Sunday, September 29, 2019

Don't Deny Coercion. Defend It.

Sunday was a good day for the Democrats. Let's concede that. Every major television network devotes an hour of their Sunday morning programming to their political shows, and today, all anybody was talking about was the Ukraine conversation. The Democratic Party sent a message today through their MSM allies that the president is corrupt, and he should be impeached. If the only political news you ever got came from Sunday morning TV, you probably think so too. There were a few token voices of reason like Hugh Hewitt and Rich Lowry, but for the most part, the opposing side of the debate did not get an invitation to the party. And don't get me started on Rudy Giuliani! 

It is axiomatic in military strategy terms that if you are going to engage in warfare, you should do what you can to choose the ground upon which you will do battle. The Republicans have failed to heed that advice. There are too many poor souls in the Republican Party who are trying to deny that Trump offered Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky a quid pro quo. It's true that it was not explicitly stated in the conversation, but it can be reasonably argued that it was implied. As the Democrats are quick to point out, when you are a helpless supplicant like Ukraine and your potential protector asks you for a favor, you would be foolish indeed to ignore the wider implications of that request. The existence of that quid pro quo is deniable I suppose; maybe even legitimately so. But why pitch your tent on such shaky ground? President Trump was engaged in diplomacy, and nothing in diplomacy is free. Everything is a quid pro quo. President Trump was engaged in some arm twisting. It was gentle and polite arm twisting perhaps, but arm twisting nevertheless. 

President Trump wanted some favors. In diplomacy, favors are defined as things I want you to do for me for which I will do something in return. President Trump asked for two favors in particular, and you could argue about the relative importance of each favor. In order of precedence, the first favor, and perhaps therefore the most important, was help in the investigation into the origins of the Russia collusion scandal. The Obama Justice Department and Intelligence Community spied on the Trump campaign in 2016. There are credible allegations that some of the Steele Dossier material upon which that spying was predicated came from Ukrainian sources. President Trump believes that the Dossier was a hoax; a political dirty trick. The president wants an investigation, and he has a right to expect Ukraine to assist Attorney General Barr in completing that investigation. 

The second favor is a bit more problematic. (Thank you Captain Obvious!) The president asked Ukraine to look into the Bidens. Again, choose your ground for battle. The optics of that request are terrible. Don't deny that. Defend it! Yes, it is bad optics for the president to request a foreign country to investigate a political rival. You know what else has terrible optics? Hunter Biden accepting $600,000 a year from a foreign company to perform a job for which his only qualification is his last name. How about them optics? I've heard critics of the president point out that if it was really corruption that concerned Mr. Trump, then Ukraine is apparently the only place on earth where the president is bothered by corruption. That may be true, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes this president does the right thing by accident. American politics are conducted as a form of Kabuki theater in which an elected Republican defender of the president can't say that the president did the right thing by accident, but I can say it. Devin Nunes or Jim Jordan may have to pretend that the president's motivations were saintly and insightful, but I don't have to pretend that. And to claim that the actions of Joe and Hunter Biden in Ukraine are beyond scrutiny because of Joe's presidential candidacy is like giving a Get Out of Jail Free Card to any politician under suspicion of corruption. Just run for office and you're untouchable. The president did the right thing for the wrong reasons. There! That wasn't so hard, was it? Trump was looking for a little extra help in the 2020 race. He wasn't looking for money. He wasn't looking for Facebook ads. And there is absolutely no indication that he was looking for investigators in Ukraine to lie, no matter what kind of parody Adam Schiff can conjure up as he beclowns himself. Trump was looking for information. Information does not have a nationality. There is no such thing as American information or Ukrainian information. Since 2016, Democrats have attempted to stigmatize foreign sourced information as somehow tainted or illegitimate. Personally, I think that as long as it is the truth, information is always welcome no matter where it comes from. I felt the same way about the now infamous Trump Tower meeting, the Democrats' squawking about campaign finance and “thing of value” not withstanding. Information is like speech. To stifle information is to stifle free speech. At the end of the day, the president was pursuing information. Were the optics bad? Yes. But did that situation cry out for an investigation? Oh hell yes! The president may have done the crime, metaphorically speaking, but he shouldn't do the time. The proposed punishment is pure politics. If the voters disagree, well that's what we have elections for. 

 But what about Trump's withholding of aid? Surely that cannot be defended. Of course it can. We do not know, and we should not presume, that the president intended to withhold that military aid indefinitely. I don't think I am na├»ve to believe it was merely a bargaining position; quickly abandoned once the president got what he wanted, and never intended to be kept in place even if the president's requests had been refused. And who are the Democrats to bemoan a slight delay in the release of this lethal aid? The Obama administration flat out denied lethal aid to Ukraine all together. 

Well what about the attempt to cover up the conversation? What were they trying to hide? As is clear from the Democrats' reaction to this conversation, it is obvious that due to the optics of President Trump's request, this conversation had the potential to be spun to the president's disadvantage. White House staff apparently recognized that, even if the president did not. And a little extra context is important here. This is the same White House which may still employ the author of that September 5, 2018 NY Times op-ed “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” Remember that several other conversations between President Trump and other heads of state have been leaked to the press with the purpose of embarrassing the president. Under the circumstances, the fact that the record of this conversation was placed on a highly classified server is of little concern to me. 

 Finally, a word about the Democrats' desperate attempt to subvert the results of the 2016 election. There is mounting evidence that this latest “scandal” was a coordinated effort between “resistance' elements inside the White House, inside the Intelligence Community, and in the Congress, to sabotage this president. At the risk of inviting accusations of being a conspiracy theorist, I'd go so far as to suggest that the pending release of DOJ IG Michael Horowitz' report and the ongoing Barr/Durham “investigation of the investigators” may have played a role in the timing of this whistleblower's complaint. 

Today was a bad day for the president. The Dems scored some unanswered points this morning. But tomorrow is another day. I'm hopeful that Team Trump still has a few special plays up its sleeve.