Editor’s Note: CNN political commentator Van Jones is president of Dream Corps and Rebuild the Dream, which promote innovative solutions for America’s economy. He was President Barack Obama’s green jobs adviser in 2009. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Van Jones says the ambush video of him done by notorious provocateur James O'Keefe is a hoax
Jones says he thinks it's unlikely Trump will be forced from office over the Russia investigation but that doesn't mean he thinks there's nothing there
Serious question: Is anyone out there still gullible enough to fall for an edited, right-wing propaganda video – in 2017?
Apparently, the Trump White House is. (SAD)
James O’Keefe and his band of crazies are at it again. This time I am one of the targets. Yesterday, O’Keefe released a so-called “bombshell” video of me, standing outside CNN’s Los Angeles bureau. I was answering a passerby’s question by saying: “The whole Russia thing is a big nothing-burger. There is nothing you can do –” before I was cut off by the arrival of my CNN coworkers. More on what I actually meant in a moment.
James O’Keefe: Notorious con artist
But first, for those of you unfamiliar with James O’Keefe and his misnamed “Project Veritas,” here’s a helpful recap: James O’Keefe is a notorious con man whose infamy arises from his addiction to pulling the same media stunts, over and over again. He has gotten busted so many times posting fake, doctored videos that his name alone produces eye rolls among well-informed liberals and conservatives alike.
His favorite shtick is secretly taping employees of institutions like NPR, Planned Parenthood and now CNN. Next, he deceptively edits the videos. Then he tricks the right-wing media into spreading his lies.
His hoaxes are notoriously pathetic and embarrassing. In a 2009 stunt, he secretly filmed employees of ACORN to try to discredit the organization and spliced in video of himself dressed as a pimp. He paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit by a former ACORN employee who was on his discredited video. Then there was the 2010 stunt, in which his associates pretended to be telephone repairmen to sneak into Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office. For that Senate office caper, he pleaded guilty to entering a federal property under false pretenses and was put on probation and fined.
In other words: O’Keefe is the kind of person from whom decent people run like the plague.
Trump’s war on truth
Now, let’s fast forward to this week. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary for the President of the United States, stood at the White House podium and told Americans to watch one of James O’Keefe’s new videos. She admitted she didn’t know if it was truthful, but she told everyone to watch anyway.
I guess she forgot that this is the same James O’Keefe who pleaded guilty to entering federal property under false pretenses. Or maybe she doesn’t care, because President Trump may be guilty of that, too? I honestly can’t figure out the thought process of people who work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue anymore. But the White House embracing a hoaxer like O’Keefe was a low moment for those of us who believe in the dignity of our nation’s highest office.
The scariest part of the Trump administration is not found in its heartless health care proposals. Nor is it found in its draconian and retrograde ideas about the criminal justice system. Trump’s misguided policy positions are just that – really bad ideas that can be resolved eventually through the normal course of elections and legislation in a democracy.
The truly terrifying thing about Trump is his complete disregard for the truth. He lies about everything from his inauguration crowd size to the citizenship of the first African-American president. Then he elevates proven liars like Alex Jones and James O’Keefe, to help them spread their conspiracy theories and disinformation stunts even farther.
James O’Keefe and his distorted videos are just another weapon in Trump’s war on the truth. I don’t know what the antidote is for this kind of civic poison. But Trump’s biggest supporters, who claim to love both God and country, should demand better.
Making something out of nothing (burger)
So let’s turn back to the latest video from James O’Keefe, where I was supposedly caught on camera shrugging off the Russia investigation.
Interviewer: “What do you think is going to happen this week with the whole Russian thing?
Van Jones: “The whole Russia thing is a big nothing-burger. There is nothing you can do –”
Did I mean that there is “nothing” to the allegations that members of team Trump colluded with the Russians and then tried to cover it up by firing FBI Director James Comey? No – and far from it.
But that’s not what I was talking about. I have been consistently pushing my fellow Democrats to deal with bread and butter issues – and not just hope and believe Trump will be impeached and gone tomorrow. I have been beating this drum for weeks now.
I said in a recent Twitter chat: “I am glad there is a Russia investigation, and I hope they get to the bottom of it. But I think Democrats are fooling ourselves if we think that something is going to come out of this investigation that is somehow going to end the Trump presidency and make everything better. Unless there is a real smoking gun, which there is probably not, it’s just going to be a big old mess. Meanwhile we are not talking about jobs, not talking about poverty, not talking about solutions, not talking about the addiction crisis. Let’s talk about our stuff.”
In other words, no evidence is going to emerge (“THIS WEEK,” soon, or maybe ever) that is powerful enough to force the craven GOP to oust Trump. Too many Democrats see the Russia controversy as some kind of magical “get out of jail free” card. They insist that we will be delivered from our misery – as soon as the next shoe drops and Trump is impeached.
I understand the appeal of this line of thinking. In fact, I agree with many of the basic points:
• I do think Putin must have something over Trump, because Putin is the only person (besides Ivanka) whom Trump never disses. Given how Trump lashes out at everyone else, that fact alone is fishy.
• I think there probably was collusion by some people in the Trump campaign with Russian operatives.
• I think Trump fired Comey to stop the Russia investigation (which Trump has all but admitted, himself). That’s obstruction of justice, in my book.
Trump could last until 2020
But the truth is this: Americans will probably have to wait until 2020 and then vote Trump out of office. The Senate has never voted to remove a sitting president. Never. Even though Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both impeached, they still served their terms. Therefore, an impeached Trump could still complete his first term. The bar for removal is very high. I doubt if the Republicans in the Senate would remove Trump, even if the House impeached him.
And let’s remember, Nixon quit before the Watergate issue could be resolved. I think Trump is far too egotistical to follow Nixon’s example and quit the biggest job in the world voluntarily, for the good of the country. Donald J. Trump is too much of a narcissist to ever resign.
Therefore, we are likely stuck with Trump until at least 2020. To be clear: I am not talking about the state of the evidence against Trump. I am talking about the state of today’s Republican Party, which lacks the courage and integrity to remove Trump in the absence of irrefutable audiotaped or videotaped evidence (such as the Nixon tapes in the Watergate crisis).
Thus, the Russian controversy is potentially a distraction from the hard work Democrats need to do to rebuild our party and win back the votes of some of Trump’s supporters.
If you take any one line of my argument out of context, you can use it to pull off a hoax. That’s what O’Keefe’s minions did. The notion that I think Trump is innocent of all wrongdoing in Russiagate is ludicrous. But perhaps the people on team Trump can afford to live in a fantasy world.
Those of us who oppose Trump do not have that luxury. So here’s my loud and clear message to anyone who will listen – the Russia investigation should be mainly left to the experts like Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The rest of us can best undercut Trump by focusing on real issues that will bring voters back to the Democratic Party – creating jobs, fighting poverty, battling addiction, defending democracy and human rights, winning health care for all.
It will take a long, difficult slog to get Trump out of that White House. I expect no short cuts. But one goal will make our efforts worth the pain and sacrifice – a new president who respects all people and honors the truth.