President Trump has no one but himself to blame for the fact that he is on the verge of being impeached. He recognizes no legal or moral limits on his “absolute right” to do whatever he pleases — including pressuring a foreign country to intervene in U.S. politics on his behalf. But his most senior aides have done him no favors by acting as accelerators rather than brakes on his unconscionable conduct.
Three senior officials, in particular, could have tried to dissuade the president from misusing his office for personal gain, but there is no evidence that they ever attempted to do so. History will record their names along with Trump’s in the annals of ignominy. The president’s principal accomplices in his brazen assault on the rule of law are Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General William P. Barr.
Pence has been Trump’s most prominent proxy in his attempts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to cough up dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and to absolve Russia of hacking the 2016 election. Trump told Pence not to attend Zelensky’s inauguration in May so as to turn the screws on the Ukrainian president. When they finally met in Warsaw on Sept. 1, Pence again pressured Zelensky to take action on “corruption,” a code word for investigating Biden and the former vice president’s son Hunter.
Pence has adopted the Sergeant Schultz defense: I know nothing! His protestations of innocence are unconvincing, given that the president’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, publicly proclaimed his desire to get dirt on the Bidens from Ukraine. Moreover, Pence’s national security adviser listened in on the now-infamous July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky that another participant described as “crazy” and “frightening.” Pence himself was given a readout of the call, yet he claims to have seen nothing wrong and is still sticking to the discredited cover story that Trump was pursuing a legitimate investigation of corruption. Pence will be saved from being remembered as the worst vice president in history only because Spiro Agnew had to resign after being charged with tax evasion and bribery.
Pompeo is now officially the worst secretary of state in history — wresting that uncoveted title from his predecessor, Rex Tillerson. As former secretary of state Colin Powell notes, “Our foreign policy is a shambles right now,” and Pompeo bears part of the blame for failing to stand up to Trump. He did not offer his resignation when the president proclaimed himself “in love” with the dictator of North Korea or when he abandoned the United States’ Kurdish allies. Pompeo subordinates the United States' national interest to his own political interests; he is said to be interested in succeeding Trump.
Pompeo was fully aware of how unlawful Trump was acting — he was also on the July 25 call, though he pretended during interviews that he had no idea what had transpired. There is no evidence he did anything to stop Trump. Instead, he has endorsed the crazy conspiracy theory that it was the Ukrainians, not the Russians, who interfered in the 2016 election. Pompeo is now leading Trump’s coverup: He has refused to allow State Department employees to testify to Congress, denouncing Congress’s request as “an attempt to intimidate” and “bully” the career professionals. If anyone is bullying Foreign Service officers, it is Trump; witness the president’s firing of a respected ambassador in Ukraine because she wouldn’t help Giuliani frame Biden. Pompeo stood by as this happened.
No wonder State Department employees are so disgusted and demoralized. “The mood is low and getting lower,” Thomas Pickering, a distinguished former ambassador, told the New York Times.
But wait. If you think that’s bad, Barr says “hold my beer.” The attorney general has already misled the country about the findings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation by falsely claiming that the president had been absolved of collusion and obstruction of justice. Barr then refused to investigate complaints that a crime had been committed during Trump’s call with Zelensky. Now, he is flying around the world to pressure allies to cooperate with his politically motivated probe designed to show that the investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia was actually a “witch hunt” by the so-called deep state — just as Trump claims. Barr’s highly improper requests have stirred a backlash in Italy, Australia and Britain — close allies that have no desire to be thrust into U.S. domestic politics.
By waging war on the dedicated professionals in his own department at the behest of a law-breaking president, Barr is ensuring that he will be remembered as the worst attorney general ever. He has even eclipsed in awfulness his immediate predecessor, acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, a political hack who was previously a hawker of toilets for “well-endowed” men.
Impeaching Pence, Pompeo and Barr would be an unneeded distraction from the necessary impeachment of their boss but, on the merits, all three richly deserve to join Trump in the dock. They have betrayed the country and their oaths of office. They have even failed Trump by not acting to save the worst person ever to occupy the White House from his worst instincts.