Of Gaslighting, the Mueller Report, and the Ukraine “Transcript”

Gaslighting

“Transcript” of the July 25 Ukraine call, as declassified and released by Trump, but with my highlight of words of solicitation and agreement

Gaslighting was, of course, the first instinct of Trump and his spokesbots. It worked pretty well on the Mueller Report, and for all I know it may work again. But several points are worth considering.

Trump is Bound Hand and Foot to the “Transcript”

Trump claims that the Mueller Report was written by his political enemies—“17 angry Democrats.” The “transcript” was prepared by people working directly for Trump.

Trump claims that the Mueller Report is full of lies. By contrast, he has endorsed, authenticated, and given his seal of approval to the “Transcript” as an accurate account of the words he used in speaking with the president of Ukraine and the words the Ukrainian president used in speaking to him.

Reading and Understanding the “Transcript” is Easy

The Mueller Report is 448 pages long. The “transcript” of the July 25 call is less than five pages long.

The Mueller Report is dense and requires close reading. The “transcript is easy to read. Perusing it only takes a few minutes, and understanding it is easy for anyone with a basic understanding of the English language.

The Context in Which the Conversation Occurred: Unexplained Holdup of Military Assistance

Trump cannot deny—and does not, to my knowledge, deny—that when the conversation occurred he was holding up several hundred million dollars in U.S. military assistance, recently mandated by Congress.

Trump cannot deny—and does not, to my knowledge, deny—that he has never offered any explanation for the holdup of the military aid, let alone a coherent or plausible explanation.

Trump cannot deny—and does not, to my knowledge, deny—that he only lifted his hold on military aid after the public learned of the whistleblower complaint.

Not only is there no explanation as to why the aid was held up in the first place, there is also no explanation as to why the ban was lifted, or as to why it was lifted when it was lifted, and not at some other time.

What the “Transcript” Says About Solicitation and Agreement

News accounts and talking heads speak of Trump asking for Ukrainian help in digging up dirt on (1) spurious reports of some kind of Ukraine-Democratic conspiracy in 2016 and (2) Joe Biden and his son. That is so, but the “transcript” actually discloses an agreement between the two presidents that Ukraine would provide these boons to Trump, or would at least try to do so. Look at the language I have highlighted, by clicking on the link at the top of this post.

The Legal, Moral, and Political Significance of Solicitation and Agreement

This solicitation and agreement may violate the campaign finance law, the anti-bribery law, and/or the federal anti-extortion law, though in each case there are potential legal technicalities.

It follows that an unqualified assertion that Trump violated one or more of these statutes invites a response based on legal pettifogging and obfuscation.

But an assertion that Trump grossly abused his power invites and demands a substantive debate about whether Trump’s behavior was “OK” or “not OK.”

First Aggravating Factor: An Agreement Coerced by Withholding Military Assistance to a Nation Under Attack

The solicitation and agreement, without more, probably violate three federal criminal statutes and are, in any event, a gross abuse of office.

It’s even worse if the agreement was coerced by Trump’s withholding of military aid and threating to keep on withholding aid unless the Ukrainians actually dish up the requested dirt.

The existence of such a coercive linkage is strongly suggested by

  • the language at the bottom of page 2 of the “transcript” and the top of page 3, and
  • the otherwise unexplained denial of needed military aid.

That said, I am unhappy with some of the rhetoric surrounding this matter, as my previous post indicates.

Second Aggravating Factor: Did Trump Knowingly Seek False Information on 2016 or on the Bidens?

It’s clear that sometimes Trump lies through his teeth and knows it; sometimes proclaims his delusions as fact; and sometimes throws claims around in the same way that Harry Potter used his wand—magically to change reality to his liking. It’s also clear that it’s often hard to tell which if these is going on.

And that, I believe, is the case here. Democrats should not make the validity of their arguments for impeachment turn in any on proof about Trump’s state of mind.