As America’s House impeachment inquiry gains verifying evidence, we are pausing today to recognize the one person who apparently single-handedly saved President Donald Trump from himself. And who also enabled Trump’s Republican supporters to keep reciting the only surviving argument they are making in his defense.
Trump and his defenders owe great gratitude to their leader’s rescuer, the individual publicly known only as The Whistleblower.
For we now know it was the disclosure to House Democrats of The Whistleblower’s courageous complaint (buried since July in the Justice Department) that forced Trump to instantly abandon his demands that Ukraine probe Trump’s Democratic opponents to get the $391 million in congressionally approved military aid he had frozen months earlier, as his demands went unfilled.
With the once-frozen military aid flowing through channels, Trump’s congressional Republicans supporters began voicing their one-note defense against Trump’s impeachment: U.S. military aid was released to Ukraine without any demands met – so no crime was committed.
If common sense ruled Washington, Republicans and Democrats would immediately agree on all the essentials. Or, if each of us switched the president’s name to be the one we most love to hate, we’d all come to the same conclusion. A U.S. president was caught in the act of attempting to bribe, extort or just plain strong-arm Ukraine’s president using your taxpayer dollars as his persuader to get political dirt on an opponent.
Now, here’s the actual timeline:
April 21: Volodymyr Zelenskiy is elected Ukraine president.
May 23: In an Oval Office meeting, when Trump’s advisers say Ukraine’s new president deserves U.S. support, Trump reportedly responds that Ukraine is filled with “terrible” corrupt people who “tried to take me down.”
July 10: At the White House, two Ukraine officials are told by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland that a Zelenskiy-Trump meeting can only happen if Ukraine agrees to: (1) probe Burisma gas company that hired Joe Biden’s son, Hunter; (2) probe a discredited right-wing conspiracy theory that there was a Ukraine connection to the 2016 U.S. election cyber-sabotage.
July 18: An Office of Management and Budget official says Trump has frozen the $391 million in Ukraine military aid approved by Congress.
July 25: When Trump and Zelenskiy talk via phone, Zelenskiy mentions his need to buy U.S. anti-tank missiles (to fight Russian invaders); but Trump responds: “I would like you to do us a favor, though.” The Bidens and that 2016 election theory are discussed. WHISTLEBLOWER ALERT: An intelligence officer files a whistleblower complaint about Trump pushing Ukraine to do U.S. political dirt-digging favors to get U.S. military aid.
Sept. 1: Sondland tells a Ukraine official military aid won’t come until its president publicly announces probes of Biden-Burisma and the 2016 election Ukraine connection.
Sept. 11: Two days after a House committee learns of The Whistleblower’s complaint, Trump drops his demands and releases the Ukraine military aid.
At Wednesday’s House impeachment hearing, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., succinctly summed up the Republicans’ defense: “For the millions of Americans viewing today, the two most important facts are the following. Number one, Ukraine received the aid. Number two, there was in fact no investigation into Biden.”
So no crime? To understand the law-and-order reality this impeachment inquiry has devolved into, consider a cops-and-robbers variation: A man enters a bank, waving a gun, and orders a teller to fill his sack with money. But an unseen person presses a bank’s alarm button – a shrill whistle sounds. The would-be robber flees the bank with his empty sack – and runs into the arms of arriving police. “I got no money – so there was no crime,” the would-be robber claims. Do the cops free him? Of course not. They arrest him so he can be indicted and tried for attempted bank robbery.
Back to reality. Trump’s actions and conduct are clear. Trump’s attempted crime warrants being impeached/indicted by the House. But does that level of crime also warrant his conviction and removal from office by a most improbable two-thirds vote in the GOP-controlled Senate – just months before Americans elect their next president?
Unlikely and probably worse than unwise. Our nation is not just viscerally, but tribally split. Senate conviction could divide our United States in ways more profound than occurred during the Civil War. It would not merely divide us into North versus South. It would divide every state, and virtually every community, in ways that could actually shred us into dysfunctional tatters.
We are left with just one common-sense constitutional option: Impeachment by the House. Censure (but not conviction) by the Senate – to make the point that can be seen even by patriotic Republicans. Followed by Trump’s defeat through our democratic process on Election Day 2020. Unless Trump’s Grand Old Party elders help him see the light and convince him to not run again.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.