It wasn’t the Russia affair that caught Trump in its web. It was Ukraine.
It wasn’t Mueller or Comey as the antagonist. It was an unknown whistleblower.
It wasn’t one Trump scandal atop another Trump scandal atop an endless string of Trump scandals, covering weeks and months and years. It was a story that began barely a week before Nancy Pelosi took the stage, standing alone before a wall of Americans flags, to announce a formal inquiry into the impeachment of one Donald J. Trump.
It’s all so unlikely and yet all so Trump-like. I’m surprised that with the ground shifting so quickly under her feet that Pelosi could even keep her balance, much less her composure. She has resisted for months any calls for impeachment. She made clear to her fellow Democrats that the risks were too high, the chance for political disaster too great. That they needed more. When the Mueller Report failed to move the public — and impeachment was as dead as all the trees lost to print the report — she looked prescient.
But everything changed. And for that we can thank, or blame, Trump. There is a lot we don’t know yet and a lot we may find out in the next few days, but we do know that it was Trump, in his arrogance, who forced Pelosi’s hand. In the end, she had no choice.
And now Trump has said he will release the transcript of the fateful July 25th phone call to the Ukraine president. We have to hope that no Sharpies were harmed during the transcription and that it will be more accurate that anything we heard from NOAA flunkies.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that the White House is negotiating with House committees on how to allow the whistleblower to testify. Politico reported that Trump will release the whistleblower’s complaint — which is said to extend beyond the phone call — and the inspector general’s report. The reports from the White House indicate that the phone transcript won’t tell us much more than we already know. The whistleblower, however, may be another matter altogether.
A few — though not as many as you’d guess — Republicans have rushed to defend Trump. Colorado’s own Cory Gardner issued a statement saying that Pelosi’s decision to open the impeachment inquiry was an attempt by Democrats to “appease the far-left.”
The problem for anyone defending the president is that Trump, being Trump, being convinced of his own invincibility, has basically copped to the entire caper. And The Washington Post is reporting that Trump’s advisers were desperate to keep him away from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, knowing where Trump would go. And also desperate to keep Rudy Giuliani — what other president would put his future, or anything else, in the hands of Rudy Giuliani? — out of the way.
Trump has admitted he spoke to Zelensky, encouraging him to open an investigation of Joe Biden — in other words, enlisting foreign help to dig up dirt on a political opponent. He has copped to it repeatedly while, of course, smearing Biden in the process. He has presented no evidence against Biden for his effort, as vice president, to help fire a corrupt Ukraine prosecutor. Trump says it was to protect his son, Hunter, who is — to his father’s embarrassment — on the board of a Ukraine company. Read the Washington Post fact-check on this. The prosecutor was corrupt. Everyone, from Obama to European leaders, wanted him out. There was no ongoing investigation of Hunter Biden at the time the prosecutor was fired. And here’s the irony — there’s a great chance that Biden won’t even be nominated.
And Trump admitted, as we know, that Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer who has no government position, went to Madrid to talk to a Ukrainian official about opening a Biden investigation, but Giuliani had already copped to that and worse on yet another disastrous Rudy-red-faced interview on CNN.
The shamelessness doesn’t stop there. Trump has also admitted that he withheld hundreds of millions of congressionally-approved dollars in much-needed military aid from Ukraine, which needs it to help hold off Trump’s buddy, Vladimir Putin. Yes, Trump copped to that, too. And we learned that he made the decision to withhold the money one week before the phone call. Is that extortion? Is it coercion? Is it illegal or just unethical and or a case of quid pro quo? I don’t know the legal terminology. What I know is that although Trump has changed his excuses for withholding the money about a half-dozen times, he has copped to doing it.
And until the impeachment word came down and the Senate unanimously demanded to see the whistleblower’s complaint, as the law apparently requires, Trump wouldn’t allow the complaint to go forward. Does he deny this? No. Did he throw the acting Director of National Intelligence under the bus in keeping the report from Congress? You bet he did.
The Mueller Report was an open invitation to impeachment, but somehow most people resisted. This affair is not just an an invitation. It might as well be a subpoena. And we’ll be seeing plenty more of those in the near future.
And Trump has, of course, already smeared the whistleblower as a partisan hack without even knowing who he is. But that is the essential Trump. He is smearing Biden. He is smearing Biden’s son. He is smearing the whistleblower, who is apparently part of the intelligence community and someone, just guessing here, with a huge conscience. And imagine Trump’s reaction when Pelosi announced that one of the committees assigned to investigate Trump would be headed by the oft-smeared Maxine “Low IQ” Waters.
In any case, we shouldn’t be naive here. Starting impeachment proceedings against Trump may be the right thing to do — hell, at this point, it’s the only thing to do — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t risk involved.
There are no sure things with Trump. There are no sure predictions with Trump. My guess is that the stunning Democratic reaction to the Ukraine scandal — the sudden momentum toward impeachment when a week ago there was no momentum at all— will cause a similar reaction from the American public.
Of course Democrats could make a shambles of an investigation. Trump and his right-wing media noise machine could overwhelm the argument. Maybe the public won’t change its mind on impeachment. And the way to bet is that whatever the House does, and however compelling the Ukraine evidence might be and whichever of the long list of Trump scandals makes the impeachment cutoff, the Senate will never come up with enough Republicans to toss Trump out of office.
But that’s for another day. This day is to be remembered as the one in which the Speaker of the House rose to tell the nation that no one is above the law, however many times one man insists that he is.