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Bill Owens: Confounding And Confusing Events 9/30/19

The controversy over POTUS’ conversation with the new President of the Ukraine has developed into a big story with lots of legs.  

We are going through the usual process of denial by the administration, then some admissions, then those admissions being walked back, leading to a very smoky picture.  Mr. Giuliani is not clarifying the picture, but contributes to the confusion.  The decision to proceed with impeachment proceedings based upon the whistle blower complaint, during which Mr. Trump apparently made several attempts to persuade the Ukrainian President to take-up his cause relative to Vice President Biden and Hunter Biden.  This has created firestorm at every level, and one has to assume that those who support Mr. Trump will continue that support, and those who are opposed will relish the process. 

If I were advising the Democrats, I would be suggesting that they also file an impeachment investigation against Mr. Barr.  Disclosure of the alleged movement of the call to a more restricted server raises Nixon-esque suspicions.  The big risk for POTUS is the rules concerning what Congress can obtain from the administration and from him become much more in favor of the Congress, and discovery could prove far more difficult for the administration to contain than the current circumstances create.  Whether this will be another fake news story, or it will be real, only time will tell. 

Hopes of a trade breakthrough with China faded when China cancelled a trip to meet with AG producers in the US.  The dance continues as the Chinese take a step forward, then pull back, then the administration rolls back some tariffs, then decides to impose them.  I remain very cynical of what the Chinese will be willing to agree to of substance with regard to the issues with which the United States is legitimately concerned.  The question will be, will Mr. Trump feel pressure from the US Chamber of Commerce, the AG community and others so that he is essentially reaches an agreement, but does not secure the benefits originally anticipated for the US.  I think the latter is most likely.

Wall Street worries that impeachment could adversely effect trade deals, in particular with China and the USMCA.  It may already have resulted in a limited trade deal with Japan and not the broad agreement that was hoped for.

The House passed HR 5995, also known as the Safe Banking Act, which has been under consideration in one form or another since 2013, under the tutelage of my friend, Ed Perlmutter from Colorado.  The bill effectively allows banks to handle funds from marijuana sales, even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law.  This is an enormous step forward for marijuana producers, as well as states and local governments, as it will now be easier to collect taxes, and presumably will assist in the financial regulation of that industry.  The Senate has indicated it will take the bill up before the end of this year, hopefully that gets accomplished.

President Trump appeared at the UN this past week, and defended his trade war with China, lashed out at immigration critics and failed to address the main reason for the UN meeting which was climate change.  He then, of course, found time to denigrate Ms. Thunberg, the European teenager who has become a spokesperson for climate change issues.  Very Presidential.

A recent story on VPR about Mayor Allaire of Rutland, Vermont, caught my ear.  It traces the story of 3 immigrant families that were resettled in Rutland, which resulted in the eruption of emotions and his eventual loss of his reelection bid. The question I have is whether or not the citizens of Rutland, regardless of their opinion of the resettlement, understood the courage that it took to advocate for a group of immigrants who otherwise would have had no advocate.  It is unfortunate that he suffered the political consequences that he did, as well as a slew of personal attacks.  Nonetheless, I think that this is an abject lesson in the state of American politics.  We should be able to have admiration for those with whom we disagree for courageous acts, and if the people of Rutland, of Vermont and New York take anything away from this story, it should be that.  If we begin to understand these concepts, then his decision to stand by his conscience irrespective of the outcome, will make it worthwhile for he and all the rest of us. 

Friday September 27, 300 former National Security Officials have announced their support for impeachment given that POTUS’s actions would “constitute an unconscionable abuse of power.”  And, also on Friday, Mr. Kushner’s photo appeared at a dinner with the Ukraine’s President several weeks before the call.  I wonder if there is a connection.

Bill Owens is a former member of Congress representing the New York 21st, a partner in Stafford Owens in Plattsburgh, NY and a Senior Advisor to Dentons to Washington, DC.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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