Early in his administration when Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, calling him “dumb as a rock,” Mr. Tillerson reacted calmly, but made a telling point.
“So often, the President would say ‘here’s what I want to do and here’s how I want to do it’ and I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President I understand what you want to do but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.’”
“It violates the law.” Mr. Tillerson recognized right away that this was a President without a moral compass. Mr. Trump’s backstory had amply demonstrated that. His actions in office would do the same.
But with his rhinoceros hide and some fantastically fortuitous twists of fate, Mr. Trump has endured. His call to the Ukraine President, tantamount to blackmail, came right after he had skirted serious culpability in the Mueller inquiry into Russian collusion. It surely increased his sense of invincibility, as had his surviving the Access Hollywood tape and so much else.
When he said Wednesday that it was “a joke” that he could be impeached for the call to the Ukrainian leader, he probably meant it. He had lowered the bar so much that he thought his alleged pressing of a foreign government to investigate Joe Biden was no big deal.
Remarkably, he thought the transcript of the telephone call would clear him and released it. He couldn’t see a smoking gun there. Former president Richard Nixon, we recall, didn’t release the smoking gun Watergate tape until the Supreme Court ordered him to do so.
You reap what you sow. It seemed inevitable that at some point the President who goes rogue all the time would go rogue once too often. At some point the Soprano President would run out of luck. It’s happening now.
For only the fourth time in America’s nearly 250-year history, the House of Representatives has started an inquiry into whether the President should be impeached. Senator Elizabeth Warren, writing on Twitter, captured the seriousness of the charges. “Donald Trump solicited foreign interference in our elections from the Oval Office. He attempted to cover up his actions. And his appointees intervened, against the law, to attempt to suppress this whistle-blower complaint.”
Mr. Trump will maintain the support of his base in railing from the rooftops against the charges. Republicans will maintain it’s just another witch hunt and the Mueller result will assist them in making that contention. “Nothing has changed,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, "with the release of this complaint, which is nothing more than a collection of third-hand accounts of events and cobbled-together press clippings – all of which shows nothing improper.”
But their defence thus far is devoid of foundation. It is simply a denial that what has transpired is serious enough to merit condemnation and consequence. But unlike with respect to the Mueller inquiry, there is hard evidence here. There is the whistle-blower’s transcript. There is the transcript of the phone call with the Ukrainian leader. There are the words of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who provided CNN’s Chris Cuomo with a definition of bribery that is sure to haunt Mr. Trump. "The crime of bribery is if I offer something of value to someone in return for their official action.”
Although the White House’s redacted transcript of the phone call did not show an explicit quid pro quo in respect to Mr. Trump tying nearly US$400-million in military aid for Ukraine with getting its leader Volodymyr Zelensky to go after Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump did say, “I would like you to do us a favour.”
The scandal comes with an election only a year away. It’s a controversy that will drag on for months. It will make the government even more dysfunctional than it has been. It will jeopardize the chances of the new North American free-trade deal, USMCA, being ratified.
It will push other important issues such as gun control and the climate crisis even further down the priority scale. It will serve to exacerbate, if it can be imagined, the already extreme degree of political polarization that exists.
It brings more rage and hell to the United States. But there’s a cancer on this presidency that has to be exorcised. The whistle-blower’s revelations offer the best hope to date of that happening.
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