-left Democratic Party is a modern force which has made the nation far better in two consecutive American Presidencies, won more votes in 6 of the last 7 national elections, and won a huge election victory against our illiberal President in 2018.  While not without problems, the American Democratic Party has been arguably the most successful center-left party in the developed world over the past 30 years, and it is our belief that making that story known and understood – and we hope imitated/replicated in allied nations – will not just be critical to defeating illiberalism here in the coming years but also throughout the world in the coming decades. 

So friends, read an excerpt from the latest version of our big argument below, which you can find in full here, and feel free to review earlier iterations of it here and here.  We have a lot of work ahead of us, but let’s begin it by owning our achievements and celebrating them with the American people and others fighting for a better future.

Godspeed, Simon

Americans Under 45 Are Breaking Hard Toward The Democrats — And For Good Reason

By Simon Rosenberg and Chris Taylor

Let’s say you were born in 1974 and are 45 years old today. You were 14 when George H.W. Bush was elected to office and during your teenage years, those when political understandings first form and begin to harden, the economy fell into recession, the deficit exploded, an era of deep military engagement in the Middle East began, and Bush became one of only three Presidents in the post-war period to lose re-election. But then in your twenties this all changed, as Bill Clinton was elected President and the economy boomed, the Internet age began, deficits became surpluses, and median income climbed by over $7,000 per household. The US spent its time in these years fashioning a new post-Cold War order through diplomacy and trade agreements, rather than through military conflict.

This era of economic prosperity and peace came to a halt in your late-twenties and early-thirties with a second Bush, 9/11, failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the worst economic and financial crisis in 75 years. Millions of jobs were lost, median income fell by almost 10%, and the stock market collapsed. But then in your mid-thirties Obama, and all that he represented, was elected President. The economy recovered, uninsured rates plummeted, the deficit came down, and global cooperation on things like climate and trade once again took precedence over military conflict.

Then came the shock and the ugliness of the Trump Presidency, starting with Russia’s extraordinary intervention on his behalf, and continuing with his giving trillions in tax cuts to those who needed it the least, threatening health care for tens of millions, subjecting women and kids to inhumane conditions at the border, and tearing at the country’s broader social fabric though his relentless attacks on women and people of color.

Source: Federal Reserve, Compiled by NDN Staff

Note — Change in the deficit refers to the difference in the annual fiscal deficit between each President’s first and last year in office

It is no wonder that if this is your lived experience, you would lean towards the Democrats today. The two Democratic presidents in your lifetime produced long economic booms, vast improvements in healthcare, and global cooperation and respect, while the three Republican presidents brought recession, rising deficits, disastrous adventurism abroad, and well, Trump. Furthermore, if you are under 45, your life has been shaped by the rise of a truly global economy, an interconnected world enabled by the Internet, a far more diverse population here at home, and important steps towards greater equality for all. This is the world you know — and it is almost as if Trump and the current GOP have risen to roll back and reject all that you understand America to be.

Not surprisingly, all of this has led to what is becoming a truly consequential divide in American politics — voters under 45 have become overwhelmingly Democratic. While these voters had been trending more Democratic in recent years, in 2018 there was an unprecedented and consequential shift among them. In the elections from 2000 to 2016, the Democrats beat the Republicans among under 45s by an average of 6 points, with Republicans even besting the Dems in 20002002, and 2004. In the 2010 and 2014 midterms, the Dem margin was just 2 and 5 points, and in the 2016 general election it was 14 points. In 2018, however, the Democratic advantage in this group exploded to 25 points, 58–33. Over 45s were 50–49 for the Republicans, so these younger Americans were responsible for the entire margin in the Democratic 9 point win last year.

Lavrov Comes to America For a Russian Victory Lap

This essay was originally posted on GEN, a Medium affiliate, on Monday, December 9th. 

From a national security standpoint, the most important question about Vladimir Putin’s big 2016 investment in Donald Trump has always been about whether Russia would eventually get something significant in return for helping elect the U.S. president. Surveying President Trump’s actions over the past year, the answer appears to be that Putin is in the process of getting quite a lot from the United States, perhaps more than he could have ever imagined.

Not only has the United States taken very pro-Putin stances in Russia’s hot wars in Ukraine and Syria, but on a grander scale Trump has helped convey U.S. weakness and Russian strength in region after region across the world — a dangerous development which is going to create enormous challenges for the United States and the West for years to come.

With Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visiting Washington this week, it’s worth diving a little deeper into just how much Trump has tried to align the United States with Russian interests over the past year:

Syria

Trump has been working hard to unilaterally withdraw the United States from Syria, a country where Russia has a naval base and has been fighting on the government’s behalf since September 2015. Trump’s unexpected and abrupt withdrawal announcement a year ago caused Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign in protest, and his recent sudden second attempt at complete withdrawal has been met with extraordinary alarm in Washington, Europe, and even Israel. Without consulting our allies or Congress, the president pulled U.S. forces from the front lines of battle in northern Syria, abandoning our long time allies the Kurds, and in effect turning over the country back to the murderous Syrian government and its allies the Russians without the United States or the West getting anything in return. It was a hasty and sudden retreat, pure and simple, and sent a very strong signal across the globe about how feckless and unreliable America has become.

Venezuela

In May, shortly after talking to Vladimir Putin on the phone, the president again without warning or consultation with allies, publicly abandoned a months-long U.S.-led international effort to rid Venezuela of its corrupt leader, Nicolas Maduro, allowing him to stay essentially under Russia’s protection. In his statement announcing the decision, the president contradicted comments his own secretary of state had made just days before warning that Russia was in the process of invading and taking over Venezuela. It was a shocking reversal. Hopes of a restoration of democracy were dashed, and like in Syria, the president appears to have willingly allowed the country to become a Russian client state without getting anything for the United States in return. I spoke to a friend with family in Caracas this week, and he said Russian troops are now a common sight throughout the country.

Ukraine

In his infamous July 25 phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump asked for help in removing the blame for the 2016 attack on U.S. elections from Russia and instead tried to place it on Ukraine itself. I’m not really sure that we’ve collectively processed here the gravity of what Trump asked of Zelensky that day — it was essentially a request for him to commit national and political suicide, and made it very very clear that regardless of where the U.S. government stood, Trump himself was with Russia.

Again and again the president has conveyed his sympathy toward Russia in this hot war, including when he ominously turned the August G7 meeting into a discussion about removing the sanctions from Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea. Rudy Giuliani’s return to Ukraine last week should be read as a very public show of Trump’s contempt for Zelensky. It comes days before the Ukrainian president’s face to face peace talks with Putin that start Monday in Paris, a gathering where the United States is conspicuously absent.

Iran

At some point Trump was going to have to choose between his Gulf Arab and Israeli friends and the Russia-Iran-Assad axis. In recent months, it seems as if the president has finally chosen Putin over his allies. In September, the president signaled a desire to negotiate easing back on sanctions with Iran, backing off his hard line position. The United States did little to respond to Iran’s attack on Saudi oil facilities, and Russia’s perceived victory in Syria was a huge win for Iran as well. Experts in the region say the president’s recent dramatic reorientation toward Russian objectives there even has Israel wondering if it can continue to count on the United States in its struggle with Iran. The president’s embrace of Russian objectives in Syria cost him Mattis. His embrace of Russian objectives with Iran might have cost him John Bolton.

Europe/NATO/The West

Within the span of a few weeks, we have witnessed Western leaders mocking the U.S. president at a NATO meeting and Trump cutting short his trip to NATO as if it was a bother to him. Trump once again expressed doubts about his willingness to defend others in the alliance and also delivered a potentially crippling blow to the World Trade Organization, a key pillar of the U.S.-led post WWII liberal order. The president has backed Brexit and the fracturing of the European project, embraced far-right, pro-Putin, anti-European leaders like Hungary’s Orban, has walked away from a critical nuclear arms control treaty with Russia that directly affects European security, denigrated NATO, and weakened the global trading system. The Western alliance that won the Cold War, caused the breakup of the Soviet Union, and kept the United States safe, is under extraordinary strain. Of all of his gifts to Putin in recent months this one may be the most significant, and the most dangerous for the United States itself.

While there were moments in 2017 and 2018 where one wondered whether Trump was rewarding Putin (Helsinki being a good example), much of the truly significant aligning of U.S. policy toward Russian interests has come in the last year. While we may never know why, I want to offer an explanation: Trump’s drubbing in the 2018 election. Putin may have understood at that point that Trump had an expiration date, and needed to get from him what he could while he was still in office.

It is also long past time for leaders of both parties to challenge the president’s alignment with Russia far more forcefully.

The way Trump has prosecuted these policies has in every case seemed rushed, reckless, and sudden — as if there was pressure on him to deliver, and he just didn’t have time to prepare or soften the ground for the decisions. The Ukraine affair has appeared particularly wild and sloppy — and has continued this week, with Guiliani returning to Ukraine in a manner that seems reckless to an extreme.

Whatever the explanation for what we’ve seen, in the past year Trump has fundamentally altered core security arrangements throughout the world in ways which have benefited Russia and harmed western and U.S. interests. It is time for U.S. policymakers to come to a clearer understanding of the damage the president has done to our standing in the world and our security by these actions, which is why I have called for the House to conduct a broad security review next year as part of impeachment. It is also long past time for leaders of both parties to challenge the president’s alignment with Russia far more forcefully — it has become a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.

The House Should Consider Breaking Impeachment Into Three Parallel Tracks

I have a new essay on up on GEN, a Medium affiliate, which makes the case that the House should break the Impeachment process into three parallel tracks: the crimes, the co-conspirators, a security review.  You can read it on GEN, link above, or below. 

The House Should Consider Breaking Impeachment Intro Three Parallel Tracks

Given Republicans’ stated intent to turn the Senate impeachment trial into a wildly partisan Sean Hannity-inspired circus, it is critical the House keep the inquiry into the Trump-Ukraine affair open past the trial — it must be far more challenging for the president to corruptly claim exoneration, as he did, malevolently, in the Mueller process.

The more we have come to understand about President Donald Trump’s months-long effort to illegally pressure two Ukrainian governments into doing political favors for him, the more difficult it has become for the House to move swiftly and to keep the process “narrow.”

Consider what we’ve learned: We know now the scandal involves many more people than just the president — dozens perhaps. A parallel federal criminal investigation into the scandal is currently underway. Already, two Trump associates have been arrested, implicating the president, Rep. Devin Nunes, Rudy Giuliani, and others. And once again, the scandal raises the spectacle of Russia’s influence over the president and his team — an issue so serious it cannot be wished away.

Breaking impeachment into three tracks will allow the House to make an initial set of time-sensitive criminal charges for the Senate to consider.

The Mueller investigation took almost two years. Ken Starr looked into Bill Clinton for more than four. The House has been scrutinizing Trump’s interactions with Ukraine for only a few months, and while some brave administration officials have come forward to testify, access to critical witnesses and documents has been illicitly withheld by the president. There is a real chance that a swift and narrowly focused process that ends in a few weeks with the president’s “exoneration” by the Senate will prevent the American people from seeing the complete picture of what has happened. This would allow senior government officials who have committed crimes to walk away without being held accountable.

So, to best serve the American people and fulfill its constitutional obligations, Congress should consider breaking down the impeachment process into three separate tracks: focusing on the criminal, the co-conspirators, and a national security review. Let’s look at each in turn.

Track one: Clearly establish the president’s crimes

In the coming weeks, and in preparation for an early 2020 Senate trial, the House should develop its core argument for why President Trump’s removal is required and why it should happen now, before the 2020 elections. Congress can establish that the president broke election laws in 2016 and illegally obstructed a legitimate investigation into his campaign throughout 2017 and 2018. In the Ukraine affair he has done it again — broken election laws and illegally obstructed. If he is not removed, it is reasonable to assume that he will attempt to break laws again next year. As sworn guardians of the Constitution, the House just cannot let that happen.

While the House can establish the gravity of the president bribing and extorting a foreign ally, Democrats must also bear down on the repeated election law violations and work to explain just how serious a crime “cheating” is in a system like ours. It speaks to a profound contempt for democracy, a disregard for what at the end of the day has been the central source of American greatness. It is the very definition of a “high crime” — a crime not against a person but the very idea of America itself.

In the recent press conference announcing the arrest and indictment of two of Trump’s associates in the Ukraine affair, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, law enforcement officials went out of their way to explain the gravity of election law violations. FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney declared, “These allegations aren’t about some technicality, a civil violation, or an error on a form. This investigation is about corrupt behavior and deliberate lawbreaking.”

The Justice Department has a decades-long policy of declining to prosecute a sitting president, but former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner has a compelling argument for why election law violations should be exempt from this policy. “If a president can act unlawfully to influence an election, he does not deserve the protections of his ill-gotten office,” Kirschner wrote. “This incongruity encourages lawlessness in the quest for the presidency and then rewards that lawlessness by inoculating the criminal president against prosecution. Such a construct is dangerous.” In other words, unless Congress and the Department of Justice aggressively punish election law violations, we will be creating huge incentives for Trump and future candidates to make cheating a core part of their electoral strategy.

What ethical leader has had so many around him fall under investigation, or get indicted or jailed? Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Igor Fruman, Rick Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Paul Manafort, Devin Nunes, George Papadopoulous, Lev Parnas, Richard Pinedo, Roger Stone, and Alex van der Zwaan. Or so many Cabinet officials resign due to scandal? Rampant criminal activity and lawlessness around Trump is something that will also need to be firmly established in the months ahead.

It is evident that the president is a serial criminal and should be removed from office. That he has repeatedly violated U.S. election laws and cheated and committed crimes against our democracy itself makes his removal before the 2020 general election an urgent and patriotic endeavor.

Track two: Prosecute the co-conspirators

In order to allow Congress to focus on the case against the president, the House should create a process where his co-conspirators in the crimes of bribery, extortion, election law violations, and obstruction of Congress are allowed to face the evidence against them and defend themselves in public. This should be separate from the parallel federal criminal investigation that’s currently ongoing. Perhaps Congress can focus on one conspirator per day, and at the end of each proceeding, the House Committee overseeing this process can vote on whether the evidence available and testimony warrants a criminal referral to the Department of Justice.

Fortunately, the DOJ has already established a team overseeing the criminal prosecution of those in the Ukraine affair. The House-led criminal referrals can be made directly to that established team. In theory, the whole process can be completed in a few weeks, and executed shortly after the Senate trial ends for expediency’s sake.

Among those who should be compelled to defend their actions are Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Attorney General William Barr, and others the House has reason to believe committed crimes in service of the president’s illegal scheme.

Track three: Review how the president has damaged our national security

In the Ukraine affair, the evidence suggests the president put his own interests above those of the United States; he not only betrayed the nation, but also, in the process, damaged our standing in the world and national security. Even more evidence suggests this is not the only time the president has done this, and Congress must investigate his dealings with Russia and all other nations. The awful possibility that the president has serially betrayed the nation, leaving us far weaker on the global stage, is such a grave matter that it must undergo a thorough review that is separate from the more rapid consideration of his recent lawbreaking.

At the very core of this security review should be a comprehensive assessment of the president’s repeated actions to benefit our most significant historic adversary, Russia. Wherever one looks in the world, one sees the American president taking steps to align our policies with Russia’s foreign policy aims, weakening America and elevating Vladimir Putin: the years-long refusal to condemn Putin’s repeated attacks our democracy, his decision to abandon Syria and the Kurds, his reversal in Venezuela, his efforts to undermine Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Ukraine, his embrace of Brexit and denigration of Europe and NATO, his recent easing up on Iran, and his withdrawal from the Paris climate accords. Just in the past few days, new worries have emerged about his ultimate aims in Afghanistan and Lebanon. The cumulative record is astonishing.

Trump’s lawlessness and his repeated willingness to dangerously sacrifice our national interests leaves Congress no choice but to proceed.

That a week ago the president repeated a false and frankly ridiculous story, which originated in Russia about the 2016 attack on America’s democracy, adds fresh urgency to this vital task.

A security review would be the most serious of all the steps Congress could take in the coming months, and should not have any timetable associated with it. While the review could be led by the Intelligence Committee and look and feel a lot like what we’ve experienced over the past month or so, the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees should be expected to proceed with concurrent public hearings and investigations to help ensure a thorough and complete review. Efforts should be made to allow those members with significant national security experience to play leading roles in the proceedings.

In order to conduct these investigations with the kind of thoroughness that the American public would expect, Congress should work to aggressively compel the Department of Justice to turn over all materials gathered by Robert Mueller in his two-year-long look at Russia’s efforts to penetrate and influence domestic U.S. politics. That the full Mueller report has still never been turned over to Congress remains among the significant outrages of the Trump era.

There is a powerful logic for Congress to move swiftly to remove the president. He has shown a dramatic disregard for U.S. election law; that cannot stand. Breaking impeachment into three tracks will allow the House to make an initial set of time-sensitive criminal charges for the Senate to consider, keep the criminal inquiry open in case more matters arise, hold those who have been involved in the president’s vast Ukraine conspiracy accountable, and conduct a thorough review of the damage done to U.S. national security by the president’s illicit foreign dealings.

Congress was reluctant to go down this path. But the president’s lawlessness and his repeated willingness to dangerously sacrifice our national interests leaves Congress no choice but to proceed, and to do so in a way which reminds the American people and the world that this great democracy is something very much worth fighting for.

Is VP Biden In Better Shape Than Conventional Wisdom Holds Right Now?

While Mayor Pete has deservedly gotten headlines for his strong showing in the early states this week, an equally consequential shift seems to be happening in the national polling.  Using the RealClearPolitics Democratic Primary aggregate, the Vice President has gone from even with Elizabeth Warren on Oct 5th (26-26) to up 13 today (31-18).  Today's newly released YouGov national poll, which has historically been the best pollster for Warren, went from Warren up 3 last week (29-26) to Biden up 8 this week (30-22).

A review of the early state polls also finds Biden in a very competitive position in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and far ahead in the more ethnically diverse states which follow. According to RealClearPolitics, Biden is ahead of Warren for 2nd place in Iowa by 1 point and behind her for 1st place in New Hampshire by 2 points. Meanwhile, he is up 19 in South Carolina, 9 in Nevada, 10 in Texas, and 17 in North Carolina. Warren seems to have lost ground in most polls we’ve reviewed in recent weeks; and one has to wonder whether the President’s efforts to smear Biden with Ukraine is actually backfiring on the GOP, and making him into a stronger national figure. 

For more on NDN's insights into the 2020 elections, click here.

NDN Calls on Pres. Trump To Forcefully Condemn Russian Attacks on US Politicians

In response to the news that Facebook took down a sophisticated Russian-based malign influence campaign involving Democrats running for President, NDN is calling on the President and his Administration to take four immediate steps:

Denounce The Action, Implement Sanctions – The President should immediately denounce this interference in our domestic politics, ask the intelligence community to review Facebook’s findings, and if confirmed work with Congress to implement sanctions against Vladimir Putin himself, not just his government.

Work With Congress To Pass Bi-Partisan Election Protection Bills – The President should meet with Congress this week and settle on a package of bills he would sign which would improve our nation’s ability to protect itself from foreign interference.

Fill Critical Vacancies – The President should immediately appoint a permanent DHS Secretary and work with the Senate to put a fourth Commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, turning it back on. 

For more about NDN's work on protecting America's elections from foreign interference, click here.

Syria Fiasco Makes The Case For Removing Trump Far Stronger

Trump’s reckless decision to surrender Syria to Russia and Turkey has made the case for his removal far stronger.  For we now have clear evidence of the threat posed by leaving this desperate and dangerous man in office for the next 15 months – Russia strengthened, ISIS revived, and America humiliated.   Removing him to prevent further damage - and yes there is much more damage he could do to America and our interests - is now an urgent task, something that cannot wait to the election in 2020. 

That this decision also involved a country where the President has hundreds of opaque investments also gives the House’s quest for greater visibility into his finances more gravity.  As we’ve seen in recent court decisions siding with the House on access to information, and the cooperation of top Trump officials with the Intel Committee, the absurd blockade that Barr, Trump, and the White House have erected has begun to erode.  The scope of the Ukraine scandal remains extraordinary, as it involves not just Trump but Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Perry, Mulvaney, Maguire, Rudy, and dozens of staff.   And as all of this once again involves felony level election law violations, it is time for Congress to force the re-opening of the FEC which was shuttered on August 26th, the same day that the White House learned the Ukraine scandal would become public.

At the Democratic debate tonight we should expect far more attention to urgent foreign policy matters, Syria/Ukraine/Russia, giving both Biden and Buttigieg a chance to better showcase their experience and competency on security issues.  How Biden manages the President’s attacks on him and his family and their work in Ukraine could be one of the primary’s most important moments – and in my mind a huge opportunity for the Vice President.  Trump himself, and impeachment, will also now be front and center – all in all it is likely to be a very different debate in tone and substance than what we’ve seen in the first three gatherings this year.  

Trump Needs To Re-Open The FEC Right Now

This analysis was updated on the afternoon of October 9th, a few hours after it was posted. 

While it is hard to keep track of the flood of malevolence flowing from the White House these days, I want to draw folks' attention to one action from Trump world that looks increasingly sinister - the shuttering of the Federal Election Commission, an independent regulatory body which enforces American election law. 

The FEC has six commissioners, with no more than three from one party. This past summer the Commission was already in a depleted state, as the White House and Senator McConnell had left the FEC with only four Commissioners, three of whom were already serving past the expiration of their term.  On August 26th, one of the two remaining Republican commissioners abruptly resigned, giving just five days notice before his departure, a highly unusual move in this process obsessed town.  This left the FEC with only three commissioners (again all serving past their terms), not enough to achieve a quorum.  More than a month later neither the White House nor Senator McConnell have announced plans to re-open nominations or bring to a vote any new nominee.  The FEC appears to have been taken off line permanently by Trump and McConnell just as the 2020 campaign ramps up. 

For some perspective, here is how the New York Times covered the departure of the 4th FEC commissioner in its August 26th edition:

The resignation of Vice Chairman Matthew S. Petersen, announced on Monday and scheduled for the end of August, will effectively freeze the F.E.C.’s governance, leaving it one person short of a quorum and thus unable to take on some of its most basic actions, including holding board meetings, starting audits, making new rules and levying fines for campaign finance violations.

“Voters should be extremely concerned,” said Ann M. Ravel, a Democrat and former F.E.C. chairwoman who stepped down in 2017 and who has not been replaced. “If you do not have the ability to do any kind of enforcement, then there isn’t any kind of respect for the law.”

It is course scandalous that the White House would allow our election watchdog agency to be taken offline given Russia's successful undermining of our elections in 2016 and judgments from all, including the new Senate Intel Committee report, that these activities haven't ceased and that our elections are in danger again this time.  But a review of new reporting and a timeline of recent events suggests something more venal and permicious about the timing of the FEC's shuttering - for the FEC was shut down on the very same day that the White House learned that credible allegations the President broke felony level election laws here in the US would become public, and just 12 days after a criminal referral of the President was made to the DOJ by the CIA's general counsel.  Let's review:

July 26 - Original whistleblower memo written, quotes US official who had been on the Trump-Zelensky call this way - "the official stated that there was already a conversation underway with White House lawyers about how to handle the discussion because, in the official's view, the President had clearly committed a criminal act by urging a foreign power to investigate a U.S. person for the purposes of advancing his own reelection bid in 2020."

Aug 12 – Ukraine whistleblower complaint filed with the Intelligence Community Inspector General.

Aug 14 – CIA General Counsel makes criminal referral to Department of Justice about the President’s actions based on the whistleblower report.  Among possible laws broken include election laws.  How the White House and DOJ became aware of the potential legal problems for the President and other senior Administration staff. One would assume significant efforts to mitigate potential damages began on this date. 

Aug 22 - In a somewhat suprising turn of events, the President announces he will force a debate at the upcoming G7 about lifting sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.  Demonstrates how front of mind Ukraine is to the President at this moment, and how extensive the explicit and implicit threats to Zelensky were during this period.  Indeed the G7 meeting which runs from Aug 24-26 features a very public and spirited debate about forgiving Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. 

Aug 26 – DNI Maguire officially notified of "credible" and "urgent" whistleblower complaint by the IC Inspector General.  Initiates process which guarentees that at some point the complaint will become public. 

Aug 26 – Also on this day, the FEC is hastily taken off line by the unanticipated resignation of Commissioner Petersen.

Sept 26 - Whistleblower complaint released, first time we learn of Attorney General Barr's direct involvement in the scandal.  DOJ admits they reviewed whether the President broke any laws, and importantly, cleared him of breaking US election law (NDN believes this argument, like so many legal arguments emenating from the WH and DOJ these days is absurd on its face, and any official public or private who pressured Ukraine for information on Biden committed felony level election law violations).

Reviewing the timeline, WH/DOJ learn on Aug 14th of potential election law violations by the President and other senior advisors, including potentially the Attorney General himself.  DOJ, after an unserious review of the charges, rules the President broke no laws.  However, in the interim, the independent regulatory body overseeing US election law is hastily taken off line in a move that can now only be understood as preventing any kind of investigation into these charges outside the control of the President's compliant DOJ. 

Calls for the re-opening of the Federal Election Commission should be very loud now.  It is bad enough Trump and McConnell have blocked several common sense bills which would have made our elections far more secure.  But it cannot be that they get away with taking the FEC offline this cycle, particularly as the issue of whether there was a huge criminal conspiracy to violate US election laws by Trump, his Administration, and his advisors has already become central to the 2020 campaign; and Russia, Iran, and other nations are likely to attack our democracy once again. 

As I wrote in this essay a few months ago, crimes which undermine our elections and our democracy more broadly are the gravest "high crimes" a President can commit while in office, and need to be understood that way. 

Our Mad King

Part of what made the investigation into Trump and Russia so challenging was its size, complexity, and significance.  The nation is about to face a prolonged look into a far bigger scandal now, one which will soon be understood to be the biggest scandal in all of our history – the Ukraine affair.   It involves not just the President and his family, but his entire government – Pence, Pompeo, Barr, Maguire, Perry, and Mulvaney – and dozens of staffers at the WH, State, and DOJ.  It of course is also directly tied to the still unresolved first big scandal, Trump and Russia, as the President throughout this Ukrainian debacle has seemed far more interested in advancing Russia’s interests than our own. 

Which brings us to what happened late last night – without warning, consultation, or deliberation, and overruling his advisers, the President decided to pull American troops out of Syria altogether, abandoning our allies the Kurds and leaving open the possibility of a resurgence of ISIS.  I will let this early thread from former US Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk explain it all, but of course this new Syria policy directly benefits Russia and Putin, who’ve wanted the US out of their client state for many years now; and sends a very Russian inspired signal that the US is indeed feckless, unreliable, and weak - a spent force on the global stage.  The gravity of the moment cannot be overstated.  

The President’s recklessness here, and making big calls which do not clearly advance the interests of the United States, is why his removal from office is an urgent national priority now.  There is no version of the Founder’s vision which contemplated a Presidency like this one – it was indeed the very thing they worked so hard to prevent for our young and inspiring nation.  Additionally, the further damage he could do to the US – through ignorance and incompetence, fealty to Putin, and greed and corruption – is just far too great to leave him in office any longer. 

Finally, on the 2020 landscape.  The Dems debate next week – will be important.  Early polls on Trump’s impeachment are far worse for him than any of us could have imagined, and show what a weakened state he’s in.  Fears about Dem overreach appear completely unfounded at this point.  Trump should be removed, and the nation appears ready to see him go. 

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