November 5, 2019

I noticed four pieces of news today that, taken together, show just how profoundly the leaders of today's Republican Party rely on propaganda to stay in power.

Congress released the transcripts of the congressional testimony of former U.S. Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Volker's testimony makes it clear that what was at stake in Trump's pressure on Ukraine President Zelensky was not necessarily an investigation into Joe Biden's son, but rather a public statement that the government was opening up such an investigation. And that statement had to come from Zelensky himself. Such a statement would make the US news, and even if there was ultimately no story, the seeds of the idea that Biden was corrupt would have been planted, weakening his candidacy. As I have written here before, this was exactly what happened with the Clinton email "scandal," and it was effective.

Sondland's testimony was interesting less for the testimony itself than for the "Declaration" attached to it. After reading the opening statements of William Taylor and Tim Morrison, Sondland suddenly found his previously faulty memory "refreshed" and he now recalls that he did, in fact, tell Ukrainian officials that the release of the military aid they so desperately needed to fend off Russian incursions would not be forthcoming until they publicly declared they were opening an investigation in to Burisma, the company that had appointed Hunter Biden to its board (which, by the way, former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch said was a common practice for Ukraine companies to try to look clean and interested in partnering with Europe and America rather than Russia).

There is the explicit quid pro quo.

What's most interesting to me about this, though, is that it shows a key split in Republican leaders. Sondland was a wealthy hotelier with no diplomatic experience who got his post thanks to his lavish donations to Trump's campaign and inauguration. In his original testimony, he tried to shield Trump. Now, though, as career diplomats have made the illegality of the administration's shadow foreign policy clear, Sondland has stepped off the Trump train. He seems to have decided that he is safer siding with the law than with the president.

But elected leaders are sticking with the president. Here's the second piece of today's news that jumped out at me today: faced with Sondland's damning transcript, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham has simply said he hasn't read it and isn't going to. Graham previously told CNN that if there was a quid pro quo he would be open to impeachment. Now he is simply saying that the whole impeachment inquiry is "a bunch of B.S."

So, at a time when a civilian Trump mega donor is facing reality, Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is doubling down on fiction. The Republican leadership beat a drum for the release of the transcripts because, they insisted, the actual words of the witnesses would exonerate the president. Now we are reading those words and discovering-- as surely GOP members knew-- that they are even more damning than we thought. And suddenly, the narrative that the transcripts were vital has evaporated. Now the transcripts don't matter at all. What matters now is that the whole investigation is "B.S."

And here is the third piece of news: Interestingly, at this juncture, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (who took Russian money from Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas-- I refuse to let that get forgotten) is apparently considering assigning Ohio's Jim Jordan to the Intelligence Committee overseeing impeachment. Republicans are already represented on the committee, of course; Devin Nunes (CA) is the ranking member. But Jordan is far more aggressive than Nunes and has shown himself to be good at crafting misleading narratives. You will remember from my post of last night (this morning!) that Jordan is the one who hammered Yovanovitch on why Zelensky said such negative things about her, and Democrat Adam Schiff had to clarify that Jordan had neglected to read the first sentence of Zelensky's quotation, the one in which he told Trump: “It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador, because I agree with you 100 percent.”

It. Is. All. About. Manipulating. The. Narrative.

Relying on selling a story to their voters has been the key to Republican success for decades, and even now, as it is becoming increasingly clear that there is serious wrongdoing at the highest levels of our government, GOP leaders are counting on staying in power by controlling information.

And here's the fourth piece of today's news that caught my attention. In Citrus County, Florida, five commissioners refused to fund the county libraries' request for a digital subscription to the New York Times.

On October 24, after years of deriding the New York Times and the Washington Post as promoters of "fake news," Trump announced he would tell federal agencies to cancel their subscriptions to the papers. While it is not at all clear either how he would do this or to what extent they actually have subscriptions, his attack on papers of record (which means a media outlet with a wide circulation and fact-based, authoritative reporting) hit home. "Fake news, OK, I agree with President Trump," Citrus County Commissioner Scott Carnahan said. "I don’t want the New York Times in this county."