WASHINGTON—Optics this, people.
Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, did not arrive at the committee's hearing on Wednesday prepared to take any prisoners. His opening statement is worth quoting in its entirety.
Your report, for those who have taken the time to study it, is methodical and it is devastating, for it tells the story of a foreign adversary’s sweeping and systematic intervention in a close U.S. presidential election.That should be enough to deserve the attention of every American, as you well point out. But your report tells another story as well. For the story of the 2016 presidential election is also a story about disloyalty to country, about greed, and about lies. Your investigation determined that the Trump campaign – including Trump himself – knew that a foreign power was intervening in our election and welcomed it, built Russian meddling into their strategy, and used it.
Disloyalty to country. Those are strong words, but how else are we to describe a presidential campaign which did not inform the authorities of a foreign offer of dirt on their opponent, which did not publicly shun it or turn it away, but which instead invited it, encouraged it, and made full use of it. That disloyalty may not have been criminal. Constrained by uncooperative witnesses, the destruction of documents & the use of encrypted communications, your team was not able to establish each of the elements of the crime of conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt, so not a provable crime, in any event.
But, I think, maybe, something worse. A crime is the violation of a law written by Congress. But disloyalty to country violates the very obligation of citizenship, our devotion to a core principle on which our nation was founded: That we, the people, not some foreign power that wishes us ill, we decide, who shall govern, us.
This also a story about money, about greed and corruption, about the leadership of a campaign willing to compromise the nation’s interest not only to win, but to make money at the same time.About a campaign chairman indebted to pro-Russian interests who tried to use his position to clear his debts and make millions. About a national security advisor using his position to make money from still other foreign interests.And about a candidate trying to make more money than all of them, through a real estate project that to him, was worth a fortune, hundreds of millions of dollars, and the realization of a lifelong ambition – a Trump Tower in the heart of Moscow.A candidate who, in fact, viewed his whole campaign as the greatest infomercial in history.
Donald Trump and his senior staff were not alone in their desire to use the election to make money. For Russia, too, there was a powerful financial motive. Putin wanted relief from U.S. economic sanctions...imposed in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and over human rights violations.The secret Trump Tower meeting between the Russians and senior campaign officials was about sanctions. The secret conversations between Flynn and the Russian ambassador were about sanctions.Trump and his team wanted more money for themselves, and the Russians wanted more money for themselves, and for their oligarchs.
But the story doesn’t end here either. For your report also tells a story about lies. Lots of lies. Lies about a gleaming tower in Moscow and lies about talks with the Kremlin. Lies about the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and lies about efforts to fire you, Mr. Mueller, and lies to cover it up.Lies about secret negotiations with the Russians over sanctions and lies about Wikileaks. Lies about polling data and lies about hush money payments. Lies about meetings in the Seychelles to set up secret back channels, and lies about a secret meeting in New York Trump Tower.Lies to the FBI, lies to your staff, and lies to our Committee.
And lies to obstruct an investigation into the most serious attack on our democracy by a foreign power in our history.That is where your report ends, Mr. Mueller, with a scheme to cover up, obstruct and deceive every bit as systematic and pervasive as the Russian disinformation campaign itself, but far more pernicious since this rot came from within.Even now, after 448 pages in two volumes, the deception continues. The President and his acolytes say your report found no collusion, though your report explicitly declined to address that question, since collusion can involve both criminal and non-criminal conduct.Your report laid out multiple offers of Russian help to the Trump campaign, the campaign’s acceptance of that help, and overt acts in furtherance of Russian help. To most Americans, that is the very definition of collusion, whether it is a crime or not.
They say your report found no evidence of obstruction, though you outline numerous actions by the President intended to obstruct the investigation. They say the President has been fully exonerated, though you specifically declare you could not exonerate him.In fact, they say your whole investigation was nothing more than a witch hunt, that the Russians didn’t interfere in our election, that it’s all a terrible hoax.The real crime, they say, is not that the Russians intervened to help Donald Trump, but that the FBI had the temerity to investigate it when they did.
But worst of all, worse than all the lies and the greed, is the disloyalty to country, for that too, continues. When asked, if the Russians intervene again, will you take their help, Mr. President? Why not, was the essence of his answer. Everyone does it.Not in the America envisioned by Jefferson, Madison & Hamilton. Not for those who believe in the idea that Lincoln labored until his dying day to preserve, the idea animating our great national experiment, so unique then, so precious still: That our government is chosen by our people, through our franchise, and not by some hostile foreign power.
Right from that moment, and from Schiff's five minutes of questioning that followed, the House Intelligence Committee's session with Robert Mueller had a gravity and a seriousness of purpose that made the morning's encounter with the Judiciary Committee look like pie-fight it was. (To be entirely fair, seriousness of purpose is much easier if Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert, and Jim Jordan are elsewhere.) The Republicans on the committee, including their ranking member, White House lawn ornament Devin Nunes, were surprisingly muted. They still took the opportunity to take their conspiracies out for a walk; Nunes threw out someone named Kathleen, who apparently had a role in something. But they were much more respectful to Mueller and generally acted like legislators and not people spray-painting their names on bridge abutments.
Schiff's argument about disloyalty is what established the mood. Instead of Gohmert's bellowing that Mueller's investigation was "un-American," we had the Democratic members of the committee explaining the actual un-Americanism of allowing foreign ratfckers to help pick a president. And, if there was a moment that drove this all the way home, it came when Mueller told the committee that foreign ratfcking was not merely something out of recent history. Mueller said:
They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign. I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear that it is.
That sobered everybody up right quick.
The rest of the afternoon featured a rage-tantrum from the president* in the White House driveway. (This one featured finger-pointing, chin-elevating, and other generally animalistic behavior.) And there was a press conference from Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Nadler, Adam Schiff, and Elijah Cummings, the latter of whom got right down to the nub of it—namely, that the time for not having the time to be worried about all this is long past.
It's not about not liking the president, it's about loving democracy. It's about loving our country. It's about making a difference for generations yet unborn. That's what this is all about. I'm begging the American people to pay attention to what is going on. Because if you want to have a democracy intact for your children and your children's children ... we have to guard this moment. This is on our watch.
Pelosi and her caucus are moving ever more slowly toward the inevitable—which is an impeachment inquiry—and Wednesday's hearings gave the process a very perceptible shove. Forty-five years ago Wednesday, in a building across the street from the Capitol, a unanimous Supreme Court told a criminal president that, no, he was not above the law, and that he had to give up the tapes that the president knew contained his political death warrant. On Wednesday, the momentum began to build and, sooner or later, it's going to become too hard for the cautious, the timid, and the downright cowardly to resist.
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