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Fiona Hill’s startling testimony shows Trump’s crime is so much worse than abuse of presidential power

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- Commentary

If you asked me what happened at the Democratic debate last night, I couldn’t tell you. I was in bed by 9. Part of me feels a little irresponsible. But only part. I’m much more focused on the president’s involvement in an international criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States. A Democrat, any Democrat, is going to be an improvement.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

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That said, I do worry about the appearance of repeating myself. The last thing I want to do, the most lethal thing I could do for my business, is bore you. For what seems like a long time, I have not let a week go by without reminding Editorial Board readers that Donald Trump wasn’t only involving Volodymyr Zelensky in an illegal scheme to benefit himself personally. He’s trying also to rewrite the history of the 2016 election to wound enemies (Joe Biden and the Democrats) and help friends (Vladimir Putin).

The entire Republican establishment has backed him up. Devin Nunes and others have shamelessly advanced the “false narrative” that it was not the Russians who attacked the US in 2016 but the Ukrainians, and that it wasn’t Trump’s campaign that conspired with foreign saboteurs but Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

This narrative has its roots in Russia. As if to remind us, Putin said yesterday that he’s glad to see the “political battles” in the US have taken the focus off his country: “Thank God, no one is accusing us of interfering in the US elections anymore; now they’re accusing Ukraine.” Indeed, everything we are seeing coming to light now has been an effort to validate—to make real—this hoary Kremlin lie. Turning falsehoods into political reality is what fascists do. There’s more here than the abuse of executive power. The president has betrayed his own country by serving another’s interests.

If Putin’s lie sticks, we won’t be able to defend ourselves adequately against Russian disinformation going into 2020, thus leaving ourselves vulnerable to a repeat of 2016. I don’t need to remind you that liberal democracy is about self-government, and that self-government relies on good information. Leaders are supposed to govern by the consent of the governed. But what is consent when the electorate believes lies?

I worry about repeating myself but it can’t be helped. For one thing, all of the above is just not getting the attention it deserves. For another, fact witnesses in the House impeachment hearings keep bringing us back to the same place, to the chagrin, it should be said, of Democratic leaders who’d like to get away from Russia talk. Today, Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council official, is set to blast the GOP for carrying Putin’s water. The following is from Hill’s prepared opening statement:

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In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests. I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine—not Russia—attacked us in 2016 (my italics).

Gordon Sondland’s testimony has been problematic. He has lacked candor, as they say in the FBI. But the EU ambassador has been consistent about suggesting a difference in Trump’s mind between Ukraine investigating its “meddling” in the 2016 election (a lie) and saying it was going to, and that saying it was more important than doing it. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff: “[Zelensky] had to get those two investigations if [he was going to get a White House visit].” Sondland: “He had to announce the investigations. He didn’t actually have to do them, as I understood it.”

Later, in an exchange with House Democratic counsel, Daniel Goldman:

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Goldman: You understood that in order to get that White House meeting that you wanted President Zelensky to have and that President Zelensky desperately wanted to have, that Ukraine would have to initiate these two investigations. Is that right?” [The second investigation was into Hunter Biden’s job at a Ukrainian energy firm.]

Sondland: Well, they would have to announce that they were going to do it.

Goldman: Right, because they—because Giuliani and President Trump didn’t actually care if they did them, right?

Sondland: I never heard, Mr. Goldman, anyone say that the investigations had to start or had to be completed. The only thing I heard from Mr. Giuliani or otherwise was that they had to be announced in some form. And that form kept changing.

Goldman: Announced publicly?

Sondland: Announced publicly.

It would be illegal for Trump to elicit foreign help in winning reelection. So the Republicans have seized on the difference between saying and doing as if it proves the president is guiltless. But it’s the reverse. It’s damning. As Editorial Board subscriber Rhea Graham put it in a question to me: “So the impeachable act was using a quid pro quo to create propaganda for treasonous purposes?” The answer to that must be yes.

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I don’t want to repeat myself. But I guess I should.


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Trump unleashes yet another maddening scandal as he opens the door to Saudi Arabian interference

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I don’t often talk about how mad I am. I don’t often talk about how mad I am, because talking often about how mad I am prevents me from speaking clearly and rationally. I want to speak clearly and rationally. There is so much need for speaking clearly and rationally amid the endless streams of waste and filth polluting our public discourse.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

But I can’t speak clearly and rationally at the expense of morality. Morality often begins with a feeling. The Gospels tell us of Jesus looking on the poor—he could hear and smell their misery—and he was “moved with pity.” But another way of putting it, another way of translating ?????????????, is that the rabbi felt compassion “in his guts.

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What the Trump impeachment inquiry means for the rest of the world

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Once again, the United States is experiencing the profound drama of Presidential impeachment proceedings. But, dissimilar from the past, this time the implications for the rest of the world could be large.

Consider the two modern predecessors to today’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald J. Trump’s attempt to persuade Ukraine’s government to begin a criminal investigation of one of his leading Democratic challengers, former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter.

The first was the slow-brewing crisis that began with a midnight break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s offices at the Watergate Hotel in Washington in 1972. This impeachment went on for two years and consumed the American political system. It finally ended in President Richard Nixon’s resignation in August 1974. The second was the special counsel investigation of President William J. Clinton, who was impeached in the U.S. House of Representatives but acquitted by the Senate in 1999.

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Cynicism may be the real threat to impeachment

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Cynicism is to democratic politics what rust is to motor vehicles. Both are corrosive if left unchecked. Rust will destroy a vehicle, and cynicism, if it becomes endemic, will ultimately destroy democracy.

This thought struck me after some recent conversations with a few friends and acquaintances about the possible impeachment of President Trump. The cynical view of the process is that all politicians are corrupt in one way or another; they act based on self-interest and not in the public interest. In this view, Trump is no different; he is just doing what politicians do. This type of public cynicism may very well be the greatest impediment that Democrats face during the impeachment process. As David Brooks recently wrote in the New York Times, “it’s a lot harder to do impeachment in an age of cynicism, exhaustion and distrust” especially when Trump’s actions are viewed by many as “the kind of corruption that politicians of all stripes have been doing all along.”

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