Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sputnik News "Interview" -- Full Quotes


I'm quoted -- in my capacity as director and senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism -- in an article on Russian state media outlet Sputnik News, here.

I have no great complaints about how I was quoted, but figure that the whole sequence and my complete responses are worth throwing out for comment.

I was contacted on December 19 by Sputnik's Olga Dmitrieva, asking me to "comment on the whole situation around Donald Trump's impeachment process," and given the choice of submitting a written response or doing a phone (or chat app) "interview."

My response, as written:

The big question is, what would you like addressed? Here are a couple of brief remarks, but I'll be happy to provide more if I know what you'd like me to comment on.

Your inquiry refers to a "partisan vote" -- which it was, among Republicans opposing impeachment. The Democrats, on the other hand, were not unanimous. Two Democrats voted against the first article of impeachment, three voted against the second article, and one voted "present" on both.

Both sides are, of course, playing politics, but the Republicans aren't doing it very well.

The evidence that President Trump committed the specific acts of which he is accused is incontrovertible. He did, in fact, ask Ukraine's president to investigate Burisma and the Bidens. And he did, in fact, issue a blanket prohibition on his administration cooperating in the impeachment inquiry.

If the Republicans had taken the approach that censure was a more appropriate move than impeachment, or even if they had admitted to the indisputable facts but argued that those facts didn't rise to the level of impeachment-worthy offenses, they'd be on better ground. Simply denying over and over again that the president did what he publicly confessed to doing and has since bragged about doing, and claiming that the blanket prohibition was "executive privilege" when the Trump administration made no claims of executive privilege in the matter, are extraordinarily weak positions.

Finally, the whole saga endangers the (always weak) notion that American domestic politics should "stop at the water's edge," and it does so from both sides of the aisle. Both sides have actively curried "foreign interference" in American elections (not least from Israel's ruling Likud Party and powerful domestic US lobby) while accusing the other side of doing so from Russia and/or Ukraine.

If Trump was Dreyfuss during the "Russiagate" probe, he's Lavon in the current matter. Both affairs were quite damaging to their respective countries.

Then followed further questions from Ms. Dmitrieva (also on the 19th):

1. Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated Wednesday night that the House could indefinitely delay sending the articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate. What could be the possible reasons behind this?

2. How strong is the support for Trump from the Republican Party? Can he secure his nomination as a presidential candidate?

3. How high are the chances of President Trump’s reelection?

4. Some experts say that this impeachment process can hurt the Democratic Party itself. What’s your take on this?

My answers:

1. There are two likely reasons. One is to push back the trial to a point in time frame Pelosi considers more advantageous to her party in next year's election. The other is just to let the articles sit there with no trial at all, thus denying Trump an "acquittal" in the Senate. He would then be the only president to be impeached but not acquitted.

Personally, I think both those reasons are bad ones. The only way this ends well for Democrats is if the Republicans grandstand in the Senate trial and more people notice that they don't care about the facts or the evidence.

2. Trump's support in the Republican Party is overwhelming, and the only way he won't be nominated for re-election is if he drops out and doesn't seek the nomination.

3. Before the impeachment inquiry began, I gave him a 5% chance of re-election. Now I'd say his odds are much better, perhaps approaching 50%.

Before impeachment, the only real question was "will the Democrats nominate someone more popular and more competent than Hillary Clinton." That would have been an easy bar to get over.

But now, with impeachment, the question becomes "which party is more seen as just playing political games with impeachment?" We haven't learned the full answer to that question yet.

4. It's already hurt the Democratic Party to a degree. There's a justifiable sense that they've been out to "get" Trump since 2016, for no better reason than revenge for their loss of the 2016 presidential election.

That can, and may, keep hurting them. But if the Republicans continue to screw up their defense of Trump by pretending he didn't do the things he's publicly confessed to (and even bragged about), instead of defending those things on their merits or condemning them but asserting they aren't really worthy of impeachment, things could turn in the other direction.

Regarding my opinion, as cited by Sputnik, on the supposed "delay [in] sending the articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate":

That opinion was off-the-cuff, at about 10am Eastern time on the 19th. By 2pm Eastern time I had actually dug into the matter  and realized that Pelosi doesn't have the power to "delay" anything.

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