Trump and Allies Roll Out Conspiracy Theories to Defend Against Ukraine Extortion Scandal Impeachment Inquiry

Interview with Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program with People For the American Way, conducted by Scott Harris

As the House of Representatives moves forward on its impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, more whistleblowers have emerged. A second person, described as an intelligence official, says he has first-hand knowledge of some of the charges outlined in the first whistleblower’s complaint related to Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.  In that call, Trump urged Ukraine to investigate Democratic Presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Before the call, the president had delayed the release of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine appropriated by Congress.

A third whistleblower is reported to have recently filed a complaint stating that there were “inappropriate efforts to influence” the mandatory IRS audit of President Donald Trump’s and Vice President Mike Pence’s tax returns. As the six House Committees pursue the release of administration documents and testimony from key White House officials, the Trump regime has said it won’t cooperate with the House impeachment investigation, that its claim is “invalid.” Failure to comply with House subpoenas can itself be an impeachable offense, for obstruction of justice.   

As new Trump scandals and leaks are being revealed at a dizzying rate, recent public opinion polls found public support for the impeachment of Donald Trump has grown to the highest levels yet recorded. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program with People For the American Way. Here, she discusses the widening scope of the House impeachment inquiry, and the debunked conspiracy theories being used as a defense by the president and his Republican and right-wing media allies.

MARGE BAKER: So I think what’s happened is we have in the Ukrainian situation, a very easy to understand narrative that reflects the corruption of the administration. And there are other surrounding issues, some of what you talked about – the IRS audit – but at the center right now is a very easily understandable narrative about Ukraine that gets to the fundamental corruption of a president is willing to sell out his country, sell out the national security for his own personal gain, political and financial.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And Marge, the White House in this phone call to the Ukraine president as well as some of their other covert operations and their allies in the right-wing media have talked about a conspiracy theory having to do with a group called CrowdStrike in Ukraine that the president and his allies and those in the media claim hacked the DNC computers, that it wasn’t Russia, that basically Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee hacked themselves in order to impugn the Trump administration and Russia. This is a whacky conspiracy theory where, to my knowledge, has nothing to back it up, but it looks like Republicans in general, many in the Senate and the House are going along with that story. What do you make of this counter-narrative that the Republicans seem to be backing up here?

MARGE BAKER: We’ve done some writing on this. We have some very, very talented members of our Right-wing Watch staff who are just talented journalists and they’ve done a lot of reporting on this. And basically what you’re describing is this fever swamp of conspiracy theories. And the conspiracy theory as to the 2016 election – there’s two different theories and it’s a little bit hard to figure out how they sit with one another. But the first half of it is the break into the DNC. The hacking DNC was really a false flag operation done by the DNC, I guess to get Russians and Trump in trouble. I have no idea. It’s like hard to understand it. And then the second part of that theory is, as you say, the hacking did take place, but it’s done by Ukrainians and there’s a server sitting somewhere in the Ukraine that has all this information on it.

So these are conspiracy theories that have been there for a long time. And Trump buys these conspiracy theories. I mean we know that from his history, he buys these conspiracy theories and this one was being pushed on him by (Rudy) Giuliani. And so, I mean, Trump actually believes there’s some, you know, nefarious connection between Ukraine apparently and the 2016 elections and is the origins of all his trouble. But the really dangerous thing is that (U.S. Attorney General William) Barr is clearly shown that he’s Trump’s lawyer. He’s not the people’s lawyer. He’s not the attorney general of the United States. He’s Trump’s personal lawyer. And that’s how he’s acting. We have actually a blog post going tomorrow by our senior fellow, Elliot Mincberg, who talks about this in a little bit more detail, but what Barr is doing is Barr is trying to find the facts, the data that somehow appear to support these crazy theories.

And so he and a special investigator don’t think it’s necessarily yet a criminal investigation. (He and) John Durham are flying around the country, around the world, to Italy, to Britain, to Ukraine to try to find the documentation that will show somehow that these conspiracy theories about the 2016 election and the inappropriate blaming of the Russians was all an effort to get Trump. Again, it’s hard to explain because it’s crazy – out of the fever swamp. But what’s really disturbing is Barr – and he’s acknowledged it – is flying around the world to find the data, to try to find data that he will then piece together. And we know, we’ve seen what he did. We saw what he did with his report on the Mueller investigation. His memorandum on the Mueller report. He’s not the people’s lawyer. He’s Trump’s lawyer, out to protect him any way he can.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Marge, while there are a few exceptions in terms of Sen. Mitt Romney and Sen. (Rob) Portman and a few others who are expressing alarm about what happened with Ukraine and the president, the Republicans seem to be unified and defending what he did and denying that impeachment is appropriate here in this case. Where do you think the Republicans are headed with this? You think this solid wall of support for Trump is going to break down at any point in the near future?

MARGE BAKER: I actually don’t know when, but it’s going to break down. I mean, the writing’s on the wall. There’s no way to defend what Trump did. They keep putting their flag down and then it changes. “Oh, there’s no quid pro quo.” “Oh, guess there was actually – there was a quid pro quo.” “Uh, he’s just joking about talking to China about investigating the Bidens.” Oh, it keeps changing. There is no way to defend what Trump did. So at some point, Republicans are going to be called on. They’re going to have to explain to their constituents, right? Why they think it’s okay for the president in the United States to shake down, sell out and cover up, right? Shake down a foreign ally, sell out the national security, and then try to cover it all up. Why is that okay? And I know they won’t be able to do it. I mean, we’re seeing that now over the recess with senators having trouble. They want to keep changing the subject. They’re stumbling over how to defend the indefensible.

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