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The eastern Mediterranean is a sea of political troubles again

By Alan Crawford, et al.
The eastern Mediterranean is a sea of political troubles again
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, listens as President Donald Trump (not pictured) speaks during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington on Nov. 13, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Alex Edelman.

After Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, it found itself short of military hardware. In stepped Moammar Gadhafi, and four Turkish DC-9 commercial aircraft with the seats stripped out were loaded with rockets from Libyan stockpiles of U.S.-made weaponry. He refused all payment.

"I can never forget the friendship shown by Gadhafi at a very difficult time," retired Turkish diplomat Taner Baytok recalled in an interview with Hurriyet newspaper. "I describe it as a debt of gratitude."

Baytok was reminiscing in 2011, the year the Libyan leader was overthrown and the country entered a new era of chaos. Now Turkey is in the ascendancy and Libya a divided, war-ravaged shell. Yet those ties are being rekindled, inflaming a region that's still nursing the wound from the defining events of almost a half century ago.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's pledge to send in troops to bolster the United Nations-backed government in Libya is upsetting the delicate balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean, as countries jostle over lucrative hydrocarbon resources in the waters around the divided island of Cyprus.

A maritime agreement signed in November with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj's beleaguered administration prompted Turkey to claim rights to parts of the seabed that Athens says is Greek under international law.

Erdogan's assertion last week that he will start issuing exploration licences in contested waters on the basis of the new maritime boundary took tensions to new levels-risking a spiral of escalation in an already turbulent region with a history of U.S., Russian and, more recently, Chinese involvement.

Erdogan says that Turkey strives to become a global energy hub and "has never sought regional tension." But regional tempers are boiling over regardless.

Egypt, which holds the eastern Mediterranean's largest discovered gas reserves, warned of "repercussions" for any measures that violate Cyprus's sovereign rights over its resources and "threaten the security and stability" of the region.

Cyprus, split in 1974 and its northern part only recognized as a separate state by Turkey, went further still: "Turkey is turning into a pirate state in the eastern Mediterranean," the Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.

Cyprus has the backing of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France in its standoff with Turkey, according to a senior Cypriot government official who asked not to be named discussing relations with Ankara due to their acute political sensitivity.

France, which flexed its naval muscle in the eastern Mediterranean by sending a frigate in the fall, is due to dispatch its aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, to the region in a show of force, said the official. The Saudis are also sympathetic since they too feel threatened by Turkey's expansive ambitions, the person said.

In Greece, people are discussing the activities of their eastern neighbor, an historical antagonist, on the street, at bus stops and over coffee, broadly viewing Erdogan's latest moves as just another episode in a long line of Turkish saber-rattling.

While not fearing an outright war, they do see an incident involving naval ships as conceivable, with the risk of military engagement posing a threat to the economy just as the country is finally exiting a decade-long crisis. The two countries, both NATO members, came close to conflict in 1996 over a pair of uninhabited islets in the Aegean.

Erdogan's recent comment that Turkey and Libya must be consulted on "any exploration activity or construction of a pipeline" in areas between the two countries-effectively carving off the entire eastern Mediterranean-also has ramifications for energy giants including Italy's Eni. The company declined to comment.

The tussle for influence is the result of a power vacuum caused by U.S. disengagement from the Middle East and Africa, according to the Cypriot official, who said that all the regional players are trying to fill the space vacated.

Ankara's actions in a region that lies at the nexus of Europe, Africa and the Middle East come at a time of shifting global power as the U.S. curtails its overseas engagement and Russia steps in. That dynamic provides Erdogan with an opening to resurrect Turkey's former influence in the eastern Mediterranean with a powerful new ally-Vladimir Putin.

Erdogan hosted the Russian president in Istanbul on Jan. 8 to inaugurate the TurkStream pipeline, which will take natural gas from Russia to Europe via Turkey.

Erdogan and Putin back opposing sides in the Libya conflict, though are now trying to broker a cease-fire and then reap the rewards. After failing to bring Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar to heel in Moscow and then Berlin, talks are due to move to Geneva.

"Erdogan wants Russian support for Turkey's maritime deal, that's why he wants Putin to help him save Tripoli's government from defeat," said Grigoriy Lukyanov, a Libya expert at the Kremlin-founded Russian International Affairs Council. "Russia loses nothing if Turkey advances its interests," while any sanctions on Turkey would simply drive it closer to Moscow, he said. "It's a win-win for Russia."

Turkey's alliance with Moscow is already in evidence through Erdogan's purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system in the face of U.S. and NATO protests. Yet it's now adding a new dimension to historic regional rivalries, with the EastMed pipeline project to take Israeli offshore gas to Europe-bypassing Turkey-acting as the lightning rod.

Greece signed an agreement this month with Israel and Cyprus on the pipeline's construction. Turkey's Energy Strategy and Policy Research Center has dismissed the project as "incoherent" and the signing ceremony in Athens as an ineffective attempt to respond to Turkey's deal with Libya.

Israel, which publicly opposed Turkey's maritime deal with Libya, is watching developments with some concern, but is not yet overly worried by Turkey's moves, according to a person familiar with the government's thinking. Turkey wants to be the corridor to carry eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe, and although Israel has been pushing for the EastMed pipeline, it's not yet proven to be economically viable, said the person, adding that Israel could always sell gas to Europe via Egyptian LNG plants.

Low-level talks have been held between Israel and Turkey on restarting gas discussions, said the person, who noted that Erdogan has meanwhile said that no such deal is in the offing. Israel remains vigilant as regards Turkey all the same, said the person, asking not to be named discussing confidential contacts.

In December, the U.S. Congress passed legislation to bolster its security and energy cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean, including support for EastMed. The legislation instructs the State Department to report on Russia's security, political and energy goals in the region, and authorizes the U.S. to give security assistance to Cyprus and Greece.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, has previously accused the U.S. and NATO of building up their military presence in the region "in an openly anti-Russia manner." The state-run Cyprus New Agency on Wednesday cited a State Department official as saying that the U.S. is "deeply concerned" by reports of Turkey's drilling operations in the waters off Cyprus.

Assistant Secretary of State for energy Francis Fannon plans to visit the region as the U.S. seeks to use the new discoveries to "catalyze regional cooperation," he said in emailed comments. That includes stepping up work with Cyprus, Greece and Israel "to promote stability and prosperity in the region" as well as cooperation with Egypt. He also plans to visit Turkey for the first time.

"Turkey is a valued U.S. ally and we look forward to enhancing our energy cooperation," Fannon said.

Those competing interests place Cyprus at the epicenter of geopolitical tensions again.

The island has sought good relations with both east and west. A former British colony, it has a Royal Air Force base also used by American units. Its banks have long been a haven for Russian money, with Putin providing aid to the island during the financial crisis. Lavrov is due to visit in March, while his counterpart, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, is due some point this spring.

Talks to reunify the internationally recognized Greek-speaking south and Turkish north broke down in 2017, and the island remains divided by a UN-patrolled sliver of no-man's land known as the "Green Line." The discovery of hydrocarbons in Cypriot waters had been seen as the key to unlock reunification efforts.

But after the latest talks collapsed, Turkey dispatched two drilling ships to Cypriot waters, the Fatih and Yavuz-both named after Ottoman sultans-and blocked access to what it regards as its own exclusive economic zone.

U.S. support is welcome but isn't assuaging regional concerns, in part because of President Donald Trump's perceived soft-pedaling on Putin and Erdogan. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis raised Turkey's "unacceptable" provocations in a meeting with Trump at the White House this month.

History too offers an uncomfortable precedent. Back in 1974, the U.S. failed to intervene when Turkey invaded the north of Cyprus. Despite securing Cypriot neutrality in the Cold War, the Soviet Union welcomed the invasion as a destabilizing factor for NATO.

Now, Russians could have similar justification to welcome any Turkish move against Cyprus. There are other parallels. As Cypriots point out, the reason for the U.S. distraction then under Richard Nixon was eerily similar to today: a president caught up in an impeachment process.

- - -

Bloomberg's Yaacov Benmeleh, David Wainer, Ilya Arkhipov, Stepan Kravchenko and Laura Hurst contributed to this report.

Disrespected no more, local radio hosts form an army for Trump

By Sarah Ellison
Disrespected no more, local radio hosts form an army for Trump
Conservative radio host John Fredericks broadcasts his morning show in the office of Virginia Del. Nicholas J. Freitas, R-Culpeper. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Jay Paul

RICHMOND, Va. - With breakfast from McDonald's in his left hand and his softsided briefcase rolling behind him, John Fredericks strolled into his radio studio, housed in a small, isolated building on the south side of this city.

He has engaged in some version of this ritual in the pitch dark for the past eight years as host of a morning show on a local AM radio station - an unlikely career path for the lifelong stutterer.

Fredericks, who declared bankruptcy in 2011 in the wake of the financial crisis and lost his family's home, vowed to make the radio job work. And he turned his hosting gig at a single station into a regionally syndicated radio network run out of Richmond.

Partly fueled by his bankruptcy and distaste for moneyed elites, Fredericks is a true believer in the Trump agenda and arrived at his studio on a recent morning to deliver the news, deliver himself from career disaster and deliver the country into the hands of four more years of Donald Trump.

Far from the White House and Capitol Hill, Fredericks is one of hundreds of regional radio hosts across the country who have found themselves in the improbable position of being showered with attention by Trump officials and surrogates. While granting access to local media has long been an important element of running a national political campaign, Trump officials have made it a central part of their strategy.

Fredericks says he has interviewed Trump 12 to 15 times and has hosted the president's son Eric and Eric's wife, Lara, on his radio show. "Through the campaign, every time he would do my show, he'd win a primary," said Fredericks, sitting in his office. "So then he got superstitious and he's like, 'I gotta do John's show. ... Every time we do your show, something great happens. I got to keep doing it.' "

Fredericks has interviewed Vice President Mike Pence; former Trump advisers Corey Lewandowski, Sean Spicer, David Bossie and Jason Miller; and White House officials Kellyanne Conway, Stephanie Grisham and Hogan Gidley, some of them multiple times. (It was on Fredericks's show that Grisham, Trump's press secretary, made her disputed claim that President Barack Obama's staff left nasty notes for the incoming Trump team.)

Pouring attention on regional talk-radio hosts is a classic Trumpworld move: giving relatively unknown characters proximity to the White House has paid off with a disproportionate amount of attention and praise lavished on the president and his agenda.

On a recent January morning, Fredericks, 61, walked out of the dark morning into the fluorescent lights of the studio lobby, past a lonely banner featuring his airbrushed image and slogan, "Trucking the Truth."

Fredericks loves his job. His only complaint is that his early wake-up, at 3:30 a.m. to prepare, grants him so little sleep that he has put on 30 pounds in recent years. But his girth has also granted him a self-assigned nickname, "the Godzilla of Truth," which he points out daily to listeners of his morning drive-time radio show.

"For a show that goes on at 6 a.m., you can't possibly prepare the night before," he said. "It's a disruptive presidency, and there's so much happening. There are so many internal battles and everyone fighting with everyone else. It was different in the Obama presidency."

Not that Fredericks misses those days. On his website, he displays a testimonial from Trump and has given airtime over to Stephen Bannon, the former Trump White House adviser.

"They are so disrespected by the political apparatus in Washington that if you show them any outreach at all, they will move heaven and earth to give you accommodation, to give you time to really let you tell your story," Bannon said in an interview in his Capitol Hill townhouse shortly after he finished taping his War Room podcast, which got its start on Fredericks's radio network. "Not only will they have you on, they'll play the clip all day long and they'll talk about it for days. ... The amazing thing is this platform's out there. It gets massive listenership ... and nobody pays attention to it."

The strategy has been particularly powerful as Trump and his team have engaged in what Bannon calls "information warfare" over the impeachment fight and the 2020 election, focusing on individual Democratic congressional representatives across the country whose seats are in districts that Trump won in 2016. Regional hosts can hammer on an individual issue or politician far more regularly than national radio behemoths, such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

Fredericks takes his place in Trump's strategy seriously, too. Even though the medium would allow for something more casual, Fredericks wears a suit every day to work. "It's a mind-set," he explains. He leans his head forward over his laptop, his hair thinned on the top of his head to the point of disappearance. He stares over his glasses into his laptop, grasps the edge of the table and starts the day.

- - -

Listening to talk-radio hosts across the country highlights just how much some of them sound like Trump - or how much Trump sounds like them. Fredericks regularly grants politicians and others Trumpian nicknames. He calls Richmond "Richvegas" to show his support for a bill that would bring more casinos to Virginia, and dubbed former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, for whom Fredericks says he voted in 2013, "Terry McGenius." Fredericks is a longtime Republican but said he supported McAuliffe because he brought jobs to Virginia and expanded Medicaid in the state.

Unlike Trump, Fredericks's nicknames are typically positive. "These are people I have a relationship with," he said.

On Wednesday morning, Fredericks hosted former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. After bemoaning Lewandowski's decision not to run for a Senate seat in New Hampshire, Fredericks quickly turned to impeachment. Lewandowski dismissed the "sham" impeachment trial that had just kicked off in the Senate, and Fredericks chimed in that the Democrats "went around for three weeks saying they had overwhelming evidence, and then they get to the Senate (and) they say, 'we need more witnesses.' How does that work?" The two men talked about how much all of this was going to help re-elect Donald Trump.

"I think he's going to win New Hampshire, Minnesota, Nevada, I think he'll win them all," Fredericks concluded.

Brian Rosenwald, an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of the book "Talk Radio America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States" argues that talk-radio hosts paved the way for a Trump candidacy.

"This is the talk-radio presidency," he said. It began as far back as 1988, when Rush Limbaugh's show first became nationally syndicated. "What Limbaugh started was a call for a fighter, which was great for radio. And others mimicked that language and message," Rosenwald said.

As much as Limbaugh created the model that hosts around the country emulate, local hosts can be more powerful in some cases, Rosenwald said. A local host can repeatedly bolster or attack a local politician, whereas a national host simply doesn't have the time.

The power of those local radio hosts has been harnessed by big conservative donors who have helped fuel the rise of local radio networks such as Salem Radio Network, the BOTT Radio Network, and American Family Radio. Bannon's impeachment podcast started when he asked Fredericks to grant him the last hour of Fredericks's 6-to-10-a.m. show.

Once Bannon had a couple of dry runs with his co-hosts Miller, a former Trump campaign adviser, and Raheem Kassam, the former London editor of Breitbart and a former chief adviser to Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party, Bannon took over Fredericks' fourth hour and also expanded the show on Salem.

Fredericks is not part of a corporate radio network, but the rise of such groups has boosted many minor radio hosts. Salem started out as a small fundamentalist Christian operation run out of Southern California and has expanded aggressively in recent years, particularly in swing states. It supports nationally syndicated hosts such as Dennis Prager, Hugh Hewitt, and Joe Walsh in addition to a host of regional personalities largely unknown outside their areas. According to Salem, it now serves more than 2,000 radio stations across the country.

Conservative groups such as the secretive Council for National Policy, backed by billionaire conservative families such as the Kochs, the Mercers, and the family of Blackwater founder Erik Prince, whose sister is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, have fueled that expansion, according to a new book by Anne Nelson, "Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right."

"These conservative networks have expanded even as local newspapers around the country have dwindled," Nelson said in an interview. They have "gobbled up independent and local stations, boosted their signals, and made them into an unseen powerhouse in the middle of the country."

- - -

Fredericks is "unabashedly" a Trump supporter, chaired the president's campaign in Virginia and is on the Trump Advisory Committee for 2020. He has served as a Trump surrogate himself on cable news.

After Trump referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and a collection of African nations as "shithole countries" in a closed-door meeting, Fredericks appeared on CNN host Don Lemon's show to defend the president, saying the comments were not about race but rather the poor economies of the countries in question. Lemon noted that Trump's "racist, xenophobic views are one of the most consistent opinions the president has." Fredericks replied that "it's not about race, as you like to make it because that's easy and lazy, it's about economics." Lemon cut Fredericks's mic and brought him back on the show only after he apologized.

"I've had multiple hit pieces on me," Fredericks said later, "It's a joke, because in my business, all they do is help me."

But he does not predictably support Republicans, and reaches the "undecideds," he said, who have been key to the Trump agenda.

"Working-class people, they're not watching Fox News at 9 p.m. They're putting their kids to bed. They're getting ready for work. ... These are the people that have dirt under their fingernails," Fredericks said. "These are the people that work with their hands. This is the backbone of America. They're not tweeting and they're not on Fox and they don't watch CNN. ... So where do you reach them? You've got to go directly to them through regional talk radio."

In addition to voting for McAuliffe and endorsing Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., for re-election in 2014, Fredericks stood by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Virginia Democrat, when he was accused last year of sexual assault by two women. Fredericks said Fairfax deserved due process, even as many other media figures and politicians were calling for his resignation.

On a recent morning in Richmond, Fredericks interviewed Fairfax and kicked off the conversation by reminding him that he was the only media figure who stood by him "when all that went down." Fairfax agreed that Fredericks supported him but also noted that there were others.

Fairfax extolled the virtues of radio, which lives in the cars and ear buds of voters across the country, and which allows longer conversations than the typical television appearance. "John facilitates a meaningful conversation," he said, but added that he doesn't "condone some of the language" Fredericks employs on his show, such as referring to undocumented immigrants as "illegals."

Fredericks is also a fan of Rep. Robert "Bobby" Scott, D-Va., whom Fredericks says he "loves." The two aligned over their rejection of the Patriot Act, among other issues. Scott, facing less than average demand from constituents and friends, gave Fredericks tickets to attend Trump's inauguration in Washington.

"We agree on some things and disagree on others," Scott said. "He's invited me on the show many times, and I've appeared. If you don't talk to people who disagree with you, you'll get nowhere."

- - -

Fredericks' approach to local Democrats in swing districts aligns with what Bannon has made a regular feature of his impeachment-focused podcast. "Make 'Em Famous," is a segment spotlighting the freshman Democratic representatives who govern in districts that voted for Trump in 2016. Those figures can usually hide behind House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Bannon said, but he and others hope to call them out and bring a political cost to their support for impeaching Trump.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., one of the newly elected congressional representatives in a district that backed Trump, has appeared as a guest on Fredericks' show several times, and he praised her as a "tough and strong lady." But since her vote for impeachment, Fredericks said on his show that Spanberger has "a multitude of issues." (Spanberger's office declined a request for an interview.)

Fredericks has also targeted Rep. Elaine Luria, whose district includes Fredericks' hometown, Chesapeake. Luria has never appeared on his show and Fredericks appears to have a low opinion of her. "I wouldn't know her if she jumped in my lap and called me 'Daddy,' " he said, using the kind of language that is characteristic of his show. (Her spokesperson didn't respond to an interview request.)

Largely because of their votes to impeach Trump, Fredericks has a prediction for both women that he seems eager to fulfill. "I think they'll both lose their next elections," he said.


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Video: Regional talk radio shows like "The John Fredericks Show," out of Richmond, Va., have garnered the attention of the White House as the president fights for reelection.(REF:oconnore/The Washington Post)

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Bezos hack claim clouds start of big year for Saudi crown prince

By Sylvia Westall and Donna Abu-Nasr
Bezos hack claim clouds start of big year for Saudi crown prince
Mohammed Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's crown prince, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Feb. 20, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by T. Narayan.

The incendiary claim that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was involved in hacking Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos' mobile phone will refocus critical attention on the controversial young leader just as he was seeking to repair rifts and build for a year in the global spotlight.

United Nations experts on Wednesday called for an investigation into the allegations, first reported by The Guardian. They pointed to information that suggested a possible role for Prince Mohammed, 34, in the surveillance of Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, in an effort to influence the newspaper's reporting on Saudi Arabia and in light of separate claims the prince was involved in the 2018 murder of Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

A probe would take time, yet the damage to Saudi Arabia's image the allegations bring could be more immediate, with speculation swirling as the kingdom prepares to host G-20 finance ministers next month. That's one of dozens of events meant to showcase the prince's economic program to transform his nation and lure billions in foreign investment ahead of the grouping's main extravaganza in November.

The allegations reinforce the existing perception among some "that he's not a good guy," said Kamran Bokhari, founding director of the Center for Global Policy in Washington. People have already made up their mind about Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, and unless he enacts major political reforms, it's unlikely public opinion will shift in the West, he said.

Officials have spent the past year trying to rebuild the country's reputation after Khashoggi's killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. They have won support from President Donald Trump, who defended the prince and shielded the kingdom against any major retaliation by U.S. lawmakers. The government pulled off a flagship investment conference in October and then sold an initial stake in its oil giant Aramco against the backdrop of a missile attack that temporarily knocked out its biggest crude processing facility.

Riyadh has also attempted to disentangle from regional problems with limited results. It showed openness to talks in a long-running Gulf dispute with Qatar, helped end fighting between two factions that were Saudi allies in the war in Yemen, and sought de-escalation with chief foe Iran, which it blames for the missile strike -- rejecting Tehran's denials.

A Saudi court sentenced five people to death for Khashoggi's murder, who had criticized Prince Mohammed's rule in his writing, while three others were given prison terms totaling 24 years in a move designed to close a damaging chapter, at least locally. The kingdom denies the prince was involved in the killing and the court cleared his former top aide.

"We have seen in recent months a far more consultative and multi-lateral approach, partly triggered by doubts about U.S. reliability and given the fact of the chairmanship of the G-20," said James M. Dorsey, a Middle East scholar at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

The hacking report doesn't help in the rebranding of Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammed, he said. If Bezos, the world's richest man, can be a target, what about other people doing business in the kingdom?

"If you are a businessman communicating with the Saudis, you are going to become a lot more cautious and ask yourself -- am I being monitored?" Dorsey said.

Saudi Arabia has promoted a veneration of the crown prince in an effort to swing nationalist opinion behind his reforms, which have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent at home.

On Thursday, a hashtag urging Saudis to boycott Amazon products was trending on Twitter, with users defending Prince Mohammed, suggesting other online shopping companies and posting photos of Bezos sitting next to or hugging Khashoggi's fiancee.

In a response to queries citing an unidentified official, Saudi Arabia's information ministry rejected news reports on the Bezos phone breach as "wholly unsubstantiated allegations," and said it doesn't conduct or condone such illicit activities.

"We request the presentation of any supposed evidence and the disclosure of any company that examined forensic evidence so that we can show it is demonstrably false," it said Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East and the Trump administration rebuffed talk of the prince's involvement in the Khashoggi murder despite reported CIA findings that he ordered it.

Even so, Washington has been pushing Riyadh and other Gulf states to end the nearly three-year diplomatic and trade crisis with Qatar, saying it was playing into the hands of Iran at a time when the U.S. is seeking to weaken the Islamic Republic's miltary and economy.

Saudi Arabia had shown an openness to talks with Doha ahead of taking over the G-20 chairmanship in December, raising hopes among Gulf officials of an end to the crisis.

Riyadh hosted Qatar's foreign minister late last year to discuss the regional row, but those efforts have since lost momentum, according to three Gulf officials briefed on the discussions who asked not to be named.

While the hack reports are seen as denting the kingdom's image, investors are unlikely to pull back, after already weathering the Khashoggi fallout.

Some Western companies distanced themselves from the kingdom in the months after his killing -- their executives staying away from a 2018 investment conference -- but others continued to pour in money. That has continued. The government sold $5 billion of debt its first Eurobond offer of the year on Tuesday, with orders worth more than $23 billion.

Several overseas investors in Saudi Arabia said it was too early to gauge the impact of the Bezos claims, but said they were unlikely to change their existing views on the kingdom.

Ayham Kamel, head of Middle East and North Africa research at Eurasia Group, a consultancy, said that while individual countries would proceed with the kingdom at their own pace, the trajectory was unlikely to change.

"There will be incidents along the way that take things off-track for short periods of time and just make it very difficult for the kingdom to define this on its own," he said.

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Bloomberg's Simone Foxman and Fiona MacDonald contributed to this report.

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At the March for Life, Trump will be greeted as a pro-life hero - because he is one

By marc a. thiessen
At the March for Life, Trump will be greeted as a pro-life hero - because he is one


(Advance for Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Thiessen clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


WASHINGTON -- History is being made on Capitol Hill this week. No, I'm not talking about the presidential impeachment trial; that's been done before. I'm talking about President Trump's decision to become the first U.S. president to speak in person at the March for Life.

It's hard to overstate how important this development is. No president has ever attended the March for Life -- not Ronald Reagan, not George H.W. Bush, not my old boss, George W. Bush. They all addressed the marchers remotely, via telephone or satellite link. The arrangement always seemed absurd. The marchers were on the Mall, literally in sight of the White House. Why not go out and join them? But despite the best of efforts of many inside previous administrations, none did.

The message to pro-life conservatives was clear: They were the black sheep of the Republican coalition. Their presence was tolerated because their votes were needed. But while Republican presidential candidates couldn't win the nomination without declaring themselves pro-life, the GOP establishment not-so-secretly loathed pro-lifers. The prevailing attitude was: There they go again, making people uncomfortable by talking about abortion.

Pro-lifers took the scraps they were thrown from the GOP table because they had nowhere else to go. In today's Democratic Party, abortion is no longer treated as a necessary evil but as something to be embraced and even celebrated. In 2018, for example, New York's Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, lit up One World Trade Center -- the Freedom Tower -- to celebrate the passage of a new law that removes most restrictions on abortion, even in the third trimester.

Pro-life Democrats have all but disappeared on Capitol Hill, and the Democratic orthodoxy today is taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand up to the moment of birth. Dissent from that orthodoxy is not tolerated. For more than 40 years, former vice president Joe Biden supported the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortions. He said that as a Catholic, he was personally pro-life and that "those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them." But in 2020, that isn't good enough. Biden, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, caved in to the pro-abortion radicals last June, abandoned his principles and embraced taxpayer funding.

Given their lack of other options, pro-lifers accepted their second-class-citizen status in the GOP. Then along came Trump, a man who doesn't care what the Republican establishment thinks. He has embraced the pro-life movement in a way no other president has. In 2018, he became the first sitting president to address the annual Campaign for Life gala of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, founded in 1992. And now he will make history again at the March for Life.

Trump will be greeted as a pro-life hero, because he is one. He put two outstanding conservative justices on the Supreme Court and has appointed a record number of federal appeals court judges. He has allowed states to defund Planned Parenthood, defunded the pro-abortion U.N. Population Fund, and restored and expanded a ban, known as the Mexico City policy, on taxpayer funds for groups that perform abortions overseas. He has exempted organizations, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, that have moral objections to providing abortifacient drugs, from the Obamacare Health and Human Services mandate, and he has stood by the nuns as they fight to protect their religious liberty in the Supreme Court.

The president recently delivered the biggest blow to Planned Parenthood in three decades when he implemented the Protect Life Rule, which prohibits Title X family-planning funds from going to any clinic that performs on-site abortions. Planned Parenthood announced last year that it would leave the Title X program, barring a court victory.

No other president has amassed such a record of pro-life victories. But Trump has done more than simply govern as a pro-life conservative; he has embraced pro-life conservatives without shame or hesitation. Want to know why so many Republicans don't care about Trump's ham-handed phone call with Ukraine's president or his personal moral failings? Because he is an ally like no other in the fight to save innocent unborn lives.

Pro-life Americans sense that his pro-life record is one of the reasons Democrats have been searching for a pretext to impeach him. And they know a second Trump term would mean more conservatives justices on the Supreme Court, more conservatives on the federal appeals courts and more opportunities to rescue babies from the abortionist's hand.

So, let the Democrats pursue their doomed impeachment circus in the Senate. As they do, something truly important is happening on Capitol Hill: An American president is finally marching in defense of human life.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2020, The Washington Post Writers Group

FBI abused its powers with intrusive spying on Page

By david ignatius
FBI abused its powers with intrusive spying on Page


(Advance for Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Ignatius clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


WASHINGTON -- As America weighs abuses of power in this season of impeachment and trial, it's worth taking a careful second look at the FBI's behavior in its "Crossfire Hurricane" investigation of the Trump campaign in 2016. Republicans are outraged by what happened, and Democrats should be, too.

It's not that the FBI's misdeeds excuse those of Donald Trump's. Quite the opposite: Reckless statements by Trump and his advisers during the 2016 campaign worried the FBI so much that officials began making bad decisions and covering up their mistakes. The spooks got spooked.

But accountability can't become a partisan issue, or we're sunk as a country. So it's especially important for Trump critics, even as they make their case that the president should be removed from office, to recognize that the bureau abused some of its most sensitive powers when it authorized intrusive surveillance on Trump adviser Carter Page.

The deeply disturbing tale of the FBI's actions was narrated by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz last month in a dense 434-page report. It's worth a careful review, especially now, when the impeachment trial has us all thinking about how to safeguard our democracy.

The FBI had a nightmare problem in July 2016. An Australian official had passed along a tip that "the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist" with information that would damage Hillary Clinton, Trump's rival. Should the bureau have ignored this allegation? Obviously not.

On July 31, the bureau launched Crossfire Hurricane. An internal memo stated that "this investigation is being opened to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia." The decisive voice was E.W. "Bill" Priestap, a career official then heading the FBI's Counterintelligence Division who told Horowitz that the bureau was "obligated" to conduct the investigation.

So far so good. Horowitz's report concluded that the FBI's decision to investigate the Trump team had an appropriate "authorized purpose."

But the inquiry began to jump the tracks in October 2016, when the FBI sought authority for intrusive spying on Page. Horowitz found that bureau officials supplied incomplete or misleading information to support their request to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for the October warrant for Page and for three renewals that carried the targeting through September 2017.

One abuse was especially outrageous: As the FBI pressed for the Page FISA warrants, it overlooked an August 2016 CIA message that Page had been an occasional "operational contact" for the agency. That's not the same as a vetted agent, but it should have made FBI officials wonder if their assumptions about Page's possible disloyalty and double-dealing were justified.

The CIA told the bureau that Page had been approved as a contact from 2008 to 2013 and that he had "candidly described his contact" with a Russian intelligence officer the bureau feared had recruited him. The FBI ignored this and other exculpatory information.

Worse still, a midlevel FBI official in the office of general counsel, after checking with the CIA in June 2017 about the agency's past relationship with Page, inaccurately told a colleague that the CIA "confirmed explicitly he was never a source" and then inserted in a CIA email that Page was "not a source."

The FBI official apparently lied because he wanted to avoid a "terrible footnote" in the latest FISA renewal, admitting the embarrassing fact that the bureau had overlooked the CIA's relationship with Page in previous filings, according to Horowitz's narrative. The official has been fired and is under criminal investigation.

Why didn't the CIA speak up, as Page was being pilloried in public leaks? That's another good question.

Some Republicans have seen a deep-state conspiracy in these actions. But to me, the Horowitz report suggests the opposite. The intelligence community was so sloppy and disorganized -- and so disoriented by the Trump investigation -- that it couldn't coordinate simple tasks, let alone organize a plot.

The bureau failed in its simple duty to "make sure that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing," as one FBI official put it to Horowitz. This is a tale of dazed, incompetent bureaucrats covering their backsides, not a coup.

Fixing America's problems should begin at the top, with an impartial Senate trial assessing Trump's alleged abuses of power. But especially at this disruptive, partisan moment, reforms are needed at every level. The FBI badly abused its power in Crossfire Hurricane, and as Director Chris Wray said last month, it needs "thoughtful, meaningful remedial action." On that, surely, Republicans and Democrats can agree.

Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

The normalization of Trumpism and the end of globalization

By fareed zakaria
The normalization of Trumpism and the end of globalization


(Advance for Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Zakaria clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


DAVOS -- Donald Trump's speech here at the World Economic Forum went over relatively well. That's partly because Davos is a conclave of businessmen, and they like Trump's pro-business message. But mostly, the president's reception was a testament to the fact that he and what he represents are no longer unusual or exceptional. Look around the world and you will see: Trump and Trumpism have become normalized.

Davos was once the place where countries clamored to demonstrate their commitment to opening up their economies and societies. After all, these forces were producing global growth and lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. Every year, a different nation would become the star of the forum, usually with a celebrated finance minister who was seen as the architect of a boom. The United States was the most energetic promoter of these twin ideas of economic openness and political freedom.

Today, Davos feels very different. Despite the fact that, across the world, growth remains solid and countries are moving ahead, the tenor of the times has changed. Where globalization was once the main topic, today it is the populist backlash to it. Where once there was a firm conviction about the way of the future, today there is uncertainty and unease.

This is not simply atmospherics and rhetoric. Ruchir Sharma of Morgan Stanley Investment Management points out that since 2008, we have entered a phase of "deglobalization." Global trade, which rose almost uninterruptedly since the 1970s, has stagnated, while capital flows have fallen. Net migration flows from poor countries to rich ones have also dropped. In 2018, net migration to the U.S. hit its lowest point in a decade.

The shift in approach can best be seen in the case of India. In 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to Davos to decry the fact that "many countries are becoming inward focused and globalization is shrinking." Since then, his government has increased tariffs on hundreds of items and taken steps to shield India's farmers, shopkeepers, digital companies and many others from the dangers of international competition. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative recently called out India for having the highest tariffs of any major economy in the world.

Indian officials used to aggressively court foreign investment, which was much needed to spur growth. Last week, with India's economy slowing badly, Jeff Bezos announced a $1 billion investment in the country. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.) But the minister of commerce and industry scoffed at the move, saying Amazon wasn't "doing a great favor to India" and besides was probably engaging in anti-competitive, "predatory" practices. Often, protectionist policies help favored local producers. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad recently criticized some of Modi's policies toward Muslims. The Indian government effectively cut off imports of Malaysian palm oil. In a familiar pattern, one of the chief beneficiaries was a local billionaire long associated with Modi.

The Economist notes that Europe, once one of the chief motors for openness in economics and politics, is also rediscovering state intervention to prop up domestic industries. And if you think the internet is exempt from these tendencies, think again. The European Center for International Political Economy tracks the number of protectionist measures put in place to "localize" the digital economy in 64 countries. It has been surging for years, especially since 2008.

It's important not to exaggerate the backlash to globalization. As a 2019 report by DHL demonstrates, globalization is still strong and, by some measures, continues to expand. People still want to trade, travel and transact across the world. But in government policy, where economic logic once trumped politics, today it is often the reverse. Economist Nouriel Roubini argues that the cumulative result of all these measures -- protecting local industries, subsidizing national champions, restricting immigration -- is to sap growth. "It means slower growth, fewer jobs, less efficient economies," he told me recently. We've seen it happen many times in the past, not least in India, which suffered decades of stagnation as a result of protectionist policies, and we will see the impact in years to come. Nevertheless, today, nationalism and protectionism prevail.

This phase of de-globalization is being steered from the top. The world's leading nations are, as always, the agenda setters. The example of China, which has shielded some of its markets and still grown rapidly, has made a deep impression on much of the world. Probably deeper still is the example of the planet's greatest champion of liberty and openness, the United States, which now has a president who calls for managed trade, more limited immigration and protectionist measures. At Davos, Trump invited every nation to follow his example. More and more are complying.

Fareed Zakaria's email address is

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Senate GOP's defense of Trump is as mushy as apple pie

By eugene robinson
Senate GOP's defense of Trump is as mushy as apple pie


(Advance for Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Robinson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


WASHINGTON -- House Democrats have made a powerful case for turning President Trump's impeachment faux-trial into an actual trial, where the goals are truth and justice. Republicans, so far, have no coherent answer.

The procedures rammed through by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were designed to deliver nothing more than a few days of argument, preferably boring, followed by party-line acquittal in time for the president's Feb. 4 State of the Union address. But it turns out that even simulated trials are inherently unpredictable.

The House impeachment managers, led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., have masterfully laid out a clear, easy-to-follow narrative of Trump's misconduct. More importantly, they have made a powerful case that the Senate must gather evidence, including witness testimony and documents, beyond what the House was able to obtain. That is the key issue that Trump's defenders are afraid to confront.

On Wednesday, Schiff cleverly highlighted specific missing documents and witness testimony -- contemporaneous memos, a key State Department cable, former national security adviser John Bolton's reported "drug deal" remark -- that clearly would bear on whether Trump abused his power in his dealings with Ukraine. Why, Schiff asked repeatedly, would senators (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) want to see and hear this evidence?

Republicans' answers ranged from the weak to the laughable.

"We've just come out listening to, what, six hours of testimony, and I didn't hear anything new," Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told reporters during a break. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., agreed that he "didn't hear anything new."

Come on, do better than that. A day earlier, Republicans repeatedly voted -- along party lines -- (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) to hear anything new. They denied every single measure Democrats offered to call witnesses and subpoena documents, or even to give Chief Justice John Roberts the power to rule on admitting new evidence. That's like telling your waiter "I don't want any dessert" and later complaining that the service was horrible because "I didn't get any apple pie."

Republicans' stated rationale for not seeking new evidence was that gathering the facts was a task that the House, and only the House, should have performed. That's just ridiculous. To begin with, we the taxpayers are paying the salaries of the members of both chambers of Congress, and what matters is that necessary work gets done, not who does it. It's as if your waiter told you "Sorry, I just clocked in, and you ordered that apple pie before my shift began."

Trump took the unprecedented step of refusing to cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry in any way, denying all subpoenas and instructing his aides not to testify. Bolton refused to appear before the House. He now says he wants to appear before the Senate and has relevant information to disclose. What valid reason could there possibly be for not hearing what he has to say?

The GOP threat to also call former Vice President Joe Biden or his son Hunter Biden as witnesses is a big bluff, and Democrats should call them on it. Republicans control the Senate, which means they have subpoena power. They could have summoned the Bidens to testify at a committee hearing whenever they chose. They don't really want the Bidens' testimony, which they know would be irrelevant to Trump's conduct. They're just in desperate search of a talking point.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., quickly moved beyond talking points to yelling points. Democrats "are on a crusade to destroy this man," he practically screamed at reporters. "So, to my Democratic colleagues, you can say what you want about me, but I'm covering up nothing. I'm exposing your hatred of this president to the point that you would destroy the institution."

Graham's outburst brought to mind the passionate -- and, I believe, calculated -- screed he delivered at the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, accusing Democrats of trying to "destroy this guy's life." Pitching a fit worked then. It is unlikely to work now.

I'm realistic. I know that Republicans have the votes to acquit Trump regardless of the evidence, if that's what they decide to do. But the House impeachment managers' skillful presentation of their case has made it much less politically attractive for GOP senators -- especially those with tough reelection races -- to say they won't even cast their eyes upon evidence that's being presented to them on a silver platter.

All right, let's finish torturing our metaphor. It's like saying "The apple pie at this restaurant is an abomination," and having the waiter point out, "But sir, you didn't even order it."

Eugene Robinson's email address is

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

'S.O.S.! PLEASE HELP ME!' The world's greatest deliberative body falls to pettifoggery.

By dana milbank
'S.O.S.! PLEASE HELP ME!' The world's greatest deliberative body falls to pettifoggery.



(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


WASHINGTON -- Senate chaplain Barry Black began Wednesday's session of President Trump's impeachment trial by praying for God to give senators "civility built upon integrity."

It was too much to ask.

Just minutes into the session, as lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff, D-Calif., presented his opening argument for removing the president, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., displayed on his desk a hand-lettered message with big block letters pleading: "S.O.S."

In case that was too subtle, he followed this later with another handwritten message pretending he was an abducted child:



Paul wrote "IRONY ALERT" on another scrap of paper, and scribbled there an ironic thought. Nearby, a torn piece of paper concealed a crossword puzzle, which Paul set about completing while Schiff spoke. Eventually, even this proved insufficient amusement, and Paul, though required to be at his desk, left the trial entirely for a long block of time.

No one expected senators truly to honor their oath to be impartial. But Paul and some of his Republican colleagues aren't even pretending to treat the proceedings with dignity.

Minutes before the trial opened in earnest on Wednesday, Paul took Trump up on the president's stated wish to watch the trial from the "front row." Paul tweeted a photo of a gallery ticket and said, "Mr. President, would love to have you as my guest during this partisan charade."

Trump retweeted the message.

Some of Paul's Republican Senate colleagues were only slightly better behaved as the House managers presented the evidence.

Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa) read press clippings. (Blackburn had talking points on her desk attacking the whistleblower.) Sessions begin with an admonition that "all persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment," but Ernst promptly struck up a conversation with Dan Sullivan (Alaska), who talked with Ron Johnson (Wis.). Steve Daines (Mont.) walked over to have a word with Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Tim Scott (S.C.), who flashed a thumbs-up.

Lindsey Graham (S.C.) variously shook his head in disagreement with the managers, picked his teeth and yawned. Tom Cotton (Ark.) ordered up a glass of milk, then another, then unwrapped a chocolate bar to share with Ernst. An aisle over, James Risch (Idaho), who fell asleep during Tuesday's session, talked loudly enough to be heard in the press gallery.

"Mr. Chief Justice, I do see a lot of members moving and taking a break," said House impeachment manager Jason Crow, D-Colo., who was trying to speak. "Would you like to take a break?"

"I think we can continue," replied Chief Justice John Roberts, who had been perusing printouts of emails.

In fairness, the proceedings were lengthy, and tedious. Some might have nodded off entirely but for Rives Miller Grogan, a conservative activist who burst into the chamber at 6 p.m. and screamed "Jesus Christ!" before police shoved him out.

Roberts only once rebuked the behavior in the chamber. As Tuesday's session bled into the early hours of Wednesday, impeachment manager Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., warned senators against making a "treacherous vote" for a "coverup." White House counsel Pat Cipollone, a member of Trump's defense team, said Nadler "should be embarrassed" and called on the Senate to "land this power trip."

Roberts, admonishing both sides "to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body," cited the lofty example of a 1905 impeachment trial when use of the word "pettifogging" -- defined as the bickering over trivialities -- was disallowed as too pejorative.

Now, the world's greatest deliberative body has devolved into a palace of pettifoggery.

Nadler was in the penalty box. When a reporter asked a question of Nadler at a news conference Wednesday morning, Schiff interrupted: "I'm going to respond to the questions." Later, on the floor, a contrite Nadler thanked senators for "your temperate listening and patience last night."

Patience, however, was in short supply as Schiff and his team made their case. Ignoring the impeachment managers, and the silence requirement, Graham chatted with Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.). Sen. John Boozman (Ark.) had a word with Sen. John Hoeven (N.D.), while Sen. David Perdue (Ga.) talked with Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.). And on, and on.

Reading from Federalist 65, Schiff quoted Alexander Hamilton: "Where else than in the Senate could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified" to conduct an impeachment trial with "the necessary impartiality"?

Clearly, Hamilton couldn't have imagined this Senate. S.O.S.!

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

GOP senators' barefaced bad faith

By michael gerson
GOP senators' barefaced bad faith


(Advance for Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Gerson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)


WASHINGTON -- It is another of Donald Trump's dubious achievements to turn the ultimate constitutional check on presidential abuses of power into an utter farce. Watching Republican senators complain that there is "nothing new" in the case made by House impeachment managers, while they are actively opposing the introduction of new evidence and new testimony, is confirmation of barefaced bad faith. In this matter, elected Republicans are mainly serving, not the president, and certainly not the republic, but themselves. Having decided that no amount of evidence would be sufficient for conviction, they realize that the presentation of a full and compelling case would convict them of servility and institutional surrender. So a quick and dirty Senate trial is the best way to limit the exposure of their malpractice.

This crime against democracy is compounded by the eagerness of Republicans to use impeachment as a fundraising opportunity and method to energize base voters. The theory seems to be: If you are going to betray the constitutional order, you might as well profit from it.

In the impeachment trial, all the dismal signs point to acquittal at any cost. And it is not the first time the president has skated. Despite compelling evidence of wrongdoing and obstruction of justice in the Mueller report, Trump largely escaped accountability (even as many of his smarmy advisers did not escape jail). The appearance of vindication in this case immediately preceded the president's decision to squeeze an embattled foreign power for his political benefit. Give Trump an inch and he'll take Ukraine.

How has the president largely avoided the consequences of his corruption? By employing the methods of his mentor Roy Cohn. Admit nothing. Stonewall investigators. Defy subpoenas. Viciously attack opponents. Flood the zone with exculpatory lies. Feel no shame. Show no mercy. Claim anything short of prison to be complete exoneration.

In terms that would have gladdened the heart of Richard Nixon in his day, the cover-up is working. Senate Republicans seem determined to cover up for Trump's cover-up. What is essentially state-run media -- Fox News and conservative talk radio -- has created a narrative of establishment persecution that covers up for the Senate's cover-up of the Trump cover-up. The president is protected by layer upon layer of obfuscation, misdirection and deception. Gradually at first, but now in a sudden rush, the norms of truthfulness, public service and ethical behavior have given way. And the message has been sent to Trump and future iterations of Trump: Corruption has no consequence.

This is a danger to the country because success breeds replication. Politicians who never dreamed of being anarchic and transgressive now conduct their public business like the Marx Brothers on a caffeine high. Consider Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., responding to a perfectly appropriate question by CNN's Manu Raju by saying, "You're a liberal hack." It is nothing new for a senator to show his or her temper. But McSally then posted her petulance on Twitter and began raising money on the basis of it. It is human to lose your cool; taking pride in it is to lose one's marbles. But this is normal political behavior in the age of Trump.

There is further danger in the immediate aftermath of Trump's likely acquittal by the Senate. The president never views a near miss as an opportunity for reflection and reformation. He sees it as permission to indulge his every urge. And his most consistent urge has been to seek unfair advantage in the upcoming presidential election. The months between Senate acquittal and the November vote will be fertile ground for further cheating.

And the election itself presents the greatest danger. Trump avoided accountability after the Mueller probe. He is likely to avoid accountability for the Ukraine squeeze. That leaves one last source of accountability -- the election in November. This will be a test, not of the Republican Party, but of the republic.

Every presidential election is important. This one will have an added dimension. It will be more than a referendum on the president. It will be a referendum on the moral and ethical standards we apply to our political life. Will corruption, cruelty and cover-ups be excused and encouraged? Or will the boundaries of integrity, honesty and public spirit be redrawn?

Congress -- with the large exception of the House majority -- has largely failed to defend the democratic virtues essential to self-government. American voters had better do better.

Michael Gerson's email address is

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

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