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White House

On the Whistleblower Kerfuffle, Imagine a Different Scenario

Then president-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama arrive for Trump’s inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters)

Imagine . . .

If in early 2015, some White House staffers transcribing confidential presidential calls were disturbed about one conversation that President Obama had with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. The two allegedly had confidentially discussed the staggered release of some $1.7 billion in withheld U.S. dollars to Iran — as an understood exchange for the release of 4 American hostages, $400 million of which was to be delivered, in an unmarked cargo plane at night, and in various currencies to Tehran.

The payments were allegedly to take place in the general context of the ongoing “Iran Deal” nuclear nonproliferation negotiations, and a time when Iranian-funded Hezbollah was staging terrorist operations in Syria and from Lebanon.

Imagine further that a few of the insider staffers/transcribers talked about their worries over such a quid pro quo and the disconnect between what their president was saying to the Iranians and what the administration was denying to the press. And they were further outraged because such payments were hidden from the public and in apparent violation of US policy prohibiting cash payments for hostage releases.

At that point, a furious conservative Republican, former CIA analyst, and former Dick Cheney staffer, with ties to a likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate, working in the National Intelligence Program, contacted the staff of Representative Nunes, Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The latter’s staff then helped to prep and advise the complainant, along with a mostly conservative leaning law firm, before submitting the formal charges to the inspector general.

The gist of the brief, citing legal precedents, footnoted to often-conservative media, and prepared as a formal legal document, was that the anonymous complainant had heard and learned from anonymous bureaucrats that they in turn had heard the Obama–Zarif call. Such hearsay in the complaint was allowable given that the whistleblower protocols have been mysteriously recently altered to permit such second-hand complaints.

Imagine also that Chairman Nunes did not apprise his Democratic members of the committee of the complaint, but tweeted about its contents for several weeks in criticism of President Obama and his negotiations with Iran, before releasing its existence to the media. Note too that the complainant’s second- and third-hand version of the Obama–Zarif call differed in vital areas from the actual transcription of the call immediately released by President Obama. Imagine further that Chairman Nunes read into the Congressional record his own version of the Obama–Zarif call that was for the most part not accurate, and when called on his deception claimed he was only offering a “parody” of the call.

Chairman Nunes would also announce that the whistleblower’s name would not be disclosed, although he/she was known to Nunes and his Republican committee colleagues, and further that the whistleblower would not appear to testify to the committee to which he/she first addressed his/her complaints, and instead would only answer written questions.

Would Republicans seek impeachment of President Obama on the basis of such evidence of the whistleblower’s alleged quid pro quo?

Would Democrats be angry about the manner in which the whistleblower’s complaint emerged and the anonymous whistleblower’s own background and motives? Would they say that the transcript of the call, not the whistleblower’s second-hand version of it, showed that Obama and Zarif were discussing parameters of further conflict resolution, aside from the Iran deal, and without explicit ransom for hostages?

Would Republicans simply respond that after the Benghazi travesty, the Fast and Furious scandal, the monitoring of the Associated Press reporters and Fox News’s James Rosen, the Lois Lerner IRS scandal, and the hot mic, quid pro quo horse trading of Obama with the Russian government, they had now more than enough evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors anyway and would proceed on the prompt of the whistleblower to impeach the president?


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