President Donald Trump can’t stop committing impeachable offenses. This week on Intercepted: D.C. Bureau Chief Ryan Grim hosts and gives the long history of Hunter Biden in Ukraine. Senior National Security Correspondent James Risen explains Trump’s abuse of power, comments on the New York Times publishing information about the whistleblower, calls for an end to leak prosecutions, especially under the Espionage Act. Grim and Risen are joined by Edward Baumgartner, a researcher on Ukraine and Russia, and Kristofer Harrison, a former Defense and State departments adviser during the George W. Bush administration. They discuss Joe and Hunter Biden’s involvement in Ukraine, and the interests of various Trump associates in Ukraine, including Rudy Giuliani, Michael Cohen, and Paul Manafort. Reporter Murtaza Hussain asks why the moral outrage over Trump’s abuse of political power is so much greater than it is for America’s endless wars and rising civilian deaths.
Amy Goodman: President Trump’s Civil War.
Newscaster: The president’s warnings for Civil War.
Newscaster: The president threatening Civil War.
Street Fighter (1994): After seven months of fighting, the capital has just fallen.
SF: It was a horrendous battle — lot of breakthroughs, lot of hand-to-hand combat.
Donald J. Trump: Where are the bikers for Trump? Police, where are the military? ICE? Where are the border patrol? They’re so lucky that we’re peaceful. Law enforcement, military, bikers for Trump. How about bikers for Trump? The Civil War, who could forget? Thousands of Americans and just killed, lives, lives, lives wasted. During the Civil War more than 150,000 bikers for Trump, valiantly fought to preserve our union and they fought hard. So now, I say we have to heal our wounds and the wounds of our country. I love the people of our country. The people, all of the people.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
Ryan Grim: I’m Ryan Grim, D.C. bureau chief of The Intercept, coming to you from our office in Washington D.C. And this is episode 101 of Intercepted. I’m sitting in for Jeremy Scahill, who will be back soon.
Nancy Pelosi: Quote — “Repeated abuse of an electronics record system designed to store classified sensitive national security information which the White House used to hide information of a political nature.” This is a cover-up. This is a cover-up.
RG: And with that, Nancy Pelosi did what she fought for so long not to do: launched an impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump.
DJT: My call was perfect. The president yesterday of Ukraine said there was no pressure put on his whatsoever, none whatsoever.
RG: In his impeachment defense, Trump is now committing more impeachable offenses, including threatening the whistleblower that brought the scandal to light.
DJT: I want to know, who’s the person that gave the whistleblower — who’s the person that gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy. You know what we used to do, in the old days when we were smart, with spies and treason? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.
RG: And more details are emerging about the entire embattled Trump administration. Giuliani is facing a subpoena. We learned Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, was listening in on the July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Zelensky. Attorney General William Barr, and Vice President Mike Pence have both gotten roped in. We’re going to get into all of that later in the show.
But first, let’s start in February 2014. Less than a year after enlisting in the Navy, Hunter Biden was discharged for pissing hot for cocaine. Luckily for him, a new opportunity was about to present itself. That same month, protesters in Maidan Square overthrew the government of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine.
Newscaster: We watched as protesters advanced straight into the line of fire. A few had weapons but most were armed only with makeshift shields. They were gunned down mercilessly.
RG: The new government leaned heavily toward the West and away from Russia. Remnants of the old regime became targets. One of those was a natural gas company called Burisma Holdings, which was owned by Mykola Zlochevsky, an oligarch and former government official tied to Yanukovych.
Zlochevsky needed Western cred, and he needed it fast. Regulators in London had seized more than $20 million of Burisma’s cash amid claims that the firm had compiled its assets illegally.
Hunter Biden didn’t know much about natural gas, or about Ukraine. He had spent most of his career trading on his last name in between stints in rehab. But nevertheless, in 2014, Hunter went ahead and accepted the invitation to join the board of Burisma, along with a fee of $50,000 per month.
The Republican story around Hunter’s business with Burisma in Ukraine today is that Joe Biden would later go to Ukraine to help his son Hunter— to help Burisma escape the justice of an investigation by the Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin.
Then Vice President Joe Biden did indeed get the prosecutor fired.
Joe Biden: I said, “You’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here,” and I think it was what, six hours? And I looked and I said “I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor’s not fired, you’re not getting the money.” Well, son of a bitch. He got fired.
RG: But Vice President Biden’s intervention in Ukraine seems to have gone against the interests of his son, because Shokin, the prosecutor, was busy protecting Burisma from the Western investigators. In fact, he gave the company a letter asserting that he had no evidence they had done anything wrong. That letter helped unfreeze the money in London.
But Hunter Biden’s very presence on the board of the company was itself corrupting the process. The fact that Joe Biden was spreading an anti-corruption message in Ukraine, while his son sat on the board of Burisma made the Americans look hypocritical.
And they were.
The entire reason Hunter Biden was paid so handsomely to do nothing was to sell his name to the company. That’s corruption. But in typical GOP fashion, Republicans couldn’t hit Democrats for just that. Enter Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani began digging into the question, hoping to find evidence that Vice President Biden had actually helped his son. In the process, he seems to have gotten duped by Ukraine’s tangled domestic politics, and ensnared Trump along the way.
Here’s where the problem for Trump really began: Trump froze aide to Ukraine ahead of a July 25th phone call with president Zelensky. Trump tells him on the phone: “The United States has been very very good to Ukraine. I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good, but the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine.”
Zelensky agrees, and added that he would: “Like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps, specifically, we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.”
Javelins, for those who don’t know, are U.S. made shoulder-supported anti-tank missiles.
Announcer: More than anything else, the Javelins’ success is down to the fact that once fired it almost guarantees a kill, every time.
RG: Trump responded immediately: “I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike” — dot, dot, dot.
Bill Mitchell: Donald Trump when speaking with the President of Ukraine Zelensky mentioned Crowdstrike — Crowdstrike, very bad, very bad group.
Rush Limbaugh: That’s why Trump told the president of Ukraine to dig into Crowdstrike.
Dan Bongino: Everyone thinks Trump’s an idiot. Oh, he mentioned Crowdstrike. What is that, a conspiracy theory? No, he’s just about 65 steps ahead of you idiots.
RG: Crowdstrike is a reference to an idea circulating in right-wing circles that Ukraine was somehow linked to the hack of the Democratic National Committee in 2016. The thinking goes that by pinning it on hackers in Ukraine, it means that it couldn’t have been done by Russia. Zelensky tells him he’s happy to meet with Giuiliani, and that “I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly. That I can assure you.”
Trump continues: “The other thing: There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it.”
Trump tells Zelensky: “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out.”
After the call ended, administration officials, recognizing what had just happened, ordered that it not be distributed as normal, and instead was stuffed into a closed-off classified network.
We learned on Monday that Secretary of State Pompeo was listening in on the call, but we don’t yet know who specifically ordered it buried. But we do know that he later opposed it being released. Word got around anyway and a CIA official who learned of the call documented it in a whistleblower complaint. The White House tried to block the inspector general from sending the complaint to Congress, but pieces of it leaked out, pressure built, and it was ultimately released.
Trump has spent the time since in a predictable meltdown, claiming publicly that he is trying to figure out who the whistleblower is, itself an arguably impeachable offense.
DJT: We’re trying to find out about a whistleblower. We have a whistleblower that reports things that were incorrect as you know —
RG: He also asked the NRA to fund his impeachment defense. The NRA told him he had to drop his gun control efforts. Again, another arguably impeachable offense to stack on the pile.
RG: Our next guest wrote a story in 2015 for the New York Times called, “Joe Biden, His Son, and the Case Against a Ukrainian Oligarch.” It was the story that sparked a right-wing obsession with the fact that Hunter Biden was in Ukraine and that it was politically very bad for Joe Biden. That story’s author, Jim Risen, is now at The Intercept, and he joins me here.
RG: Jim Risen, welcome to Intercepted.
Jim Risen: Sure, anytime.
RG: Jim Risen, how did we get to a place where Democrats are now moving forward on an impeachment inquiry?
JR: In the last week or two we’ve had a much simpler story and narrative emergence about Donald Trump and the abuse of power than we had in the Trump/Russia case. Trump — we now know after a whistleblower complaint and a release under pressure of a summary of a phone call between Trump and the president of the Ukraine — Trump tried to get him to help gather damaging information about Joe Biden and his son’s involvement in the Ukraine so that he could help him destroy him politically.
A whistleblower inside the White House from the intelligence community reported on this, complained about it, said that it was an effort by Trump to get foreign help in the 2020 election, which is against the law, and leaks about the existence of the whistleblower complaint began to happen in the press after the White House and other aspects of the government were trying to suppress information about the case. And finally, the pressure grew from Congress and from the press to such a degree that Trump was forced to release the whistleblower complaint, and a summary of the phone call. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to begin formal impeachment proceedings. What she saw is the same thing a lot of people saw, which was this was a fairly simple narrative, fairly cut and dried story about the president abusing his power to try to get reelected.
RG: So 2015 is when the New York Times in the form of Jim Risen first wrote about this Hunter Biden-Joe Biden conflict. And at the time, the piece that you wrote, that was kind of the main thrust of it, right? Here’s Joe Biden going to Ukraine. He’s going to crack down on corruption. But complicating factor, a little bit, is that his boy, Hunter Biden, is serving on natural gas company Ukraine, which goes without saying, is corrupt. And so did the story kind of fade from there?
JR: Joe Biden didn’t run for president 2016. So, you know, there wasn’t a lot of attention on him for the next few years. I didn’t know anything about Hunter Biden before that. But you know, the more you look into him, I mean, he’s the black sheep of that family, always getting in the way and always a problem.
RG: This has been a pattern with Hunter: got a high level job with MBNA while Joe Biden was pushing bankruptcy reform legislation that was going to help MBNA. And Biden used to be jokingly referred to as the Senator from MNBA. For people who are too young to remember MBNA was the credit card dominant firm. He then became a lobbyist. Your father’s a senator and you decide to become a lobbyist. Then he got into private equity and investing and ended up partnering with John Kerry’s stepson.
The Washington Post over the weekend dove deep into the Burisma Natural Gas firm and their connection to Hunter Biden. And it emerged for the first time in the most aggressive way that Kerry’s stepson Heinz was strongly opposed to Hunter Biden taking this board position. They were business partners at the time. It blew up the firm. He’s so strongly advised him not to take it, said it would look corrupt.
JR: Hunter Biden’s a problem. He’s been a political problem for Biden for a while, which was the point of the story. But the story was Biden went there with an anti-corruption message from the Obama administration. And he still went through with that message even though it was politically awkward and kind of hypocritical. But that’s a different story than saying — which the Republicans are now saying — Joe Biden went there to get the prosecutor fired in order to protect his son from the prosecution. That’s not what happened.
DJT: Joe Biden and his son are corrupt, alright? But the fake news doesn’t want to report it because their Democrats. If that ever happened, 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.
RG: The New York Times recently revealed some information about the whistleblower, not much of it was beyond what you could have guessed just from reading the whistleblower complaint itself. They took a lot of heat from people, “The New York Times has outed the whistleblower.” Did you think the criticism of the Times there was legitimate? Or if you were Dean Baquet would you have green-lit a story like that?
JR: I had a different take on it because I’ve been there and worked with those people. I don’t have a problem with the story but what it told me, this whistleblower is not a source for the New York Times. Because if he was they wouldn’t have written that story. And if I had been there, instead of writing that story, I would have done all the reporting required to find out who it was and then go and try and make him my source rather write a story about [it].
RG: That makes perfect sense to me. Yeah, what can we learn about whistleblower protections and laws and the effectiveness of the system from this moment?
JR: What you’re seeing with this whistleblower case is just how difficult it is to go through the normal whistleblower process with inside the government, how difficult they make it for anyone, why so many whistleblowers end up going to the press instead. It’s very difficult to stay in channels, and speak truth to power because you basically, the system requires you to go to the people who have power over you, and who are responsible for the policies and the actions that you think are wrong. And tell them “By the way, I think you’re wrong.” I mean, so it’s like, it’s a very self-defeating system.
And in this case, this guy, ultimately, the entire system was trying to suppress what he was saying. The only real reason it ultimately has come out is because there were leaks to the press, which is the irony, this guy went through the system, and the system shut down on him, tried to block it, even from Congress. And ultimately, the Trump White House gave in to release this information largely because of leaked to the press that put pressure on them.
RG: How would you reform it? Would you allow whistleblowers to go directly to a particular committees of Congress, or an outside agency?
JR: I don’t think you’re ever going to, in any real way, reform this system because the incentives from people in power are overwhelming to stop whistleblowers. In my experience, leaks to the press are the only way things really get changed in Washington. I think what we need, first of all, is an end to leak prosecutions and an end to the willingness of the Justice Department to use the Espionage Act against people who talk to reporters. I think that’s the first thing. We need a federal Shield Law and we need an end to prosecutions of people who talk to the press and we got to stop treating them like spies. That’s one of the things I thought was ironic and hypocritical among some Democrats who got all upset that Trump said this whistleblower is “like a spy” when the Obama administration and everyone has prosecuted whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, which by definition means they’re treating them like spies.
RG: What do you make of the Democrats kind of rapid move over the last week from uninterested in impeaching Trump — the Democratic leadership at least — uninterested in impeaching Trump to full bore we’re impeaching Trump, do you think that this was necessary or should have been necessary?
JR: Yeah, I mean, I do in a way because it’s as if Trump got off on a technicality on Mueller and Russia. He’s escaped, you know, a two-year investigation. And then he immediately starts doing it again with a different country. I just think that at some point, you’ve got to stand up for the rule of law in this country. And so, I think that ultimately was the dynamic that, I know there were a lot of political pressures as well, but I do think Pelosi realized, this is such an open and shut case. It’s so simple to understand that if you say, “OK, I’m not going to do anything about this,” then what else are you ever going to do anything about? This is such an in your face thing by Trump that if you don’t stand up against him now, he will rightly believe “I can do anything I feel like.”
RG: Now I want to bring in two people who have done a decent amount of work in Ukraine who can provide some further insights into the politics of the country. We’re joined now by Ed Baumgartner. He’s a co-founder of business intelligence company called Edward Austin, which is based in London, is famous for having done a little bit of work with Fusion GPS back in 2016, but does a lot of other work in the region. And also here with Kristofer Harrison, former Bush administration official, who is now also a private financial consultant who specializes in Ukraine and a bunch of other places. Kristofer, thanks for joining us.
Kristofer Harrison: Thank you for having me.
RG: Ed, thanks for joining us.
Ed Baumgartner: It’s a pleasure to be here.
RG: So Ed, how does somebody like Hunter Biden kind of wind up in Ukraine? What had to happen to make that possible?
EB: Well, I’d have to say that Hunter showing up in Ukraine as a director is not particularly uncommon. So if you go to Russia since the mid-1990s, Westerners are often recruited as directors because they can open doors. Often if you want to say bring your company to a stock exchange or something like that having a Western consultant who has a famous name is very useful.
RG: And so the Maidan Square protests end with the ousting of the Yanukovych government in February 2014.
Newscaster: These are the scenes that triggered the break-up of Ukraine, scenes that have brought the world to the brink of a new Cold War. Unarmed protesters gunned down in the streets by the riot police who were retreating from Kyiv’s Maidan Square.
RG: That happens to be about the same time he gets discharged from the Navy, actually. So a couple months later, he joins this Barisma Holding, this natural gas firm. So, Kristofer, how does Joe Biden fit into this? Why does he famously want this prosecutor fired?
KH: There was a lot of pressure on the Obama administration to support the new government in Ukraine and one of the biggest problems in Ukraine was corruption. Biden was actually following the responsible path here and pushing on the general prosecutor get rid of some of these corrupt officials. And one of the things, for example, that I know the Obama administration was pushing for, Biden specifically was, for the general prosecutor to prosecute the Ukrainian soldiers who had murdered Ukrainian protesters on Maidan Square during the protests, but also other corrupt senior figures.
RG: Ed, Rudy Giuliani has been the lead character in this affair.
Rudy Giuliani: Joe Biden had the prosecutor general dismissed. And then the case against his son was dropped.
Newscaster: Let me ask you about this because there are questions —
RG: How about the 5 million from one of the most crooked people in the Ukraine? While Joe is doling out the money to the Ukraine, and then Joe bribes the president of the Ukraine.
RG: So, House Democrats have subpoenaed Giuliani for his Ukraine files. What do you think they’re looking for?
EB: Certainly, if I were them, and I know some of the investigators over there, and they’re very good, is in 2017, he went to the eastern city of Kharkiv, and he signed a contract. This was overt to provide security for the city there. That contract always confused Ukrainian analysts and Western analysts as to why they would hire, an impoverished city would hire you know, Giuliani of all people to provide “security.” And the mayor of that city was a known affiliate of a very well known oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky. So I think they’ll be looking for that dealing, first of all. I think it’s really, that the bottom line for investigators is where’s the money coming from? Has he declared it? And did he violate FARA or did he violate more serious laws than that?
KH: Look, if Rudy was poking around Ukraine, he was up to no good. I mean, because it was Ukraine.
RG: And Ed, Michael Cohen also has a bunch of bizarre connections to Ukraine, Ukrainian officials, doesn’t he?
EB: Oh, yeah. Um, I have to say that in a certain undisclosed part of my life, I did look a lot into that. He was involved in — Remember, there was that strange peace deal that was floated by this politician called Andrey Artemenko who was his fellow who was a nationalist, but then suddenly floated, came to New York and floated this weird peace deal by which basically, Russia would get to keep everything it has, but they would just lease it, which obviously, the Ukrainians weren’t very excited about. Cohen’s brother’s father-in-law was Artemenko’s like sort of business associate.
As far as we know, and Cohen’s never been to Russia — But he has been to Ukraine, he tried to get involved in some weird scheme during the mid 2000s, right around the time started working for Trump maybe a little before, something to do with ethanol. There was some weird ethanol projects in Ukraine, which he tried to do which then again, sort of blew up in his face. So those are the ones that we know about. There could be more.
RG: When you talk about undisclosed research, the New York Post has linked you up with work on the Steele Dossier. But I don’t take the New York Post opinion section as gospel. What kind of undisclosed research are you talking about there?
EB: Well, after I kidnapped Jon Benet Ramsey. No, I’m just saying like during the election because I’m loath to say publicly what I was researching about people if I can’t remember exactly what all it was, and this was three years ago now, 2016.
So it was in the course of the election, because I assume it was when he was declaring his sort of loyalty to the president. And we were all trying to figure out where he had spent time and things like that. When it comes to the New York Post. I’m most proud of the fact that they called me “Putin’s pawn” in one headline. But no, I mean, I had nothing to do with the dossier. I’ve never actually met Chris Steele which is an oversight even though I worked in London for about 20 years. You know, I’m good friends with the people over at Fusion and I admire their work, but I was not involved. If I was involved, I’d probably just say so because I would have nothing to to apologize for.
KH: News broke that Victoria Toensing and her husband were Rudy’s worker bees, for lack of a better term, in Ukraine doing a lot of this talk with the general prosecutors. They are also the legal representation for Dmytro Firtash.
RG: And who’s that?
KH: Dmytro Firtash is another Ukrainian oligarch —
EB: They’ve been trying to extradite him to the United States.
KH: He’s been in Austria actually under arrest for the past year and a half or so. His representation used to be Lanny Davis and then end of July, it switch to Victoria Toensing and her husband. And at the beginning of September, they helped key up an affidavit where they had one of the former prosecutors say all these wild accusations about Hunter Biden, what they’re trying to do, it appears, was to establish a fact pattern.
RG: The Prosecutor General you should have spoken to is the one who was fired, who has said in this affidavit that he was fired specifically because he was investigating Joe Biden’s son.
KH: Which is a total lie.
RG: So Giuliani and his assistants are creating affidavits that they can then use to say, look, there actually is something going on here. Here’s what these Ukrainians are saying about Hunter Biden.
JR: You know, one of the things that I find so fascinating as we get into this is that to a great degree, the Mueller report went down the Ukrainian rabbit hole also because of Paul Manafort. And now we’ve got Ukraine again. And you’ve got to wonder, why is it that Ukraine keeps popping up? It’s a small country, not very important geopolitically, except for the fact that the Russians want it back. I mean, Vladimir Putin would like to re-establish some kind of Russian empire.
KH: And the Russians, to be fair do have a lot of cultural ties to Kyiv, and to the Ukrainians and a lot of these oligarchs make a lot of money there. So there’s a commerce pull for them, as well as, may not be a very clean one. But there is there is one there nonetheless.
EB: And I think that there was the factor that before the revolution, that you had a government which was dominated by people from Eastern Ukraine, who are often portrayed as just simply being Russian or pro-Russian. They’re not necessarily that they’re pro-Eastern Ukraine. They’re industrialists. They’re the people who are making money that way. And there are people that Manafort was doing business with. So, I think the difference between Manafort and Giuliani for instance, is that Manafort was doing business with essentially the existing regime. Whereas Giuliani is kind of flying in a post revolutionary situation and essentially trying to fix up the past, you know, he’s trying to create something that didn’t necessarily happen and create a paper trail for it, which is, you know, is a completely sort of different kettle of fish.
RG: It’s now being reported that the State Department is acknowledging that Pompeo was on the call. Jim, what do you make of that?
JR: Well, you know, that Pompeo has become like the only national security person that Trump trusts.
RG: He’s the entire establishment.
JR: Yeah, he is it. I mean, he doesn’t trust anybody else. Because Pompeo has become such an enabler. And I think this shows the degree to which he really is an enabler of Trump. If he would, as the Secretary of State, former CIA director, former member of the House Intelligence Committee would get on the call and think this is okay.
KH: It’s an implicit approval of what Giuliani was doing. If Pompeo was on the call and didn’t raise holy hell afterwards, it means that he was okay with what Giuliani was doing going around his department. I’ve never, I mean, I worked for a Secretary of State, I can’t imagine that scenario playing out.
RG: It gives credence to the claim that Giuliani has been making that he was acting on behalf of or at least with the awareness of the State Department.
Rudy Giuliani: I did not do this on my own. I did it at the request of the State Department. And I have all of the text messages to prove it. And I also have a thank you from them from doing a good job.
KH: Better for Trump and Pompeo and the others if Giuliani were freelancing. It’s not possible now to throw Giuliani under the bus.
JR: It’s still, legally — I would love to hear what you guys think about this. One of the questions about this whole thing that I wonder is Giuliani is still a private citizen. Isn’t this in violation of like the Neutrality Act or the Logan Act, where he’s trying to perform U.S. foreign policy on his own?
KH: He probably is in violation of the Logan Act, although I don’t think anyone has ever been prosecuted under that statute, ever.
RG: And he apparently has the permission of the government.
KH: I would think that Congress would be the one that would be really upset with it, because they budget money for the State Department not for the president’s personal lawyer. And if the personal lawyer is performing the role of the State Department.
JR: The interesting thing is Giuliani does all these things and then says I have attorney client privilege preform American foreign policy.
KH: Yeah, or executive privilege which the State Department cannot claim to have.
JR: Well, I don’t know, this is beginning to sound a little bit like Iran-Contra, where you had all these free agents floating around the CIA and the White House.
KH: One of the questions that I’ve had about all this is, does Giuliani truly understand what he’s getting into over in Ukraine? Because it’s a crazy complicated place. And I understand it better than most, and I wouldn’t do what he’s doing, because I know I would step on some toes that I shouldn’t be stepping on. But if he’s doing this in concert with at least Pompeo and probably more people from the State Department. I mean, it means there’s some actual thought behind this, which is actually I think, worse than Giuliani freelancing.
JR: You’ve got to believe now if Pompeo is there, if Giuliani was working in concert with the State Department and the White House, there’s got to be so many memos and documents floating around, or text messages. And some, I mean, the paper trail has got to be much bigger than we thought.
KH: You can’t coordinate this level with no paper whatsoever, somebody has to have written something somewhere.
JR: I mean, I think there was a good Politico story recently about how Trump has finally gotten the organization he had when he was at the Trump Organization, which is nobody except him, or and one or two people who are total lackeys and that he runs everything by the seat of his pants. And you know, he had one or two people at the Trump Organization that he trusted, and that was it. And now he’s got a very similar structure with, Pompeo is one guy. He got rid of the Secretary of Defense, the other Secretary of State, national security advisers, CIA director, you know. It’s just him and Pompeo. It’s interesting that he’s gone back to that formula that he’s comfortable with. He went through four bankruptcies. And so this is one of his political bankruptcies, I guess.
KH: One of the things that’s really baffled me about this is — in what galactic brain in the White House looked at that memo and said “Hey, well, let’s release it to the public.” What moron that was a good idea? And if Pompeo was on that call, why didn’t he just say “Hey, guys, no, do not release this transcript.”
RG: People did right after the call say “This needs to be locked up. This can’t get out.” So Pompeo actually didn’t want the transcript, the summary released.
Mike Pompeo: We don’t release transcripts very often. It’s the rare case. Those are private conversations between world leaders and it wouldn’t be appropriate to do so except in the most extreme circumstances. There’s no evidence that that would be appropriate here at this point.
RG: It was McConnell that was kind of pushing to override him.
JR: Well, I think they were under enormous political pressure to do it from the House.
RG: They certainly were. But I think now a key question for Pompeo was, okay, now we know that you were listening in on this call. We also know that senior officials who heard the call knew that there was something wrong in it and wanted it put under lock and key. Were you one of those guys? And I think the answer to that is probably predictable.
EB: The last thing I would add from my side is just we all should give some thought to how destabilizing this kind of antics, Giuliani’s antics, are for Ukraine itself and Ukraine’s political stability. The position that the Ukrainian president was put in to have that conversation leaked and then, of course, played his own domestic media. He was a highly able politician, who is still very popular. But you know, the country has huge structural problems, and it has been a foreign army occupying — Sorry, rebels paid by the Russians occupying, you know, the southeastern part of the country. If this scandal turns into more, you know, these corrupt prosecutors and other people coming out of the woodwork. I mean, it’s going to be, you know, it’s going to be destabilizing, and, you know, Ukraine being destabilized is not going to help us and that leads me to really want to know what conversations Trump has had with Putin and whether he raised this about the military aid with Putin in the call.
RG: Ed, appreciate your time.
EB: Any time.
RG: Kristofer, thank you for joining us here on Intercepted.
KH: Thank you for having me.
RG: Jim, always a pleasure to have you here.
RG: James Risen is The Intercept’s Senior National Security Correspondent. Ed Baumgartner is a researcher on Ukraine and Russia and is co-founder of Edward Austin, a business intelligence firm. Kristofer Harrison is a private financial consultant specializing in the Ukraine and other places and a former Defense and State Department adviser during the George W. Bush administration.
RG: As the 45th president is facing an impeachment probe, it’s easy to forget America’s longest war. I’m talking about Afghanistan where Donald Trump recently backed out of peace talks and has escalated violence. In September alone, two separate incidents involving the U.S. in Afghanistan saw a combined death toll of seventy civilians. According to UN figures, the United States and its allies this year have killed more innocent civilians than the Taliban.
Here’s my colleague, Murtaza Hussain, to talk about all of this.
DJT: But we’re fighting a very politically correct war. With the terrorists, you have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.
Murtaza Hussain: During Donald Trump’s election campaign, he made very explicit promises that if he were to come to power, he would use the U.S. military to deliberately inflict civilian casualties in foreign theaters. It’s interesting because what Donald Trump is accused to have done in relation to the Ukraine and Hunter Biden is very serious and it should be scrutinized. It’s a potentially grave transgression against American democracy. The issue is that indirectly or directly, Trump is responsible for killing innocent people. He’s responsible for exacerbating the brutality of America’s wars.
As Nancy Pelosi said:
Nancy Pelosi: The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.
MH: It’s important that no one should be above the law. It’s important that the president should be held accountable. But we need to look at the full scope of the president’s activities. There are a lot of things to be held accountable for and one of the foremost among them are these steady drumbeat of massacres we’ve seen reported in the news in foreign theaters where the U.S. military’s operating.
Newscaster: Today U.S. officials confirmed that a Wednesday drone strike intended to hit an Islamic State hideout killed at least 30 civilians and injured 40 others in the province of Nangarhar.
Newscaster: The fast breaking news coming from Afghanistan where within the last hour or so, we’ve been getting reports of around about 40 people having been killed and many of the dead are reported to have been attending a wedding.
MH: In the last few weeks, Donald Trump has effectively terminated the peace talks that looked on the cusp of ending the war in Afghanistan. He has promised to escalate the war there. And we’re seeing that escalation manifest now in hideous incidents of civilian casualties. There was one recently U.S.-backed commando raid by Afghan forces which attacked a wedding in Helmand province. Reports suggest as many as 40 people there were killed at a wedding. And just a few days before that, in Nangarhar province, there was a drone strike, which targeted a group of pine nut farmers who were gathering at the end of the work day, roughly 30 people were killed in that strike. These are dozens and dozens of innocent people who are being killed on a regular basis. And for no necessary reason because this war could end. It could end if there was a political will to do so. The president is not criticizing this, he’s not trying to put a restraint on this. If anything, he’s encouraging the war to be waged this way. So the death of these people is very much attributable to him.
During his campaign, he made a very infamous statement that I could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue —
DJT: I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK. It’s like incredible.
MH: He’s killing thousands of people in foreign conflicts. And correctly, as he said, he’s not being scrutinized for that. He’s being scrutinized for transgressions he’s committed within the circle of D.C. politics.
MH: Historically, there was a thesis that fascism is partly a function of foreign conflicts migrating home, or some of the attitudes of foreign conflicts coming home. Now we have hundreds of thousands of people served in these wars that the U.S. has fought abroad, certain attitudes have developed, you could call them racially pessimistic attitudes, which have grown in the United States in the last several years. It’s a function of a coarsening society, in my opinion. And if we’ve gotten used to killing people in large numbers in Iraq, you know, things which were unfathomable at some point in the past have become sort of a normal part of doing business. We could get used to horrible things happening in the United States on that scale at some point.
You know, it may sound hyperbolic to describe Donald Trump as a murderer. But if you look at his statements, objectively, he promised to kill innocent people. He’s presided over an administration which has killed innocent people at escalating rates. He’s part of a system where this has become normalized. And the commander-in-chief can explicitly make a promise to commit what in effect are war crimes. Those war crimes can manifest in the escalating death tolls. But we’ve gotten so used to this as something that’s normal that we’ve bureaucratized killing. And if you look at historical examples of other countries which have killed in huge numbers, hundreds of thousands, millions of people, either in foreign conflicts or domestically, this bureaucratization allows people to morally distance themselves from it.
The things he’s doing with Ukraine, Hunter Biden are worthy of investigation. They are potentially criminal, but they should not define what his worst acts are. Although Trump has failed to live on many of his campaign promises, his promise to inflict civilian casualties has decidedly been delivered upon.
RG: Murtaza Hussain is a reporter at The Intercept. He spoke with our associate producer Elise Swain. Go to TheIntercept.com to read his latest article, out today.
RG: And that does it for this week’s show. You can follow us on Twitter @intercepted. If you like what we do, support our show by going to TheIntercept.com/join to become a sustaining member. And, of course, the only reason I agreed to fill in for Jeremy is so I could tell you to go get my new book, “We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement.”
Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. I’m the D.C. bureau chief of The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro. Our producer is Laura Flynn. Elise Swain is our associate producer and graphic designer. Our executive producer is Leital Molad. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription for this program is done by Nuria Marquez Martinez. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.