The Spurious Leahy Equivalency

Hey folks, pesky fly buzzing about. Time to get out the ol’ elephant gun.

Last week, Vermont’s own conservative writer, lobbyist and Trump apologist Guy Page took to the interwebs to downplay the significance of Our Felonious President’s dealings with Ukraine by making a completely baseless comparison to the actions of St. Patrick Leahy.

As Page would have it, while Trump exerted pressure on Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s dealings in that country*, Leahy also engaged in pressure tactics against that selfsame nation. In May 2018, Leahy and two fellow Senate Democrats sent a letter to the then-senior prosecutor of Ukraine expressing “great concern” that the prosecutor was impeding the Robert Mueller investigation, and urging him to cooperate. The Senators noted that they had been “strong advocates for a robust and close relationship with Ukraine.” Without saying so, they implied that their advocacy could be subject to change.

*Nice of Page to acknowledge Trump’s pressure tactics. Although he characterizes it as “Trump’s pursuit of justice,” ahem.

Aha! See? A classic case of “both sides do it.”

Ehh, not so fast, buddy boy. Trump and Leahy both communicated justice-related concerns with Ukrainian officials, to be sure. But that’s where the similarities end.

I appeared with Page Friday morning on WDEV’s Dave Gram Show. After he laid out his argument, I asked a simple question: “Have you read the whistleblower complaint?”

Page admitted he had not, although he added that he had read the White House-prepared notes on Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

This is kind of important. That phone call was an arguably impeachable effort to recruit a foreign leader to dig up some dirt — or make it up — to help President Trump’s re-election bid. But it was a one-time thing, just like Leahy’s letter.

The whistleblower complaint (available as a 29-minute audio file here, in case you’re too busy to read the whole nine pages) outlines a months-long campaign to get Ukraine to play ball. It was an ongoing effort by Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy (Bug Eyes) Giuliani. Leahy and his colleagues wrote one letter. They never got a response, and even so, they kept on voting in favor of aid to Ukraine. Page ought to read the complaint before he spouts off in the public sphere, lest he embarrass himself.

In the weeks before the fateful phone call, Trump was actively withholding delivery of nearly $400 million in aid that had been appropriated by Congress. Trump was not only making a veiled threat — he was putting that threat into direct action. Ukraine depends on US aid for its defense against continued aggression by Russia. Zelensky knew he was between a rock and a massive fleshy place, as you can tell by this expression captured by the cameras during his public appearance with Trump at the United Nations.

That right there is a deeply worried man who wouldn’t trust the guy in the next chair as far as he could throw him. Which ain’t very far, even if you accept Trump’s official weight of [*cough*] 239 pounds.

So, on one side we have a one-time letter from Leahy that he never followed up on, and on the other we have a sustained effort to force Ukraine to cooperate.

Next we have the fact that the Leahy letter was written on Senate stationery and made public, while Trump and his minions tried consistently to conceal all evidence of his persuasion campaign against Ukraine. The notes of Trump’s phone call were placed on a super-duper-secret server, even though there was nothing sensitive in them. Except politically, of course.

According to the whistleblower, multiple White House officials were deeply concerned about the appropriateness — nay, legality — of the Trump/Giuliani effort, which ran counter to the administration’s own official policy. Those are Trump’s own people who didn’t like the stink of this mess.

Finally, as if I really need anything more, Leahy’s letter was written in support of an official U.S. government investigation based on the evidential record. Trump’s efforts were in support of spurious conspiracy theories that (a) there was dirt on Biden and his son to be had, (b) it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election, and did so on behalf of Hillary Clinton, and (c) Clinton’s missing servers had somehow gotten themselves from the U.S. to Ukraine, thanks somehow to Democratic megadonor George Soros.

All of this is nonsense of the kind that only finds favor with Trump True Believers. Every independent review of these accusations has failed to find any evidence. At all.

In fact, the former Ukrainian prosecutor himself, Yuri Lutshenko, told the Los Angeles Times that he rebuffed Giuliani’s entreaties because he had “seen no evidence of wrongdoing [by the Bidens] that he could pursue.”

This is the fellow who lost his job after Zelensky was elected president this spring because he was widely seen as soft on political corruption. And even he says there’s nothing to the Biden fable.

Pardon me for taking so much time to elephant-gun this particular fly. But Page is trying to drag Patrick Leahy into this mess, and somebody needed to clap back.

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