Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sunday Reading

The Integrity of the Trump Impeachment Inquiry — Steven Coll in The New Yorker.

Many features of Trumpism—the cynical populism, the brazen readiness to profit from high office, the racist and nativist taunts—have antecedents in American politics. But Donald Trump’s open willingness to ask foreign governments to dig up dirt on political opponents has been an idiosyncratic aspect of his rise to power. At a press conference in July, 2016, when he was the presumptive Republican nominee for President, he invited Russia to get hold of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and leak them to the press. This past June, George Stephanopoulos asked him what he thought his campaign should do now “if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else,” offered information on his political opponents—accept it or call the F.B.I.?

Trump allowed that he might do both, adding, “If somebody called from a country—Norway—‘We have information on your opponent.’ Oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” (When the interview was released, Ellen L. Weintraub, the chair of the Federal Election Commission, felt obliged to point out that “it is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.”) We now know that, as Trump spoke to Stephanopoulos, he and Rudolph Giuliani, his personal lawyer, were deep in a vigorous effort to persuade the government of Ukraine to conduct investigations that might rake up some muck about Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.

Two bombshell documents made public this week—a record of a telephone conversation between Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s President, and a whistle-blower’s complaint about that call—fully justify House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision, announced on Tuesday, to open an official impeachment inquiry. The documents describe a breach of Trump’s constitutional duties that is exceptional even in light of his record to date. During the telephone call, made on July 25th, he leveraged the vast disparity of wealth and power in the alliance between the United States and Ukraine to ask Zelensky to, in effect, aid his reëlection bid. The complaint, filed on August 12th, by a person whom the Times has described as an intelligence officer, further recounts how U.S. national-security and foreign-policy officials who worked on issues concerning Ukraine became entangled in Trump’s scheme, and how this distorted and undermined their work on behalf of American interests. According to the complaint, once it became clear how damaging the record of the call might be, Administration officials participated in a coverup, moving the memorandum of conversation—the contemporaneous documentation of the call—to a highly restricted computer system not intended for such materials.

The whistle-blower’s complaint is one of the great artifacts to enter Washington’s sizable archive of political malfeasance. In the second paragraph, its author distills Trump’s offense with bracing clarity: “I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” The author goes on to provide a revelatory narrative about the underlying facts of the case, one that complements investigative reporting previously published by the Washington Post, the Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and other outlets.

The complaint’s lucidity and detail may help House investigators defend the integrity of their inquiry against the torrent of spin and lies that will surely continue to issue from Trump and his allies. When Washington scandals involving foreign affairs become politically contested, a timeworn tactic by those accused of wrongdoing is to befuddle the public; the unfamiliar names, tangled chronologies, and ambiguous meetings offer a way to distract non-obsessives from the heart of the matter. Already, Trump and Giuliani, on Twitter and Fox News, have fogged the record by repeating falsehoods and conspiracy theories. The story we can discern so far, however, retains a certain straightforwardness, thanks to Trump’s lack of subtlety.

Ukraine is enmeshed in a low-grade but persistent war with Russia, which began in February, 2014, after a popular revolution in Kiev that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, a corrupt ally of Moscow. He fled to Russia, and Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces to invade Ukraine. They seized Crimea, which Russia then annexed. Putin’s motive was the reassertion of Russian power; the United States and Europe, stunned by his audacity, imposed sanctions and tried to shore up the post-revolutionary government in Kiev. In search of accountability, the new Ukrainian regime opened corruption investigations into the previous political order.

That April, Joe Biden’s son Hunter, a lawyer, accepted a lucrative seat on the board of one of Ukraine’s largest private gas companies, Burisma Holdings, which is controlled by a Ukrainian oligarch, Mykola Zlochevsky. Burisma became a subject of Kiev’s investigations, although the extent, seriousness, and focus of the inquiry are unclear. Hunter Biden’s decision to accept the board seat when his father was the Vice-President and Ukraine’s crises were of international importance showed questionable judgment. Since 2014, the Kiev government has been a ward of America and Europe; the potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest should have been apparent to both Bidens. Still, according to Ukrainian officials, no evidence of wrongdoing by either Hunter Biden or Zlochevsky has been found.

In 2015, the United States and some of its European allies sought to oust Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, because they believed that he had gone soft on corruption. That September, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, denounced Shokin’s failure “to successfully fight internal corruption.” In December, Joe Biden went to Kiev and told Ukraine’s leaders that the U.S. would withhold loan guarantees if they didn’t get rid of Shokin; he was ousted the following March. One of Giuliani’s aims has been to encourage Ukraine to examine whether Shokin was pushed out to protect Burisma—and, by extension, Hunter Biden—from a corruption probe. But the record indicates that Shokin was removed because he wasn’t doing enough about Ukrainian corruption. Vitaliy Kasko, a Ukrainian former prosecutor, recently told Bloomberg, “There was no pressure from anyone from the U.S. to close cases against Zlochevsky.” He added that the Burisma case “was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.”

As it turned out, the American politician first affected by Ukraine’s emboldened investigators was Donald Trump. Yanukovych had been a client of Paul Manafort, who became Trump’s campaign chairman in May, 2016. That August, a Ukrainian law-enforcement unit released records showing that Manafort had received $12.7 million in payments from the Yanukovych regime, and he resigned from the campaign. Trump apparently concluded that Ukraine was conspiring with Hillary Clinton and the Democrats to try to defeat him. For reasons that are not easy to fathom, he also came to endorse a conspiracy theory holding that Ukraine harbors a computer server used by the Democratic National Committee in 2016. “They’re terrible people,” Trump said privately of the Ukrainians as recently as May, according to the Times. “They’re all corrupt and they tried to take me down.”

This did not stop Trump and Giuliani from attempting to use the Ukrainians against Joe Biden. At the start of this year, they got wind of provocative allegations made by Ukraine’s then prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko. Ukraine was in the midst of its own raucous Presidential election, and Lutsenko, in the course of attacking his opponents in Ukrainian politics, alleged that Shokin had, indeed, been fired in order to protect Burisma. (Later, Lutsenko told Bloomberg that he had no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.)

In April, Trump told Fox News that Lutsenko’s allegations were “big” and “incredible,” and that he thought Attorney General William Barr would find them interesting. That same month, Zelensky, a former television comic, won Ukraine’s election in a landslide. In May, Giuliani announced that he would go to Kiev to urge the new government to investigate, among other subjects, the Bidens and alleged links between Ukraine and the Democrats. He would do so, he told the Times, “because that information will be very, very helpful to my client.” Soon after the story was published, Giuliani cancelled his trip.

It was a few days later that the whistle-blower, according to the complaint, “heard from multiple U.S. officials that they were deeply concerned” that Giuliani was doing an end run around proper national-security decision-making, and opening a back channel between Kiev and Trump. Ukraine’s leaders were also apparently worried that Trump’s willingness to meet or talk with Zelensky, whose government cannot afford to lose American backing, “would depend on whether Zelensky showed willingness to ‘play ball.’ ”

Around mid-July, according to the Washington Post, Trump ordered his chief of staff to hold back four hundred million dollars in military aid for Ukraine that had been approved by Congress. Then, on July 25th, Trump had the phone call with Zelensky that all the world can now review. According to the memorandum of conversation released by the White House (it is a cross between a transcript and a summary, and its completeness is uncertain), Trump began by mentioning how generous the U.S. is to Ukraine. “We do a lot,” he said, and then noted, twice, that “the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine.” Finally, he got to the point. “I would like you to do us a favor though,” he said, and went on to ask Zelensky to speak with Giuliani and Barr about conducting investigations. “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that,” Trump said. After the call, Giuliani flew to Madrid and met an aide to Zelensky. As Giuliani later told the Post, he said to the aide, “Your country owes it to us and to your country to find out what really happened.”

This week, the President and his allies made much of the fact that, during the call, Trump did not mention the suspended military aid or link its resumption to Zelensky’s participation in the President’s incipient dirty-tricks operation. (The aid was released this month, after bipartisan pressure from Congress.) Yet, according to the record of the call, Trump immediately followed a fulsome account of America’s support for Ukraine with a request for investigations of Democrats. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called Trump’s technique “a classic Mafia-like shakedown.”

Historically, impeachment processes have been treacherous, tumultuous, and unpredictable; with Trump involved, this one can hardly be otherwise. Opinion polls suggest that, currently, Americans are about evenly divided on the question of impeachment, a complication for Democrats. Even if the House does eventually impeach Trump, it will require a two-thirds vote by the Republican-controlled Senate to remove him from office, and the Grand Old Party continues to lash itself to the President. The unlikelihood of Trump’s removal means that the impeachment inquiry may become a part of the political arguments during the primary and general-election campaigns of 2020. The President may not welcome the prospect of being impeached, but he is already using the battle to defame Joe Biden, and to reprise his “witch hunt” mantra in rage-inflected ad-libs, while his reëlection campaign is citing the inquiry in fund-raising solicitations. He and his allies are also testing their defenses and counterattacks, among them the contention that, if Trump is to be investigated over his conduct involving Ukraine, Joe Biden should be, too.

The Democrats swept the House in 2018 in large part by running a disciplined campaign emphasizing health care and the need to address economic insecurity among working and middle-class households—and by avoiding baiting the President. Pelosi’s launch of a formal inquiry followed a surge in support for impeachment among moderate Democrats, some of them military and intelligence veterans, who said that they were shocked by the Ukraine revelations. Their change of mind is notable for its lack of obvious political reward.

During the summer of 1787, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, delegates designed impeachment as a political process entrusted to Congress. The record of their debate shows they hoped that Presidents who were merely incompetent would be thrown out of office at election time, by the voters. Yet they also assumed that, occasionally, Presidents might be so corrupt and so ruthless that it would be damaging to the republic to wait for the next election. William Davie, a delegate from North Carolina, raised an alarming scenario: if a rogue with no conscience gained the Presidency, he might “spare no efforts or means whatever to get himself reëlected.” In 1972, Richard Nixon proved his point. So, now, has Donald Trump.

Here, Fishy Fishy — Maya Kosoff in the New York Times on the little fish that could.

Consider the anchovy. That’s what Nick Perkins, a chef and the owner of Hart’s in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, would like you to do should you visit his restaurant and desire a burger. The only item on the menu that does not change with the season or the day of the week, it is a lamb patty served on a bun with fennel, aioli and an unusual optional upgrade: a row of marinated anchovies.

“We get a lot of people who are like, ‘Really? Is it really good?’” Mr. Perkins said. “And we always say, ‘We’ll buy your burger if you don’t like it.’ But it just never happens. People really like it.”

Mr. Perkins is allergic to dairy and always looking for foods to fill the cheese-shaped void in his heart. He found that tinned fish could act as a nondairy stand-in. “For me, learning about anchovies — my mom’s Italian, I spent a lot of time in Italy growing up — they do the exciting umami work that Parmesan does, for example,” he said.

The anchovy may have once been a punch-line and an item of derision, especially among the cartoon turtles of the late 1980s. And more recently, a 2016 Harris Poll surveying 2,193 American adults about their favorite pizza toppings found that anchovies were the least liked. But anchovies are slowly being adopted by an American public that is more open-minded to the small fish than they once were.

According to the most recent data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 3 percent of fish caught in the United States in 2017 was used as canned human food — including anchovies and other small fish, like herring or sardines (an increase from 2 percent the year before). But to understand why, one must understand where the anchovies we eat today come from, and what an anchovy is.

The anchovy is a small, 3-inch fish raised in seawater. There are about half a dozen species of the anchovy in the world, and each of them can be eaten. You can buy and eat fresh anchovies if you happen to be in the vicinity of where they’re caught, but most often anchovies are jarred and tinned, or pulverized to use as a paste in sauces or salad dressings. American chefs are foisting small fish on diners in an attempt to make the fish palatable to trusting audiences.

In her 2017 cookbook “Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes,” Alison Roman, a writer and columnist for The New York Times Food section, offers readers recipes for roasted tomato and anchovy bucatini and a whole chicken rubbed in anchovy butter and then roasted. She has been a tiny-fish evangelist for years; her readers have taken a while to come around.

“I’m not trying to use ingredients to be cool or contrarian or bold. I use them because I think they’re going to make you enjoy the food more and they’re going to make you a better cook,” she said. “I feel like I had to work for a really long time to get people to trust me in the anchovy spirit.”

Anna Harrington, a baker who runs a cookie-shipment service called the Rounds, includes one unorthodox flavor combination on her online menu: anchovy scallion.

“I really wanted to include anchovies because I feel like there aren’t a lot of crackers out there with fish in them,” she said. “Anchovies are really decadent and delicious and have an incredible richness and go really well with butter. My cookies have tons of butter. Really, they’re mostly butter. It felt like a natural pairing to me.”

Ms. Harrington acknowledges that the fish cookies don’t sell as well as her other flavors, but she has no plans to take them off the menu. “The people who like the anchovy cookies are obsessed with it,” she said. “It’s their favorite thing.”

Katie Parla, a food-and-beverage educator and culinary writer living in Rome, published a book this year about the land of the anchovy: the Italian South. Ms. Parla eats her fair share of tinned fish there and says that if you’re looking for the real deal, you should source your anchovies from the waters off the coast of Italy. “The cold waters of the Cantabrian Sea produce incredible, meaty anchovies, and even Italian connoisseurs place them above those of the west coast of Italy,” she said in an email.

Anchovies are caught in nets and are not typically farmed. In the U.S., they’re caught using a purse seine, a large wall of netting that captures many fish simultaneously. In one town on the Campanian coast, Pisciotta, fishers use something called a menaica net, which is said to date back to Ancient Greece, according to Ms. Parla. Menaica nets are more sustainable; the way the nets are designed guarantees that only anchovies past reproductive age are caught, which helps to ensure the survival of the species. When small Italian producers catch anchovies, the fish are quickly processed — their heads and guts are removed — then the fillets are layered with coarse sea salt and ultimately tinned, with or without olive oil.

Alberto Recca, of the popular Sicilian anchovy namesake brand, said that anchovies originally initially infiltrated the U.S. because they were popular among south Mediterranean immigrants living here. “The Italians, Portuguese, Spaniards, French and Greeks who enjoyed this delicacy in their home countries introduced it to their American neighbors,” he said in an email. “The present growing popularity of anchovies in the U.S. can be attributed to Americans who have tried them in trattorias and beachfront restaurants in their travel to the Mediterranean basin, especially Italy and Spain.”

“It’s not that anchovies are more or less sustainable than other fish species — it’s that they’re really deeply connected to the rest of the food web,” said Phil Levin, a professor of practice at the University of Washington and the lead scientist for the Nature Conservancy in Washington. “So fishing them has consequences that propagate.”

Overfishing anchovies, a crucial part of ocean food webs, could have consequences down the line, in terms of the food resources available to birds, mammals and big fish. But in terms of how fishers catch anchovies, Mr. Levin said their methods make them a sustainable food choice.

From a carbon footprint point of view, he said, purse seine, the method used to fish anchovies, “is pretty good,” Mr. Levin said. “If you think about the total environmental impact of these small fisheries, they’re really quite a good fishery.” And, he added, the nutrient density in anchovies is high because they contain good oils and micronutrients. Other fish scientists say that consuming fewer of the bigger fish at the top of the food chain and more of their prey is a good way to rebalance the marine ecosystem.

In a 2011 study, Villy Christensen, a professor at the University of British Columbia specializing in ecosystem modeling, found that fish at the top of the food chain had been wiped out; over the past century, populations of these fish have shrunk by about two-thirds.

Dr. Christensen urged diners to consume more forage fish, including anchovies and sardines, and reduce their intake of bigger fish to help rebalance the fish species in the ocean. Plus, he said in a phone call, “small fish like anchovies are nutritious, affordable and have lots of nutrients and healthy fats and protein. It’s much more healthy to eat that than things like whitefish or tilapia. They don’t compare at all to the nutritious value of anchovies.”

Mr. Perkins said that Hart’s is still working to win over the hearts, minds and stomachs of some skeptical diners. “I think people are less scared of little fish,” he said.

Doonesbury — Base hit.