Mona Charen: It’s not a witch hunt

My friend Mona Charen has sent me the following response to my nearby post “A witch hunt?” In my post I comment on her recent column “16 Things You Must Believe to Buy the ‘Witch Hunt’ Russia Narrative.” I want to give Mona the last word in this exchange and thank her for her response. Mona writes:

Before plunging into your objections, Scott, I want to thank you for being a fair interlocutor and a friend. There are many fissures in our ranks these days, and it’s good to keep the conversation going.

If something is a “witch hunt,” it cannot be fair or impartial for two reasons: 1) those hunting for witches are determined to find them, and 2) there are no witches. Number one is certainly true of some in this case, but after the past week, I don’t think we can say with confidence that number two is true.

I don’t speak for Robert Mueller or his investigation. Apparently, about half of the lawyers have donated to Democrats. That doesn’t inspire confidence, I agree. But this doesn’t all come to down to questions about independent counsels. There are also, as you note toward the end of your post, several Congressional investigations, and any number of press outlets searching for information.

What I can say, based on what I hear, is that what we’ve learned so far is not coming from leaks out of Mueller’s office. It is coming from press reports, so the ideological make-up of Mueller’s legal team cannot account for what we’re learning. Also, it is slightly amusing to see the double standard at work about political donations. During the campaign, when Donald Trump’s past donations to Democrats — including Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer — came up, his fans explained it away saying “He’s just a businessman. He had to buy off politicians.”

I, too, am an avid Andy McCarthy fan, so I’ll see your Andy column and raise you. Here is what Andy has written more recently in light of the Donald Jr. emails:

The tepid-on-Trump camp is aghast at revelations of the extent and nature of the Trump clan’s ties to a murderous anti-American regime — and, speaking only for myself, humbled by analysts who were more troubled by the circumstantial evidence in the absence of smoking guns. Trump fans, to the contrary, are doing the full Clinton: doubling down on the absurd insistence that Trump-Russia is a big ol’ “nothingburger.”

Now, let’s turn to the “shards.”

1) You’re a great lawyer Scott, so let me ask you this about the Donald Jr meeting: When establishing the state of mind of an actor, don’t you look at motive, means, and opportunity? And if said person had all three, and then repeatedly lies about all of them, is it not fair to draw conclusions? When someone is offered help from a hostile foreign power, as “part of Russia and its government support of Mr. Trump” and you reply “I love it,” instead of “Are you out of your mind?” or “Over my dead body” – and then you lie about it — that’s a problem. And when the president of the United States participated in crafting the false story Donald Jr. put out, what does that say?

2) Whether Manafort is investigated or not is beside the point. It is not disputed that he worked for a decade for Victor Yanokovych, who mowed down protesters in Maidan Square and was Putin’s guy. The louche Manafort hardly seems to have the experience or character to say, “Keep your distance from the Russians,” and we now know that indeed, he did not, because he attended at least one meeting.

3) Yup.

4) I grant that some of Trump’s policies have been correctives to the Obama years. I’m particularly enthusiastic about UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. The decision to sell Patriot missiles to Poland, the efforts to permit export of coal and liquefied natural gas are also moves that probably don’t make the Kremlin happy. On the other hand, he chose Rex Tillerson, a man who received a friendship medal from Vladimir Putin, as Secretary of State.

The decision to hand back the two spy centers the US closed after revelations about Russian interference in the election – a concession Seb Gorka explains as an attempt at “collaboration and cooperation” is not encouraging.

And what do we get in return? Didn’t Trump excoriate Obama for making the worst deals? Gorka cited the Syria ceasefire as something that would be evidence of good faith. Ceasefires always sound good, but they are not always good in reality. There have been multiple failed ceasefires in the past few years in Syria. Also, one side can use the ceasefire to gain strategic advantage. I’ll note this news: Israel is opposed to the Syria ceasefire negotiated by Trump and Putin out of concern that it may solidify Iran’s position in the country.

Further, there are some policy initiatives that are either boneheaded or something worse. Exhibit A: The joint cyber security task force Trump announced after his private meeting with Putin (quickly withdrawn).

5) Trump knew at least two weeks before he fired him that Flynn had lied to Mike Pence. Here is what Pence said on January 15, 2017 on Face The Nation about Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador:

“They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure on Russia…. What I can confirm, having to spoken with [Flynn] about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.” 

He was asked: “Just to button up one question, did any advisor or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?” Pence replies, “Of course not. And I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.” 

The Wall Street Journal story about a Republican operative seeking Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails through Russia and claiming that he was working with Mike Flynn is possibly significant. If misleading Mike Pence were a firing offense, I think the president would have had to fire himself. But the Flynn story has other oddities, including that he failed to disclose his paid lobbying for Russia and Turkey. I don’t know why Trump fired Flynn – the president implied that the media done him in, which is strange because the media didn’t fire him. Anyway, I’m skeptical that anyone in the Trump orbit would be punished for lying. If that were the standard, pretty much the whole West Wing would be gone.

6) Sure, it’s possible that Trump is showing loyalty to Flynn by improperly instructing the FBI director to go easy on him and asking Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, to weigh in with Comey on the same subject. But then, consider the point about Trump and loyalty that Jonah Goldberg makes here:

Some argue that [Trump’s] loyal, and there’s some evidence of that. But the loyalty he shows is instrumental and self-serving. In The Art of the Deal, there’s a fairly moving passage about Roy Cohn, Trump’s mentor, and loyalty. “The thing that’s most important to me is loyalty,” Trump says. “You can’t hire loyalty. I’ve had people over the years who I swore were loyal to me, and it turned out that they weren’t. Then I’ve had people that I didn’t have the same confidence in and turned out to be extremely loyal. So you never really know.” He added: “The thing I really look for though, over the longer term, is loyalty.” Trump then said this about Cohn: He was a truly loyal guy — it was a matter of honor with him — and because he was also very smart, he was a great guy to have on your side. You could count on him to go to bat for you, even if he privately disagreed with your view, and even if defending you wasn’t necessarily the best thing for him. He was never two-faced. Just compare that with all the hundreds of “respectable” guys who make careers boasting about their uncompromising integrity and have absolutely no loyalty. They think about what’s best for them and don’t think twice about stabbing a friend in the back if the friend becomes a problem. . . .  Roy was the sort of guy who’d be there at your hospital bed, long after everyone else had bailed out, literally standing by you to the death. But when Cohn got HIV, Trump severed his ties with Cohn. “Donald found out about it and just dropped him like a hot potato,” Susan Bell, Cohn’s longtime secretary, said. “It was like night and day.”

7) You address this in 8.

8) Yup.

9) How do we know what role Carter Page played in the campaign? You can argue that there really wasn’t much of a campaign, and that’s fair. But as Politico reported on March 21, 2016, Page was one of three people Trump listed as foreign policy advisors.

10) You “critique,” Scott, Trump bellows. Perhaps you’re right about this, but after everything we’ve learned, wouldn’t it be reassuring if Trump’s response to the introduction of a sanctions bill was “Where do I sign?” and not “I want to keep my options open.”

11) Ok, I can see the argument that the jury is out on Stone. Perhaps he was just making a lucky guess about Podesta. I’m open to that possibility. But quoting from the FactCheck article you linked to, does it not repel you that he reached out to Julian Assange and Guccifer 2.0 and denies that they are linked to Russia? Stone is the worst kind of bottomfeeder. Assange has done tremendous damage to this country by revealing our secrets. But if, for the moment, Assange is hurting Clinton, he’s great and we’ll happily cooperate with him. Here’s a photo of Stone with another delightful character, Alex Jones.

12) Again, I don’t speak for Mueller. I have no idea what his predicates are. But speaking as a citizen, I find these statements highly illuminating and I want to know more. Regarding Andy McCarthy, I refer the honorable gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.

13) Okey dokey.

14) For three days in succession Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to say what the administration’s position on Russia is. Day One: I’ll get back to you on that. Day Two: I still don’t have anything for you. Day Three: I don’t have a comment. My lawyer husband says this isn’t significant, it’s just a sign of “moronicness.” Pick your poison.

15) See item 4.

16) I don’t disagree that some in the media are out to get Trump and that they interpret every single datum in the worst possible light (though, ironically, some of them, like CNN, arguably helped elect him by giving him lavish media coverage during the campaign). It’s also true, you’ll surely grant, that many in conservative media (ahem, Sean Hannity) have become equally unbalanced in defense of anything and everything Trump does.

But the fact that the press can sometimes seem like a wolf pack should not force us to respond in kind. What matters is the truth.

Also, Trump’s beef with the press is strictly personal. Rarely does he criticize their coverage of issues conservatives care about – not even his signature issues like immigration and terrorism. No, it’s nearly always just about him. I would not conflate conservatives’ deep suspicion of the press with Trump’s war on his critics. He doesn’t.

So, I stand by the view that you have to swallow a great deal to believe that this is nothing but a witch hunt. And the ground shifts almost daily . . .

All the best to you!