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