For Trump, No Conviction — But a Historic Repudiation Jonathan Bernstein
Bookmark February 14 2021, 6:30 PM February 15 2021, 12:31 AM (Bloomberg
Opinion) -- Seven Republicans joined every Senate Democrat to convict Donald
Trump at his second impeachment trial. That fell 10 votes short of the two-
thirds required. But even if 57-43 was not be enough for a conviction, it was
a strong repudiation.
Read more at: https://www.bloombergquint.com/gadfly/trump-was-not-convicted-
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Clipped parts of a chapter that was interesting.
“In the private sector, no firm played a bigger role in enabling Trump than Kirkland & Ellis. Trump’s affinity with the firm began just two months after his inauguration when former Kirkland partner John Eisenberg, the top lawyer for the National Security Council, and his deputy, Michael Ellis, inappropriately shared classified intelligence files with House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA).
At the time, the House Intelligence Committee was investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, and the episode, while perfectly legal, was an early indication that when it came to overseeing Trump’s transgressions, Nunes and other House Republicans were delighted to do Trump’s bidding.
Two years later, in 2019, Eisenberg was still at it, in a key episode of the Trump-Ukraine scandal. In the famous July 25, 2019, phone call that led to his impeachment later that year—the “perfect phone call,” as the president characterized it—Trump urged newly elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr” “Zelensky to announce investigations into his chief political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter if he wanted to receive almost $400 million in previously approved military aid.
Specifically, Trump wanted Zelensky to investigate Burisma Holdings, a large Ukrainian natural gas company whose board members included Hunter Biden.
In effect, Trump was saying, If you won’t help my campaign by drumming up a phony investigation against my opponent, I’ll let the Russians do as they please. Given that Ukraine desperately needed the aid because it was at war with Russian troops occupying the eastern part of the country, Trump’s demand was nothing less than an extortionate quid pro quo.
A number of White House aides were deeply disturbed by the phone call, and in an effort to make sure the Trump-Zelensky phone call stayed secret, Eisenberg ordered that a transcript of it be moved to a highly classified server. Eisenberg later was subpoenaed to testify before the House of Representatives but declined to appear on advice of counsel.23” “The charges against Michael Ellis are even more damning. Citing the testimony of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, Ryan Goodman in Just Security reported, “It was Ellis who came up with the idea of moving the memorandum of the phone call to the highly classified server. After the Ukraine call, Vindman and his brother (an ethics lawyer on the NSC) had an urgent meeting with Ellis and Eisenberg. Vindman testified that he told the lawyers that he thought what happened on the call was ‘wrong,’ that Ellis first raised the idea of placing the call summary into the highly classified system, and that Eisenberg as the senior official in the room signed off on the idea giving it ‘the go-ahead.’”24
Of course, Kirkland & Ellis wasn’t the only major firm sending multiple attorneys to the White House. Don McGahn, who served as White House counsel from Trump’s 2017 inauguration until October 2018, was a partner at Jones Day, another enormous firm that, on Inauguration Day, issued a press release that thirteen of its lawyers were joining the Trump administration.25
Jones Day had represented at least ten” “major corporations and organizations close to Vladimir Putin, and as a result had a highly significant “oligarch practice” whose clients included Oleg Deripaska’s Basic Element; the Alfa Group and Leonard Blavatnik’s Access-Renova Group, which jointly own billions of dollars in oil and gas assets; Alfa Bank, the largest commercial bank in Russia; Letterone, a $30 billion holding company; Rosneft, one of the largest oil companies in the world; the Sapir Organization, which partnered with Trump to build Bayrock’s Trump SoHo; and, of course, Donald Trump himself—not to mention the Trump 2016 and 2020 Presidential Campaign Committees, Trump for America, and certain Trump-related political action committees, as well as the Republican National Committee.26
As the Washington Post famously reported, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, tried to set up a secret and secure back channel between the Trump team and the Kremlin.27 But Jones Day had plenty to offer along those lines, all of which could take place under attorney–client privilege.
Consider that when Steven Brogan, the” “firm’s powerful managing partner, sat down with Jones Day partner Don McGahn and Vladimir Lechtman, the head of Jones Day’s Russia practice, he was talking to both Donald Trump’s attorney and a man who, when it comes to Kremlin–White House affairs, is almost certainly the single most trusted corporate counsel to Putin’s oligarchs, all of whom are completely beholden to Putin. Lechtman has been said to be one of the first bicultural corporate lawyers, a man who understands the way murder, bribery, and honey traps work in the former Soviet Union and also is familiar with its more civilized analogues in the West, like lobbying, campaign contributions, and the like. In any case, when Russia wanted to retaliate against US sanctions, those companies now had advocates deep inside the White House, advocates whose careers were tied to Jones Day or Kirkland & Ellis and had friends from the firm in the White House, the Justice Department, or other agencies.” “On July 9, 2018, after consulting with the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo, Trump nominated former Kirkland partner Brett Kavanaugh, who had worked with Kirkland partner Ken Starr investigating and impeaching President Clinton, to the US Supreme Court. Two other Kirkland partners, Brian Benczkowski as head of the Department of Justice’s criminal division and John Bolton as national security advisor, joined the administration. And that December, Kirkland partner Pat Cipollone replaced Don McGahn as White House counsel.
Benczkowski’s appointment was unusual for two reasons. One was that he had never tried a single criminal case in his entire life, which made him an unlikely choice to oversee nearly seven hundred lifelong prosecutors. “This goes beyond an unqualified nominee,” Senator Whitehouse said during Benczkowski’s confirmation hearings. “This is a nominee exhibiting a flashing array of warnings that there may be mischief afoot” “here. No Senator should take this vote unaware of these obvious warnings. In the name of the integrity and independence of the Department of Justice, Senators should vote no because of the contamination risk Mr. Benczkowski poses, even if he were highly qualified for the post. . . . He may be the weakest candidate ever put forward to oversee the Criminal Division.”28
Another issue that made Benczkowski suspect was that one of his clients at Kirkland was Alfa Bank. Alfa was especially sensitive in that two of its key figures, Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, were rich and powerful oligarchs, whose wealth and standing was entirely contingent upon acting in Vladimir Putin’s interests.
In addition, Alfa was presumably being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for its mysterious communications with a special computer-network server in Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign.29 The relationship between the Trump server and the Russians was unclear, but journalist Franklin Foer reported in Slate that the link suggested that there may have” “Regardless, the fact that the FBI was investigating the issue meant that any high-ranking Justice Department official who had been a beneficiary of Alfa’s largesse would have a serious potential conflict of interest.31 “We know from our correspondence with the [Justice] Department that the Russia/Trump collusion investigation is being run under DOJ procedures that require approval by the Criminal Division for a wide array of investigative and prosecutorial steps,” Whitehouse explained. “That gives Benczkowski, if he is confirmed, not just a window into the Russia/Trump collusion investigation, but the ability to interfere.”
Of course, those caveats did not sway Republicans, and on July 11, 2018, more than a year after he had been nominated, the GOP-controlled Senate voted to confirm Benczkowski 51–48 along a nearly straight party-line vote.” “Enter Kirkland & Ellis partner William Barr, in his second stint as head of the Justice Department, and a host of other Kirkland attorneys. Kirkland senior partner Jeffrey Rosen came in as deputy attorney general. Steven Engel came in as assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.32 Kirkland’s Robert Khuzami became deputy US attorney in the Southern District of New York, even though he had been general counsel at Deutsche Bank, which loaned Donald Trump more than $2 billion at a time”