It’s fitting that Democrats just unveiled articles of impeachment against Trump at almost exactly the same moment. Because you could not ask for a clearer sign that Trump fully intends to keep wielding all the levers of government at his disposal to corrupt the coming election.
Trump may as well be standing atop the White House and shouting into a bullhorn that if and when the Senate acquits him, he will only feel more emboldened to do just that.
The two articles Democrats just unveiled are for abuse of power over his efforts to extort Ukraine into doing his political bidding, and for obstructing Congress’ efforts to ferret out the truth about that whole scheme.
It appears an additional article for obstruction of justice — one including the multiple corrupt acts documented in the special counsel’s report — is not in the offing. But Trump’s latest rage-threat raises questions about whether a broader focus is needed, as I’ll argue below.
Trump just raged at FBI Director Christopher Wray for telling the truth about the findings of the review by the Justice Department’s inspector general into the origins of the Russia investigation. Wray noted that it “did not find political bias or improper motivations” driving the opening or handling of that investigation.
Trump just threatened him over this:
I don’t know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn’t the one given to me. With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2019
Let’s be clear: The sin that Wray committed is that he refused to use his office to validate Trump’s years-long disinformation campaign to make a foreign attack on our democracy, and his own efforts to benefit from it, disappear.
Stop both-sidesing this
Discrediting the investigation as illegitimate has long been Trump’s goal, and some media coverage is strangely misstating this crucial fact. Accounts are saying in various forms that the inspector general’s report has allowed “both sides” to claim vindication.
The basis for this is that the report documented numerous serious mistakes in such matters as the handling of wiretap applications, and concluded that the threshold for starting such investigations might need reform.
Those are certainly serious matters — indeed, civil libertarians have been arguing such things for years — but they do not vindicate Trump’s core claim in any way, shape or form. Trump’s primary argument for years has been that the investigation was illegitimate and was driven by a “deep state” plot to rig the election against him.
And the inspector general report completely debunked this notion, finding that the investigation was lawfully predicated and was not motivated by any political effort to stop Trump. Any both-sidesing that confuses what Trump’s core argument has long been, and how thoroughly it has been debunked, is just misleading people.
It is a telling fact that even as this both-sidesing is in process, Trump continues to state that the investigation was illegitimate and that the inspector general confirmed this. Trump claimed the inspector general demonstrated an “attempted overthrow” of the government, when it concluded precisely the opposite.
The problem is that any media coverage that implies Trump secured some sort of vindication creates a favorable climate for Trump to engage in this even more absurd set of lies.
After all, the fact that Trump’s FBI director was absolutely clear on this -- that there was no vindication -- is precisely why Trump is now threatening him. Trump probably won’t go through with any firing, but what’s beyond doubt is that Trump still feels absolutely unconstrained, and will keep pressuring law enforcement to validate his ongoing effort to make Russian sabotage of our 2016 election vanish.
This is precisely what Trump is counting on Attorney General William Barr to do: Use his office to cast doubt on the inspector general’s conclusions, and further the narrative that the original investigation was illegitimate.
Which brings us back to the articles of impeachment.
Broader is better
If there is no article for obstruction of justice, as documented by the special counsel, it could in effect clear the field for Barr to continue using government to bury the original sin of Trump’s corruption — his effort to solicit foreign interference in the last election and his extensively corrupt and likely criminal efforts to cover it up.
After all, Trump is continuing to do that right at this moment: In pressuring Wray, he is continuing that very same coverup effort. And he is openly declaring that he expects Barr to carry that forward as well: He said that “I look forward” to Barr’s own review of the Russia probe, which will contain “its own information.”
That is, it will reach the conclusion Trump wants it to.
An article for attempting to obstruct the investigation into Russian interference and his own campaign’s efforts to reap the benefits would establish a pattern. Not just with regard to Trump’s effort to extort Ukraine for the same purpose, but also with regard to Trump’s ongoing manipulation of government to cover up his willingness to conspire with and benefit from the corruption of our election last time.
After all, Trump just told us that those efforts will continue as clearly as we could possibly expect him to.