Trump rages against an impeachment ‘coup’
President Trump accused Democratic lawmakers of “treason” and attempting to foment a “coup” this week as the House accelerated an impeachment inquiry focused on whether the president abused his office by strong-arming Ukraine for political favors. Lawmakers issued subpoenas to the State Department as well as to Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, hoping to further corroborate a government whistleblower complaint detailing Trump’s attempts to press Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. (See Talking Points.) Those attempts met with immediate resistance from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who refused to allow the House to depose five State Department employees, accusing legislators of trying to “bully” government officials and giving them insufficient time to prepare.
Democrats accused Pompeo—who had listened in on a call between Trump and Zelensky mentioned in the complaint—of trying to intimidate witnesses into not cooperating with the investigation. “We’re not fooling around here,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee. “We don’t want this to drag on months and months and months, which would be the administration’s strategy.” The House also plans to request information about unusual steps the White House took to conceal records of Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders, including Zelensky, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Transcripts of those calls were placed on a highly classified server to shield them from all but a handful of White House staff.
Trump raged against the investigation on Twitter, calling multiple times for Schiff to be charged with treason. He also accused the whistleblower of being a “spy” and said he deserved the right to “meet my accuser.” Trump posted a comment from a right-wing evangelical pastor who said that removing Trump from office would start a “civil war”—drawing rare condemnation from a Republican congressman. “I have visited nations ravaged by civil war,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. “This is beyond repugnant.”
What the editorials said
Trump must “answer for his undemocratic intimidation tactics,” said The Washington Post. His tweets accusing the Ukraine whistleblower and congressional investigators of treason—a crime punishable by death—illustrate why the president faces impeachment. Trump already stands accused of abusing the power of his office to pressure another nation into sabotaging his political opponents. Now he’s using the bully pulpit to threaten anyone attempting to hold him to account. Invoking the specter of “civil war” is equally disturbing. Trump’s opponents have long feared how far he might go to mobilize his supporters against threats to his presidency. “Now he is showing them.”
Trump isn’t the only one “smashing norms,” said the Washington Examiner. The White House started locking Trump’s calls in a secret server after two embarrassing conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia were leaked in early 2017. Washington bureaucrats were aghast at the rise of an uncouth and unschooled outsider like Trump, so they set out to undermine him. The White House responded to those leaks by becoming increasingly paranoid and secretive, leading to the current crisis. “It’s bad news for America when nobody feels the need to play by the rules.”
What the columnists said
“The Trump team has circled its wagons,” said David Ignatius in The Washington Post. It won’t be easy for Congress to compel White House officials to provide testimony and documents for its impeachment inquiry. In theory, the House could order its sergeant-at-arms to arrest recalcitrant witnesses. “But exercising this power could lead to a much worse constitutional crisis.” Congress could ask the Justice Department to bring charges, but that would mean trusting Attorney General William Barr. Taking the fight to the court could take months, during which time voters might become frustrated and momentum could stall.
“Spare us” the sham investigation, said John Daniel Davidson in TheFederalist.com. “Democrats have already made up their mind that Trump is guilty.” They should just go ahead and vote to impeach him. Besides, the key facts are already known. Trump released the memorandum of his Ukraine phone call and the whistleblower complaint “for everyone to read for themselves.” It’s telling that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t have the full House vote to authorize an impeachment inquiry, something that happened under both Presidents Nixon and Clinton. She knows “it would be an entirely partisan vote” that exposes the impeachment inquiry “for the political hit job that it is.”
The question now is whether more people will come forward with damning information, said David Remnick in NewYorker.com. Lawmakers will soon hear from the whistleblower as well as former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who was pushed out amid Giuliani’s intrigues. As the floodgates open on Trump, current and former administration officials disgusted by his downward spiral into threats and demagoguery will hopefully choose to speak out “for the sake of history, decency, and their reputations.”
Unlike President Bill Clinton, Trump “is choosing to forgo an impeachment-focused war room” in the White House to handle messaging and rapid-response communications, said Alex Isenstadt in Politico.com. That role has instead been outsourced to the president’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee. The campaign has already spent $8 million on TV ads highlighting Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine and accusing Democrats of trying to “steal” the 2020 election. The RNC is also running ads against House Democrats representing districts Trump won. If nothing else, Trump has proven adept at defining reality for his followers, said Chris Cillizza in CNN.com. In a Monmouth poll, some 40 percent of Republicans said that Trump didn’t mention Biden in his call with the Ukrainian president, even though Trump himself admitted to it and the call memorandum proves it. This reality-distortion field will be “Trump’s most lasting legacy—whether he loses in 2020 or serves through 2024.”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from Reuters, Getty, AP ■