Donald Trump, who is now almost guaranteed to be impeached (if not actually convicted and removed from office), took to Twitter on Sunday to demonstrate what can only be described as an almost superhuman ability to make a bad situation immeasurably worse.
For the better part of two months, Trump and Republicans have called for the whistle-blower whose complaint helped spark the impeachment inquiry to be unmasked.
Of course, there are rules and laws about that, and those rules and laws are designed specifically to protect whistle-blowers from being targeted for retribution. If whistle-blowers are subjected to reprisals by the officials on whom they blew the proverbial whistle, well then that has a chilling effect on future, prospective whistle-blowing. That, in turn, raises the odds of corruption.
In addition to being codified, all of that is common sense, until you remember that the country is being run by a would-be strongman in the style of a third-world dictatorship. That’s the lens through which you have to peer in order to wrap your head around comments like the following (as delivered by the president in remarks to staff from the US Mission to the United Nations last month):
So, yeah, that’s the President of the United States threatening to execute the whistle-blower’s sources, some of whom testified last month in the impeachment inquiry (one certainly imagines that at least a few of the former and current officials who spoke to House investigators in October provided the information which eventually found its way into the complaint).
On Sunday, Trump threatened the whistle-blower directly.
“The Whistleblower got it sooo wrong that HE must come forward”, Trump said, before contenting that “the Fake News Media knows who he is but, being an arm of the Democrat Party, don’t want to reveal him because there would be hell to pay”.
A couple of things there. First of all, the whistle-blower did not get it “sooo wrong”. Trump is telling the public that the sky isn’t blue – that grass isn’t green – that up is down – that black is white.
All the evidence revealed over the past month suggests the whistle-blower was right. “Sooo” right, in fact, that his/her identity isn’t even relevant, nor is his/her account of what happened.
After all, the parade of officials who were deposed last month all painted a similar picture to that sketched out in the original complaint. Many of those officials delivered first-hand accounts. Even Gordon Sondland’s deposition largely supported the story detailed by the whistle-blower, even as Sondland is widely seen as being the most Trump-friendly witness of them all.
Second, Trump has now openly threatened some kind of harm to the whistle-blower, although he didn’t specify which circle of “hell” this person would be subjected to once he (Trump) figures out who he/she (the whistle-blower) is.
Meanwhile, Mark Zaid – the whistle-blower’s lawyer – was very clear on Sunday that the Republican narrative is manifestly ridiculous. To wit:
Our legal team offered GOP direct opportunity to ask written questions of whistleblower. Recent GOP messaging, led by President Trump (including this morning), has been to highlight original whistleblower and demand disclosure of identity.
Despite long standing policy of HPSCI to protect whistleblowers, especially anonymity (by the way, this was consistent with my efforts with the GOP on Benghazi), GOP has sought to expose our client’s identity which could jeopardize their safety, as well as that of their family.
We have directly engaged GOP as to the irrelevance of the whistleblower’s information and identity (including addressing any issue of bias), but with little effect in halting the attacks. Btw, countless OIG complaints are filed anonymously & full of hearsay. It’s common.
We offered HPSCI (& SSCI), both Majority and Minority, to have whistleblower answer questions in writing, under oath and penalty of perjury. Obviously, per House rules GOP is beholden to DEMs. We, however, are not.
Being a whistleblower is not a partisan job nor is impeachment an objective. That is not our role.
So we have offered to Devin Nunes, Ranking HPSCI Member, the opportunity for Minority to submit through legal team written questions to whistleblower. Qs cannot seek identifying info, regarding which we will not provide, or otherwise be inappropriate. We will ensure timely answers.
We stand ready to cooperate and ensure facts – rather than partisanship – dictates any process involving the whistleblower.
Expect Nunes (and Trump, and House Republicans more generally) to find something wrong with that offer. This isn’t about substance anymore – Trump’s conduct is indefensible on the merits.
As for process, Nancy Pelosi shot down one of the major arguments there when the full House voted on the inquiry this week.
And so, the White House and Trump’s defenders are left with only one option: Witness intimidation.
That, of course, is illegal.
Editor’s note: Defending Trump on the merits is now next to impossible. After three weeks of testimony from officials including the president’s former top adviser on Russia and Ukraine Fiona Hill, Gordon Sondland, Mike Pompeo’s former top aide Michael McKinley, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs George Kent, former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch (who implicated Rudy Giuliani in the pressure campaign to oust her) and, of course, Bill Taylor, whose 15-page prepared statement was positively devastating to the White House, it is abundantly clear that the substance of the whistle-blower complaint is accurate. A statement from Alexander Vindman – a decorated veteran who listened to the Ukraine call – was the icing on the cake.