Category Archives: Trump

Trump vs Schiff??

 WSJ 12/7/2019

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.

BUSINESS WORLD

By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

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Mr. Schiff’s Impeachment Opus

 WSJ 12/4/2019

These columns warned that once the machinery of impeachment was up and running, it would be impossible to stop. And so on Tuesday Adam Schiff released his House Intelligence Committee report on Ukraine that finds President Trump guilty of playing domestic politics with foreign policy. But it’s clear the President’s real sin is being the willful, undisciplined Donald Trump voters elected.

The bulk of Mr. Schiff’s 300-page opus is a prosecutorial account of Mr. Trump’s four-month attempt to persuade new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce investigations into corruption and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election. It is not a flattering tale, and it would make a compelling plank in a 2020 campaign indictment of Mr. Trump’s character and poor judgment.

But Mr. Schiff’s report casts himself and his cause as much grander. He is Adam at the bridge of our republic, heroic defender of American democracy. His introduction is worth quoting at length to capture his pretensions to nonpartisan statesmanship.

“The decision to move forward with an impeachment inquiry is not one we took lightly. Under the best of circumstances, impeachment is a wrenching process for the nation. I resisted calls to undertake an impeachment investigation for many months on that basis, notwithstanding the existence of presidential misconduct that I believed to be deeply unethical and damaging to our democracy,” he writes.

But in the end he heard the call of duty: “In making the decision to move forward, we were struck by the fact that the President’s misconduct was not an isolated occurrence, nor was it the product of a naïve president. Instead, the efforts to involve Ukraine in our 2020 presidential election were undertaken by a President who himself was elected in 2016 with the benefit of an unprecedented and sweeping campaign of election interference undertaken by Russia in his favor, and which the President welcomed and utilized.”

Here Mr. Schiff reveals the real impeachment motivation: Mr. Trump never would have won in 2016 without Vladimir Putin’s help, but Robert Mueller failed to prove that. So Democrats are settling for the lesser melodrama of Ukraine, an unchained Rudy Giuliani, and Joe and Hunter Biden. The details may not add up to much more than Mr. Trump obsessing about what he thinks Ukraine did in 2016, but it’s all the Democrats have.

The report’s summary sentence reveals the weakness of its case with overstatement: “The president placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security.”

Yet every President seeks some political advantage in pursuing foreign policy. That includes Barack Obama when he asked Dmitry Medvedev to tell Mr. Putin to go easy on missile defense until after the 2012 election.

As for undermining election integrity, that was Bill Clinton when he vacuumed foreign campaign contributions from the Riadys and multiple other foreigners in 1996. Or Hillary Clinton in 2016 when her campaign financed Christopher Steele to spread Russian disinformation on Mr. Trump to the media and FBI.

Mr. Trump, in his reckless way, asked President Zelensky for the “favor” of investigating Joe Biden and tried to delay military aid. But as Senator Ron Johnson relates in his recent letter that is a more even-handed account of events, Mr. Trump’s attempts were resisted across Washington and ultimately failed.

None of this undermined elections or “endangered” U.S. national security because there was no investigation and the aid was never withheld. Even if aid had been withheld, that would merely have put U.S. policy back to where it was when Mr. Obama denied Ukraine lethal military aid for several years until Mr. Trump provided it.

***

The Starr report laid out irrefutable evidence that Mr. Clinton lied to a grand jury and tampered with witnesses. Those were criminal offenses. The evidence that Richard Nixon obstructed justice was also clear once the tapes became public. By contrast, Mr. Schiff’s report mentions no specific crime and is full of too many inferences and overbroad assertions to provide a convincing impeachment case.

This explains why Mr. Schiff’s report won’t gather a single Republican vote, and why this impeachment will remain partisan. On this score, we had to smile at Mr. Schiff’s high-toned invocation of the Founding Fathers’ fear of “excessive factionalism.” He claims to be defending “democracy’ against “the power of faction” that would dare defend Mr. Trump against impeachment. Like the President, Mr. Schiff lacks the virtue of being self-aware.

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Anti-trump project

Daniel Henninger – WSJ 11/14/2019

Nancy Pelosi was right the first time. The Democrats shouldn’t have done this. They should not have tried to make the already over-w helmed American public believe that Donald Trump’s umpteenth “norms” violation was a constitutional crisis. But no, the party’s leftmost elements insisted, and the Beltway press insisted. Mr. Trump had to be impeached.

Once he had survived the Republican primaries in 2016 and then beaten Hillary Clinton by tapping into a slice of overlooked voters, most serious people got on with the business of coming to grips, if not terms, with this unconventional, pugnacious presidency.

But not these people. The political and media left convinced themselves it was somehow possible to make the Trump presidency end before its November 2020 sell-by date. So here we are, three long years later, with Adam Schiff ending his opening impeachment statement by quoting Benjamin Franklin about “a republic, if you can keep it.” That bad, huh?

The testimony by the two U.S. ambassadors was fascinating, especially the account given by Bill Taylor, who like many others had the misfortune of finding himself in the center of one of Mr. Trump’s impetuous foreign-policy decisions.

In what he admitted was a “lengthy” statement, Mr. Taylor described how the U.S.’s single-channel policy of helping Ukraine defend itself from Vladimir Putin’s Russia suddenly became “two channels” after Rudy Giuliani introduced Mr. Trump’s monomania over an earlier Ukrainian government’s possible collusion with Democrats to defeat him in 2016.

Ambassador Taylor was correct that what the U.S. had been doing in Ukraine comported with the Trump National Security Strategy of resisting persistent aggressions by Russia and China. In early 2019, that included helping Ukraine’s newly elected government and its young president, Volodymyr Zelensky, stand up to Mr. Putin’s murderous little green men in eastern Ukraine.

Mr. Taylor’s substantive point was that the Trump-Giuliani channel undercut a sound U.S. policy course when suddenly military assistance to Ukraine got caught up in Mr. Trump’s desire, or need, to have the Ukrainians investigate the Bidens.

So what else is new? Internal policy battles of this intensity are a constant of government life. Other than dragging in the Bidens, this is hardly different from a host of similar Trumpian foreign-policy interventions: his decision after the first summit with Kim Jong Un to reduce military exercises with South Korea; the 2018 decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, which caused Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign; his decision in 2017 to impose tariffs on virtually all the major U.S. trading partners, no matter the effect on domestic farmers and businesses; his decision last month to pull U.S. forces in northern Syria away from the Kurds, who he said “didn’t help us with Normandy.”

My own favorite of stillborn Trump foreign-policy ideas was his tweet, days before the anniversary of 9/11 this year: “Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday.” The Taliban at Camp David—now that would have been impeachable.

All these decisions, and not least the events with Ukraine, are absolutely valid voting issues for the next election. If you’re disgusted by the Trump-Giuliani Ukraine back-channel, don’t vote for him. If you think Mr. Trump’s protectionism and isolationism are bad for America’s future, don’t vote for him.

It would have been valid as well if the Democrats had chosen to conduct normal oversight hearings into the Ukraine whistleblower’s complaint— with witnesses called and questioned by both sides and the public allowed to watch and decide. But why are Americans being forced to endure the elevation of the Ukraine saga into the current impeachment melodrama?

Presumably the Democratic left and its allies believe the faux gravity of “impeachment” will grind down Mr. Trump’s support at the margin and jack up anti-Trump turnout. One wonders.

Once past the inevitable vote in the House to impeach, and then assuming Mitch McConnell bothers to hold a Senate trial, this will be over by the end of January. With impeachment, the Democrats finally will have dropped their nuclear device on Donald Trump. After that, what’s left?

No doubt many voters are sitting on the Trump bubble, uncertain whether to sign up for another spin with him or whatever the Democrats are supposed to represent now. Medicare for All? Former GOP House Speaker John Boehner’s wheel-spinning term looks like a legislative golden age compared to what Mrs. Pelosi has done with her majority.

What the speaker may have recognized this summer is that the activists’ take down Trump project was turning into three wasted years, and that voters might go looking for someone to blame for that. Once the Adam Schiff show closes, undecided voters will have about 10 months to decide if his politics of pursuit and retribution has been worth the trouble.

Write henninger@wsj.com.

WONDER LAND

By Daniel Henninger

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What Barr Should Declassify

The story you won’t hear on most news outlets..

WSJ  7/3/2019

Finally America has its George Smiley, the fictional master spy from the John le Carré novels. Smiley knew the importance of a spy agency being willing to get to the bottom of its own major cock-ups.

Attorney General William Barr has been given power by Donald Trump to declassify classified material. He told CBS that stories offered by the FBI about its investigation of the Trump campaign don’t “hang together.” The same could be said for a more consequential enigma of the 2016 election, concerning the alleged Russian intelligence that lay behind the FBI’s intervention in the Hillary Clinton email case.

Remind yourself what happened: James Comey, on his sole initiative, held a press conference to announce that, though Mrs. Clinton had behaved improperly, she did not merit prosecution. Except it wasn’t his decision to make: It was the Justice Department’s We know that Mr. Comey secretly explained his action by invoking still-classified Russian intelligence. In his memoir, he refers to a development “unknown to the American public to this day.” In fact, we know from news leaks that a Russian intercept of some kind cited a Democratic Party email that referred to an alleged conversation in which Attorney General Loretta Lynch promised to bury the Hillary Clinton investigation.

On the surface, the Russian intelligence indicated political corruption at the Justice Department and yet Mr. Comey rejected this self-advertised significance. He didn’t investigate. He didn’t tell the Justice Department. He used his possession of the classified intercept as his classified justification for intervening to free Mrs. Clinton from the email matter in time for the Democratic Convention.

The questions about this episode are many. Mr. Barr could start by releasing the classified appendix of the Justice Department’s own inspector general’s review (whose existence the media uniformly ignores). Even this would probably not tell us the back story of the Russian intercept, which likely came to the FBI from the CIA. In what sense was it authentic “intelligence”? Was it a Russian plant? What advice did Obama intelligence chiefs John Brennan and James Clapper give Mr. Comey about its provenance and significance? Most dubiously of all, how did it actually justify Mr. Comey’s intervention?

He has said he worried the information would leak and discredit the Justice Department but it still could have leaked. How did he improve matters in a way that benefited his country? In fact, by his actions, didn’t he guarantee that the information would eventually become public (though perhaps not before the election)?

Let me be plain: It seems possible the CIA and FBI concocted, based on questionable (at best) Russian “intelligence,” a pretext to do what they wanted to do anyway and finesse the Hillary email problem. The gallumphingly anomalous factor should only deepen your suspicion. Mr. Comey reopened the Hillary case shortly before Election Day, a step he says he took believing Mrs. Clinton would still win. Why do this except to dilute a post hoc impression that your original intervention had been designed to help Mrs. Clinton and keep Donald Trump out of the White House?

Similar questions arise from the FBI’s use of the Steele dossier and its peddling to a U.S. court what it knew was a false and implausible story about Carter Page. Here as well the FBI seems quite possibly to have been abusing its intelligence role for domestic political ends.

People of high ethical character don’t prate about their high ethical character. Mr. Comey prates. He would not be the first neurotic to publicly idealize those qualities he lacks. He would not be the first to dress up his shallow, devious, impulsive and expedient decision-making—the only kind he’s capable of—in high moral purpose. He likes to quote Reinhold Niebuhr. It was Niebuhr who said public men like Mr. Comey become experts in “unconscious and conscious identification of their special interests with general interests and universal values.”

And yet the colossal dumbness of it all is what sticks in mind now: To attach the FBI’s reputation to the partisan and juvenile Steele dossier; to meddle so clumsily in a presidential election as to end up producing the opposite of your desired result.

Here’s betting the pieces of the 2016 story won’t fall into place until the FBI and CIA intervention in the Hillary email case is recognized as one of those pieces. Will Mr. Barr pursue these matters as energetically as he has intelligence-agency actions directed at the Trump campaign? He hasn’t said. Mr. Trump may be unenthusiastic about an inquiry that would incidentally highlight Mr. Comey’s bumbling contribution to his victory. And yet the full story might support his claim that his victory was partly a triumph over a hostile, incompetent and corrupt establishment. The way to start clearing the air is by releasing the classified portion of the inspector general’s report on Mr. Comey’s actions in the Hillary Clinton email case.

BUSINESS WORLD

By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

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