For two years, our political and media elites assured us that a wide-ranging independent counsel investigation of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election would reveal that the Trump campaign, and indeed Trump himself, colluded with Moscow to steal the election. The Robert Mueller probe, we were told, would prove it.
Not only did that turn out to be false, but as the investigation dragged on it became clear that the origins of the probe were highly suspicious, implicating senior intelligence officials in the Obama administration and raising questions about whether the whole thing was a political hit job from the start.
Now those same political and media elites are assuring us that Trump has broken the law and must be removed from office—not for colluding with Russia, but for pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. We’re told that Trump threatened to withhold military aid, and that he improperly involved Attorney General William Barr in this extortion scheme, along with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
We’re supposed to accept that this is what happened, that what the anti-Trump whistleblower complaint describes is confirmed by the unredacted and publicly released transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky. We’re not supposed to question the veracity of the whistleblower’s complaint or the purity of the whistleblower’s motives. And we’re definitely not supposed to question why the standards for submitting whistleblower complaints were changed just last month to allow complaints based on secondhand information to be deemed credible.
In other words, we’re not supposed to question whether this whole thing has been a political hit job from the start.
Well, forgive us if we pause. Just like the Clinton campaign-funded Steele dossier that launched the Russia probe, the Ukraine complaint is based entirely on hearsay and contains blatant falsehoods and misstatements of fact.
In fact, everything about the Ukraine affair thus far has the same stink as the origins of the Russia probe—the suspicious actions of unelected intelligence community bureaucrats, the hysterical proclamations of congressional Democrats, the uniform efforts of the media to distort every aspect of the story in the service of an impeachment narrative. Sound familiar?
The Complaint Origins Are Suspicious
Democrats and the news media are treating the Ukraine affair like a Watergate-sized crisis just as they treated the Russia probe before it came to a conclusion.
Now, just like with the Mueller investigation, legitimate questions are emerging about how all this got started. As far as we know, the whistleblower complaint contains no direct, firsthand information, which until last month was a requirement for a complaint to be considered credible. My colleague Sean Davis first reported that the intelligence community quietly gutted that requirement at some point between May 2018 and August 2019.
Then on Monday, the intelligence community inspector general (ICIG) released a statement that confirmed Davis’ reporting, and admitted that its complaint form and policies regarding evidentiary requirements had been altered in response to the anti-Trump complaint filed in August. In addition, the ICIG statement revealed the whistleblower had used the old complaint form, which explicitly stated that firsthand knowledge was required in order for a complaint to be considered credible.
This is important because the federal statue governing whistleblower complaints in the intelligence community gives the ICIG broad authority to determine whether a complaint is credible, as well as authority to determine what kind of evidence is required to meet that threshold. The ICIG has 14 days after receiving a complaint to determine whether it’s credible, and if so the complaint is passed along to the director of national intelligence (DNI).
In order for the complaint to be considered an “urgent concern,” and be passed along to Congress, it has to meet three criteria: it must be found credible, it must be related to an intelligence activity, and the complaint must be against an employee or contractor of the intelligence community.
In this case, the DNI and the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel found the complaint was not an “urgent concern” as defined by federal statute (because the complaint wasn’t related to an intelligence activity and because the president is not an employee of the intelligence community) and therefore need not be shared with relevant congressional committees. The ICIG ignored that determination and notified Congress even though the complaint didn’t meet the statutory definition of an “urgent concern.”
The ICIG’s statement notably doesn’t say when the complaint form was changed to reflect new evidentiary standards that allow complaints with only secondhand information to be deemed credible. As Davis notes, knowing this timeline “is essential to determining whether the ICIG changed its own policies and procedures to justify forwarding to Congress a complaint that under the previous standard may not have been deemed credible.”
As it is, the fact that ICIG developed new forms that don’t require firsthand information suggests that it was done as an after-the-fact justification of how the anti-Trump whistleblower’s complaint was handled.
Meanwhile, the mainstream media have been trying to distract attention from the questions surrounding these revelations by pretending either that such details don’t matter or that anyone raising questions about them is doing so in bad faith. The Daily Beast ran an article this week dismissing Davis’ reporting as a “hoax story,” even while admitting that the form was indeed changed and that the new form does indeed alter the type of evidence needed for the ICIG to judge a complaint credible.
The Media Is Dismissing All This As a Conspiracy Theory
At the same time, the media is treating the Trump administration’s investigation into the dubious origins of the Mueller probe as a conspiracy theory. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that Attorney General William Barr has been holding private meetings overseas with foreign officials as part of that effort, which Trump himself disclosed back in May.
Vox was quick on the draw with an explainer headlined, “The right-wing conspiracy theories behind Trump and Barr’s outreach to foreign leaders.” A report from the Washington Post noted, “Current and former intelligence and law enforcement officials expressed frustration and alarm Monday that the head of the Justice Department was taking such a direct role in reexamining what they view as conspiracy theories and baseless allegations of misconduct.”
But here’s the thing: hand-waving all this away as a conspiracy theory isn’t going to work. The American people have every reason to be suspicious of the emerging Ukraine narrative, and simply appealing to the authority of current and former intelligence officials, many of whom lied to Congress and illegally leaked to the press, isn’t going to change anyone’s mind.
Many Americans no longer trust those people because they have proven untrustworthy. After the fiasco of the Russia investigation, they’re going to need more than assurances from our political and media elites that this time, really, honestly, Trump is guilty of an impeachable offense.