me on Ian Masters' radio show

Ian Masters is the host of Background Briefing, a public radio program in LA. He invited me on to talk about Tuesday’s Editorial Board, “When Does Ordinary Republican Partisanship Turn into Treason?

I try explaining my theory about why someone like Donald Trump can lie so much.

Let me know how I did.

Cheers! —JS


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How Four Scholars Moved Democrats to Act on Articles Impeachment

Truth alone can't prevail. Only truth plus power can.

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The House Judiciary Committee had its first impeachment hearing Wednesday. It heard testimony from four authorities on American constitutional history and law. The Democrats called three. The Republicans called one. That, for me, was the day’s news.

The numbers, I mean. Three to one.

All three witnesses for the Democrats said the case against Trump is clear. All three said the framers of the Constitution would have recognized the danger. All three said impeachment was the correct remedy. All three said Donald Trump abused his power to enlist foreign interference to deprive Americans of their right to self-determination.

Nancy Pelosi made the announcement early today.

Jonathan Turley, the GOP’s witness, didn’t necessarily disagree. That’s the first thing you should know. He argued instead that we can’t know yet if the president is guilty of impeachable offenses. There’s not enough evidence, Turley said, and proceedings are moving too fast. He didn’t say his colleagues were incorrect. He said hold your horses.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a constitutional law scholar. But neither are most of the Americans who watched the hearing. That’s why I’m pointing out the numbers. Three to one is something everyone can understand—three to one when even the one doesn’t really disagree; he’s just cautious, which is reasonable. Everyone gets three to one.

Think about it.

Most people most of the time have something else to do than pay close attention to politics. Nearly everyone has something else to do than take the time to read, study and make a career in constitutional law. If three scholars—from Harvard, Stanford and UNC—say the case against Trump is clear, well then, it must be clear. If one scholar says you’re going too fast, well then, maybe we should slow things down. This, I think, is a conclusion most people will draw. They don’t know law. They know three to one.

Some have wondered why the Democrats decided to schedule yesterday’s hearing. This question typically came from reporters and pundits who spend all of their waking hours talking about politics. For them, there’s little point to having scholars debate constitutional history and law on live television. To a Washington press corps desiring conflict and novelty above all else, the hearing wasn’t the spectacle they’d prefer.

But that was the point. The Democrats understand well that impeachment must be rooted in deep reverence for American history, American ideals, the rule of law and, most importantly, patriotism. It must be grounded in their sworn and solemn duty to defend and protect the US Constitution. They must give the lasting impression that they don’t want to do this, but must, because law and morality demand it. That’s the impression you get when three to one constitutional scholars give their blessing.

The Republicans understand yesterday’s impact. They have long stopped defending the president of the strength or weakness of the available evidence against him. For many of these Republicans, the authority of truth matters less than the authority of the individual speaking the truth. If they can erode or destroy that authority, they win.

This is why you saw so much effort to cast doubt on the trio’s motivations, their political preferences, their opinions past and present, their hoity-toity Harvard degrees, and their manicured hair and nails. They succeeded in getting the press to jump on some fabricated outrages and trivialities. They failed to make most stick.

The Republicans know that most Americans most of the time have something better to do than pay close attention to politics. They know that most Americans are going to say to themselves: Well, if three to one experts say Trump did it, I guess he did it. The Republicans used their best weapon, which is the very worst weapon. It didn’t work.

This is not to say the truth prevailed. The truth will never prevail on its own. The Republican Party and its media allies are right now lying to millions of Americans who mistakenly believe that one of the witnesses for the Democrats, Stanford’s Pamela Karlan, insulted the president’s youngest child, Barron Trump. She didn’t. She was making a point about the Constitution forbidding a president from acting like a king.

Contrary to what President Trump has said, Article 2 does not give him the power to do anything he wants. The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility, so while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.

That this is not, in any way, an insult doesn’t detract from the utility of saying it is. By whipping up fake outrage over a fake insult, the Republicans and their media allies can move public opinion in the president’s favor. They can create a picture of a Democratic Party so hell-bent on overturning an election they’re willing to attack an innocent boy.

This is why truth alone won’t prevail. Only when truth is coupled with power can we defeat disinformation, propaganda and vicious lie after lie after lie. And lo, that’s what we saw this morning. Nancy Pelosi, in a solemn speech at the Capitol, called on the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to draw up articles of impeachment. Her bet is simple and clear. How many Americans will believe the truth more than lies?

Probably about three to one.

—John Stoehr

Report Points to Trump, '-1,' as the Ringleader of a Global Conspiracy

This a giant of a scandal. It dwarfs Watergate.

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The House Intelligence Committee released its report Tuesday. In it were phone call records showing frequent contact between Rudy Giuliani and the White House. The records suggest in the most granular detail yet that the president of the United States is the leader of an international criminal conspiracy to defraud the American people.

But the call records do more than that. They offer a teachable moment. They provide an illustration, in miniature, of what a conspiracy looks like, and why it’s morally and legally wrong for the head of the world’s oldest democracy to engage in such conduct.

Fortunately, the phone logs bring the vastness of the conspiracy down to a human scale.

The House Intelligence report does not say Giuliani called Trump. Instead, it says the president’s personal attorney called a number designated as “-1.” Adam Schiff, the panel’s chairman, said his committee is investigating whether “-1” is Trump’s phone. The timing of calls and other strong circumstantial evidence, however, point to him.

Joe Biden announced his candidacy on April 25. Leading up to that date, Giuliani, Lev Parnas and John Solomon were in frequent contact, according to the call logs. Parnas was one of Giuliani’s henchmen. He’s now under federal indictment for campaign-finance violations. Solomon was a reporter for The Hill, a Washington newspaper.

As mentioned in previous editions of the Editorial Board, Parnas, under Giuliani’s direction, connected Solomon to Yuriy Lutsenko. Lutsenko used to be Ukraine’s top prosecutor. He was hugely corrupt, because he was intimately linked to Vladimir Putin. In interviews with Solomon, Lutsenko alleged that Joe Biden, when he was the vice president, tried to shield his son, Hunter Biden, from criminal investigation in Ukraine (a lie) and that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered with the 2016 presidential election (also a lie.) Lev Parnas was deeply involved in Solomon’s “journalism.” He was present at his interviews with Yuriy Lutsenko, according to reporting in Pro Publica.

This we knew. What didn’t know was the timing.

On the same day Joe Biden announced his presidential campaign, The Hill published a mendacious Solomon column “alleging that Ukraine had planted Russia collusion allegations against the Trump campaign,” according to the Post. “The column also described Biden’s efforts to oust a Ukrainian prosecutor and questioned whether Biden had acted to protect his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company facing an investigation, as the fired prosecutor has alleged.”

Coincidence? Unlikely.

The very same day, April 25, Giuliani received a call from “-1” (i.e., Trump). Giuliani then called Sean Hannity at Fox. A while later, Trump appeared on Hannity’s show to comment on Solomon’s column in The Hill. “That sounds like big, big stuff,” he said.

It could have been a coincidence, but again, unlikely. As I noted last week, Parnas’ attorney said he met regularly with the “BLT Team,” a name taken from the restaurant where the group convened several times a week on the second floor of the Trump International Hotel in Washington. The BLT team included Parnas, Giuliani, Solomon, attorneys Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, and US Rep. Devin Nunes’ chief aide.

Coincidence isn’t the right word to describe a president’s dirty lawyer getting a dirty prosecutor to tell a dirty reporter the president’s Democratic rival is dirty, and then getting a dirty TV host to ask the president to comment on the dirty reporter’s dirt.

The right word to describe all that is conspiracy.

Which can be criminal. Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chief, is now serving time in federal prison for defrauding the United States. Legally, conspiracy doesn’t require an underlying crime. Prosecutors were only required to show Manafort conspired to “impair or obstruct the lawful function of any part of the government.”

I don’t know if the president’s conduct meets a statutory standard. I do think it meets a political one. Trump, as “-1,” is the ringleader of a global conspiracy to defraud the American people of their right to consent to his leadership. There is no such thing as legitimate consent when presidents collude with enemies foreign and domestic to obstruct the free and fair process by which all Americans exercise self-governance.

This is a giant of a scandal. It dwarfs Watergate. It boggles the mind of ordinary Americans to contemplate the wide array of seedy underworld characters involved in a vast global conspiracy. (Another side of this involves another dirty former Ukrainian prosecutor who did a favor for a Ukrainian mobster fighting extradition to the US. Dmitry Firtash, the mobster, got Viktor Shokin, the prosecutor, to say Biden was dirty. That won Giuliani’s attention. His friends diGenova and Toensing went to the US Department of Justice to plead with the US attorney general to go easy on Firtash.)

But these call logs bring the vastness of the conspiracy down to a human scale. Donald Trump talked to Giuliani, who talked to Parnas, who talked to Lutsenko, who talked to Solomon, who talked to Giuliani, who talked to Hannity, who talked to Donald Trump.

—John Stoehr

When Does Ordinary Republican Partisanship Turn into Treason?

The president is already there. His party is close behind.

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It bears repeating.

Donald Trump was not only press-ganging Volodymyr Zelensky in an illegal scheme for partisan gain. He was rewriting the history of 2016 in order to wound enemies (Democrats) and help friends (Vladimir Putin)—as well as to give Kremlin operatives room to strike again. It is in no way overstating it to say the president of the United States is the head of an international conspiracy to defraud the American people.

It has remained to be seen how far the Republican Party is willing to go in defense of Trump’s conspiracy. Senate Republicans quickly conceded that Russia sabotaged Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, but stopped short of saying the president benefited (because admitting that would be admitting Trump is an illegitimate president).

The GOP, like lemmings, is heading for a cliff.

But now, as the impeachment process enters a new and dangerous phase, we are seeing new GOP behavior (though we have witnessed plenty of hinting). David Drucker, a superlative reporter, wrote today Republicans decided the best way to defend Trump is to embrace “the claim of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.”

Let’s be clear. There was no Ukrainian interference. That’s according to the special counsel’s report, which cited one and a half dozen national security agencies. That’s according to the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report. That’s according to every career official in the State Department who testified under oath last month.

The idea that Ukraine, not Russia, attacked the US originated in the Kremlin. The idea that the Democrats, not Trump’s campaign staffers, conspired with foreign operatives is more than “conspiracy theory.” It is a fascist ploy to turn lies into truth. This is why I said recently Trump’s crime is so much worse than abuse of power. It’s treason.

And the Republicans, like lemmings, are heading for that cliff.

Now, it’s one thing to follow the party wherever it goes. Ordinary partisan activity, however vile, isn’t something I care to debate now. It’s quite another thing, however, to know what you’re doing is wrong and do it anyway. The Republicans can’t not know.

First, because intelligence officials briefed Senate Republicans, telling them explicitly the Ukraine-attacked-us story is pure Putin propaganda. Second, because Fiona Hill, a former member of the White House National Security Council, and a Russia authority, was crystal clear about what House Republicans were already doing. She said:

In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests. I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine—not Russia—attacked us in 2016 (my italics).

And now we have another reason why the Republicans can’t not know they are participating in conspiracy to defraud the American people. Rudy Giuliani, who is not regarded for his discretion, confessed to knowing the Ukraine-attacked-us story was bunk. Not only that, the president’s personal attorney actually said he decided to pursue “evidence” of Ukraine’s attack in order to undercut Robert Mueller’s report.

I knew they were hot and heavy on this Russian collusion thing, even though I knew 100 percent that it was false. I said to myself, ‘Hallelujah.’ I’ve got what a defense lawyer always wants: I can go prove someone else committed this crime.”

So: to defend Trump is to defend Russia.

Is that where the Republicans want to go?

Well, yes, if Tucker Carlson is any indication. The Fox News host is on the bleeding edge of attempts by Trump partisans to expand what the American people think is acceptable behavior. On his show last night, he said: “I’m totally opposed to these [US] sanctions [on Russia] and I don’t think we should be at war with Russia and I think we should take the side of Russia if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine.”

He went on to say the Democrats hate America more than Vladimir Putin does.

I think it’s fair for some conservative writers, like Charlie Sykes and Matt Lewis, to characterize the Republicans as dupes and stooges or parroting the Kremlin line. But at some point, we must face what it means for Republicans to know the truth but to advance Kremlin lies anyway, even when doing so slowly burns down the republic. At some point soon, we must stop them calling dupes, and start calling them the enemy.

—John Stoehr

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