And that brings us to The Post’s latest bombshell: “A whistleblower complaint about President Trump made by an intelligence official centers on Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter, which has set off a struggle between Congress and the executive branch.” And it gets worse:
Two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed, Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian and political newcomer who was elected in a landslide in May.That call is already under investigation by House Democrats who are examining whether Trump and his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani sought to manipulate the Ukrainian government into helping Trump’s reelection campaign. Lawmakers have demanded a full transcript and a list of participants on the call.
Trump and his fixer Giuliani, it has been widely reported, have been pressuring Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden based on a groundless theory that as vice president he was helping his son, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. (Biden was accused of getting a prosecutor investigating his son’s company fired. In fact, “The investigation into Burisma, Hunter Biden’s employer, had ground to a halt long before the prosecutor was sacked. A subsequent probe into the company’s owner was opened because of a request from Ukrainian legislators, not because of prosecutorial initiative.”)
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) adds this interesting account:
A few weeks ago in Ukraine, I met w President Zelensky and we discussed the surprise cut off of aid and the inappropriate demands the Trump campaign was making of him. The obvious question everyone in Kiev was asking was - were the two things connected? https://t.co/8yXFiFRlQm— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) September 20, 2019
All of this raises the question as to whether the multiple actions amounted to a “promise” by Trump to release aid in exchange for Ukraine’s help investigating Biden. Aside from possibly implicating bribery statutes, there could be no clearer example of a “High Crime & Misdemeanor” than in using government revenue to extort a foreign power to help you get reelected. Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe tells me that such an arrangement would probably meet the definition “within the meaning of the Constitution’s phrase ‘Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ although it might well fail to meet the narrow definition of ‘bribery’ for purposes of criminal prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 201.”
But make no mistake: This would be the perfect example of conduct that might not technically be a crime but is obviously and blatantly a violation of the president’s oath of office and a threat to our democratic system. Former prosecutor Renato Mariotti tweeted, “If Trump promised foreign aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigating Biden’s son, that is obviously corrupt and should meet any definition of a ‘high crime’ for impeachment.”
Meanwhile, Giuliani made a wild appearance on CNN. Amid the accusations and insults, he acknowledged that “of course” he asked Ukraine to look into Biden. Umm. That’s a problem.
Even if you took the aid out of it, going to a foreign government to request dirt on a political opponent would be precisely the “collusion” (or illegal conspiracy) that Robert S. Mueller III was investigating. Using taxpayer money (foreign aid) to facilitate such an arrangement makes it doubly corrupt.
Now, we do not know whether this is the basis of the complaint and whether any Trump “promise” was part of a quid pro quo. That is why we need the whistleblower’s complaint released to Congress, a lightning-fast investigation and then, if supported by the facts, a call for Trump to resign or be impeached.
Along the way, there will be questions as to whether Trump or his attorney general ordered the complaint not to be sent to Congress. There will be questions as to whether Vice President Pence, who went to Ukraine recently and was asked about release of aid by reporters, or former national security adviser John Bolton (who was there as well) knew anything about this.
And of course, we’ll have to see what excuse Republicans come up with for not doing anything. (It was a joke! Deep state!) However, if the facts point to corrupt behavior, impeachment will be a necessity and a political winner for Democrats. And yes, this would be way, way worse than Watergate.