What of the Rest of Team Trump?
Terry H. Schwadron
Nov. 25, 2019
Set Donald Trump’s behavior to the side in a process that will lead inevitably now to House impeachment, thanks to Democrats, followed by a Senate trial with foregone conclusion, thanks to Republicans.
We’re about to prove that we cannot get beyond our side in the partisan divide to look at a Constitutional question, an abuse of office, obstruction of justice and perhaps even criminal acts by a sitting president. We will be vastly expanding presidential power to act without Constitutionally mandated oversight and building in distrust for institutions that will outlive us all.
But we also are left with questions about the rest of Team Trump.
And from where I sit, they look like a bunch of people too cowed by Trump or too self-concerned to care about the fate of the country to step up to responsibilities to tell Americans what happened on their watch.
Making it all much, much worse, The New York Times reports that U.S. intelligence officers are briefing senators even now that the various conspiracies being promoted by the White House scheme are the product of a long-running Russian spy operation to blame Ukraine rather than Russia for interfering in the 2016 elections. These are the very conspiracies being touted by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-CA, lead Republican in the House Intelligence Committee, and others among his Republican fellows, and debunked by multiple testifying witnesses.
The Team, from the hearings
From two weeks of public testimony, however disputed by the Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee, Americans heard that Donald Trump directed from afar a campaign to trade a White House meeting of recognition and military aid to Ukraine’s new government through a campaign led by personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani with the “three amigos,” U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, just-resigned Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Ambassador to Ukraine Kurt Volker.
And, as we heard, it was all with the knowledge of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former National Security Advisor John Bolton, and acting Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney, as well as a boatload of various deputies, staffers and aides on two continents. Even Vice President Mike Pence seemingly was informed about the plot, though his staff says publicly that he knew nothing even as he was sent to meet with the Ukrainian president, a claim that seems either far-fetched or incompetent.
Giuliani and two Ukrainian-American henchmen are the target of criminal proceedings, and Giuliani is making noises about holding information as insurance against any move to throw him under the criminal bus. But he is in trouble, and, over time, he — or a court — will have to decide whether he was acting as the president’s lawyer, shrouding communications with his client, or as an agent outside the State Department acting for the president, either authorized or as a rogue agent. Thus Giuliani should be held to answer for how this scheme worked, and deal with the fallout.
Bolton, who apparently is nursing resentments over his treatment at the hands of the White House that ousted him, has yet to do much more than hint around that he has information that might be damaging to Trump. For reasons only he knows, he is loath to do as his closest deputy did in stepping up to the plate to offer actual testimony in the Ukraine matter. Instead, he courageousness seems halted as he completes a book for which publishers have dangled a $2 million advance. Bolton ought to be subpoenaed today, and go to court if necessary
From Pompeo, we’ve heard almost nothing. Sure, it is totally understandable that while he may have suborned his private druthers about the Ukraine to aid Trump, he has showed little in the way of integrity in speaking up. At best, his remarks to date have been misleading and deflective. Instead, he is already turning his eye homeward to Kansas, where there is a Senate vacancy in which he has interest, even reportedly telling some confidants that he may leave soon. Meanwhile, we have a right to know whatever he was doing in this Ukraine plot, without his scurrying to protect Trump — who, after all, says there was nothing wrong.
Over the weekend, it was learned from a court-ordered release of State Department documents that there had been communications between Pompeo and Giuliani and the White House, and communications between Pompeo and Rep. Devin Nunes, top Republican on the impeachment committee, all around key dates in the chronology, though the content was not available.
Perry has hidden behind the made-up White House privilege claim that is before the courts, and Mulvaney has been silent since his disastrous (for Trump) press conference in which he said of course there was a quid pro quo arrangement and that we should get over it. Those are not excuses for failing to be forthright. Let’s hear from them now.
Then there is Atty. Gen. William P. Barr, who managed to avoid any named role in getting the whistleblower concerns dismissed as a Justice Department responsibility. He has gone on the offensive, using a speech to the Trump-leaning Federalist Society membership to argue for a vastly expanded view of presidential powers. And now, without stopping to explain what he actually has done, Barr already is prepping for his next offensive act — taking the results of a pending Inspector General report before a grand jury in search of possible criminal acts against what looks to be a single, low-level FBI lawyer who altered an email to buttress an application for a FISA warrant at the start of the Russia investigation.
What to Do
The question is what are we supposed to do with these “leaders” who lack either the courage or the responsibility to explain such an abuse of power to the people who pay their checks. For myself, I would say that unless they are willing to stand up, they should resign their jobs. Then, maybe, they have ceded responsibility to explain or defend or simply inform people about what their part was, presuming that no actual laws have been broken.
The point is that this is not just about Trump, it is about a whole team that forced diplomats and national security folks to scurry about in pursuit of a personal political toy. That Trump was able to say that he did not even know the top policy people who were doing the work at the National Security Council should be an indictment all by itself — for incompetence in office.
This Ukraine scheme stinks, and even Republicans devoted to a Republican president ought to be able to sort out what here is simply beyond any line of responsible behavior.
It is bad enough that Trump goes out of his way to seek mindless loyalty from his appointees. Then he orders them to ignore subpoenas from Congress. Then he demeans and debases anyone showing even a scintilla of independent thought.
Trump is not doing his job, and is not serving the voters. Neither is his team.
They ought to be held to account.