Impeachment Inquiry features faulty GOP counter narratives
Everyone that is paying attention, is following the open hearings at the Capitol, where committee witnesses are being interviewed by Democrats and Republicans. As such, we won’t get too far into that, other than sharing just a few observations.
The main argument GOP House members seem to be advancing – and this will be consistent going forward, is that the testimony of Ambassador Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, George Kent, is “hearsay” and that as such, has no probative value.
Typical was Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), advancing the objection that “neither Ambassador Taylor nor Ambassador Kent has ever met Donald Trump or discussed Ukraine policy with him. And they are the star witnesses of the Impeachment hearings?”
Echoing that was Rep. Michael Turner: (R-OH), who must have stumbled across Jordan’s crib notes:
Okay, so you both know that this impeachment inquiry is about the President of the United States, don’t you? I mean, the man that neither one of you have had any contact with, you’re the first up witnesses. I just find that a little amazing, that the first up, would be two people who have never had any contact with the President himself.
The whole line of argument inherent in that, is incompetent and irrelevant. The presupposition there is that if Taylor and Kent did have direct access to Trump, Trump would have disclosed his intentions to extract negative information about a political rival for personal benefit.
Since the meeting didn’t occur, he (Trump) did not personally convey any such intentions, therefore Jordan and Turner are saying that as a result, we must maintain an agnostic view of all the other evidence that substantiates Trump’s intentions.
It should be also noted that Jordan is making up the claim that Democrats have labeled Taylor and Kent as “star witnesses”. No one has been thus designated. The contention that hearsay is of no consequence, was forcefully rebutted by Rep. Mike Quigley, (D-IL), who stated,
And, I guess to close, a primer on hearsay, I think the American public needs reminded that countless people have been convicted on hearsay, because the courts have routinely allowed and created needed exceptions to hearsay. Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct as we have learned in painful instances.
Another line pursued was that of Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX). Ratcliffe maintains that the president could not possibly be charged with having extorted the Ukrainian president, because President Zelenskyy never followed through with Trump’s demands of an openly announced investigation of the Bidens.
Related to that is his recitation of the interviews engaged in by Ukrainian President Zelenskyy with various media in which he demurred that he felt pressured by Trump to investigate the Bidens.
Ratcliffe said, for the benefit of the cameras,
“Therefore, there was no blackmail because it was not the subject of our conversation with the president of the United States. There were no conditions on the investigation, either because of arms or the situation around Burisma company. He told [inaudible ] there was no blackmail. He told the L.A. Times there was no pressure or blackmail from the United States. He told Japan’s Kyoto news, “I was never pressured and there were no conditions being imposed.” He told ABC news and the BBC, “I’m against corruption. This is not corruption. It was just a call.”
It’s perhaps an interesting line, unless you understand the essential nature of extortion (for which Ratcliffe cleverly substitutes the term “blackmail”) – and in any other context, Ratcliffe, a former U.S. Attorney, would and should understand.
First of all, extortion is defined as “the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats.” We can substitute here, the word “money”, with “a thing of value”.
Now, Trump’s clearly expressed demand for Zelenskyy to cooperate with him by ordering an investigation of the Bidens, according to U.S. law, is extortion no matter what the perception of the victim is or is reported to be. A violation only requires an attempt. This is where Ratcliffe and Devin Nunes are attempting to mislead the public.
But in this instance, where the target of the extortionist becomes aware of the specifics of the attempt, we can obviously recognize that the victim is in the sort of classic quandary so typical of extortion attempts. Here is Zelenskyy’s predicament.
Zelenskyy discovers that the security assistance is in a state of suspension. As president, it is Zelenskyy’s responsibility to see to it that field commanders fighting a front line battle against an aggressive neighbor and are in a desperate need of the weapons and supplies, receive them no matter what sort of false front must be maintained.
Accordingly, while the assistance is being suspended and knowing Trump’s motivations, plus his anger toward people who prove “disloyal”, the last thing Vlodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine is going to do is to risk Trump canceling the aid altogether, by admitting he is the subject of a shakedown.
Democrats seem to prefer the charge of “bribery” because that term is specifically enumerated in Article II, Section 4, but when the circumstances of the act are examined closely, extortion is more accurate.
The blockbuster from Wednesday’s hearing was the disclosure that Ambassador Taylor learned of a conversation between one of his staffers and the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
The staffer told Taylor that he overheard Sondland speaking directly to Trump on the phone, and Trump brought up the subject of the investigations. Taylor’s staffer then asked Sondland about Trump’s outlook on Ukraine at the end of the call. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for,” Taylor told the committee.
You can review the transcript of the entire session, here.
Despite what Trump boosters, in and out of Congress, think about Trump’s behavior and how it squares up with the requirements and the limitations of his office as devised by the framers of the Constitution, Fox News contributor, Judge Andrew Napolitano, takes a very dim view of the president’s actions.
He spells out the manner in which Trump has exceeded the boundaries established by our national charter. It doubtlessly caused indigestion to network viewers whose ordinary preference is to hear Trump’s crimes and corruption equivocated.
Fox’s Judge Napolitano is so, so, so done with Trump. pic.twitter.com/dHLVWpHU5m
— Brian Tyler Cohen (@briantylercohen) November 12, 2019
“Whistleblower testimony denied?”
A sign of how thread bare the GOP defense of Trump stands at this point, is that his backers are continuing to resort to litigate the identity of the first whistle blower and insist that he or she appear to testify.
Apart from the fact that the law provides for the confidentiality of this individual, the whistle blower is already entirely irrelevant, for the laughably simple reason that this person’s complaint has subsequently been confirmed by other individuals, including some first hand witnesses to the incident that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry. Not surprisingly, Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) concurs:
“The whistleblower has a right under laws championed by this Committee to remain anonymous and to be protected from harm.” Schiff also pointed out, as I have, that because this witnesses testimony has corroborated the allegations the whistleblower made in his complaint, his testimony would be “redundant and unnecessary.”
Devin Nunes made me hungry during the Impeachment Inquiry hearings
As I was listening to the hearing – National Public Radio was providing gavel to gavel coverage – one sequence of the proceedings particularly captured my imagination. I heard a person being referred to as Chalupa.
What sprang to mind immediately, was Taco Bell. The “Bell” as some of their aficionados like to refer to them, feature a menu item they either invented or have popularized, called a “Chalupa”. I was wondering if someone was just getting hungry and it was an inadvertent reference.
I later discovered it was not. Republicans are injecting a different Chalupa in their line of diversionary questioning. Here is the portion of the hearings in which the reference arises:
Devin Nunes: “What’s strange is that some of the witnesses at these hearings and previous depositions, who express alarm about these inquiries, were remarkably uninformed about these indications of Ukrainian election meddling, and why the President may have been concerned by them.
For example, I noted previously, Alexandra Chalupa, former staffer for the Democratic National Committee, admitted to Politico that she worked with officials at the Ukrainian embassy in Washington, DC to dig up dirt on the Trump campaign, which she passed on to the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign. Chalupa revealed that Ukrainian embassy officials themselves were also working directly with reporters to trade information and leads about the Trump campaign.”
So, what is this all about? Not surprisingly, it’s about a lot of nothing. You might say this is the shell of a Chalupa with no filling. Not very satisfying.
CNN originally spoke to Ms. Chalupa, a Ukrainian-American activist and Democratic consultant to clarify the specifics about her involvement and interaction with the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
She told the the network that, “During the 2016 US election, I was a part time consultant for the DNC running an ethnic engagement program. I was not an opposition researcher for the DNC, and the DNC never asked me to go to the Ukrainian Embassy to collect information.”
Ms. Chalupa explained the extent of her consultation. “When it was announced that the Trump campaign hired (Paul) Manafort, many Ukrainian-Americans were alarmed and concerned it was an early signal that Putin was trying to influence the US election. At that time, I flagged for the DNC the significance of his hire based on information in the public domain.”
“Public Domain”. Certainly no skullduggery involved. The same sorts of open source information that you and I have ready access to if we have an internet connection. Clearly what the Republicans are attempting here is to legitimize their counter-narrative.
The Ukrainian government itself, poured icy cold water on Republican insinuations, stating officially:
“The Embassy of Ukraine has never coordinated with the DNC on opposition research. Embassy officials worked with Alexandra Chalupa and a Ukrainian-American advocacy group last year on cultural events, but they did not assist Alexandra in providing any information related to the US election. While some politicians who are not part of the Ukrainian government might have taken sides during last year’s election, the government and the Embassy of Ukraine did not.”
This is a component of a package of unfounded innuendos intended to advance an argument that there were improper activities that justified Trump to request Ukraine investigate conspiracy theories that had been circulated by Giuliani associates in Ukraine, channeled to discredited opinion writer John Solomon through Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity and eventually to Donald Trump.
This is an example of the sort of unsatisfying empty calorie menu items that the GOP is hoping to sell voters who are paying attention to the inquiry hearings. Go get yourself a real Chalupa.
Full disclosure, I have no financial or monetary relationship to the Taco Bell organization, but if I did, I certainly wouldn’t complain about it.