Good Friday Morning! It’s one of the most wonderful times of the year. Playoff baseball is here (Go Braves!), football is in full swing, and the weather is allegedly supposed to cool off (it’s July 73rd in Tennessee). Maybe that’s why I’ve found it harder to focus in on the Ukraine story this week and read every story — it’s hard because, in the Trump era, you absolutely cannot take any tale at face value. You have to institute a 24-36 hour rule with any “blockbuster” story to see if it can get corroborated in any way.
But I think what’s striking me the most about this Ukraine/Trump story so far is how much it’s repeating all the same rhythms and beats of the Russia story. What’s even more interesting is how little it appears anyone has learned from that story — especially in how Mueller cleared Trump in specific areas, and what that can tell us about the current account. Think of it as forgotten lessons of the Mueller report. Links to follow.
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 the new impeachment push by Democrats and walks through the whistleblower report released by the House intelligence committee, going through each section of the report. Next up is a discussion of a brief clip released by the Texas Tribune of Chris Hayes and Sen. Ted Cruz talking about climate change at a summit in Texas. Finally, the last topic is a new study released by Jon Haidt and friends about the differing moral concerns of liberals and conservatives and where we can see that in the world around us.
If Dems want impeachment, they need votes – not tweets – The Conservative Institute
You’re going to need votes to make it to an impeachment — speeches by Pelosi and others about impeachment inquiries won’t do the trick.
The Democrats are all-in on impeachment as they look to 2020 – The Conservative Institute
Democrats have chosen to push all their chips to the center of the table on one strategy for 2020 — it’s a bold strategy, Cotton…
Donald Trump’s Groundhog Day
There’s an early scene in the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, where Murray’s character is wandering through the hotel, and he stops and asks, “Hey, do you ever have deja vu, Mrs. Lancaster?” She replies, “I don’t know, but I can check in the kitchen.”
Has anyone else had deja vu on this Ukraine story? Because I’m feeling it. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Donald Trump requests for a foreign power to investigate or release information about a political rival, the media goes nuts, and the two sides go to their corners to fight and talk past each other about whether or not the political rival did anything unsavory, or the bad actions of Trump asking a foreign country for help in his campaign.
I feel like I’ve been over this cliff before with a crazy-eyed groundhog driving the car. I feel like I’ve seen this day before, and everyone is acting or reacting the same. I feel like I’m waking up to a news story with the alarm clock blaring, “I got you, Babe,” by Sonny and Cher. And instead of stopping and looking at what’s happening, everyone is just checking the kitchen.
The only real difference this time is that Trump is President, instead of just a candidate asking for Russia to release Clinton’s missing emails. Trump’s the President suggesting Ukraine or China should step in and investigate the Bidens. But all the motivations, actions, reactions, and outrages are nearly identical.
Before I get any further, I want to restate my three priors as we entered this new impeachment cycle. I’m presuming three things have happened here.
- Donald Trump likely committed an “impeachable offense.” He committed some form of an immoral act, or at a minimum, had the motivation to commit a bad act.
- I fully expect there to be something untoward or bad about Joe Biden or Hunter Biden’s actions in Ukraine or China. Sarah Chayes at the Atlantic wrote a piece titled: “Hunter Biden’s Perfectly Legal, Socially Acceptable Corruption: Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense, but prominent Americans also shouldn’t be leveraging their names for payoffs from shady clients abroad.” I think that about sums things up — just because something is legal, doesn’t make it right.
- The Whistleblower was likely politically motivated, much in a manner that James Comey, the FBI, and others connected to the Russia probe were (Strzok and Page). Put another way; I’m expecting some bad act with the whistleblower.
I’ve yet to see anything to dissuade me from that thought process. These aren’t much different than the Russia probe, where over time it became clear that: 1) Trump and his campaign wanted to commit acts of collusion, they were just either inept or too bumbling to be successful, 2) the FBI charged with investigating him was corrupt, 3) the Clintons actually were corrupt, and 4) the media fell over themselves on so many wrongly reported stories that they sunk their credibility and that of the investigation.
Returning to the Mueller report
I want to return to a point I made in a column on the Mueller report. I summed up the report by saying this:
Generally speaking, in criminal law, you have to have two elements to have a crime: actus rea and mens rea. Actus rea refers to the action a person takes. Mens rea refers to the intent behind that action. A person generally has to knowingly, purposefully, recklessly, or negligently take action to prompt a criminal charge; if you lack either element, you don’t have a crime.
You’ll find plenty of actus rea in the Mueller report — plenty of meetings, phone calls, or tweets, that suggest potential wrongdoing. But the report makes it clear throughout that there’s no mens rea, or intent, behind the major players in this investigation, such as Trump and his family.
For every event where you had one element of a crime, you lacked another. That was the story behind the collusion narrative, sure there were events all over the place, but you couldn’t connect them in a way that would allow criminal charges to stick.
The other thing that happened with the Mueller report is that it nuked the credibility of the Steele dossier and other pet theories on the left. It looks, from all evidence that we had, that Christopher Steele got taken for a ride by his old Russian friends who were more than happy to pass along fake intelligence to screw with him.
That’s not to say there wasn’t impeachable conduct in the Mueller report — there was. The line for what constitutes impeachable conduct is much smaller than what people act like it is — if Congress can pull the votes together in the House and Senate, they can impeach any reason they want. Impeachment is meant to be an escape hatch for the country for if the President takes actions that breach the public trust so badly that waiting for an election is beyond the pale — immediate action is required.
There’s plenty of things in the Mueller report you can point at and say: this is a breach of the public trust, and the President should get impeached over it.
But despite all of this, Democrats have refused to pursue impeachment. Just because something is impeachable conduct, doesn’t mean impeachment necessarily follows. Nor does it mean the impeachable conduct breaches the public trust in such a way as to demand impeachment. The Founders understood this, Hamilton laid it out in Federalist 65, describing it as follows:
The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.
That big capitalized word, POLITICAL, is critical — it’s a political breach of trust. That’s why you can’t untangle the political calculations here from the actual conduct getting discussed.
I think all this impeachment talk will end the same as the last. Like the Mueller report, you can find plenty of actions by Trump that suggest wrongdoing. The trouble won’t be action. It’ll be motivation, or the mens rea.
The United States was sending foreign aid to Ukraine while a new administration took over. There’s no evidence the delayed funding was a part of the July 25th call, and there’s no evidence Ukraine or Trump has taken any action linking funding to that request. Trump’s Thursday press conference, in which he suggested that China and Ukraine do those investigations, also brings out that none of these countries has done anything with Trump’s demands.
None of this is to say Trump’s behavior is right — it’s not — it’s just very likely he’s going to get saved through his incompetence and that of everyone around him. Combine that with the lack of votes Democrats have in an actual impeachment vote, and you get the terrible political environment developing for Democrats.
Could they impeach Trump? Sure. They could. But the less they can make stick, the more likely it is the Senate will be incentivized to spit by an all-clear verdict.
I also tend to think Democrats are on a running clock with their impeachment claims. FiveThirtyEight started an impeachment poll average, for which I’m endlessly grateful. If you glance at it, you’ll notice support for impeachment appears to have already peaked and leveled off. It wouldn’t shock me to see those numbers start drifting back towards the overall average the closer to primary elections we get. If Democrats believe in impeachment, they’ll have to do it soon. Otherwise, nothing will happen — these aren’t steady political winds, they’re microbursts.
The White House seems to realize most of this, which is why they’re moving, according to Axios, to force Democrats to hold a vote on the impeachment inquiry issue. It’s a way to force Democrats to vote themselves on the record on the impeachment questions without voting for an actual impeachment. There’s a lot of political maneuvering that’ll happen around this issue.
Links of the week
Joe Biden is no longer a front-runner – Byron York, The Washington Examiner
In leaked audio, Mark Zuckerberg rallies Facebook against critics, competitors, and Elizabeth Warren – Casey Newton, The Verge
Ukraine Was Still Checking Its Bank Account For US Aid For A Month After The Trump Call: Ukraine believed $391 million in military aid was already on its way to Kyiv when Trump and Zelensky spoke, three officials told BuzzFeed News. – Christopher Miller, BuzzFeedNews
Why Elizabeth Warren is getting such good press – David Byler, The Washington Post
If Hunter Biden Is Fair Game, So Are Trump’s Kids: Defenders of Trump would seem to be conceding that a President Kamala Harris could pressure foreign leaders to investigate Don Jr., Eric, and Ivanka Trump for corrupt business dealings. – Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic
New York Times quietly deletes claim the NRA sought a quid pro quo from the White House – Becket Adams, The Washington Examiner
The Impeachment Bellwethers: These are the members of Congress to keep track of as momentum for impeachment builds. – Josh Kraushaar, National Journal
‘Harry. Stay Awake.’ Supreme Court Justices Caught Passing Notes: Handwritten notes that justices gave to each other are becoming public; ‘Griffey flied out to center, w/bases loaded. NO SCORE’ – Jess Bravin, The Wall Street Journal
The Corruption Before Trump: How high-minded self-dealing paved the way for our low-minded president. – Ross Douthat, The New York Times
Why doesn’t Trump’s tough talk on China extend to Uighur persecution? – Jonah Goldberg, The LA Times
The Problem with Impeachment – Rich Lowry, National Review
Kamala Harris Has Missed Her Chances So Far. Will Impeachment Be Any Different? Kamala Harris the presidential candidate often doesn’t look like Kamala Harris the prosecutor. – Molly Hensley-Clancy, BuzzFeedNews
Adolescents Go Wild—And Not Just Humans: The risky behavior of teenagers has parallels in otters, gazelles, eagles and other animals, and helps them to survive as adults – Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers, The Wall Street Journal
Elizabeth Warren’s rising popularity has been limited to Democrats – Harry Enten, CNN
Is Impeachment the End of the Road for Most of the 2020 Field? – Gabriel Debenedetti, New York Magazine
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire piece of the week
I really enjoyed the Saturday Night Live skit mocking the Democratic Presidential debates. Check it out here. I also found it quite telling that even they are going easy on Elizabeth Warren in the mocking department.
U.S. — Media outlets are issuing warnings that excessive displays of forgiveness and mercy could wreak havoc on hundreds of years of outrage progress. The warning comes in response to a high-profile case this week in which former police officer Amber Guyger, who is white, was found guilty of the murder of Botham Jean, a black man, in his Dallas home. Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Brandt Jean, Botham’s younger brother, made a victim impact statement, saying he forgave her, setting back race progress hundreds of years. Brandt then asked the judge if he could give Guyger a hug. The judge foolishly allowed it, setting back race relations hundreds more years.
“What people have to understand is, if we keep toying around with all this grace and mercy stuff, this whole racial divide could come toppling down,” explained Brad Hunter of CBS News. “Are people really ready to say goodbye to that? I must say that, as a journalist, I, for one, am not.”
“What Brandt Jean did in that courtroom sets black people back hundreds of years. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say it sets us back about 2000 years,” said Janelle Taylor of ABC. “What year does he think this is? 33 AD?”
Thanks for reading!