22 November 2019

A Tale Of Two Worlds: Clown World vs Real World

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Charles Dickens, A Tale Of Two Cities

If one is reading news reports of how witness testimony during the impeachment hearings currently underway "destroys" the Democrats case for impeachment, one might laugh and think this is the best of times.

If one is following other portions of the legacy media, which is reporting how that same testimony "proves" Trump's corruption, one could be forgiven for thinking this is the worst of times.

If one is reading all of the news, and is therefore seeing that this or that witness is both destroying the Democrats' case for impeachment and proving Trump's corruption, one could be forgiven for a bit of head scratching and wondering what to make of the breathless reporting and pearl clutching attendant upon both narratives.

Clown World, meet Real World.

In Clown World, Impeachment Is A Moral Imperative

After now two weeks of public hearings, the legacy media is filled with articles detailing how "damning" the witnesses arrayed before Congressman Adam Schiff and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence have been. 

Consider some of the recent headlines:

The USA Today piece details a purported deconstruction by Fiona Hill of the "Republican theory" that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.
Hill rebutted the Republican theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 U.S. election and answered questions about the pressure campaign President Donald Trump is accused of levying against the nation. 
Politico reiterates how Dr. Fiona Hill presumably dismantles the Republican narrative of  Ukraine interference in the 2016 election:
“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,” Hill told the House Intelligence Committee in its seventh public impeachment hearing.

“These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes,” added Hill, a longtime Russia hawk.
The Vox article presents the November 20 testimony of Ambassador Gordon Sondland as shredding any pretense that President Trump was concerned at all with corruption in famously corrupt Ukraine.
Sondland’s revelation rips away the last of the pretense that Trump cared about corruption in Ukraine. He wanted a televised announcement of an investigation into Hunter Biden that he could use to cast a pall on the Biden campaign, just as the email morass damaged Hillary Clinton in 2016. All he ever asked for was a sort of political show trial that would allow him to run the same playbook he ran against “Crooked Hillary.”
To be sure, there have been many statements made by these witnesses that are quite unfavorable to President Trump, such as Ambassador Sondland's opening remark about "quid pro quo":
I know that members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a “quid pro quo?” As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.
Indeed, if one listens to the whole of Ambassador Sondland's opening remarks, he makes many statements which are decidedly unfavorable to President Trump. Statements such as this:
In response to our persistent efforts to change his views, President Trump directed us to “talk with Rudy.” We understood that “talk with Rudy” meant talk with Mr. Rudy Giuliani, the President’s personal lawyer.

Let me say again: We weren’t happy with the President’s directive to talk with Rudy. We did not want to involve Mr. Giuliani. I believed then, as I do now, that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for Ukraine matters.

Nonetheless, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the efforts to schedule the White House phone call and White House visit between Presidents Trump and Zelensky, which was unquestionably in our foreign policy interest -- or we could do as President Trump had directed and “talk with Rudy.” We chose the latter course, not because we liked it, but because it was the only constructive path open to us.
Or this: 
Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret. Everyone was informed via email on July 19, days before the Presidential call. As I communicated to the team, I told President Zelensky in advance that assurances to “run a fully transparent investigation” and “turn over every stone” were necessary in his call with President Trump. 

In Real World, Impeachment Is Unproven

Like all news and commentary, however, the reporting on Fiona Hill's testimony must be reconciled to all of her testimony, and to all the responses and comments by committee members related to that testimony. 
Fiona Hill's statement about the "false narrative" was directly challenged by Congressman Devon Nunes in his opening remarks, where, among other items, he reminded the committee of DNC staffer Alexandra Chalupa's communications with Ukraine in 2016 on behalf of Hillary Clinton's campaign:
And they got caught covering up for Alexandra Chalupa—a Democratic National Committee operative who colluded with Ukrainian officials to smear the Trump campaign—by improperly redacting her name from deposition transcripts and refusing to let Americans hear her testimony as a witness in these proceedings.
Congressman Nunes finished his remarks by handing to Dr. Hill a copy of the 2018 report by the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee detailing what they considered to be evidences of Russian interference in the 2016 election, a direct and fairly sweeping rebuke of Dr. Hill's assertions.


In the case of the Politico reporting, they and Dr. Hill are further contradicted by none other than Politico itself, from back in 2017:
Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office. They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. And they helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers, a Politico investigation found.
Fiona Hill's testimony is, at least as regards her opening remarks, factually challenged. The demonstrable factual defects in her testimony prevent it from being the incredibly damaging testimony the legacy media reports it to be.

In similar fashion, the Vox article must inevitably be reconciled to the actual testimony given by Ambassador Sondland. It must be reconciled not just to Sondland's opening statement, but all of his answers to questions by both Democrats and Republicans, which includes this exchange with Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik:

A highlight of this part of his testimony is Ambassador Sondland recounting a statement from President Trump that he wanted Ukrainian President Zelensky to "do the right thing" regarding Ukrainian corruption.

Republican Congressman Michael Turner's questioning of Ambassador Sondland also runs quite counter to the Vox narrative:

Under questioning, Sondland flatly contradicts the Vox reporting:
Turner: “What about the aid? He says that they weren’t tied, that the aid was not tied.”

Sondland: “And I didn’t say they were conclusively tied either. I said I was presuming it.”

Turner: “Okay. So, the president never told you they were tied.”

Sondland: “That’s correct.”

Turner: “So, your testimony, his testimony is consistent in that the president did not tie aid to investigations?”

Sondland: “That’s correct.”
Sondland makes the point repeatedly that the linkage reported by Vox and other media outlets did not exist, or at least that he could not testify they existed. 
Turner: “So, no one told you. Not just the president? Giuliani didn’t tell you. Mulvaney didn’t tell you. Nobody. Pompeo didn’t tell you. Nobody else on this planet told you that Donald Trump was tying aid to these investigations? Is that correct?”

Sondland: “I think I already testified to that.”

Turner: “No answer the question: Is it correct? No one on this planet told you that Donald Trump was tying this aid to the investigation? Because if your answer is yes then the chairman’s wrong and the headline on CNN is wrong. No one on this planet told you that President Trump was tying aid to investigations? Yes or no?”

Sondland: “Yes.”

Turner: “So, you really have no testimony that ties President Trump to a scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in exchange for these investigations?”

Sondland: “Other than my own presumption.”
So it goes with all the testimonies--inconvenient facts and admissions spill out that undercut the impeachment narrative. While there are witnesses in abundance to testify against President Trump and to condemn his conduct, the witnesses also fail to make an unequivocal case against President Trump. There is plenty of evidence to indicate that many within the government disapprove of how Trump handled the July 25 phone call, but there is no clear evidence, no un-contradicted testimony, that establishes either a clear crime or any abuse of Presidential authority.

In The Real World, All Facts Matter

While the media enjoys spinning narrative, ordinary people must deal in facts. There is one singular fact surrounding the impeachment inquiry that neither side has been willing to fully acknowledge or consider: The Ukrainians did investigate Burisma. Not only was Burisma investigated, but the company's owner, Nikolai Zlochevsky, has been indicted. Even more awkward, Hunter Biden's consulting company through which he was paid during his Burisma directorship is alleged by the Ukrainians to have received money laundered from criminal activities by Zlochevsky.
Dubinsky made the claim in a Wednesday press conference, citing materials from an investigation into Zlochevsky and Burisma.

"Zlochevsky was charged with this new accusation by the Office of the Prosecutor General but the press ignored it," said the MP. "It was issued on November 14."

"The son of Vice-President Joe Biden was receiving payment for his services, with money raised through criminal means and money laundering," he then said, adding "Biden received money that did not come from the company’s successful operation but rather from money stolen from citizens."
Ironically, the Ukrainian investigation predates President Zelensky's election in April. The very thing that Donald Trump requested in the July 25 phone call was already underway, and had been publicly announced in Kyiv in February. Perhaps the reason Zelensky undertook no great action to accede to President Trump's July 25 "ask" was that there was no need for action--on the Bidens and Burisma, what Trump had requested was already being done.

Zlochevsky's indictment is a serious challenge to the narratives of the legacy media. It is a grim reminder that Burisma is a corrupt company run by a corrupt oligarch. It is a company that needed to be investigated, whether or not Donald Trump requested it.

It's A Mess

What is left is simply a hot mess. Some people are put out that President Trump dared ask a foreign government for an investigation of a US citizen. Others are put out that he did not follow the recommendations of the policy "experts" within the government. Still others are outraged that Democrats would consider this an impeachable offense.

When these hearings began, I posited the question of whether or not Adam Schiff would be able to make a case for impeachment. At this juncture, it is fairly certain he has not done so. Not only has he failed to address the many inconsistencies and contradictions within his witness testimonies, he has even failed to acknowledged the Ukrainians' own legal actions, which establish a basis in fact both for an investigation of the 2016 election and an investigation into Burisma and Hunter Biden.

Even more damning is that he has completely failed to persuade independent voters. In the two weeks there have been hearings, support for impeachment among independent voters has dropped by 10%. To make the case for impeachment Schiff needed the numbers to move in the opposite direction, especially among independent voters--these are the voters who are not deeply committed pro- or anti-Trump, and are therefore the ones most amenable to persuasion.

Yet the lack of persuasion on impeachment has not yielded a dramatic uptick in job approval for President Trump. Voters might not be impressed by Schiff's impeachment claims but neither are they any more persuaded on how well Trump has carried out the duties of President.

What to make of it all? Simply that impeachment has been from the outset a contrivance, a non-event intended to excite voters and give the media fresh clickbait. This was less about governing the Republic than it was about driving ratings and revenue for the legacy media. A simple examination of Google Trends shows how well this worked out for the media:

For the legacy media, impeachment has been the very best of times. The infotainment industry never had it so good. 

For everyone else, impeachment is merely another sign of the times, and another sobering reminder of the growing divide between Clown World and the Real World.

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