The Morning Jolt

White House

The Coming Battle of Exhausting Perpetual Outrages

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House, September 9, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

One of the factors that may impede the Democrats’ efforts to impeach President Trump is outrage fatigue in the American public. Outrage fatigue is also probably going to be a factor that causes Americans to tune out President Trump’s own metronomic insistence that he’s always the victim of a vast confluence of sinister foes.

There are a couple of defenses you can make of the president’s behavior regarding Ukraine. (I have contended and still believe that attempting to restrict congressionally authorized and appropriated security aid to Ukraine unless the Ukrainian government investigates a potential rival of the president is a straight-up abuse of presidential power.)

You could argue, as Luke Thompson does, that President Trump did nothing wrong. Thompson is correct when he writes that the United States government has a compelling interest in knowing if its private citizens are involved in corruption abroad, either alone or in concert with current, former, or future public officials. The catch is that this is why we have institutions like the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation. The lead investigator of allegations of American citizens and officials participating in corruption abroad is not supposed to be the president’s personal attorney. If Trump had said something along the lines of, “if you encounter any evidence that any American committed a crime, be sure to reach out to our Department of Justice, and let me know if the State Department can help with any extradition issues,” this would not have provided much fodder for impeachment advocates, because Trump would be steering the investigation through proper channels.

Defenders of the president could more or less plead ignorance. You periodically hear variations of the argument, “look, Trump’s not a politician, he’s never worked in government before, he just doesn’t know what sort of thing is allowed and what isn’t.” Except that’s his job as president to know the laws that define and limit his authority and the Constitutional boundaries. That’s not a side issue or errata; it’s a prerequisite.

Defenders of the president could argue that Trump wasn’t specifically looking for dirt on Biden out of partisan and personal interests, and that this is just a reflection of a commitment to good and honest government. That argument would be stronger if we had ever heard Trump publicly going on at length about corruption in other countries. It’s not like there’s a shortage of good suspects: North Korea, Sudan, Cambodia, Haiti, Turkmenistan, Nicaragua, etcetera. Cisco, IBM, and SAP share source code with Russian authorities, including Russia’s Federal Security Service, more commonly known as the FSB. I’ve never heard Trump complain that American companies could be inadvertently facilitating Russian hackers, cyber-espionage, or cyber-attacks, or turning a blind eye to their corrupt partners.

Defenders of the president could argue that the security assistance to Ukraine was a bad idea in the first place. As I noted last week, there is a way for the president to attempt to stop the expenditure of congressionally authorized and appropriated funds. It’s called the Impoundment Control Act, and it’s like a veto, complete with Congress having the opportunity to override the veto. Trump didn’t bother.

You could argue that what the president did was wrong but doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment. As Andy McCarthy writes, “Trump should not use the powers of his office solely for the purpose of obtaining campaign ammunition to deploy against a potential foe. But all presidents who seek reelection wield their power in ways designed to improve their chances. If Trump went too far in that regard, we could look with disfavor on that while realizing that he would not be the first president to have done so.” Congress has options to rebuke or punish a president short of impeachment, but few Democrats are interested in those. After all, folks like Rashida Tlaib have impeachment merchandise to sell.

Defenders of the president are likely to deploy some variation of “turnabout is fair play.” There are undoubtedly some people asking how different Trump’s request to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is from all the favor-trading that went on at the Clinton Foundation in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

You may recall those “lock her up” chants. At any point, the new administration could have investigated the Clinton Global Initiative. It’s not like there was never any credible evidence of influence-peddling there. In a 2011 memo to Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, John Podesta, and other members of the foundation’s board, the ex-president’s longtime aide Doug Band laid out how his consulting firm simultaneously gave donations to both the Clinton Foundation and lucrative speaking and consulting gigs for the former president from the same companies and individuals. After the election, foreign governments suddenly announced they were no longer interested in donating to the Clinton Global Initiative, indicating that once Hillary Clinton was no longer likely to be in a position to influence American policy, they didn’t see a point to sending more money. Band also contended that Clinton Foundation funds had been used to pay for Chelesa Clinton’s wedding, although he showed no supporting evidence. Huma Abedin, the longtime aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, worked for a little under a year as a “special government employee” for the State Department, while simultaneously working as a consultant for Band’s firm called Teneo, giving private investors information about the government.

The Department of Justice could have investigated any or all of these claims and unusual arrangements. They didn’t.

In November 22, 2016, Trump said during an interview that he didn’t “want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t. She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways.”

On December 10, 2016, at a “thank you rally” in Michigan, after the “lock her up” chants began again, President-elect Trump said, “No, it’s okay. Forget it. That plays great before the election. Now, we don’t care, right?”

Why did the Clintons get away with it? Because no one chose to investigate further, probably taking their cues from the incoming commander in chief.

No, what we’re going to get for the next six months is just unending servings of the biggest level of outrage possible from all the major players.

On Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee held a hearing and chairman Adam Schiff attempted to, in his words, “parody” the president’s comments in the call during a hearing on the whistleblower’s complaint that helped bring Trump’s call with Zelensky. This was a bad decision for a lot of reasons. The readout had just come out earlier that morning; some people hearing Schiff’s words may have thought, at least initially, that he was quoting the real words from the president. While various lines hinted at the parodic nature — “I’m only going to say this seven times, so you listen good” — it wasn’t all that funny; it seemed to be some sort of Schiff fan-fiction of how he imagined Trump speaking to foreign leaders like Tony Soprano. Stephen Hayes, formerly of the Weekly Standard and light-years away from being a fan of Trump declared, “The Trump/Zelensky phone call readout is bad on its face. And yet, Adam Schiff, not satisfied with the facts as they are, offers a summary that is a distortion, designed to make it look worse.”

It was a dumb move, and if you’re Nancy Pelosi, you should be fuming that the guy who kept insisting that Russia-gate would lead to impeachment and who then started to complain that Robert Mueller wasn’t doing a thorough enough job kicked off this new stage of investigating the president with some comedy sketch writing.

How does Trump respond this morning? “Rep. Adam Schiff illegally made up a FAKE & terrible statement, pretended it to be mine as the most important part of my call to the Ukrainian President, and read it aloud to Congress and the American people. It bore NO relationship to what I said on the call. Arrest for Treason?”

“Arrest for treason.”

The outrage always has to be turned up to eleven, no matter the issue or circumstances.

ADDENDUM: If you haven’t already, go check out the 3,000-word timeline providing everything you ever wanted to know about Hunter Biden’s employment, work, and connections and deals going back to the early 2000s . . . or at least everything that can be known from public records, public statements, news accounts, and other documents. One aspect that is important is that while many of the particular actions of Hunter Biden — and Joe Biden’s blind eye or tacit approval — can be justified as demonstrations of bad judgment but not quite illegal, a clear pattern emerges when you look at all of them together. Hunter Biden’s clients and business associates always had business before the federal government; they always paid him a lot considering his meager experience; it was often difficult to determine what exactly Hunter Biden offered them beyond his famous surname and connections to power, and they often got arrested and indicted for fraud and bribery schemes, although ones not directly tied to Biden’s work. Collectively, this should probably nuke Biden’s campaign. Every father loves his son, but not every father either allows or assents to his son getting this deep into this many deals with this many shady characters. At some point, Joe Biden needed to say, “for the sake of the public duties I’ve been entrusted with, you can’t do this. The office of the vice presidency comes with a lot of perks, but it also comes with a lot of responsibilities, and one of my responsibilities is to avoid circumstances that create a conflict of interest or even the appearance of a potential conflict of interest. I need you to do something with your talents and abilities that does not involve attempts to shape or profit from U.S. policy.” It would have been a difficult discussion, but it was a needed one.

It didn’t happen, and now we see the consequence.

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