By Mike Littwin
The whistleblower story is not simply a bombshell. It could actually be a game changer, which would be the first in Donald Trump’s tumultuous tenure in the Oval Office. Let’s face it, weird things often occur in Trumpworld, but none of them has ever led anywhere. But now there’s a whistleblower, and history tells us no one blows the whistle on sitting presidents. Ever. Until now.
And now the Wall Street Journal reports that in a July White House call, Trump repeatedly pressured Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate/dig up dirt on Joe Biden and reopen an investigation of his son, Hunter. According to the Journal, Trump pressed the Ukraine leader eight times — not exactly a round number, suggesting they’ve either got a readout of the call or a tape of it — to work with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
That’s right, Rudy, who doesn’t work for the United States government. He works for Trump and also plays a red-faced madman in appearances on cable TV news.
According to The New York Times, the whistleblower had more to offer than simply a “promise” that Trump made on a phone call. The Times says it may involve the possibility of a quid pro quo in that Congress had allocated $250 million to Ukraine for defense against Trump’s buddy, Vladimir Putin — money that, at the time of the call, Trump had withheld. It’s being reported that it was not raised in the phone call, but the whistleblower is apparently saying there is more to his report than a phone call. The money to Ukraine has since been allocated.
We, or least Congress, would know more except for the other part of the bombshell, which is that the inspector general of spy agencies says the information is urgent and credible and should, as the law requires, be passed on to the relevant congressional intelligence committees. Except, of course, it hasn’t been passed on. It is being blocked by the acting director of National Intelligence, apparently on instruction from the attorney general’s office and, just a guess, from the White House.
Meanwhile, Trump has predictably called the whistleblower a partisan hack while conceding he has no idea who the whistleblower is. But why not smear him or her without evidence? That’s the Trumpian way, isn’t it?
If you’re wondering how Trump can legally block the whistleblower’s report, the answer is easy: Because he’s Trump. And Trump, as we know, because he says so repeatedly, doesn’t believe laws apply to him. He can block a memo. He can shoot someone on 5th Avenue. He can pardon Bill Belichick for whatever transgression he commits next. It’s all the same.
So, what does happen now?
I see at least four possibilities, although I’m sure there are many more.
1. Trump and Barr and whoever else makes the rules continue the status quo. The whistleblower has blown the whistle, but no one in the Trump administration or the Republican caucus is listening. In which case, the pressure for impeachment grows dramatically, based on Trump’s repeated refusal to allow Congress to do its oversight work. If you missed the Corey Lewandowski testimony, you owe it to yourself to at least go back and watch the highlights. It was a master class in obfuscation, in which Lewandowski, who plans to run for the Senate in New Hampshire, concedes he regularly lies to the press, meaning he regularly lies to the public.
2. The case goes to court, and the courts rule that the information must be forwarded to Congress and it really is a bombshell — as reporting from the Journal, Times and The Washington Post suggests. In which case, the pressure for Nancy Pelosi and House to impeach goes sky high. As Jonathan Bernstein noted on Bloomberg, there are some issues that justify impeachment — say the entire Mueller report — and there are others that demand impeachment. We don’t know what is in the whistleblower’s report, so we don’t know if we’ve reached the demand stage, but if the call was “appropriate,” as Trump says, why wouldn’t he just release the whistleblower’s report?
3. The Trump administration gives in to the pressure and agrees that it should pass the whistleblower’s findings to the appropriate committees. OK, that was a joke. That’s not happening. It’s not even certain it would happen if the courts demanded it. For those of us who’ve been waiting for a constitutional crisis, we could be one whistleblower away. And congressional Republicans — here’s looking at you, Cory Gardner — seem to be fine with the idea of Trump using a foreign government to dig up dirt on the person leading the Democratic primary polls.
4. And, in what seems to me to be the most likely scenario, the information gets leaked to the press, or to Congress, by some random honest person with access to the whistleblower’s report. You know, one of those deep staters out to get Trump by revealing the truth. Which, again, if it is in fact a bombshell, would force Pelosi to give in on impeachment despite the risks.
If the Ukraine story is true — and Rudy Giuliani admitted in a tortuous interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he (not Trump) did ask the new Ukraine president (who is a comedian; don’t you love that?) to investigate the Bidens — that would seem to change everything. Giuliani didn’t say whether he’d pressed him eight times.
Now it’s perfectly possible that the whistleblower, at risk of his or her job, doesn’t really have anything of much interest in his report and this all being overblown. But what if Trump is involved, and the $250 million was involved in a July 25th phone call to the Ukraine president, then this would seem far worse than, say, Trump asking Lewandowski to tell Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself and fire Bob Mueller. Lewandowski apparently ignored Trump’s order because, well, it seemed illegal and possibly insane.
The impeachment question is a puzzle. I admit I’ve been struggling with it. With the Democratic primary in full swing, it’s getting late in the day to start real impeachment proceedings. And there is Pelosi’s concern — shared by many others — that unless Republicans are willing to buy in, there’s no chance of an impeachment going anywhere, and it could, in fact, end up helping Trump.
But that was the pre-whistleblowergate thinking. I’ve always said that the only way Pelosi would agree to impeach Trump is if he forced her to do it. I would say we’re closer than we’ve ever been.
Mike Littwin is a columnist for the Colorado Independent, a sister site to the Capital-Star, where this column first appeared.