This can’t be happening. This is happening too fast. With that Watergate business, there was breathing room between the surprises – weeks and weeks between Alexander Butterfield surprising everyone with news that Nixon had a taping system and had taped everything, and Nixon firing Archibald Cox in an effort to keep those tapes from an investigation of any kind. He had offered edited transcripts. This went to the Supreme Court. This took forever. And “bombshells” dropped weeks apart. There was time to consider what was really happening and where it might lead, and it was that way with the Clinton impeachment too. There wasn’t a different “blue dress” every few hours. In both cases there was time to think.
There’s no time now. Take any day in the ongoing Trump impeachment scandals. Take just one day, say, the last day of September. David Knowles does that and offers a quick review of the bombs dropping:
At 3:53 p.m. in Washington, the Democratic chairmen of three House committees subpoenaed Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani for documents related to the president’s request for an investigation by Ukrainian officials into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Reps. Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler and Elijah Cummings cited Giuliani’s cable news appearances, saying the former New York City mayor “admitted on national television that, while serving as the president’s personal attorney, he asked the government of Ukraine to target” Biden.
“In addition to this stark admission, you stated more recently that you are in possession of evidence — in the form of text messages, phone records, and other communications – indicating that you were not acting alone and that other Trump Administration officials may have been involved in this scheme,” the chairmen wrote.
Giuliani may or may not testify. That depends on how he feels, but his primary demand is that Adam Schiff, that unfit fool who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, reassign his chair and resign from Congress – otherwise Rudy ain’t testifying. Everyone on Fox News cheered, and then there was this:
Minutes later, at 4:04 p.m., the Wall Street Journal reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was among those who listened in on Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is the basis of the House investigation.
Last week, when Pompeo was interviewed by ABC News, he denied firsthand knowledge about what Trump and Zelensky discussed…
The State Department had not disclosed that Pompeo had been on the call with Zelensky. Democrats are also seeking to learn if State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl was listening in as well. On Friday, Democrats subpoenaed Pompeo for documents related to the administration’s dealings with Ukraine.
They want to know of the secretary of state was in on this too, telling the Ukrainians that they had better help Trump destroy Biden or things might not go well for them ever again, but that wasn’t all:
Thirteen minutes after the Wall Street Journal’s story on Pompeo was published, the New York Times reported that Trump sought additional foreign help with his political troubles. In a recent phone call with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the Times reported, Trump sought information that could help discredit former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. That investigation was kicked off, in part, by the disclosure that former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos had discussed the Russian efforts with an Australian diplomat in London.
It wasn’t clear how Trump would benefit from reopening questions about the Mueller investigation, which ended in April with the publication of a report that Trump claimed, inaccurately, exonerated him completely.
Yeah, but Trump was angry. He has never been able to prove that the whole Mueller investigation was a coup attempt by the Deep State led by George Soros and Hillary Clinton. Maybe the Aussies could help. If they didn’t help they might be sorry too. Did he say that? No one will ever know:
Just as with Trump’s call with Zelensky, the White House restricted access to transcripts of his call with Morrison.
But never mind:
At 5:11 p.m. ET, the Washington Post reported that Attorney General William Barr also sought foreign assistance in building a case to discredit the Mueller report, by contacting British intelligence officials and personally traveling to Italy last week to meet with officials.
This seems to be a strong-arm effort to find a way to force other governments to provide what no one else can find, or something like it – “proof” that the whole Mueller thing was a coup attempt.
That was a cascade of “bombshells” all in one day – along with new polling that showed the nation was fine with investigating impeachment – and Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley notes the reaction to all this:
With both the facts and the public against him, Trump is, to use a political science term, going berserk. On Sunday he sent or retweeted 20 Twitter posts about a Fox News host, Ed Henry, who’d suggested in measured terms that Trump’s conduct toward Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky may not have been appropriate. (One of the retweets referred to Henry as a “lying shit head.”) Then he wrote out and endorsed a statement that MAGA megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress made on Fox in which Jeffress warned that impeachment would cause a “Civil War-like fracture.” Finally, Trump has begun demanding that House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff be arrested and “questioned at the highest level” for committing treason, the alleged treason having occurred when Schiff paraphrased Trump’s conversation with Zelensky in the manner of a Mafia-style shakedown during a hearing last Thursday.
Trump didn’t like the paraphrase. The framers of the Constitution, however, were careful in spelling out what acts could be regarded as treason, the only crime they explicitly defined. Article III, Section 3 states that “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”
Adam Schiff saying that the president kind of sounded like a mafia boss isn’t included here, so some people now have a problem:
Trump’s party does not seem to be embracing this crisis-response approach. GOP Illinois congressman Adam Kinzinger (who represents a district that Trump won by 17 points) called the civil war tweet “beyond repugnant,” while Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who typically finds that Senate rules require him to do exactly what is most politically beneficial for the Republican Party, announced that Senate rules require him to hold a trial – as opposed to having a quick vote to dismiss charges or ignoring the issue altogether – if the House votes to impeach:
And now Trump will be furious with McConnell, and Mathis-Lilley adds this:
At some point, you’d have to imagine that the brain-possessing members of the GOP will force Trump to start taking some better legal and political advice. But it’s also starting to become possible to at least begin to think about imagining that said advice will be “you should resign because you’ve screwed everything up.” And that’s when things will really start to get interesting, because he definitely won’t want to do that!
Mathis-Lilley says the chance of impeachment has now risen to eighty percent, and that leads Peter Wehner, one of those Republican who wishes he weren’t, or that Trump wasn’t a Republican, to offer this:
In a sane world, the reaction of Republicans to the “memorandum of telephone conversation” between President Trump and the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, combined with the whistle-blower complaint filed by an intelligence officer describing a White House cover-up, would be similar to the response of Republicans after the release, on Aug. 5, 1974, of the “smoking gun” tape that finally broke the Nixon presidency. Republicans would begin to abandon Mr. Trump, with senior figures urging him in private and in public to resign.
This may be asking too much of Republicans, who have lost their way in the Trump era…. but Republicans could support Mr. Trump’s agenda while simultaneously condemning his corrupt behavior. Yet the vast majority of them refuse to do so. Something more is going on here. In order to find out what, I spoke to several former Republican officials and aides, who all requested anonymity in order to speak freely.
And then many words follow. What we have here is tribalism, self-interest, and fear of constituents who love Donald Trump, the usual suspects. But that can’t be right, so Kevin Drum offers this:
For the past 20 years Republicans have been drinking their own Kool-Aid. They believe that Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt politician of our era. They believe that Barack Obama engaged in a calculated campaign of illegal executive orders throughout his entire second term. They believe that Democrats secretly – or not so secretly – favor open borders with Mexico as a cynical ruse to increase the number of Democratic voters. They believe that progressives, if given power, will make it all but illegal to practice the Christian faith.
Against that backdrop, ask yourself this: is it really that big a deal to ask the Ukrainian leader to investigate Joe Biden? I mean, sure, maybe Trump shouldn’t have done it. But compared to everything Democrats have done – IRS targeting, Benghazi, emails, killing the filibuster, Kavanaugh, DACA, the list is just endless – it maybe rates a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10. It’s a trivial molehill that Democrats and their media enablers are trying to turn into a mountain.
And besides, even if Trump was a little over his skis in his conversation with Ukraine’s president there really is a huge scandal surrounding Joe Biden. Right? Clearly the guy tried to call off the Ukrainian dogs in order to help his son make a ton of money, and used a billion dollars in taxpayer money to make his threat good.
None of that is even remotely true but that doesn’t matter:
Don’t just shake your head at this. Lots of Republicans believe it. And frankly, a lot of you probably believe equally crazy things about them. The big difference is that while some liberals may watch more MSNBC than is good for them, they also ingest other news that prevents them from going entirely over the edge. A great many conservatives don’t. It’s just Fox and Hannity and Breitbart 24/7.
So they stick with Trump:
Some of them do it because they’re cynical and just want to hold onto power, but a lot of them do it because they aren’t cynical and truly believe Ukrainegate is a minor thing that wouldn’t rate a blurb on page A-10 if a Democrat did it. They are entirely unaware that the narrative they hear on Fox is anything but the straight story. This is true of both Republican members of Congress as well as the rank and file.
The Kool-Aid is powerful. Don’t underestimate it. And don’t expect even smart Republicans to admit that it’s the real problem. Even the smart ones are afraid of it, after all.
Dahlia Lithwick sees that too but puts it a different way:
Back in 2017, John Oliver started calling the early Trump-era scandals “Stupid Watergates.” This blossomed over the years into a series of segments on episodes in the Donald Trump presidency that could be characterized as “a scandal with all the potential ramifications of Watergate, but where everyone involved is stupid and bad at everything.” He could have aired such episodes almost daily, but at some juncture, the Stupid Watergates just morphed into our daily political lives. As Oliver would continue to argue, the question was always less “What did the president know and when did he know it,” as it was “Is the president physically capable of knowing things at all?”
That was the joke, and it was funny, but Lithwick says that’s not funny now:
As a general matter, jokes are funny because they are at least partially true. Here, we have crossed a line where the joke is so true, it’s hardly funny. Donald Trump is not competent and many of the people with whom he surrounds himself – until he fires them – are not competent either. The primary work of his highest officials appears to have been hiding evidence of his malfeasance and ineptitude from us and pretending that work was heroic. Donald Trump never made sense in gatherings of foreign leaders, or among the victims of tragedies, or in any setting that wasn’t a staged stadium rally or photo-op. But somehow, we stopped believing that he would be caught out for this gross incompetence and absurdity, or even for the inherent lawlessness and corruption, and tried to laugh it all off.
In the face of outrageous immorality, we were told we had a derangement problem.
That seems to have just changed.
The joke is finally not on you… Within the span of one week, something is finally, possibly, maybe going to stick. Donald Trump may actually be brought down – by an entirely unforced error involving his obsession with an insane Fox News talking point about Ukrainian “corruption,” Joe Biden, and, of course – because it’s Stupid Watergate – Hillary’s emails. The spectacular flameout of Rudy Giuliani, the implosion at the State Department, and the president’s mounting incoherence also swirled together to propel the meltdown along. As the days roll on, nobody can seemingly help themselves from implicating everybody else, which makes the fast-track impeachment inquiry more a clipping service than an imponderable mystery.
Nobody can seemingly help themselves from implicating everybody else? So THAT explains the hourly cascade of bombshell impeachment news stories! Now this makes sense:
Don’t for a moment forget about the myriad people who were alarmed by Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to find dirt on his political opponent and yet did nothing, as well as the deeply stupid people who were alarmed by Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to find dirt on his political opponent and tried to bury it. Because that, there, is some next-level stupid. And that too continues to unspool as we learn that other phone calls, with Russia and Saudi Arabia, were similarly disappeared.
Generally the pattern has been that Trump and his incandescently mediocre family and hapless enablers do something moronic (such as suggesting that Obama wiretapped him) and we all recoil in horror. That is followed by hasty claims that this was just Trump being Trump, and what can you do. As a result of the soft bigotry of ever-lowered expectations, the Trumpier Trump acted, the shruggier we became, until it actually appeared that he was slyly enrolling Americans in tolerating the stupidity and training us to accept yet more of the same. At some midpoint in this incubus, it seemed that nothing would ever seem stupid, or at least surprisingly stupid, ever again.
And that is where the joke went to die.
But the central problem remains:
Donald Trump, while certainly often his own worst enemy, has perennially managed to also be his own best asset. His lies are so outlandish that everyone believes they must be jokes; his jokes are so grotesque everyone believes they must be lies. His contempt for the law is so acute that everyone starts to doubt that the law is of any fundamental utility. In this case, it’s not even clear that Trump has realized he did anything wrong – the whistleblower’s original complaint makes apparent that everyone in the White House assumed the now-infamous Ukrainian phone call would be routine, probably because Trump thought it was. It seems entirely possible he never saw a problem. He was not worried about confessing to two Russian visitors or Lester Holt his real reasons for firing James Comey, either.
Lithwick, however, sees one fatal flaw here:
As a lifelong narcissist, Donald Trump genuinely believes he can do nothing wrong. He perhaps even genuinely believes that anything he has ever done that has been wrong is not, in fact, wrong. He further believes that the presidency is the perfect gig for him because presidents can do nothing illegal. And, somewhat pathetically, he apparently seems to think that if he could just explain his rightness about all things to everyone, we would finally give him the love he so desperately craves. And so, unlike Nixon, who at some point did give himself over to the cover-up, Donald Trump just keeps trying to publicly justify the crimes.
Instead of just keeping quiet, Donald Trump has instead directed his energies to try to convince us that he is right and we are wrong. He wants us to understand and accept that his threatening calls to foreign leaders are “very legal and very good,” and also “perfect,” and that a whistleblower and those who spoke to the whistleblower are in fact “close to” spies who should be executed for treason. When hundreds of former foreign service officers express horror at Trump’s antics, and his behavior shows him to be manifestly unwell, he keeps repeating that he is perfect and stable and good, because he thinks he is (and after all, his assumption on this point has until now been proved correct).
It is clear that we’re hurtling faster and faster toward a reckoning of some kind.
And that won’t be pretty:
It seems perfectly possible that whatever we’re about to experience will continue to split us into two countries, living two irreconcilable realities, inhabiting two un-gettable jokes…
Andrew Sullivan thinks it’s worse than that:
Trump is melting down. This is a relative term, of course. He’s been mentally unstable and clearly addled for a long time. But this week, he seemed drained to me, dazed, depressed, delusional. His swift concessions to the Democrats – allowing a semi-transcript of his chat with Zelensky to be published, even though it was damning, and then releasing the whistle-blower complaint, even though that clearly makes matters much, much worse, and implicating his own attorney general and vice-president in a conspiracy – were signs of panic. Was this a strategy to appear innocent, with nothing to hide? If so, “delusional” doesn’t quite capture it, does it?
But I bet Trump does not even understand the high crime he committed – leveraging national-security policy to get a foreign government to smear a political opponent. Trump admires Mafiosi and always has. He has done his best to emulate them his entire life. Why would he not continue to do so? And a narcissist of Trump’s proportions is simply unable to act in the interest of something other than himself, or see his personal interests as different than, or subordinate to, his public duties. So his psyche is stopping him from seeing what a big deal this is, while his eyes and ears see potential catastrophe.
This will not end well.
What did the president know and when did he know it? Is the president physically capable of knowing things at all? This will really not end well.