And the content of the newly released report takes a backseat for a while to the process of the report getting released. We’re not sure why…
Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire seems like a straight shooter. Most of his appearance before the House Intelligence Committee involved a lot of shoving on both sides. Most of it related to process of a whistleblower report which has now been released being released, not the content of the report. Here a link to the full content of that report.
And while process is important, in many ways, we’re so far beyond that now. Not only because the whistleblower report has now been released, but especially in light of the pattern of misconduct by the President and the White House it describes.
So zeroing on the propriety and sourcing of the whistleblower complaint, which Republicans are, and the odd way it came out, which Democrats are, both seem a little bit like old news.
Most jarringly, the newly revealed allegation in the newly released report that White House staff, at the direction of White House lawyers, worked actively to conceal record of Trump’s phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, presumably because they realized the damage it could do if it got out. The report asserts they did so by removing “the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored…” Which, if true, means they were very aware Trump’s call included content that might be improper if not illegal. Yet none of them (unless someone did via the whistelblower) reported this to anyone. That’s the headline today. (Not how the whistleblower report came out and why it was delayed a few weeks.) And that’s what makes this whole deal a lot more consequential than it was even yesterday.
We understand Democrats are broadly trying to establish a cover-up. And want to make sure other stuff that comes up (and it will), gets released in a timely matter. Maguire pretty convincingly asserts he did his best, and was not part of nor supported any kind of possible cover-up. (Democrats did not even come close to taking the wildly hysterical tone some Republicans tried to assert during the hearing.)
Maguire’s actions may not have been incredibly speedy, and definitely didn’t meet a timeline mandated by the law, but the description of his process seemed at least somewhat reasonable. He repeatedly asserted this situation was “unprecedented”, as many thing Trump are, and that seems fair at least to a point, and we’re not sure that point was crossed, even though the whistleblower complaint, which has now been released, was withheld from Congress for a time.
Anyway now it’s out. That’s where we are.
Democrats are also reasonable in questioning whether this whistleblower complaint would’ve gotten out at all had it stayed with the White House and Justice Department and not leaked.
Still, we didn’t always quite get exactly what Democrats were after today. Rather than focus on the substance of Trump’s transcript of his phone call with Ukraine’s President and the whistleblower report, they painstakingly rehashed why those things weren’t released more promptly.
The answer may be when they did ask about the substance of the report or figures in it (like Rudy Giuliani), as Pennsylvania Democrat Mike Quigley did, and Committee Chair Adam Schiff did at the very end, Maguire probably appropriately referred them to the White House rather than offer his personal opinions. Which is probably the right way to do it. But that line of questioning was also probably worth a try.
Here’s a clip of Representative Quigley’s attempt to ask about Giulani and what he’s up to (Click on the photo to watch):
Yes, it took leaks to among other places the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to get the whistleblower report on the radar, and then finally get it out. But that’s also the way things are meant to work sometimes, and a big part of why there’s a First Amendment.
The only real negative of the Director of National Intelligence holding refusing to release it for a while, seems to be that it’s getting a lot more attention now than it might’ve if it was slipped to the Intelligence Committee—as a matter of law—in the regular course of business. And it’s harder for Trump to push back.
So how is Trump going to push back? We’ve gotten some hints already of several narratives the President is trying on right now:
- Joe Biden and his son are the real criminals. This is Trump’s most tried-and-true tactic: re-aiming the guilt at the accuser. But this isn’t really sticking this time around, at least in a way that helps Trump (though as we’ve said, we believe it’ll hurt Biden’s chances as a candidate).
- Democrats are going to see to it that nothing gets done and everything in Washington grinds to a halt except for this. If that ends up hurting the economy, he can then blame Democrats for it during his re-election campaign. The President does have some control over legislative priorities, and the urgency at which things move through Congress, and Republicans can definitely block things or add amendments to pending bipartisan legislation that make it impossible for Democrats to vote for it, and then blame Democrats. So the outcome of this largely depends on how good a politician House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proves to be.
- If Democrats have their way, Presidents will never be able to have private phone calls with foreign leaders ever again. This is just silly. But it’s being pushed as a major talking point along with the one above by White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham.
- What Trump did was unprecedented, but not criminal. Just like when the President came close to admitting he didn’t pay any taxes, but then called that “smart”. Trump seems itching to portray his apparent coercion of Ukraine’s President in a similar light. Will it work? That’s what the this whole thing may very well ultimately come down to.