November 23, 2019 (Saturday)

Today was a relatively quiet day in the ongoing Ukraine scandal saga… except for Rudy Giuliani, the man who bills himself as Trump’s lawyer. Today, he went onto the Fox News Channel to give an interview and, when asked if he worried about his future with the president, asserted that “I’ve seen things written like ‘he is going to throw me under the bus.’ When they say that, I say ‘he isn’t, but I have insurance.” Then he reiterated that he and the president are on good terms. And then, several hours later, he tweeted: “TRUTH ALERT: The statement I’ve made several times of having an insurance policy, if thrown under bus, is sarcastic & relates to the files in my safe about the Biden Family’s 4 decade monetizing of his office. If I disappear, it will appear immediately along with my RICO chart.”

Huh? This sounds nuts, but it’s actually interesting. (I mean, it is nuts, too, but it seems to be part of an interesting story about truth).

Giuliani also tweeted pictures of a letter, dated yesterday, he wrote to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, who announced Thursday he is opening an investigation into the Bidens and their dealings in Ukraine. Giuliani’s letter is unhinged, a four-page mashup of various buzz words calling the impeachment investigation “the Schiff Frameup,” for example, based on “double-hearsay rumors, guesses, surmises, questionable overhears, and a hysterical Trump-hating media.” But it puts together the argument that he has “three (3) witnesses” who, he claims “have direct (non-hearsay) evidence of Democrat criminal conspiracy with Ukrainians to prevent Donald J. Trump from being President, with the alternative to remove him from office based on contrived charges.” He goes on to say that the witnesses “have oral, documentary, and recorded evidence of the Biden Family’s involvement in bribery, money laundering,… extortion, and other possible crimes.” Acting Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor is refusing to issue visas for these “witnesses,” and Giuliani was writing to Graham to see if he would facilitate their visit to America to testify.

Also yesterday, in the midst of all the other breaking stories, the New York Times ran a story echoing Dr. Fiona Hill’s testimony from Thursday, saying that the idea that it was Ukraine and not Russia that attacked us in 2016 is part of a Russian disinformation campaign and Republicans have been taken in by it. So now we have powerful testimony from Russia expert Hill warning us that Russia attacked us in 2016 and is doing so again, and that we simply must stop spreading stories that it was not Russia but rather was Ukraine because such stories weaken America, and we also have a story from the New York Times further debunking the Ukraine story. And yet, we continue to have key figures in the Trump administration pushing that very story. Indeed, much of Trump’s rant to Fox and Friends yesterday morning was about how Ukraine tried to prevent his election in 2016.

So why is Giuliani harping on this topic again today? I think they are desperate not only to keep voters thinking that Ukraine and not Russia is our enemy, but also to continue to exercise dominance by making people believe things that are not true. If you can force people to accept as reality something that is demonstrably false, you prove to both of you that they are the ones in charge and you will submit. That’s why it’s so darned important to Trump to be right about everything, so important that he’ll alter a weather chart with a Sharpie.

So how do we figure out what’s real?

First of all, look at what people DO, not what they SAY. So, for example, after CNN broke the story that the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-CA) was in on the attempt to smear the Bidens, right-wing noisemaker Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire ran a story saying: “Devin Nunes To Take Swift Legal Action Against CNN For ‘Demonstrably False’ Story.” Note that Nunes did not actually take action, he just said he would later. Maybe, but if he does, CNN would get access to tons of information. If the story really is “demonstrably false,” Nunes, who sues people a lot, would absolutely sue. But so far he hasn’t. He just SAID he was going to, which got headlines and convinced some people that the CNN story was false.

The conditions under which people talk also matter. Witnesses in the hearings last week testified under oath, and lying under oath is a crime. After Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland implicated Energy Secretary Rick Perry in the Ukraine scandal, Perry gave an outraged interview to a Fox News show vehemently denying it. But Perry was not under oath, and there is no penalty for lying to the media, as Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski helpfully told the House Judiciary Committee in September. It is notable that most of the key figures in the Ukraine scandal are refusing to testify under oath, and are attacking the public servants who are.

News sources should have actual evidence in them, like documents, testimony under oath, independent experts, or film clips that have not been deceptively edited. For example, activist Charlie Kirk tweeted today, “Did you know: the largest single donor to the Clinton Foundation is Ukraine with $10 MILLION in contributions How may Obama-era officials are complicit in Ukranian corruption? Both Biden & Clinton need to testify This is a massive scandal Trump is bringing it all to light.” This tweet reinforces Russian propaganda, of course, and it is also a straight up, easily checkable, lie.

These distinctions are going to matter more and more. As the pressure on the president and his people mounts, the disinformation campaign against Ukraine and the Bidens is going to get intense. Yesterday, the New York Times published information about the upcoming Department of Justice Inspector General’s report into the origins of the investigation into Trump’s campaign, which Republicans have called an illegitimate Democratic witch hunt because, they said, it started with the Steele Dossier, which they insist, was a Democratic operation. The IG apparently will conclude the opposite: that the investigation was legitimate, and that it did not start with the Steele Dossier (as the facts have established all along). Apparently, an FBI attorney did falsify a document, but the IG says that did not affect the legitimacy of the investigation.

Nonetheless, Trump’s rant to Fox and Friends yesterday echoed the debunked story that Democrats framed Russia for interfering in the 2016 election, and that there is a DNC server hidden in Ukraine. And Trump claimed the investigation Attorney General William Barr has tapped John Durham to undertake, rather than relying on the Department of Justice’s IG report, is going to break the story wide open.