White House

The GAO’s Report

The Government Accountability Office issued a short report yesterday concluding that the administration had broken the law in freezing aid to Ukraine last summer. A common response from the president’s defenders has been that the GAO has found such violations of the law on many occasions, and the press did not play it up when it was the Obama administration at fault. That’s true.

But the report is inconvenient for one line of defense of the president. The Wall Street Journal editorialized earlier this week that Trump’s conduct was not impeachable because he wasn’t “either exercising powers a President does not have, or violating some statute or constitutional prohibition.” He was, on the GAO’s account, doing both.

The good news for Trump is that the Journal’s definition of impeachable offenses is overinclusive: Merely violating a statute doesn’t warrant impeachment. The bad news is that it’s underinclusive too: A president can abuse his power in a way that warrants impeachment even if he is following the letter of the law. In this case, we have an abuse of power that also appears to have broken the law. Whether it warrants the president’s removal is a question of judgment. The GAO can’t (and doesn’t try to) settle that question either way.


Martha McSally’s Blasphemy

Sen. Martha McSally speaks during a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee hearing on preventing sexual assault, March 6, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

As I note in my New York Post piece today, I don’t believe that Martha McSally, who is serving her first term in the Senate after being appointed to take John McCain’s seat, is going to be helped much by accusing CNN’s Manu Raju of being a “hack.” Attacking the press might be an effective way to excite national conservatives, but it probably does little to entice independents and moderates in Arizona.

One group, however, was greatly affected by the interaction: journalists, who seem to believe that McSally has engaged in some great sacrilege. A distressed National Press Club statement calls her comment “ethically wrong.” The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro says it is “never” ok to attack a journalist. One wishes there would have been this level of outcry when Elizabeth Warren, also a senator, called Fox News a “hate-for-profit racket.” But so it goes.

The Washington Post’s media critic labeled the interaction “chilling.” Now, “chilling,” it seems to me, would more appropriately describe the government spying on reporters or throwing someone into prison in effort to appease foreign theocrats. I’m pretty sure, at this point, the largely inconsequential McSally-Raju kerfuffle has generated more outrage from mainstream journalists than either of those cases.

It should also be noted, rude or not, that McSally’s underlying grievance is legitimate. CNN, as Charles Cooke has written, is no longer a news network, and Republicans have no ethical responsibility to treat it as such, whether one of its reporters happens to be asking a legitimate questions or not. And no matter how many times his colleagues put the word “respected” in front of Raju’s name, it doesn’t change the fact that he has a long history of partisan bias, not only with his still-unexplained Don Jr. “collusion” piece, but on the issue of Brett Kavanaugh and many others. The fact that Raju does some good reporting, doesn’t mean he isn’t also a partisan. You can be both.

So when Bill Kristol contends, “If it’s liberal to hold public officials in our liberal democracy accountable for doing their job, then I guess I’m liberal,” he misses the point. It’s not “liberal” to ask tough questions, it’s “liberal” to only ask tough question of one side.

Because if media held public officials accountable we would be knee-deep in exposes explaining how House Democrats and former intel chiefs were able to hoodwink outlets like CNN into a three-year 24-7 frenzy over a conspiracy theory. There hasn’t been a single day of self-reflection on the matter of dossiers or botched “scoops,” much less accountability (save by one or two reporters.)

If Raju was concerned about accountability, he wouldn’t allow the same House Democrats to continue to dictate the focus and assumptions of his questions. Raju’s query wasn’t illegitimate — though it was certainly loaded — but it does illustrate that whenever Democrats decide to change course, the entire media turns their giant ship and sets a course to follow them.

Conservatives surely remember how this worked during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, when outlets helped Senate Democrats spread one unverified story after the next by merely asking questions. When Michael Avenatti’s client made a transparently idiotic charges of gang rape, CNN didn’t debunk or verify the accusation before airing it, they simply helped amplify it. It does this all the time.

Now, it probably would have been far more constructive for McSally to have answered Raju like so: “Manu, you are a consummate hack, but the answer to your question is . . .” In any event, McSally is now fundraising on the event. And Raju immediately posted the video as if it was worthwhile news, basking in the subsequent melodramatic statements that confirmed his victimhood. This is a symbiotic relationship between two partisan entities — even if one side never admits its role.

National Review

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Some Lessons from Britain?

A long read, but, as usual with John Gray, this analysis of the British political landscape after the Conservatives’ election victory is very well worth the effort, even for those focused mainly on the US.

There is this for example:

Other progressives prefer a demonological interpretation. Doodling their fever-dreams in green ink, they portray the election as having been hijacked by sinister global forces. Officially, they believe values and beliefs other than their own are errors that can be corrected by reason and education. In practice many among them have invoked an idea of omnipresent evil to explain humankind’s stubborn resistance to their efforts to improve it. Communist regimes pointed to saboteurs and foreign spies to account for the systemic failings of central planning. More recently, liberals have invoked Russian meddling and a global far-right network masterminded by Steve Bannon to explain their political defeats. Delusions of conspiracy are part of the mass psychology of progressivism, and will intensify in the coming months and years.

And this:

If only people aged between 18 and 24 had voted in the general election, Corbyn would have won an enormous majority. No doubt this is partly because of Corbyn’s promise to abolish student tuition fees and the difficulties young people face in the housing and jobs markets. But their support for Corbyn is also a by-product of beliefs and values they have absorbed at school and university. According to the progressive ideology that has been instilled in them, the West is uniquely malignant, the ultimate source of injustice and oppression throughout the world, and Western power and values essentially illegitimate.

Humanities and social sciences teaching has been largely shaped by progressive thinking for generations, though other perspectives were previously tolerated. The metamorphosis of universities into centres of censorship and indoctrination is a more recent development, and with the expansion of higher education it has become politically significant. By over-enlarging the university system, Blair created the constituency that enabled the Corbynites to displace New Labour. No longer mainly a cult of intellectuals, as in Orwell’s time, progressivism has become the unthinking faith of millions of graduates.

The idea that the ideology of the social justice warriors can safely be confined to universities (and in softer forms) schools is nonsense. Indoctrination has consequences. The woke are the voters of tomorrow and, increasingly, today. They will also be the judges, the civil servants, the writers, the CEOs, and, of course, the teachers. The current progressive advance into (and, in some cases, domination of) the institutions is not something that can be wished away.

And turning back specifically to Britain and, even more specifically, Brexit, there’s this:

Whether Johnson can retain his commanding position depends in the short term primarily on how well he maintains his pact with his new voters. If working-class jobs are hit hard by tariffs in the event of a hard Brexit, Labour has a chance to revive rapidly. The votes that have been lent to Johnson were part of a transaction in which greater economic security was a vital component. Working-class Labour supporters who turned to Johnson after a decade of Conservative austerity did so, in part, because they perceived him as a different kind of Conservative. A spate of closed factories and bankrupt farmers could discredit this perception.

The economic problems, incidentally, that will be created by a hard Brexit are rather more than a matter of tariffs. Non-tariff barriers (many of them arising out of the fact that, so far as the EU’s regulatory regime is concerned, the U.K. will be a ‘third country’) are likely to be even more damaging. The answer to this, if the option is still available, is for the U.K. to participate in the European Economic Area on something like the same basis as Norway — as regular readers will not be surprised to see me say.

Anyway, read the whole thing.

Film & TV

Who’s Itching to Watch a New Documentary about Hillary Clinton?

Hillary Clinton speaks during the Women In The World Summit in New York City, April 13, 2018. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters )

Hulu has unveiled the trailer for its upcoming Hillary Rodham Clinton documentary, Hillary. The trailer suggests the film will attempt to be a complete biography of the former first lady, senator, Secretary of State and presidential candidate — and some people are groaning about it already.

For most people who follow politics, this appears to be well-trod territory; the trailer features her meeting Bill, the criticism of her as First Lady, Pat Buchanan, Bill Clinton’s impeachment, Donald Trump, “emails,” and the 2016 campaign.

We’ll see if there’s anything interesting, new, or surprising. If you had to make a documentary about Clinton, maybe the most interesting and under-explored question about her is how the very best campaign staff that money could buy, all of the breakthroughs in data analytics, with a huge fundraising advantage and every resource that any campaign could ever want . . . could be so blind to her actual standing with the electorate. The key question is not merely, “how could she lose?”, it’s “how could she and her team have so little recognition that she was at risk of losing?” Remember, her campaign spent money and scheduled a late campaign stop in Arizona, and famously never visited Wisconsin after the convention in late summer. Bill Clinton reportedly told one aide the Friday before the election that Florida was “in the bag.”

There’s a really fascinating story to be told there; much as the Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable, the Hillary Clinton campaign was supposed to be unbeatable — certainly not by a candidate like Donald Trump. Hillary might cover it, or the film may not.

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Politics & Policy

Uncommon Knowledge: The Impeachment Handbook with John Yoo & Richard Epstein

The impeachment proceedings against President Trump has now reached the Senate, and to help our viewers navigate the legal and political issues surrounding it, I sat down with the Hoover Institution’s Visiting Fellow John Yoo and Senior Fellow Richard Epstein, two of the foremost legal scholars in the country. We cover the Articles of Impeachment submitted by the U.S. House of Representatives, the pluses and minuses of calling witnesses, the role of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts in the proceeding, and whether or not President Trump should testify on his own behalf. Finally, I ask Epstein and Yoo for their vote predictions on conviction and acquittal and gets their predictions for the election in November.

Recorded on January 15, 2020.


Friday Links

100 years ago — Prohibition in the United States began in January 1920 and ended in December 1933. Related: here’s Winston Churchill’s doctor’s note allowing him to drink “unlimited” alcohol in prohibition-era America.

For Al Capone’s birthday, here’s the story of that time he bought large blocks of stock in miniature golf construction companies.

Barns Are Painted Red Because of the Physics of Dying Stars.

January 17 is Ben Franklin’s birthday — bio, quotes, videos, his 200+ synonyms for drunk, the bodies found in his basement, and more.

What could go wrong? Living ‘Franken-concrete’ which can heal its own cracks and even ‘give birth’ to new bricks, has been developed by scientists.

The Ten Most Important Weapons of the Middle Ages.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include celebrating the Feast of the Ass, the science behind why dark winter days bum people out, learning any subject with Richard Feynman’s notebook technique, the folklore of gin, and a 1918 publication on remedial politics for newly enfranchised women in the U.K.


The English Cut

Our National Review Institute fellow and occasional contributor Douglas Murray has a very entertaining column at Unherd on the apparent vendetta the New York Times has against the United Kingdom.

My only concern is that Murray is having too much fun engaging in a bit of “stage English” while writing these days. The column is full of backhanded identifiers for the offended writers: “someone called Peter S Goodman,” or “an all-but-unknown novelist” and “an unknown academic.” And another author who is “very slightly interesting.”

Law & the Courts

Slate vs. Judge Pryor

Federal appeals-court judge William Pryor wrote a dissent denying that a juror’s calling on God for help demonstrated, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he could not perform his duties. Matthew Franck defends Judge Pryor on NRO, Andrew Cohen trashes him at Slate, and Josh Hammer writes at Daily Wire that Cohen is misrepresenting the case.

It looks to me pretty clear that Cohen is in the wrong here. Judge Pryor makes a sensible distinction between praying for the wisdom to weigh the evidence in a case rightly (permissible) and insisting that God has provided the verdict without any need to weigh that evidence (impermissible), and concludes that the evidence indicates that the juror fell on the correct side of the line. Cohen just pretends that Pryor didn’t make that distinction and is fine with a juror’s falling on the wrong side of it.

I’d say Cohen is violating the commandment about bearing false witness, but I’m afraid it would become a federal case.


Twenty Things That Caught My Eye Today: Nigeria, Surrogacy, Foster Care & More (January 17, 2020)

It’s a little longer today, because I haven’t gotten to posting one in a few days . . .

1. 4 Nigerian seminarians abducted while on seminary grounds

2. Turkish airstrikes target Yazidi areas recovering from ISIS genocide

3. A surrogate dies in California, leaving behind a grieving family

4. Malka Groden in Mosaic: Why Orthodox Jews Have Been Hesitant to Adopt Outside Their Community, and Why They Shouldn’t Be

5. Naomi Schaefer Riley: Do You Need Empathy to Be a Good Foster Parent?

6. Georgia governor to unveil foster care overhaul

7. Iowa Woman Honored For Fostering More Than 600 Children

8. Hawaii child who starved to death was repeatedly returned to alleged abusers, records show


10.  Foster Care Adoptions Reach Record High

11. 86-year-old man teaches himself to knit so he can give 300 hats to premature babies

12. Growing number of stay-at-home parents need family-friendly policies

13. Robert P. George asks the Attorney General to Address the Pornography Epidemic

14. State of contradiction: Progressive family culture, traditional family structure in California

15. Fr. Raymond de Souza: Pope Francis, Pope Emeritus Benedict and the ‘Secret Magisterium’

16.In The Atlantic: The Court Case That Could Finally Take Down Antiquated Anti-Catholic Laws

17. The silly smear of Bill Barr as an agent of a ‘Catholic cult’

18. Christina Hoff Sommers on her friend Roger Scruton

19. Douglas Murray: Roger Scruton kept the light of conservative philosophy burning in dark times. We owe it to him to follow his example

20. A worthwhile conversation with Princeton’s Margarita Mooney

Plus: An interview I did with Mustafa Akoyl, from Turkey, currently at CATO, about religious freedom, the Middle East, and much more

I’ll be signing books next week right by Catholic University in D.C. as the March for Lifers descend on the place:


Scottish Nationalism and Europe

Scottish independence is the single focus for the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). But is independence really what they’re asking for?

The SNP was founded in the 1930s and remained a political outlier for decades. But then along came Thatcher, who was devastatingly unpopular north of the border. By the 1980s, there was serious support for “devolution,” and a transfer of powers from Westminster to a new Scottish parliament. In 1999, devolution was achieved. But what about Scotland’s relationship with Europe?

It is worth remembering that in the late 1980s, the SNP’s slogan was “Independence in Europe.” Freedom from England, in other words, but not from Brussels. After the Brexit vote, Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP, said that it is her “passionate belief that it is better for all parts of the UK to be members of the European Union.”

Brexit complicates this argument, however. After Britain leaves the EU, what currency will Scotland have? Presuming the EU permits Scotland to rejoin, what “deal” could she reasonably hope for? How would such a deal affect trade with England, which would remain Scotland’s largest trading partner? It’s complicated.


Emerson on the American Scholar

Ralph Waldo Emerson had some thoughts on what scholarship should entail, and he shared them with Harvard’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 1837. Today’s Martin Center piece quotes from his address.

Reflecting on the wide range of human capabilities, he wrote, “In this distribution of functions the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking.”

I don’t think Emerson would have a high opinion of many of our professors today.

The function of higher education, in his view, was to inspire young people, not to merely drill them. Emerson continues, “Of course there is a portion of reading quite indispensable to a wise man. History and exact science he must learn by laborious reading. Colleges, in like manner, have their indispensable office — to teach elements. But they can only highly serve us when they aim not to drill, but to create; when they gather from far every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and by the concentrated fires set the hearts of their youth on flame. Thought and knowledge are natures in which apparatus and pretension avail nothing. Gowns and pecuniary foundations, though of towns of gold, can never countervail the least sentence or syllable of wit. Forget this, and our American colleges will recede in their public importance, whilst they grow richer every year.”

Colleges growing richer while receding in public importance? Sound familiar?


Watch: Kat Timpf Tells Joe Biden to Stop Lying about the Iraq War

In a new video for National Review, Kat Timpf calls out Joe Biden after the Democratic presidential candidate said that he had disagreed with President George W. Bush on the Iraq War from the start. It’s a claim that Timpf calls “demonstrably false.”


Assuming Bernie Sanders Said It, Just What Did He Do Wrong?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks with Sen. Bernie Sanders after the Democratic primary debte in Des Moines, Iowa, January 14, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

It’s hard to believe that behind closed doors, lifelong outspoken feminist Bernie Sanders suddenly transforms into Andrew Dice Clay and suddenly goes on about all the things a woman could never do.

But for a moment, let’s assume that Sanders said what was contended in that original CNN report — that “he did not believe a woman could win” against Donald Trump in 2020.

First, this isn’t that outlandish a belief, particularly in Democratic circles. Hillary Clinton herself said in 2017: “I started the campaign knowing that I would have to work extra hard to make women and men feel comfortable with the idea of a woman president. It doesn’t fit into the — the stereotypes we all carry around in our head.  And a lot of the sexism and the misogyny was in service of these attitudes. Like, you know, ‘We really don’t want a woman commander in chief.’” Right after the election, her running mate Tim Kaine declared America “has made it so uniquely difficult for a woman to make it into a federal office.”

In CNN’s account, the comment from Warren that preceded Sanders’ statement was Warren expressing the belief that she could “earn broad support from female voters.” But Clinton won the women’s vote, 54 percent to 41 percent, and still lost. “Broad support from female voters,” by itself, is probably not sufficient to beat Trump, unless it considerably expands upon Clinton’s margin in those key swing states. There’s no indication that a sufficient number of voters are hungering for a woman president. A 2018 Pew poll found that 38 percent of men and 51 percent of women hope to see a woman president in their lifetime.

The account from Warren didn’t include any suggestion that Sanders was mocking, belittling, or otherwise snide or hostile in his response to her presidential ambitions. There’s no indication that Sanders thought it was a good thing that, in his assessment, a woman wouldn’t be able to beat Trump. If he said it, he seemed to be warning his friend about an obstacle he thought she was underestimating. Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s wrong, but it hardly constitutes some sort of sexist attack on Warren. And if Sanders secretly harbors a sexist low opinion of Warren, he’s hidden it well. He’s certainly been, at minimum, cordial to her in the primary until recently.

For what it’s worth, I doubt he said it, at least in the way she describes. Apparently, his comment didn’t bother Warren enough for her to mention it at the time or at any other point in 2018 or 2019. No, she and her camp didn’t start telling reporters about it until two days before the last televised debate before the Iowa caucuses. The spectacularly convenient timing of this story strongly suggests deliberate political opportunism.

I happen to think the assessment that a woman couldn’t beat Trump is wrong; if politics has taught us anything in recent decades, it’s that just about anybody can beat just about anybody if the outside circumstances are right. If enough Minnesotans are unimpressed with the major party candidates, they’ll make Jesse Ventura governor. If enough Alabamans are repulsed by Roy Moore, they’ll elect Democrat Doug Jones to Senate. If the national mood is sufficiently against Democrats and Martha Coakley claims that Curt Schilling is a Yankee fan, then Republican Scott Brown can win a Senate seat in Massachusetts.

Most Popular

The Botched Democratic Case for Witnesses

The fate of the republic, we are now supposed to believe, hinges on whether there are witnesses at a Senate impeachment trial. Upon the long-anticipated transmittal of the articles of impeachment to the Senate, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said if the upper chamber doesn’t obtain the witnesses and ... Read More

The Botched Democratic Case for Witnesses

The fate of the republic, we are now supposed to believe, hinges on whether there are witnesses at a Senate impeachment trial. Upon the long-anticipated transmittal of the articles of impeachment to the Senate, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said if the upper chamber doesn’t obtain the witnesses and ... Read More