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Trump didn’t want an investigation, he wanted an “investigation”

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I’m rather discouraged by the fact that so many people seem to accept at face value that Trump wanted the Ukraine to investigate Biden. That’s not at all what Trump wanted. An investigation would have lasted for 5 minutes, and found nothing worth pursuing. (Even if Biden were guilty, the Ukrainians would have had no way of knowing this.) Thump didn’t want the Ukrainians to investigate Biden; he wanted an ongoing Ukrainian “investigation” of Biden.  And today he succeeded.  The Ukrainian government announced it will conduct an “investigation” of Hunter Biden’s firm.  The whole point of the exercise is not to get at the truth, rather it is a smear campaign designed to drag Joe Biden’s name through the mud.  Most likely, Democratic voters will take the bait and replace a guy who

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I’m rather discouraged by the fact that so many people seem to accept at face value that Trump wanted the Ukraine to investigate Biden. That’s not at all what Trump wanted. An investigation would have lasted for 5 minutes, and found nothing worth pursuing. (Even if Biden were guilty, the Ukrainians would have had no way of knowing this.)

Thump didn’t want the Ukrainians to investigate Biden; he wanted an ongoing Ukrainian “investigation” of Biden.  And today he succeeded.  The Ukrainian government announced it will conduct an “investigation” of Hunter Biden’s firm.  The whole point of the exercise is not to get at the truth, rather it is a smear campaign designed to drag Joe Biden’s name through the mud.  Most likely, Democratic voters will take the bait and replace a guy who polls show can beat Trump with an alternative candidate who cannot.

We’ve seen this before.  Does anyone seriously believe that Trump thought Obama was not born in America?  The whole point of the birther conspiracy was not to get at the truth; rather it was to muddy the waters.  The point is not to investigate; it’s to have a sham “investigation”.  You don’t have real investigations when there is zero evidence that there is anything to investigate, rather you have actual investigations when there is evidence of wrongdoing, of something to investigate.

Tyler Cowen links to a Robert Kagan essay than makes the following observation:

Consider what it will mean if we decide that what Trump and Giuliani have already acknowledged doing in Ukraine becomes an acceptable practice for all future presidents. Sending the signal that other governments can curry favor with a U.S. president by helping to dig up dirt on his or her political opponents would open our political system and foreign policy to intervention and manipulation on a global scale. Every government in the world wishing to influence U.S. foreign policy will have an incentive to come to a sitting president with information on his or her potential political opponents.

That information might be related to investments or other financial dealings in a particular country, as in Ukraine. Or it might have to do with the behavior of a particular individual while traveling abroad — who he or she sees and what he or she does. Other governments will therefore have an incentive to conduct surveillance of political figures traveling through their countries on the off chance of gleaning some bit of information that could be traded in Washington for some favor. Nor would other governments be limited to what they can see in their own countries. They would have an incentive to dig into the lives of potential opposition politicians in the United States, through monitoring their social media and other Internet presences, their bank accounts and other personal information — as already happened in 2016, and which Trump openly welcomed then, too.

I actually don’t have any problem with foreign governments bringing to our attention the fact that certain Americans are engaged in corrupt activity.  But this case is very different.  Here the President is using US foreign policy (withholding military aid) to pressure the Ukraine to do a smear campaign on Biden.  They don’t even want a true investigation, as it would almost immediately clear Biden.  They want an ongoing “investigation.”

Tyler Cowen responds to Kagan:

I mostly agree, but wonder if foreign governments haven’t already been doing this for some time, but hoarding the information rather than releasing it to select American politicians (no reason to encourage them further, of course).”

Here Tyler conflates “doing this” with actual investigations conducted by foreign governments into US political corruption.  I don’t know if foreign governments have been doing the “this” that Tyler suggests they may be doing (arguably a legitimate activity), but they almost certainly have not been doing the “this” that Trump is actually encouraging them to do—smear his political opponents by having a fake investigation drag out into an election year.  How do I know?  Because the whole point of a sham investigation is that it is public.  That’s why Giuliani wanted the Ukrainians to sign a statement saying they were investigating Biden.

On the other hand, foreign governments have been doing something that is closely related to Trump’s request, as when the Russians used the internet to peddle conspiracy theories regarding Hillary Clinton.   What Trump is calling for is not exactly the same, but it’s morally equivalent.

PS.  I have much more controversial things that I could say, but I will reserve those comments for phone communications, not text.

[9/1/19, 12:08:57 PM] Bill Taylor: Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?

[9/1/19, 12:42:29 PM] Gordon Sondland: Call me

Call me?  Like the Blondie hit.  LOL.

Do I really need to connect the dots for you guys?


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Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment".

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