September 30, 2019

Whistleblower Complaint Released

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On Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee released the whistleblower complaint regarding President Donald Trump and Ukraine.House Intelligence Committee

See our prior coverage of the issue here and here. The Flip Side

See past issues

From the Left

The left finds the whistleblower complaint credible, and argues that Trump should be impeached for abusing the power of the Oval Office.

“What is striking is the tone of the whistleblower's complaint: This is a savvy Washington bureaucrat. This person is quite familiar with the law as it applies to whistleblowers and savvy enough to have presented his/her complaint at an unclassified level (with some classified material in an appendix) so that when it publicly surfaced… the public could make its own judgments about the nature of the whistleblower's complaints against President Trump and his enablers.”
Peter Bergen, CNN

“White House officials ordered information about President Trump’s phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky to be removed from the classified server typically used to store such information and placed on a hyper-secure ‘code word’ server. Such special protections are typically reserved for material of the gravest sensitivity: detailed information about covert operations, for example, where exposure can get people killed… It is difficult to overstate just how abnormal and suspicious treating the call in that manner would be. It strongly suggests White House staff knew of serious wrongdoing by the president and attempted to bury it — a profound abuse of classified systems for political, and possibly criminal, purposes.”
Kelly Magsamen, Washington Post

“As the whistleblower notes, the intent was to ‘lock down’ evidence of the conversation. This move shows us that Trump's closest advisers recognized quickly that the call posed a major problem and bucked normal protocol to try to hide it. Lawyers call this ‘consciousness of guilt’ -- meaning that when people try to hide evidence or influence witnesses or otherwise obstruct justice, they typically do so for a reason. This kind of proof can be devastating in court

“[Moreover] Giuliani's involvement in Trump's efforts to have Ukraine gather dirt on political opponents is itself a major problem for Trump: why on earth was Giuliani -- a private citizen and not an employee of the US government -- involved in any of this at all? The answer, it seems, is that Trump's dealings with Ukraine were intended for his own personal and political benefit and not for (or perhaps at the expense of) the best interests of the United States.”
Elie Honig, CNN

“Trump has never recognized any distinction between his public and private life. Extraordinarily, he didn’t divest from his businesses even while serving as president. Even worse, he treated the government as if it were his property. The Ukraine scandal is another case of Trump treating the executive branch as though it had been acquired by the Trump Organization…

“[Representative Mark Meadows] observed in the president’s defense, ‘He didn’t see anything wrong with the conversation he had with a foreign leader.’ That is probably accurate. Trump has a finely honed antenna for assessing winner versus loser, or loyal versus disloyal. But the formulation of moral concepts is not a function he can perform… No American president has more richly deserved impeachment.”
Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine

Regarding the Bidens, “There are no indications that Hunter’s activities swayed any decision his father made as vice president. Joe Biden did pressure Ukraine’s fledgling post-Yanukovych president to remove a public prosecutor—as part of concerted U.S. policy. So did every other Western government and dozens of Ukrainian and international pro-democracy activists. The problem was not that the prosecutor was too aggressive with corrupt businessman-politicians like Hunter Biden’s boss; it was that he was too lenient…

“And Hunter Biden was hardly the only prominent American who did well for himself during Ukraine’s transition. Another Burisma director was Cofer Black, George W. Bush’s CIA counterterrorism chief. The Republican operative and future Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort worked for Yanukovych. So did Obama White House Counsel Gregory Craig… All too often, the scandal isn’t that the conduct in question is forbidden by federal law, but rather, how much scandalous conduct is perfectly legal—and broadly accepted… Impeachment alone will not end our national calamity. If we want to help our country heal, we must start holding ourselves, our friends, and our allies—and not just our enemies—to its highest standards.”
Sarah Chayes, The Atlantic

Finally, “While Trump’s ‘spy’ comments were certainly shocking, in reality, they are actually not that far off from official justice department policy when dealing with whistleblowers who go to the press with classified information. For years, many of these brave people – who have exposed CIA torture, drone strikes, unprecedented cyber attacks and mass surveillance – have been prosecuted by administrations from both parties under the Espionage Act… It’s long past time that [Congress] passed robust whistleblower protections for all intelligence community members so they don’t have to constantly worry about retaliation or worse for exposing illegal or corrupt actions.”
Trevor Timm, The Guardian

Others argue that “Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep ‘punching’ at it… I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that. Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

From the Right

The right is skeptical of the whistleblower complaint and impeachment in general, and argues that further investigation of Hunter Biden is warranted.

From the Right

The right is skeptical of the whistleblower complaint and impeachment in general, and argues that further investigation of Hunter Biden is warranted.

“‘I was not a direct witness to most of the events’ characterized in the document, the complainant confesses on the first page. Instead, the complainant notes, the document is based on conversations with ‘more than half a dozen U.S. officials.’ Those officials are not named, and their positions are not identified anywhere in the letter… A review of the entire complaint shows it is not so much an example of whistle-blowing, an act that can only be done by the individual holding the whistle, but an elaborate gossipy game of telephone between unnamed individuals whose motives and credibility are impossible to ascertain.”
Sean Davis, The Federalist

“Remember when Democrats insisted that President Trump was ‘working on behalf of the Russians,’ only to have special counsel Robert S. Mueller III declare he ‘did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities’? Well, we now have the rough transcript for Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and it’s clear that, once again, Democrats got ahead of the evidence… The reality of this call is a far cry from overheated charges that Trump used U.S. aid to repeatedly pressure Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden…

“In the complaint, the whistleblower alleges that efforts by White House officials to ‘lock down’ the transcript are evidence of presidential wrongdoing. Or maybe they are evidence officials did not want yet another presidential conversation to leak. No president in modern times has seen more of his conversations with foreign leaders leak than Trump, including calls with Australian then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, British then-Prime Minister Theresa May, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Little wonder the administration takes measures to restrict access to transcripts of those conversations.”
Mark Thiessen, Washington Post

“Long before the conversation came around to the Biden topic, the ‘favor’ that Trump asked for was Zelensky’s assistance inBarr’s ongoing investigation of the genesis of the Trump-Russia investigation. No matter how much Democrats seek to discredit that probe and the AG overseeing it, it is a legitimate investigation conducted by the United States Department of Justice, which has prosecutors assigned and grand jury subpoena power…

“It is a commonplace for the government to seek assistance from foreign counterparts for ongoing federal investigations… And the president is never conflicted out of executive branch business due to his political interests. There is no legal or ethical requirement that the Justice Department be denied potentially probative evidence because obtaining it might affect the president’s political fortunes.”
Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review

“Were Trump to pass documents to his campaign, that would blend his official powers with his electioneering apparatus, which is against campaign-finance law. Were Trump to tell Zelensky to leak whatever damaging information he might find about Biden, that too would constitute election interference. Obviously, if Trump asked Zelensky to target Biden or his campaign with hacking, it would be a crime. If he asked Zelensky to fabricate information and leak it to the public, this impeachment talk would be completely justified. Yet Trump did not do these things. He asked for information that might help him serve the national interest in his capacity as president.”
Luke Thompson, National Review

“If Trump is impeached, he will follow the precedent set by Bill Clinton and ignore calls to resign. Then he’ll follow the second precedent set by Clinton and win in the Senate, which will set up the third precedent, a claim that his tormentors wasted the people’s time and money. Clinton’s approval rating rose by double digits as the process played out and Americans decided he was being needlessly put through a wringer. The lesson we all should have learned is: If you can’t make your impeachment bipartisan, don’t bother.”
Kyle Smith, New York Post

Many argue that “whatever one may think of President Trump's actions on Ukraine, it should not preclude the media from pressing Joe Biden on the shady dealings that his son Hunter had while Biden was vice president… There's simply no plausible explanation as to why Hunter, despite a lack of energy experience and a recent discharge from the U.S. Naval Reserve after a positive cocaine test, would be put on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma and paid up to $50,000 a month other than the fact that his father was vice president at the time and the company was hoping to curry favor and bolster its prestige…

There are plenty of important lines of inquiry for Biden. For instance: Was he aware of Hunter's deal? Did he think it was OK? Did he raise any concerns within the Obama administration about potential conflicts of interest, especially if he was being made the messenger on Ukraine policy?”
Philip Klein, Washington Examiner

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“After adding in the ultra-millionaire’s tax and factoring in the other capital taxes Warren wants to levy — on financial transactions, on unrealized capital gains, on corporations — we’d be asking every billionaire to hand over more than two-thirds of their total wealth over a 10-year period. If the government actually managed to collect it, their fortunes would rapidly erode — and so would tax collections. The plan might be a good way to smash wealth, but it’s a terrible way to fund the nation’s health-care system…

“If Warren makes it to the White House, and tries to pass a plan, the Congressional Budget Office will eventually attach more reasonable numbers, with more defensible assumptions, sparking an even more spectacular political blowback than the one that greeted Friday’s announcement. Outside of the progressive Twitterati, there isn’t necessarily an enormous constituency for spending $20.5 trillion to herd every American into a national health insurance program; there would be even less support for spending what Warren’s plan would actually cost.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

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