The threat of nuclear war; the climate crisis; Trump’s regime change plans for Iran and Venezuela; and confrontation with China are far more significant threats than election meddling – former Pres. Clinton advisor Bill Curry and Paul Jay join host Jacqueline Luqman
ADAM SCHIFF It’s certainly not game over in the sense that there’s a lot more that we need to know that’s redacted in this report. And again, this report only goes to what is criminal or not criminal. Other actions that may have compromised the president or others around him, may or may not be even included in the report. But it is important to note that the facts that are now established by this report are damning. Whether they could or should have resulted in the indictment of the president or people around him, they are damning. And we should call for better from our elected officials. The standard cannot simply be that you can do anything you like as long as you can declare at the end of the day, I am not a crook.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN I’m Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network. So the so-called Mueller Report has been out for a full day now. Experts and pundits have now had an opportunity to read through the nearly 450-page report and draw some conclusions about it. In summary, the report said that there is insufficient evidence to say that Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russians to influence the 2016 election. And even though the investigation uncovered evidence of obstruction of justice, it stopped short of saying that Trump actually broke the law, noting that a sitting president cannot be indicted. But the investigation and report also does not exonerate Trump because it also notes that Congress has the ability to investigate and potentially impeach Trump. What does all this mean though for the political landscape in America, going forward? That’s what we want to find out today. And joining me now to talk about this are Paul Jay and Bill Curry. Paul is coming to us from Toronto and is the Editor-in-chief of The Real News Network. Hi, Paul.
PAUL JAY Hi, Jacqueline.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN And Bill Curry is a political columnist for Salon.com. He also worked in the Bill Clinton White House as Counselor to the President. Thanks, Paul and Bill, for joining me today.
BILL CURRY My pleasure.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN So I don’t want to get into the minutia of this report and what it does and does not say about the particular crimes and misdemeanors of Trump. What I want to know from both of you is what does this report signal to not just the Democrats, but I think in particular the Democrats, but to the nation as a path for them going forward for 2020? What is the focus of the Democratic Party and what should our focus be in regard to the presidency as a nation in light of this report? Paul, let me go to you first.
PAUL JAY Let’s step back a bit and look at the big picture here. The underlying assumption of this entire drama has been that Russia is an adversary of the United States. Trump, who is someone who I mostly disagree with on almost everything, occasionally frames something in my opinion correctly. And I think he did correctly once say, Russia is not an adversary. It’s a competitor in the same way other countries are, including those of Western Europe. Now of course there is a difference. Russia is a competitor, but outside the U.S. sphere of influence– some people use the word hegemony– is an independent, to some extent mid-sized capitalist state, obviously with a big nuclear arsenal, and a regional power. It’s not really a global power and it’s certainly nothing at the level of what the United States is, in terms of being a global power. So this underlying idea that Russia in some ways is an existential threat for [00:04:06] a nuclear weapon to decide— and I’ll come back to it— I think is false. And I think it feeds the narrative that’s been very important to the Democratic Party right from the days of Truman. In fact in many ways, the Democratic Party positioned itself as more anti-Soviet than even the Republicans. Let’s remember that it was under Truman we had the House of Un-American Activities Committee, of course that was the House [of Representatives], we [0.0s] had McCarthy. But within this whole era, the narrative of foreign policy of the Democratic Party has been very rooted in the anti-Soviet threat, which we know now was never an existential threat in terms of that the Soviets were never going to invade Western Europe. The Soviet Union was never a military existential threat, let’s say that, and the same thing goes now with Russia— the narrative very important to the entire military-industrial-complex that has gone on and those people in the Democratic and Republican Parties very linked to that complex.
So it’s not to say that Russia is benign or any of this. I think it’s a very right-wing government. I think in terms of the people’s interest, not the American elite, the people’s interest, Russia is not a very positive force in the world except when it balances occasionally U.S. power. And we should never talk about Russia’s regional or global activities without first and foremost saying, no country in modern history since World War II has committed the kinds of crimes, war crimes, that the United States has and from Vietnam, endless wars including Iraq, and so on. You can’t ever talk about Russia and the global situation without first positioning who’s caused far more trouble on the world stage than Russia. So let me get back to the nuclear issue and why this is one issue that matters very much so, what I think is a false narrative that exaggerated the threat of Russia. Let’s assume that Russia did meddle in the election. I still haven’t seen enough concrete evidence of what exactly they did or didn’t do and partly, I kind of don’t care because I think it’s low-level meddling. I think it was very ineffective and I think all big countries do it to each other all the time. I also don’t trust the state agencies. I didn’t trust Mueller to say there was collusion. I don’t trust Mueller to say there was no collusion. And again, let’s put it in perspective. I don’t think it’s that important at a time when there’s a possibility of accidental nuclear war with Russia, at a time when Trump and Bolton are actively planning to destabilize and try to have regime change in Iran, and who knows if that doesn’t include a military option of bombing at least and are positioning a massive increase in the military budget. As the Acting Defense Secretary said, it’s justified by China, China, China, which is the real dangerous game that’s going on. And so, we do need to talk about all that in this context.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN So I think you raised a lot of really great points, Paul. But Bill, let me ask you what are your thoughts on the importance of this report and what it means politically in the context of the issues that Paul raised— the nuclear threat, the truth about the growing military-industrial-complex here in the United States that’s expanding globally? Certainly Russia is not a benign actor on the world stage, but does this report elevate Russia to an element of importance that maybe it shouldn’t be in the political discourse in this country?
BILL CURRY I think Paul’s right to believe that we’d all be better off if the average American citizen knew a great deal more about our own comportment in the world— the degree to which we’ve relied on unilateral military adventurism, the degree to which we’ve actually not only interfered in other countries elections routinely, but overthrown valid elections through violence. I often say about this country that almost everything we do that shames us is something we did in private, been lied about. One of the things we could do to make American foreign policy better is to bring our foreign policy public. When it’s all done out in the open, we make better decisions and sometimes even do things to make us proud. The second thing I’ll say though is that, Paul, in my deep belief confuses a couple of different arguments here. I fear Vladimir Putin. I don’t fear his tanks; I fear his banks. I don’t see this as a geopolitical struggle. I agree with everything he said about hegemony and localism, of most Soviet activity, but Putin and Trump are the two most visible and influential opponents of democracy in the world today. Putin has made many comments that expose an absolute loathing and contempt for democracy. While it’s true that other countries have no doubt meddled in our elections, no one has any examples of any consequence until this. And so, the people who want to make that case “everybody does it,” should pony up with some concrete examples. This was different, and it had an impact. A lot of people on the Left don’t want to come to terms with that in part because they worry that the Cold War is being reignited by it. That’s a legitimate concern. Although, I would just point out that the people who want that big military budget that Paul was talking about, are Trump and Republicans and the opposition, the Democratic side. Both major parties have had a bipartisan commitment to a self-destructive foreign policy for a long time throughout certainly the entire post World War II era. And in each party, there was a different strain of resistance— isolationists among the old Taft Republicans and genuine peace activists and anti-militarists on the Democratic side. All of the meaningful opposition to it comes from people, many of whom are also concerned about the subversion of democracy. The Clintons used to talk about teaching moments and it would be great if we could use this as one. Although in this case, they themselves would have to be students, not teachers. But this would be a great time to examine everybody’s intervention, all of our own meddling. If America knew its own history better than it does, we’d make better choices than we do, but that is not to sanction what’s happened here.
The second thing the Left worries about a lot— I worked for the Clintons, but I worked very hard, I wrote very hard every week at Salon and other places for Bernie Sanders and was disappointed deeply as so many were in the outcome of primary— but the differences here are real. Part of the anger and disappointment we all feel— I think we worry that Russia-gate, whatever you want to call the Mueller investigation, takes away from the responsibility that Clinton herself has and that the Democratic Party has for its own demise. The Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, mortgaged itself to big donor politics and thus, mortgaged itself to the past into a set of economic practices that impair the just distribution of power wealth, income, and opportunity in America. And the main reason Hillary lost that election is that she doesn’t know that.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN I’m so glad you brought up that…
BILL CURRY But at the same time, just so you now, when Cambridge Analytica pilfered the Facebook data, they handed it to Steve Bannon. That’s a felony. It’s a foreign enterprise committing a felony in America and they gave to him, and he at least had the brains to pick up on it. He read that Facebook data, wrote the “drain the swamp” ad, and they took the Midwest, and they took the Midwest also by sharing polling data. It turns out we learned yesterday that they shared lots and lots of polling data with the Russians on a weekly basis. They were clearly targeting an American election. Those are multiple felonies and standing up to correct them is the right thing to do. I’ll go into the politics of it if you’d like. I’ve got to say, I’ve always found the politics mixed. Impeachment doesn’t just require the Senate in addition to the Congress, it requires the public and the public’s mind isn’t made up. I thought from the beginning that the best thing to do about this is to reserve criminal prosecutions to the post-Trump presidency. Let some other Justice Department make a decision. And if it decides to prosecute, let some other jury decide. I still think that’s what we ought to do and remain as focused as we can on putting a blueprint on the table for genuine political reform and economic justice. That’s where we ought to be focused and we shouldn’t let this take our eye off the prize.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN So I’m really glad that you brought up one particular point of particular leaders, Trump and Putin being the most vocally outspoken in opposition to democracy and that leading to this kind of wholesale sellout of some Democratic candidates who are quite pro-war, because I think that is something that we do miss sometimes in this conversation of Trump being more involved in the military-industrial-complex, or more invested in it than others. But there is the issue of other world leaders who have quite a bit of influence in American politics that we don’t seem to pay as much attention to as we have this investigation, and that is in the person of Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu met with Vladimir Putin, and we’re not talking about that. Netanyahu was invited, in the context of American…
BILL CURRY I do but go ahead. I do a lot, but yeah. Bibi Netanyahu was the first Putin. He actually came in 2012, went on Meet the Press, went all over the country plumping away for Mitt Romney against Barack Obama. But I will say this, I don’t know that he broke laws. I don’t know if there was subversion. There are a myriad felonies committed here and they’ve been a part of the fascist politics in which a propaganda machine exploits people’s fear of the vulnerable other, spreads conspiracy theories, encourages violence, discredits their opponents. It’s a kind of politics and it’s an illegal politics of which I know. Much of my life I spent studying political corruption. That’s what I do, and I don’t know of a precedent for it. People keep saying there are some, I don’t know of them.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Well when we’re talking about this report, Paul, I want to ask your opinion on this issue of why we are focusing so much on Russia and not on other malign actors on the world stage, such as Netanyahu who have a lot more influence on American politics than say Russia does. This report doesn’t actually prove, or at least it doesn’t act on any evidence of any crimes. So if our Department of Justice, Paul, is saying and our highest investigators in the land are saying, we’re not going to use this investigation and this evidence to indict a sitting president, they’re then saying Congress can. But then, Congress doesn’t act and at the same time, the same Congress is not focusing on other global malign actors. What does that say about the confidence that the American people have in our process of government?
PAUL JAY Well I don’t think the American people should have any confidence in our process of government. I never worry about that. One of the things I’ve liked about this entire Mueller thing and the congressional hearings so far, is the more not just Trump but the very office of the presidency is discredited, at least taking away the imperial halo off the president, I think is a good thing. I just want to correct something Bill said. I think maybe it was just a misquote. He said Cambridge Analytica was a foreign company. My understanding is it’s principally owned by American billionaire, Robert Mercer.
BILL CURRY It was a British company bought by the Mercers. That’s exactly correct. It was an initially British company then bought by the Mercers. Thank you.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN And someone who is very, very little known about in the United States. But if we’re talking about malign actors, he’s certainly one.
BILL CURRY He is terrible.
PAUL JAY But for better or worse, he’s American. Again, let’s get back to where we are in this moment of time, historically. It’s not an accident that just days after the Mueller Report dropped and supposedly clears— and I don’t think it really does but that’s the way Barr spun it when Barr’s memo first came out, when he spoke about it— but just days after, the United States declares the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organization. Now that issue came up in 2007 with something called the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, which wound up not passing. But everyone at the time, everyone including Obama and Biden and many of the foreign policy leaders in the Democratic Party, not Hillary Clinton by the way who voted for this amendment, but all the people that voted against it. Even though they were in the minority, they said this is a step to war with Iran because the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is part of the Iranian Armed Forces, it’s part of the governing apparatus. It’s like saying the Marines are a terrorist organization and not the American government. It doesn’t make any sense. There’s a very aggressive agenda we are in the middle of, we are in the moment of, so let’s not forget that.
So when we’re talking about malign actors, the most important malign actor right now is the United States and it’s not just Trump. There are people within the Democratic Party, for example Chuck Schumer who is very happy. Chuck Schumer never supported Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Chuck Schumer has a lot of agreement and the forces that Chuck Schumer represents, which includes funders like Haim Saban who’s the billionaire very closely linked to Israel and somewhat a little less with Netanyahu, but also with Netanyahu, but he’s the Democrat billionaire, and then on the Republican side, we have Sheldon Adelson. They share a very aggressive posture towards Iran and they want the United States to go in that direction, but let’s not forget the Saudis. The Saudis even more want regime change in Iran. Where we’re in the middle of a very dangerous moment in history. So when we’re talking about the Mueller Report, let’s not forget at the geopolitical level, how dangerous this moment is. And of course, let’s not forget the most dangerous thing of all facing us, other than actually a nuclear war— let’s not underestimate how significant that is— but the climate change problem. As much as I actually do like the Democrats savaging Trump, especially on money laundering and all the economic corruption-— the more they can distract and weaken this presidency, the better. But let’s not forget the bigger picture here, which is Donald Trump is to some extent the product and end result and legacy of the Obama presidency. This great inequality that became far worse under Obama helped till the soil for Trump.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN So Bill, let me ask you…
BILL CURRY I know Paul well enough to know how principled that critique is. I also just want to distinguish my own approach to this issue and that is, that I’m very wary of listing the people of Jewish ancestry in critiquing this foreign policy in large part because there is such a horrible history of anti-Semitism in this world, which is with all other fascist species on the rise again. I see too often in right-wing social media and other places and in some left-wing, there’s too much that’s made of it. We need to focus on the policies. Netanyahu offends me because of his meddling in American politics. He offends me because of his settlement policies. He abandoned the two-state solution that was the cornerstone of our alleged alliance. There’s so many things to talk about here that are substantive, that need change, and that we need to oppose. The second thing I just want to say is that most of the great turn in Republican support for Israel came at a grassroots level in caucuses from evangelical activists who all hope that there’ll be an apocalypse in the Middle East and think that when that happens, all the Muslims and Jews will go to hell while they’re elevated into the great beyond.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN This is absolutely true.
BILL CURRY Which just goes to show you that you can sleep with your enemies, but you can’t go to sleep. You can go to bed with your enemies rather, but you can’t go to sleep.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN I think that’s a great point.
BILL CURRY And lastly, coming back to this issue. I think cable news has made too much of this. I don’t know if the Democratic leadership has made too much of this Russia investigation. Remember though, and I think Mueller did a pretty good job of fleshing all of it out and showing it so that if you actually read the stuff, it’s pretty hard to quibble about it. The question here is what Trump was doing, what America was doing. And again, to go back to your political question, we’re at a hard spot here. Reading through this– and I’ve spent ten years practicing law, I was a comptroller, a state senator, and I’ve looked at these issues all my life, and I mentioned only because plowing through Mueller’s probes on collusion and obstruction, I cannot understand his argument. I spent a great deal of time on it last night. I looked at it again this morning. I’m going to write about this. But I don’t see why you have to know about a previous hacking to be guilty of criminal intent and conspiring to violate campaign laws. I certainly don’t see why all this obstruction isn’t an easy, easy case to put before a jury. I’m stunned. And when he gets to the part of explaining it, the sentences don’t make sense to me.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN So Bill, let me just stop you right there.
BILL CURRY I think he just flinched.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN That was going to be my question. Did you think…
BILL CURRY And the question is, what do we do? And again, I just want to repeat, I don’t think that this is a political winner for Democrats. I don’t think it’s a question of scoring points by chasing a Trump impeachment. I think this is a question where your political instincts tell you to go one way, and what keeps you from doing it, what keeps you from giving up the ghost on this case is the realization that this is an illegal push. This is power taken the wrong way through lying, through multiple, multiple felonies and to turn our back on it, it’s to give up the ghost on the democracy. Many on the Left talk as if the democracy is dead. It’s diseased, but it ain’t dead yet. And our job is to defend it. Economic democracy, political democracy, our job is to go out and fight for it. And that leaves me still unsure, as I said, I think the answer here is to encourage the next administration to put these facts before the Justice Department and let a real case be made if they find one and if they do, let a judge and jury decide. But everything I see tells me that there is criminal collusion, there is criminal obstruction. Everything within me recoils from it and believes that if we’re going to have a democracy, we do have to stop and fight these fights, even when they’re not politically convenient as they are not now.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN So Bill, you said that you believe that the next administration should put this before a judge and jury. What if the next administration is another Trump administration because…
BILL CURRY Then they won’t. They won’t, or any Republican administration.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN So Paul, what’s your take on that?
PAUL JAY Let me respond to Bill’s comment. First of all, the reason I specifically mentioned Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson is because they are so involved in American politics.
BILL CURRY Appreciate that. I do.
PAUL JAY Sheldon Adelson– I don’t know if there’d be a President Trump if Adelson hadn’t ponied up $25 million.
BILL CURRY I bet not.
PAUL JAY And so, the same for Haim Saban. I do not believe that all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. I do believe some is and I don’t think we should be shy about calling out when criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. I also don’t think we’re in a “Wag the Dog” situation. I don’t think Israel determines U.S. foreign policy, but at a strategic level the United States wants this, what some people would call a battleship in the Middle East, as it wants the Saudis. At a different level, there’s a lot of interaction with individual politicians toward Israel and Saudi Arabia a lot, but let’s set that aside.
Let’s talk about the bigger question, which is American democracy that Bill raises and also, what does Mueller represent? I don’t think, unless it was so completely, absolutely obvious that he couldn’t deny that Mueller ever could or would have a collusion indictment against trump. It would throw the American state into such a crisis to accuse a sitting president of essentially being a traitor. And that’s the kind of language they would have to use. Again, I don’t care whether he collaborated, personally. I’m talking about now the level of, the way American politics and media and discourse works. I think it would have to have been far more outrageous than it was because Mueller’s job– and one, he has been a cleanup man for the Republican Party for years. He’s not some just independent inquirer here and he was balancing the interests of the American state itself and the political crisis that he would instigate if he’d found criminal collusion. So I think that’s why he didn’t go there. Whereas now, he’s kicked it to Congress as a political issue to go after obstruction, which probably goes on for a bunch of hearings until the 2020 election that’s combined with following up with Michael Cohen. And I personally, don’t think it’s a bad thing if the Democrats use all this to expose the kind of criminal corruption of the Trump administration. Now on the other hand, if the Democrats put most of their focus there, it will be a disaster. If they don’t fight for a vision for what the country can be and some of the candidates running for president– I think Sanders is doing this, Warren’s doing this, Tulsi Gabbard is doing this, and there are some others– there are candidates who have a vision. But if the media and the Democratic Party cling to the status quo, the corporate Democrat, the Biden Democrat, if that becomes the vision they fight for, they’re going to strengthen these kinds of far, right-wing forces of Trump and the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer, who we mentioned, and many others who are part of this far-right cabal. This next period politically has to be, I hope an exposure of the Trump crime family. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call it that. And two, they better use these hearings as some are trying to, for things like the Green New Deal and what a reform to the prison system would really look like, but most important take on also the issues of finance and financial reform. This next period is all about 2020 elections, which are probably going to be the most decisive elections in American, maybe world history.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Alright Bill, I’m going to give you the last word. What’s your take on what Paul said as far as the direction for the Democrats in light of these hearings leading up to 2020? What’s their best bet to get some traction out of, some positive traction, out of this investigation and this report?
BILL CURRY First of all, I agree with everything that Paul just said. As I said earlier, there’s a great temptation in all things Trump to over-personalize and to just make attacks at him. It ends up sounding like the attacks he makes on everybody else. We need a blueprint on the table for political reform and economic justice. That’s the ticket. The Democratic Party needs to free itself from its indentured servitude to big donors. We’re mortgaged not just to powerful economic interest, but to the past and it makes real reform an impossibility. And so, those are the things you need to change. In corruption in America, in the famous Citizens United case, Justice Kennedy had two famous holdings– that corporations are people and that money is speech. But his key holding was that there was something called hard corruption– lies, extortion, and embezzlement. And then, something called soft corruption– revolving doors, pay-to-play politics, no-bid contracts, all of that. And he said on no evidence at all, because there isn’t any, that hard corruption mattered, and soft corruption didn’t. We lose more to soft corruption every day in this country. It’s the corruption of the entire system. It’s why the United States is the only country in the world rolling back its fuel efficiency standards and declaring war to its own solar industry and betting big on coal. The greatest threat in climate change isn’t the internal combustion engine. It’s public corruption. That’s what’s killing us. And so, I think we have to be very careful here as we go forward but also very energetic. What Trump has given us is a gift. He’s given us this easy to see, classic tableau of hard corruption in all of his agencies. And Democrats just have to not make the mistake of– Trump’s the most corrupt president I believe in American history, but he didn’t invent corruption. And the Democrats, whether it’s Elizabeth Warren or whoever else, the key here is to be willing to stand up and say, I know our side has done this too. We take responsibility. We don’t just cast blame and we know the answer isn’t just to trot all these people off to jail, but to insist on systemic reform. And then they have to make people understand as best they can, how much it’s cost us, that this is the way the powerful rule, and this is where we can cut that cord. So whether it’s the Mueller stuff or all the rest of the associated corruption of this administration, the oversight job here in the Congress especially, is to root it out, show it, and then connected to a larger story of how we move forward, and make this a better country.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Well I would love to continue to have more of this conversation. And we will obviously be watching this ongoing investigation and story into this corrupt presidential administration as it goes forward, but we’re out of time today. I want to thank you very much for joining me today. Paul Jay from Toronto and Bill Curry.
BILL CURRY From beautiful Farmington.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN From beautiful, beautiful sunny Farmington.
BILL CURRY It was great. It was great to be with you. Nice talking to you, Paul, as always.
PAUL JAY Thank you.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Spirited discussion, gentlemen. We’ll continue to have these kinds of spirited discussions. I’m Jacqueline Luqman and this is The Real News Network in Baltimore.