The Depth of the Pentagon’s Legal Concerns

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S1: And we are, according to various laws, supposed to be very careful with their cultural heritage. And you know what? If that’s what the law is, I like to obey the law. But think of it. They kill our people. They blow up our people. Then we have to be very gentle with their cultural institutions. But I’m okay with it. It’s okay with me. I will say this. If Iran does anything that they shouldn’t be doing. They’re going to be suffering the consequences and very strongly.

S2: We have the votes once the impeachment trial has begun to pass a resolution essentially the same. Very similar to the 100 to nothing vote in the Clinton trial.

S3: We are not looking to start a war with Iraq, but we are prepared to finish one.

S4: Hello and welcome to Tramcars Time, Virginia Heffernan Happy 2020. Let me look over my knew at a glance calendar that I got my stocking because I always forget stuff 2020’s, a leap year and something else.

S5: OK. Tissue above to be for the festival of the trees. Mercury trying to cancer.

S4: I need to remember that the badminton semifinals oral surgery day October fast SantaCon away going back to November. It’s an election year. So yes, election day is 10 months away just over the human gestation period. And it is never too early to get out the vote. Evicting Trump from the White House in November and getting him quarantined where he can’t hurt people, as many people ever again will require two and only two things. So keep your eye on these balls. Vigilance about cheating and turnout. All right. Let me break this down. Vigilance about cheating means that as we know, Trump and CO cheated to win last time. Can see the Mueller report for evidence of that. And they are cheating as we speak. This means everything from voter suppression, hacking, voting software, hacking actual machines, courting foreign interference, producing outright lies and hacking humans. That’s what the Oxford Internet Institute says has been done to Americans by Fox News, chronic, hyper stimulating lies that use porn and snuff in social media, and the emboldening of doomsday cults like Q Anon and whatever those are that Bill Barr and Mike Pompeo belong to anyway. I think you can address the people you know, who are in thrall to Fox News or doomsday cults. Maybe I’m optimistic, but if you express compassion for how hard it must be to square their recent beliefs with their values and common sense, I do think the people you know who are under the spell of Fox or other cults will listen up so you can let that start the conversation. Just respect that the mental exertion of these people being in a cult is not nothing. And also, while you have their attention, point out how Fox zeroes in on sex and death and really leverage as porn, the leggy hosts and snuff in the form of bloodthirsty, angry male entertainers to spike cortisol. These are people that did not decide to watch porn and snuff, but had it smuggled in on them by Roger Ailes. And now they are addicted. Hyper arousal of this kind is not a good place to be. It’s speedy and disorienting and can be actually painful. And some people will change. Not when you argue with them. Not when you present facts, but when the pain gets too bad. And for them, when we’re thinking toward November, some rest for the Fox cultists, like staying home with some tea or a bath on election day could really help. As for election security to prevent cheating. Consider working with or donating to an organization like the National Election Defense Coalition, which aims to build an effective movement across party lines to secure vulnerable electronic voting systems on voter suppression as the ACLU that’s most committed to this issue. They’ve always been so. Go to their site on voting rights and fighting voter suppression. Find out how you can help. And that brings me to turnout. The second part of this. We’ve got to get out the damn vote. The more people vote, the more they vote for Democrats. So campaign like hell for your candidate. Get behind the nominee, whoever it is, and then start knocking on doors and turning out all the voters vigilance and turnout. It could be a great year. OK. My guest today is Kate Brannon. She’s the editorial director of Just Security. The one that scored that scoop last week. The unredacted version of the emails between Michael Duffy, the associate director of national security programs at OMB, the Office of Management Budget, and Elaine McCusker, the acting Pentagon comptroller. These are the ones that show Donald Trump just last summer, insisting that Ukraine would be denied aid. It had been promised by Congress while, as usual, a person with a conscience. In this case, Elaine McCosker flags Trump’s behavior as abnormal, dangerous and unprincipled. Welcome to Trump Cascade.

S5: Thanks so much for having me. So you had a huge holiday season. It was a big one. We don’t say Merry Christmas or happy holidays. We just see what’s happening with Ukraine. Walk me through how this incredible scoop, it just security happened.

S6: We could start at the beginning or in December when the Center for Public Integrity. They were in Foya foil litigation with the Trump administration over a set of emails and a court. A judge ordered the Trump administration to release the emails to the Center for Public Integrity. And the Trump administration did so in two big batches. And they totaled almost 400 pages of e-mails, but they were heavily, heavily redacted. And there were a few sort of nuggets in there that were interesting. Particularly they had an email from Mike Duffy, who’s in charge of national security programs at OMB to the Defense Department, saying it was like maybe an hour and a half after the July 25th phone call between Trump and Zelinsky saying it’s sort of the official letter saying, look, we’re gonna do this hold, even though there had been talks about it before, that the hold is happening. And also, this is sensitive. So let’s keep it among kind of a small group. So that was an e-mail that they actually released.

S5: This was is mostly about the hold on military aid, not about the meeting in the White House to announce the investigation, fraud investigation into into Joe Biden.

S6: This is between the officials who sort of are in charge of implementing the hold, like the day to day mechanism of holding up money that is supposed to be going out and being contracted and being used his buy weapons. Right. So it’s between OMB and the Pentagon money people for the most part.

S7: The real mines of a quid pro quo. This is the people that are down there quitting and fro flowing as if they were in a salt mine. Right. Well, they’re on one. They’re kind of doing the the quitter, the quo. Yeah, right. They’re tasked with carrying out half of it. Yes.

S8: And so I was made aware that I had an opportunity to view these same emails without the redactions. And it came in right before Christmas. And I sort of, you know, got through Christmas with my family and then turned my attention to what was just handed to me and started to read them. And they read like, you know, because at first they didn’t come in chronological order. So I spent a long time just sort of sorting them out from June through October and then started to read them. And they tell a real story about mostly the Pentagon being, you know, having real questions about why this is happening and not getting very good answers and then raising their concerns about the legality of it and whether or not they’re going to be able to spend all of the money by the end of the fiscal year, which is September 30th. If, in fact, the president changes his mind and lifts the hold. And it’s very clear to as you read them that there’s no policy review going on, there’s no process that’s happening to assess the value of the money or the efficacy of the program or anything like that. It’s just like when when is you know, when his leadership meeting with the president. Did he decide to change it? Did he change his mind? No, no, no. Hold, hold, hold, hold, hold.

S5: But you say they still are questioning the legality of it. You mean the legality of how to handle the budget or are they questioning the hold itself?

S9: They question the hold itself at the beginning. And I think when they don’t get very good answers, they kind of in the end, the orders are very clear. You need to implement this. Yeah. That’s one of the things you found. Yeah.

S6: The legality part of it is there’s a law called the Empowerment Control Act, which was passed after President Nixon. And it requires the executive branch to spend money the way Congress appropriated it. Once Congress appropriates money and says this is how it has to be spent this year, the White House has not that much wiggle room to like change the direction of that money, to not spend it or spend it on something else. And if they want to do that, they have to notify Congress because Congress has the power of the purse and they get to decide how the money is spent. A surprise and a real departure from doesn’t seem to notify Congress. So the Pentagon is saying, one, we think you need to notify Congress. And then basically continuously raising this Empowerment Control Act, saying and the real sort of drop dead day is mid-August. By that point, they say we can no longer guarantee that if the hold is lifted, we’ll be able to spend all this money by the end of the fiscal year, which would be in violation of the Empowerment Control Act. And what happens is money gets impounded. Meaning it’s not spent and it goes back to the U.S. Treasury. It basically disappears. And so they start warning OMB, we now can’t vouch for the fact that we’ll be able to spend all the money and then they start actually telling them. And some of it’s a bit exaggerated in the end because I think it was early September. They say, look, now we’re probably not going to be able to spend $120 million of this 250 million dollar program that you’ve lost it, like that’s what’s going to get impounded. Now, in the end, when the hold is lifted on September 11th, the Pentagon was unable to get $35 million out the door, which means I mean, in essence, it violated the Empowerment Control Act like it. It wasn’t able to spend that money in time. And so Congress actually had to write legislation which went largely unnoticed at the time. It was like tacked on to a continuing resolution with the budget. Right. Extending the money and allowing them to spend it.

S5: I mean, and this was the year of the shutdown. So there’s just all kinds of paralysis in ways around the paralysis and and Trump acts and every office is thrown into disarray. Yet what are these exchanges sound like? Because we’ve had a taste of just weird e-mails sometimes on insecure servers saying if it’s what you said, love it. Right. One of my favorites is Paul Manafort’s. How can we use to get whole joining the Trump campaign so he could get out of debt or. And then of course we’ve seen the texts for relevant to this from Sann Blunt and others. Taylor So sir, a certain formality to them because they are citing law as they’re not that formal.

S10: They sound more like, you know, two people in an office sort of doing their jobs in regular communication. The main characters are Elaine McCusker, who kind of emerges as like the new Trump era heroine in a lot of ways. New Fiona Hill. Totally.

S8: I just feel like time and time again, women seem to be the ones sort of raising their hands saying, yeah, there’s something wrong here. Yeah. So it’s the most the e-mails are between her and this guy, Mike Duffy, who works at OMB. And they seem to have like a pretty, you know, collegial back and forth over the summer. She keeps telling him kind of the same thing and he seems very like kind of receptive to it. And what’s she telling him? She’s saying, you know, the cut basically ties saying before we’re not going to be able to spend this money in time. The you know, the date is mid-August, then August comes and goes. Okay. Now she actually asks a few times, have you started the empowerment paperwork like it’s happening? Like, how are you doing it? Like you’re impounding the money. Yeah, yeah. And you can hear her growing increasingly frustrated.

S6: She’s like, I keep telling OMB that this is what’s happening, that this is the thing that you’re jeopardizing. And the real frustration for her is it keeps it’s either like they’re dismissing it or they’re ignored. I don’t know. They’re ignoring it on purpose. But she really feels like that they are publicly and privately mischaracterizing all of these warnings coming from the Pentagon. And so the emails go back and forth. And then there’s this great X man. I don’t know if it was great for them, but I to an exchange on September 9th where panic is really rising at this point like this hold us stretched on for two months. There have been really high level meetings. There was the phone call between Trump and Zelinski. There was a meeting pentz met with Zelinsky at the beginning of September in Poland. And for the officials, they were waiting for those moments to to break the dam. And they don’t the hold still in place. And we know why. Because Trump was waiting on this commitment to investigate Joe Biden, which hadn’t really come through yet. But anyway, so panic’s really rising. September 30th is around the corner and McCusker is frustration is just like coming through. Like she’s also worried at this point that the Pentagon is gonna be the one left exposed, you know, responsible for violating the law.

S8: And she writes kind of, you know, another email to Duffy saying, you know, just another kind of reiteration of what she’s been saying all along. He writes back to her. He adds some Pentagon lawyers, OMB lawyers to the Ceecee line. And he writes his very formal letter to her, which is totally different than the way they’ve kind of been like chatting back and forth. Yeah. And it’s this dress down of her saying you and really the Defense Department haven’t done any of the preparatory work and any of the. Because all along OMB has kind of told the Pentagon, do everything you can up until obligating the money, like do all the little things along the way so that when the hold lifted, you can just go and we’re not in jeopardy of losing all of it. And she throughout the summers like, okay, I’m trying. But like, there’s only so much you can do until you let us spend the money. And so he writes the stern letter to her saying you didn’t do any of the things you were supposed to do. And so if the money is impounded and basically we break the law, it’s going to be on you and the Defense Department. Wow. And so she then writes back to him, takes everybody off the S.S. line and writes, You can’t be serious. I’m speechless. And I was like.

S11: It’s like, oh, you were speechless. And then does he reply to that or is he shifted tone? You know, that way. Gordon Sandlin did with Taylor, where, you know, they were kind of like you say, like sort of sibling ash around this and then someone disappears and comes back with. There is no quid pro quo.

S8: You know what’s interesting? There’s no response. That e-mail. I don’t know how they dealt with that in that moment. I don’t know if Duffy picked up the phone, but there’s no email back. There’s none that I’ve seen. And then I’m really, like, surprised because then later so September 9th that happens. And the holds actually lifted on the 11th and Duffy emails and says, I just got where we were lifting the hold. Like, go, go, go, go, go, go, go. And she’s like, all right, we’re going we’re we’re moving out and we’re moving out. Yeah. And they, you know, move as fast as they can basically to get this money out the door.

S5: And just Duffy ever tell her why it’s being held up or what they’re waiting for? And did she ever ask?

S8: No, it’s a great question.

S6: So she keeps alluding to throughout the summer, like I know we needs leadership, needs space for decision making, which is kind of like whatever this is about. Yeah, like, fine. But it’s always like a butt. But this is really unworkable on my end. Yeah, I know. Like we all need some time to like, but there’s no actual policy review or anything like that being referred to. And so then at the end, you know, a Duffy’s like we’re lifting it. She’s like, do you know why? Yeah. And he says, no, no details. I’ll let you know when I find out. So there’s no rationale for why it’s lifted at the end.

S5: Do you think it seemed clear McCusker didn’t know? Do you think Duffy knew and was keeping her in the dark? I think at that moment he was just as clueless. Yeah. And who was handling him? Who was telling him? You know, does he say? I just spoke to who.

S6: So he is speaking. There’s this interesting sort of line of succession at OMB. This is like a real OMB story, which is pretty wonky place. Part of it’s because Mick Mulvaney used to be and remains the acting director of OMB, but he was the director of OMB. Then he becomes the White House chief of staff and he brings this guy, Robert Blair, with him over to the chief of staff’s office. Blair before that head, Mike Duffy’s job in charge of national security programs. And so Trump tells Mulvaney, hold up the money. Mulvaney tells Blair, who’s now his like his chief staff, and Blair tells Duffy, his old colleague, back at OMB. So that’s sort of it’s this line of OMB officials. So Blair is not is not Duffy’s boss, but he’s the one that it’s that’s the line of communication between the president’s office and OMB is between with our jobs act and in kind of quotation marks in their position.

S5: As it is and in so many parts of Trump’s administration.

S6: Yeah. And then there are these this other set of emails that The New York Times has sued for between Robert Blair, Mick Mulvaney, chief of staff, and Mike Duffy. And the Trump administration has told the judge that not only are we not releasing them redacted, we’re just not releasing them at all. And so that’s where it stands right now, is that there’s this set of emails out there between these two that they don’t even want to release all blacked out.

S5: So what do you think they were specifically wanting to avoid releasing in the redacted version of the first set of e-mails, the ones you got? I mean, there are a couple of smoking gun sentences.

S9: There were a few kind of smoking gun. You know, there’s this email from Duffy to McCusker on the August 30th. The Times had reported a week before my story came out, this meeting that we hadn’t known about before, where Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper sit down with Trump on the 30th to talk Ukraine. And they in my emails, it’s clear people think that the whole will get lifted after this. And there’s an email from Duffy to McCusker saying after the meeting, clear direction from Podesta to keep the hold.

S6: Yeah. So it’s you know, that obviously points the finger right. At Trump that as late as late August when all of the you know, none of the national security people like the cabinet supported the hold for policy reasons. Yeah. And then at that point, the Pentagon had, you know, made its concerns about the Empowerment Control Act loud and clear.

S5: And so despite all that, Trump is still as late as late August saying, no, I was still in the hold on the money in shifts questioning and in congressional testimony was still not totally clear why the hold was released. I mean, it was sort of that there’d been a break in the news and they felt pressure and Trump finally felt pressure to do it. And the Trump people wouldn’t cop to that because. Well, they didn’t give reasons, they didn’t give reasons for the holds and they did give reasons for the release on the hold. Right.

S6: Well, they but they returned to this little bit. They returned to this pretext that like I wanted to. SASO Zamansky. That’s right. That he wasn’t corrupt. Right. And then like, I just wanted to make sure the money was being spent. Well. But like, it’s all pretty obviously nonsense because there’s no formal process going on. And you talked with Zelinsky on July 20th. Like, yeah, it doesn’t that doesn’t add up.

S5: Also, it might have been. I mean, be interesting to compare with other executive decisions that come to OMB, including around the shutdown that have some explanation or timeline attached to them. So, you know, if it’s evidently POTUS’s is wants to test the resolve of Zelinsky and doesn’t want to commit to this aid until after New Year, whatever that would, somehow it just I wonder how much OMB is usually in the loop on big decisions like this one.

S6: Well, the other piece of it is if you do want to do some kind of legitimate corruption, look. Yeah. Or yeah. I would ever tell Congress like I know. Right, exactly. Notify Congress and actually follow the law.

S5: In particular, though, I wonder how much OMB, you know, just gets blind orders like this. It just somehow I feel like in ordinary times there would be certain formality to this.

S8: You know, well, in ordinary times it would probably go to the National Security Council who would convene an inner agency process and they would task out certain reports and they would collect data about the corruption situation in Ukraine. They would review it. They don’t like that how it would look.

S5: So OMB would be on board with what was happening and the timeline a little bit and at least why there is a timeline. I mean, that I can imagine for McCusker. I mean, we talk about OMB being Warnke and beancounters, but also they’re working and actually working at the Pentagon. And, you know, is takes an interest in national security. And I think having so many people in Trump’s brain, you know, where oh, where all this is happening must be just a demoralizing and vertigo creating even beyond the actual illegality of this. You know, even if he’d had even if look. Even if he had thought. Yeah, exactly. Zelinsky needs to investigate Barry PSMA before I’m going to release this money.

S6: That seems like even something that McCosker could take in at least a reason why all this chaos and the other an email that was released that was seen before I got my hands on them that was released publicly was from a U.S. defense contractor. L-3 to the Pentagon saying it was before the Politico story broke the news of the hold. So it was like in mid August saying, you know, there was a company that’s waiting on its contract. That’s part of the sort of supply of equipment to Ukraine.

S5: And they’re like which is also the sale of equipment to Ukraine. Not just it’s not they’re not just endowing them with the right. Our aunt’s aren’t the javelins.

S6: There’s em to do this work. The Pentagon money is used to buy equipment, mostly in weapons from U.S. defense companies. So defense companies are certainly making money off this idea. And we’re basically buying them on behalf of Ukraine. And then separately, there’s a State Department chunk of money where we give Ukraine money that then they use to buy weapons. And I see mostly from U.S. Defense contractors, U.S. defense cops for the most part. Yeah. So that was one of the early questions of Trump in June.

S11: Sometimes you step in to just like old fashioned, corrupt, you know, Halliburton style corruption. That now seems quaint, even though it’s still galling and it still sets off another lie. This is just the regular mark of Washington, D.C..

S6: But in June, Trump gets made aware the Pentagon announces we’re going to spend 250 million dollars for weapons for Ukraine. It’s great. And there’s a news there, a few news stories written about it. And Trump gets his hands on one of them. And that’s what sparks his. Whoa, what what is this? What’s this money going to Ukraine? Yeah. So these questions come down from Trump to OMB to the Pentagon. Please answer these for the president. He wants to know, one, are U.S. companies getting any of this money, too? What do European countries do to pitch in? 3. Where does this money come from? And so the Pentagon, you know, in a less than a day turns around the answers, which is one. Yeah, it’s all marzahl U.S. companies that are gonna make money off this. Two European countries do a lot for Ukraine. Blahblahblah spend send weapons and the European Union spends like two billion dollars for their economy.

S12: So they remind him how important Ukraine is as a defense against against Putin’s aerialists ambitions.

S10: And then for where does the money come from there? Like it comes from Congress. And we kind of have to spend it as they appropriate it. And so as early as June, Trump has his questions answered. Right. And at first they think, all right, we answered him. So like this should be good. We’ll get them on. N-n-no. Like that didn’t satisfy it. So anyway, in August, though, this defense contractors like `where’s. Money, which shows, you know, sort of the level of chaos and how many people it was affecting. Yeah, it was going out into the world and U.S. companies were being affected by it and we’re made aware of it and we’re, you know, asking questions about it. There’s one other point I wanted to make about the redactions and why why these redactions in these. And it was clear and as I was reading them, I then had to go to the redacted copies and compare. Wait. Did that see the light of day originally? Yeah.

S6: And it became very clear that all of the embarrassing and incriminating information had been blacked out. Okay. And that’s kind of the separate story of my story. Yeah. Is there’s the story that the redactions tell and then there’s the story of the redactions. And it’s, you know, just another part of the level of obstruction that the administration is engaged.

S11: It’s always two parts. I mean, I mean, I think you and I have said we’re vol. 1 people when it comes to heart. Right. But there. But there’s the crime and the cover up. Yeah. Yeah. But once you see those black lines, you can’t I mean they just signal system obstruction. And it’s just like most material for.

S10: Yeah. I mean even there’s this one exchange between McCusker and Duffy where McCusker says, have you started the empowerment paperwork blacked out? Duffy Oh that I’m not tracking that that you can read. Bhasker Being like, yeah, the legal teams suggests we do that blacked out like well and that shows that the redactions, you know, are not for the reason that they claim they redacted it for the deliberative process.

S6: You are supposed to be able to see like interesting sort of interagency deliberations is the the Foya sort of reason they noted. Okay. Yeah. But if you’re only blacking out what one half of the conversation is like, that doesn’t really add up or justify it.

S12: Do you think our great redact or obstruct or Bill Bar even touched this?

S5: Or is it the lawyers that Duffie c.c.’s who did who helped with the redaction or I mean, what’s your guess? Because we’ve also seen sloppy redactions from this administration. You know, things left left on redacted. And so it seems like they brought in a squad that would do it somewhat more carefully.

S6: It’s an open question, who did these redactions? So the Justice Department is representing the government in this FOI lawsuit with the Center for Public Integrity. So certainly Justice Department lawyers had their hands on them at some point. But whether or not they farmed them out back to OMB to take a look because they were more familiar with the material. I don’t I don’t know. Yeah. For sure how it’s handled. But I’ve seen people say, like, given the sensitivity and the high stakes of this. Yeah, it probably went somewhat higher.

S13: Yeah. It’s it’s like let’s let that be somewhat higher. Yeah. Yeah.

S11: So now we have the Iran situation and further messing up your holiday, was that well, what you were like slated to go on Rachel Maddow Show with this scoop and then Trump wagged the dog and distracted from Ukraine successfully. And so you didn’t make The Rachel Maddow Show. And instead, the Iran story did. So that’s how wagging the dog works.

S9: Yeah, I got a front row seat to that. So it came out on Thursday morning and I was blown away by the impact it was having by noon. Yeah, yeah. Senator Schumer had seized on it. Speaker Pelosi had made a comment on it. I knew it was a big story, but I just had an probably because half my mind was elsewhere stuffing stockings and. Yeah, well, you’re three kids. Yeah. And I think part of it was I didn’t appreciate the insight it gave in to the steps they were taking to hide things. And that this was sort of a way of taking that power away from them. Yeah.

S5: It also suggested at a point where McConnell’s doing his best to doing his form of, you know, redacting and obstruction suggested that the truth will out. So it was sort of like this moment of thinking all of what happened with Ukraine will come out. We have all these good witnesses. There was momentum to the impeachment and that maybe there’ll be such a preponderance of evidence, including these documents, that the Senate will have to give in and hear testimony from people like McCosker and Duffy.

S9: Yeah, it seemed to give some like wind beneath the waves that Thursday. And then it’s true. I was booked to do a few TV shows that night. And I remember I was in the car headed to one of the studios that Thursday was last Thursday.

S6: A million years ago. And I saw the news break out of Iraq. And at first I was only being reported by like Iraqi state TV. And I just thought us if this is true, there’s no way of getting. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And then, you know, I think that happened around 6:30. And by 9:30, I think the Pentagon had made a statement about it and had, you know, confirmed that they had taken out Suleimani.

S5: It does seem almost to go without saying that to distract from impeachment. Trump threatened war crimes and may have committed war crimes in Iran. I mean, it is it was such a rough weekend, I think, for Americans trying to process that this is really happening. Like there’s no ands he won’t go to to stay in office.

S9: Yeah, the level of chaos. And then yesterday, I just thought it was like a banner day over at the Pentagon. The draft letter. And then, oh, we didn’t mean to send it about the troops getting pulled out.

S12: It hasn’t hit send on something inadvertently. The Iraqi government. The Iraqi government. Exactly. And what about you’ve seen this threat today from the Iranians that they might target the cultural sites known as Trump Properties?

S10: Yeah, I did see that. I was just listening to the Lawfare podcast yesterday about the strike. And I can’t rember who it was on there. But they and that was taped over the weekend, I think, or even last week. They immediately said the Trump properties would be front and center like the Iraqi government. They kind of like to make things personal. Like if you do X, then, you know, we’re gonna figure out a way to kind of get a similar flavor.

S12: I mean, it’s interesting because that has been I mean, with mafia tactics being used at the highest levels of government we have come to, that was definitely repaying Trump in coin for his own actions that were ah are quite personal, obviously, and driven by his looks spiteful idea that someone’s trying to get the better of him. He even seemed to think this was Zelinski and you know, you’re taking money from us and so we’re gonna get you where you live, you know, expose you to Russian forces in that war. And yeah, there was something about Iranians coming back with that. It reminded me a little bit of a more effective use of this, depending on I’m not sure what the general consensus says on tactics like this, but you know, the Magnitsky Act. Bill, rooters Magnitsky Act is very much about. Seizing the property oligarchs. That will hurt them where they live. Right. So it’s like obviously these aren’t UNESCO sites that are, you know, Mar-A-Lago as much as it might surprise. Trump is not a cultural site of interest to all America White House. It’s not the winter White House. It is. It’s not a it’s not protected by UNESCO. And at the same time, you know, when I hear Browder talk about this particular penthouse apartment belonging to exercise the oligarch and how the first thing you need to do is lock the guy out of that apartment, and then that puts pressure on a regime like Putin’s. And the Iranians probably see a Putin like leader. And Trump, you know, needs to be blocked from going to Florida, needs to be travel banned from Florida. I think that might have to happen.

S6: My bosses remind you, we’re talking about these Trump tat like Trump towers being targets yesterday. And he’s brining me that at the beginning of the ministration where we’re really focused on the emoluments stuff. Yeah. That I had said and I don’t remember saying it. That by Trump not divesting of his company and these properties, he’s creating these massive security vulnerabilities all over the world that the U.S. government now has to protect. Right. They’re almost like these embassies. Totally. Yeah. And now. I mean, they’ll have to operate in that way now.

S12: The the. I think Ivanka Trump’s property in Baku was was also was partly funded by the Iranian National Guard. So in better times, better days for the relief’s if between the, you know, the thugs in Iran and the thugs in our White House. Right. Yeah. That’s very interesting. I hadn’t thought about it and thought about the security like extensions of the government. Yeah.

S5: So one thing that your the scoop about these emails about Ukraine and the aid did was sort of set the stage for the confusion when the president makes a decision by fiat that should be made in in committees and with, as you say, inter-agency cooperation and consulting, at least the Pentagon. I mean, how in the world with all the at least rumors and leaks that that Esper and Pompeo were in work, you know, gave him this option as the worst option in hopes that he would, you know, choose a more moderate response to the Iranian action. It seems a little bit like what happened around Ukraine. But, you know, just then, you know, your noble king is mad and we need to just contain him like we’ve heard about from Gary Cohn and so on. Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if. Can you have any guesses about did OMB have to consult on the drone strikes?

S9: Probably in a normal situation, they would be part of the National Security Council meetings discussing those options. If those were held, I think on the drone strikes, it’s not clear to me yet how much it was the crazy option Trump took versus had the support of Esper and Pompei. Certainly Pompeo we know. Yeah. And. So I don’t know if it was an outlier or they were you know, it had real advocates. But there’s this anecdote from a New Yorker article about the creator of The Apprentice. What’s his name? Mark Burnett. Mark Burnett. And I think about it all the time where Trump would be, you know, they’d be taping The Apprentice and Trump wouldn’t pay any attention to what had gone on during the week. And he’d breeze in at the end and he’d go, she’s fired now. He’s fired. And he would pick like the crowd favorite who’d done really well the whole week. Yeah. And the producer of like God. Like, how are you gonna make this make sense? And I’d have to go back to the footage. I had hours and recut it to create a story so that that golden person looked like the bad guy. Yes. And I think of it time and time again where Trump makes a decision and then they reverse engineer what happened to justify it. And so it’s like with the with the Ukraine thing, it’s clear. It’s like Trump decided this for these completely separate reasons. But now we’re going to make up this reason about Ukrainian corruption and that the Europeans don’t contribute enough. And it’s all just a reverse engineer of the actual situation.

S11: And, you know, in some ways, we in the media do it, too. Yeah. That, you know, even jumping to well, as you know, in the diagnostic George Conway, Rome, you know, a narcissist would do this. That’s what you know. Yeah, we could’ve predicted this. And I’ve talked about that. That boardroom dynamic in The Apprentice on on this show before the total freeze. He looks at one person like he’s going to kill them already. Sorry. Fire them. I’m thinking of mafia scenes where someone you know, it looks like they’re after someone and then they go shoot the other guy. Yeah. And that’s what he often did. You know, no, it’s you for coming to his defense and being weak or whatever. And then, yeah, as you say, the producers have to scramble to make sense of it. But we’ve been doing this for three years, scrambling to make sense of these like just hits in the face that we keep getting.

S6: Well, I was gonna say with soul money, it does have a bit of that the like. Why now? Yeah, with him. And I feel like a little bit of this, the public argument they’re making about there was an imminent attack on U.S. forces feels a little bit like the Trump producers, at least the intelligence, you know, that they went and briefed the Hill last week and, you know, certain lawmakers came out and said I was not persuaded like there was an imminent attack. We have a piece out. Actually, it’s not out yet, but I edited it for just security about, you know. Right. But if there was, in fact, an imminent attack afoot, usually you’d seek some kind of travel warning go out or you would see a movement of embassy.

S12: You know, there are things that are precursors to terror alert or the orange and red alerts we used to get after 9/11.

S6: Yeah. And certainly there were things going on in Iraq. There was this U.S. contractor that we don’t know anything about that was killed. And then, you know what happened at the embassy. But, you know, whether that spells something else that was about to happen isn’t clear. And also, does that set the stage for an assassination? Exactly. Like a U.S. contractors killed. So we kill a top Iranian general. Like that seems like an odd tit for tat. Yeah. And also. Seemingly illegal. That. Yeah, that would not be a justification for that action.

S12: I mean, just the language on on Twitter Trump. I mean, the other thing is Stephen Miller, whoever it is that’s concocting these reverse engineered narratives, have such a tall order because Trump is telling he doesn’t have, you know, essentially saying, I killed Suleimani.

S7: Right. And I’m going to target 52 cultural sites and then everyone else has to be like, that’s actually not what we fi I fired he fired Comey because the FBI had low morale. I fired. Call me because of the Russia thing. Yes. Oh, I know.

S12: Yeah, there are there definitely been people saying, you know, his honesty. We think of him as a liar, but he does voice his give voice to his ID always. Yeah. And then leaves other people to lie about it. Remember, Giuliani said he had his epitaph. Might be he lied for Mr. Trump. I mean, the willingness of other people, including you think people who know better like Pompeo and Esper to lie for him and make sense of it. It’s almost like a compulsive desire to lend some continuity to these caprices.

S6: Yeah, I think when it comes to Sulaimani that Esper and I should speak for espero, but Pompeo certainly I think they feel justified if the strike was a revenge killing. Like, yeah, you know. So Lamani, there are these Iranian backed militias operating in Iraq at the height of the Iraq war, killing lots of U.S. soldiers. You know, that was several years ago. So certainly a bizarre and illegal reason to kill him now. But I think for the four, there’s there’s certain people who think, you know, the U.S. has absolutely every right to take him out for those for kill it for quote unquote, enabling the killing of those U.S. soldiers back then. It’s just not you know, it has no putting the legal issues aside, which are huge. Like it’s certainly no way to craft like U.S. strategy or protect your strategic interests. Yeah. Yeah.

S12: Could anyone have objected to it? Anyone, you know, in a position to to release the drones? You know, it’s simply refuse to do it. There were there was all this talk around the time of Anonymous, this first report that, you know, people were prepared to jump on him if he was going to turn, you know, not give him the nuclear codes or not let him turn the key or whatever.

S6: I’ve seen a lot of people say that this would not have happened if Mattis where the defense secretary and then, you know, Trump saying I’m going to bomb cultural sites. Mark espero, to his credit yesterday said basically we wouldn’t do that.

S12: We will follow the laws of war. Yeah, that’s right. He said that we’ll follow the laws of war. I mean, when you say they have a right to retaliate, they definitely believe they have a right to retaliate in some kind of Pompei o divine revelation, whatever it is leweni world. But it’s not totally clear that Trump can order an assassination of a government official. Right? Ebeid If Sooliman is a terrorist, he may have more powers or more license. But if he’s a government official, ordering a direct assassination falls into a gray area was the thing with Suleimani in real life.

S6: And according to the Trump administration, he was both. He was a government official who supported and planned terrorist attacks. Yeah, that’s true. And then recently and maybe a year ago, the Trump administration designated the Quds Force and Suleimani, I believe, but definitely Quds Force as a foreign terrorist organization under the State Department, which was, you know, a move that was criticized by a lot of people in terms of like its strategic value. You know, this whole story with Iran has been one of escalation. And so that was one step along this escalatory path, was when they designated that group as a terrorist organization, you know, because it is a government entity. It pissed off Iran and, you know, ratcheted up to where we are now.

S12: I mean, I’m sure you saw that Adam Schiff is thinking of now holding hearings, proposing holding hearings in the House about this attack, about Trump’s planned assassination of Suleimani. Yeah. And I mean, do you agree with me that that is an excellent idea in this, you know, long, slow period where the evidence is getting overwhelming that Trump, one way or another, should be removed from office?

S9: Absolutely. And I think the other thing that I’ve been watching closely is this war powers report. So when the president takes a strike like this and doesn’t alert Congress, he’s required by law to send over a war powers report, which over the weekend, I believe Trump tweeted like this media post will serve as, oh, yes, right. I hereby declare. Yeah. Yeah. But then they also actually did send a War Powers report. Okay. But they classified it, which is unheard of. And so over on Capitol Hill, members and their staff have to go down to a skiff to view it. And in the War Powers report is the administration’s articulation of the legal justification for why they took this strike. So it should indicate are they relying on one of the a U.N. maps, the authorization for use of military force? There are only two going right now. One was allowed us to invade Iraq in the first place and the other one was passed after 9/11 to go after al-Qaeda and its associate forces. And so killing an Iranian general, it’s like a real stretch for either of those to qualify. And then it should articulate if, in fact, he’s relying on it, whether he’s using his Article 2 powers as commander in chief. You know, in in this would come to this question of imminence if an attack is imminent and about to happen, he does have the authority to do a strike like this and not alert Congress. But it requires, you know, an imminent attack. So anyway, that should all be laid out in this document. And usually it’s available to the public and they have classified it. And so I think, you know, one of the reasons for holding public hearings is the public has a right to know what the case was for this and what the plan is. And those questions when asked, I think, behind, you know, Congress to the executive branch, they’re still not being forthcoming. It’s like you really got a draft like you have to draft. It’s like increasingly like whether it’s through FOIA or congressional subpoena. Like they are not going to comply and provide information. So you have to just push, push, push.

S12: I think with every available tool, I think we’re also going to see sometime in those documents that they’re going to they’re going to run out of anything that sounds plausible, even like in the Steven Miller crazy matrix. And they’ll start to be some like. But the kick. All right. All right. Well, our war powers, that’s justification for, you know, for this attack is that the kingdom of heaven is soon to land in Jerusalem and the revelation is nigh.

S11: And I mean, it just we saw Pence’s tweet.

S8: He was less Sulaimani facilitated the 9/11, the 12 9/11 hijackers.

S11: And it was like, well, they’re not the numerology of the 52 hostages taken in it taken in in Tehran in the 70s, and then were cited with 52 cultural sites.

S5: I mean, that is some really quasi religious lunatic thinking. And that is also, you know, we know why he did it. The wag the dog play to get away from impeachment and maybe to, you know, spike his approval among the more hawkish of his followers. We do know why Pompeo did it, because he has some idea of end times and a collision between Israel and Iran being the real, you know, that’s going to really bring the end of the world that we all crave. We have Steven Mellors thinking about xenophobia and clash of civilizations and whatever else.

S11: And these things are just all in counterpoint and then trying to make it sound like a secular considered decision by the U.S. government, by the Pentagon, by the National Security Council is getting harder and harder. It’s just the vocabulary. These vocabulary cannot be reconciled.

S9: Yes. And there’s no I mean, the other thing is there’s clearly it boggles my mind because, you know, having covered the Pentagon, they’re really good at contingency planning. That’s what they do. And so to watch this aftermath where I mean, based on yesterday, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq does not appear to have been well planned to help. Right. Not give you half like if that’s going to be a consequence of killing Suleimani. First of all, you should can if it’s not the desired consequence, it should at least be considered as a possible outcome and then planned for. Right. And, you know, based on this draft letter and no, we didn’t mean to send it, it’s like, is this really your a level planning here?

S12: So some people by which I mean me, have speculated that that Trump’s pardon of the war criminal. What’s his name? Gallagher. Gallagher. Exactly. And kind of deification of him lays the groundwork for him to. You know, be pardoned for for at least groundwork for him to make it. Colonel Jessup and a few good men argument that this is how the military works by decision making, decision making by clear headed men who, you know, do what they do because no one else can handle the truth or whatever. And he there is exam are examples of him setting up doing pardons to set up what he’s going to do or what what people around him might do, just pardoning the worst of the world, the worst people in the world. Someone was calling this vice signaling. You know, it just just exactly how evil can you be.

S9: I mean, he’s misunderstood the military from the get-go. Yeah. He thinks it’s a bunch of like tough, violent guys who love violence. Right. And it couldn’t really be in my experience, which is not I mean, I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but not my experience at all. And I remember in the beginning, you know, when he picked him, Mattis, to lead the Defense Department, he was like Mad Dog. Yeah. He just, you know, always use that. Yes. A big name that Mattis himself hates. Yes. And just completely mischaracterized as sort of Jim Mattis is an violent, volatile.

S5: Right. He what he wants, he wants them to be to enact. Yeah. His own. It didn’t. And I think he liked that Kelly had been at Gitmo and and was even, you know, suspected of accused of gross mistreatment of prisoners after 9/11, force-feeding and and so on.

S12: And also had talked about how he wasn’t going to be politically correct anymore. And certainly Gallagher wasn’t politically correct. It was not politically correct. But I think of it as constitutionally correct to to assassinate Suleimani like this. And it’s just part of the on the libs defiance. You know, you see Don Junior showing up with an automatic weapon, just posing with it with a picture of Hillary Clinton etched on it in prison. And also crusader signs to signal more anti-Semitism. And so some bloody mindedness.

S9: I was you say it’s so scary. The military is you know, the leadership there works so hard to create environment of, you know, discipline and order and following the rules, like following the rule of law and Trump through the Gallagher decision and through the way he talks about the military and through his promotion of torture and now war crimes is eroding some of that. And just that, you know, like just within telegenic community or FBI, like watching that institution come under this assault and just hoping it doesn’t get changed. You know, like hoping he isn’t able to change the culture there so that it looks more like, you know, a place where Gallagher would be. Yeah. Jim, welcome. Yeah. And just hoping it holds, you know. Yeah.

S12: Hoping the leadership sounds like someone who would want to have Suleimani in the Pentagon. Trump does.

S9: Sometimes that gets to this other piece of this thing. That’s just like I I feel silly that I’m so stunned by it. But the way that Republicans are turning it are politicizing it. You know, Nikki Haley last night was like the only person who’s applauding his death are Democrats.

S11: Mike are not applauding or the only person people that are. Oh, sorry. Not right. Morning is right. All right.

S9: Are Democrats right? Yeah. And I think Kevin McCarthy maybe said something along those lines this morning, and it’s like so gross. Yeah. And so divisive and shocking.

S5: Yes. It’s just one of those like, can you imagine if, you know, Obama said the same thing about Republicans with us own bin Laden or something? No, it just. Yes. Republicans have stopped saying any kind of national interest. And it’s party politics writ large with a body count now. Know. I have to say, one of my I did fail to predict that Trump would start a war, start what looks like it’s going to become a war in this way. It seems like he likes to pardon. He likes to put people in harm’s way by pulling troops back and then pardoning a lot of very violent people, sort of letting them out in the world rather than ordering attacks himself. You know, he had Pete pulled back and been squarely with Iran in the past. And somehow, like all these other narrative allergists, I had decided that there I could see a pattern. And it’s terrible now that he’s cornered even more what he’s capable of.

S6: I just feel like, you know, from this strike to some of the more domestic stuff, you know, if you’re going to talk about people so violently like to go up to John Junior with the Hillary gun. Yeah. We’ve already seen some of the consequences of that. But I’m pretty sure there’s much more to come. Like you can’t use that level, that violent rhetoric for as long as he has. Sow the seeds for some really serious political violence.

S12: Thank you so much for being here. I love talking to you about these things even when they’re so harrowing.

S14: Thank you, Virginia. So that’s it for today’s show. What do you think? Find us on Twitter and make 20:20 yours. I’m at page 88. The show is at Real Trump Cast. Our show today was produced by Melissa Kaplan and engineered by Merrett Jacob. I’m Virginia Heffernan. Thanks for listening to Trump cast.