Things were slower long ago, in the early seventies. There was Carole King and her cat sitting in the window of the house she was renting up the way here in Laurel Canyon, the cover shot on her 1971 album Tapestry – as mellow and knowing as could be. Joni Mitchell and James Taylor helped out – the Laurel Canyon crowd. But this wasn’t a local thing. Every young woman in America who had survived the sixties had that album and wore it out – it was a statement about slowing down and getting things right, the things that matter in life. Those were the days.
And public life moved slowly and deliberately back then too. Nixon’s people broke into the DNC Watergate offices in June 17, 1972, but the Watergate Hearings opened on May 17, 1973. It took a lot of time to figure out what questions to ask of whom, and about what. Nixon had taped everything? There were tapes? Was there a “smoking gun” in there somewhere? Would he turn over the tapes, or just transcripts of what was on them? Archibald Cox would solve that problem, but the next year Nixon had him fired. His attorney general wouldn’t do that, nor would his assistant attorney general – they resigned rather than do that – but his solicitor general fired Cox. That didn’t help. The Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, that Nixon had to cough up those tapes. Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974. These things take time.
These things used to take time. Now things move fast. The New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos tells today’s tale:
A crucial cache of evidence in hand, House Democrats moved quickly on Thursday with an impeachment inquiry they said would be focused tightly on President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, using an incendiary whistle-blower complaint as a road map for their investigation.
The complaint landed like a bombshell on Capitol Hill on Thursday morning after its release by the House Intelligence Committee, and Democrats quickly seized on its narrative of allegations against Mr. Trump – chock-full of potentially damning detail, intriguing threads and characters who could become witnesses in the nascent inquiry – as an outline for their work.
After months of plodding investigating to determine whether they had grounds to impeach Mr. Trump, Democrats were working feverishly to build a case on the Ukraine matter, with some lawmakers saying they could move within a month or six weeks, possibly drafting articles of impeachment by the end of October.
No one knew about Nixon’s tapes and then it took years to get to anything that was on those tapes, and here was a detailed roadmap to everything about Trump and Rudy and Ukraine, part of the week where everything tumbled out all at once:
“This is a cover-up,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, who after months of resisting the move made it clear that she was determined to follow through with a formal impeachment inquiry.
She read aloud from a portion of the document describing an attempt by White House officials to quickly “lock down” records of a phone call in which Mr. Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. The complaint detailed charges that the president “is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election,” and that officials took pains to conceal evidence of that effort.
“We are at a different level of lawlessness that is clear to the American people,” Ms. Pelosi said.
That was fast. That damning phone call was in July. Think of that as the Watergate break-in. Team Trump had said that call was private, and then had said it was innocent, and then had said it was perfect, and then said that yes, Biden and his son had come up in the conversation, but no one was pressuring anyone about anything. But there was that whistleblower report that none of that was true. Team Trump decided to release a read-out of that phone call. That would prove there was no “smoking gun” – Trump did NOT threaten to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless they found a way to destroy Biden for him.
They released the read-out on Tuesday morning. Trump pretty much said just that. What had they been thinking? And the next morning it was the whistleblower’s report and it was full-speed ahead:
The speaker said the growing impeachment case would be centered around the Ukraine matter and investigative action mostly lodged in the House Intelligence Committee, which first received and publicized the complaint…
The Intelligence Committee was quickly lining up investigative targets. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Representative Adam B. Schiff, the committee’s chairman, said that the complaint provided a clear “road map” for congressional investigators in the coming weeks and that his committee would work through Congress’s two-week recess that begins on Friday.
Who needed Woodward and Bernstein to spend a year or more digging up all the details? They had all the details. It was time to wrap this up and nail down the loose ends:
Mr. Schiff said his first priority was arranging an interview with the whistle-blower, as well as a meeting with the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, to hear more about his own investigation of the complaint.
He also said he wanted to learn more about multiple White House officials mentioned in the complaint, some of whom were described as “deeply disturbed” about Mr. Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian president, and others who said it was “not the first time” in his White House that a presidential transcript had been hidden because of “politically sensitive” content.
“We need to look into the allegation that this may not be the only communication of a potentially corrupt character that was shielded by this classified information computer system abused for that purpose,” Mr. Schiff said.
That seemed straightforward, because everything was falling into place:
The [whistleblower] complaint became public just minutes before the intelligence panel prepared to hear testimony from Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, on why he had delayed sharing it with Congress for nearly a month over the recommendation of Mr. Atkinson. It was the second time in two days that their nascent impeachment inquiry had netted a significant tranche of potential evidence – a forceful reminder of the House’s newfound leverage after months of stonewalling from the White House.
Facing tough questioning from Republicans and Democrats, Mr. Maguire defended both the whistle-blower’s actions and his handling of the case, which he called “urgent and important.”
So it was time to nail everything down right now:
Democrats already have outstanding requests to the State Department and the White House for all records related to Mr. Trump’s call with the Ukrainian leader, his decision to withhold $391 million in security aid from Ukraine at the same time he was pushing for an investigation of Mr. Biden and attempts to influence Ukrainian policy by Mr. Giuliani. If the requests are not fulfilled voluntarily, they could issue subpoenas compelling delivery of the material as soon as Friday.
Those demands may test whether the White House’s decisions to turn over the whistle-blower complaint and, earlier, a summary of Mr. Trump’s call with the Ukrainian leader were aberrations or mark a new turn toward cooperation with the House investigations.
That question would be settled by the weekend, because this was not Nixon spending two years covering up everything he could cover up:
“We should be focused and not overthink this,” said Representative Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California and a member of the intelligence panel. “The guy has copped to this. If you are running an investigation, it is usually made a lot easier when the person admits to the crime. You can cross a lot of witnesses off the list that you might otherwise talk to.”
Trump really did say he told the Ukrainians to help him with Biden – innocently of course. He doesn’t get to decide his innocence.
But everyone knew what was going on. Peter Baker reports this:
No one bothered to put special limits on the number of people allowed to sit in the “listening room” in the White House to monitor the phone call because it was expected to be routine. By the time the call was over 30 minutes later, it quickly became clear that it was anything but.
Soon after President Trump put the phone down that summer day, the red flags began to go up. Rather than just one head of state offering another pro forma congratulations for recent elections, the call turned into a bid by Mr. Trump to press a Ukrainian leader in need of additional American aid to “do us a favor” and investigate Democrats.
The alarm among officials who heard the exchange led to an extraordinary effort to keep too many more people from learning about it. In the days to come, according to a whistle-blower complaint released on Thursday, White House officials embarked on a campaign to “lock down” the record of the call, removing it from the usual electronic file and hiding it away in a separate system normally used for classified information.
They knew this was trouble, so they did lock this down, but this is Washington:
Word began to spread anyway, kicking off a succession of events that would eventually reveal details of the call to the public and has now put Mr. Trump at risk of being impeached by a Democrat-led House for abusing his power and betraying his office. The story of the past two months is one of a White House scrambling to keep secrets to protect a president willing to cross lines others would not, only to find the very government he frequently disparages exposes him.
But he’s the only one surprised by that:
“The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call,” the whistle-blower, a CIA official who once worked at the White House, wrote in his complaint, which was declassified and made public by the House Intelligence Committee.
“They told me,” he added, “that there was already a ‘discussion ongoing’ with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain.”
It was and is and will be hard to protect this president from himself:
The specifics of Mr. Trump’s call with Mr. Zelensky would be one thing by itself, but it came during a period of other events that provide a context. For months leading up to the call, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, had been vigorously lobbying Ukrainian officials to investigate Democrats over the 2016 election and Mr. Biden’s dealings with the country.
Starting in mid-May, the whistle-blower wrote, he began hearing from other American officials “that they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decision making processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between” Kiev and the president.
Other people close to the situation have said that among those angry at Mr. Giuliani’s activities was John R. Bolton, who at the time was the president’s national security adviser. He left the administration this month amid disagreements with Mr. Trump over Russia as well as other issues.
Everyone knew, and a day earlier it was this:
A longtime GOP political consultant made a stunning claim on Wednesday that “30” Republican senators would vote to impeach President Trump if there was a secret ballot.
Mike Murphy, a former advisor to John McCain and Mitt Romney, appeared on MSNBC and began by claiming that Trump’s alleged misconduct was “much clearer” in the transcript of the president’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky than the Mueller report and that a direct “quid pro quo” wasn’t necessary, calling it a “classic shakedown.”
“I’m telling you – these Senate Republicans, should the Democrats vote impeachment are going to be pinned down to a yes-no answer,” Murphy told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “And if they provide cover for Donald Trump for this, a clear violation of his role as president, we’re going to lose Colorado with Cory Gardner. We’re going to lose Maine with Susan Collins. We’re going to lose Arizona with Martha McSally. And the Democrats will put the Senate very much in play.”
Murphy predicted that the politics will become “worse and worse” for Trump, which will push GOP lawmakers towards impeachment. He then claimed that dozens of Republicans are secretly on board with impeachment.
“I can tell you this… one Republican senator told me if it was a secret vote, 30 Republican senators would vote to impeach Trump,” Murphy claimed.
That’s probably not true, but it is a warning from one Republican to all the rest. This is getting dangerous. Tom McCarthy explains one example of that:
It’s a blockbuster that arrived too late for summer, but with the president obsessing, Congress investigating and main street America processing, the buzz around a whistleblower complaint about Donald Trump released early on Thursday appears likely only to grow.
Some have predicted it will end with Trump impeached, the Republican Party in tatters and multiple officials attached to the president and the White House out of jobs and possibly defending themselves against criminal charges.
The Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe said attorney general William Barr had worked himself into a predicament on par with the attorney general under Richard Nixon.
“Bill Barr is up to his eyebrows in the criminal conspiracy,” Tribe tweeted. “He’s Trump’s John Mitchell. Mitchell ended up in prison. It’s all unraveling.”
In that July phone call Trump does tell the Ukrainian president, over and over, that Giuliani and Barr will be in touch with him, and Trump expects him to take their calls. But the whistleblower suggests more:
The complaint indicates with damning detail that that was indeed the plan; that Trump went a long way toward carrying it out; that he was helped in his scheme by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as well as by lawyers and officials in the White House and apparently in the departments of justice and state, allegedly including Barr…
A lot of people in the US government knew about this plan, and had watched its mechanisms unfold, according to the whistleblower complaint. “Attorney general Barr appears to be involved as well,” the complaint alleges.
Yet while Barr allegedly participated in the Ukrainian plan – although he denies having contacted Ukrainian officials at Trump’s behest, as Trump repeatedly assured the Ukrainian president Barr would – Barr also is actively overseeing justice department inquiries relating to the plan, including one internal inquiry that determined that the plan did not violate campaign finance laws banning campaigns from accepting anything “of value” from foreign sources.
The “complaint makes Barr’s decision to not recuse and the justice department decision to not undertake even cursory investigation indefensible,” tweeted Susan Hennessey, executive editor of the Lawfare blog.
So he goes down too. It’s the Watergate thing again, only faster – but Donald Trump isn’t Richard Nixon. The day everything went wrong for Trump in Washington, Trump was in Manhattan after three days at the UN and spitting nails:
President Trump told staff members at the United States Mission to the United Nations on Thursday that he wants to know who provided information to a whistle-blower about his phone call with the president of Ukraine, saying that whoever did so was “close to a spy” and that “in the old days” spies were dealt with differently.
Yes, he went there, but he was very, very, very angry:
The comment stunned people in the audience, according to a person briefed on what took place and a partial audio recording of Mr. Trump’s remarks. Mr. Trump made the statement several minutes into his remarks before the group of about 50 mission employees and their families. At the outset, he condemned former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s role in Ukraine at a time when his son Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Mr. Trump repeatedly referred to the whistle-blower and condemned the news media as “crooked” for reporting on an explosive complaint by the whistle-blower. The president then said the whistle-blower never heard the call in question.
And that was treason:
“I want to know who’s the person who gave the whistle-blower the information because that’s close to a spy,” Mr. Trump said. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”
The Democratic chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform Committees, who are seeking testimony from the whistle-blower, called the president’s remarks “reprehensible witness intimidation.” The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Someone on the White House staff was probably trying to figure out a nice way to say that testimony of any kind against the president is treason and punishable by death. Is there a nice way to say that?
But the angry man wasn’t finished:
At the mission, Mr. Trump pushed back on the complaint and attacked the news media as “animals in the press.” He disparaged Representative Adam B. Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, as well as the former vice president, whom he called “dumb as a rock.”
At the mission, some in the crowd laughed at Mr. Trump’s comment, the person briefed on what took place said. The event was closed to reporters, and during his remarks, the president called the news media “scum” and labeled them crooked.
But wait, there’s more:
Aboard Air Force One on the way back to Washington on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Trump grew angry after watching televised news coverage about the whistle-blower, staff members said. Just before landing, Mr. Trump took to Twitter and again said the whistle-blower had “second hand information” and called the inquiry “Another Witch Hunt!” On the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews, Mr. Trump was in no mood to take questions.
Instead, he got off the plane and spoke directly into the news cameras.
“Democrats are going to lose the election and they know it,” Mr. Trump fumed. “That’s why they are doing it.” He added that there should be a way to stop the Democrats in court.
Alan Dershowitz, the rather eccentric Harvard Law School professor, had earlier made the argument that the Supreme Court could simply stop the impeachment of a president at the request of that president – so maybe Trump had heard about that. Dershowitz had been ridiculed for that. Trump may not have heard about that.
But that wasn’t the real message here. Someone is going to die, as Tom Nichols explains here:
We now know that the New York Times has reported that the government official who blew the whistle on President Donald Trump’s attempts to use a foreign government for his own corrupt purposes was a member of the CIA who was detailed to the White House. We should not know this, because in a matter of days or perhaps hours – maybe even by the time you read this – we will probably know the man’s name and everything else about him.
This is a problem, because there are people who want to do harm to this whistleblower and his colleagues. Prominent among them is the president of the United States himself, who has already said that he would like to know the identities of those who have placed him in jeopardy (or, in yet more jeopardy) of impeachment. Indeed, Trump thinks the whistleblower should be dealt with as an enemy spy and a traitor to the state.
And the spies and traitors? Of course we used to handle them a little differently than we do now:
He means the death penalty, of course.
Trump’s apologists will wave away his comments (including his reference to journalists as “scum”) as just another meaningless example of the president’s swaggering New York style of verbal venting.
It might be acceptable for a rich kid from Queens to talk like a sociopathic mobster or beetle-browed junta enforcer when he’s trying to bully the local stonemasons and carpenters on his latest slapdash condo project, but it is utterly unacceptable in a president of the United States. The House Judiciary Committee should add this threat against a CIA officer to its list of impeachable offenses.
That’s a thought, but the Ukraine business might be enough to do the job. And after all, everyone knows about all the rest that could trigger impeachment, and by now everyone knows the man. And this isn’t the early seventies, when things moved slowly. The music back then was fine, but that business with Nixon took forever. This shouldn’t take that long.