02 Jan 2020

BMS ep. 90: Trump’s Ukraine Call Was Small Potatoes

Bob Murphy Show, Trump 23 Comments

I make the case

23 Responses to “BMS ep. 90: Trump’s Ukraine Call Was Small Potatoes”

  1. The Original CC says:

    Not a regular listener, but I thought this was a really good episode. The police bumper sticker analogy was spot-on, and I say this as another non-fan of the president.

  2. Benjamin Cole says:

    So the erstwhile reality TV-show host, Trump, made a phone call to the former TV comedian, Zelensky, and that became an impeachable event. Evidently, neither Trump nor Zelensky followed up on the phone call.

    But evidently Trump can assassinate people in another nation at will, without the slightest whimper from the US Congress.

  3. Harold says:

    It was not small potatoes by any means, but there may have been other things that people got away with.

    Speeding analogy.  I agree it would be unjust to single out only those drivers who offend the police in some way for the same relatively trivial activity that is not enforced in others.   A related situation would be where the wealthy donors are not prosecuted for running down a child whilst non-donors are.  Both are cases of  abuse of police powers.  I argue that the second case is more analogous to the Trump one, because abuse of Presidential power and running down children are both very serious offences and should be fully investigated and where there is sufficient evidence they should be prosecuted in every case.  Do you agree?

    You talk of appearances of corruption by the Clintons, and claim that the only reason they were not caught was because they are too slick.  However, the evidence you have is along the lines of suspicious correlations with donations to the Foundation and admissions that there are “appearance problems” with payments to Bill whilst Hillary was secretary of State.  That does not really cut it, and is essentially a conspiracy theory.  I am all for investigating these possible abuses, but until we have evidence there is not much we can do except not vote for them, which did happen with Clinton.   We have been here before.  There was a very lengthy investigation by Kenneth Starr into a similar theory about Whitewater, but insufficient evidence could be found despite an intense desire to find it.  This was stoked by activists and an expose by the New York Times, who were convinced the Clintons were guilty.  It is dangerous to assume guilt before the evidence is there.  In Trump’s case we have the evidence.

    Presidents doing bad political things is not the same as abuse of power.  Pelosi said she did not support impeachment of Bush because on balance she considered Bush was making a political case, which he was entitled to do.  Pelosi was not convinced by the intelligence that there were WMD, but Bush claimed he was.  Bush was not going to directly profit from this, so ultimately it was a political matter.  Possibly Bush abused power by selecting some sources over others, but that is a fine line and not at all comparable with Trump.

    Biden “Who happens to be a political rival.”  It is not a matter of “happens to be.”  The fact is he *is* a political rival.  Trump was not calling for investigations into corruption in Ukraine.  There are channels for investigating corruption.  If Trump were concerned about corruption he would use the channels.  If Warren shot someone on 5th Avenue the police would follow normal procedure.  Trump would not need to employ private citizens to set up investigations. That would happen without Trump getting personally involved. In fact it would be usual for a President to make sure he was not personally involved to avoid the appearance of corruption.

    “Isn’t everything a politician does geared to getting re-elected”  A red herring.  There is a difference between political stuff to get reelected and abusing the office.

    Paraphrasing: “This was not just a bad policy move – the distinction is not as crystal clear as some make out.”  Actually the distinction is clear.  If it was a bad policy move it would have been official policy.  Instead he subverted the policy authorised by Congress.  This is in contrast to when Biden made his “threat” to remove the investigator.  That was policy, and many agree it was good policy to genuinely challenge corruption in the Ukraine.

    Trump picked a fight with the CIA.  It was not just the CIA, the FBI too.  The Chuck Schumer clip shows nothing except if Trump picks a fight Chuck thinks there may be consequences.  Schumer specifically says he does not know what these might be.  This is not evidence that the intelligence community is acting against Trump, but if they were I am not sure how they may have done so in this case –  the evidence is the evidence – much of it helpfully provided by Trump himself.  It may be that if Trump had not picked a fight with the CIA, then the whistleblower would not have come forward because he may have been convinced Trump was working with the intelligence community in the interests of the USA.  He might have given Trump a pass.  As it was, having had a demonstration that Trump was working against the interests of the intelligence community and the USA he came forward.  That could be what Chuck was talking about.  Going back to the analogy,  this is like giving the wealthy donor a pass because the police were (conveniently) convinced it was an accident, so they do not fully investigate.  Don’t piss off the police because they won’t give you a pass.  Don’t piss off the intelligence community because they won’t give you a pass (which they shouldn’t do anyway).

    You say Trump didn’t get what he wanted, but this is irrelevant.  Seeking the bribe is the offence, not whether you succeed.  Slipping a $10 bill in your driving licence is not OK if the officer refuses it.  The solicitation is the offence.  This should be obvious.

    The Bill Clinton pardon was the last act of the president.  If Clinton had done it during his presidency he may well have been impeached.  There is a sorry history of last act pardons.  There is no claim I am aware of that the offer of pardons was used to encourage illegal acts, which is why they are done as the last thing the President does.  Clinton said he wished he had not done it and suffered reputational damage but it was within his powers.  Pardoning people mid-term sends a different signal, that people may commit offenses and get away with them if they benefit the President.  Trump’s pardons are much more troubling.  The pardoning power is controversial, but will likely remain in place if it is not too egregiously abused.   

    You say you are not asking for Trump to get a pass, so I presume you think the impeachment is correct, just that you lament the inability to get evidence on all the others.  You say it is not the worst thing Trump has done in office, and I agree, but it is the worst thing for which we have sufficient clear-cut evidence.  You say it is not the most self serving act of corruption by a president in office – what the Clintons have been doing is way worse (although they are not in office).  Maybe, maybe not – we don’t have the evidence. Trump’s problem is that he got caught.  The rule of law requires evidence.  There were many calls to impeach Trump for those other things, but the evidence may not have been strong enough so he was getting a pass.  Now we have the evidence we should act.  if we get evidence on the Clintons we should act on them too, but allegations in books are not sufficient. 

    • Capt. J Parker says:

      The thing that makes America great is our human capital. Our human capital is great in large part because we can consume, at our own discretion, information from all over the world and decide for ourselves where truth lies. I say “at our discretion” because we have no expectation that the truth will be easily detectable and that political partisans are sure to see the same event through quite different lenses.

      In this particular instance, I have decided the truth of the matter is that the Biden family crime syndicate was accepting unconstitutional emoluments from the Ukrainian oil Princes running Burisma. I Thank the president for alerting us to that fact. I give not two hoots that in making my determination, information from a foreign country may have been involved involved. It is my right as a free person to get information from whatever source I want.

      If Trump had banned foreign newspapers or jammed foreign radio transmissions or censored the internet like the Chinese do, now THAT would be an abuse.
      Similarly if Pelosi or Congress decided there were some things that we pleebs are just too unsophisticated to be allowed to see, hear or read and she or they went about trying to prevent us form getting our hands on that information they happened to think was so corrupting of our thoughts, any libertarian would be justifiable outraged by their actions.

      So, my own conclusion is that the Trump Ukraine affair isn’t small potatoes. But the felons here aren’t Team Trump. The felons aren’t the ones trying to get information flowing. The felons are the one’s trying to shut down the flow of information.

      • Harold says:

        It is feasible that both the Bidens and Trump are guilty of malfeasance. If the Bidens are guilty it does not necessarily absolve Trump.

        If Trump wishes to use this as a justifiable reason for his behaviour he is free to do so, but he has not presented this case. He needs to demonstrate both that the Bidens are guilty (or he had good reason to believe they were) and why he had to use the methods he did to get the information rather than normal channels.

        As president, why not seek to get Justice Dept or whoever to conduct an inquiry? There was an inquiry into the origins of the FBI Russia hacking investigation, so it cannot be that it is impossible for the administration to conduct such inquiries with Trump as president.

        If Biden was corrupt it does not absolve Trump.

        “It is my right as a free person to get information from whatever source I want.”

        You are indeed entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts. If you seek out only unreliable or selective sources you will not get the facts.

        • Capt. J Parker says:

          If Biden is corrupt, those seeking to prevent Biden being investigated are acting corruptly.

          • Harold says:

            If there are people seeking to have Biden investigated through the Justice Dept or the FBI or police then they would indeed be acting corruptly. Do you know of anyone doing this?

            There has been no evidence presented that Hunter Biden committed any corrupt acts in Ukraine.

            • Capt. J Parker says:

              Harold Said:”If there are people seeking to have Biden investigated through the Justice Dept or the FBI or police then they would indeed be acting corruptly. Do you know of anyone doing this?”

              Well, yeah, President Trump, like it or not, is the head of the justice department.

              • Harold says:

                A variant of “if the President does it is not a crime.”

              • Harold says:

                I just noticed that my comment above makes no sense. I meant it there are people seeking to prevent investigation. Seeking investigation through the proper channels is not corrupt. Seeking the appearance of investigation by foreign powers probably is.

  4. Tel says:

    For better or worse, the democratic process is an adversarial system.

    It is always difficult to bring powerful people to justice, because by definition powerful people have the capability to protect themselves from justice. Thus, we have multiple political parties (two main parties, plus minor parties) and each party will attempt to point out what the other is doing wrong. This means the President, despite being very powerful, is not immune investigation (e.g. the Mueller investigation) and not beyond the reach of the rule of law. It also must simultaneously mean the Hunter Biden is not immune to investigation, and the same applies to Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, Lois Lerner, and many others.

    The process should apply to everyone, and it’s important that no individual be protected from scrutiny. As the man at the airport says, “Why sir … if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about.” If we don’t believe the man in the airport is correct about this, then what the heck is he even doing there?

    It seems to me that the rule of law is not being applied in an even-handed manner. Arguing “whataboutism” operates as a defense for hypocrisy and selective enforcement … that’s saying we should throw away the rule of law … you cannot have law unless there is an element of consistency. Maybe perfect consistency is impossible, but we should strive for consistency, get as close to the ideal as possible. Hillary Clinton got investigated, was found to have severely breached standard practice for handling classified material and then (shrug) she just got away with it … because no one had the courage to haul her in. Trump got investigated, they could not find anything he had done wrong so they then blamed him for merely doing his job which was to shine a light on what Hunter Biden was doing. If Hunter has nothing to hide, well golly he has nothing to worry about, investigation is fine, right?

    Someone show me how this process works the same for everyone.

  5. Harold says:

    “Trump got investigated, they could not find anything he had done wrong…” They did find he did things wrong. There were 10 instances of obstruction of justice. The reason no action was taken was because there is currently dispute about whether Trump is above the law. His lawyers have argued that if he shot someone on 5th avenue he could not be investigated whilst he was president. That should be very worrying to you.

    Current Justice Department guidelines agree that the president cannot be indicted. This is why Meuller refused to draw conclusions. If Trump could not be indicted he would not have an opportunity to give his account to the allegations. As it stands, without a SC case, he cannot be indicted except by impeachment. If he shot someone on 5th Avenue they would have to impeach him before indicting him. Mueller knew this and very carefully stated that he was not concluding anything because without the possibility of indictment it would be against justice to make an accusation. I think Mueller probably reckoned they would see the weight of evidence and impeach Trump, but if they don’t there is nothing that can be done until he is out of office.

    ” it’s important that no individual be protected from scrutiny”
    In the case of the president, he is protected from scrutiny. The only avenue is impeachment or seek a SC ruling.

    This is why it is so important, as you say. If the Senate is partial, the President can literally do anything and not face consequences as long as he is president.

    “It seems to me that the rule of law is not being applied in an even-handed manner. ” Indeed it is not. Trump currently has immunity and can do what he likes. Biden and all the rest can be investigated and prosecuted. trump cannot. Following the precedent set by Mueller, he can not even be accused. Except by impeachment.

    “blamed him for merely doing his job which was to shine a light on what Hunter Biden was doing. If Hunter has nothing to hide, well golly he has nothing to worry about, investigation is fine, right?”

    Why is it Trump’s job to shine a light on Hunter Biden? That is absurd. he has a country to run. He may direct or encourage the USA agencies to investigate, he absolutely should not be doing it himself.

    I don’t know if Biden is a crook. If he is then he should be investigated and I would be delighted if he was found out, as I would be for any crook. I understand that after the high profile allegations he has been investigated and insufficient evidence has been found. I would be very surprised to discover that Burisma was not corrupt. Hunter Biden’s association with them was probably ethically unsound and certainly poor judgement. Beyond that, let the investigators investigate.

    • Tel says:

      That New York court case contains no actual accusation of any wrongdoing by Trump … they are merely cooperating with Democrats in a fishing expedition. It’s even more outrageous when you consider that New York specially wrote their “TRUST Act” for the purpose of giving access to Trump’s tax returns. They wrote the law to target one particular individual, and they can’t even say what this individual did wrong, but golly give them long enough and they will find something.

      This is fairly equivalent to the efforts to get Obama to deliver his birth certificate (which Obama largely ignored) but it’s worse because there’s no Constitutional requirement for a President to show his tax returns, and there is a requirement for a President to be a natural born citizen … so at least the “birthers” weren’t inventing new laws as they went along.

      As for the business of Trump killing someone in front of witnesses, that’s entirely hypothetical, and only marginally related to that case. The judge asked that question and correct answer on the part of Trump’s lawyer would have been to decline to engage in hypotheticals. I would say there was political posturing on both sides, and that’s unhealthy politicization of the legal process. The whole thing will go to the SCOTUS and probably eventually get thrown out.

      Trump did admit to making the decision to kill Qasem Soleimani and that was in front of plenty of witnesses … if they want to try it on, let them go after him for a real event by all means. They would also need to go after Obama because he killed plenty of people with his drone program, heck he largely invented the drone assassination program. Personally I think Trump make the correct call on Soleimani, it was in America’s best interests … but the whole concept of being able to kill people with zero due process and very little oversight has opened the door to massive potential for abuse, and represents a big departure from rule of law. If the Democrats genuinely gave a toss about rule of law they would at the very least be introducing some additional oversight into that secret kill list and the drone assassination program. We are seriously heading away from a Democratic system and back towards Feudalism with these types of weapons in the hands of the elite … but that has nothing to do with Trump’s tax returns.

      Maybe SCOTUS could also be accused of being political, this happened a long time ago when FDR wanted to ram through his “alphabet soup” economic programs. SCOTUS has often leaned towards the Democrat side, and they enjoyed that, and that’s why they are so angry at Trump for putting in a slightly more conservative judge like Brett Kavanaugh. Ideally we would have a neutral SCOTUS but in the real world every judge got appointed by one side or the other.

      • Harold says:

        “That New York court case contains no actual accusation of any wrongdoing by Trump …”

        I did not refer to the merits of that case. I correctly reported the position of Trumps lawyers, which happened to be presented in that case. The current JD guidelines prevent indictment of the president. Trump is the only person who cannot be officially accused of a crime whilst he is office. This is official policy and can only be overturned by the SC.

        Soleimani has nothing to do with it.

        You said “The process should apply to everyone, and it’s important that no individual be protected from scrutiny. ”

        I agree it should, but it does not. Trump is protected from scrutiny. nobody else is. Since he cannot be indicted, the only avenue to fully investigate Trump is via impeachment.

        This was demonstrated by Mueller, who stated that since indictment was not possible, he could not draw any conclusions about guilt or innocence from the evidence of obstruction of justice. This allowed Trump to falsely claim he had been exonerated.

  6. Andrew in MD says:

    Good episode. I agreed with your position going in and I like the way you described it. I don’t believe that anyone actually takes this impeachment seriously, including the Democrats that are prosecuting it.

    * He didn’t actually get the thing he’s said to have wanted in this “crime.”
    * He didn’t actually withhold the thing he’s said to have leveraged to get what he wanted.
    * The people he’s said to have pressured say they never felt pressured and weren’t aware that the aid was delayed.
    * “Obstruction of Congress” is something the democrats just made up.
    * “Abuse of Power” is so vague as to be meaningless. If he abused his power, surely he committed a specific crime, no? Why not just specify the crime?
    * And on top of all that, the investigation that he was asking for would have been a good thing! It would be good to know the extent of the Bidens’ Burisma corruption.

    So ultimately the House Democrats backed themselves into a corner where they were forced to send a really bad impeachment over to the Senate and pathetically beg Senate Republicans to thoroughly investigate their obviously bankrupt charges. Everyone knows how this will end.

    • Harold says:

      All your points are wrong.
      1) It doesn’t matter if he got what he wanted – the solicitation is the “crime”.
      2) He did withhold the thing. The aid was blocked for more than 2 months.
      3) The people he said to have pressured may well still feel pressured, so play along. It doesn’t matter if they knew the aid was delayed. They knew they had not received it.
      4) Obstruction of congress just made up? No, as this report from 2010 tells us.
      ” Obstruction of Congress: A Brief Overview of Federal Law Relating to Interference with Congressional Activities.”
      5) Abuse of power is a very old idea. Here is a UN document describing it.


      6) We do not know it would be a good thing – you assert that. We have testimony that he was only interested in the announcement of an investigation. IF we have evidence that Biden should be investigated, then he then should be, but it seems there is not enough evidence to interest the authorities.

      ” Everyone knows how this will end.” Unfortunately that is the case. Mitch McConnell does not even pretend to be impartial, despite the oath he just took.

      • Andrew in MD says:

        Cut it out.

      • Tel says:

        … the solicitation is the “crime”.

        Show me where this solicitation occurred, including a quote.

        No one else has been able to. Please, no “presumption” or “assumption” or “yeah guess so” but only show actual solicitation.

        • Harold says:

          Read the transcript and all the other evidence. But that is not the point here – the point is that it does not matter whether Trump got what he wanted, so Andrews point was wrong.

          Tel acknowledges that he did withold the thing.

        • Andrew in MD says:

          I wouldn’t say that no solicitation whatsoever occurred. I would say that the President of the United States solicited a corruption investigation from an American ally on behalf of the American taxpayers. But that is clearly not a crime. And my first 3 points above underline just how overblown this non-crime really is.

    • Tel says:

      And on top of all that, the investigation that he was asking for would have been a good thing! It would be good to know the extent of the Bidens’ Burisma corruption.

      Trump was obliged by law to ensure he was not providing aid to a corrupt government in the Ukraine. Of course … everyone knows that the Ukraine has been corrupt for decades … but the job of the executive branch was to decide what looked sufficiently non-corrupt to be trusted with the “big boy” toys (i.e. FGM-148 javelin anti-tank missiles). Trump felt that he wanted to see steps towards investigation into Burisma … and it was his call to make.

      As context, Obama refused to send the same javelin anti-tank missiles, after Congress had agreed they should be sent. Obama had final call on the issue (you can agree with him or disagree, that’s irrelevant) so therefore Trump also got final call when the same issue landed on his desk. That’s the whole “Commander in Chief” thingy … which happens to outrank Alex “That’s Lt. Col. Please” Vindman.

      • Andrew in MD says:

        Yeah, I agree 100%. Trump’s actions are reinforced by decades of precedent.

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