With Passing of Joe Wilson, Let’s Pause to Celebrate Whistleblowers

No one should be shocked that a person who evidently believed Barack Obama was not born in Honolulu and was somehow, therefore, ineligible to be president, would also believe other idiotic conspiracy theories that don’t hold up to the barest scrutiny.

President Trump was repeatedly warned by his own staff that the Ukraine conspiracy theory that he and his lawyer were pursuing was “completely debunked” long before the president pressed Ukraine this summer to investigate his Democratic rivals, a former top adviser said on Sunday.

Thomas P. Bossert, who served as Mr. Trump’s first homeland security adviser, said he told the president there was no basis to the theory that Ukraine, not Russia, intervened in the 2016 election and did so on behalf of the Democrats.

I thought about this over the weekend when I saw that Ambassador Joseph Wilson had died of organ failure. The loss felt a little personal to me because Wilson was perhaps my most famous fan. He reached out personally in 2006 to thank me for my dogged coverage of the Bush administration’s destruction of his wife Valerie Plame’s career as an undercover CIA operative.

He had been sent to Niger in 2002 by the CIA to check out a conspiracy theory that was being promulgated by warmongers who wanted a pretext to invade Iraq. Supposedly, Saddam Hussein had been surreptitiously purchasing yellowcake uranium for a secret nuclear weapons program despite being under international sanctions and suffering a permanent no-fly zone over half his country. Wilson quickly discovered that this story was highly implausible and he reported back his findings to Langley. Nonetheless, President Bush repeated the claim in his 2003 State of the Union address in came to be known as the infamous “16 words.”  That prompted Wilson to go public, as he knew very well that the public was being deceived. The Bush administration responded by revealing that his wife worked at the CIA and sought to discredit him by suggesting his trip to impoverished Niger had been little more than a taxpayer-funded luxury vacation.

Rudy Giuliani’s trips to Ukraine (and Paris and Madrid) were both similar and different. Like Wilson, he was working on a conspiracy theory. Unlike Wilson, he wasn’t sent to investigate the theory but to enlist people in promulgating it. Wilson was supposed to figure out if there was a real national security threat for our nation. Giuliani was supposed to bolster a bunch of fabricated claims to help the president damage a political opponent and rehabilitate Russia’s international image.

This would be cynical and unpatriotic in the best of scenarios, but it’s probably worse than that. Trump seems to believe these conspiracy theories. As Jackson Diehl reports in the Washington Post, Giuliani has been selling the president on them for months and months.

Though Trump never had a positive view of Ukraine, the trouble really started with Giuliani, who has a record of working for and with the very Ukrainian actors that U.S. policy has aimed to marginalize: shady business executives and corrupt politicians with ties to Russia, organized crime or both.

Beginning early this year Giuliani began gathering what the Russians call kompromat — dirt — on Trump’s present and potentially future political opponents. His prime sources were a pair of state prosecutors who were universally regarded by reform advocates in and outside Ukraine as corrupt.

This is what led Trump to unilaterally suspend military aid to Ukraine and to make its resumption contingent on getting confirmation of Giuliani’s ridiculous theories.

When Giuliani began spreading his poison to Trump and conservative media, U.S. officials were, as the whistleblower put it “deeply concerned.” At first, some were inclined to dismiss the former New York mayor as a sideshow. But by late May, they realized he had done real damage. When members of the U.S. delegation to Zelensky’s May 20 inauguration reported back to Trump at the White House and expressed enthusiasm about the new president, Trump launched into a tirade about Ukrainian corruption and a supposed Ukraine-based conspiracy to prevent his election. He then refused to schedule a meeting with Zelensky.

Again, this is criminal and impeachable behavior, but it’s probably most disconcerting that the president doesn’t seem to be doing this as some Machiavellian plot, but rather appears to buy into it as reality. Of all the myriad reasons that he should be removed from office, the most convincing is that he’s insane. This was on full display on Sunday as he took to the Twitter machine to unveil his innermost pathologies and insecurities.

There will probably always be people like Rudy Giuliani who are willing to bend every rule and promote every kind of misinformation in the pursuit of ideological ends and raw power. It’s not as certain that there will always be whistleblowers like Joe Wilson to combat them.

We may not know the identity of the person who came forward to blow the whistle on Trump and Giuliani, but we should celebrate them. And we should take a moment to celebrate Joe Wilson, too, on the occasion of his passing.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com