The blossoming #WhistleblowerGate scandal, which has replaced #RussiaGate for those hoping that Donald Trump will soon be impeached. Initially it was reported by the Washington Post that an official in the American intelligence community was so bothered by a “promise” Trump made to a foreign leader that he or she filed a formal whistleblowing complaint.
The story was based on “two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter,” and former U.S. officials often haven’t proven to be terribly reliable when it comes to stories about Trump committing impeachable offenses. Then it turned out that the whistleblower “didn’t have direct knowledge of the communications,” according to CNN, but their “concerns came in part from learning information that was not obtained during the course of their work.”
The story was impossible to evaluate but immediately dominated the news cycle. The Post first reported that the whistleblower was concerned about a single incident. This was quickly confirmed by NBC News and CNN.
Immediate suspicion focused on communications between Trump and Russia and, one theory went, Trump had talked to Vladimir Putin by phone and told him he opposed CIA spying on North Korea.
Then the New York Times reported that the whistleblower was concerned about multiple incidents. This, too, was quickly confirmed by multiple outlets, including CNN, thereby contradicting its earlier reporting. This excerpt from a CNN story by the network is a classic in passing on information that no one can possibly verify, especially because it offers conflicting accounts.
The intelligence inspector general suggested to the House intelligence committee today that the whistleblower had concerns about multiple actions, CNN is told by sources familiar with the briefing.
The inspector general did not say specifically all the acts of concern involved the president, the sources said. One source said the inspector general referenced “a sequence of events” and “alleged actions” that took place.
Another source disputed that the inspector general provided substantive details regarding the whistleblower claim.
CNN had earlier reported, citing a source familiar with the case, that the complaint was prompted by concerns over a phone call between the president and a foreign leader.
Now it turns out, apparently, that the source of the whistleblower’s complaint involved communication between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is not friendly with Putin. The storyline is that Trump in August was holding up $250 million in military aid for Ukraine unless Zelensky’s government agreed to investigate allegations of corruption involving Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, who in 2014 became a board member at a Ukrainian energy company called Burisma Holdings.
(Burisma, which was later investigated for corruption, obviously picked Hunter because his father was vice president at the time. Trump and other Republicans have been arguing, without any solid evidence, that when he was vice president Joe Biden successfully pressured the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor who was looking into corruption at the company.)
On September 12, after Trump and Zelensky spoke, Trump freed up the $250 million in military aid. So now, the storyline goes, Trump only released the aid after getting Zelensky to agree to reopen a long dormant investigation into Burisma — which, if true, doesn’t remotely square with the assumption that Trump was acting on Putin’s behalf — so he could have ammo to use against Joe Biden if he’s the Democratic nominee for 2020.
And of course the new narrative allowed Hillary Clinton to again suggest that her loss in 2016 to Trump was a result of Russian meddling.
Perhaps the current account will prove to be true. Trump is entirely capable of having made such a request and nothing his personal attorney and pal Rudy Giuliani says can be trusted. Giuliani, in fact, been urging Ukraine for some time to reopen the investigation into Burisma and the role of Biden’s son there.
But even if the current version of the story is accurate, impeachment over the Ukraine story, now being looked into by three House committees, is a Hail Mary. It’s media gold but there are more matters that deserve more attention. For example.