The story of the Ukraine whistleblower isn’t just about a personal quid pro quo between U.S. president and a foreign leader. That’s certainly part of it, and that alone will likely be enough to lead to Donald Trump’s impeachment.
But the larger, scarier story here is about Trump’s intimidation, corruption and compromise of the entire executive branch of the U.S. government.
Although attempts to pressure Ukraine into providing dirt for Trump to use in his re-election campaign appear to have been ongoing since at least March, the original sin underlying the whistleblower’s report was a July 25 telephone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine.
On that call, Trump made it clear that he was prepared to hold hostage the military aid that Ukraine urgently needed to fend off Russian aggression until Ukraine agreed to “play ball” in Trump’s attempt to dig up dirt on a likely rival in the 2020 election, Joe Biden.
The essential facts around that episode are not in dispute. They are set out in plain English in the White House’s own summary of the July 25 telephone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine, the whistleblower’s report, the findings of Intelligence Community Inspector General, and Trump’s own clumsy admissions.
So far, this may sound like it falls on Trump alone. But it may not. The corruption may extend throughout executive branch of the government and beyond.
According to the whistleblower, “the President’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort,” and “Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well.” We will see if these allegations are borne out over the course of the impeachment inquiry.
But meanwhile it is also alleged that “multiple White House officials” had “direct knowledge” of the call. According to the Washington Post, 12 to 13 people, including at least three people from the Situation Room, at least two or three members of the national security adviser’s leadership team, a State Department surrogate for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and a senior representative from the Russia and Ukraine directorate were listening in.
While a number of White House officials were “deeply disturbed” by what transpired on the July 25 call, none of them appear to have expressed their concerns to law enforcement, Congress, or the public. Instead, in recent months, “more than half a dozen U.S. officials” informed the whistleblower about various facts related to the scheme.
The non-White House officials who were briefed on the contents of the call included “multiple State Department and Intelligence Community officials.”
And according the whistleblower, shortly after the July 25 phone call “senior White House officials,” recognizing the corrupt nature of Trump’s statements, “intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call,” especially including the word-for-word transcript, which even to this date has not been produced to Congress or made public.
Those White House officials were “directed by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored” and load it onto a separate, super-secure system used to store classified information of an especially sensitive nature.
If true, this is all deeply important.
On August 12, the whistleblower’s report was provided to the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, in accordance with the provisions of the Whistleblower Act. The ICIG found it both credible and urgent, and forwarded it, as required by the Act, to the Acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire.
Rather than transmitting the report to Congress, also as required by the statute, the acting DNI sought legal advice from the very institutions under investigation: the White House and the Department of Justice. Both the White House Counsel and the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel advised the DNI not to transmit the report to Congress, based on a highly suspect legal analysis that read into the Whistleblower Act provisions that weren’t there.
As the whistleblower saga blossomed into a full-blown scandal, reports claim that Vice President Mike Pence then privately counseled Trump against releasing the rough transcript of the July 25 call—only to capitulate after Trump decided that the messaging had gotten away from the White House and that releasing the document was his only option.
Take a step back from all the details and look at the big picture: Trump has corrupted practically the entire executive branch of our government. And this corruption is a far greater danger to our democracy than his clumsy quid pro quo with Ukraine.
Do the math:
- The president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani
- The attorney general
- Multiple White House officials
- Three people from the Situation Room
- Two or three members of the national security adviser’s leadership team
- A State Department surrogate for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
- Senior representatives from the Russia and Ukraine directorate
- More than half a dozen U.S. officials
- Multiple State Department and intelligence community officials
- The White House counsel
- Multiple White House lawyers
- The acting director of National Intelligence
- The Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel
- Vice President Mike Pence
Despite the participation and/or knowledge of all these people, only one—the anonymous whistleblower—had the courage and integrity to stand up against the president’s misconduct.
It now seems to be only a matter of time until other government officials are implicated with at least having knowledge of Trump’s misconduct. Is it possible that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo didn’t know? What about former National Security Advisor John Bolton? Could Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, have been in the dark? What about Jared and Ivanka?
Now that Trump’s behavior has been exposed, there could well be a rush by one or more of these individuals (other than Jared and Ivanka, of course) to get on the right side of it.
Some of them must be thinking “Better to be the John Dean of this story, rather than the Bob Haldeman.”
My candidate to be among the first to position himself as Trump’s Dean is John Bolton. Bolton’s thinly-veiled threat after being dismissed by Trump sounds all the more ominous in light of the Ukraine scandal:
“I will have my say in due course. . . . My sole concern is U.S. national security.”
Whenever a ship sinks, there’s always one rat who’s clever enough to get off first. And after him, the deluge.