The Conflict between the GOP’s “Hearsay” and “Whistleblower” Defenses

Sometimes Byron York is useful because he clarifies just how stupid and contradictory right wing talking points are.

Today, he claims that, for both the Russian investigation and impeachment, Democrats don’t want anyone to know how the investigation started.

Should the whistleblower have connections to prominent Democrats, exposure of his identity could be embarrassing to the party. And perhaps most of all, reading through the impeachment inquiry depositions that have been released so far, it’s clear that cutting off questions that could possibly relate to the whistleblower has also allowed Democrats to shut off any look at how the Trump-Ukraine investigation started. Who was involved? What actions did they take? Why did some government employees think President Trump’s July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky represented a lost opportunity, or poor judgment, while others thought it represented wrongdoing requiring congressional investigation?

Democrats do not want the public to know. And in that, their position is familiar to anyone who has watched Washington for the last two years: The Democrats’ determination to cut off questions about the origins of the Trump-Ukraine investigation is strikingly similar to their determination to cut off questions about the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. In both cases, they fought hard to keep secret the origins of investigations that have shaken the nation, deeply divided the electorate, and affected the future of the presidency.

Regarding the Russian investigation, Byron (like most denialists) can’t seem to get his head around the fact that a crime happened — a hostile foreign government hacked political targets — and the FBI started to investigate. They honestly appear to believe the FBI should not investigate hacks, generally, or maybe just not those attributed in real time to hostile foreign actors.

But the claim is even stupider with regards to the impeachment inquiry for reasons laid out right there in the middle of his argument.

It’s not the whistleblower who responded to the July 25 call with shaking anger. It’s not the whistleblower who recognized it was so incriminating, the call record had to be censored and hidden on a Top Secret server.

The people who started the investigation that led to impeachment were all on the July 25 call. Republicans suspect that Alexander Vindman was one of them; they suspect that he was the person who went, “visibly shaken,” and shared details about a ‘crazy,’ ‘frightening’ and ‘completely lacking in substance related to national security'” call with  a colleague who then wrote up his concerns rather than just sharing them with John Eisenberg, who was finding several ways to bury the damning report. But the whistleblower complaint itself describes that “multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call” shared their impression of it with the whistleblower. We know, for example, that Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams agreed with Vindman.

Even Tim Morrison, a fire-breathing Republican who claims he doesn’t think Trump committed a crime, recognized the call was problematic.

Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, responded to publicity about the call by lying about being on it, then refusing to testify about it, which isn’t exactly a sign that he thinks it’s a “perfect” call.

This investigation could not have been “started” by the whistleblower, contrary to what dullards like Byron claim, for the same reason they complain that George Kent and Bill Taylor and Marie Yovanovtich weren’t appropriate witnesses because they weren’t on that call. That’s because the whistleblower wasn’t on the call. Someone — multiple people, as it turned out — had to share details of the call with him before he put all the other dots together in his complaint.

Mind you, the claim of hearsay is false, as all the witnesses have direct knowledge of the wider operation to extort Ukraine. In the case of the whistleblower, for example, Republicans continue to falsely claim he had no direct knowledge of these matters; his description of the July 18 call where OMB announced a hold on aid is not cited to other people.

Still, it’s the larger point that Byron helpfully demonstrates is so stupid. It cannot be true that we need to learn about the whistleblower to understand how all this started and also be true that the whistleblower’s view is meaningless because he was operating exclusively from hearsay. The claim itself underscores that multiple people on the call itself objected when they heard the president extort a foreign leader.

But something more basic is true: This investigation started because the president extorted a foreign leader while a dozen witnesses were listening.

34 replies
  1. Arj says:

    This won’t get you a show on Fox but ought to do for everyone else. The GOP arguments are all nonsense because that’s all they have – I’m only waiting for Trump’s last-ditch ploy re tax returns: ‘Sorry – the dog chewed them up.’ Oh, wait: it’d have to be Pence’s dog…

  2. klynn says:

    Thank you for Tweeting out the link to the Electablog podcast – great job! I agree with what keeps you up at night.

    “Regarding the Russian investigation, Byron (like most denialists) can’t seem to get his head around the fact that a crime happened — a hostile foreign government hacked political targets — and the FBI started to investigate.”

    If they admit a crime happened irt the Russia investigation, they would all have to recuse themselves and/or admit their part in the goings on.

  3. Ruthie says:

    Yes, well, intellectual rigor and consistency are seldom hallmarks of Republican arguments in the Trump era, at least. The glaring logical errors are invisible to fellow cult members, to whom any excuse, however implausible, serves just fine. It only remains to be seen whether enough non-brainwashed Americans are left, and paying attention, to render the obvious judgement. Here’s hoping.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    While the president extorted a foreign leader for personal electoral gain. With a dozen or more people listening in on it.

    I suspect one reason the adverse reaction to this call was so strong is because this is a final straw on the camel’s back. The call did not occur in isolation. It was one of many over a long period of time about extorting Ukraine. It would have been one of a series of similar conversations that caused people to run around with their hair on fire. Several someones decided it was time to use the fire extinguishers.

    • Ruthie says:

      It just occurred to me, reading your post, that Trump may not have been the only one influenced by the lack of impact Mueller’s testimony had just the day before. He was obviously emboldened in the aftermath (or lack thereof). Some of those listening in seem to have experienced the call as a breaking point like you suggest. After all, as Marcy has pointed out numerous times, the Ukraine scandal is just an extension of the Russia scandal, and those who listened on that fateful day knew that very well.

      • LeeNLP says:

        There were probably many people in the Administration waiting with bated breath for Mueller’s report, and then later for his testimony, and when they realized it had been effectively deep-sixed by Wm. Barr, decided that maybe, just maybe, the fate of the Republic lay on their shoulders (not just Mueller’s) after all.

  5. icelanterns says:

    verb | mouT͟H | [with object]
    1 say (something dull or unoriginal), especially in a pompous or affected way

    One can always count on Byron York to mouth the Party Line.

    [You used two different handles to try to get this comment through. The handle was not the issue, the fact that we actually moderate is. Pick one, and only one, handle for commenting here. Multiple handles are not permitted because everyone should know who they are talking to consistently. And, with that exception, welcome to Emptywheel and join in often.]

  6. Norman Folsom says:

    FWIW, back in the early 80s I worked with Byron, at CNN2 (in the midst of its rebranding as CNN Headline News). Even then he was, in the interest of shorthand, kinda a jerk. His M.O. alternated between being tactically laconic (neither so quick nor so bright) and an “deer in the headlights who’s arrogant about that.” I guess it was a schtick he schtumbled on, that he found worked, somehow. Something like the adage, “Better for a fool to keep quiet and be thought wise, than to open that mouth and erase all doubt.” Though rarely ready with something clever to say, he had this sorta impenetrable stoniness that he managed to sell as intimidation. Never particularly respected (See, most of us were in our mid-twenties and enjoyed a certain social democracy and mutual respect, different job titles notwithstanding, because we all felt lucky? to be working in this unique venue for scraps.), he was as I recall mildly dreaded. The irony was, he wound up marrying a then-coworker who possibly combined being one of the very smartest and kindest people I knew. It always puzzled me.

  7. Americana says:

    I’m beginning to think the Republican wall is cracking when Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) says, “The investigative process threatens executive privilege in the future, arguing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that a public examination of the President’s actions is damaging to the country.
    “Having this all come out into public … has exposed things that didn’t need to be exposed,” Johnson said.

    On the contrary, Ron Johnson, everything about these events should be “EXPOSED”. Everything about these events should be known before we move on as a country and as individual voters and as our two major political parties look forward to vetting their candidates. Every American ought to know as much as possible about the Ukraine machinations that were triggered by TRUMP and TRUMP ALONE because this is relevant to the entirety of Trump’s performance as POTUS and his intentions about the performance of his duties as POTUS. The fact Trump allowed ENERGY SECRETARY RICK PERRY to resign while shouldering the blame for being the one to suggest the Ukraine phone call should be understood as a tactical move that was based on a lie. Oops, trouble is, Rick Perry didn’t cop to inventing the entirety of this Ukraine scheme by saying he suggested a simple Ukraine phone call. So the scheme to try to minimize the nature of this Ukraine conspiracy by blaming the phone call on Rick Perry went up in smoke w/your very first (character???) witnesses who were meant to shoulder all the blame that should accrue to Trump.

    It’s amusing now that the Democrats have moved the process into the light (after vocal Republican trashing of the private closed door hearings process) that Republicans have come to realize it’s not a good idea that Americans know all the details of what Trump did and what Trump made his minions do on his behalf in this Ukraine ‘”drug deal” as former National Security Advisor JOHN BOLTON termed it. Trump’s now said he’s “strongly thinking of testifying” but we know that won’t happen at least voluntarily.

    • Gretab says:

      Yes, it is good we all know what is happening. But he may have a point that these revelations weaken Ukraine, which strengthens Russia, which doesnt do either the US or Ukraine any good. But instead of blaming the Democrats, perhaps Johnson should look to his own party leader whose administration prevented the normal transmital of the whistleblower complaint to Congress. Perhaps if Trump had let it go as it should have, the Intelligence Committees in both the House and the Senate could have handled it quietly like they do so many other whistleblower complaints. As usual, the blame rests solidly on Trump, both as the source of the original problem and for exposing the issue by trying to bury it.

  8. Michael says:

    The hue and cry about impeachment hearings not being legitimate because the alarm that set them in motion came from a WB (who remains anonymous! Unacceptable!) who was not present during the 25 JUL call ….. well, the objection didn’t hold water the first time I heard it and it doesn’t now.

    I read the faux transcript (the one with many elipses) of the 25 JUL phone call on the same day WH coughed it up, and I concluded that the call was problematic. It smelled bad and should be looked into. If the WB claims turn out to be a tempest in a teapot, okay; if not, keep digging. The digging continues.

    If you receive a phone tip alerting you that x-number of your neighbors claim to see smoke rolling out of your garage, it would behoove you to check it out, not blow off the tip just because the anonymous(!) caller did not witness the alleged smoke. Sheesh!

  9. Sandwichman says:

    The AP reports:

    “In early May, staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, including then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, were briefed on a meeting Zelenskiy held in which he sought advice on how to navigate the difficult position he was in, according to two people with knowledge of the briefings.

    “He was concerned that Trump and associates were pressing him to take action that could affect the 2020 U.S. presidential race, the people said. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic and political sensitivity of the issue.”

    Who are you going to believe? Anonymous sources “with knowledge of the briefings” of the word of the hostage himself?

    • Sandwichman says:

      *Who are you going to believe? Anonymous sources “with knowledge of the briefings” OR the word of the hostage himself?

  10. jaango says:

    As a large fan on well-familiarized internet commentary, today’s pundits, sages and gurus, have not addressed the subject matter that is “sacred honor” as stipulated in our nation’s historical document.

    And as to a much larger voice in today’s larger arena that is news media outlets, and among the over 20,000 credentialed journalists, no mention has been made of “sacred honor”. However, there has been one exception, and he’s an opinion writer of a former Republican-oriented news outlet, and this same outlet is now focused as an authoritarian-oriented outlet.

  11. harpie says:

    Just a little O/T, but new:
    Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, responded to publicity about the call by lying about being on it, then refusing to testify about it, which isn’t exactly a sign that he thinks it’s a “perfect” call.
    6:43 AM – 18 Nov 2019

    The impeachment inquiry has created the first rift between President Trump and Sec. Pompeo, according to four current and former senior administration officials. […]
    Trump has fumed for weeks that Pompeo is responsible for hiring State Department officials whose congressional testimony threatens to bring down his presidency […]

    One of the very few things on Trump’s schedule today is a 4:15PM Oval Office meeting with Pompeo. See screen shot here:

  12. Pablo in the Gazebo says:

    The landlord states in her final sentence, “But something more basic is true: This investigation started because the president extorted a foreign leader while a dozen witnesses were listening.”

    Well, if you put it that way…

  13. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I can hear now the list of elite supporters who said good things about their great friend, Roy Cohn – at his final disbarment hearing.

    I can hear an older group of august enablers, who claimed it would be dishonorable to put a good man in prison because he provided a few drinks to friends when it was technically illegal. Al might have cheated on his taxes, but that’s something of an American sport, and it’s not enough to put him in prison, is it?

    Sarah Kendzior named her podcast, Gaslit Nation for a reason.

  14. porthos says:

    byron definitely wins for longest most preposterous, conspiracy laden book title in history.

    The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President – and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time

    The title does encapsulate all his thinking about impeachment and Mueller. They are one and the same and only made possible by rabid Democrats thirsting to overturn 2016. They are doing it again as predicted. Such foresight in one book title.Nostradamus move over.

    Byron works hard laying out a convoluted case for all the Democratic Conspiracies initiated to disguise the illegitimate bases for any investigation involving the president. The good work is reinforced by Barr creating a whole new DoJ designed to produce an unassailable executive. Nobody is safe. Whistleblower guidelines will be nullified by the DoJ.

    Byron’s writing is as full of inconsistency and unsupported accusation as trump himself and he is the perfect chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner. WE is my go to source as an antidote to the left wing extremism of WAPO.

    This is the best the Examiner has to offer and it’s sadly from their chief political correspondent

    From the linked article:

    “Democrats were rattled by Republican efforts to uncover the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. The Steele dossier, the use of spies and informants to target the Trump campaign, the Carter Page wiretap, the murky start to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation — Democrats resisted GOP attempts to reveal them all.”

    The above is immediately followed by lauding the free rein investigation Nunes co-ordinated that was unfettered by either Democrats or good sense. Where is all the Democratic interference? Possibly just a Byron misstatement?

    From the article:

    Chairman Devin Nunes used the power of the House Intelligence Committee to unearth key parts of the story. Nunes’ efforts eventually led to a Justice Department inspector general investigation whose results, expected in the coming weeks, could further damage the Democratic Trump-Russia storyline. And then there is the ongoing criminal investigation led by U.S. Attorney John Durham.

    Pretty fancy blocking by the Dems.

    Byron has al the same inestimably fine qualities of inconsistency and inaccuracy as our current leader

  15. Outcountry says:

    Unless I’m mistaken, Linda Tripp also only had hearsay information and didn’t witness any hanky-panky first-hand. I guess Bill Clinton missed out on a defense argument that would have devastated Ken Starr.

  16. Terrapin says:

    The GOP is totally disingenuous when they complain about hearsay. Not only because the witnesses that have talked to Congress have first-hand knowledge of wrong-doing, but also because Trump has blockaded higher-ranking witnesses the prevalence of so-called hearsay witnesses so far is the GOP’s fault. Indeed, it is their deliberate doing. They remind me of the child who kills his parents and then petitions a court for mercy because s/he is an orphan.

  17. Vicks says:

    I hate to be overly simplistic but a whistleblower is like a tattletail.
    They see or hear something that they think is wrong and they run off and report it.
    People are free to have their own opinions of these people, but without exception it doesn’t matter if you are 8 years old or in the White House, if the information holds up, ALL attacks and misrepresentations of the teller are ridiculously childish and obviously self serving.
    Who ARE these people that support this nonsense?
    What is their confusion?
    Do they punish the child for telling and ignore their teenage sibling that snuck your car out in the middle of the night?

    • Arj says:

      ‘Confusion’ is exactly what those disingenuous folks are selling; how many are actually buying it themselves – hard to say. Ugh.

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