President Donald Trump has released a transcript of his telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that freely admits he sought a foreign leader’s help in digging up dirt on a potential political rival, and he insists that’s no big deal. All the talk radio talkers and most of the congressional Republicans agree, and the die-hard fans wouldn’t think it a big deal if Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue, but all of the Democrats and most of the rest of the country are taking a dimmer view of the matter.
There’s no explicit threat by Trump in the transcript, but his request that Zelensky investigate former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son’s business dealings in Ukraine came in the context of of a discussion about Trump withholding some much-needed military aid, and after Trump had chided Zelensky about Ukraine owing America a lot of favors. Zelensky is a former comedian and novice politician who came to power by starring in a hit sit-com about a comedian who becomes president, whereas Trump a political novice who came to power by starring in a hit game show where he played a successful businessman, but we think they probably well understood one another.
Even without any explicit threats or quid pro quo deals — which might yet be revealed by the still-classified “whistle blower” complaint that started all of this — there’s still something that strikes us as untoward about a president asking a foreign country’s help in swinging an election.
Trump clearly doesn’t think so, as he stood in front of national television cameras and asked Russia to hack Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail account, which they immediately tried to do, He now claims it was just a joke to regale a laughing rally crowd, but it was actually said at a news conference, where he affirmatively answered stunned follow-up questions about if he was serious. He also told the American Broadcasting Company’s George Stephanopoulos that he didn’t see anything wrong with accept a foreign government’s dirt on an opponent, and he went right ahead and released that transcript on Thursday.
Most Republicans probably agree, but we wonder what they’d think if the next Democratic president, who’s bound to come along sooner or later, did the same thing. Most Republicans would also take a dim view of a Democratic president enriching himself or herself at taxpayer’s benefits and from business dealings with foreign powers, refusing to disclose how much they’ve made from by withholding their tax returns, committing crimes to cover up affairs with porn stars that sent their personal attorney to prison, and consistently saying untrue things and generally behaving in an undignified way. For now, though, it’s just Trump being Trump.
After a while it all adds up, though, and a popular if not an electoral majority of the country is growing weary of it. The Democrats won a majority of the House of Representatives in the last mid-term elections, and they’re almost all on board with an impeachment inquiry that will involve seven different oversight committees looking into all aspects of Trump’s business and political dealings, which are likely to come up with something the Republicans will have a hard time explaining. Enough of the Democrats in the House voted to launch the impeachment inquiry to actually impeach Trump, and that seems increasingly likely to happen.
Less likely is the Senate voting to remove the president, as the constitution requires. The last mid-terms left the Republicans with a razor-thin majority in the Senate, but it takes a supra-majority of 67 to convict a president on impeachment charges, and for now it’s hard to imagine the needed nine Republican votes coming forward to kick Trump out of the White House.
That’s for now, though, and there’s no telling what those seven oversight committees and that pesky press will come up with by year’s end. Already Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mitt Romney of Utah have dared say they don’t think an American president of either party should be asking for a foreign country’s campaign contribution, others have said the same thing off the record, and there’s still an old-fashioned conservative intelligentsia that’s cheering them on. We hope most of their colleagues agree, despair that few of them will dare say so, and figure there’s still a chance Trump will rack up one scandal too many, as he’s just that kind of guy.
Trump was defiant during a rare formal press conference at the United Nations, without the whirr of a nearby helicopter, and made his usual complaints about the “fake news” and “witch hunts” and the made-up scandals that stain his good name. He didn’t seem his usual pugnacious self, though, and we’re tempted to use an old Trump insult and say the performance was “low energy.” To our careful eye, Trump also seems to be growing weary of it all.
— Bud Norman