Congressman Can't Answer Simple Question About His Own Bill, So Accuses Me of Working for the Russian Government
Here’s a good rule of thumb: however blinkered and debased you might find the current political climate to be around matters of foreign policy, always assume you’re underestimating the problem by several orders of magnitude.
Take, for instance, Congressman Tom Malinowski — the Democratic incumbent currently running for re-election in New Jersey’s seventh district. After an eminently distinguished, decades-long career deep inside the bowels of the foreign policy apparatus, permanent DC resident Malinowski “moved back” to New Jersey ahead of 2018 midterms to acquire a House seat in that Democrat-friendly election cycle. The plan worked, and for the past four years Malinowski has excelled at being the type of Congressman who loves to pontificate endlessly about things like “the centrality of a free and independent press to the health of democracy” — spending much of his time co-sponsoring legislation focused on just these sorts of platitude-heavy themes. This past May, for example, he got onboard with a resolution introduced by lip-quivering democracy warrior Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) that boldly sets out to “reaffirm freedom of the press as a priority of the United States.” It’s unclear what substantive advances are ever made by legislation of this nature, other than to advance the already-inflated egos of the sanctimonious sponsors.
Among the other ego-burnishing exercises cherished by Malinowski is waxing nostalgic about his supremely close friendship with the current Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. This includes sharing anecdotes galore about how the two used to play on the same indoor soccer team — an experience Malinowski recounts as full of good humor, good sportsmanship, and maybe even a few good-natured wisecracks now and then. Another fond memory he’s relayed (with a mischievous smile) is that Tom & Tony used to make “parody versions of famous songs” together when they both worked in the Clinton Administration. The running gag was that these parody versions of famous songs would be lyrically tied to various foreign policy initiatives of the Clinton Administration. You know, like if Weird Al Yankovic presided over the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. The two jokesters even “directed a couple of self-parody movies together,” Malinowski has reminisced.
Unfortunately for Malinowski, the laughter quieted last year when his district was redrawn and became marginally more Republican-leaning. This put his coveted suburban seat at risk of being snatched away by perennial Republican office-seeker Tom Kean, Jr. — who no doubt would’ve been just as well-placed a politician even if he didn’t share a name with his father, Tom Kean, the popular Republican governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990. Either way, it’s all-hands-on-deck right now for Malinowski, so this past weekend he hauled out the “big guns” of the state Democratic Party for moral and emotional support. Senator Cory Booker and Governor Phil Murphy were the big-ticket guests at a glorious afternoon rally in Rahway, NJ — a city just added to the seventh district, which even Malinowski’s own endorsers appeared to concede he had no previous familiarity with.
To mark the sun-bathed occasion, Malinowski proudly sported the standard uniform of the Democratic Party circa 2022: casual autumn fleece adorned with pink “Choice is on the Ballot” sticker, and a Ukraine flag lapel pin. During the rally itself, Malinowski attempted various tactics apparently designed to convey earnestness — like at one point when he physically jumped onto a brick wall structure, seemingly to demonstrate his enthusiasm for his newly-discovered city of Rahway, as well as his claimed electoral momentum. He recited the expected lines clearly supplied by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, including the oft-repeated warning that if voters fail to restore Democrats to power this year, it will ensure “insurrectionist Republican control of the House of Representatives.” After the spell-binding oratorical display, Malinowski did the usual glad-handing and selfie-taking routine, which I waited to taper off before seizing on the spirit of his press-touting legislative proposals to ask him a few pertinent questions.
Malinowski holds himself out as a seasoned foreign policy thinker — especially of late with regard to the Ukraine war, as his shiny flag lapel pin would seem to indicate. Even within a House Democratic caucus that is unanimous in its uncompromising war-zealotry, Malinowski has been a leader in advocating to intervene ever-harder, all the time, wherever possible. He reliably makes the case by invoking the most high-falutin State Department rhetoric in his arsenal: the US is shipping rocket launchers and heavy artillery to Ukraine not for any crude reasons of realpolitik, Malinowski has insisted, but to “defend global democracy.” Among the actions he deems necessary to “defend global democracy” at the moment is imposing preemptive sanctions on China for the offense of hypothetically providing war supplies to the Russian military — a true stroke of genius on Malinowski’s part. He also boasts of his legislative acumen in using the Ukraine war to tangentially secure “funding to promote democracy,” the precise details of which are generally left to the imagination, as one might anticipate.
Presented with the opportunity to encounter this amazing man, there was a surplus of material to choose from — but I wanted to ask about one particular doozy of a bill, which has taken on extra relevance recently given the prohibition just decreed by his Progressive™ colleagues against even contemplating any sort of diplomatic engagement with Russia to cease hostilities. In July, Malinowski co-sponsored the “Russia is a State Sponsor of Terrorism Act” — as the name implies, this would designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, right beside Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Despite robust bicameral support for the measure and persistent lobbying for it by Ukraine government officials, this action has yet to be taken by the Biden Administration. So I wanted to ask Malinowski if he had expressly intended the bill to abrogate any prospect of future diplomatic relations with Russia — which assigning the “terrorism” designation would almost certainly bring about. Because formally abrogating diplomatic relations with Russia might be a bit of a dicey proposition if it ever becomes necessary to bilaterally avert nuclear apocalypse.
Here was Malinowski’s response to my question:
“Go enjoy your career for Russia Today, man.”
After firing off his accusation that I’m in the employ of the Russian government, and presumably also committing some form of light treason, Malinowski passive-aggressively requested that I “please get out of his way,” even though I was not “in his way” at all — we were literally walking parallel to one another on a public street and sidewalk, with his forward path 100% unimpeded. And this was right after a public political event, no less, which would ordinarily be prime opportunity to exercise the sacred right of a “free and independent press” — the thing Malinowski likes to trumpet so much in resolutions nobody reads. Unfortunately for the Congressman and his frenzied staff, on this occasion Malinowski had no authority to randomly order me off a public street for the violation of asking him about a piece of legislation he co-sponsored, so I carried on walking alongside him and repeated my question.
About halfway through this audio clip posted below, Malinowski’s campaign handlers leaped into a common paranoid-staffer formation, whereby they collectively execute some kind of well-rehearsed defensive maneuver to “block” me — NFL lineman style — from continuing to ask him questions. Any increase in the volume of my voice is a consequence of this maneuver, so I could ensure the Congressman was still hearing me loud and clear:
Amidst the minor hubbub they themselves created, Malinowski’s staff apparently went the extra mile and signaled for a pair of Rahway police officers to amble over and investigate any potential “risk of danger” generated by this interaction, as one cop informed me. Of course the police immediately ascertained that there was no “danger” whatsoever, and shrugged the whole thing off.
So there you have it. That was the meltdown-style reaction by a sitting Congressman and his posse when he was calmly asked, at a public campaign event, about a piece of legislation he sponsored, on a topic that’s supposed to be foundational to his whole pretense of career expertise. I’d wager this was one of the vanishingly rare occasions since last February — maybe even the only occasion — when Malinowski has fielded a mildly probing question about his aggressively militaristic views on Ukraine war policy. Most questions he’d be asked on the topic would preemptively grant a whole range of contested interventionist premises, so it must be disorienting when such premises are not granted.
Malinowski’s idiotic little outburst serves as a timely reminder of a warped paradox at the heart of conventional Democratic Party thinking right now, both among politicians themselves and their allied media/activist networks. Spokespeople of this partisan milieu are constantly lecturing everyone else about the supposed frightful dangers of the burgeoning right-wing information environment — Malinowski did it himself during his big rally speech that day:
We know what happens when you create — when leaders in this country create — an echo chamber of lies, and conspiracy theories. Eventually, people march on the Capitol of the United States and try to overthrow our government and attack police officers. Eventually, an 82-year-old man is beaten on the head with a hammer because he happens to be married to the Speaker of the House of Representatives…
Less frequently remarked upon is that the information environment that these officials inhabit is also astoundingly cloistered and stunted — most flagrantly as relates to the debate around US war policy in Ukraine. Members of this partisan milieu often seem genuinely unaware that there could be any legitimate debate at all on the topic, because countervailing views must inherently be the province of deranged MAGA fascists, and/or literal paid agents of the Russian state. And so the “echo chamber” they’ve constructed for themselves precludes any reasonable, divergent views from ever entering their frame of cognitive reference. For all the unwavering certitude someone like Malinowski projects about the righteousness of US policy in Ukraine, he seems strangely incapable of tolerating any kind of rational interchange on the issue.
As it happens, my question to Malinowski about the “state sponsor of terrorism” bill was actually the second one I’d attempted to ask him; the first had to do with this tweet from back in March:
If you recall the context, Joe Biden had just delivered a dramatic speech in Warsaw, Poland, where he triumphantly proclaimed that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.” It was a watershed development; no American President had ever gone before the world and straightforwardly demanded that the leader of Russia (or the Soviet Union) be ousted. Even during the depths of the Cold War, this would have been virtually inconceivable. And so that’s where Malinowski came in, offering some of his patented State Department wisdom.
First note the tweet’s humble-brag preface — “as a former presidential speechwriter,” which surely made all the DC interns swoon. This probably refers to Malinowski’s tenure as “Senior Director on the National Security Council,” back when he was horsing around with Tony Blinken, while also finding time to “oversee the drafting of President Clinton’s foreign policy speeches and strategic communications efforts around the world.” (Malinowski later did a stint as “Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor” in the Obama Administration, solidifying his claim to have collected a prize-winning assortment of bullshit job titles in DC.)
I raised Malinowski’s tweet with him to clarify what he was getting at back in March. Biden had called for Putin’s removal; Malinowski then said the “practical implications” of Biden’s call were “inescapable.” Must one not therefore conclude it was “inescapable” that in practical terms, the overarching objective of US policy had become to foster, foment, or otherwise facilitate regime change in Russia? How else can Malinowski’s tweet be read? Nonetheless, he vaguely denied to me that this was an accurate reading. Instead he retorted: “It’s a moral statement that the guy should not be the president of that country, or any other country. That doesn’t mean that it is the purpose of our policy to bring that about.”
But… hold on a second. Malinowski had written in plain English that the “practical implications” of Biden calling for Putin’s ouster were “inescapable.” What exactly are those “inescapable practical implications,” if not that Putin must be removed from power? What other inference could possibly follow from Malinowski’s statement? For all his accomplishments in the illustrious field of “strategic communications,” there seemed to be a major disjuncture in this particular communicative effort. So I asked Malinowski again for clarification, but he glided off into the crowd for more awkward selfies and stilted chit-chat. Hence my decision to wait around for a while longer until another Q&A opportunity arose — which is what ultimately led to Malinowski’s bizarre meltdown moment, where he accused me of working for the Kremlin.
Remember: this individual isn’t just some typical workaday Congressman. He styles himself as one of the premier foreign policy minds in the whole of government; a solid plurality of his legislative activity since February has been resolutely Ukraine-focused. You can definitely glean that he’s much more naturally passionate about defeating Putin than, say, mitigating inflation. Here he is bragging in an online debate with his comparably banal Republican challenger, Tom Kean, Jr., about how he (Malinowski) had partnered with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) to hold the Biden Administration’s feet to the fire — by advocating, in a bipartisan fashion of course, to even further ramp up the bellicosity of US war policy. Yes, that was the big example Malinowski cited to prove he’s willing to buck his own party:
If you can sit through the above video, you’ll notice that Kean mumbles a barely-decipherable condemnation of Malinowski’s “weakness” on Russia — even as Malinowski enthusiastically associates his foreign policy vision with that of arch-interventionist Kinzinger, and even posthumously with that of John McCain, whose ideological proclivities should need no explanation. But this was still not enough to ward off Kean’s inevitable “appeasement” attack. As such, if the latest projections are borne out and Kean is victorious next week, the new Republican Congressman for New Jersey’s seventh district will have pledged himself to be even more of a hardcore interventionist on the Ukraine war than Malinowski. There could hardly be a more perfect encapsulation of the present US political climate.
Win or lose, it was helpful for Malinowski to give such vivid insight into the thought process of government officials who’ve been hailed as modern-day incarnations of The Best and the Brightest — with their phenomenal elite pedigrees, unmatched command of policy detail, and implacable zeal for American hegemony. No surprise that it’s grownup whiz-kids like Malinowski who are among the most stridently cavalier about rushing the US headlong into some unknown nuclear oblivion. Which makes it all the more telling that when asked an utterly elementary question about legislation he himself sponsored, all this friend of Secretary Blinken can muster is a petulant little snicker about how I must be working for the Russian government. Wow, that’s a new one. As readers may be aware, internet trolls have been hurling this accusation at me nonstop since approximately the summer of 2016. So it’s at least nice to know that despite his extensive array of exceedingly high-status credentials — Rhodes Scholar, Ford Foundation, White House, State Department, Congress — Tom Malinowski is about on the same intellectual level as the internet trolls.
"But… hold on a second. Malinowski had written in plain English that the “practical implications” of Biden calling for Putin’s ouster were “inescapable.” What exactly are those “inescapable practical implications,” if not that Putin must be removed from power? What other inference could possibly follow from Malinowski’s statement? For all his accomplishments in the illustrious field of “strategic communications,” there seemed to be a major disjuncture in this particular commutative effort. So I asked Malinowski again for clarification, but he glided off into the crowd for more awkward selfies and stilted chit-chat."
This must be what foreign policy wonks call 'strategic ambiguity.'
Thank you for this article. This kind of journalism is, absurdly, very unusual - that someone will ask a powerful person about their foreign policy views in specifics, rather than platitudes.
What a damming indictment of the country, that these two individuals are the best that an affluent congressional district has to offer. These two preening non-entities playing Napoleon as the world stands on the brink of disaster. It's far too serious to be even darkly comedic.
This Congress cannot remain in power. By this I will not be ambiguous - we need to vote in serious, considered people for whom foreign policy isn't a source of easy soundbites and big donations, but instead a sober and realistic calculus of the American interest and humanitarian concerns.
Anyone know anyone like that? Is there one in your district?
"So it’s at least nice to know that despite his extensive array of exceedingly high-status credentials — Rhodes Scholar, Ford Foundation, White House, State Department, Congress — Tom Malinowski is about on the same intellectual level as the internet trolls." A wonderfully written closing, but it's not nice to know, unless "nice" now means terrifying.
I have no real idea what's wrong with Democrat politicians these days. I don't know if they are stupid or have had a psychological break with reality. But they think the world is a Hollywood script and as long as you're cast as the good guy (though viewers might disagree about whether or not you're actually the good guy), nothing bad can happen. So men like Malinowski can basically reduce the Ukraine war to a lapel pin, a slogan, and billions in armament making his military donors happy and he thinks nothing bad will happen because that's not the way it's written.
And people like Malinowski and Schiff (and even Adam Kinzinger) don't want a free press; they want a "free to be owned" press, meaning they want to protect the "press" from accountability from people who want more than just a propaganda machine.
Thank you for another great article.