Sunday, September 22, 2019

Why the Ukraine scandal may hurt Dems

Many are talking about the great danger that the Ukraine scandal will work to Trump's benefit. The more we talk about it, the more people will wonder if the smear charges against Hunter Biden might have merit. Discussing the actual evidence requires sifting through details, and Americans don't like to do that. They prefer to let seemingly-confident men on teevee tell them what to think, and that's currently the job being done with admirable efficiency by Fox News, and by Trump himself.

As David Corn noted,
Disinformation works because it creates an impression. Accuracy doesn’t matter. Then reporting on the disinformation spreads the impression. And even debunking can spread the impression. We in the media have to find a way not to be accomplices. So far, the media has not.
Something similar happened every time MSNBC played that instantly-infamous "Russia, if you're listening" clip. Yes, it screamed "collusion" -- but it also made Hillary look bad, because Trump got to repeat the charge that she had eradicated 30,000 emails. What got lost was the fact that the FBI found many of those emails; they were innocuous. Also see here.

Trump's smear is repeated every time Trump is accused of working with foreign governments to smear an opponent. It's a classic no-win situation. Even the NYT fell into this trap, requiring a follow-up clarification.

The big question: How will Ukraine's leadership respond? They know that Trump is ultimately beholden to Putin, their enemy, and that a Democratic administration will be better for them in the long run. On the other hand, the Ukrainians are notoriously corrupt, notoriously responsive to the greased palm.

The WP looks into the Ukrainian angle here, but does not give sufficient attention to the corruption aspect.
They could give in to Trump’s demand to open an inquiry into the Ukrainian business dealings of Hunter Biden and risk the anger of Democrats and others for engaging in what those interests would see as interference in the 2020 elections. Or the Ukrainians could defy Trump and face the wrath of a president who had frozen $250 million of crucial military assistance for mysterious reasons before releasing it earlier this month.

Either way, they risk cracking the bipartisan consensus that has firmly supported Ukraine against Russia since 2014, when the Kremlin annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and stoked war in Ukraine’s east. If Ukraine becomes associated with one U.S. political party or the other, it could jeopardize ties with its most important security backer.
If they choose Trump, then we may presume someone got a really big bribe, or that the Trumpers have given the Ukrainians assurances that they (the Trumpers) have a foolproof plan to keep the White House for years and years to come.
In an interview with Ukrainian television station Hromadske that aired on Saturday, Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko denied that Trump had pressured Zelensky during the phone call.

“I know what the conversation was about, and I think there was no pressure,” he said. “There was talk, conversations are different, leaders have the right to discuss any problems that exist. This conversation was long, friendly, and it touched on a lot of questions, including those requiring serious answers.”
Oh really? Here's a report from another witness. This comes from former Ukrainian MP Serhiy Leshchenko, and it's a must-read.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the Manafort revelations would become fodder for the U.S. elections in 2020. President Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, the mouthpiece of this campaign, is not only attempting to rehabilitate Manafort but is also working to undermine U.S. relations with Ukraine, which has been confronting Russian aggression on its own for more than five years. Giuliani and his associates are trying to drag our newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, into a conflict between two foreign political parties, drastically limiting Ukraine’s room for maneuver in respect to the United States, perhaps its most important international partner.
Giuliani's entire approach is built on disinformation and the manipulation of facts. Giuliani has developed a conspiracy theory in which he depicts my revelations about Manafort as an intervention in the 2016 U.S. election in favor of the Democratic Party.
Giuliani also persists in claiming that the “black ledger” is a fake. He stated this most recently just a few days ago in an interview with CNN. In fact, the book is a genuine document. Expert examinations have confirmed the authenticity of the signatures shown in it.
In other words, the Biden angle is only part of this story, and perhaps not the main part. This is really about Paul Manafort. Trump wants to pardon him. Trump wants to convince the public that Manafort was the victim of a monstrous Democratic plot (despite the admission of the man's own daughters). If Zelensky takes the bribe -- and I think he will -- the Urkainians will cough up "proof" that the evidence against Manafort (at least regarding the Ukrainian stuff) was concocted.

I first woke up to this realization -- "Holy shit, this is about Manafort!" -- when I listened to this important TMP podcast, which I strongly recommend. 

Ultimately, this story is going to work out badly for the Democrats. Justice will prevail only if a Ukrainian is unwilling to take a bribe. Not a promising situation. It's as if the fate of the world depended on a Parisian's ability to speak for ten consecutive minutes without saying something smug.

Added note: There were some particularly enjoyable items in David Corn's Twitter feed today (not by Corn himself)...
Hypocrisy jamboree: Trump screams about Biden asking Ukraine to fire a (corrupt) prosecutor, claiming it was motivated by a desire to protect Biden’s son (it wasn’t) while Trump fired Comey to protect HIMSELF from being exposed in the Trump-Russia investigation. So transparent.
Shorter Trump: “To accuse Biden of intervening with Ukraine to advance his private interests, I intervened with Ukraine to advance my own.”
Shokin, the Ukrainian prosecutor, said himself that the investigation into the energy company Biden's son was involved with ended BEFORE he was fired. Shokin's own deputy said it had been "dormant". I want to know who paid for Rudy's travel to Madrid and Ukraine?
That's a damned good question. And how could Rudy have been acting in an official and unofficial capacity at the same time? This is a classic example of how attorney-client privilege can be used to provide cover for criminal or unethical communications.

Seth Abramson offered this tweet in response to a claim that Trump extorted Ukraine, as opposed to bribing Ukraine:
1/ No one is claiming "Trump bribed Ukraine"—that's not how the federal statute works. Trump *did* induce and solicit a bribe, and *did* conspire with Ukrainians (as did Giuliani) to effectuate Ukraine's bribe of Trump. But most criminal cases can be brought in *several* ways.
Hell, I'll claim that Trump bribed Ukraine. Controlling the money spigot is a form of bribery, isn't it? But Ukraine's willingness to control the "evidence" in the Manafort and Biden cases can also be a form of bribery. The English language is flexible enough to allow for the use of either "bribe" or "extort" to describe what Trump is getting up to; it all depends on your point of view. At any rate, it's widely known that Ukrainian politicians habitually pilfer any aid given to that country, so bribery is really what we're talking about here.

And may I remind you that the Constitution lists "bribery" as grounds for impeachment?
The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
— U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 4
At the risk of being accused of pedantry, I see nothing in these words specifying the taking of a bribe, as opposed to the offering of a bribe. Both would seem to be grounds for impeachment.

Let's get back to Abramson:
2/ Trump illegally solicited foreign campaign donations from Ukraine, in addition to being (apparently) guilty of conspiracy to commit bribery and aiding and abetting bribery. He also obstructed justice by keeping the Acting DNI from reporting out to Congress. But that's not all.

3/ Trump also apparently witness tampered by paying $140 million to Ukraine's president to keep him compliant at a time Trump knew a federal legal proceeding and investigation was occurring as to his crimes (the whistleblower complaint Trump was obstructing). But that's not all.

4/ Trump's acts also constituted "high crimes or misdemeanors" (confusingly, a historical, constitutional, and political standard, not a criminal one) by engaging in Abuse of Power and violations of his Oath of Office. Claiming only one of these things is true is a *grave* error.
There's more. Basically, Abramson argues that impeachment is the only remedy. I agree. Nancy Pelosi remains our greatest obstacle; if she were pro-impeachment, she could turn around most of the Dem holdouts.
I think there were three elements that were all necessary to explain why EMAILS! was so damaging. The RW media hyped it up, the MSM hyped it up, but the kicker is that Hillary hating Democrats also hyped it. They all did for different reasons, but you had an across the board consensus that Hillary Did Something Wrong. My hope is that Democrats won't use this to attack Biden. My fear is that there is a fanatical Biden-hating faction of Democrats (though not as large or intense as Hillary), and as they get more desperate trying to take him down in the primary, they will start legitimizing this "scandal".

This country has learned nothing since 2016. But don't worry. In the wise words of Nancy Pelosi, Trump is "self-impeaching".
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nemdam, you'r right. But so far, I'm heartened by the fact that the other Dems -- including Sanders -- have not used this smear to their advantage.

Even the dumbest Americans must understand that if there were anything to these charges, Warren would pounce on 'em. She has no motive to protect Biden. Some would argue that Joe Biden is, practically speaking, the only thing standing between her and the nomination. So why would she be part of a cover-up?

(That's the cue for Qanon-types to whisper darkly about Evil Soros and his bribing, scheming ways.)
Opposition to Biden being the nominee is based primarily on preference for another candidate, not on "hate" for Biden. Virtually everyone would vote for Biden if he ends up being the nominee, but would prefer the nominee be someone who does not have a nostalgia for the past, when politicians worked across the aisle.
Biden's chief rival, Liz Warren has come out in his support.
I think other candidates have at least to condemn Trump.
Joe's biggest problem is un/under prepared blo-dri talking heads not punching back on republican Trump apologists (NYT "journalists") lies.
Robert Caro tells the story of FDR calling freshman Congressman LBJ into his office, and the next thing you know, LBJ's district gets universal electricity. Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald distinguished ordinary political "horse trading" from bribery and extortion in the Blago arrest. JFK bribed all over the place in his primary campaign. Trump's paying off that woman with the whore's face for her silence was bribery, but it's his using and covering up campaign funds that will be impeachable. You could call making promises, like "a chicken in every pot" and Medicare for all bribes, but you're not that pedantic. No sane member of Congress would try to impeach for making bribes.

Trump bribes the working class laborers and their corporate slave drivers by deregulating government agencies and eliminating health and safety regulations. Offering tax cuts is bribery. And so on.
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