Last weekend, ABC News journalists reported that White House and State Department officials were beginning to wonder whether they should be retaining their own counsel. The latest events make it even clearer: As each day passes in the unfolding Ukraine scandal, the pressure on administration staffers will increase.

This pressure will itself become a force driving the scandal forward and making impeachment more likely. While Republicans might like to think of this as a witch hunt, it’s going to increasingly resemble a building going up in flames, with one aide after another looking for a way to save themselves.

In a news conference Wednesday, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, issued a warning to the White House, making clear that he and other Democrats consider ongoing attempts to stymie their investigations — refusing to provide documents, stopping subpoenaed aides from testifying — not just an irritant but potential high crimes and misdemeanors in themselves:

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The White House needs to understand that any action like that that forces us to litigate or have to consider litigation will be considered further evidence of obstruction of justice. And of course that was an article of impeachment against Nixon, the obstruction of lawful functions of Congress, that is. We will also draw the inference, though, as appropriate, that they are trying to conceal facts that would corroborate the allegations in the whistleblower complaint.

That last part should be obvious, since if nobody did anything wrong, then there wouldn’t be anything to cover up. That does raise an interesting point that we’ll return to: President Trump, who clearly believes that the law doesn’t apply to him, may not know when he’s betraying his office and committing impeachable acts. But those around him do.

Schiff is not acting alone. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the chair of the House Oversight Committee, just released a letter stating that because the White House has refused to respond to his committee’s requests, on Friday he will be issuing a subpoena demanding all documents and records related in any way to Trump’s now-notorious phone call with the president of Ukraine and related matters.

If you were a White House or State Department aide even remotely connected to that call and policy toward Ukraine, you’d be feeling profoundly unsettled right about now. You might think, “None of this is my fault,” but that won’t protect you. And you may be wondering what your options are.

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If this were an administration in which everyone admired the president and felt themselves part of a noble cause, it might be able to remain relatively free of leaks and focused on the work it’s doing. But that’s not the Trump administration. Instead, what we have is a narcissistic, insecure president consumed with his enemies and issuing orders that are illegal, impossible to follow, morally horrific, or all three; and staffers struggling for self-preservation.

The New York Times has just published an excerpt of a new book from reporters Michael Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, containing shocking revelations that illuminate not only the depths of Trump’s monstrous impulses but also the atmosphere among the aides who have to deal with him.

Trump is reported to have proposed “fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate.” After being told that it would be illegal for soldiers to shoot migrants who threw rocks, he later suggests that they shoot migrants in the legs. These reports come from White House aides.

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The picture that emerges is one that resembles the court of a mad king, where underlings try to suppress their alarm over Trump’s commands while they jockey desperately to both win his favor and avoid his wrath. It should be read alongside Philip Rucker and Robert Costa’s report in The Post about how agency after agency in the federal government is being forced to devote itself to protecting Trump and catering to his mercurial and often corrupt whims:

In Trump’s Washington, many administration officials have calculated that if they do not enthusiastically wade into Trump’s riptide of grievances and personal pursuits, they risk being ridiculed or sidelined by the president. ...
Acquiescence is central to survival. Trump has bonded with aides who take his running complaints about the “deep state” and “fake news” seriously, along with his embrace of people and positions outside of the mainstream. The leading members of Trump’s inner circle dutifully work to address his concerns, sometimes by directing federal resources.

The deeper we get into the impeachment debate and the more it looks like Trump will not survive the 2020 election, the greater the incentive will be for aides to jump ship. Even if they don’t depart, they’ll have an incentive to go to reporters and spill about what’s going on behind the scenes, in part to protect themselves from their rivals who might do the same. One of the leakiest White Houses in history will probably become even more so.

All of which will lead Trump to even greater heights of rage and irrationality, producing more stories about how unhinged he has become, which will make him angrier still in a cycle that may itself result in the perpetration of more impeachable acts. As crazy as the last week or two have been, it’s only going to get worse.

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