A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
The Washington Post’s editorial board posed a question on September 5: “Is Trump strong-arming Volodymyr Zelensky for political gain?” That was the first time I heard about the Ukraine issue that’s now front and center in the news — the allegation that Trump was trying to “force Ukraine to meddle in the 2020 election.”
First, let me resurface what the Post wrote two weeks ago. The editorial board said Trump had “suspended the delivery of $250 million in U.S. military aid to a country still fighting Russian aggression in its eastern provinces,” leading some to suspect that he was “once again catering” to Vladimir Putin. “But we’re reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden,” the editorial said. “Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.”
This was an extraordinary charge — and it was being leveled by one of the country’s most-read editorial boards. The wording, “we’re reliably told,” suggested the paper had a pivotal source in a position to know what was going on…
Who blew the whistle and why?
More than a week after the WaPo editorial, on September 13, we all found out that House Intelligence Committee chair Adam B. Schiff had issued a subpoena to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, demanding that Maguire produce all the relevant details about an urgent whistleblower complaint that was being withheld.
To date, Maguire hasn’t done that. CNN’s team reported on Thursday that the White House and the DOJ “have advised the nation’s top intelligence agency” that the employee’s complaint “isn’t governed by laws covering intelligence whistleblowers.”
>> This standoff, CNN’s Jim Acosta said, “amounts to taking the whistle from the whistleblower.”
Now back to Ukraine:
On Thursday evening, within minutes of each other, the NYT and WaPo both reported that the whistleblower complaint had something to do with Ukraine. That’s how these storylines merged all of a sudden. “Though it is not clear how Ukraine fits into the allegation, questions have already emerged about Mr. Trump’s dealings with its government,” the NYT’s team wrote in Friday’s front page story.
CNN’s Chris Cuomo interviewed Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani about all of this on Thursday night. Giuliani dissembled. Early on in the interview, Cuomo asked, “Did you ask the Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden?” Giuliani said “no, actually I didn’t.” But when Cuomo pressed him and said “so do you DID ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden,” he said, “of course I did.” Cuomo exclaimed: “You just said you didn’t!” The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona says Rudy was clearly “performing for an audience of one…”
>> NYT’s James Poniewozik tweeted: “One of many insane things about this Rudy appearance is how it’s the quintessence of Trump administration defenses: ‘OK, what you’re saying I did is TRUE. But it’s Fake News because you’re saying it like it’s a BAD THING.’”
Fox was slow to take this whistleblower scandal seriously. Hosts like Steve Doocy were mostly comfortable making it a story about the media. Seriously — the only time “Fox & Friends” covered the whistleblower bombshell on Thursday, Doocy asked, “How’d that wind up on the front page of The Washington Post?” Later in the day, the coverage increased, but there’s been a pro-Trump slant most of the time…
From the left and right…
A view from the right: Former Acting A.G. Matthew Whitaker went on Martha MacCallum’s Fox show and said “this is a clear example of someone from the Deep State… from the intelligence community.” Without knowing what the complaint actually says, Whitaker claimed “it was completely overblown.”
A view from the left: Former Obama aide Ben Rhodes tweeted, “If Trump was trying to abuse his power of the presidency to solicit foreign help for his campaign, it’s hard to imagine a more impeachable offense.”
The timeline is critically important in this case
WaPo’s Aaron Blake produced a detailed timeline around Trump and the whistleblower complaint here…
“Stonewalling or defiance”
“What’s clear,” CNN’s Jim Sciutto wrote Thursday night, “is that on a broad range of oversight & disclosure – now including ‘urgent’ whistleblower complaints, congressional subpoenas, Trump’s tax and financial records, and even readouts of calls with foreign leaders – the Trump White House defaults to stonewalling or defiance…”
Late night punch-lines
Stephen Colbert on Thursday’s “Late Show” broadcast: “Remember a couple of ago, when Trump first got into office? We were all so nervous that Donald Trump was some sort of sleeper agent who was going to sell America out to a foreign power behind our backs? Well, throwback Thursday…”
Apple’s Fifth Avenue store is reopening on the same day the new iPhones are going on sale…
Trump is holding a joint presser with the Australian prime minister around 11:45am ET…
GLAAD, One Iowa, The Gazette and The Advocate are hosting an LGBTQ Presidential Forum… NBC News NOW is live streaming the event…
“Downton Abbey,” “Rambo: Last Blood” and “Ad Astra” are opening nationwide…
Funeral services for Cokie Roberts
A reception in memory of Cokie Roberts will be held Friday from 6 to 8pm at the National Press Club in DC. A funeral mass will take place Saturday at 10am at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle. Per ABC and Roberts’ family, “in lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution in memory of Cokie Roberts to the Children’s Inn at NIH.”
FOR THE RECORD
– The Big Three nightly newscasts all led with the severe flooding in Texas…
– Staffers at KBMT, the ABC/NBC affiliate in Beaumont, were forced to evacuate when floodwaters spilled into the station… Fellow TEGNA station KHOU helped keep the station on the air… (Houston Chronicle)
– Savannah Guthrie landed the first extensive TV interview with Jeffrey Epstein accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre. When she found out he was dead, she mourned her “ability to hold this man accountable…” (Post)
– The Giuffre interview is part of a “Dateline” special airing on Friday night. In all, “six of Epstein’s accusers are speaking out, some for the first time publicly…” (NBC)