Good Friday Morning! When I was writing this newsletter last week, the whistleblower/Ukraine story was just a blip on the horizon. I made it the middle topic on the Beltway Outsiders Podcast, just talking through some of the general timeline and facts of the story. In that short amount of time, that story has gone from a small blip to blotting out everything else in the political sky on the national scene. I know here in Tennessee, the local papers and tv stations are trying to get Senators and Representatives on record with what they think about the Ukraine story.
Because that story has blocked out pretty much everything else on the radar this week, I’m focusing on it for the newsletter. If you want a great debate on the topic where the participants hold different views, everything from “this is a gigantic deal” to “it’s a nothing burger,” check out National Review’s “The Editors” podcast this week. Luke Thompson and David French get into a back-and-forth debate over the merits that teases out many of the issues in this story. You can listen on their website or find them on most podcast services.
I want to continue my thanks to everyone for listening to and reviewing the podcast. Keep the 5-star reviews coming in! It helps other readers and listeners like you find this place!
Where you can find me this week
Please subscribe, rate, and review my podcast on iTunes and Spotify, Overcast, or Google Play — the reviews help expand the reach and scope of the podcast and help more people sign-up for the newsletter here. Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter. You can also go to their Facebook page.
This week on the Beltway Outsiders Podcast host Daniel Vaughan discusses a Washington Post column comparing Elizabeth Warren’s “selfie line” to photographs of Frederick Douglass, one of the greatest Americans to have ever lived. Also discussed are the two big stories of the week, the whistleblower story involved Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and Ukraine, as well as discussion of the new book on Brett Kavanaugh and some interviews the authors have given.
The decision by the media to cover the Kavanaugh story in the way that it has done, along with the character assassinations of Leif Olson and others, is a choice. They’re choosing to destroy their credibility, and that has long term ramifications.
Kamala Harris’s campaign is imploding spectacularly — if she makes it to the October debates, it may be her last chance at relevance. For a brief moment, she was the talk of the town and had a shot at toppling Joe Biden, and now she’s sharing polling real estate with Andrew Yang. It’s worth stepping back and seeing why she’s failed and why others like her have failed.
Donald Trump, Ukraine, Whistleblowers, and Impeachment
I was trying to figure out how to dive into this new impeachment brouhaha that the Trump White House has waded into in the last week. To help everyone see where we are, I’m going to start by listing the stories/documents you should know, and then giving the best version of impeachment that Democrats have against Trump, and work from there. It helps to have an idea of what argument could actually topple Trump in an impeachment proceeding and then examine the evidence from there.
The other reason I’m starting with the Democrats best case scenario is because this is where Rep. Adam Schiff should have started, instead of spending the first 20 minutes of his committee hearing time describing a parody of what was in the phone call readout — when we already have the actual transcript/readout. It was bizarre. Instead of starting the hearing in a responsible manner that aimed to get the truth, Schiff spent time in a comedic art form — he is a disgrace to Congress.
Primary documents to understand the Trump/Ukraine story
While there are many moving parts, to truly appreciate everything you need to know about the Trump/Ukraine story, you need to know the following things.
- March 2018: The United States passed legislation giving Ukraine access to $250 million in lethal aid, specifically to purchase Javelin Missiles as a deterrent to Russia.
- July 25, 2019: Donald Trump has a phone call conversation with the newly elected President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. You can read the five-page readout of the call here — this is the conversation where Trump pressures the Ukrainian government on investigating Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden. The White House releases the phone call readout on 9/25/2019.
- August 12, 2019: A whistleblower contacts superiors that allege Donald Trump and the White House are abusing their power to influence the 2020 elections. You can read that nine-page whistleblower account here.
- August 28, 2019: Politico is the first to report that the Trump administration delayed/slow-walked the Congressional money set aside to help arm Ukraine. This move angered lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and they put pressure on the White House to let the aid go. The White House began blocking aid before the July 25th phone call — but reports say Ukrainians didn’t know this during the call.
- September 12, 2019: The White House relinquishes its hold on the aid money to Ukraine. No reason was given for blocking or releasing the aid money.
The two documents you should read are the call readout on July 25th and the whistleblower account on August 12th. At the time I’m writing this newsletter, the New York Times is reporting the whistleblower is a former CIA Officer who was detailed at the White House for a time. Donald Trump has also suggested the whistleblower is a spy — “and you know what we used to do to them…” — which means on top of everything I’m mentioning here, Democrats will also likely hit him for trying to intimidate whistleblowers.
The argument FOR impeaching Donald Trump
The best argument Democrats have for impeaching Donald Trump on the above evidence is as follows:
Donald Trump abused the power of the Presidency by withholding Congressionally designated money meant for Ukrainian defense aid in order to further his own personal gain by damaging the campaign of a political rival in Joe Biden. Trump withheld the aid, had a phone call with the new Ukranian President, and implied that if they wanted that aid or further US support, Ukraine should step up to the plate and offer something in return, which was dirt on Hunter Biden and anything related to the DNC. Once Trump secured that promise, he released the aid and sent his personal attorney, Rudy Guiliani, who is not an official government representative, to ensure the bargain was kept. The Trump/Ukraine relationship was built off quid-pro-quo, and Trump only held malicious personal intent, with no American interests at stake.
The Trump White House then attempted to hide the transcript of this meeting by placing it in a different classified electronic storage manner than any other protocol demanded. In taking these actions, Donald Trump sought personal gain and abused American power abroad to achieve those ends, all of which is an impeachable offense under the Constitution.
Impeaching Trump means protecting the integrity of the 2020 elections by ensuring he cannot use the power of the executive to further solicit other govenrments to interfere with U.S. elections or the primary process moving forward. Allowing him to remain in office endangers the legitimacy of the 2020 election and allows an abuse of power to continue unchecked by Congress.
That’s about the best version of the case I can make for Democrats. And there is a chance they could get all the evidence to move in their favor towards this exact scenario. As the whistleblower account puts it, Trump is “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
Almost none of that case was made by Democrats at the hearings today — like I said — it was a clown show. They’re focusing on everything but the substance of the case. And you don’t have to believe me, Daily Beast Reporter Lachlan Markey said this while watching the hearings, “Democrats’ determination to discuss process, executive privilege, DNI’s discussions with the WH *about* the complaint, etc., rather than the substance of the complaint itself, is totally baffling.” CBS Reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns said this, “We are about an hour and twenty minutes into this hearing, and there has been so little attention paid to the actual substance of the complaint which is now public…” She also said, “TWO HOURS in, and we are finally getting to Giuliani.”
If you skipped the hearings, don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything.
The argument AGAINST impeaching Donald Trump
There are holes in this argument in some key areas. You have to remember throughout all of this; impeachment does not require an actual crime. The House draws up the articles of impeachment, and they can list any reason they want. The constitution only requires “bribery, treason, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” This phrase is purposely vague, and the House can draw those articles of impeachment up however they’d like. But, because it is a political process, you generally need strong reasons to impeach — so they’ll need something substantial to stick to survive politically.
- Trump had reasons to delay military aid to Ukraine
The most significant sticking point in this entire story is the $250 million in assistance to Ukraine. The White House delayed it and never gave a reason why for the delay or for when they released it. As I see it, they have two arguments here. One, delaying the funding was part of a broader push to slash foreign aid across the board, and Ukraine just happened to get caught in the middle; or Two, the White House delayed funding as part of an effort to ensure the newly elected President in Ukrain was beneficial to American interests.
On the first point, that this was all an effort to slash all funding, there’s some evidence of that fact. When Politico first reported that the $250 million got delayed, they included this information:
Now, that funding is being called into question. The senior administration official, who asked to remain anonymous in order to discuss internal matters, said the president wants to ensure U.S. interests are being prioritized when it comes to foreign assistance, and is seeking assurances that other countries are “paying their fair share.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and national security adviser John Bolton are among the officials who were asked to review the Ukraine security funding. …
The Trump administration’s broader push to freeze or slash foreign aid that White House officials contend is wasteful has sparked intense bipartisan backlash, with lawmakers warning of a deteriorating relationship with the White House when it comes to the use of appropriated funds.
The administration dropped a plan last week amid congressional fury that would have cut more than $4 billion across 10 areas of foreign assistance, including funds for international peacekeeping operations, narcotics control and global health efforts. The administration also backed off a similar plan last year.
The White House can argue that the push was part of a program to cut waste and ensure the US was getting something in return for all they were spending on Ukranian security. That would give them a claim to American interests at stake.
On the second point, the White House could also argue that the delay was due to getting to know the newly elected President of Ukraine. Defense News reported something along these lines when the aid packages got released in early September:
Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford defended the administration’s deliberation, given the election of a new president in Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, whose allegiance to the U.S. was initially in question. Lankford, however, expressed support for U.S. aid in Ukraine’s fight against Russia and thought the Trump administration took too long.
“It was entirely reasonable that the United States spent a couple of months getting to know him and his administration,” Lankford said, adding that he had recently visited Kyiv for the same purpose. “I think we should have moved faster, but there was due diligence, and the administration has been active in trying to get lethal aid to the Ukrainians in the past.”
Whether or not either of these options is right will depend on the White House offering up some evidence on that front. It doesn’t help the July 25th phone call transcript — but it does move us outside Trump only having a personal reason for blocking aid.
- Trump’s intent, good or bad, still served US interests
Let’s assume the worst-case scenario for a moment, let’s assume Donald Trump called intending to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. Does that mean the United States does not have interests involved in this situation? Luke Thompson advanced this argument on National Review’s The Editors podcast, and it has merit.
The United States has an absolute interest in getting to the bottom of what Hunter Biden was doing on the board of Ukranian energy companies, and why Joe Biden was letting his son tag along on all the overseas trips allowing his son to enrich himself in the process. Just because Joe Biden is running for office doesn’t mean running for President makes him or his family immune from federal probes — we’ve learned that first hand with the Obama administration’s investigations involving Benghazi, and Hilary Clinton’s email server.
On July 1, 2019, The New Yorker, a pretty liberal publication, ran a massive spread on Hunter Biden, wondering if he would end up sinking Joe Biden’s candidacy. Some have theorized that the Hunter Biden and Ukraine story originated from the Clinton’s. There’s no love lost between the Biden/Obama teams and the Clintons, and in 2008, many theorized that the reason Obama chose Biden for VP was that Biden had no strong love of Clinton.
All that said, even if Trump was only there for dirt, the United States still has legitimate interests in ensuring corruption investigations are finished in a country it is sending aid.
The best-case scenario here is if the White House can prove Trump had no malicious intent. I’m not sure how they’d go about doing that, which is why I’m presuming Trump wanted the dirt.
Where I currently stand
My priors going into this story were simple: I was presuming Trump acted terrible, that the whistleblower acted terribly, and that Hunter Biden was involved with bad things.
This entire episode is like a Rorschach test, whatever you want to see, you probably will end up seeing. And I haven’t seen anything to move me off my priors. In the Russia probe, Donald Trump got cleared not because he and his campaign didn’t try to get dirt from Russia, but because they failed at it and were utterly incompetent.
I suspect the same thing has happened here — Donald Trump is trying to do something ham-handedly, again, and he’ll get saved by his sheer incompetence and the fact that the US does have legitimate interests in Ukraine and its rampant corruption.
Jonah Goldberg has made a point, several times, that you have to assume Trump wanted something personal here because if Joe Biden wasn’t leading the polls — Trump probably doesn’t care about the corruption potential in Ukraine. There’s some truth there because Trump largely hasn’t been moved by corruption elsewhere.
But what will probably end up saving him, is that the US has legitimate interests.
A few notes on the whistleblower
I don’t find the account created by this whistleblower all that credible or helpful. The whistleblower only has direct knowledge of one thing: the foreign aid getting cut off and no-one knowing why the White House made that decision. Everything else in the whistleblower complaint is based on second or third-hand knowledge (multiple levels of hearsay) or piecing together public reporting.
On the July 25th phonecall, the whistleblower claims to have had access to the readout of the call, which is why the account of that section corroborates with the official report so well. Fred Fleitz, former NSC Chief and CIA analyst, suspects the whistleblower had help putting together the account submitted from Congressional Democrats or others similarly situated — if true, that will nuke the credibility of this report.
I have a column coming out today arguing that Democrats don’t have the votes for an actual impeachment. Supporting an impeachment inquiry is not the same thing as voting for articles of impeachment. The key to watch here isn’t Republicans, and what they think, it’s swing district Democrats. Neither they nor Pelosi wants to expose them to an impeachment vote — Pelosi is trying to let off the impeachment steam by letting the far-left part of the caucus investigate. That won’t be enough though… they’ll want a vote, and Presidential candidates will demand a vote.
This newsletter has already gone long, but I want to add one more thing: the other person to watch here is Rudy Guiliani. I purposely skipped over him in the above analysis because his involvement and the interviews he’s giving are straight-up bonkers. I have no way to summarize how much it appears he’s hurting the Trump administration, nor do I know why he’s getting trotted out as the chief defender. If Trump does get impeached — blame Rudy’s involvement. It also wouldn’t shock me if Rudy becomes a scapegoat.
If you have questions or comments, shoot them my way and I’ll try to get to them on the podcast this week.
Links of the week
Double Standards on Ukraine – Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review
Trump’s Defenders Have Plenty of Lame Excuses: No quid pro quo! It’s just politics! Democrats did it too! – Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg Opinion
Rudy Giuliani: ‘You Should Be Happy for Your Country That I Uncovered This’: President Trump’s personal attorney unleashes in a new phone call with The Atlantic while Trump allies turn on him. – Elaina Plott, The Atlantic
Sen. Chris Murphy Changes His Story on Zelensky Meeting: Audio obtained by Free Beacon calls into question senator’s accusations against Trump – Brent Scher, The Washington Free Beacon
The Missing Word in Trump’s Call: ‘Russia’ – Jim Geraghty, National Review
Chinese Official Charged in Alleged Visa Scheme to Recruit U.S. Science Talent: U.S. officials have warned that Beijing wants to exploit American universities in technology race – Aruna Viswanatha and Kate O’Keeffe, Wall Street Journal
Democrats’ High-Stakes Gamble on Impeachment: Speaker Nancy Pelosi is about to bet the House—literally—on making a successful case that President Trump should be removed from office. – Josh Kraushaar, National Journal
[Not a UK parody] Church leaders urge government to ban pointed kitchen knives – Tola Mbakwe, Premier
The Nikabrik Option – Josh Hood, Medium
U.S. Department of Justice sues Baltimore County over alleged racial discrimination in police department hiring – Pamela Wood and Wilborn P. Nobles III, Baltimore Sun
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire piece of the week
GRASS VALLEY, CA—In response to a record of nearly 10 deaths that could possibly relate to the use of e-cigarettes and vaping, lawmakers in multiple states have begun introducing legislation to curb what has clearly become an epidemic.
“The only option here is to enact a new law restricting what people can do with their own bodies!” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced while signing off on a state-wide ban on flavored e-cigarettes. He then left to give a speech on the importance of protecting a woman’s right to tear her unborn child to pieces.
Meanwhile, the California state legislature nearly outlawed all forms of vaping after spinning their giant “Wheel of Banning” to determine which activity would be legally prohibited this week. However, they had to spin again after the wheel landed between “Vaping” and “Driving P.T. Cruisers.”
Thanks for reading!