Good news everyone: President Trump is embroiled in yet another inscrutable foreign intelligence scandal, this time involving Ukraine! There had been a lot of reporting and rumors that Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani has been trying to get that country's government to investigate Hunter Biden, so Trump can accuse his father Joe Biden of being corrupt. Thursday night, Giuliani went on Chris Cuomo's CNN show and, after initially denying it, pulled a Colonel Jessup and admitted the whole scheme. "So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?" Cuomo asked. "Of course I did," Giuliani snapped.
There are a great many people to blame for the Trump administration's epic binge of lawlessness, above all Trump himself and his Republican enablers. But Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi deserves a great deal of the blame as well, for shutting down or stymieing attempts to meaningfully check Trump's abuses — doubly so because she is supposedly committed to clean, rule-of-law government. So long as nobody even tries to stop him, he will keep pushing the envelope.
So here's the Ukraine story at time of writing. As The New York Times details, several days ago it came out that a whistleblower in the intelligence community had come forward with a complaint about several things Trump had done, especially an apparent promise to a foreign leader. The inspector general, Michael Atkinson, opened an investigation, and informed the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire. By law Maguire is supposed to inform Congress about such reports that involve an "urgent concern," but he didn't. Atkinson then informed Congress about the complaint, though he didn't give them the actual document.
To precisely no one's surprise, Maguire still refused to turn over the complaint, or to testify before Congress to explain why. Instead he ginned up some preposterous excuses that the complaint didn't involve intelligence, and included "potentially privileged matters." (Read: the president's crimes.)
Then on Thursday night it came out that the complaint involved Ukraine — and thus the promise was almost certainly to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. There is no ironclad proof as yet, but it seems overwhelmingly likely that the most corrupt explanation for this is the correct one. As Josh Marshall writes:
We don’t know precisely what President Trump promised … [But the] immediate quid pro quo seems to be that President Trump was threatening to hold up $250 million in military aid, which Congress had approved for Ukraine, until Zelensky got to work going after Joe Biden. [Talking Points Memo]
Indeed, Trump himself had already pivoted from denial to "so what" when the Wall Street Journal reported Friday that he had repeatedly pressured Zelensky to investigate Biden during a July phone call. "It doesn't matter what I discussed," Trump told reporters. "Someone ought to look into Joe Biden." On Sunday, Trump acknowledged that he talked about Biden during the call, but defended the conversation, saying he was talking about "all of the corruption taking place."
All this is, of course, only one of Trump's many grotesque abuses of office. He baldly obstructed the Mueller investigation. He is stuffing great gobs of the White House budget into his own pockets, and continually taking huge payments from foreign governments — in flagrant violation of the Constitution in both cases. His administration is a pulsating rat's nest of corruption, bribery, and violent racism.
Pelosi is the most powerful Democrat in the country, and she has consistently used her power to delay and stymie any serious investigation of this stuff. As Chris Hayes writes, when she "wants something to happen in the House, it happens and when she doesn't it doesn't." The House effort to get Trump's tax returns is moving at a snail's pace — far outpaced by efforts in New York City. Democrats are only holding hearings on his violations of the Emoluments Clause on September 23 — more than nine months after taking over the majority.
Most importantly, there has been no formal impeachment inquiry. This is demanded on the legal and moral merits, a smart way to organize all the complicated corruption and abuse stories under one heading, and an excellent way to build public momentum against Trump — as it was against Nixon in his day, who was not half as corrupt as Trump is. But Pelosi is so scared of her own shadow that she is at daggers drawn with House Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) over the idea — Jerry Nadler, a longtime Pelosi ally and about as far from "fire-breathing radical" as it is possible to imagine. Nadler held an "impeachment hearing" some days ago where he called Corey Lewandowski to testify, but Pelosi undermined the effort immediately, going behind Nadler's back to harshly criticize him and his staff. In a closed-door meeting with aides and representatives, she claimed there simply weren't the votes for impeachment, and even said "feel free to leak this." (In reality, there aren't enough votes mainly because Pelosi is making sure there aren't.)
On the other hand, Trump officials are reportedly ignoring House Democrats' demands because they are confident Pelosi is too chicken to impeach. Why bother obeying the rules if nobody will punish you for breaking them?
Pelosi's strategy here appears to be straight out of the Democrat's Guide to Feckless, Cringing Cowardice: hope the voters rescue you in the next election. But even if Trump loses in 2020, Pelosi will have put the country in an extremely parlous situation. Without presidential power and immunity from prosecution, and likely facing a ferociously anti-corruption successor, Trump could well end up in prison after his term ends. In that case, he might ask, why not go for broke and try to overturn the election — if not constitutional government itself, since the opposition party leadership is categorically unwilling to lift a single solitary finger to defend it? It's not impossible that Pelosi's ignominious failure of leadership could end with her being the final speaker of the House in American history.
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