Doing the Health Care Two-Step

Medium-size reform creates the conditions for bigger things.

Recent state elections — the Democratic landslide in Virginia, followed by Democratic gubernatorial victories in Kentucky and Louisiana — have been bad news for Donald Trump.

Among other things, the election results vindicate polls indicating that Trump is historically unpopular. All of these races were in part referendums on Trump, who put a lot of effort into backing his preferred candidates. And in each case voters gave him a clear thumbs down.

Beyond offering a verdict on Trump, however, I’d argue that the state elections offered some guidance on an issue that has divided Democrats, namely health care. What the results suggested to me was the virtue of medium-size reform: incremental enough to have a good chance of being enacted, big enough to provide tangible benefits that voters don’t want taken away.

Remember, there was a third governor’s race, in Mississippi, in which the G.O.P. held on. True, Mississippi is a very red state, which Trump won by 18 points in 2016. But Louisiana and Kentucky are or were, if anything, even redder, with Trump margins of 20 and 30 points respectively. So what made the difference?

Personalities surely mattered. Louisiana’s re-elected John Bel Edwards was widely liked, Kentucky’s defeated Matt Bevin widely disliked. Demography probably also mattered. Urban and especially suburban voters have turned hard against Trump, but rural voters haven’t, at least so far — and Mississippi is one of the few states left with a majority-rural population.

But there’s another difference among the three states. Kentucky and Louisiana took advantage of the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid, leading to steep drops in the number of uninsured residents; Mississippi hasn’t. This meant that voting Democratic in Kentucky and Louisiana meant voting to preserve past policy success, while the same vote in Mississippi was at best about hope for future reform — a much less powerful motivator.

Back in 2010, as Obamacare was about to squeak through Congress, Nancy Pelosi famously declared, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” This line was willfully misrepresented by Republicans (and some reporters who should have known better) as an admission that there was something underhanded about the way the legislation was enacted. What she meant, however, was that voters wouldn’t fully appreciate the A.C.A. until they experienced its benefits in real life.

It took years to get there, but in the end Pelosi was proved right, as health care became a winning issue for Democrats. In the 2018 midterms and in subsequent state elections, voters punished politicians whom they suspected of wanting to undermine key achievements like protection for pre-existing conditions and, yes, Medicaid expansion.

And this political reality has arguably set the stage for further action. At this point, as far as I can tell, all of the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination are calling for a significant expansion of the government’s role in health care, although they differ about how far and how fast to go.

Which brings me to the latest development in intra-Democratic policy disputes: Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for a two-step approach to health reform. Her idea is to start with actions — some requiring no legislation at all, others requiring only a simple Senate majority — that would greatly expand health insurance coverage. These actions would, if successful, deliver tangible benefits to millions.

They would not, however, amount to the full Bernie, eliminating private insurance and going full single-payer. Warren still says that this is her eventual intention, and has laid out a plan to pay for such a system. But any legislative push would wait three years, giving time for voters to see the benefits of the initial changes.

Sanders supporters are, predictably, crying betrayal. For them it’s all or nothing: a commitment to single-payer has to be in the legislation from Day 1.

The trouble with such demands, aside from the strong probability that proposing elimination of private insurance would be a liability in the general election, is that such legislation would almost certainly fail to pass even a Democratic Senate. So all or nothing would, in practice, mean nothing.

But is Warren giving up on Medicare for All? After all, what she’s offering isn’t really a transition plan in the usual sense, since there’s no guarantee that Step 2 would ever happen.

The lesson I take from the politics of Obamacare, however, is that successful health reform, even if incomplete, creates the preconditions for further reform. What looks impossible now might look very different once tens of millions of additional people have actual experience with expanded Medicare, and can compare it with private insurance.

Although I’ve long argued against making Medicare for All a purity test, there is a good case for eventually going single-payer. But the only way that’s going to happen is via something like Warren’s approach: initial reforms that deliver concrete benefits, and maybe provide a steppingstone to something even bigger.

‘The Five’ on key takeaways from second public impeachment hearing

Republicans and Democrats spar again in the second public impeachment hearing. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified before the House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry hearing on President Trump. Reaction and analysis on “The Five.’

WATCH: Full exchange between Corey Lewandowski and House Judiciary Counsel Barry Berke

Barry Berke, legal counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, questioned former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski about his relationship with the president and what he told former special counsel Robert Mueller as Mueller investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by the president. Berke aired several clips of Lewandowski’s past television interviews, during which Lewandowski sometimes contradicted what special counsel Robert Mueller reported Lewandowski had shared about his interactions with President Donald Trump and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Pressed to explain the inconsistencies, Lewandowski responded that he had “no obligation to be honest with the media.”


mr. Lewandowski did you ever become
concerned that the president had asked
you to do something that could expose
you to criminal liability did you ever
become concerned that the President of
the United States had asked you to do
something that could expose you to
criminal liability was I concerned that
the president asked me to do something
not to the best of my knowledge were you
ever concerned that the president had
asked you to do something that puts you
in harm’s way made you feel that you
were in trouble I think I’ve asked to
answer that question
so I’d like to show you a video of an
interview you did on Fox News this was
in January 16 2018 you’re in trouble I
didn’t do anything in the campaign
didn’t do anything and so I have no
reason to take the fifth I’m gonna
answer every question so you were
answering that with regard to your
appearance before the House Intelligence
Committee you see you take the fifth
when you were in trouble you didn’t do
anything so you were gonna testify and
you weren’t gonna take the test the
fifth before that committee with regard
to questions about the campaign were you
concerned sir that you had done
something with regard to delivering or
green to deliver the president’s message
and therefore you could get in trouble
based on what you agreed to do and
attempted to do I have no concerns
is it a fact sir that contrary to your
testimony that you voluntarily appeared
in front of the special counsel when you
recall to provide answers to the special
counsel you indicated your intent to
assert your rights under the Fifth
Amendment not to self-incriminate is
that true not to the best of my
recollection is that in the report sir
isn’t that true sir that you refused to
testify without receiving immunity I
don’t believe that’s accurate I’d be
happy if you could show me that is in
the report I’ll be happy to answer it
sir are you is it your testimony under
oath that you never received immunity
prior to answering questions of the
special counsel that’s a question for
special counsel Muller and I won’t be
answering mechanics of the investigation
my question to you sir is did you refuse
to answer the special counsels questions
without getting a grant of immunity
protecting you from having your words
used against you in a criminal
prosecution I’ve asked an answered your
question are you denying sir that you
refuse to answer questions and asserted
your rights under the Fifth Amendment
not to self incriminating less the
special counsel gave you immunity
I’ve asked an answered your question sir
so do you agree with your statement that
you would assert the Fifth Amendment if
you believed you were in trouble to
quote your words to Fox News I don’t
think I was any under under any
obligation when speaking to Fox News to
not engage in hyperbole if I so chose I
was not under oath at any time during
that discussion I had been very
forthright today is it still your
testimony sir that you made under oath
earlier that you appeared voluntarily
before the special counsel and not under
a grant of immunity to the best of my
recollection I appeared in front of the
special counsel voluntarily
did you receive immunity sir as director
Muller stated when asked about Don Jr’s
communication a special counsel his
intent to invoke the Fifth Amendment
right director Muller said and I quote
I’m not going to answer that so if you
want to direct that question to director
Muller it’s on page 77 of the report
you’ll welcome to do so
did you receive immunity sir I’ve asked
and answered your question let me ask
you have you ever been untruthful about
being asked to give answer questions or
the special counsel
I’ve already testified have been honest
to the best of my ability so let me show
you another clip and this one was from
March 25th 2018 from Meet the Press
March 25th 2018 have you met with the
Special Counsel Robert Muller I know
you’ve testified before the Senate and
the house Intel investigations what
about the special counsel look I have
said very candidly I’ll be happy to
speak with the special counsel if they’d
like to do that I’ve been very open
about I’ve volunteered to testify for 12
hours in front of the house committee
I’ve testified in front of the Senate
committee and I’ll make myself available
because I was there at the very
beginning of the campaign
have they asked for ya yet no nothing
okay sir was that truthful which you
said on national television on March
25th 2018 that the special counsel had
not asked to speak to you at that date I
don’t know if they asked to speak to me
by that date so you know your interview
that’s reported in the Special Counsel
report was on April 6 2018 is that
accurate
you have the day of the interview yes if
that’s what the report says don’t take
it to be accurate
sir you made public statements denying
that you had been asked to give answers
to the special counsel when you actually
had you’d been untruthful about that
isn’t that true sir are we talking about
a discussion with the media or in front
of a committee of jurisdiction where
I’ve been sworn to testify I’m talking
about your public statements the
American public
oh I’m sorry nobody in front of Congress
has ever lied to the public before I’m
sorry absolutely not did you lie sir in
television interviews denying that
you’ve been asked to give answers to the
special counsel I don’t believe so so
you deny that you ever lied in public
statements about whether you were what
I’m saying is when under oath I’ve
always told the truth whether it was
before Special Counsel
whether it was before the House
Judiciary Committee was before the House
Intelligence Committee on two separate
occasions well before the Senate
Intelligence Committee
every time I’ve raised my right hand to
God I’ve sworn and told the truth that’s
not my question to you sir we’ll get to
that my question to you sir is on
national television did you lie about
your relationship with the special
counsel and whether they sought your
interview
I don’t know and sir did you lie about
it because you didn’t want the world to
find out that you were afraid you could
be exposed to criminal liability and you
were only going to appear as to certain
issues with a grant of immunity
protecting your words from being used
against you in a criminal prosecution
I’m gonna go back through what director
Muller stated he’s not going to answer
that question I’m not gonna allow you to
use me as a backdoor into his methods if
you’d like to question director Muller
about the way of the investigation
techniques of the Justice Department
you’ve had that opportunity to do so but
clearly you didn’t so take him back here
and bring him before the committee can
ask those questions those questions are
not from me let me ask you this prior to
the Muller report being published in
redacted form
did you ever misrepresent what you did
on the
half of the president I can’t think of
an instance where that would have
occurred let me show you an interview
that you did on May 14th of 2019 excuse
me a I’ve been showed you from February
22nd 2019 let me show it to you for 2019
thank you I don’t ever remember the
president ever asking me to get involved
with Jeff Sessions or the Department of
Justice in any way shape so you did you
hear that sir
that was you saying on MSNBC you don’t
ever remember the president ever asking
you to get involved with Jeff Sessions
or the Department of Justice in any way
shape or form that wasn’t true was it
sir I heard that and that was not true
was it
I have no obligation to be honest to the
media just because there’s just as as
honest as anybody else see so you’re
admitting sir you were not being
truthful in that clip correct my
interview with REM Elbert yes can be
interpreted any way you’d like let me
would you like me to play it again
you’re welcome to please one more time I
don’t ever remember the president ever
asking me to get involved with Jeff
Sessions or the Department of Justice in
any way shape and sir it is true in may
20 19 you absolutely remembered when the
president asked you to deliver a message
to the Attorney General of a speech for
him to give related to the Special
Counsel investigation
isn’t that correct I’d have to think
about it are you claiming sir that and
you had been interviewed by the special
counsel about those very events in which
he discussed and you said was accurately
reported at the report a year earlier
are you saying sir you may have
forgotten it by the time you were
interviewed just before the report was
publicly released I’m saying my memory
was clearly much fresher when I actually
gave the interview with the special
counsels report sir is it your testimony
before this committee that when you said
you did not remember the president ever
asking you to get involved with Jeff
Sessions or the Department
justice you were saying you were being
truthful and sir I don’t believe there’s
any reason to consult with your counsel
the question is are you a truth teller
in that interview I’m a truth teller
every time I stand before Congress or a
committee of jurisdiction and raised my
hand and swear to God under oath my
question sir is when you said the
president never asked you to get
involved with mr. session I have no
obligation to have a candid conversation
with the media whatsoever just like they
have no obligation to cover me honestly
and they do it in accurately all the
time what I’m saying is they have been
inaccurate on many occasions and perhaps
I was inaccurate at that time so I want
to remind you you’re under oath and at
my rights were that the reason why you
didn’t admit that the president had
asked you to deliver a message to the
Attorney General about investigations
because you knew it was wrong and you
were concerned about your own exposure
and you didn’t have immunity in that
interview isn’t that correct
which interview the one we just watched
were you lied about be the president
asking you to deliver a message I didn’t
know I could get immunity from a media
outlet I want to clarify the date of
that interview was February 22nd 2019
just to be clear the date is February
22nd as I originally stated 2019 so let
me ask you a question what was the
inaccuracy earlier because I missed that
so let me ask you did you say that
because you wanted to protect the
president not to the best of my
recollection sir
did you deny it because you wanted to
protect yourself not to the best of my
recollection mr. Berg the president
giving you a message to the Attorney
General about the special counsels
investigation I don’t recall that
particular day and my mindset at the
time so I couldn’t answer that any
explanation for why you would lie on
national TV other than concerned about
protecting yourself and the president
well I know previously the Chairman
asked witnesses not to guess so I’d
prefer not to guess unless the chairman
has changed his tune on that you’re
concerned that you or the president
could be criminally exposed based on
what you attempted to do on his behalf
is that correct I didn’t say that can
you give me any explanation I said if
you’d like me to take a guess what
Chairman’s ask previous witnesses they
didn’t want guessing if we’re changing
the rules of the committee once again
I’ll be happy to try and take a guess
with the caveat that I don’t recall that
particular interview I’m not exactly
sure I was the time it transpired I
don’t exactly remember that particular
damn what was transpiring my life be
happy to take that caveat and with that
said I don’t recall it so let me ask you
earlier a few minutes ago that you’re
truthful when you for this committee I’d
like to put up a slide that you were
asked about earlier if I may and this is
the actual statement that you made to
the special counsel that you said was
accurate I’m quoting that’s a direct
quote it’s right in front of you saw on
the screen that’s a direct quote from
the report on page 92 and it said
Lewandowski did not want to meet at the
Department of Justice because he did not
want a public log of his visit you were
asked about that now sir do you deny
that you told the special counsel you
did not want a public log of your visit
with the Attorney General I believe I’ve
answered that question but I don’t deny
that that is an accurate representation
over I’ve told the special counsel okay
of what you said before Paulo you did
not want a public log of your visit
because you wanted to have a casual
dinner with the special counsel and
that’s why you didn’t want there to be a
record of your visit today I had no
interest in having a casual dinner with
a special counsel no sir I’m sorry with
the Attorney General sir are you
clarifying the question I’m sir okay
could you repeat it please yes sir your
earlier testimony was it they do reason
you didn’t want a public log is because
you wanted to have a casual dinner with
the Attorney General your earlier
testimony that seems to be accurate sir
having a casual dinner with the Attorney
General has nothing to do with why you
wouldn’t want a public log of your visit
with the Attorney General does it it
does so the fact you didn’t want a
public log because you know what you’re
doing was wrong so that just as the
president went to an unofficial
non-government employee you wanted to
make sure there was not a record of it
isn’t that right sir no so do you agree
that if law creates a record of your
visiting with the Attorney General I
would think a log would create a record
yes and do you agree sir that you
admitted to the special counsel you
didn’t want to have a record of your
visit and that’s why that’s one of the
reasons why you didn’t go to the
Department of Justice because you did
not want a public log of your visit
correct
I’ve never been to the Department of
Justice I don’t
goes on the Department of Justice I
don’t really want to find out what
happens in Department of Justice based
on what’s happened to other people
involving the Department of Justice to
be honest with you my question to you is
you see you didn’t go because you don’t
want a public log of your visit are you
asking me the same question I’ve just
answered yeah I have stipulated to the
fact that what is in the malla report
about a public log is accurate to the
best of my recollection I’ll be happy to
answer it again but it’s still accurate
to the best of my recollection that’s
because you didn’t want a public record
correct I believe I’ve said my quote is
did not want to meet at the Department
of Justice because he did not want a
public log that is a quote that somebody
and the special counsels team clearly
referenced as something I’ve said
although I don’t think I would have
spoken to him about myself in the third
party you also said sir that you didn’t
want the Attorney General to have an
advantage over you is that correct I
think that’s also an accurate
representation the report but I’d have
to be made aware of where that is again
so on page 92 it’s quoted right in front
of you so I asked you sir again if you
didn’t think you were doing anything
wrong and you were being brought in to
pressure and bully the Attorney General
why did you not want him to have an
advantage over you Jeff and I were
friends and have been friends and seeing
him in a social environment where we
could sit down and have a meal whether
at his house my house or a Washington DC
restaurant to have a conversation was
something I thought was better for the
both of us you didn’t want him to have
an advantage over you but that was
because you were trying to assert
leverage as the president wanted you to
give him a message about what he should
say about the special counsels
investigation no mr. burger sir
let me show you another statement that
you made in a Fox News interview on
April 19th 2019
yeah I never delivered any document to
Jeff Sessions I never had an in-depth
conversation with senator sessions or
Attorney General Jeff Sessions look I’ve
spoken to attorney general sessions on
dozens of occasions but never did I ask
him to interfere with the Muller
investigation never did I ask him to so
you know do anything other than what was
completely legal which was continued to
do his job now so that was April 19th
I’ll represent you that was a day after
the redacted Muller report came out on
April 18th sir you said you never
delivered a message to Jeff Sessions
those what you said in there right you
were asked to deliver that message isn’t
that correct sir
I believe that’s accurate compared as
comprising the report yes but the
meeting ever transpired and you said so
you never did anything other than what
was completely legal and you said that
sir cause you knew if you delivered that
message that told the Attorney General
to instruct the Special Counsel to limit
the investigation to exclude the
president that would not be legal isn’t
that correct sir you know mr. Burke I
didn’t have the privilege going to
Harvard Law School and I’m not an
attorney so what I know is I didn’t
think at the time that the president
asked me to deliver a message that
anything was illegal about it I didn’t
have the privilege to go to Harvard Law
so if you’re telling me that in your
opinion that would have been illegal
then that’s your opinion too but I never
assumed that I never thought about the
time I haven’t thought about it now
think about it
what else have I thought about mr. Burke
let me ask you this question sir mr.
Burke what else have I thought about if
you just told me that you know point of
order mr. chairman the witness doesn’t
get to ask questions he gets to answer
them let me ask you sir you you were
asked about why you didn’t deliver the
message you said you went on vacation
for two weeks over a month after the
president directed you to deliver that
message to the Attorney General Sessions
you didn’t deliver it right because you
met with the president a month later on
July 17th is that correct I believe
that’s what the report says okay so
you’ve been back from vacation for two
weeks you even went to Washington to
meet with the president why didn’t you
deliver the message that the president
asked you to deliver it unless you
didn’t deliver it because you knew
it was improper to deliver mr. burka
wasn’t a priority for who from me it was
a priority for the president isn’t that
right you’d have to ask the president
that question in the president tell you
was a priority did he didn’t he ask you
at your second meeting in July did you
deliver the message yet to the Attorney
General mr. Burke I can’t disclose any
conversations aren’t in the Mulla report
that is in the Muller report yeah where
is that place you test it with pages
that answer to refresh my memory
let me ask you a question do you
remember the president asking you that
could you please reference me the page
number so I can review it you remember
testifying earlier that you said the
president said if mr. sessions will not
meet with you for you to deliver that
message you should tell him he’s fired
correct again if there’s a reference to
the report I’d like to refresh my memory
it’s been a long day you appreciate that
earlier today again it’s been a long day
I believe it to the best of my knowledge
that that’s what I said if there’s a
reference to the malla report I asked
you to point it to me so let me ask you
sir if it wasn’t a priority for you to
deliver the message why did you enlist
mr. Dearborne to deliver the message for
the president again I can’t speak to
private conversations that would have
had with mr. Dearborne at the advice of
counsel I’m asking you why did you do it
why what’s going on I knew mr. dear boy
did you do it can I answer now please
okay I’ve known mr. Dearborne since his
tenure as a chief of staff to Senator
sessions he was my primary point of
contact for Jeff sessions during the
Trump campaign and I also knew that mr.
Dearborne had continued like I did have
a long-standing relationship with Jeff
and if I wasn’t going to be seeing Jeff
I figured Rick would be able to deliver
that message well sir did you try to see
mr. sessions again did you call him
after the president told you to do it
and see if he would meet with you this
time did you call to the please answer
the question not to the best of my
recollection and sir is the reason you
personally didn’t call him someone who
you said you were friendly with was
because he knew what the president asked
you to do was wrong and you sir didn’t
want to get in trouble that’s why you
didn’t do it you know mr. Birk I’ve
asked and answered that question I’m not
a lawyer Brad
he was asking me to do something that
was unlawful at the time and I don’t
think that was the case now sir and did
mr. Dearborn tell you that he actually
had handled the situation and had
delivered the message I don’t recall
that conversation very possible let me
show you what mr. Dearborn told the
special counsel he said that he had told
you that he had handled the situation
but he had not actually followed through
do you recall that sir I don’t know if I
recall that conversation with mr.
Dearborn so let me now ask you why the
president thought you might be prepared
to deliver a message that everyone in
his administration that he asked refused
to deliver sir am I correct that a few
weeks before you met with the president
in June of 2017
you had a conversation with his senior
staff about joining the administration
in a very senior role I’m sorry the
question was in which timeframe few
weeks before you met with the president
the first time in June of 2017 and he
asked you to deliver a message to the
Attorney General and the question is
what sir did you discussions with the
president’s senior staff about joining
the administration and a senior role I
can’t speak to conversations that may
not have with senior staff members of
the administration to preserve the
privilege they’ve invoked so it’s such a
sacred privilege you would not disclose
private communications because that
would be wrong sir
no my testimony is that the White House
has directed that disclose the substance
of any discussions with the prisoners
advisers to protect executive branch
confidentiality so I recognize that’s
not my privilege but I am respecting the
decision of the White House so didn’t
you publish a book in which you
disclosed these very conversations you
have which book you reference I’ve
written two New York Times bestsellers
in a year so could you refresh my memory
which one Trump be Trump I was a hell of
a book by the way yes I did write that
book point of order mr. Chairman I
request that the chair order the witness
to answer the question I did answer the
question I wrote let Trump be Trump
available at fine bookstores everywhere
I guess let me let me ask you about you
were and you recall so let me show you
some things you wrote in your book you
recall you met with
you met at the White House right and
late May 2017 do you recall that
I do recall meeting then with mr. Trump
in the Oval Office
in late May of 2017 yes I do
let me show you sorry here’s what you
wrote you wrote and that was before that
was just after his first trip abroad as
president correct I don’t know his
travel schedule as well as you do but
it’s possible let me show you what you
wrote sir multiple times during his trip
abroad and even during the plane ride
home the boss talked about bringing us
in to restore order to the west wing is
that what you wrote sir
I mean it looks like I wrote it and you
recall sir that before you met with the
president his chief of staff prince
brevis and his senior adviser Steve ban
and described what kind of role you were
being considered for do you remember
that sir I can’t discuss private
conversation with the senior staff mr.
Birk I’ve answered that many times I
know you can’t discuss it but you can
write about it so let’s look at what you
wrote about it sir we should buy the
book it’s very good let’s look at it so
corey lewandowski further plans you
wrote and this was the plans mr. Priebus
and ban and share everything you was
gonna oversee political operations
presidential appointments and the RNC as
well as the campaign’s handling of
Russian meddling in the twenty act of 16
election he would be on the same level
as Jared a senior advisor was that was
that true sir what you wrote there that
they were talking about you in late May
joining the position and playing that
role the book is accurate and sir if you
keep going on if we could go what you
met with the president and the president
said he didn’t want to do it right now
meaning when you met with them because
if the place isn’t working better in the
next four or five weeks I’m firing
everyone is that correct again I believe
the book is accurate now and you thought
this was an incredible opportunity as
you wrote write like a little kid and
literally getting to play in the World
Series correct that’s what you wrote yes
having the privilege to be inside the
Oval Office speaking to the president at
States after growing up poor in Lowell
Massachusetts not attending Harvard or
graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Duke yeah
it’s a pretty amazing opportunity and
sir and you knew for mr. Donald Trump
president or candidate that as you wrote
next loyalty is the currency of the
realm and nothing hurts him deeper than
when someone he trusts is disloyal is
that correct I believe that’s in the
book okay so when he asked you a few
weeks after this meeting to deliver this
message as a as a non government
employee to the Attorney General you
knew that you were being considered for
a senior position on the same level as
Jared Kushner and you also knew how the
president values loyalty isn’t that
correct
no sir you deny that those conversations
happen that you just talked about no sir
and that was weeks before you met with
the president correct sir I met with the
president late May as the book detailed
accurately and sir but you also read the
rest of the paragraph which said we
don’t want you to come in at this time
because if it doesn’t work out I’m gonna
fire everybody
he said now but he was dangling the
position of the most senior level for
you isn’t that correct
that’s a question for the president
knighted States sir and he would know
that he dangled it and therefore you
would do his bidding in delivering a
secret message to the Attorney General
that everyone in his government who he
asked to deliver wouldn’t do it isn’t
that correct no sir all right sir but
let me ask you let me ask you about this
rule you were gonna have because if we
could show you another quote that you
wrote of how this role was described
part of your duties if we could go to
the next slide please
part of the duties is rinse Priebus said
Cory is going to come in and run the
rest
rusha investigation so is it true sir
that you were being told you were
considered to come in to run the
investigation of the Russia’s influence
of the 2016 presidential campaign just
weeks before you were asked to tell the
Attorney General to limit the special
counsels investigation to future
elections is that true sir that you were
asked to come in
you were you were being considered so
come in and run the Russia investigation
is that a true fact sir it’s true that
that’s what mr. previs wanted yes and so
what did you understand your role would
be that the president was gonna bring in
his former campaign manager and
June of 2016 when he fired you to run
the investigation of whether Russia
influenced the 2016 campaign and did
something improper with the Trump
campaign is that what your understanding
was sir that’s the question of what mr.
Priebus is understanding was well what I
want to know sir is the president would
know when he asked you to deliver the
message to the Attorney General to tell
the special counsel not to investigate
the 2016 campaign that you sir well
under consideration yourself to be
brought in by the President to run the
very investigation of the 2016 campaign
and Russian interference that you had
previously been involved in
isn’t that correct sir not to the best
of my knowledge no sir
you were not it was not raised with you
that you were gonna be considered to run
the Russia investigation that was mr.
Priebus this idea not the president’s
idea stand mr. bannon correct I don’t
know if mr. banner was involved in as
possible and the president priority and
meeting had discussed with you how much
he wanted you to come join the
administration just prior to that
meeting as he was on his trip on his way
back isn’t that what you said sir no I
didn’t speak to him while he’s overseas
on his way back he raised that issue
didn’t that true sir that’s what you
wrote I don’t believe I said that I
spoke to the president while he traveled
back from overseas did he raised with
you joining the administration before
that meeting sir I’ve spoken to the
president and president elect multiple
times about opportunities but I can’t
divulge those conversations I’m sorry
well you already did in your book sir
and you’ve already said that those
conversations happen and were true
correct
and what I stated was that was mr.
Priebus his idea not the president’s
idea but sir you also wrote and we just
read it that multiple times during his
trip abroad and even during his plane
ride home the boss talked about bringing
us in to restore order to the White
House didn’t you write that sir if
that’s what the book says I don’t have
it in front of me yes it does okay I’d
like to see that so I can verify the
validity of it we’re not gonna take the
time we saw the slide earlier let me
continue sir sir let me ask you a
question you were asked about you knew
that the Special Counsel report found
systemic interference by Russians in the
election correct I’d like to restate
I’ve never read the special counsels
report
do you take the report lightly do you
think it’s not a serious matter what the
special counsel did if you’re putting
words in my mouth those are inaccurate
never have I stated that sir did you did
you know you know you were mentioned in
there like 129 times correct
is that accurate 129 times so do you
know how many times I do not know do you
sir isn’t it true that just last week
you were appearing at an event to
autograph copies of the special counsel
report and you said you couldn’t sign
every page because you were mentioned in
it so much no I think that’s a
misrepresentation what someone else said
did you sign did you go and go to an
event where you signed copies of the
special counsel report sir I did tend to
book signing where the report was
available but I never read the report
and I asked you again sir do you make
light of the special counsels finding a
verses role and attempt to try to
interfere with the 2016 election I’m
outraged at your characterization of my
statements never have I said that never
have I called into question the validity
of the malla report or alluded to the
fact that I want to see Russia interfere
with the election as a matter of fact my
testimony here today has been completely
the opposite of that so if you intimated
that that’s what my statement is about
the Muller report is grossly out of line
so let me show you something in the
Moller report that you would agreed to
sign the next slide please sir so you
asked about that that this is the
findings to you you don’t just have any
reason to dispute the findings that mr.
sessions was recused from the
investigation wasn’t allowed to
participate do you I have no idea what
the findings of the report were I have
not read the report as I’ve testified to
now on dozens of occasions here today
let me go to the next slide you see
where this says you were asked about it
the special counsel concluded that taken
together the president is campaigning
the purpose of the message was to have
you tell the Attorney General to move
forward with investigating election
meddling for future elections do you
have any basis to dispute that
conclusion by the special counsel in his
report sir about your conduct again I’ve
answered this question has an answer I
would ask you to answer it sir gentleman
will answer the question whether he’s
incident before or not I have stated to
the best of my knowledge most of the
information in the mall report is
accurate

The Tragic Life of the War Criminal Elliott Abrams

Elliott Abrams was once an innocent child. And then he decided to spend the rest of his life covering up brutal atrocities and defending right-wing dictatorships.

Elliott Abrams once said the animating force behind his and Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy was that the world is “an exceedingly dangerous place.” And this is true, largely because men like Elliott Abrams exist in it.Last month, Abrams was tapped by Trump to serve as his special envoy to Venezuela, to essentially help steer the Trump administration’s slow-burn effort to topple that country’s government — or as Mike Pompeo put it, “restore democracy” in the country.

It should go without saying that the idea the Trump administration is pursuing regime change in Venezuela for the sake of democracy and human rights is as laughable as calling Jamal Khashoggi’s murder a surprise party gone wrong. But in case you need to explain this to politically confused friends and relatives, here are eight good reasons why the appointment of Abrams, in particular, makes a mockery of any such high-minded rhetoric.

1. He was knee-deep in human rights atrocities

Let’s start with the most obvious point, which is that Abrams’ chief claim to fame is his role in Ronald Reagan’s blood-soaked foreign policy in Central America in the 1980s, for which he earned the nickname, “contra commander-in-chief.” The contras were the brutal right-wing paramilitary groups in Nicaragua who terrorized civilians throughout the decade, cutting a swath of torture, rape, and murder aimed at everyone from the elderly to children. Their methods were similar to those of right-wing paramilitaries in the other countries of the region, including El Salvador and Guatemala, all of which were supported by the Reagan administration. If you have the stomach to read about them, there’s no shortage of sources that outline their barbarity.

To Abrams, however, they were “freedom fighters,” their work in El Salvador was a “fabulous achievement,” and he mocked critics of Reagan as people forced to “run the risk” of arguing that such groups were “doing something wrong and ought to stop it.” He himself had no illusions about what it is that the contras were doing.The purpose of our aid is to permit people who are fighting on our side to use more violence,” he said in 1985.

This “micromanagement” at one point also involved Abrams secretly delivering military equipment to the contras under the guise of humanitarian aid. As commentators have noted, this is particularly relevant now, when the Trump administration attacks Maduro for refusing to let humanitarian aid from the US into Venezuela.

2. He covered up brutal acts of terror

Key to Abrams’ role under Reagan was playing down and denying the copious human rights abuses being committed by the forces and governments he and the administration supported.

As Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar pointed out in her grilling of Abrams earlier this week, part of the Reagan administration’s “fabulous achievement” in El Salvador was the horrific El Mozote massacre, which took place shortly before Abrams took up his post. In his attempt to convince the Senate to certify that El Salvador’s government was improving its human rights record — a precondition for receiving US aid — Abrams testified that the massacre had been “publicized when the certification comes forward to the committee,” and was “being significantly misused, at the very best, by the guerrillas.” He claimed he had sent military officers to investigate the reports, and that the massacre couldn’t be confirmed.

Another incident was the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, killed on the orders of Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, one of the administration’s partners in the country. “Anybody who thinks you’re going to find a cable that says that Roberto d’Aubuisson murdered the archbishop is a fool,” said Abrams. In fact, two such cables existed. Abrams would later insist that any criticism of the Reagan administration’s activities in El Salvador were simply “a post-Cold War effort to rewrite history.”

Meanwhile, as Guatemalan dictator Ríos Montt embarked on a campaign of genocide in the country, Abrams said he had “brought considerable progress” on human rights. He defended Reagan’s lifting of a military aid embargo on Montt’s government, claiming the slaughter of civilians was “being reduced step by step” and that it was “progress” that had to be “rewarded and encouraged.”

3. He’s an unrepentant liar

Abrams told Omar that it is “always the position of the United States” to protect human rights, including in Venezuela, and he stressed the US didn’t want to arm anti-Maduro forces. Besides his well-documented record of doing exactly the opposite, Abrams’ words are even less relevant when you consider his history of outright lying.

We’ve already seen how Abrams regularly lied to cover up or play down abuses by the right-wing forces he supported. This practice would ultimately land him in trouble when he misled Congress about the Iran-Contra affair with statements that ranged from outright lies (“we’re not in the fund-raising business”), to lawyerly parsing of the truth (“I said no foreign government was helping the contras, because we had not yet received a dime from Brunei,” he would write later).

Abrams would forever maintain he did nothing wrong, later writing a sanctimonious book that painted himself as the victim of an unjust, vindictive system that had criminalized “political differences.” “This kind of prosecution is something new in America, and it is wrong,” he wrote, before bleating about the “bloodsuckers” and “filthy bastards” who wanted to do him in.

Abrams rained ire upon Lawrence Walsh, the special prosecutor tasked with investigating the Iran-Contra scandal: “You, Walsh, eighty years old, and nothing else to do but stay in this job till the grim reaper gets you. Is this your idea of America?” Abrams insisted the independent counsel law under which Walsh (along with Watergate prosecutor Archibold Cox) served was unconstitutional, despite the fact that the Supreme Court had upheld it 7-1, with even the conservative chief justice Rehnquist affirming (Scalia dissented). It didn’t matter anyway, because the late George H. W. Bush pardoned him.

Abrams managed the trifecta of showing contempt for the truth, the constitution’s separation of powers, and the concept of checks and balances, all in one fell swoop. There’s no reason to believe any of his assurances now.

4. He hates democracy

Abrams has also shown a lifelong contempt for the very thing he’s now meant to be advancing: democracy.

When the Uruguayan military government imprisoned Wilson Ferreira, the country’s most popular politician and a fierce liberal opponent of its rule, Abrams defended the Reagan administration’s meek response, which the New York Times had called “stunning.” Abrams explained that “the transition [to elected government] itself is more important than the immediate situation of any individual politician.” Abrams had earlier insisted there was no evidence the Uruguyan military was stifling political freedom, even as it

  • closed newspapers,
  • arrested its opposition, and
  • continued to ban political leaders, among other things.

Around this same time, Abrams was one of a number of Reagan officials who supported Oliver North’s call to pardon Honduran general Jose Bueso Rosa, despite his having received a relatively lenient sentence. Rosa had been convicted after being caught in Florida plotting to overthrow the Honduran government.

In 2002, Abrams reportedly “gave a nod” to the military coup that attempted, ultimately unsuccessfully, to remove the democratically elected Hugo Chavez from power. The Observer, which broke the story, called Abrams “the crucial figure around the coup.” Abrams has had his eye on toppling Venezuela’s government for some time.

When Hamas defeated Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, Abrams, then the point man for George W. Bush’s Middle East policy, helped implement a scheme to nullify the results by fomenting a Palestinian civil war which, they hoped, would remove Hamas from power. When the plan backfired, with Hamas emerging victorious and in full control of Gaza, Abrams accused Hamas of staging a “coup.”

5. His only political principle was anticommunism

Abrams’ disregard for democracy is part and parcel of his general philosophy, which views left-wing governments uniformly as threats to be stamped out.

Abrams, who once told a reporter that he’s “been a counterrevolutionary for a long time,” cut his teeth opposing student protesters at Harvard in the 1960s. He believes the idea that human rights extend past the political and into the economic realm to be “nonsense” and “old Soviet bromides.” As such, he viewed defeating the Soviet Union as the greatest US priority, telling one interviewer that “the greatest threat to human rights is the Soviet Union, not Guatemala or the Philippines.”

In 1984, Abrams quite candidly explained to Policy Review that his human rights policy was one of double standards: fierce opposition to communist rights abusers, and coddling of oppressors friendly to the US.

“Liberalization for purposes of letting out steam always involves line drawing,” he said. “How much steam should you let out? At what point do you risk anarchy and destabilizing the regime?” He went on to explain that “the line drawn varies from country to country,” and that “even a highly imperfect regime may well give a much better prospect of democratization than would the Communist regime that might follow.”

In other words, no matter how brutal or outright fascist a government, it was by default preferable to a communist one, a philosophy he applied in obvious ways to his work in the Americas. It was also evident in his treatment of Cuba, whose prisons he denounced in 1984 as “barbaric” and whose leader, Fidel Castro, he labeled “oppressive” and accused of “betrayal.” He attacked human rights groups, politicians, reporters, and church groups who praised Cuba as “apologists” who “will never take off their rose-colored glasses” and had spent “years defending tyrants” and “years obfuscating the truth.”

At literally the same time he was doing this, Abrams publicly defended Turkey, a key regional ally, from criticism of its human rights record. Abrams praised Turkey, which had recently been pilloried in an Amnesty International report for widespread torture of its people, for “extraordinary progress,” charging that “some who criticize Turkey’s human rights situation have no interest in human rights in Turkey or anywhere else,” but “simply use this issue as a weapon with which to attack a vital member of the Western alliance.” He dismissed Amnesty’s claims as “false history,” criticized human rights groups for “an appalling shallowness of analysis” that ignored social, political, and historical context, and charged that the Turkish people “resent the activists’ shrill and uninformed criticisms of their country.”

As Abrams had earlier said, “the line drawn varies from country to country.” If you played nice with the Reagan administration, your human rights record was tempered by nuance and context, and it was getting better anyway. And if you didn’t, you were beyond redemption.

6. He dislikes journalists and accountability

Abrams no doubt sympathized with Turkey’s rulers because he himself had first-hand experience dealing with pesky journalists and human rights groups.

He said critics of Reagan’s support of the contras would have “blood on their hands,” and accused human rights groups of having communist sympathies. He hopped aboard the Reagan administration’s McCarthyite attempt to shame congressional critics into giving him a blank check in Latin America, claiming that there was an “elaborate and skillful” campaign by Nicaragua’s Sandinista government to “manipulate Congress and the press.” When the GAO released a report alleging contra corruption that was inconvenient for the administration’s attempts to secure aid, Abrams dismissed it as a “smear campaign” cooked up by Democrats.

While Abrams didn’t have a police state at his disposal, that didn’t prevent him from lobbing heavy-handed broadsides against reporters he didn’t like. He refused to be questioned by or debate certain journalists he perceived as critical. Most infamously, from 1986 to 1987, Abrams accused left-wing Colombian journalist Patricia Lara of being a “Cuban agent” and “an active liaison” between Colombian terrorist organization M-19 and “the Cuban secret police.” In October 1986, Lara was stopped by New York immigration officials and imprisoned, before being sent back home, without explanation.

Abrams claimed to have “concrete evidence” that Lara was “heavily engaged” with M-19, but when challenged to reveal evidence, claimed it was based on “intelligence information” that he couldn’t reveal. The Colombian Defense Ministry, then battling M-19, categorically denied they had any such information, and assigned her a bodyguard because Abrams’ accusation had put her in danger. The country’s foreign minister said “we don’t know where the US government obtained” such information.

Abrams also granted a “meritorious honor” award on the Office of Public Diplomacy, a government body responsible for waging an illegal domestic propaganda campaign, in which Iran-Contra architect Oliver North was closely involved, that disseminated Abrams’ preferred narrative about the region. Abrams praised it for “setting out the parameters and defining the terms of the public discussion on Central America policy” and countering the “formidable and well established Soviet/Cuban/Nicaraguan propaganda apparatus.”

7. He’s a fan of regime change

Like any neoconservative worth his salt, Abrams has an abiding faith in the US government’s ability to simply remove world leaders it dislikes at will. (He’s also continued the neocon tradition of never personally fighting in any war, avoiding Vietnam thanks to a hurt back that happened to clear up once the war was over.)

When Abrams wanted to remove former ally Manuel Noriega from power in Panama, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Reagan wrote, he threatened sanctions, then actually imposed sanctions, then established a Panamanian government-in-exile on a US military base. Abrams finally called outright for the US military to topple Noriega, in an op-ed titled “Noriega Respects Power. Use It,” which is what George H. W. Bush ultimately did. It was a chilling preview of where US policy on Venezuela may now be heading if Maduro stays in power.

Reflecting on the mistakes of Reagan’s Latin American policy in 1989, Abrams’ regret was that it hadn’t been more forceful. “You can make a very good argument that after the successful rescue mission in Grenada the president should simply have said, ‘Look, we have to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, we cannot have a Communist government in Nicaragua,’ and done whatever we needed to do to get rid of it, including a naval blockade or possibly even an invasion,” he said.

In 2007, Abrams blessed Bush’s plan to launch a covert operation to destabilize Iran’s government. Two years later, he mused about what should happen if Iran develops a nuclear weapon. “Responsible leadership cannot allow this to happen,” he said. “Preventing it through military action perhaps is the second worst decision we could make. The only worse one being to say it’s all right now, it’s acceptable, we will not act.” But this wouldn’t involve regime change or the killing of civilians, he stressed; just a strike on nuclear facilities. Iran, Abrams warned, was one to three years away from developing a nuclear weapon.

In 2013, Abrams told a House Armed Services Committee hearing that the US had to get militarily involved in Syria. Why? Because “a display of American lack of will power in Syria will persuade many Iranian officials that while we may say ‘all options are on the table,’ in reality they are not — so Iran can proceed happily and safely toward a nuclear weapon.” Two years later, he said at a Council of Foreign Relations event that Netanyahu had two options: either strike Iran right then, or wait two years and see if an administration willing to take a tougher line, or sanction an Israeli strike, would be elected. Abrams, it seems, got his wish.

8. He’s beloved by the Right

In case anyone still believes the fiction that “anti-Trump” conservatives actually oppose Trump, Abrams is a living reminder that there’s no daylight between Trump and the establishment Right that pretends to dislike him.

Abrams was once an “anti-Trump” Republican who signed a letter opposing his candidacy in 2016. He tutored Paul Ryan in foreign policy when he was Mitt Romney’s 2012 running mate, and served on Marco Rubio’s so-called National Security Advisory Council in 2016. It’s no surprise the Florida senator, long viewed as an establishment-friendly, “sensible” conservative alternative to Trump, is now all but directing Trump’s Latin American policy, sounding virtually indistinguishable from Abrams.

Abrams has now served in every Republican administration since he first entered government bar one. In between, he’s worked at the Heritage Foundation (whose head of Latin American policy just called him “a patriot and dedicated voice for repressed communities”), helped found “anti-Trump” Bill Kristol’s Project for the New American Century, was a fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations, and was a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the US government’s arm for foreign political meddling.

Meanwhile, just look at who came to Abrams’ defense after his grilling by Rep. Omar. The National Review — which not long ago put out a much-celebrated “Against Trump” issue whose purpose, according to its editor, was to say, “He’s not one of us. He’s not a conservative, and he’s not what conservatism is” — just published an editorial calling Abrams “one of the wisest, most experienced foreign-policy heads in this country,” and “a steadfast advocate of freedom, democracy, and human rights.”

A former Bush administration official and current Harvard professor defended Abrams as “a devoted public servant who has contributed much of his professional life to our country.” The newly rebranded neocon Max Boot, who very publicly proclaims he’s seen the error of his ways and broken with the ugliness he now sees in the GOP, deemed him “a leading advocate of human rights and democracy.” Unfortunately, it’s not just the Right; the Center for American Progress’ vice president of National Security and International Policy called him “a fierce advocate for human rights and democracy” who simply “made serious professional mistakes.”

That someone like Abrams, who’s now leading Trump’s regime change efforts in Venezuela, is warmly embraced by the coterie of establishment and “never-Trump” conservatives should tell you everything you need to know about these groups.