Whether it’s true or not that he’s “heard” the whistleblower is partisan, he was destined to say so. There’s certainly a solid chance that it’s true, and even if it isn’t true the whistleblower will need to be portrayed that way as part of the GOP’s defense. Besides, Trump views all criticism of him as fundamentally illegitimate. If you’re making trouble for him, your reasons for doing so must necessarily be petty and personal.
I had a thought last night: What if John Bolton is the whistleblower?
It’s silly, of course. Bolton was still NSA when the whistleblower’s complaint was referred to the inspector general on August 12. If he was going to call foul on Trump, he would have known that doing so would wreck their relationship irreparably and so he would have just resigned at the time. He’s not the whistleblower.
…but that’s not to say that Bolton might not have information that corroborates the whistleblower’s claims. Was he on the call with Trump Ukraine’s president on July 25? Imagine a grudge-bearing John Bolton being sworn in before Adam Schiff’s intelligence committee next month on live television and being asked if the president tried to trade military aid for oppo research on a Democratic candidate. Trump would demand that he refuse to testify on grounds of executive privilege. Would Bolton comply?
Trump doesn’t acknowledge here that the complaint has anything to do with Ukraine … but he does go on to say that maybe the “fake news” should look at Joe Biden’s habit as VP of leaning on foreign prosecutors, which is exactly what the Ukraine matter is about. Did Biden abuse the power of his office by conditioning U.S. aid to Ukraine on the government’s willingness to go easy on his son, at the time a director of a Ukrainian company being eyed for corruption? If so, is it okay that Trump allegedly abused the power of his office by conditioning U.S. aid to Ukraine on the government’s willingness to go after Biden for that?
There’s no defense to an accusation of corruption as compelling as “Well, they do it too.”
Donald Trump again denied making inappropriate comments to a foreign leader after a whistleblower complaint — which he claimed was a "political hack job" lodged by a “highly partisan” member of the intelligence community https://t.co/sK7R9cUeQC pic.twitter.com/fzscdTkHya
— POLITICO (@politico) September 20, 2019
I did not realize it when I wrote last night’s post but the Ukrainian government issued a “readout” of President Zelensky’s call with Trump on July 25 — and it explicitly mentions Trump lobbying him about the “investigation of corruption cases”:
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy had a phone conversation with President of the United States Donald Trump. President of the United States congratulated Ukraine on successful holding free and democratic parliamentary elections as well as Volodymyr Zelenskyy with victory the Servant of the People Party.
Donald Trump is convinced that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve image of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA.
“Inhibiting the interaction” between the two governments is, I suppose, one way to describe Ukraine potentially losing the American military aid it was promised if Zelensky refused to go after Biden. Are there other instances in which U.S. officials leaned on the Ukrainians about Biden? WaPo reporter Robert Costa tweeted about Mike Pence’s trip there a few weeks ago. Make of this what you will:
A day later, VP Pence took questions at a news conference. Pay attention to this response to a question from AP's @colvinj. Full remarks at the link. https://t.co/Ir7qAazsBx pic.twitter.com/XrXgTgagQU
— Robert Costa (@costareports) September 20, 2019
Pence might not have mentioned Biden specifically to Zelensky but the Ukrainians are fully aware of what’s expected of them. Daily Beast reporter Anna Nemtsova interviewed a Ukrainian official last week and got some straight talk on the subject:
Ukraine is ready to investigate the connections Joe Biden’s son Hunter had with the Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma Holdings, according to Anton Geraschenko, a senior adviser to the country’s interior minister who would oversee such an inquiry.
Geraschenko told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview that “as soon as there is an official request” Ukraine will look into the case, but “currently there is no open investigation.”
“Clearly,” said Geraschenko, “Trump is now looking for kompromat to discredit his opponent Biden, to take revenge for his friend Paul Manafort, who is serving seven years in prison.” Among the counts on which Manafort was convicted: tax evasion. “We do not investigate Biden in Ukraine, since we have not received a single official request to do so,” said Geraschenko.
That was last week, right around the time that military aid was finally released to Ukraine after a long delay. Have they since received an “official request” to reopen the Biden investigation? Unclear.
Apart from “witch hunt,” the chief spin from Team Trump right now is that there’s nothing wrong with encouraging foreign governments who receive U.S. aid to crack down on corruption. That’s true. But it’s also completely unconvincing in Trump’s case.
A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job. Maybe if Obama did that the Biden Family wouldn’t have bilked millions from Ukraine and billions from China; being covered up by a Corrupt Media.
— Rudy W. Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) September 20, 2019
Trump palpably doesn’t care about foreign corruption. The leaders whom he seems to admire most for their “strength” are autocrats like Putin who are, to put it mildly, not known for their clean hands. Whether a foreign regime is corrupt and/or tyrannical might matter to a neconservative but it doesn’t matter to a nationalist. What matters to an America-First-er is what that regime can do for America, period. And — again, to put it mildly — Trump himself seems to have no concern about appearances of impropriety within the U.S. government, in which case why would he care whether Ukraine does things by the book? He has zero interest in Zelensky running a tight ship and every interest in Zelensky benefiting him personally by making trouble for the Democratic frontrunner, Biden. Giuliani claiming that POTUS is a good-government stickler is so ridiculous that it feels like an actor “breaking the fourth wall” and winking at the audience through the TV screen.
The irony is that the ultimate beneficiaries here might be … progressives. Trump’s Ukraine snafu is destined to drive media attention not just to what he did in this case but what Biden did in allegedly leaning on Ukrainian prosecutors years ago. Biden could be damaged by that and lefties have every ideological reason to see that he is, since Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would gain at Grandpa Joe’s expense. Righties intent on defending Trump by shouting that Biden did it too might find progressives eagerly nodding along and pressing the argument that both men are too corrupt to trust with the presidency. If you want to stop the White House from extorting foreigners with taxpayer money for personal gain, the only solution is throw both of these bums out.
To put it another way, what happens if after all this Trump ends up facing Elizabeth Warren instead of Biden? She won’t have any Ukraine baggage. The president will.
Exit question: How long will it be before Trump flatly admits that he tried to extort Zelensky on the Biden matter? Forty-eight hours, maybe? He’s been known to tell on himself out of the blue before.