No one is more in his/her own element on the campaign trail or on Twitter than Donald Trump, and perhaps no candidate has more fun on either, too. Last night in Monroe, Louisiana, Trump got to combine his two passions, to the delight of supporters who crowded to see him. Trump did a little dramatic reading of whistleblower attorney Mark Zaid’s tweets from 2017 calling for a “coup,” and then lashed out at the media for good measure (via Twitchy):
— Woj Pawelczyk (@Woj_Pawelczyk) November 7, 2019
Zaid’s an activist lawyer, not exactly an exotic breed, and his earlier tweets don’t have much to do with the case he’s currently working, but those “coup” messages don’t do much for his public credibility. That might be an object lesson to other attorneys, and pretty much everyone else, that venting on social media might be emotionally satisfying in the moment but could look rather foolish in retrospect. Although, perhaps it was good for business; maybe the whistleblower chose Zaid because of his 2017 cheering for a coup d’etat. And if that’s the case, what does that say about the whistleblower?
Trump accused the media of participating in the hoax, as is his usual wont, and it certainly fired up the crowd. The media seems to think this is a good business model too, because this morning the Washington Post is promoting a Dana Milbank column with the headline, “Are Bill Taylor’s notebooks Trump’s Nixon tapes?”
President Richard Nixon was undone by his secret White House tapes. Could President Trump be unraveled by Bill Taylor’s notebooks?
On Wednesday, House Democrats announced that their leadoff witness at the start of public impeachment hearings next week will be one William Brockenbrough Taylor Jr., the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. At the same time, the House Intelligence Committee revealed why Democrats believe Taylor will be a formidable witness: He has a nearly hour-by-hour account of developments in the Ukraine scandal.
In the transcript, released Wednesday, of his 10-hour, closed-door deposition, Taylor explained how he kept meticulous notes of his every interaction since the Trump administration brought him back from retirement earlier this year to serve in Ukraine.
“I keep a little notebook where I take notes on conversations, in particular when I’m not in the office, so, in meetings with Ukrainian officials or when I’m out and I get a phone call I can keep notes,” he testified, according to the now-public transcript. He also kept “handwritten notes that I take on a small, little spiral notebook in my office of phone calls that take place in my office.”
Does anyone see the fallacy of this argument? Yeah, they’re exactly the same — minus tapes, and minus Trump, and minus an actual independent record. While Taylor’s notebooks might be of interest in an investigation, they are not the equivalent of the Richard Nixon tapes. Put simply, Taylor’s notebooks are hearsay, while the Nixon tapes were direct evidence. It’s the difference between the Nixon tapes and, say, Martha Mitchell‘s diary — except Martha Mitchell was a hell of a lot closer to the White House than Bill Taylor.
That’s actually been the problem for House Democrats with Taylor, Yovanovitch, and their other supposed star witnesses. None of them can offer anything but second- or third-hand hearsay. The act of writing down rumors from the rumor mill into a notebook does not magically transform those into substantiated fact, even if Taylor had the best of intentions in doing so. If he never spoke with Trump and was never instructed to demand a quid pro quo from anyone, then his thoughts and feelings are irrelevant.
And yet the media treats each as some kind of, well, smoking gun akin to the Nixon tapes, as Milbank does here. It’s either ignorance, bias, or a combination of both that could cause someone to believe that, and for a major media outlet to write a headline like that, too.