It’s not that hard, folks. Donald Trump knows what really happened. Not only did he, or any of his staff, or family, or friends, NOT collude with Russia during the 2016 campaign, Russia didn’t even interfere in the election at all. Vladimir Putin told him that and he believes Putin. Both he and the Russians were FRAMED by a conspiracy between Ukraine and the DNC. There’s the DNC server that the Russians “hacked” but really didn’t. And it’s missing because a cybersecurity firm called CrowdStrike was part of the conspiracy. CrowdStrike was founded by a Ukrainian. It turns out the guy was Russian, but he could have been Ukrainian, maybe. And then CrowdStrike made it look like the Russians had hacked the server when in fact it was an inside job by one single disgruntled DNC employee.
That would be the late Seth Rich. All evidence suggests he died the victim of a random street crime – he was mugged – but the police reports were wrong – or someone had tampered with them. Seth Rich was actually murdered by the Clinton people or by Hillary Clinton herself – she had murdered Vince Foster after all – to cover this up. In 2016, Bill Maher interviewed Julian Assange – Mister WikiLeaks – who offered, on Mahar’s HBO show, a massive reward for any evidence that would help prove that Hillary Clinton had murdered Seth Rich. Maher didn’t know what to say but Fox News ran endless segments on this mysterious murder. Rich’s parents sued and Fox News stopped doing that, but that didn’t stop anything. Russia and Trump had been framed. The real election interference was a conspiracy between the DNC and Ukraine so masterful that it completely fooled all seventeen of our intelligence services, and all other western intelligence services too, and Robert Mueller too – unless they were in on it too. They might be in on it. They are the dreaded “deep state” after all.
And that was why the White House held up military aid to Ukraine. Trump explicitly invoked the “CrowdStrike server” in his call with Zelensky. Ukraine had to find that server and hand it over, in a public ceremony, or else. See? It’s all quite simple.
Not everyone agrees. It might be that all seventeen of our intelligence services, and all other western intelligence services too, and Robert Mueller too, got it right. It might be that Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani got it wrong, and Vladimir Putin made it up. It’s those three against all the rest. It’s those three against the professionals and experts with all the evidence they have gathered in the last four years. And now Fox News and all of the Republican Party have joined the lonely three.
They made their choice. They will die on this hill. They will defend this to the bitter end. The professionals and experts with all the evidence they have gathered in the last four years don’t know everything. Maybe they don’t know anything. Donald Trump did say he knew more about ISIS than all the generals combined. How did he know all that? He just did. It’s like that. He’s like that.
The two sides here should meet and talk this out, and they did. The Washington Post’s Greg Miller covered that:
For two months, the impeachment inquiry has focused on President Trump and whether he abused the power of his office for his own political advantage.
On Thursday, the inquiry seemed to broaden into a bracing examination of the insidious forces – including the spread of conspiracy theories – infecting American politics.
The final day of scheduled public testimony in this phase of the impeachment investigation was dominated by the warnings of a former White House adviser that the country’s susceptibility to baseless allegations and partisan infighting are more than unfortunate byproducts of this political era.
Instead, Fiona Hill, who served as Trump’s top adviser on Russia for much of the past two years, testified that these tendencies pose a growing security threat that Russia, among other adversaries, is exploiting.
In short, the Russians did it, and everyone here, now, arguing about whether they did that or not, is even worse. At least Fiona Hill thinks so:
She depicted Trump’s alleged attempt to pressure Ukraine for political dirt as harmful to both countries’ security interests. She voiced dismay about the treatment of diplomats, including the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who were either sidelined or disparaged for their efforts to defend official U.S. policy or testify about the president.
But above all, she spoke with palpable concern about the extent to which partisanship in the United States’ political system has weakened the country’s ability to agree on objective reality. “Our nation is being torn apart,” she said. “Truth is questioned.”
And then she dropped the hammer:
A respected Russia scholar who previously served as a top U.S. intelligence official, Hill opened her testimony with a bristling rebuke of Republican lawmakers – and by extension Trump – who have sought to sow doubt about Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
“Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country – and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did,” Hill said. “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
Her comments turned the tables on lawmakers, including Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who have pressed previous witnesses on perceived holes in their testimony, but found themselves using portions of their allotted time Thursday to dispute Hill’s characterizations.
Nunes held up a copy of a House Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference, insisting that he and other members do not question the core case against the Kremlin.
Fiona Hill raised one eyebrow. The message was clear. Have you heard your own president? Have you listened to yourself? Miller notes that:
In reality, Nunes has been among Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill in seeking to discredit or impede the FBI and special counsel investigations of Russian interference. He has repeatedly used the impeachment hearings over the past two weeks to argue that Trump’s suspicions about Ukraine working against him in 2016 were warranted.
And he spent much of his time Thursday questioning Hill not about what she witnessed about the campaign to pressure Ukraine but her contacts with individuals – including former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele – connected to those now-concluded investigations of Trump and Russia.
He was angry. What about the Steele dossier? What about Hilary’s emails? And maybe the president does think the Russians did nothing wrong in 2016 – or ever at any time anywhere in the world – which is odd – but he and anyone with any sense knows that Ukraine sought to undermine Trump in the 2016 election – because they all hate him – so he has right to hate them back!
Hill didn’t agree:
Hill treated such claims with scorn. “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,” she said.
Maybe she shouldn’t be working for Donald Trump, but she is, but she’s lost this thing:
Hill’s testimony was remarkable in part because of her senior role inside the White House. She pushed to maintain a harder line against Russia even as Trump often prevented her from attending meetings, resisted measures that he worried might anger the Kremlin, and sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the conclusions U.S. spy agencies.
Putin made clear this week that he is relishing the political skirmishing in Washington over Ukraine, which has for five years relied on U.S. aid to help fend off Russian aggression.
As the impeachment hearings played out, Putin joked: “Thank God no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore.”
He was laughing at us. He had created a nation of useful idiots, and Jennifer Rubin saw this:
You knew it was not going to be pretty. On one side, two professional diplomats, both whip-smart with excellent memories and deep knowledge of Ukraine, neither of whom seems to suffer fools. On the other side, a great many foolish Republicans and their ill-prepared counsel marinated in easily debunked conspiracies with only a distant relationship to the facts to which multiple witnesses have testified. To put it mildly, the diplomats made mincemeat of the questioners.
The Republicans’ questioning of Fiona Hill and David Holmes was an unintentionally hilarious train wreck for the Republicans, who seem not to care what answers come back to bite them.
Asked about officials’ children working overseas, Hill seemed to indict Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. “I think any family members are open to questions about optics and perhaps of undue influence if they take part in any kind of activity that could be misconstrued as relating to the parent or any family member’s work.”
Well, they asked, and there was this:
Hill recounted that when he was in Washington, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland would brag about meeting with the president and other top officials. She was angry because he was not coordinating with the foreign policy team. However, she concluded after watching his testimony that they were not doing the same work.
“He was being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security foreign policy,” she said matter-of-factly. “And those two things had just diverged.”
She’s British and the Brits are like that. Understatement can kill. That was a Maggie Smith answer, and it worked:
This is what happens when feeble questioners do not know the answers they will elicit from smart witnesses. It is what happens when ludicrous conspiracy theories collide with the real world. And it is what happens when a patriot with a heart-tugging immigrant story stands up to bullies and liars. In short, Hill, with able assistance from Holmes, gave Republicans the thrashing they so richly deserved.
Ruth Marcus points out something else too:
The impeachment hearings stand as a rebuke not only to President Trump’s conduct but also to his anti-immigrant, shut-the-doors worldview. The parade of witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee offers an implicit testament to a different America, more welcoming and inspiring. In a month that has exposed the white-nationalist inclinations of Stephen Miller, Trump’s top immigration adviser, these witnesses are the anti-Millers, an antidote to his exclusionary vision…
Fiona Hill, in the lilting accent of her native northeast England coal country, described her journey to becoming “an American by choice.” Hill’s father, Alfred, “joined his father, brother, uncles and cousins in the coal mines to help put food on the table.” After the mines closed, Alfred Hill dreamed of emigrating to the United States, to the coal mines of West Virginia or Pennsylvania. He had to stay home to take care of his mother, “crippled from hard labor,” but he loved America, “a beacon of hope in the world,” Hill said. “He always wanted someone in the family to make it to the United States.”
Fiona Hill was the one who made it, becoming a U.S. citizen in 2002. “Years later, I can say with confidence that this country has offered for me opportunities I never would have had in England,” Hill testified. “I grew up poor with a very distinctive working-class accent. In England in the 1980s and 1990s, this would have impeded my professional advancement. This background has never set me back in America.”
So she doesn’t hate America. Neither does the decorated combat veteran Alexander Vindman. Neither does the fired ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. All were born elsewhere. All the snide comments, the wink-wink innuendo, and the direct assertions on Fox News, that these three aren’t really Americans and may, in fact, hate America, is a bit unpleasant. And it’s nonsense. And now it’s a talking point.
That’s what bothers Lili Loofbourow:
We’re closing in on the second full week of public impeachment hearings, during which diplomats and administration officials have delivered compelling testimony that has largely obliterated nearly every Republican defense of Trump’s Ukraine conduct. The theory, for example, that this was all hearsay has collapsed – several witnesses with direct knowledge of the events have testified despite the White House’s astounding claim that staff should not comply with congressional subpoenas. The theory that Ukrainians didn’t even know aid was being withheld, and therefore couldn’t have felt extorted, collapsed Wednesday, with Department of Defense official Laura Cooper’s testimony, which referenced previously undisclosed emails showing that Ukrainians were both aware and concerned on July 25, the day of the infamous call. Trump’s “no quid pro quo” defense has always been unbelievable – Mick Mulvaney having already confessed to it on live television – but EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland also testified Wednesday that the arrangement Trump sought was unequivocally a quid pro quo.
In other words, the hearings have served the purpose for which they were intended: They have worked to establish, on the record and on television, the timeline and details of the president’s alleged misconduct. That narrative is now public and clear.
But that’s not all:
In bringing so many career government workers in to testify, they have also inadvertently served another purpose: They have helped to paint a broader picture, beyond the minutia of what exactly happened over the course of the past few months in Ukraine, of how the federal government works under President Donald Trump. Their testimony has incidentally illustrated how Trump’s incessant, unrelenting narcissism warps his ability to execute the duties of his office and the extent to which that dysfunction has spread, hobbling institutions that we need intact.
The hearings have demonstrated in detail the extent to which Trump conflates his personal grudges with America’s interests, even when the former harms the latter, and how he allows those private grudges to dictate foreign policy decisions that impact multiple countries.
It’s worth understanding what made Trump think that the Ukrainians didn’t like him. One incident Republicans have repeatedly raised concerns over is an op-ed for the Hill written by then–Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Valeriy Chaly in August of 2016, in which Chaly corrects Trump’s mischaracterization of how Ukrainians felt about the Russian invasion of Crimea. GOP lawyer Steve Castor tried to rationalize Trump’s paranoia on this point by characterizing that correction as a sinister symptom of dark forces arrayed against him. Here’s how he put it during former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony: “But you can understand the president, at least from his perspective, looking at these facts, certainly it is reasonable to conclude that there are elements of the Ukrainian establishment that are advocating against him at this point in time, correct?”
She didn’t understand. Yovanovitch wasn’t buying it, for good reason:
That conclusion is not remotely reasonable – unless one’s position is that Ukrainians ought not to express any opinions about a Russian invasion on their soil.
Here, for reference, is what Trump said about Russia’s illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea. “I’m gonna take a look at it,” Trump told ABC’s This Week. “But you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also.”
This was shocking; the Russian takeover was widely condemned by the international community. And yet, the fact that the Ukrainian ambassador dared to observe that what Trump heard about “the people of Crimea” was incorrect and dangerous was framed not just as an attack on Trump, but as electoral interference in an American election.
It was hardly that:
Chaly writes that Trump’s comments “raised serious concerns” and notes that “many in Ukraine are unsure what to think, since Trump’s comments stand in sharp contrast to the Republican Party platform.” He adds that Trump’s comments “call for appeasement of an aggressor [Russia] and support the violation of a sovereign country’s territorial integrity and another’s breach of international law. In the eyes of the world, such comments seem alien to a country seen by partners as a strong defender of democracy and international order.”
And that was the sin for which Ukraine should be punished:
The Republican position appears to be that a Ukrainian ambassador – whose job it is to represent Ukraine’s interests and clarify the extent to which they align with the United States’ – should have shut up or agreed with Trump that his country was better off invaded.
This is an insane expectation. But it’s where we are. Prior to this period, it would have been hard to imagine a person egomaniacal enough to think that their irritation at being corrected matters more than the people fighting off an aggressor who has been proven to have attacked our elections too. Harder still to imagine that a party apparatus would unite around such a person to agree that, indeed, anything but glowing praise should be received as an attack. But these concessions to a narcissist’s wounded feelings have consequences, and here they are: A party that once uniformly supported Ukraine now contends that that ally’s effort to represent the country’s actual situation is an attack on American democracy.
A thus there’s this:
As Gordon Sondland put it to David Holmes, in a quote that has been repeated throughout these hearings, Trump “didn’t give a shit” about Ukraine and only cared about so-called big stuff. The “big stuff” turned out to be code not for American interests but for private favors that could benefit him, like investigating Hunter Biden for political purposes. As Fiona Hill put it Thursday, she eventually realized (as have most of us) what people who work near Donald Trump eventually discover. Namely, that despite Trump’s conflation between himself and the state, those interests eventually split.
In short, he’s in it for himself, so of course there’d be trouble:
What Yovanovitch, George Kent, Bill Taylor and other witnesses have helped drive home is that there are perspectives beyond what Trump felt and thought. And that those perspectives might in fact matter as much or more as Trump’s anger over mythical Ukrainian sabotage of a presidential election he won with proven Russian help. There is an entire world outside the bounds of Trump’s grubby personal interests.
So we are where we are:
A foreign policy driven by a person unwilling to govern his feelings, subordinate his grudges, or follow rules is not a policy at all. It’s a puff of air, a set of whims. It’s a vague hunch his yay-sayers must interpret and try to execute, and apologize for when he changes his mind and blames them for getting it wrong. This has implications.
If you consider who isn’t receiving sympathy, whose perspectives and interests are being annihilated in the service of coddling one man, the list of casualties is long. It includes Ukrainians slaughtered by Russia. It includes immigrant children permanently separated from their parents. And it includes American interests that – when it comes time to choose between national security and Trump’s latest revenge plot – will end up betrayed.
So now what? The House may impeach him but Republican Senate will acquit him, as he says. And no one but Vladimir Putin knows what the voters will do. As so it ends.