This came before a Wall Street Journal report that in a single July conversation President Trump urged the Ukrainian leader to find dirt on his opponent Joe Biden. There doesn’t need to be a quid pro quo. This is “collusion” writ large.
We should not forget the whistleblower, the intelligence community inspector general and the acting director of national intelligence. According to multiple whistleblower lawyers with whom I have consulted over the past two hours, any or all of them could go to the so-called intelligence Gang of Eight to transmit the information in a secure setting, thereby avoiding criminal liability. To refuse to do so because you might lose your job in the Trump administration strikes me as madness, a symptom of the Beltway fixation with keeping your post in government, no matter what, as if there are no higher obligations nor other jobs. If this is as urgent as the IG and whistleblower claim and does involve Trump’s attempt to insert a foreign power into our election (again) they must step forward — as must other members of the administration or former officials with relevant knowledge.
Lawfare’s Ben Wittes explains, “If it is true that the president used the threat of withholding congressionally authorized funds to — in the Post’s words — ‘extort’ a foreign leader into investigating a domestic political opponent and his family, that would be a very big deal indeed. That allegation, if true, would unambiguously constitute an impeachable offense. . . . first, because it would involve the extortion of a foreign leader for personal and political gain; second, because it would involve the solicitation of a foreign government’s involvement in a U.S. election; and third, because it would involve the solicitation of a foreign government’s investigation of a political opponent in a fashion that grossly violates the civil liberties of a U.S. person, namely Biden’s son.”
Republicans — any member of Congress and any Cabinet member — must be asked in any media or congressional appearance whether the “threat of withholding congressionally authorized funds to — in the Post’s words — ‘extort’ a foreign leader into investigating a domestic political opponent and his family” is impeachable. No hedging, no filibustering. The American people have a right to know if Republicans actually think this is acceptable. They should also be asked if the president has the power to prevent a whistleblower’s complaint from reaching Congress in contravention of the whistleblower statute. Until a firm answer to those two questions is obtained, the questioner should keep at it for as long as it takes to get an answer.
As for the Democrats, the reaction to suppression of a whistleblower and the potential the president engaged in impeachable, if not illegal, conduct has been spotty. On one hand, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) knocked it out of the park:
In an appearance, she had more to say, explaining the gravity of the situation:
Beto O’Rourke put out a brief but effective statement. “In 2016, President Trump asked Russia to interfere in our elections,” he tweeted. “In 2020, he’s asking Ukraine to do the same. If no one is above the law, then we have no choice but to impeach this president. When will Congress have the courage to act?” Good question.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) also addressed the issue in a TV interview, correctly noting that this president has a pattern of misusing his office for personal, political gain.
Others seemed to go merrily on their way, sticking to campaign stump speeches or talking about other issues as if the whistleblower incident does not pose a grave threat to our democracy. Their obliviousness or feigned obliviousness suggests they really aren’t up for the job they are running for. A candidate who avoids a national security and constitutional crisis because he’d rather talk about domestic matters is not the person you want as commander in chief.
This is a stress test for Schiff and Pelosi, for Republicans in Congress and in the administration (would they rationalize even extorting a foreign power to get dirt on an enemy?), the presidential contenders and the press.
If Trump cannot be investigated for this and held accountable for his actions (even if no quid pro quo was involved), we really have given up on our constitutional system. Heaven help us.
Late Friday, Biden released a definitive statement:
“If these reports are true, then there is truly no bottom to President Trump’s willingness to abuse his power and abase our country. This behavior is particularly abhorrent because it exploits the foreign policy of our country and undermines our national security for political purposes. It means that he used the power and resources of the United States to pressure a sovereign nation — a partner that is still under direct assault from Russia — pushing Ukraine to subvert the rule of law in the express hope of extracting a political favor.
“Such clear-cut corruption damages and diminishes our institutions of government by making them tools of a personal political vendetta. At minimum, Donald Trump should immediately release the transcript of the call in question, so that the American people can judge for themselves, and direct the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to stop stonewalling and release the whistleblower notification to the Congress.”