To borrow a phrase from one popular series of memes on social media… well, that escalated quickly.
Having managed to secure at least a partial transcript of a call between President Trump and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff seems to think he’s on a roll. After learning that the White House had been keeping records of the President’s various phone calls with other world leaders under tight security, Schiff is now thinking about demanding some more of them as part of the ongoing impeachment hearings. What’s not been made clear is the reason he might offer for the request, or what he suspects he will find. (Reuters)
The chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee said on Sunday Congress is determined to get access to President Donald Trump’s calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders, citing concerns he may have jeopardized national security.
“I think the paramount need here is to protect the national security of the United States and see whether in the conversations with other world leaders and in particular with Putin that the president was also undermining our security in a way that he thought would personally benefit his campaign,” Democrat Adam Schiff said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Unlike the Zelensky call, Schiff is moving into uncharted waters here. In the case of Ukraine, whether you like it or not, there was at least a plausible reason for the Intelligence Committee to request the transcript. A potentially credible source (the anonymous “whistleblower”) had raised allegations that some sort of improper quid pro quo had been discussed for political rather than diplomatic reasons.
That one will take a while to sort out, but the call really did happen so it was theoretically worth looking into. Whether the transcript should have been made public as opposed to only being shown to committee members and senior elected officials is another question.
But now Schiff is talking about going after the transcripts of previous calls with Vladimir Putin and potentially other world leaders. To my knowledge, there has been no credible suggestion of any specific calls where anything illegal or inappropriate was discussed. In other words, Schiff is looking to launch what amounts to nothing more than a fishing expedition to see if he can dig up any dirty laundry to dangle before an eager press corps as we move deeper into election season.
For the same reasons I previously explored regarding the Zelensky call, this is a foolhardy move that sets a dangerous precedent. First of all, Zelensky is already “disappointed” that the transcript was released and will no doubt be far less candid in any future conversations he may have with Trump, knowing that everything they say could wind up on the front page of the New York Times a few days later. If this pattern spreads to Putin and other world leaders, the same will apply to most of the President’s calls.
Schiff and the rest of the Democrats should also keep in mind the old rule about geese and ganders. A Democrat may indeed occupy the White House again in the near future, but control of the two chambers of Congress is constantly shifting. Once this precedent is established, what’s to stop a Republican committee chair from demanding a peek into all of the new President’s calls and airing them out on cable news? You know… just to make sure there’s nothing questionable going on.
This will kneecap future presidents of both parties and limit their ability to conduct more subtle diplomatic negotiations. And Congress might start looking at taking a walk down memory lane, as well. Should we be able to retrieve and publish transcripts of all of Barack Obama’s calls with Putin to see what they were discussing after he told the Russian leader he would have “more flexibility” after his election? Something tells me the Democrats are opening a can of worms that they won’t be able to close again.