Who's the biggest liar in the land?

Last week brought the first public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry. The resulting testimony established that (1) at the behest of the president, US military aid was withheld for several months pending agreement by the Ukraine to investigate charges of corruption (Hunter Biden’s service on the board of an Ukrainian energy company despite his lack of relevant expertise or experience; possible Ukrainian meddling in the US 2016 elections); (2) the president recalled an Obama appointee who was serving as ambassador to the Ukraine several months before a July 25 telephone conversation between the president and newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that gave rise to the infamous “whistleblower” complaint, and (3) the witnesses (three career diplomats, see below) viewed the president’s actions with disfavor.

Wednesday (Nov. 13) - Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent & Acting Ambassador to the Ukraine William Taylor.

Neither Kent nor Taylor appeared to have a political axe to grind as they criticized the president’s role in holding up the military aid. However, neither of them had any personal knowledge of the president’s thoughts or actions, i.e., they were basically providing second or third hand information.

According to commentator Ben Shapiro, this session established that the goal of the impeachment inquiry was optics (making Trump look bad) versus substance (presenting real evidence of serious misconduct). Familyretirementclub.com, video (3:42),

Friday (Nov. 15) – Former Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Ms. Yovanovitch’s testimony was focused on her feelings about being recalled from her post (she is now serving a fellowship at Georgetown University, not a bad gig) and later learning that the president had disparaged her in the July 25 telephone conversation. Among other things, she compared her situation to that of Americans who have lost their liberty or their lives in the diplomatic service. Yovanovitch invokes diplomats killed in Benghazi, Andrew Sciascia, westernjournal.com,

We are the 52 Americans who 40 years ago this month began 444 days of deprivation, torture and captivity in Teheran. “We are the dozens of Americans stationed at our embassy in Cuba and consulates in China, who mysteriously and dangerously — and in some cases perhaps even permanently — were injured in attacks from unknown sources several years ago. We are Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Patrick Smith, Ty Woods and Glen Doherty,” she went on, “people rightly called heroes for their ultimate sacrifice to this nation’s foreign policy interests in Libya eight years ago.”

In terms of a specific “crime” President Trump might be thought to have committed, the Democratic theory was that he had improperly sought to bribe Ukrainian officials (a focus group-tested substitute for the original “quid pro quo” terminology) by tying the military aid (already approved by Congress) to the hoped-for investigations. There were various weaknesses in this claim, including the fact that (1) an explicit connection between the two matters had not been communicated to the Ukraine during the relevant time period, at least by the president in the July 25 telephone conversation, (2) the Ukrainian government never agreed to the desired investigations, and (3) the delayed military aid was released in September (albeit two days after the whistleblower complaint was publicly reported).

Eight more witnesses are on tap this week (Nov. 19-21), at least three of whom - Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the National Security Council, and Special Envoy to the Ukraine Kurt Volker as an intermediary for Rudy Giuliani – may have had a more direct connection with the president on this issue. Schiff says 8 more witnesses will testify, John Harney, yahoo.com,

Eight witnesses were requested by House Republicans. Three of them have been scheduled (previous paragraph), two (the whistleblower and Hunter Biden) were disallowed, and the remaining three apparently remain under consideration. Republicans list 8 potential impeachment witnesses, Jim Hayek, americantruthtoday.com,

Other potential witnesses, who however have declined to testify voluntarily, include former Director of National Security John Bolton and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. In the interest of rapidly bringing the impeachment inquiry to a conclusion, it appears that their respective testimony may be dispensed with.

No one can be sure what will come from future hearings, but most observers doubt that either side will wind up looking good. Public opinion seems to be about equally split between impeach and not impeach. Trump critics can certainly find information to back their views in the initial public testimony, but the same goes for Trump supporters. Impeachment hearings stumble out of the blocks, Mark Davis, townhall.com,

OK, you may be thinking, tell us something we don’t know. But like the dog that didn’t bark in the Hound of the Baskervilles (a Sherlock Holmes tale) or the 9/10 of an iceberg under the water, this impeachment attempt raises several questions that merit further attention. What’s really going on here, what’s to stop it, and where may we be headed?

1. Finger pointing– A recent newspaper column slammed the president’s management of the executive branch over the past three years, portraying Mr. Trump as willfully ignoring the expertise and guidance of countless bureaucrats who have spent years learning their craft under presidents of both parties. The writer (a former US senator and long-time political confidante of Joe Biden) likened the situation to the state of Berlin when the Nazi regime collapsed in 1945. The president we elect in 2020 will have to rebuild a chaotic government, Ted Kaufman, News Journal, 11/8/19.

“I don’t think comparing the state of many of the agencies and departments of the federal government today with the rubble of Berlin 1945 is that much of an exaggeration.”

Politicization of the Justice Department – EPA turned into direct threat to the environment – in State Department, important positions and ambassadorships vacant for years - morale at an all-time low in departments from Agriculture to Interior. “No one even pretends any longer that anyone within the White House but the president has any power or influence.”

For observers of Berlin during this timeframe, the analogy seems strained at best – not because the president hasn’t made his share of mistakes, but because the German capital at the time was so thoroughly devastated. As a US Army dependent, your faithful scribe lived in Berlin in 1946 and vividly recalls observing one bombed-out block after another on Army bus rides to school. Whatever may be out of kilter in Washington, such memories bear no resemblance to the current state of the US government.

It almost seemed, mused another reader, that Sen. Kaufman was effectively likening the US president to the German dictator who led his nation to its destruction. Kaufman article contributes to divide, Tom Corrigan, News Journal,

Is Kaufman's subliminal message that there is a similarity between Trump and Hitler? Perhaps not, but to indicate that the 2020 US government "will look something like Berlin in April 1945" is preposterous.

Even if Kaufman’s condemnation of the president was not meant to go this far, other observers haven’t hesitated to make such a comparison. Starting even before the 2016 election and growing persistently – in print as well as public utterances and social media – from scores of sources on both the left and the right – offering a variety of rationales – pointlessly obstructing (e.g., "slow walking") almost all administrative or judicial appointments – including many instances of physical threats or violence. The big lie, Dinesh D’Souza,

Clearly, [this comparison of Trump to the fascists and Nazis] seeks to make Trump’s presidency illegitimate. This notion – that even if Trump won fair and square, he somehow doesn’t deserve to be president – was first circulated even before the election. Hillary and Obama never treated Trump as a legitimate nominee.

And why was this happening, when nothing comparable had been observed in recent US history? D’Souza’s theory is that the nonstop opposition to the president was based on claims that he and his supporters are infected by flaws that actually flourished within the Left’s own ranks. Exhibiting a psychological mechanism called transference, the president’s foes were undertaking to pull off a fascist coup on grounds that he was a fascist.

In this book, I turn the tables on the Democratic Left and show that they – not Trump – are the real fascists. They are the ones who use Nazi bullying and intimidation tactics and subscribe to a full-blown ideology. The charges that they make against Trump and the GOP are actually applicable to them.

This theory makes sense, from several standpoints: (a) Transference helps to maintain one’s own sense of self-esteem. (b) If opponents can be put on the defensive, they will have less ability to achieve their objectives. (c) It may be easier to win “in the court of public opinion” by trashing the opposition than by defeating their substantive arguments.

And one could certainly argue that the current efforts to impeach the president represent a logical continuation of the fascist coup attempt that Di Souza describes as being launched after the 2016 election.

We would note, however, that psychological mechanisms can work both ways. While leftist attacks on the president may be vastly overdone, that’s not to say the words and actions of the president and his supporters are blameless. To the contrary, it’s perfectly possible – indeed likely – that both sides are out of line.

Therefore, the wisest course is not to assume one side or the other will always be right, but rather to pay attention to what both sides are saying and decide which one comes closest in any particular case. Easier said than done, but it makes sense to us.

2. Strategy – Having launched the impeachment inquiry, Democrats are committed to completing this gambit and seeing how it works out. It would be humiliating for them to conduct a month or so of hearings and then drop the matter on the ground that there was nothing there after all.

Even if they don’t carry the day, as appears likely at this point, Democrats will preserve their reputation for sticking together more effectively than Republicans do. But they will limit downside risk as much as possible, e.g., by firmly resisting public identification (a suspected name has been widely publicized) and interrogation of the “whistleblower.”

In addition to diverting attention from the charges against the president, such efforts could shed unwelcome light on the origins of the Ukrainian bribery claims. Who knew about the July 25 phone call and decided to make an issue of it – who else did they talk to, including Rep. Adam Schiff or his staff – who wrote the lengthy and highly scripted whistleblower’s complaint - who recommended the attorneys being used by the whistleblower – were any of the individuals concerned connected with the much investigated and ultimately failed Russian collusion and obstruction of justice charges (see Mueller report).

Chairman Schiff took the position earlier that arrangements would be made for the whistleblower to testify – only to reverse course, for whatever reason, and rule that there would be no such testimony. Watch Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) remind him of his previous statements, which had been reported in numerous publications. Stefanik goes after Schiff (scroll down), Westernjournal.com, video (3:05),

Not only has Rep. Schiff now decreed that the whistleblower must not be named, but he has even denied personal knowledge of who that person is. Skeptics question, however, whether this denial is factual. Kevin McCarthy bluntly proclaims Schiff a “liar” re whistleblower identity, Andrew West, libertyhub.com,

And Senate Republicans appear to be on board, witness (a) Sen. Rand Paul’s threat to publicly name the whistleblower, and (b) Sen. Lindsey Graham’s declaration that any House impeachment vote would be “dead on arrival” in the Senate if the whistleblower hadn’t been called to publicly testify.

Unless Democrats are holding a losing hand, it’s hard to imagine why they are playing their cards this way.

3. Longer-term consequences – Let’s say that no credible grounds for impeachment are established, as many observers are currently predicting. Trump impeachment not justified by evidence and testimony made public so far, Hans von Spakovsky, dailysignal.com, 11/15/19.

Apparently, Schiff doesn’t want any testimony that would support the legitimacy of the president’s corruption concerns about Ukraine or would somehow detract from the impeachment narrative Democrats are trying to weave into the minds of the American public. We certainly won’t have an objective, bipartisan inquiry into all of the relevant aspects of what happened here—and why it happened.

OK, the Senate would acquit – GOP chances in the 2020 elections would probably be improved – so no big deal?

That's not to say, however, that the currently poisonous political environment would be improved. To the contrary, supporters on both sides would continue to see people on the other side as fundamentally dishonest. Lies, lies and more lies: Trump and his critics, John Goodman, townhall.com,

According to The Washington Post, Trump has told 12,000 lies. If true, that would average out to more than 12 lies for every day of his presidency. *** [And] Robert Shiller, a highly respected Yale University economist, writes in The New York Times that Trump’s behavior could change the entire culture, including the way Americans view ourselves and the way others see us. Shiller even argues that a culture in which honesty is not habitual can affect economic growth and well-being.

Hmm, we can think of occasions when the president has indulged in hyperbole or expressed opinions that we didn’t agree with. But the picture being painted of him as a congenital liar seems unrealistic, and it raises serious questions about the veracity of his critics.

You may disagree with the president’s policies. That’s fair game. But the blanket accusations listed above [anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic] are just not true. They don’t even come close to being true. Yet they continue to be repeated again and again -- on CNN, on MSNBC, on the pages of The New York Times and in other mainstream media outlets. ***

Now we come to the worst lies of all. Donald Trump was said to be guilty of “treason.” A “traitor” to his country. An “agent of a foreign power.” These claims, without any justification whatsoever, were made by the former head of the CIA [John Brennan]. They were repeated in news stories in The New York Times. They were asserted as fact in editorial after editorial. CNN and MSNBC were only too happy to provide a forum for these claims, and its own commentators expressed the desire to see Donald Trump in prison.

Some conservatives may think the answer is to “fight fire with fire” by adopting the same tactics as the Left. Consider, for example, how Fox News commentator Sean Hannity repeatedly refers to Rep. Adam Schiff as a shifty, cowardly, liar. But if the political conversation is reduced to claims and counterclaims about honesty and probity, rather than a debate about policy, how will anything constructive ever get done?

Moreover, imagine the consequences of reducing the extraordinary sanction of impeachment to a tool routinely used by either party if they chance to have a falling out with the president from the other party and have control of the House. The banality of impeachment, Wall Street Journal,

In a healthier political culture, Democrats would be using the Ukraine episode as an argument against Mr. Trump’s re-election. How can you trust his foreign-policy judgment in a second term when he won’t have the check of another re-election?

Instead Democrats have pulled out the constitutional bazooka of impeachment. They are doing so in partisan fashion, contrary to their earlier pledges, and in a political rush to beat the 2020 political calendar. On the evidence and the process to date, they are turning impeachment into a routine political weapon, and future Presidents of both parties will regret it.

Message for House Democrats: This impeachment effort should never have been started, and it should be ended now.

4. One more thing – The 5th debate of Democratic presidential candidates (Atlanta, GA, MSNBC/Washington Post) is coming up on Wednesday night (Nov. 20). Will any of the candidates on stage demonstrate their independence by expressing doubts about the impeachment inquiry?
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