September 26, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Whistleblower Shows Why Mueller Report Still Matters
Dems are searching for a focus. They mustn't forget Russia's attack in 2016.
I spent the morning combing through the whistleblower complaint and I’m here to tell you, the press corps is not reporting the fullness of its shocking contents.
Yes, the president asked a foreign leader to interfere in the 2020 election, according to the complaint. Yes, White House officials appear complicit in covering up Donald Trump’s abuse of power and lawlessness. But there’s something lurking here the Democrats must not overlook as they game out a plan for an impeachment inquiry.
The whistleblower complaint suggests that there’s more at stake than a presidential election, and more involved than systemic corruption that’s rotting the administration. The president appears to be rewriting, as it were, what happened in the 2016 presidential election by writing Russia’s role out of the story. Not only that, he’s attempting to frame his enemies for Vladimir Putin’s crime, transforming himself in this story’s hero and erasing any doubt that he’s a legitimate American president.
The president appears to be rewriting, as it were, what happened in the 2016 presidential election by writing Russia’s role out of the story.
The Democrats have been struggling with a familiar problem. What to focus on, and why, when there’s so much complexity. Nancy Pelosi believed Robert Mueller’s report, as damning as it was—it outlines at least 10 times in which the president broke the law—was too complicated to be the basis for an inquiry. Using the powers of the presidency to solicit foreign assistance in maintaining power at home, however, is as clear as can be. “This one is the most understandable by the public,” Pelosi said.
Thus, the Democrats, in organizing themselves, have been moving away from the abstract to the concrete. Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson wrote: “Findings of obstruction of justice …, Trump’s alleged violation of the emoluments clause in driving government spending at his personal business properties and his role in hush money payments made during the 2016 election to quiet allegations of extramarital affairs have all been pushed to the back burner.” In their place, she wrote, is the allegation that Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. In advance of asking for a “favor,” the complaint said, Trump refused to meet with Zelensky until it was clear how he “chose to act.”
The basis for such an investigation appears to be trash. Hunter Biden sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company around the time his dad was the vice president. Barack Obama sent Joe Biden to pressure the Ukrainian president at the time to oust two of his prosecutors who were in Putin’s pocket. One of those was Yury Lutsenko.
Trump gushed about Lutsenko in his July 25 phone call. Trump said: “I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved.” As with all things Donald Trump, he has things backwards. The “very good” guy was corrupt while the “very bad” people were patriotic reformers trying to clean house of corrupt officials like Yury Lutsenko.
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That doesn’t matter to Trump. What matters to him is the alternative history Lutsenko came up with to exonerate himself but as a result frame Trump’s enemies for Putin’s crime of sabotaging 2016 and thus cleanse Trump of the stench of illegitimacy.
In a series of interviews with The Hill, Lutsenko said the Ukrainians interfered with the 2016 election in collaboration with the Democratic National Committee. He alleged that Biden pressed for the firing of Lutsenko’s peer, Viktor Shokin, to stop an investigation into an energy company on whose board sat Hunter Biden. Again, all of this is backwards. Biden did press for his firing, but not to stop the investigation. He pressed for his firing because he was in Putin’s pocket. And as Robert Mueller made conclusive, the Russians attacked our national sovereignty, not the Ukrainians.
This context is important to understand what appears to be a mishmash of conspiracy theory in that July 25 call. “The server, they say Ukraine has it,” Trump told President Zelensky. “There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation I think you are surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it.”
The whistleblower says he or she does not understand why Trump referred to Hillary Clinton’s private email server, but it’s not a stretch to imagine him getting that mixed up with Russian theft of DNC computer files. (After all, he does not use a computer or email.) My point is he could be hinting at Lutsenko’s claim that it was the Ukrainians who attacked the US in 2016 with the help of his enemies: Clinton, Biden, whoever.
My other point is that the White House cover up is leading the news right now, but the Democrats should not leave the Russia story behind. Trump isn’t. On one end, Rudy Giuliani is pushing for Zelensky to dig up dirt on Biden. On the other end is Attorney General William Barr. He has opened an investigation into the “origins” of the Russia investigation. In a footnote to the complaint, the whistleblower cites Giuliani saying that Barr’s prosecutor is spending a lot of time in Europe “investigating Ukraine.”
The July 25 call revealed “that Trump asked Zelensky to help undermine the widely accepted conclusion that Russia was responsible for the hack of the DNC in 2016, referencing a debunked conspiracy about the company that fingered Russia in the hack,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus. Today’s complaint provides a glimpse of where that came from, and why the Democrat mustn’t leave 2016 behind.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.