The impeachment inquiry is set to shift into a more damning mode, as House Democrats will vote Thursday on processes establishing the public hearings phase. This comes as a new witness, top national security adviser Tim Morrison, is set to shed more light on the quid pro quo at the heart of the scandal consuming Donald Trump’s presidency.
But while the inquiry concerning Trump himself continues to march forward, another big question looms: What should we do about the fact that numerous Trump Cabinet officials are in on his corrupt scheme as well, and are placing the government at its service?
These Cabinet officials are either actively validating the idea that there was nothing whatsoever wrong with conduct that we all now know actually happened — that is, Trump’s pressure on a foreign leader to help him corrupt our election on his behalf — or are working to cover it up.
This is driven home by a spectacularly disingenuous interview that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave to Fox News on Wednesday night. Pompeo floated a bizarre conspiracy theory hinting that the Obama administration held up military assistance to Ukraine to do a favor to Joe Biden’s son Hunter.
“I listened to the call,” Pompeo also said, referring to Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “appropriate.” Pompeo added:
I heard the president very clearly on that call, talking about making sure that corruption, whether that corruption took place in the 2016 election, whether that corruption continued to take place, that the monies that were being provided would be used appropriately, was very consistent with what I’ve understood President Trump and our administration to be doing all along.
In saying all this, Pompeo is echoing Trump’s constant refrain that his call was “perfect.” But Morrison’s testimony, set for Thursday, could provide new information that further dismantles this running claim.
What Tim Morrison knows
Morrison may corroborate parts of the damning testimony from William B. Taylor Jr., the acting ambassador to Ukraine. Taylor testified that around Sept. 1, Morrison described a conversation with Gordon Sondland — the ambassador to the European Union — in which Sondland said he’d told a top Zelensky aide that the military aid was conditional on Zelensky committing to investigate Burisma.
Taylor also testified that on Sept. 7, Morrison told him of a “sinking feeling” after learning from Sondland of strong signals that Trump had conditioned the money on Zelensky announcing an investigation of Biden. Taylor said this was confirmed in a Sept. 8 conversation.
These calls prompted Taylor to send those now-infamous texts raising alarms about this quid pro quo.
Morrison will reportedly confirm key aspects of this account. CNN reports that Morrison may nuance this, but if he merely confirms he conveyed word of this quid pro quo to Taylor, that will be deeply damaging.
Lots of officials were deeply alarmed
So let’s take stock of all the officials who acted deeply alarmed by Trump’s “appropriate” and “perfect” conduct:
- The Post reports that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testified that after he alerted White House lawyer John Eisenberg to his shock over the call, Eisenberg proposed stashing the transcript on the top-secret server. Vindman also testified he saw a threat to national security.
- At least four national security officials alerted Eisenberg in similar fashion (that may include Vindman).
- White House lawyers actually did stash the transcript on that server, which is normally reserved for ultra-sensitive secrets.
- The whistleblower, whose claims have largely been validated, reported that numerous White House officials were “deeply disturbed” by Trump’s conduct.
- Former national security adviser John Bolton described the scheme as a “drug deal.”
- Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted by Trump as ambassador to Ukraine to enable the shadow Ukraine policy on Trump’s behalf, saw that policy as a threat to national security.
- Taylor repeatedly texted about his deep alarm over withholding of military aid to leverage the investigations Trump wanted, and testified about that alarm.
- John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, publicly testified in another matter that this shadow foreign policy on Ukraine did exist, and flatly stated that demanding investigations of political opponents is not “in accord with our values.”
- Morrison privately said he got a “sinking feeling” about that quid pro quo, according to Taylor. And now Morrison has confirmed in testimony that this quid pro quo did, in fact, exist.
How do we square all this deep alarm about the pressure on Ukraine with this constant refrain from Trump and Pompeo about the president’s conduct?
What this all must inescapably show is that the administration’s actual black-letter position — articulated by the White House counsel — is that the conduct as detailed in the transcript is just fine.
Pompeo is echoing this. And Attorney General William P. Barr is busily enlisting other foreign officials to help validate a set of narratives — which may even overlap with the one that Trump is pushing Ukraine to help validate — that will absolve Russia of its interference on Trump’s behalf in 2016, as Trump wants.
Barr’s Justice Department also tried to cover up Trump’s pressure on a second foreign power (Ukraine) to interfere on his behalf in 2020, advising against the transmission of the whistleblower complaint to Congress, and declining to investigate its charges.
As one Democrat suggested to me, the Democratic argument now should be that Republicans have no wiggle room left. Trump has made it absolutely clear that he is willing to press the government into service to rig the next election on his behalf — and to cover it up. He has made it absolutely clear that he’ll keep doing just that, by any means necessary.
If Republicans don’t stop this, it can only mean they’re perfectly fine with it, or are even actively supportive of it.