Wednesday’s abrupt release of a summary transcript of the call between Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, intended to prove that Trump did nothing wrong, had the polar opposite effect. While not a complete record of the conversation, the summary clearly shows Trump asking a foreign leader to dig up dirt on the son of a political rival as “a favor,” right after talking at length about all the aid the U.S. has provided to Ukraine in the past. Exculpatory, it was not.
On Thursday morning, the whistleblower report on that phone call, the revealed existence of which first cracked this scandal wide open, was declassified and made public. It can be read in full here.
“Multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call informed me that, after an initial exchange of pleasantries, the President used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests,” reads the report. “Namely, he sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the President’s 2020 reelection bid.”
The whistleblower report is damning in the extreme, and not just for Trump. Attorney General Barr is noted several times as being deeply involved in Trump’s efforts to wrangle a Biden investigation out of Ukraine for the purpose of undermining a rival before the upcoming election.
During his confirmation hearing, Barr denied under oath that Trump had ever asked him to undertake an investigation into any individuals. Sen. Kamala Harris, who questioned Barr on this specific topic during his confirmation hearing, was nonplussed after reading the summary transcript of the Trump/Zelensky conversation, which clearly included Barr.
“I asked Attorney General Barr whether the White House had ever asked — or suggested, hinted, or inferred — that he open an investigation into anyone,” Harris tweeted on Wednesday. “At the time, he seemed stumped. Barr must come back to Congress and answer that question under oath.” Now that the whistleblower report has come to light, Barr being required once again to testify before Senator Harris may be the least of his worries.
The whistleblower report also describes in detail how White House officials knew full well that Trump had crossed a bright legal line by seeking dirt on a political rival from a foreign power. Those officials, reads the report, “were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call.” To hide this fact, those officials deliberately hid evidence of the call, evincing a clear and unequivocal consciousness of guilt.
“White House officials told me they were ‘directed’ by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalization and distribution to Cabinet-level officials,” reads the report. “Instead, the transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system of an especially sensitive nature. One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.”
According to the whistleblower, this was not the first time records of a Trump conversation were diverted away from the normal routine for storing and distributing summaries of such discussions. The Ukraine matter may turn out to be only the tip of this particular iceberg.
Perhaps most unnerving for the White House, the report states that “there were approximately a dozen White House officials who listened to the call — a mixture of policy officials and duty officers in the White House Situation Room, as is customary.”
Those dozen-or-so officials can expect to be revealed by the whistleblower during his or her expected testimony. Raise your hand if you believe all those people will stand by Trump while these floodwaters swamp past their knees. Yeah, me neither.
Life cracks me up sometimes. After spending so many maddening months watching House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deploy her formidable political skills to thwart impeachment efforts in the House, now we get to watch her use those same skills to bring impeachment to life while wielding this sharp new weapon.
It took the speaker less than 48 hours to corral the necessary 218 votes required to officially open an inquiry: 217 Democrats as of this writing plus Rep. Justin Amash (an independent who was a Republican up until July), because this timeline is surreal. Only 17 House Democrats, including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, remain convinced that more investigation is needed before considering an inquiry, and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico apparently hasn’t said much of anything at all.
Now that Pelosi has this extraordinary whistleblower report in hand, I expect that 218 will be 236 before the church bells ring on Sunday.
According to reports, Pelosi was able to collect those 218 votes by narrowing the focus to the Ukraine matter alone, leaving off official inquiries into Trump’s obstruction of justice during the Mueller investigation and other areas of concern. This made the process more palatable to the conservative-district members of her caucus.
Pelosi’s reasoning for this strategy is twofold: First, narrowing the scope was the only way she saw to get to 218. Second, the issue is straightforward, easily explained to voters without having to use a reluctant Robert Mueller as a witness, his dense 400-page report, and a 19-circle Venn diagram to show how it all connects to Trump. The clarity found in the whistleblower report makes the process even simpler to lay out.
“THE DEMOCRATS ARE TRYING TO DESTROY THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AND ALL THAT IT STANDS FOR,” Trump tweeted moments before the report became public. “STICK TOGETHER, PLAY THEIR GAME, AND FIGHT HARD REPUBLICANS. OUR COUNTRY IS AT STAKE!”
There has been only blessed silence on his account since.
Richard Nixon, when confronted by a collapse of Republican support as the impeachment guillotine was sharpened in Congress, resigned in disgrace rather than face the music. It remains to be seen whether Trump will be able to hold on to his obsequious allies now that the whistleblower report has blown the deliberately placed lid off the scandal, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Trump’s people have displayed all the integrity of a rabid dog to date, but they can be relied upon to defend their own self-interest above all else.
Donald Trump should take a leaf from Nixon’s book and spare us all the upheaval. He won’t of course, because all this means he will be on television even more than usual, and that is what he lives for. Perhaps Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and Kevin McCarthy can tread the path of the long walk taken to Nixon’s door by Barry Goldwater, John Rhodes and Hugh Scott, when they told him it was time to go.
It’s time to go, Donald.