Under what was reportedly mounting pressure from Republicans, the White House was forced to release two damning documents this week that will likely lead to the impeachment of the president: a memorialized telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and a whistleblower report about that call and many other things, including how far the White House went to cover it up. The fact that this material was released so quickly indicates that the White House expects to lose the impeachment vote in the House and are counting on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the "gravedigger of democracy" himself, either to refuse to hold a trial at all or to ensure that no such trial produces a two-thirds majority for conviction. That's probably a good bet.
Apparently, Trump himself truly believes that he did nothing wrong. For him, plotting with Rudy Giuliani to enlist the Ukrainian government to help him smear former Vice President Joe Biden and further a kooky Russia-promoted conspiracy theory which contends that, contrary to all the intelligence findings, it was Ukraine that actually interfered in the 2016 election (on behalf of Hillary Clinton) is business as usual. So it's not that surprising he ordered the release of a partial transcript of the phone call in which he took a page out of certain gangster movies and made Zelensky an offer he couldn't refuse: Help me smear my political opponents and I'll release the hundreds of millions in aid you desperately need to defend yourself.
According to the whistleblower's report, White House staff was well aware of his behavior and went to some lengths to cover it up, adding some new impeachable offenses to the long and growing list. The whistleblower's sources also suggested this wasn't the only time that sort of thing had happened.
This story is much more complicated than that, of course. You've got various members of the administration involved, including Trump's loyal accomplice. Attorney General Bill Barr who denies knowing anything about this despite the fact that Trump told Zelensky several times that Barr would be in touch. And there was the rather mind-boggling decision by the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, to alert the White House that a whistleblower had reported the president's behavior — in order to determine whether to send the report to Congress. Maguire appeared before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, seeming somewhat baffled by what he had stepped into,
And what can we say about Rudy Giuliani, who seems to be on the verge of some kind of breakdown, acting like a wild man on television on a nightly basis?
He's even opened himself up to charges with comments like this one, to Atlantic reporter Elaina Plott:
“It is impossible that the whistle-blower is a hero and I’m not. And I will be the hero! These morons — when this is over, I will be the hero. I’m not acting as a lawyer. I’m acting as someone who has devoted most of his life to straightening out government. Anything I did should be praised.”
That indicates he has no intention of evoking attorney-client privilege in all this, which makes things simpler for the impeachment — and possible criminal — proceedings. According to Plott, Republicans hold Giuliani responsible for this entire mess, with one former senior White House aide saying that the “entire thing is Rudy putting shit in Trump’s head."
That sounds right. But let's pause for a moment to consider that the most powerful man on earth was so empty-headed that he believed it.
Trump has not been himself the last few days. At the UN earlier in the week, as calls for impeachment were building, his speeches and press conferences were strangely flat as he seemed to recognize that he was facing a whole new world of hurt. To those of us watching him on television, he looked subdued and perhaps a bit depressed. But a couple of the reporters in the room suggested that it was actually suppressed rage. After looking at the footage again, I think they might be right. He is very, very angry.
This was expressed most clearly in the wake of the release of the whistleblower report on Thursday morning and the congressional testimony by Maguire, the acting DNI. Trump attended a morning meeting with U.S. diplomats in New York before taking off for Washington and said this:
Basically that person never saw the report, never saw the call, heard something and decided that he or she, whoever the hell it is — they're almost a spy. I want to know who's the person who gave the whistleblower, who's the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that's close to a spy.
You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart, right? The spies and treason. We used to handle it a little differently than we do know.
No doubt a little chill went down some spines when the New York Times made the controversial revelation later in the day that the whistleblower is apparently a CIA officer attached to the White House. Anyone who watched Trump's rallies in 2016 knows what he's talking about there and it's exactly what it sounds like. Recall that he used to describe Sgt. Bowe Bergdalh as "dirty rotten traitor" on the stump all the time, suggesting that he should have been summarily executed:
Trump is very antagonistic toward "spies" generally, even those who working for the U.S. According to Bob Woodward's book "Fear," when Trump was told that the CIA wanted to extract an "asset" from a foreign country, he opposed it, saying, “I don’t trust human intelligence and these spies. These are people who have sold their souls and sold out their country."
That's more than a little bit ironic, considering Trump's embrace of Russian interference in 2016 and his solicitation of Ukraine's interference in 2020, this time using American military aid as leverage. He's about to find out that there are other ways of selling out one's country.
Still, he is the president and is obviously surrounded by many loyal enablers, some of whom hold powerful positions in law enforcement. One hopes that precautions have been taken to protect this whistleblower. Trump is mad, and he feels cornered. He is not likely to go down quietly.