Opinion

The Ukraine story is just the tip of the impeachment iceberg

This goes deep

When President Trump holds a grudge, there is no limit to how far he'll go for vengeance. Reports show the president of the United States, the most powerful human being on the planet, uses the vast resources of the nation's government not for the public good, but for his own gain. And the Ukraine scandal may be just the tip of the impeachment iceberg. Consider these damning headlines, all of which emerged in a single news cycle on Monday of this week:

The New York Times reported that Trump pressured Australia's government to help Attorney General William Barr uncover evidence to discredit then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller's now-defunct investigations into the president's 2016 campaign and its ties to Russia — and restricted access to the contents of the Australia call to a small group of aides in order to keep it from public view.

The Washington Post added that Barr made similar inquiries of British and Italian officials, to the alarm of American officials who believe the whole effort was made in the service of crackpot conspiracy theorizing.

The Wall Street Journal revealed that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo participated in Trump's July 25 call to the president of Ukraine — the call in which Trump sought a Ukrainian investigation of Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Pompeo previously feigned ignorance of the call's details in an interview with ABC's Martha Raddatz.

Taken together, the Times and Post stories paint a picture of a president willing to use the power of his office for the pettiest of reasons: to discredit America's intelligence agencies and their conclusion that Russia worked in 2016 to help him win the presidency. Along with the Journal's scoop, the stories also re-affirm something we've known since Trump demanded "loyalty" from then-FBI Director James Comey and berated then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself in the Russian case: Trump believes the institutions of federal government are a private force to use at his every whim.

I repeat: These stories are just what we learned on Monday. Many more shoes may drop as the impeachment inquiry progresses. In the meantime, there are several clear losers from the latest revelations.

  • Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) hit the news shows over the weekend to defend the president and attack Democrats for waging the impeachment, back when the president's global pursuit of evidence to undermine his political enemies was apparently limited to Ukraine. Now Britain, Italy, and Australia are involved — we don't know what other revelations might emerge. It's unlikely that McCarthy, Jordan, or any of their GOP friends really know, either. Every defense they offer on the president's behalf may be obliterated by a fresh scoop published five minutes later. Republicans can keep automatically defending the president, but they lose credibility every time they do. Nobody will believe them if, like Pompeo, they decide to pretend not to know about the newest scandalous developments involving the president — but few people will blame them, either.
  • Bill Barr. The attorney general has always had an expansive view of executive power — it becomes more difficult to believe that power can be abused if you argue there are few or no constitutional limits to a president's authority. But there were at least plausible ideological reasons for that stance when Barr was attorney general to President George H.W. Bush. Now Barr strives to protect and advance the prerogatives of a cranky, selfish president who places his own interests above the nation he ostensibly serves. In many states, the attorney general is an elected position — the state's top lawyer is accountable directly to the people, not the governor. The system is imperfect, but it makes it more difficult for governors in those states to subvert justice for their own ends. Perhaps Americans should consider a similar revision to the federal Constitution.
  • America as an international player. When the Ukraine scandal broke, many of Trump's critics said he had compromised American national security by using military aid to that nation as extortion bait. That's a bit of a reach — it might be a good thing to help Ukraine remain independent of Russia, but America is armed to the teeth with a huge conventional military and countless nuclear warheads. We're pretty much secure, thanks. Still, American leadership in the world is damaged considerably if our own allies believe U.S. foreign policy is conducted largely in the service of the president's ego. Countries like Australia play along because they have to, but America is an increasingly unreliable partner and ally. That will hurt this country for years to come.
  • The concept of quick impeachment. It is clear that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wants the House to move quickly on impeachment — Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, was subpoenaed on Monday over the Ukraine matter. But the more Congress and the media dig into Trump's abuses of power, the more bad stuff they are likely to find. Pelosi's ability to control events may be much more limited than she hopes.

Events are moving quickly. But the latest headlines tell a familiar story: Donald Trump is a committed narcissist, unable and unwilling to see beyond his own grievances.

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