This is not “Pick on Andrew McCarthy Week”, although I earlier wrote an open letter to McCarthy questioning his take on the FISA application release.
However, another Andrew McCarthy article has left me a bit perplexed as to his thinking. The article was in response to one that Jonah Goldberg wrote that directly challenges McCarthy on his seemingly contradictory positions. That challenge was based on McCarthy’s appearance on Laura “I-used-to-be-sane-but-now-I’m-a-Trumpster” Ingraham’s FoxNews show:
I’ll get to Laura in a minute, because her oh-so-full-of-contempt-smirk-filled comments can’t be left untouched. But first, let’s take a look at McCarthy’s points. I don’t want to cover what Jonah already did in his challenge because he did it well and you can (and should) read that.
What I want to talk about is how he defines collusion and opposition research and how he personally determines what is an impeachable offense. Many of Trump’s supporters are confusing and conflating all of this.
McCarthy starts his explanation with,
“When I said that turning to a foreign government for campaign dirt was not “collusion,” I meant it was not the collusion that is the rationale for the Trump-Russia investigation — specifically, the cyber-espionage conspiracy to influence the 2016 campaign.”
This doesn’t really apply to my main point I want to make, but it should be noted that he is asserting a premise that the only rationale for the collusion investigation is that of the possible cyber-espionage conspiracy. I don’t accept that premise at all. There are various ways that collusion could have played a part with the various participants in the Trump campaign. And remember, the investigation is not simply whether Trump, personally, colluded with Putin. Rather, it’s whether any of the members of his campaign (Manafort, Page, Flynn, etc.) colluded with Russia in any way.
He does touch upon this:
“Now, there may be all kinds of contacts between Trump people and operatives of the Russian government that can be called “collusion” with literal accuracy. But the one that would be of interest to prosecutors, under the circumstances as we understand them, is the cyber-espionage conspiracy. Patently, that kind of collusion (which I usually try to not refer to as “collusion” because of the confusion that ambiguous term causes), would be an impeachable offense.”
What he is implying here is that any of the “collusion” that may have happened between Trump people and Russian operatives other than the cyber-espionage stuff is simply “icky” (using his word from the Ingraham video), but not criminal and not an impeachable offense. But surely there are many ways such non cyber-espionage collusion can be criminal, are there not?
What if agreements were made for specific actions affecting Russia to be done by the Trump administration in exchange for Russia’s help in the election. Would that not be criminal? What if Manafort, working with the Russians, used Russian supplied kompromat on an individual in order to apply pressure to support Trump and/or his policies? For example, and this is purely hypothetical and I’m in no way suggesting it happened, what if the Russians had damaging information on Jeff Sessions (or Rush Limbaugh, or Sean Hannity) and they worked with (aka colluded with) members of the Trump campaign in using that information to obtain specific actions from them? Would that not be criminal and have nothing to do with cyber-espionage?
McCarthy then moves the argument towards referring to the Trump campaign meeting with the Russians as merely “opposition research”:
“Let’s turn to other species of collusion. There is, to my mind, undeniable evidence that the Trump campaign hoped and attempted to get dirt on Hillary Clinton — what is euphemistically known as “opposition research” — from Kremlin-connected people.”
Many of Trump’s supporters are using this talking point in order to excuse it. Because, as we all know, all political campaigns participate in opposition research, so this is no different. But there is a huge distinction between a campaign specifically hiring professionals to investigate the background of opponents in order to dig up anything that might be used to demonstrate their unfitness for office, and a campaign being approached by a foreign, adversarial country offering to supply them information. The distinction should be patently clear. One is legitimate opposition research, the other is being a target for a very possible foreign influence/subterfuge scheme.
But McCarthy seems to see no big problem with it:
“As Jonah is wont to point out, not everything that is bad is illegal — that’s life in a free country. In American law-enforcement practice as it currently exists, I do not believe it is illegal to take oppo-research from a foreign source (including a foreign-government source).”
If there is no law against it, there should be. It’s absurd to look at such things as just “icky”. Again, he’s calling it “oppo-research”, but when you are approached by an enemy state (and let’s quit mincing words…that’s what Russia is) with information that influences our elections, that is not “oppo-research”. Rather, it is very possibly and likely foreign subterfuge intended to influence our elections to favor that enemy state and also provide leverage against the person accepting such information for threat of exposure. The first action that should be taken when that happens is an immediate phone call to our intelligence agencies. Anything short of that is incredibly concerning and deserves the utmost scrutiny.
Consequently, since I do not think oppo-research collusion is illegal, I refer to it by that well known term of art, “icky.”
“Icky”? Come on, Andrew.
The founders, for very good reason, created a Constitutional system that was very much concerned about foreign governments meddling in our elections and having unhealthy influences on our executive. The Electoral College was created specifically to deal with that. Since our Electoral College is no longer working as designed, we are seeing the direct results of that. We can’t possibly come to the conclusion that although it’s “icky” to take information and help from an unfriendly, adversarial government, there’s otherwise no real problem with it. Once we concur with that position, our nation is doomed.
This leads me to the next point I’d like to make about all of this. That is, the Trump supporters attempts to deflect the criticisms of such actions and claim that it wasn’t the Trump campaign that colluded with the Russians, but rather it was Hillary! After all, she paid the Russians for the fake dossier! In the Ingraham clip, you can witness this directly from Ingraham’s dripping-with-overly-dramatic-contempt comments. She actually claims that Hillary colluded with Russia by actually paying for dirt that was assembled by Russia. That’s absurd.
The Steele Dossier actually was legitimate opposition research done in the normal, professional way. The campaign hired a professional law firm to handle the investigation for the opposition research and they, in turn, hired the investigators to conduct it, using typical investigatory methods. Of course, Steele used some Russian contacts to get information. How else would one investigate a person’s dealings with Russians without doing so? He then did the right, responsible thing and when he became concerned about the information he dug up, he provided it to our intelligence services for further investigation.
That is exactly how these things should work!
Hillary did not go to Russia and ask for dirt from Putin. Hillary was not approached from Russian operatives with dirt on Trump. The information that was gathered was through a controlled investigation…actual opposition research, as opposed to an enemy state approaching Hillary with the information…not opposition research.
In the end, they conflate it all such that the Trump campaign’s actual actions (collusion) that could lead to very possible successful influence by enemy subterfuge becomes “icky” oppo-research, and the Hillary campaign’s actual opposition research through normal means, becomes collusion. No wonder McCarthy is confused.
Lastly, McCarthy discusses his opinion that the Trump collusion, as it may have happened (without the cyber-espionage aspect) would not be an impeachable offense. Once again, he frames the issue as simple opposition research:
“Could Congress impeach for collusion with a foreign power to obtain opposition research? I believe (again, guided by current practice) that this would fall woefully short of high crimes and misdemeanors. But it is worth observing that the Constitution commits impeachment solely to Congress — it is a political remedy with no judicial check.”
But if you look at the reality of the collusion that most certainly could have occurred as I discussed above (very possible quid pro quo type agreements) or simply that the foreign government could very possibly have undue influence over the President after helping him get elected or threatening to expose their arrangements…then most certainly colluding with a foreign government (especially an adversarial/enemy foreign government) to influence our elections rises to the level of an impeachable offense.