Hearings were hardly necessary to show that Donald Trump, in all too characteristic a fashion, took interest in his administration’s Ukraine policy only when he saw a chance to lard on Ukrainian announcements that he could throw back in the face of domestic critics who questioned his 2016 legitimacy.
So why does Adam Schiff feel the need to stretch every truth beyond the breaking point in a House Intelligence Committee impeachment report released this week?
A media transcript plainly shows that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was not referring to a Ukraine quid pro quo when he said politics will influence foreign policy and that critics should “get over it.” Ambassador Gordon Sondland merely “presumed” that Mr. Trump sought a quid pro quo from Ukraine. Why falsely characterize these men’s statements, as the Schiff report does, when doing so is unnecessary to convince anyone that Mr. Trump nevertheless envisioned a quid pro quo?
Mr. Schiff claims Mr. Trump delayed “critical military aid” to Ukraine, but offers no evidence that the aid was critical. (The missiles discussed in Mr. Trump’s supposedly incriminating call with Ukraine’s president were not even part of the holdup.) He insists Mr. Trump’s dealings undermined U.S. national interests, but a president is perfectly entitled to differ with Mr. Schiff over what constitutes the national interest. With a casualness you expect only from the media, he relies heavily on the fallacy that wishing to examine Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election is tantamount to denying Russian meddling.
Mr. Schiff must gild the few lilies in his possession to distract from a glaring omission in his own proceedings. “Fact witnesses” were called to discuss whether there was a quid pro quo, but none were called to give evidence on whether the “quos” Mr. Trump sought from Ukraine were unfounded or illegal.
Don’t underestimate this sign of Mr. Schiff’s disingenuousness. However much the media lies about it now, a Ukrainian official allied with the then-Poroshenko government spoke openly to the Financial Times in 2016 of his work to ensure Mr. Trump’s defeat. Ditto the Bidens: Mr. Trump may be barking up the wrong tree in some ways, but Joe Biden is not just Mr. Trump’s present-day “political rival.” He is a former vice president who, when tasked to help clean up corruption in Ukraine, allowed his unqualified, drug-addict son to receive a lucrative board seat at a Ukrainian company under investigation for corruption.
These are subjects whose illegitimacy must be proved, not just assumed. And yet missing from the final report is any evidence that broaching them with the Ukrainians amounted to the crimes of bribery, extortion or campaign-law violation that Mr. Schiff once told us it did.
Instead, Mr. Schiff insinuates a motive he’s not prepared to state clearly, one designed as much to rescue his own reputation as slur Mr. Trump’s. This is his report’s reference to Mr. Trump as a president “elected in 2016 with the benefit of an unprecedented and sweeping campaign of election interference undertaken by Russia in his favor.”
In fact, Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society painstakingly examined the social-media evidence and found Russia’s impact on the election to be trivial. More to the point, the authors concluded: “If the biggest win for Russian information operations is to disorient American political communications, then overstating the impact of those efforts actually helps consolidate their success.”
Bingo. Mr. Schiff may not be a Russian agent but he qualifies as a Kremlin asset in the sense that Hillary Clinton has been known to use the term. Example: Nothing in Mr. Trump’s words and actions, and nothing in the testimony of any witness, supported the claim with which Mr. Schiff began his hearings, that Mr. Trump asked Ukraine to “make up dirt, lots of it” on the Bidens.
Is this not the kind of shameless twisting of the facts the Kremlin’s own propagandists use to sow discord and bitterness? Mr. Schiff later fibbed and said he was engaging in “parody,” but anybody can listen to his remarks and hear him insisting his rendition is the accurate “essence” of Mr. Trump’s “rambling” presentation.
Which raises a question. Festooning their impeachment case with lies and innuendo of the sort Mr. Schiff specialized in during the collusion fiasco is hardly a way for Democrats to win over the noncommitted. Indeed, why allow someone so discredited with Trump voters and Middle America to be the face of this effort in the first place? Answer: Because we’re having this impeachment for no other reason than to appease the House left and save Nancy Pelosi’s speakership when and if Donald Trump is re-elected.
By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.