For fans of historical fiction (I’m one, having published two such novels), David Liss is a superb writer I highly recommend. He wrote a three novel series set in early 18th century London, one of which is titled “A Spectacle of Corruption,” a telling of the events surrounding an election that served as a referendum on King George’s reign.
We had an election like that in 2018 and it didn’t go well for the would-be king sitting in the White House. Now we’re seeing another spectacle of corruption unfolding before our very eyes.
The dizzying events of the last two weeks are difficult to understand, but there is clarity if you look for it. I wouldn’t turn to the conservative media or Republicans for that. Rather, read the two documents that triggered the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry.
The first, a read-out of President Trump’s July telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, presents a damning indictment in the president’s own words. The second, a whistleblower complaint reportedly written by a CIA operative detailed to the White House, is likewise incriminating because it offers a look at just how far-reaching the corruption is inside the Trump administration.
Once these were made public, the House had no alternative but to begin its impeachment investigation. Failure to do so would mean failing the rule of law and the Constitution.
“A president doesn’t have to be convicted of a crime to be impeached,“ Sen. Lindsay Graham,R-S.C., famously said in 1999 of President Bill Clinton. “Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office.”
Graham, of course, is a staunch Trump ally who called the read-out of the president’s conversation with Zelensky a “nothing burger.” I beg to differ. Soliciting the help of a foreign leader to win an election is a whopper. Last week, more than 300 former intelligence officials, diplomats and general military officers called Trump’s actions an “unconscionable abuse of power.”
In response, the White House is spreading a smokescreen of disinformation to obfuscate the facts contained in the document.
The primary weapon the president is using to confuse the public is a bogus claim that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden demanded Ukraine’s chief prosecutor be fired to protect his son Hunter who was on the board of an energy company in that country. Biden, however, joined by European Union leaders and the International Monetary Fund, wanted the prosecutor removed because he wasn’t investigating corruption.
The president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has nevertheless trumpeted the false story while pushing the debunked conspiracy theory that Democrats colluded with Ukraine to hurt Trump in 2016, an allegation which former Trump adviser Tom Bossert said has “no validity.”
Trump pushed Zelensky to dig dirt on Biden, according to the read-out. He even offered the help of Attorney General William Barr. The newly elected Ukrainian president was clearly being coerced because Trump delayed the $400 million in military aid appropriated by Congress for Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression; give me what I want (wink wink) then we’ll give you the weapons.
Meanwhile, the whistleblower found himself or herself engulfed in the Trumpian smokescreen. First, he or she took the complaint to the CIA’s general counsel, who promptly called the White House to alert officials of the complaint. Frustrated, in August the agent went to Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general, who said the complaint was “credible” and of “urgent” concern. But Barr’s Justice Department intervened and it didn’t reach Congress until last week, not the seven days mandated by law.
Asked at a hearing if the read-out and the complaint coincide, Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, said they are “in alignment.” He likewise believes the whistleblower’s allegations are credible.
Atkinson and Maguire are both Trump appointees standing up for principle and risking their jobs, knowing how much their boss despises truthfulness and transparency. Now Trump allies are trying to illegally identify the whistleblower, their obvious goal to smear the integrity and motives of the CIA agent if they are successful.
We’ve seen Trump retribution like this before. The president attacked the integrity of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, former FBI Director James Comey and even his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. It’s a pattern of going after anyone whose job is to enforce the law and uphold the Constitution.
The House has promised a timely and thorough investigation focused on the credible facts presented in the read-out and complaint. Judging by his unhinged tweets this week, the president is clearly panicking. He implicated himself, according to the read-out, and he entangled other high ranking administration officials in his web of deceit, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Barr, as we learned this week.
Trump and his apologists call the impeachment inquiry a politically motivated “coup” and “disenfranchisement” of those who voted for the president. It is neither. As Graham said, it’s about cleansing the office of corruption.