Ah, the iconic question from the Watergate scandal, which has already been used in context of Trump’s current scandal over military aid for the Ukraine. The more things change, the more they stay the same, huh?
But now, thanks to new reporting from Julian Barnes at the New York Times, the timeline is a lot clearer, and if the Republicans were capable of even one iota of shame, Trump would already be putting on his life jacket as the GOP Senate lowers the lifeboat from the side of the HMS Bounty.
According to Barnes new reporting, in the last week of August, the top NBS lawyer, as well as the top White House lawyer paid Trump a little visit, and it wasn’t to bear glad tidings. They advised Trump that there had been a formal whistle blower complaint filed over Trump’s withholding of aid to the Ukraine. There then followed a conversation about whether or not the Department of Justice might be able to forestall the report from being delivered to congress, since the Intelligence committee’s IG pattern of behavior in turning over all pertinent whistle blower complaints to congress was well established. But the long and short of it is, the cat was out of the bag, and Trump knew it in the last week of August.
This new reporting is important stuff, because it gives context to several of Trump’s actions, and lays waste to the latest iteration of defense the House GOP has been taking. For instance, GOP resident dunce Jim Jordan all throughout the House intelligence hearings portrayed Trump as some sort of government Ebenezer Scrooge, only holding up the military aid to Ukraine for 54 days to ensure that newly elected Ukraine President Zelensky wasn’t going to take the cash off for a whirlwind weekend in Vegas. The new timing now makes it clear that Trump only started to think about the possible necessity of releasing the aid when he learned that congress may start sticking its nose into his affairs once again.
It also brings clarity to something that OMB employee Mark Sandy said in his deposition which was just released yesterday. Sandy speaks of a sudden flurry of activity in the office in August, when months after the aid was withheld, and career officials had complained of possible criminality, Mulvaney is now consulting lawyers to try to cobble together a retroactive because for why withholding the aid was legal to start with. Nobody in OMB gave a shit about the legality of withholding the aid, until the specter of congress probing the delay became clear.
Even more important, this new timeline exposes the distinctly self serving flavor of Trump’s September 9th phone call with EU Ambassador, and all around doofus, Gordon Sondland. Sondland’s testimony on that phone call was the high water mark for the House GOP in the hearings, where Sondland states, ” I asked the President flat out, what do you want Mr President. And Trump replied, I want nothing, no quid pro quo, I just want Zelensky to do the right thing, to do what he ran on.” The GOP collectively peed in their pants with excitement when Sondland put that on the record, as proof positive that Trump was expecting nothing special from the Ukraine in return for the aid. But with Barnes’s new reporting, we now know that Trump was aware of the whistle blowers complaint, and also that congress would almost certainly receive it in one format or another, and so he was able to set himself up with a totally self serving statement to Sondland, taking for granted that the information in this timeline would never be assembled.
OK, you’ve had the soup, the salad, and the main course, so here’s your dessert. Jordan and other GOP cretins have spent weeks telling the Aesop’s Fable that Trump released the hold on the Ukrainian aid on September 11th, after convincing himself that Zelensky was the real deal, and Vegas casinos would not be giving out larger dividends. But with the timeline now filled in, it becomes clear that by September 11th, Trump became aware that the DOJ would not be able to keep from turning the whistle blowers report over to congress, in fact some portions of it were already leaking to the public. In an act of desperate self preservation, Trump released the funds, albeit belatedly, in a last ditch effort to forestall a congressional investigation, since the funds were finally turned over to the Ukraine. And as we all well know, it didn’t work any better than any other aspect of this insane nonsense.
This is truly pathetic. The Watergate question was What did the President know, and when did he know it? Well, thanks to the exceptional reporting of Julian Barnes, we know know that weeks before anybody but the Intelligence Inspector General even knew of the existence of the whistle blowers report, Trump was made aware of it’s existence, and it’s basic contents. And armed with that knowledge, Trump and his merry minions set off on a two week frenzy of activity in trying first to cover up the episode, and then to provide some kind of flimsy, half baked legal justification for it. In the days of Nixon, this is the moment when Mitch McConnell would be walking into the Oval Office to tell His Lowness that the free ride is over, and he has to go. But today’s iteration of the Republican party has turned itself into the living, breathing personification of political author PJ O’Rourke’s classic Washington expose. They have truly become a Parliament Of Whores. And we deserve better.
To know the future, look to the past. before the insanity of the 2020 election, relive the insanity of the 2016 GOP primary campaign, and the general election, to see how we got to where we are. Copies of President Evil, and the sequel, President Evil II, A Clodwork Orange are available as e-books on Amazon, at the links above. Catch up before the upcoming release of the third book in the trilogy, President Evil III: All The Presidents Fen