Biden Classified Documents Discovery Has Flummoxed the Political Press
You have to hand it to our elite political press corps, as long as “it” is a scorpion or a nice ball of buffalo dung. When they get together to prove that they’re above partisan politics and the petty concerns of democracy, they do a great job of it, while simultaneously making a dog’s breakfast of the really important stuff. From NBC News:
An equal number of Americans — 67% — say they are as concerned about classified documents found at President Joe Biden’s residence and former office as they are about those found at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, despite clear differences in how the two men responded to these discoveries[…]The poll finds an American public that’s equally concerned about the discovery of classified documents found at Biden’s and Trump’s homes, even though the current president and ex-president handled their situations in different ways. (Biden and his lawyers have argued that they turned over these classified documents — from his time as Barack Obama’s vice president — as soon as they were discovered and have cooperated with investigators, while Trump failed turn over all requested documents and has lashed out at investigators.)
The gates to Wonderland open wide about halfway through that passage, which taken as a whole is a perfect roadmap for a profession that seems completely adrift. For example, the dependent clause “even though the current president and ex-president handled their situations in different ways” is a kind of crossroads. The story can go two ways: The correct one is to explore why this important difference has come to naught in the public mind; the one that leads over a cliff—the one taken by NBC—is to cite the data and then throw up its hands, as though this statistical result is the enigmatic pronouncement of some ancient oracle. This leads us down the hellbound trail to…
…Biden and his lawyers have argued that they turned over these classified documents — from his time as Barack Obama’s vice president — as soon as they were discovered and have cooperated with investigators, while Trump failed turn over all requested documents and has lashed out at investigators….
It seems almost quaint to point this out, but the circumstances under review do not have their basis in anything Biden’s lawyers “have argued.” They derive from the fact that they are the circumstances that actually happened. Nothing recently has demonstrated the complete inadequacy of journalistic norms and customs to deal with the global threat of the former president* as clearly as the alchemical formula that turns undisputed facts into something that lawyers “have argued.” Democracy dies in nuance, as this NBC poll clearly indicates but dares not say outright.
And how did we get here? Luckily, Peter Baker of The New York Times inadvertently provided a precise diagnosis the other day:
The cases are markedly different in their particulars, as has been noted repeatedly. Mr. Biden has cooperated with the authorities, inviting them to search his home, while Mr. Trump defied efforts to recover documents even after being subpoenaed, prompting a judge to issue a search warrant. But they are similar enough that as a practical matter Democrats can no longer use the issue against Mr. Trump politically, and investigators may have a harder time prosecuting him criminally.
Baker’s assertion about prosecutions is beneath idiotic. Trump would be prosecuted—assuming he ever is—because he actively conspired to keep from doing everything that the Biden people did, as Baker explains prior to running his argument over his own feet.
Then along comes David Axelrod at 10,000 feet to finish the job.
“I feel it’s likely that when the probe is done, the Biden case will wind up being one of unintended mistakes — carelessness but not willful defiance of the rules or law,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama. “The Trump case is much different and more serious. But in the court of public opinion, those lines may now be blurred.”
Lines are blurred. Clouds are gathering. Doubts are raised. And American democracy blunders blindly further off down the road to dangerous irrelevance.
Charles P Pierce is the author of four books, most recently Idiot America, and has been a working journalist since 1976. He lives near Boston and has three children.
Post-Trump Canada-U.S. relationship needed work: Ambassador
Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman says the country’s relationship with its American counterparts required rebuilding after the Trump administration.
On CTV’s Power Play Wednesday, host Vassy Kapelos asked Hillman if she agreed with a characterization that the relationship needed to be rebuilt.
“Yes, I do, in some respects I think it did require rebuilding,” she answered.
Her comments followed remarks from White House Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council John Kirby Wednesday afternoon.
“In the first year of this administration we focused on rebuilding that bilateral relationship,” Kirby said in a White House briefing.
Hillman told Kapelos the federal government was able to find common successes with the Trump administration in the early days of the pandemic and in NAFTA negotiations.
“But it wasn’t an administration that was that interested working with allies to solve certain kind of problems,” Hillman said. She highlighted climate change and NATO as some of those problems.
Hillman’s remarks on the Canada-U.S. relationship comes ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Canada Thursday evening and Friday.
Hillman discusses President Biden’s visit in the video at the top of this article.
Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford to testify at committee probing Chinese government interference
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff has agreed to testify before one of the committees investigating the extent of the Chinese government’s interference in Canada’s elections — and what the Liberal government knew about it.
“While there are serious constraints on what can be said in public about sensitive intelligence matters, in an effort to make Parliament work, [Katie] Telford has agreed to appear at the procedure and House affairs committee as part of their study,” says a Tuesday statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The decision clears a logjam at the procedure and House affairs committee (PROC), where Liberal MPs have been filibustering over the past two weeks to stall a vote on calling Telford to appear.
The committee resumed Tuesday morning and voted to call Telford to appear for two hours between April 3 and April 14.
Committee member and Conservative MP Michael Cooper, who first floated the motion, said that while Liberal MPs should answer for their actions in obstructing the committee, he’s pleased with Tuesday’s decision.
“It’s critical that she testify. She’s the second most powerful person in this government, arguably. But not only that, she played an integral role in the 2019 and 2021 election campaigns on behalf of the Liberal Party,” he said.
“She is a critical witness to get to the heart of the scandal, which is what did the prime minister know, when did he know about it and what did he do or fail to do about Beijing’s interference in our elections?”
Liberal MP Greg Fergus said he wasn’t willing to call her to testify, but Telford volunteered.
“It allows us to move on to other business,” he said. “The tradition is not to have political staff come before committees. It should be ministers who are really responsible for this. It makes a lot of sense. It’s been a long-standing tradition of the House and one that should be broken with great hesitation.”
The approved motion also invites the national campaign directors for the Liberal and Conservative parties during the 2019 and 2021 federal election campaigns to testify. It extends the invitation to Jenni Byrne, adviser to Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, and Tauscha Michaud, chief of staff to former leader Erin O’Toole.
Public and political interest in foreign election interference has intensified since the Globe and Mail alleged that China tried to ensure that the Liberals won a minority government in the last general election. The newspaper also published reports saying Beijing worked to defeat Conservative candidates who were critical of China.
Back in the fall, Global News reported that intelligence officials warned Trudeau that China’s consulate in Toronto floated cash to at least 11 federal election candidates “and numerous Beijing operatives” who worked as campaign staffers.
Trudeau has said repeatedly he was never briefed about federal candidates receiving money from China.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) calls foreign interference activities by the Chinese government the “greatest strategic threat to national security.”
An independent panel tasked with overseeing the 2021 election did detect attempts at interference but concluded that foreign meddling did not affect the outcome.
Conservative motion fails in House
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh took credit for Telford’s decision to appear on Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Singh said his party would back the Conservatives in passing a motion compelling her to appear before another parliamentary committee — the standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics — if the government didn’t stop filibustering in committee. The PMO announced Telford’s appearance not long after.
“I forced the government and I made it really clear today they had a choice. They could stop the obstruction in committee, allow the witness to testify or we would support the motion,” Singh told reporters Tuesday. His party has a confidence-and-supply agreement with Trudeau’s Liberal minority government.
The Conservative motion was defeated in the House of Commons Tuesday by a vote of 177 to 145.
NDP MPs voted on the side of the Liberals. They were booed by the Conservative bench.
Speaking to journalists after the vote, Conservative MP Andrew Scheer took a swing at Singh.
“I’ve served with several NDP leaders. I served in the house with Jack Layton, Ed Broadbent, Alexa McDonough and Thomas Mulcair. I’ve never seen an NDP leader like this, selling out longstanding principles that that party used to stand for, in exchange for who knows what,” he said.
The former Conservative leader went on to lambaste the government for staging what he called a “theatrical display” at committee before climbing down and agreeing to let Telford testify.
“Now the prime minister is expecting, Justin Trudeau is expecting a gold star for exhausting every attempt to delay and block Ms. Telford from testifying,” he said.
“None of this takes away from the urgent need for a full independent public inquiry.”
Singh said he’ll also still push for a public inquiry into the allegations of election interference.
“I’ve said clearly, both publicly and privately, that … we need a public inquiry and we need questions answered in the meantime,” said Singh,
“Absent a public inquiry process, the only process that we have is the committee work.”
The Liberals floated making the vote on the Telford motion a confidence matter, but Trudeau shut that down — pushing off speculation about an early election for the time being.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office also released the mandate for former governor general David Johnston‘s position as independent special rapporteur on foreign interference.
The terms of reference say Johnston will report regularly to the prime minister and must make a decision on whether the government should call a public inquiry by May 23, 2023. The PMO says the prime minister expects Johnston to complete his review by Oct. 31, 2023.
The Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois have pushed back against Johnston’s appointment, arguing that he is too closely linked with the prime minister.
Trudeau has shot back by accusing Poilievre of attacking Canada’s “institutions with a flamethrower.”
Trudeau retreats, and retreat is his best political strategy
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau retreated on Tuesday so that his chief of staff, Katie Telford, will now testify before a parliamentary committee. But it turns out retreat is a good plan for his Liberals.
Despite the chatter, Mr. Trudeau was never going to trigger an election simply to stop Ms. Telford from testifying. That would be a nutty political calculation.
The Liberals had already spent a lot of political capital blocking the opposition demands for Ms. Telford to testify, filibustering at the committee and taking a beating from commentators and painting themselves into a corner.
Retreat, on the other hand, provided some technical political advantages.
Ms. Telford’s appearance at the procedure and House affairs committee, when it comes, could still be tricky, though she won’t be telling all about the PM’s intelligence briefings on Chinese interference in Canadian elections.
But it was getting harder and harder to avoid ever since the NDP, the Liberals’ parliamentary allies in a confidence and supply agreement, broke with the Liberals and supported the opposition demand to have Ms. Telford testify.
The Conservatives had presented a motion in the House of Commons demanding she appear that was coming to a vote Tuesday night.
But once the Liberals conceded, and Mr. Trudeau announced that Ms. Telford would testify, the NDP voted against that motion. And the Liberals avoided umpteen hours of hearings including testimony from 30 cabinet ministers, officials and political party representatives.
Mr. Trudeau’s opponents can crow that he blinked – and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said he had flip-flopped after weeks of pressure – but retreat was good for the Liberals.
There will still be the spectacle of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff refusing to reveal much about what the Canadian Security Intelligence Service told the PM about Beijing’s efforts to influence Canada’s elections in 2019 and 2021. Mr. Trudeau told reporters that there are lot of things about intelligence that Ms. Telford, much like officials who have previously testified, won’t be able to say in public.
The Conservatives know that. Perhaps what they really want to ask Ms. Telford – also a key figure in Liberal election campaigns – is whether CSIS warned campaign staffers that they suspected Liberal candidates might be compromised by ties to Beijing. (Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford answered a similar question on Tuesday by telling reporters that CSIS briefed his chief of staff about MPP Vincent Ke last fall, but only in vague terms.)
But at this point, the Liberals are almost hoping that the Conservatives will have their knives out for Ms. Telford when she testifies.
Mr. Trudeau keeps saying that Canadians don’t want to see Chinese interference become a partisan issue. The Liberals accuse the Conservatives of turning the issue into a political circus, but the truth is they hope the hearings will look like one.
At any rate, Ms. Telford was always going to end up having to testify, at least to avoid something worse. The Liberals suffered damage in a vain attempt to prevent it. Mr. Trudeau should learn a lesson about the value of retreat.
While the opposition parties howled for an inquiry, Mr. Trudeau named former governor-general David Johnston as a “special rapporteur” – prompting both the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois to argue that Mr. Johnston’s friendship with the Trudeau family makes him unfit for the role.
But now the timeline that Mr. Trudeau has given to his “special rapporteur” presents the opportunity for another retreat. Mr. Johnston has six months to issue his final recommendations but a surprisingly short time, until May 23, to come up with recommendations on whether there should be another process – such as an inquiry.
You would think that in that brief period, Mr. Johnston can only look around at all the perplexing questions hanging over the Canadian polity, and realize he has little choice but to recommend some step that will be seen as providing a truly independent review that offers some transparent answers.
Mr. Trudeau should hope so. That’s the place where all of this has to go. The Prime Minister would be better off backing out of the corner he is in quickly, and getting to that place with less damage.
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