Empty Frenzy, by Raúl Ilargi Meijer

Now we’re getting another mini-frenzy about a phone call of which nobody knows the contents, except the two people on the call. From Raúl Ilargi Meijer at theautomaticearth.com:

It wouldn’t be the first time we ask ourselves what American journalism has come to, but that question sure appears relevant today. There are again new accusations floating around about Trump. And of course we are all weary by now, after the Russiagate bomb and the Ukraine fizzle, but okay, let’s take a look.

There is a newfangled poetically named “ethics watchdog” named American Oversight, which has received some documents after a FOIA request. And everybody’s talking about it! So it must be real interesting, right? The word bombshell comes to mind. Or at least, the minds of much of the press. There’s the BBC:

The US State Department has released records relating to the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine. Documents were released to the ethics watchdog American Oversight after a freedom of information request. The records show repeated contacts between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mr Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. US ties with Ukraine are at the centre of an impeachment investigation against Mr Trump.

The president is accused of withholding aid to Ukraine that had been approved by Congress to pressure the country into investigating his political rival Joe Biden. Mr Giuliani has been accused of trying to discredit former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch while running a shadow US foreign policy on Ukraine. There have been questions over what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo knew.

The records show Mr Pompeo and Mr Giuliani repeatedly spoke to one another – although the topics of those conversations remain unknown. Emails among the documents suggest the pair spoke on the phone on 27 and 29 March.

And the Guardian:

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was in contact with secretary of state Mike Pompeo in the months before the US ambassador to Ukraine was abruptly recalled, according to a cache of documents released on Friday. The state department released the documents to the group American Oversight in response to a freedom of information lawsuit. They show that Pompeo talked with Giuliani on 26 March and 29 March.

Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, said the documents reveal a clear paper trail from Giuliani to Trump to Pompeo in order to enable the smear campaign against the now ousted envoy in Kyiv, Marie Yovanovitch. “We can see why Mike Pompeo has refused to release this information to Congress. It reveals a clear paper trail from Rudy Giuliani to the Oval Office to secretary Pompeo to facilitate Giuliani’s smear campaign against a US ambassador,” he said.

As well as NBC:

The allegations of a pressure campaign by Trump to get the Ukrainians to announce investigations into a conspiracy theory about the 2016 presidential election and the Bidens are central to the impeachment inquiry into whether Trump abused the power of his office for personal political gain.

The documents released Friday appear to confirm that Pompeo and Giuliani spoke on the phone on March 26, and that another call was scheduled between the two men for March 29 and that it took place. One email appears to show Trump’s former personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, helping to connect Giuliani to Pompeo after there was trouble establishing a connection.

The documents do not say what Giuliani and Pompeo discussed. The March 29 call was scheduled for 20 minutes but lasted just four minutes, according to the documents, and the March 26 call was also just minutes long, the emails show.

When I first saw this all this morning I thought: let it go, and I’m thinking just that again right now. Look, Pompeo and Giuliani talking to each other for just minutes (and to their boss!) is hardly a crime. Unless they talk about committing crimes, but you don’t even know what was discussed! That a group which calls itself nonpartisan connects these calls to Giuliani’s alleged smear campaign against Yovanovich is a bit more puzzling.

Because a president doesn’t need any reason to fire an ambassador. He gets the permission to do that the moment he’s first elected and then inaugurated. He doesn’t have to explain. Getting Giuliani in there doesn’t look like Trump’s best moment, but it’s inconsequential from a legal point of view.

Another allegation that’s being repeated is that Giuliani et al were looking to dig up dirt against Joe Biden and his family, with an eye to the 2020 election. But, again, is that so? Wasn’t perhaps finding out what the most corrupt company in the world’s third-most corrupt country, which receives billions in US aid, was up to in 2016, or today for that matter, the real intention?

Why should we believe it was about 2020, and not 2016? Are there perhaps American interests who don’t want Burisma investigated? And are they perhaps behind the accusation that links that investigation to 2020, so there won’t be an investigation? Shouldn’t we all want to find out what went on?

Another story connected to this is that Minority House Leader David Nunes in Vienna met with Victor Shokin, the former Ukraine prosecutor who was fired mere hours after Joe Biden demanded he be. Moon of Alabama asked earlier today on Twitter if anyone has ever seen evidence that Shokin was corrupt, as Biden and others have claimed. I come up empty on that one. Here’s NBC on Nunes’s trip:

The attorney for an indicted associate of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer says his client is willing to tell Congress that Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, met with Ukraine’s former top prosecutor about investigating the activities of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

An impeachment inquiry is being conducted over allegations Trump held up aid to Ukraine to encourage its leaders to launch an investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who worked as an energy executive in that country. As vice president, Joe Biden joined a chorus of global pressure for Ukraine to fire then-state prosecutor Victor Shokin.

Trump and Nunes, his chief defender as a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee that has taken a lead role in the impeachment inquiry, say Joe Biden wanted Shokin out to protect his son when Hunter Biden’s employer, Burisma, was under suspicion. Shokin himself claims he was fired at the behest of the former vice president to ease pressure on Burisma and Hunter Biden.

Joseph A. Bondy, an attorney for Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, confirmed that his client was willing to testify before Congress that Nunes met with Shokin. “I can confirm that Victor Shokin told Lev Parnas that he had met with Nunes in Vienna in late 2018, and that Derek Harvey informed that they were investigating the activities of Joe and Hunter Biden related to Burisma,” Bondy told NBC News. Derek Harvey is Nunes’ investigator.

There are a lot of people out there who don’t like Devin Nunes. Which is fine. But claiming that he committed a crime or something in that vein just by talking, with his investigator, to Shokin about Burisma, that’s a whole other thing.

This entire topic appears to be founded on an idea that many people have convinced themselves and others of, that the Trump administration doesn’t have the right to investigate what happened in the past, because it might affect the future. It would seem they DO have that right, though.

It would also seem that they couldn’t rely on existing diplomatic staff in Ukraine and Europe to investigate Burisma. Schiff’s impeachment witnesses made that abundantly clear. So if they do investigate on their own, are they breaking laws, or are they merely breaking a protocol that suits some people just fine?

American Oversight has promised much more: “The evidence is only going to get worse for the administration as its stonewall strategy collapses in the face of court orders..”. Alright, fine, let’s see it. But it had better be better than this. You have to come with facts. Certainly after two failed investigations.

“Giuliani talked to Pompeo” may be a fact, but if you have no idea what they talked about, it’s a useless fact, that at most you can use to whip up more empty frenzy. And we know, it’s clickbait, and it sells papers and TV ads, but really, what are we watching, what has American journalism come to? What happened to finding evidence first, and reporting on it after?


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