“When one vehicle implodes, they now look for a substitute,” Ruskin said, in an interview with The Epoch Times for the “American Thought Leaders” program.
Following an Aug. 12 anonymous whistleblower complaint, House Democrats have accused Trump of taking advantage of his position in a phone call with the Ukrainian president and withholding U.S. aid to Ukraine in order to acquire compromising information on Democratic candidate Joe Biden—ahead of the 2020 election.
“The acts that the president is accused of are not in any way articulable as criminal acts,” Ruskin said. A transcript of the call, released by the White House on Sept. 25, shows that Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the dealings of former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden. But Zelensky has said there was no pressure or quid pro quo on the call.
“He’s not asking that a case be invented against Biden’s son. He’s asking that the truth be uncovered,” Ruskin said.
In March 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden threatened to cut off $1 billion in guaranteed loans to Ukraine, unless then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko removed the prosecutor who was investigating Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company.
Hunter Biden sat on the board of the company, even though he had no background in energy nor the country. U.S. banking records cited by The Hill show that Hunter’s firm received regular transfers from Burisma in 2014 and 2015 that typically amounted to more than $166,000 a month.
The prosecutor in charge was fired in April 2016.
In Ruskin’s view, Trump’s phone call conversation with Zelensky was hardly unusual. “Countries exchange information regarding criminal investigations on a routine basis at every level,” Ruskin said.
“The reality is that most criminal law is statutory. So one has to be able to take a statute, identify the elements of a crime, and then articulate what the president did that constitutes the elements of the crime, which he’s being accused of.”
Ruskin formerly served as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, New York, and is currently an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
According to Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, the president can be removed from office upon conviction for treason, bribery, and “other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
“With all the certainty of Schiff and Pelosi, I have not heard one accuser articulate facts which constitute a crime,” Ruskin said.
“What the president did is innocent, essentially. It is a normal exchange of information between the heads of state.
“What’s irregular is the fact that Congress has seized upon this. And the media has seized upon this.”
And they are repeating the narrative over and over, “until people start to swallow it and accept it as true,” Ruskin said.
In Ruskin’s view, the so-called whistleblower isn’t a whistleblower at all, because the individual has no personal knowledge of the contents of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky.
“It’s thirdhand or secondhand. In legal terms, it’s hearsay,” Ruskin said. It has “no probative value in a court of law.”
Moreover, Ruskin believes the whistleblower complaint wasn’t written by the whistleblower alone. “I suspect it was written by a team of attorneys, probably prosecutors,” he said, pointing to the mentions of “multiple sources.”
“If you look at a criminal affidavit, it reads just like that,” Ruskin said. “The case agent or the prosecutor will write, based on multiple confidential sources, X, Y, and Z occurred. And it sounded so close to such an affidavit that it seems beyond credulity that it could have been written by an individual alone, a mid-level CIA operative acting on his or her own behalf.”
Besides peculiarities in the whistleblower complaint, Ruskin also highlighted how House Democrats haven’t followed the standard process for impeachment.
“The fact that there has not been a vote in the House on articles of impeachment or whether to proceed on articles of impeachment is highly irregular,” Ruskin said, citing past precedent, when impeachment inquiries were begun against former Presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.
“So when Jerrold Nadler, as head of the [House] Judiciary Committee, announces that he’s initiating an impeachment inquiry, he has no authority. He has no constitutional authority to initiate an investigation. When Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House, announces that the House will proceed with impeachment, she also has no authority to do so.”
Overall, the whistleblower complaint and the resulting impeachment inquiry seem to be “an attempt to divert attention,” in Ruskin’s view, from the investigation into what has become known as Spygate—in which Obama-era officials spied on the 2016 Trump campaign and sought to fabricate a narrative of Trump collusion with Russia.
In Ruskin’s view, Democrats have used a series of tactics to attempt to divert attention and to discredit Attorney General William Barr. He points to when Barr was subpoenaed to release the unredacted Mueller report and was held in criminal contempt by a 230–198 House vote when he failed to do so.
The House Judiciary Committee “knew full well,” Ruskin said, “that if he complies with the subpoena, he’s committing a crime.” Under law, grand jury material contained in the report cannot be publicly disclosed without a court order.
Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham met with senior intelligence officials in Italy in September, and they have also been communicating with officials from Australia, the UK, and other nations.
“The fact that they’re on course and staying the course is terrifying, I suggest, to people in Congress, to people in the media, to high-level officials in the Department of Justice, and in the FBI who were involved with this from the start,” Ruskin said.
In his view, the decision to launch a counterintelligence investigation against Trump was in and of itself questionable. “If criminal behavior were suspected, then a criminal investigation should have been initiated,” he said.
Instead, a counterintelligence investigation was opened, circumventing the high requirements to launch a criminal investigation, he said.
“This I speak of knowingly as a former FBI agent who worked both on criminal cases and on counterintelligence cases. It’s a much lower bar. You really need hardly anything all to start,” Ruskin said.
The hope was “that by doing a counterintelligence investigation, they would gather enough information to ultimately switch over to a criminal case. But that’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” he said.
“When Trump initially was making statements at the end of 2016 or 2017 that he was being spied upon, you know, I thought he was being paranoid. I didn’t believe it,” Ruskin said, adding that he was “flabbergasted” when he discovered Trump’s claims were true.
While Trump has been criticized for attacking the intelligence community, Ruskin has defended the president.
“It’s the ultimate sign of a police state when you’re not allowed to criticize the leadership of the police, national police, and the national intelligence services,” he said.
“FBI agents and CIA case officers understand full well that they’re not the ones who were being attacked.
“Both the leadership in the intelligence community and the leadership at the FBI have done much to hurt those agencies, which they led.
“I think it’s going to take a while to clean house, and for these agencies to earn back the respect that they’ve lost as a result of corrupt leadership.”
Former FBI Director James Comey was found to have violated FBI policies by sharing classified information on the Russia investigation with a friend, a Columbia University law professor. Comey told his friend to share the information with a reporter to create public pressure.
“For the director of the FBI to be divulging classified information to a non-FBI employee, person without authorization shocked me. And it shocked a lot of current and ex-FBI agents,” Ruskin said.
“That kind of behavior, had it been done by an ordinary FBI agent, would immediately have led to firing and maybe criminal prosecution.”
Ruskin also highlighted irregularities in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, exemplified in the FBI’s interview with Trump’s former national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Prior to the interview, then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe suggested to Flynn that he didn’t need to have a lawyer present, according to court documents.
In his notes, McCabe wrote: “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [Flynn] and the agents only. I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”
Ruskin said, “Telling someone that they wouldn’t need an attorney is the opposite of fair play.”
Furthermore, FBI officials and the two agents who interviewed Flynn chose not to warn him there would be penalties for making false statements, because they wanted to make sure he was “relaxed” during the interview.
“They were going to look for any little diversion from what they knew to be the correct answer, whether it’s I forgot or whatever and use that as the basis of a criminal case, which they would then use to leverage him to cooperate,” Ruskin said.
What was also bizarre, he said, was the way the interview was recorded.
“The FBI requires FBI agents to write an investigatory report, what’s called a 302 within the FBI, within five days of conducting the investigation. So five days after Flynn was interviewed, the agents who were conducting the interview would ordinarily have written a report.”
The 302 report for the Flynn interview was dated Aug. 22, 2017, nearly seven months after the Flynn interview, according to footnotes in the sentencing memo filed by Flynn’s defense team.
“And they were not drafted by the agents who interviewed Flynn,” Ruskin said. “Speaking as an FBI agent, in 27 years—and I worked a lot of investigations with a lot of agents—I never heard ever of a 302 being written six months after the fact, or two months after the fact, and certainly not being written by someone who was not present in the interview.
“I was shocked at such tactics, the failure to advise Flynn to have an attorney, the attempt to disarm him, combined with other tactics that we saw.”
Ruskin pointed to the “police state-type tactics” used in the arrests of former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as part of the Mueller investigation.
For white-collar criminals, Ruskin said, the assistant U.S. attorney typically makes a phone call to the individual’s lawyer notifying them that their client has been indicted and asking the individual to surrender to officials on a certain time and day.
“That’s the way it’s ordinarily conducted; not with a pre-dawn raid with SWAT teams,” Ruskin said. The point of such raids is to avoid endangering agents.
“In this case, it was obviously to send the message to everybody else, ‘Look, this is what happens if you don’t cooperate with us,’ which is not a good message that the FBI should be sending.”
Contempt for the Constitution
In Ruskin’s eyes, the recent whistleblower allegations against Trump and calls for impeachment are just the latest in a long string of attempts to undermine the president, with little concern for the supreme law of the land.
“The acts that we’ve witnessed from Congress, and from the media, and also from entrenched bureaucrats in Washington, elucidate a general decline in the respect for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that has been accelerating, I would suggest, over the past couple of decades,” Ruskin said.
“If they’re not prosecuted effectively, then I fear that the consequences will just be further erosion of the Bill of Rights and further politicization.”
Ruskin pointed to a recent comment made by Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who stated, “I’m concerned that if we don’t impeach the president, he will get reelected.”
“What contempt does that show for the democratic process,” Ruskin said, “that the reason that impeachment is necessary is that if the president is not impeached, the people of the United States may actually elect him democratically to be president again.
“My last message would be that let’s hope that the actions taken in the future by the attorney general and others help restore the rights to the place that they should have.”