It’s always good to try new things. My new experience this week was to debate an actual Trumper on live television. When I was asked on Wednesday afternoon—a mere 40 minutes before it was going to start—to join a panel debate on France24 News, I didn’t know that one of the participants would be Marc Porter, the president of Republicans Overseas France and a member of the Trump 2020 campaign advisory board.
I suspect many of us have screamed at the television while The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote or one of his stooges has, with a straight face, lied to the American people while a host or fellow participant in a discussion failed to correct that lie. I found out first-hand what it’s like to have the opportunity to respond. I’d like to relate my experience here, as well as provide further evidence debunking the lies my Trumper told, in case such facts might come in handy for any of you.
Porter began lying in response to the very first question we discussed, namely whether acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor’s testimony on Wednesday would “have a major impact”? Porter opined: “I doubt it,” and then moved straight to gaslighting:
We first of all know that there’s a treaty that allows the President to speak about these things. It’s the treaty with Ukraine on mutual legal assistance and criminal matters.
It’s important to recognize that this is a talking point other Trumpers are pushing as well. He is referring to a real treaty—although if we’re giving him credit for not flat-out making up a treaty that doesn’t exist, we aren’t really setting a very high bar, are we? On the other hand, with a president who does things like make up out of whole cloth an entire phone call with the leader of the Boy Scouts, I guess that makes Porter better than the guy he works for.
But let’s get back to the substance. What Trump did in the July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in no way comports with what the treaty Porter mentioned actually deals with, as Samantha Vinograd, who worked under both Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, explained last month in an aptly titled piece called “This Is What a Legitimate Anti-Corruption Effort in Ukraine Would Look Like”:
Trump and his team have another tool at their disposal to investigate corruption in Ukraine related to an ongoing criminal case: the United States’ Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with the country. MLATs are international agreements that establish a formal process for one country to gather evidence in another country for a criminal investigation.
If there were an actual U.S. government investigation into alleged criminal activity by Americans in Ukraine, or foreigners suspected of violating U.S. laws, a request for cooperation could have been made through a formal process that’s run by DOJ’s Office of International Affairs. Once MLAT requests are vetted by the DOJ, they are transmitted to a foreign country’s “central authority”—in this case, Ukraine's Ministry of Justice. If granted in the foreign country, this arrangement could allow the DOJ to obtain documents, locate people, take testimony, request searches and seizures, freeze assets and more. If the United States were actually pursuing criminal investigations into corruption in Ukraine, U.S. officials would have made a request under our MLAT for cooperation.
Trump asking Zelensky for “a favor, though”—as he did on July 25—is clearly not that. Porter just threw that gobbledegook about the treaty into the mix, figuring no one on the panel would challenge him on it unless they had known he was going to bring it up—and he was right, it turned out. I’m sure it sounded good to most viewers. It was clearly something he had in his pocket—you can see in the video that he looked down to make sure he got the name right.
Then, speaking of muddying the waters, Porter went right to claiming that “Ukraine meddled in the elections as much as anybody else,” and stated that that’s what the Senate “plans to take up”—a reference to U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s bogus goose chase, which some Republican senators are also apparently going to be promoting soon enough as another attempt to distract from what Trump actually did.
When the host, incredulous, asked if Porter was serious in claiming that Ukraine had meddled in U.S. elections, Porter replied: “Absolutely. Have you not done your homework here?” He brought up Biden supposedly having bragged that “the Ukrainians were for Hillary Clinton” in 2016. Right. Because that’s election meddling. The host noted that this wasn’t proof of anything, and Porter said “I didn’t say ‘proof,’” and added he was just pointing out that Trump has the “right” to ask about these matters in order to “get to the bottom” of things.
Time for a fact-check: Ukraine did not interfere with the 2016 election. That is a conspiracy theory pushed by the Trump White House, in particular Rudy Giuliani. It has been completely debunked. Tom Bossert, who worked for Trump as Homeland Security adviser, called it “completely false,” and added: “At this point I am deeply frustrated with what [Giuliani] and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president.”
So, Trumper Marc Porter lied about Ukraine and 2016, and then lied about the fact that a treaty gives Trump the right to extort Ukraine’s president in order to get him to investigate that lie. And this is all without even bringing up the matter of extorting Zelensky to get him to investigate Joe Biden and his son. And, to recap, this is all in Porter’s first round of comments. A bit later, on a related note, Porter stated that his side will be looking into “how the Obama adminstration and Hillary Clinton were using foreign powers in order to meddle in the American elections.” I can’t wait to see what they come up with on that lie.
Porter later moved to undermine the testimony offered Wednesday by Ambassador Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent, arguing that they didn’t provide first-hand accounts, so they don’t matter. That’s a matter of opinion, of course, but then Porter shifted to attacking the whistleblower who, he claimed, “probably colluded with Schiff before they actually stated their statements.” There’s no evidence of any such “collusion” or that Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, in any way influenced what the whistleblower reported—although of course Porter covered himself by saying “probably.” Nevertheless, the interactions between the whistleblower and Schiff’s committee followed the law to the letter.
“Like other whistle-blowers have done before and since under Republican and Democratic-controlled committees, the whistle-blower contacted the committee for guidance on how to report possible wrongdoing within the jurisdiction of the intelligence community,” said Patrick Boland, a spokesman for Mr. Schiff.
The host asked whether the whistleblower even matters anymore, given that what he or she reported has been confirmed by multiple other sources who had first-hand knowledge. Despite the fact that the host was absolutely correct, Porter lied: “They haven’t confirmed anything.” Then he went on about how the FBI supposedly changed the rules on how whistleblowers operate just before the whistleblower came forward—another attempt to cast doubt on what he or she reported. That’s another lie that has been debunked. Then he started going on about how Trump’s fundraising has been “exploding” since the inquiry began. Happy times.
Later on, we got to Porter lying about Vice President Biden. Porter lied by claiming that Biden said he was withdrawing aid to Ukraine until the prosecutor who was investigating his son and the company on whose board he served, Burisma, was fired. The prosecutor in question was Viktor Shokin. Presumably, Porter is referencing comments Biden made about the matter in January 2018. This is a Trump talking point. It has also been thoroughly debunked, as USA Today explained:
Sources ranging from former Obama administration officials to an anti-corruption advocate in Ukraine say the official, Viktor Shokin, was ousted for the opposite reason Trump and his allies claim.
It wasn't because Shokin was investigating a natural gas company tied to Biden's son; it was because Shokin wasn't pursuing corruption among the country's politicians, according to a Ukrainian official and four former American officials who specialized in Ukraine and Europe.
[snip] Without pressure from Joe Biden, European diplomats, the International Monetary Fund and other international organizations, Shokin would not have been fired, said Daria Kaleniuk, co-founder and executive director of the Anti Corruption Action Centre in Kiev.
The reality is that Burisma was not even being investigated when, in late 2015 and early 2016, Biden—on behalf of his boss, President Obama—along with much of the international community was trying to get Shokin fired. The whole thing is a bunch of malarkey. After Porter told that lie about Biden and the Ukrainian prosecutor, I offered my response to it and to a broader comment about polarization in the U.S.:
We need to step back a second when we talk about both sides and polarization. It’s really not both sides and polarization. It’s one side that has made lying central to its messaging, and that is the Republican side … Vice President Biden did not say to Ukraine: If you don’t investigate my party’s opponent in the next election, I will take away aid that Congress has already authorized. That’s what President Trump did. Vice President Biden was carrying out a policy that was the policy of the United States, that was in the United States’ interest … It was also the policy of the European Union, and a policy of the International Monetary Fund. This was not for Joe Biden’s personal gain. So to suggest otherwise is flat-out a lie. That’s what you are doing here. Ukraine did not interfere in 2016 elections. The U.S. intelligence agencies have completely debunked that theory. There is no server … It was Russia, not Ukraine. It can’t be, ‘oh, it was Ukraine, oh there are rumors’ … The U.S. intelligence agencies have completely debunked that and you need to tell the truth.
Porter then pivoted to another false claim, namely that Trump and his people did not expect to be “sabotaged by people under them.” When the host pressed him about who was doing the sabotaging, Porter responded “the Deep State … Are you familiar with the Deep State?” He added: “They think they can create policy” and “go against Trump’s policies.” He went on about this for a while and then I responded.
I pointed out that witnesses such as Bill Taylor and George Kent didn’t stop Donald Trump from carrying out his policy. If Porter wants to say that the whistleblower was insubordinate, well, that’s what wrongdoers and their sycophants always call whistleblowers. The whistleblower didn’t refuse to carry out an order issued from above him or her in the chain of command. The whistleblower didn’t break the law, or operate outside proper channels—even though Porter accused him or her of doing that, particularly as it relates to contacts with the office of Rep. Schiff, a lie debunked above.
The debate then turned to a discussion of Trump’s foreign policy as it relates to Turkey and the Syrian Kurds. I pointed out the sheer wrongness of denying President Zelensky a White House visit to punish him for not investigating Joe Biden while rewarding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, given what he has done in recent weeks. I referred to “the malpractice of American foreign policy being carried out by this administration.” Porter responded: “Trump has his own particular way of negotiating. And many of you have been confused many times before and it works out. Trump has his own way of negotiating and so far everything’s worked out just fine.” That’s not the same kind of lie, of course, as the ones mentioned above. It’s simply Mr. Porter relating a fantasy. Repeating it twice only made him sound more delusional.
Then, I summed up the guts of why Trump should be impeached and removed: “You can’t as president of the United States use the power of your office to help you win the next election and stay in office. That’s a bright, clear line when we’re talking about high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Porter responded with a whopper of a lie: “This has happened before. Hillary Clinton and the DNC hired Christopher Steele, a British citizen, to dig up dirt on Trump … opposition research is digging up dirt.” When the host pointed out that Hillary Clinton wasn’t holding up aid to Ukraine in exchange for help digging up dirt, Porter answered: “The House is holding up aid right now by not passing the appropriations bill. There are all sorts of ways that you can hold up aid.”
This is classic gaslighting: You aren’t seeing what you think you’re seeing. One of the other panelists and I both emphasized that a candidate hiring a foreigner to help with opposition research bears no resemblance to a sitting president withholding duly authorized military aid from another government unless that government announces it has begun an official, state investigation into his political opponents. The former is normal politics. The latter, as Ambassador Taylor made clear in his testimony, is not only “crazy”—as he wrote in text messages to Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker, other key witnesses to Trump’s extortion scheme—but also unprecedented.
In Taylor’s testimony on Wednesday, he was asked: “in your decades of military service and diplomatic service representing the United States around the world, have you ever seen another example of foreign aid conditioned on the personal or political interests of the President of the United States?” His answer: “No. I have not.”
While making a larger point, Porter tried to slip in a final lie, namely that the Trump administration had been completely “transparent.” On this he is echoing the Orange Julius Caesar himself:
I couldn’t let that one go. I asked, if they were so transparent, why did the White House put the Zelensky call transcript and other calls that were deemed politically problematic on a secret, far more secure computer system? Porter said: “Everyone does this.” However, it is in fact highly problematic—and the opposite of transparent—to take the recordings of calls that did not contain information that is sensitive to national security and put them on a special system that is supposed to be reserved for those that did contain sensitive information.
Porter then claimed this practice was started by Susan Rice. This is another Team Trump lie, one that has been debunked. As Rice explained in an interview, the Obama administration only used that system for calls that contained information that was classified at the “highest level”—a very rare thing for a call between a president and foreign leader, and something that certainly did not apply to the Trump-Zelensky call from July 25.
Furthermore, I pointed out that the July 25 call readout didn’t include the name Burisma, and also did not include Trump’s naming Joe Biden specifically in relation to supposed corruption, even though Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, who had been on the call, testified that those words were spoken and should have appeared in the readout. Why were those key words replaced by ellipses? That’s certainly not a very “Transparent” way to operate (nor was it “Transparent” when the White House released a contemporaneous readout of the aforementioned first Trump-Zelensky call, from April 21, that was completely contradicted by the actual transcript that was finally released on Friday. The initial readout, which stated that Trump had committed to cooperate with Zelensky to “implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption” has turned out to be, in Kerry Eleveld’s words, “pure diplomatic fantasy.” Trump said no such thing or anything approaching it.)
Porter’s reply, his final substantive comment of the discussion, was that it’s just “the Mueller report all over again. Fundraising is booming. We’re very happy.” It’s worth noting that in April, Mehdi Hasan of Al Jazeera had Porter on his show and “wipe[d] the floor” with him, according to an account at Raw Story, when Porter attempted to gaslight the audience about the Mueller report.
Life is all about learning. One thing that people who participate in public discussions with Trumpers need to learn is that they are always on message. They are highly disciplined, they follow the talking points put forward by the man they serve, and they have absolutely no compunction about telling lies and gaslighting the American people. Not that I had any doubts beforehand, but debating one of them this week gave me a real-time taste of just what they are capable of.
Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)