Not long after the 2016 election, I emailed a conservative friend to express my fear that President Trump would seriously weaken democracy in our republic. He responded that he feared for democracy too, but for a different reason. He was concerned that Democrats would impeach Trump and the United States would become just like a banana republic. At the time both houses of Congress were controlled by the GOP, so I assumed he was parroting something he heard on Fox News.
Well, my worst fears have now been confirmed. Trump has continuously claimed that the media is the enemy of the people, that political opponents should be jailed, that white supremacists have “some very fine people” on their side and that immigrants are subhuman.
During a May 2017 love-in with Russian officials in the Oval Office, Trump announced “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. [James Comey] He was crazy, a real nut job.” He added “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Later, he admitted to NBC’s Lester Holt on national television that his reason for firing Comey was “this Russian thing [investigation].”
Republicans, including my aforementioned friend, blame Democrats for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation even though it was initiated by Trump appointee Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein because Comey was fired. Although Mueller didn’t find evidence that Trump colluded with Russia during the lead up to the 2016 election, his report detailed 10 instances of potential obstruction of justice committed by Trump. Over 1,000 bipartisan former prosecutors signed a letter stating that if Trump were not president he would be indicted for these crimes.
When Mueller’s testimony before congressional committees on July 24 fizzled, Trump apparently figured he was freed from the Russia investigation constraints. The very next day he called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which he asked for a “favor.” Initially, Trump wanted information about cyber-security firm CrowdStrike and “the server.” Although, it is doubtful Mr. Zelensky had any idea what Trump was talking about, this company is implicated in a debunked conspiracy theory as having taken the computer server from the Democratic National Committee headquarters to Ukraine.
Later in the call Trump focused on investigations of his political opponent, former VP Joe Biden. Although Republicans defend the president by claiming he was generally discussing “corruption,” that word does not appear in the transcript released by the White House. Joe Biden is mention twice, however, and Hunter Biden is referred to once as “Biden’s son.”
The president implied, without evidence, that Joe Biden had “shutdown” a “very good prosecutor” from investigating his son, adding “and a lot of people want to find out about that.” Supposedly, U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani were to contact Mr. Zelensky about CrowdStrike and the Biden’s.
Barr now claims no knowledge of why he was mentioned in this call and denies he was involved in Trump’s scheme. Soliciting foreign help in a U.S. political campaign is illegal and Democrats are calling it bribery. So, Giuliani is up to his ears in what appears to be a criminal conspiracy that may also include EU ambassador Gordon Sondland, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and others. Sondland is already under the threat of a perjury charge, so his testimony next week will probably be scrupulously truthful and could implicate the president in a crime. But for the whistle blower, we may never have known about all of this.
It’s all rather simple though, isn’t it? Russia has been continuously attacking Ukraine for over five years. This nation desperately needs U.S. military and political support to counter Russian aggression. Trump wanted Mr. Zelensky to get dirt on a political opponent and give credence to a conspiracy theory that would clear Russia of election meddling. So, he planned to withhold almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine until Zelensky complied. In fact, Trump jeopardized the lives of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers to advance his personal political interests. At best, this was an abuse of power; at worst it was a diabolical plot to benefit Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Incredibly, Republicans are blaming the whistle blower instead of focusing on the national security threat that Trump was perpetrating.
I have not favored impeaching the president, even though Mueller’s report specified a number of attempts by Trump to obstruct justice. AG Barr’s preemptive letter exculpating Trump on these charges caused public confusion. It is clear now, however, that Trump was not chastened by the near miss of the Russia investigation; rather, he was emboldened by it. Consequently, I agree that House Democrats had no alternative but to commence impeachment proceedings.
So yes, my worst fears about Trump have come true and so has the impeachment that concerned my friend. It’s unlikely that Trump will be convicted in the GOP-controlled Senate. Like the congregation of cult leader Jim Jones, Republicans have chosen to follow Trump and “drink the Kool Aid.”
If, however, the president is removed from office, I believe the nation will heal in time and the rule of law will be reaffirmed. But the consequences will differ if Trump escapes impeachment unscathed and gets four more years to continue his authoritarian ways: Crimes by his associates will be pardoned, political opponents will be persecuted and the United States will truly become just like the banana republic my conservative friend feared.