As regular readers of this Web log are aware, my appointments sometimes come so thick and fast there simply aren’t enough workday hours between Monday and Friday to hold them. So it was Saturday, when, after five solid ten-hour days, Gretchen booked another eight, despite the fact that it was Memorial Day weekend. Here in Washington, among the movers and shakers, when things heat up, the demand for advice goes through the ceiling, holiday or no holiday. And things have definitely been heating up lately, no doubt about that. And so it was, at three o’clock in the afternoon, Gretchen told me that certain Professor Stefan A. Halper PhD was requesting an unscheduled telephone consultation, which, due to the circumstances, had to wait until a quarter past five.
Tom: Good afternoon, Dr. Halper. This is Tom Collins.
Halper: Oh, good. All your assistant said was “hold, please,” so I wasn’t sure.
Tom: It’s a very small office, sir. Just me and my private secretary. She probably just assumed…
Halper: I hate it when people “just assume,” Mr. Collins. Seems to me you should have a word with her about that. After all, I’m sure you know what happens when something is assumed!
Tom: It makes an “ASS”… of “U”…. and “ME?”
Tom: Spoken like a true academic. My apologies. May I ask how you obtained my number?
Halper: I got it from George F. Will.
Tom: I must remember to thank him. How can I help you today, professor?
Halper: Well, first of all, I heard that that you offer free initial consultations, and I want to confirm, right up front, that you still do.
Tom: Yes, definitely. It’s been part of my marketing strategy for years.
Halper: That’s good, because when I heard about your rates, well, frankly, I was astounded.
Tom: You mean, my hourly rates are higher than yours?
Halper: Yes, as a matter of fact, they are – significantly so, and I attended Stanford, received a doctorate from Oxford, as well as another doctorate from Cambridge, where I am currently the Director of American Studies.
Tom: To say nothing of your illustrious accomplishments in public service, at the White House, as a legal counsel in Congress and at the State Department, not to mention your career as chairman of the Palmer National Bank of Washington DC…
Halper: Please! Not to mention.
Tom: Ah, yes. Um, but, anyway, it’s not as if you, yourself, haven’t make some serious bucks in the consulting business is it? I mean, everybody knows you pulled down over a million dollars in fees working for DoD between 2012 and 2017, right? It’s just that nobody without a Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance has any idea what you got that money for.
Halper: Yes, and that’s how it should be, and furthermore, I can assure you that the taxpayers got excellent value for every cent of that one million, fifty-eight thousand one hundred and sixty-one dollars I billed to the Department of Defense.
Tom: I’m certain they did. And by the way, do you recall how much money you received from the FBI for informing on Carter Page, Sam Clovis and George Papadopoulos?
Halper: Interesting you would bring that up, because the work I did for the FBI is the reason I called you.
Tom: Oh, really? How so?
Halper: Well, I’m sure you’ve been avidly following the Mueller investigation, just like everybody else inside the Beltway, haven’t you?
Tom: Certainly. The Mueller investigation been the central topic of conversation here since it started in early 2017. We can’t get enough of it. Every dinner, every cocktail party, every social occasion, there is bound to be at least one conversation and two arguments about it.
Halper: And have you been following President Trump’s various campaigns to discredit it, too?
Tom: Oh, yes, they’ve added a very entertaining counterpoint to the various developments of the investigation, starting in March, 2017 when Trump claimed that the Obama administration had the Trump Tower telephone wires tapped.
Halper: You found that… entertaining?
Tom: Absolutely. There’s never been a shred of evidence it was true, of course, which makes it even more amusing
Tom: Well, not as amusing as what he did in June, when he started tweeting about “unmasking” of U.S. citizens, who were incidentally picked up in surveillance of foreign targets, as being a big Obama administration scandal, but pretty amusing, nonetheless. It was definitely a hoot when Trump called it “truly one of the big stories of our time,” no doubt about that. And his ham-handed attempt to turn the tables in August, when he claimed that the Democrats are really the ones who were colluding with Russia got plenty of guffaws, especially in light of the fact it was the Russians who hacked the Democrat’s computers, then gave thousands of Democrat emails and other information to Wikileaks, which subsequently received loads of public praise and encouragement from Trump. Then there was this spring, when he started trying to convince the public that the Mueller team are hardened Democrats. And, well, what can you say about Trump hiring Rudolph Giuliani to explain his innocence to the world? Talk about shooting one’s self in the foot! It was classic auto-satirical buffoonery of the first water! I mean, you can’t make this stuff up, can you?
Halper: I have to tell you, Mr. Collins, that there are quite a few people outside the Beltway who find Trump’s behavior intensely disturbing.
Tom: With respect to that issue, I’d say we folks here in the Nation’s Capital are just laughing to keep from crying, you know? Don’t be irked at us for it.
Halper: Very well, then, point taken. I hope you understand, however, that my own capacity to be amused by Trump’s latest conspiratorial fantasy is severely constrained by my involvement in it.
Tom: You’re talking about Spygate, I take it.
Tom: I hope you will forgive me for observing that, as absurd, juvenile, fabulist nonsense goes, Trump has surpassed all his previous achievements with that one. Even the name he gave it sounds like something from a tacky Austin Powers sequel. But then, of course, you were the mastermind of Debategate, weren’t you?
Halper: Those were different times!
Tom: Different enough to justify having Republican insiders at the CIA steal Jimmy Carter’s debate notes and smuggle them to the Republican presidential campaign in order to give Ronald Reagan an advantage in the 1980 election?
Halper: Piffle! Reagan didn’t even need an edge in those debates! Carter defeated himself in 1980!
Tom: Just like Hillary Clinton did in 2016?
Halper: You said it, not me.
Tom: And Nixon certainly didn’t need to break into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate in order to win the 1972 election when he ran against George McGovern, did he? I mean, really – the Democrats were beating themselves so bad in 1972, McGovern actually stood at the podium during a campaign rally and invited a heckler to kiss his posterior fundament. Hey, why not? At that point, might as well have exposed himself in public to bring in the pervert vote. Trump crows about how he trounced Hillary, but Jesus Christ, talk about Electoral College debacles – my God, what was it? Nixon 520, McGovern 17, or something like that? But Nixon just couldn’t help himself – he went ahead and broke in anyway, right? Thus giving us the suffix “gate” to tack onto various ridiculous scandals since then. But speaking of different times, I guess you must figure these times are considerably different from those in which you served Tricky Dick, eh?
Halper: Very different.
Tom: Which is why even a staunch, dyed-in-the-wool Republican such as yourself; who dutifully toiled in the political vineyards of Nixon, Ford, Reagan and George H.W. Bush; who worked for Alexander Haig, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney; someone who arranged funds transfers through Swiss banks for Oliver North, no less; would now choose to inform for the FBI on a Republican president and his Republican campaign cronies. Because even someone such as yourself realizes that there are standards of conduct which are requisites of a free society and which must necessarily transcend political partisanship; that there are aspects of morality which distinguish democracy from dictatorship and must be observed no matter what one’s philosophical convictions may be; that there are sacred principles upon which our nation is founded that we cannot allow to be trod underfoot by despots, foreign or domestic; that there is such a thing as decency; that there is such a thing as truth; that reality is not defined at the whim of raving egomaniacs, paranoid lunatics and pathological liars; that…
Halper: Be that as it may, Mr. Collins, as James Clapper explained it, I was attempting to understand whether or not the Russians were infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage or trying exert influence on the processes of United States politics and / or government, period.
Tom: Correct – you were doing what any real, red-blooded, patriotic American would do, regardless of their opinions about globalization, taxation, immigration, abortion, affirmative action, equal pay for both genders, LGBTQ rights, gun control, legalized marijuana and whether or not NFL football players should be forced to either stand or stay in the locker room during the national anthem. And I applaud you for it, sir.
Halper: Thank you.
Tom: You’re not acting like Charles Grassley, Devin Nunes or Trey Gowdy, trying to use a congressional hearing to get Mueller to reveal his documentation so they can undermine the investigation.
Halper: That’s right.
Tom: And you’re not barging in where you shouldn’t be, like Trump’s attorney Emmet T. Flood, who, in a exhibition of extreme unprofessionalism, showed up at the briefings Grassley, Nunes and Gowdy demanded, with no clear purpose other than intimidation or an unauthorized attempt to obtain classified information.
Halper: I certainly did not; nor would I.
Tom: Although you did take $3,000 from the FBI and offered it to Papadopoulos, ostensibly in exchange for writing a paper on gas and oil distribution and delivering it to a symposium in London, when, in fact, your purpose was to meet with him to extract information about Russian involvement with the Trump campaign and / or interference with the 2016 election.
Halper: That has been reported, yes.
Tom: And you do, in fact, have ties not only to the CIA, but also to MI-6.
Halper: You know I can’t comment on that.
Tom: And the timing of some of your meetings is inconsistent with former FBI Director James Comey’s account of when the investigation began.
Halper: I’m not responsible for James Comey’s recollections.
Tom: On the whole, however, it’s obvious that your actions regarding Mueller’s investigations have been commendable, bi-partisan and clearly in the best interest of the United States.
Halper: One would think that would be obvious, however, there are those who see the situation otherwise, and that’s what concerns me.
Tom: Because being an FBI informant is not only a perfectly legal thing to do, but sometimes, such as in this instance, it can also be a noble course of action. While on the other hand, being a spy can be a serious crime, and you don’t like being called a spy.
Halper: I’m no spy, I can tell you that.
Tom: Dr. Halper, only an idiot ignoramus could possibly believe you were one. Your problem, of course, is that, at the moment, there are more than enough of them running around, nattering such ridiculous claims about you, to give any reasonable person considerable pause. And a falsehood, when repeated often enough, presents a distinct hazard of being mistaken for the truth.
Halper: As history has proven.
Tom: And actually, the word “informant,” while being completely acceptable to sophisticated minds, does, in fact, have distinctly sleazy connotations for the less erudite and intelligent members of our population.
Halper: I can’t argue with that.
Tom: So the solution to your problem is to define yourself as neither.
Halper: Neither? What, then?
Tom: You sir, were a whistleblower. That’s what you were. You saw impropriety and you acted to stop it.
Halper: But that’s not quite…
Tom: It’s close enough, and besides, it captures the true essence of your contribution to American democracy and freedom, don’t you think?
Halper: Well, it’s definitely better than being called a spy. But what if somebody points out that I received, um… remuneration for my efforts?
Tom: Then I say, so what? You were a rewarded whistleblower. In my humble opinion, more whistleblowers should be rewarded, and handsomely, at that. Don’t you agree?
Halper: You are expressing what may be an appropriate sentiment in many cases, I suppose.
Tom: Certainly in yours!
Halper: Hmmm… you know, now that you have suggested it, thinking of myself as a rewarded whistleblower instead of a paid informant or an avaricious spy is proving to be… somewhat salutary.
Tom: Enjoy it, then, gratis.
Halper: And worth the price, no doubt.
Tom: Free advice always is. Call back and schedule another consultation when you’re ready to pay for some.
Halper: Well, we’ll have to see about that. Have a nice day, Mr. Collins.
Tom: Goodbye, Doctor.