Ryan Cooper, National Correspondent for The Week, joins us to look at today’s testimony, the president’s petulance, and what all this means for the presidential campaign.
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you with us.
In our continuing coverage of the potential impeachment of Donald Trump, we look at what transpired today in the House Intelligence Committee where the Director of National Intelligence Admiral James Maguire testified. We had the release of the whistleblower’s complaint today, the threats by Trump to the press at the United States UN Mission Office as well–and that was just released, the audio just came out–the anger at times for all that identified the whistleblower at The New York Times and what they just did. Adam Schiff, chair of the Intelligence Committee, said that the whistleblower will be interviewed by the committee. The only complaint is that not only did he write about Trump’s attempted collusion with Ukraine to investigate Biden, but he also said the White House officials intervened and locked down all records of the call lest it slip out to the public.
This is only the beginning. And today we talk with Ryan Cooper. Ryan Cooper is the National Correspondent for The Week and he joins us. Ryan, welcome. Good to have you with us.
RYAN COOPER: Thanks for having me.
MARC STEINER: Always a pleasure to have you here on The Real News. I just want to talk about the thing you wrote today, what you focused on, and a quote you have from the report, the complaint that was filed. It said, “I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign government in the 2020 U.S. election.” Then quoting, “Pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the president’s main domestic political rivals.” Talk a bit about that. They put the complaint out today. And before we go to the hearing and hear what Admiral Maguire had to say, what is the significance of this? Since many people also argue, “Look, there’s no smoking gun in this. He didn’t hear anything, nobody saw anything.” Can this really lead to impeachment or is it just going to be another fumbled football like the Mueller Report in front of Congress?
RYAN COOPER: I would say this is considerably more devastating than the Mueller Report. Because number one, this is not the only piece of evidence we have suggesting that this happened. There’s also reporting from The Washington Post, The New York Times, and others detailing this same story. And we have critically the memorandum which is not a transcript–it’s described as a transcript, but it’s really just a description–of this call that the White House itself put out which confirmed the basic account of the whistleblower.
I saw some of the Trump hacks that The Federalist were saying, “Oh, this is hearsay and whatnot.” But a whistleblower is not an investigation. He’s just going through the official channels, which you are supposed to do according to the laws. If you see something improper, you’re supposed to take it to the Inspector General and say, “Look, I saw this bad thing.” And then you go through the chain of command, and so on. This is just one piece of evidence that just confirms what we already knew and they more or less already admitted to, that Trump has attempted to abuse his presidential powers, which are very extensive, to try to smear his top, at this moment at least, top political rival. So, it’s bad.
MARC STEINER: And it could be bad. We’ll see how this unravels for this to really be bad. I guess in some ways, what this report alludes to… They’re going to have to find people who actually admit to what happened and do some serious investigative work to kind of say this actually happened. I mean, that’s what I was alluding to when I said how this could end up.
RYAN COOPER: Yes. You would ideally want to get… You know, according to the whistleblower, they took the actual transcript of the call and moved it from the traditional presidential record-keeping system to like the code word “classified,” like the very top level, most ultra-classified document storage facility that there is. Who knows how that works exactly. But I would say again, if you were thinking about this in a sort of traditional way, what Trump has already admitted to in that memorandum that they put out is–I would say that’s impeachable right there. He sets up the quid pro quo in saying that, “We would like to do some things for you, but first I would like you to do this.” The suggestion is not even implied, he just says it.
So yeah, right. If you’re going to do a proper investigation, you want to bring in everybody. Let’s find out who was on this call, who else was listening. Get every single one of those people in to testify. Find any documents you can. But it’s pretty clear that this is what happened and all it takes now is to just sort of put all of the ducks in a row and have all the evidence you defined in one place.
MARC STEINER: Let’s begin… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stop you.
RYAN COOPER: No, go ahead.
MARC STEINER: Let’s start… Today obviously the meeting happened with Maguire, the head of the DNI. And let’s take a look for a moment here at a clip of what he said during the hearing. It got a little adversarial at times, but clearly… He’s one of those guys–I mean, I don’t know. From my experience in the past, you meet a lot of people and know a lot of people in the military who feel like they have a lot of integrity. And people have said he would resign if he was not allowed to testify before Congress. But let’s just watch this one. You can comment on him and his testimony.
JOSEPH MAGUIRE: I am committed to ensuring that all whistleblower complaints are handled appropriately and to protecting the rights of whistleblowers. In this case, the complainant raised a matter with the Intelligence Committee Inspector General. After reviewing the complaint and the Inspector General’s transmittal letter, the Office of Legal Council determined that the complaint’s allegations do not meet the statutory requirement definition concern, legal urgent concern.
ADAM SHIFF: You’re aware that the practice of your office has been that regardless of whether the complaint meets the definition of urgent concern, regardless of whether the Inspector General finds it credible or incredible, the past practice has always been to give it to this committee. You’re aware of that, right?
JOSEPH MAGUIRE: I am aware that this is unprecedented-
ADAM SHIFF: Okay.
JOSEPH MAGUIRE: And with that, sir, I agree. This has never happened before, but there again, this is a unique situation. At no time was there any intent on my part, sir, ever to withhold the information from you as the chair.
ADAM SHIFF: But I don’t know that we would’ve ever seen that complaint.
MARC STEINER: So, there we have it. What was your take on Maguire’s testimony today? …I’ll stop there. What was your take?
RYAN COOPER: Well, he seems to me like–as you say, not really knowing that much about him, his career before today–as sort of like an institution man like Comey or Robert Mueller. A guy who plays by the rules for the most part and has been a sort of career agent and like a bureaucrat, basically, in the intelligence apparatus for most of his life. And yeah. I mean, the thing about that is that the whole intelligence bureaucracy is this enormously dysfunctional mess that is constantly doing horrible things and does not really live up to the picture–the way that folks like that tend to talk about it, that this is a place where men of integrity go to live out lives of service to the nation and stuff. It’s more like we’re blowing up wedding parties in Yemen for inscrutable geopolitical reasons.
That said, I think there is a line that folks like that will tend not to cross. And I think you see it when someone’s gone through all the proper channels and they respect the chain of command and they’re doing the things that they’re supposed to be doing, really coloring inside the lines. And then you get something like from the Office of Legal Council, which is just this absolutely preposterous thing, saying, “Oh, this complaint about how the president is maybe trying to get Ukraine to throw the 2020 election, that’s not an urgent concern for Congress.” It’s like, “Give me a break, dude.” That’s just ridiculous. And I think that’s when you can see guys like that, guys like these intelligence dudes, saying, “Whoa, hang on. This is not right. This guy is a patriot, he colored inside the lines, sir.”
MARC STEINER: Exactly.
RYAN COOPER: Yeah, that’s my take.
MARC STEINER: I think that if you meet and interview enough people, know enough people who have been in intelligence service over the years and people who have been in special ops in the armed services–including some folks in my family–no matter what their politics are, there are limits. And I can see how the right wing thinks that the “deep state” is going after Trump. In some ways, they could be right, because people can’t handle what he’s doing, saying, “This guy has to be stopped.” This could be one of the quiet things at play here with him, just because he’s really going outside the lines for most people, whether you are in an intelligence committee or whether you are a progressive on the left fighting for a different kind of America. There are a lot of reasons not to like this man.
RYAN COOPER: Yeah, right. I mean, you look at the ostensible justification for all these secret powers and authorities that the CIA and NSA and all the other agencies have. It’s supposed to be to protect the national interest of the country, right? We’re supposed to be defending America from terrorists and Russia, and whoever else might be messing around with our sacred institutions. And the national interest is a pretty contestable concept. You could say it’s been used in a lot of really ridiculous ways; invading Iraq for example. But in no possible conception of that does it involve calling up Ukraine and be like, “Hey, Ukraine, can you give us the 2020 election, please?” It’s just so wildly at odds with the mission and the self-justification of folks like that, that I think you can see the cognitive dissonance finally breaks out.
MARC STEINER: Let’s get to the heart of some of the politics of this for a moment. I want to play out a few clips here. This is Donald Trump. This is a few days ago form Donald Trump. Let’s look at this one first.
DONALD TRUMP: If a Republican ever did what Joe Biden did, if a Republican ever said what Joe Biden said, they’d be getting the electric chair by right now. Look at the double standards. You people ought to be ashamed of yourself. And not all, we have some great journalists around, but you got a lot of crooked journalists. You’re crooked as hell.
MARC STEINER: I mean … I don’t usually say this stuff, especially on the air, but it’s almost like right out of Mussolini in terms of attacking the press. Before we comment, let me just jump into one more here–this I think is the Andrew’s Air Force piece–and see what he said there. And then after that we’re going to hear a little bit about what happened at the UN. But let’s look at this piece.
DONALD TRUMP: I have to put up with Adam Schiff on an absolutely perfect phone call to the new president of Ukraine. That was a perfect call. But Adam Schiff doesn’t talk about Joe Biden and his son walking away with millions of dollars from Ukraine. What these guys are doing, Democrats are doing to this country, is a disgrace and it shouldn’t be allowed. There should be a way of stopping it. Maybe legally through the courts. They don’t want to talk about anything, because they’re fixated on this and Nancy Pelosi has been hijacked by the radical left and everybody knows it. Thank you.
MARC STEINER: And everybody knows it. I mean, a couple of things here. He’ll always play very fast and loose with the facts. That’s part of who he is, right? Let’s talk about the Biden thing for a minute. I’ve been really reading stuff from all over the place on Biden and Ukraine and what’s been going on there. Let’s talk about the reality of what that is, because clearly this is what the right end are going to use as the Bogeyman for part of the election, Biden is corrupt. But there’s no evidence. I’ve been reading everything. There’s no real evidence that Biden colluded with anybody in the Ukraine other than to stop corruption. He never seemed to involve his son Hunter directly. What’s your take on this?
RYAN COOPER: Yeah, I mean, from all the reporting I’ve read, it looks bad for Biden. But the worst case scenario in which Biden supposedly intervened to stop this prosecutor looking into this son is not, “That’s wrong, that didn’t happen.” And in fact, getting rid of that prosecutor probably was bad for the company that employed Hunter Biden, because that is why they wanted to get rid of him. And it wasn’t just the U.S., it was most of Europe as well. They were pushing to get rid of this guy. And the person they replaced him with was more aggressive towards the company that Biden was involved with.
However, that said, Hunter Biden is not an expert in natural gas extraction in Ukraine. He was just trading on his name. And I think it’s quite unseemly and really an indication of the sort of corruption that really just saturates the entire top of the political elite. You know, what Trump does is much, much worse, but he has sort of gotten by on a sort of accurate perception of the whole upper crust and this country is just doing the same kind of stealth dealing that he does; taking a job for $50,000 a month just because your name’s Biden. And the fact that Joe Biden didn’t say, “Hey, stop that…” Or probably worse, I bet it didn’t occur to him that that’s a bad thing because everyone else is doing it all the time.
MARC STEINER: This is maybe a little bit of an aside, but I thought the exact same thing when I read that report about 44% of all the white students at Harvard came from the elite and were legacy people. It fits into that whole scenario of, “I’m wealthy; I’m powerful; I can do whatever the hell I want to do.” That’s part of what this is. But let’s talk about a couple of things in the short time we have left. And I want to go to a clip of what happened on Fox News of what they’re saying about this, because this is the political battle brewing that’s outside the halls of Congress at the moment and where this might take our country.
SEAN HANNITY: They have now done America a favor, because now Joe Biden is finally getting exposed and some richly deserved attention for his own Ukrainian scandal.
FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: All of this is repugnant and in the face of the fact that Joe Biden is accused of some serious corruption, nobody’s even talking about it.
TUCKER CARLSON: I’m concerned if we don’t impeach he will get re-elected. I’m concerned that democracy could happen. We got to stop that. It’s about power, duh. You knew that. That’s what it’s always about. Power.
MARC STEINER: He’s partially right at the end of that statement, I think. But I–
RYAN COOPER: Yeah.
MARC STEINER: But I think what we’re setting up here is this will be the centerpiece of the election. This is going to be the centerpiece of the battle Americans will have with each other over this impeachment process.
RYAN COOPER: Yeah. Well, and one way you could imagine this going, which I think would clarify the things the best would be for Biden to not be the nominee and to just be a bit player in this thing which is almost entirely about Trump and Ukraine. That would make the message a lot more clear and unambiguous. You wouldn’t be able to do this whataboutism from Fox News.
But I guess to return to my previous comment about Hunter Biden, at the end of the day, the self-dealing of the elite has always been kept within certain boundaries. And what Trump was attempting to do with the ginned up investigation is totally beyond the pale, way, way, way… I would say categorically worse than anything–your son taking a little job or something like that. Even if Biden is the nominee–which fingers crossed that’s not the case–it still would be about do we have some semblance of a clean democracy or is it just pure corruption all the way through.
MARC STEINER: One of the things in all this, of course, is Rudolph Giuliani and William Barr who are mentioned in this complaint, especially the Giuliani piece. But both of them, actually–especially Giuliani, because Giuliani being his private attorney and Barr who so far has not been directly implicated other than this complaint in terms of dialogue with Ukrainians. But if these things really tumble out when the truth is coming out of them, this is fairly horrendous to use people like this to work with another government to go after somebody who is going to be your political, could be your political opponent.
RYAN COOPER: Yeah. I mean, that is the stakes right there. You’re talking about what is a sort of small R Republican constitutional government? Well, one sort of foundational aspect of that is that the law enforcement apparatus is not totally corrupted and works as a sort of… The attorney general is like a bagman for the president. And that has been more or less how Barr has behaved. He totally lied about the contents of the Mueller report and really spun very effectively, totally jammed up the narrative on that. Most of the papers swallowed his fake summary hook, line, and sinker that it totally exonerated Trump.
And now according to this complaint, he’s been really involved with the whole Ukraine thing. And you see that the Office of Legal Council, which is sort of just his little policy shop there in the Department of Justice, they tried to prevent the complaint from being released to Congress by saying that it was not a relevant concern or something like that, just making up nonsense to try to keep the damaging information out of the hands of the democratically elected legislature. There’s always gradations to this, but just like that’s kind of like the creeping tyranny, you might say, to just have a totally politically corrupted law enforcement apparatus. I would imagine Republicans would not vote for this, of course, but in any clean country, in any country where the rule of law was even slightly impartially administered, Barr would be out as of yesterday. And it’s just awful to see.
MARC STEINER: To close out here as we finish; as a journalist, two questions. A) very quickly, a lot of people are dumping on The New York Times now for almost literally exposing who the whistleblower within the last few hours in their paper. Your thoughts about that? And also as a journalist, what are you looking for? What are your really probing and looking for in the coming days? Those two things.
RYAN COOPER: Yeah. Boy, The New York Times is really stepping in it over and over again in the last couple of weeks. They did another one of their Trump supporters that still support Trump stories, that’s saying swing voters, by which they mean Trump supporters are not supportive of impeachment. This one, it’s hard. I just can’t imagine what they were thinking, especially after this, Trump literally threatened this guy’s life.
MARC STEINER: Right.
RYAN COOPER: I can’t… If I could get my palmistry out or my Tarot cards to see into the mindset of the New York Times political reporters, but there’s something very deeply wrong there. And I’m not quite sure what it is. But for what I’m looking for, the interesting thing to me over this last week is that the whole Trump administration has just been really on the back foot in a way that we haven’t seen before. They’re making all these mistakes. They sent their talking points on impeachment to a bunch of Democrats.
MARC STEINER: Right.
RYAN COOPER: And Trump’s so upset. He’s such a little baby. He just gets so mad. Because he’s a spoiled child. He never matured into a real adult. And what I’m looking to see is whether Democrats can sort of smell the blood in the water and keep pushing. Keep needling him about his insecurities and his failed administration, to keep pressing this, the advantage. Because as you see, it’s really not that difficult to wind him up and make him, bait him into these tantrums and inspire chaos and panic inside the administration. You just have to try a little bit. Not even that much. So, we’ll see if Pelosi and company go back to sort of trying to keep a lid on the anti-Trump movements inside of Congress, but if there’s even just a little bit, I would expect to see a continuing parade of insanity from the president, which maybe would be good.
MARC STEINER: The petulant president. Ryan Cooper, national correspondent for the week. Thanks so much for joining us. Looking forward to talking a great deal more as this unfolds and we’ll see where this takes all of us in our country. Good to have you with us.
RYAN COOPER: Thanks for having me.
MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News. Thank you all for joining us. Please go to our website and let us know what you think about this interview and what we’re doing and the questions you want to have asked. Take care.
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