• What Republicans Must Ask the Whistleblower

    November 19, 2019 // 5 Comments »


    The whistleblower needs to be front and center in the impeachment proceedings on TV. Here’s why.

    As the latest public spectacle unironically displaces daytime soap operas, the picture is starting to become clearer. The people testifying aren’t there to save America. They are a group of neo-somethings inside the administration who disagreed with Trump’s Ukraine policy and decided to derail it.

    The plan was unlikely intended to lead to impeachment when things began to move back in May, after then-Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was fired. Contrary to the president’s policy the taxpayers paid her to represent, she had her own, and promoted confrontation with Russia over Ukraine and sought more military aid. Bill Taylor was then installed as a figurehead in the embassy and Ukraine policy was taken away from hardliners at the State Department and NSC and handed over to America’s favorite knucklehead, Rudy Giuliani, and the inexperienced, Trump-appointee, Gordon Sondland.

    The bureaucracy called a Code Red. They were needed on that wall to stand against Russia. It seemed easy enough. Ukraine was off most of the public’s radar, so some Op-Eds, Trump’s men nudged aside, and the mini-coup over Ukraine policy would have worked. John Bolton, who could have stepped in and told everyone to return to their seats or no snack time, was agog at the amateur efforts by Giuliani, and certainly no fan of a less robust Ukraine policy anyway.

    Things got out of the group’s hands when Democrats, desperate for something to impeach on after Russiagate imploded, seized on the objections over Ukraine policy as slightly more than the nothing they otherwise had (the alternative was resurrecting the Stormy Daniels-Michael Avenatti-Michael Cohen sleaze fest.) An objection over policy and who would run it was transformed into a vague smatter of quid pro quo based on that July 25 phone call, using a whistleblower’s undergrad-level prank “complaint” as the trigger.

    And that’s why the whistleblower is very relevant. He knows nothing first-hand himself (neither does anyone else, see below, but someone had to go first) admitting in his complaint all his information is second hand. He is not anonymous; Google “who is the whistleblower” and you too can know everything official Washington and the media already know about him, back to his college days. So no one needs to fret about his safety, and no one needs to ask him any questions about the July 25 call.

    Here is the question the whistleblower must be asked: how did this jump from policy disagreements among like-minded people (you, Vindman, Taylor, et al) to claims of an impeachable offense? Who engineered that jump? Was it Adam Schiff’s staffers who first met with the whistleblower? Schiff lied about that contact. Or was it a partisan D.C. lawyer who has been trolling Twitter since Trump’s election looking for someone to hand him raw material he’d lawyer into a smoking gun (an organization he is connected with had mobile billboards advertising for whistleblowers circling the White House, the Capitol, the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Agency to try to attract clients)?

    Did the whistleblower make himself into a pawn, or was he made into a pawn? The answer is very important because at this point how the whistleblower came to be at the ground zero of electoral politics tells us if this is a legitimate impeachment or a political assassination. The voters will have to judge that in about a year independent of the partisan votes (the weakness of the actual impeachment case is explained here) taken in the House and Senate.

    The popular impression is men like the whistleblower, Bill Taylor, and Alex Vindman are non-partisan, and there is some truth to that. They came up through a system which strongly emphasized service to the president, whomever that is. But it would be wrong to equally claim they are policy agnostic; in fact, likely quite the opposite. They see themselves as experts, and in Vindman’s case, a native son, who know better. That’s why they were hired, to advise, and under Obama their advice (for better or worse, they wanted to bring us to war with Russia) was generally followed.

    They knew they knew better than the Orange Clown who somehow ended up in the Oval Office and ignored them. They knew he was wrong, and talked and texted about it among themselves. That’s OK, normal even. But it appears they came to see Trump not just as wrong but as dangerous. Add in some taint of self-interest on Trump’s part, and he became evil. They convinced themselves it was a matter of conscience, and wrapped their opposition in the flagged courage of a (created?) whistleblower. Certainly if one hadn’t existed it would have been necessary to invent him.

    With their testimony focused mostly on their disagreements with Trump’s Ukraine policy, and their own intellectual superiority, it seems such proclamations of conscience have more to do with what outcomes and policy the witnesses support and less to do with understanding that without an orderly system of government with a functioning chain of command all is chaos. The Trump-deranged public is overlooking the dark significance of serving officials undermining the elected president because of policy disagreements. They hate Trump so much they are tolerating insubordination, even cheering it. Now that’ll bite America back soon enough. You don’t join government to do whatever partisan thing you think is right; you serve under a system and a chain of command. There is no Article 8 in the Constitution saying “but if you really disagree with the president it’s OK to just do what you want.”

    I served 24 years in such a system, joining the State Department under Ronald Reagan and leaving during the Obama era. That splay of political ideologies had plenty of things in it my colleagues and I disagreed with or even believed dangerous. Same for people in the military, who were told who to kill on America’s behalf, a more significant moral issue than a boorish phone call. But we also knew the only way for America to function credibly was for to follow the boss, the system created by the Constitution, and remembering we weren’t the one elected, and that we ultimately worked for those who did the electing. So let’s hear from the whistleblower and all the witnesses about that, not their second hand knowledge of Trump’s motivations, but their first hand knowledge of their own motivations.

    Americans in government and military are mostly decent people. Unlike some who hold power in banana republics, they are unlikely to be convinced to undermine the president for personal gain. But give them a crusade, tell them they are heroes Mueller failed to be, and they will convince themselves anything is justified. Those impure motivations are what transformed the witnesses now driving impeachment from being dissenters to insubordinate into convincing themselves they needed to make a stand. Vindman gives it away, saying he twice “registered internal objections about how Mr. Trump and his inner circle were treating Ukraine,” out of what he called a “sense of duty.” Duty to what?

    The not very anonymous whistleblower is only 33-years-old, but of the mold. Ivy League, CIA, language guy, a Ukraine specialist who found himself and his knowledge embraced by Obama and Biden — the right guy in the right place — until he was set aside by Trump with new policy. Taylor fancies himself the last honest man, shepherding U.S.-Ukrainian policy through rough waters, having been ambassador to Ukraine 2006-2009. Yovanovitch was a partisan, representing her own vision, not that of the elected leadership, because she was sure she knew better after her years at State. Best and the brightest. They were professional, seasoned dammit, look at their resumes! The uniform!

    If they came to being whistleblowers and then players in politics honestly, then were simply side-slipped into becoming pawns, they should be quietly retired, this generation’s Colin Powell. But if they are agent provocateurs, they need to be fired. That’s why we need to talk to the whistleblower, to understand that difference.

     

    That’s for them, now for us. If this all was just a hearing on bad policy planning and what happens when knuckleheads like Rudy Giuliani get involved, it would make interesting history. If this was a long-overdue review of U.S. relations with Ukraine, it would be welcome. But as an attempt to impeach the president, it is a sordid, empty, brazen, political tactic hardly worthy of the term coup. It sets a terrible example of what we will tolerate from the bureaucracy if we hate the incumbent president enough. It opens the door to political opportunism, and informs real would-be insubordinates how to proceed more effectively. It signals chaos to our allies and opens opportunity to our enemies.

    There’s a fine line between necessary dissent and wicked insubordination, between conscience and disobedience, but there is a line and it appears to have been crossed here. The attack is no longer on policy, on which Taylor and Vindman may lay some claim, it is on the president and only the voters should have that say.

     

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in Democracy, Impeachment, Trump