Trump-Ukraine Scandal Is Basically A Dare

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

This tweet is funny, but true — in the sense that we don’t really have a dispute of the facts.

Over the weekend, Trump basically admitted what his personal lawyer said: that Trump urged the president of Ukraine to dig up what he believed would be damaging information about one of his leading Democratic challengers, former vice president Joe Biden.

Trump’s defense, to the extent that one is shaping up at all?

It seems to be: “What are you going to do about it?”

He has got reason to be cocky. On every issue — emoluments, Trump-Russia, etc. — Republicans, Fox News, and the usual suspects are more than willing to back him up, deflect, etc.

So, Trump figures, nothing will happen.

He also has the Attorney General nestled in his back pocket — a convenient thing to have when it comes to lawbreaking.

“We haven’t seen anything like this in my lifetime,” said William A. Galston, a senior fellow in governance at the Brookings Institution who graduated from college just before Watergate. “He appears to be daring the rest of the political system to stop him — and if it doesn’t, he’ll go further.”

The effort — which came as the Trump administration was withholding financial and military support from Ukraine to help the small democracy protect itself against Russian aggression — illustrates Trump’s expansive view of executive power and what appears to be a cavalier attitude about legal limits on his conduct.

While Mueller’s investigation did not place Trump directly in the Russian conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and boost Trump’s candidacy, the president was an active participant in the Ukrainian episode, which was brought to light by an intelligence official’s whistleblower complaint.

Trump has said he did nothing improper in his calls with Zelensky or any other foreign leader, and on Saturday he derided Democrats and the media for what he dubbed “the Ukraine Witch Hunt.”

But the scrutiny surrounding the phone call has brought fresh peril to Trump’s presidency and could turbocharge the drive by some House Democrats to open impeachment proceedings.

Will it? Democrats seem so docile. Oh, there will be hearings and tweets, both met with resistance from the GOP, if the past is any indication.

Democrats’ frustration with their inability to check Trump and hold him accountable for his conduct after nine months in the majority is starting to boil over. Lawmakers for the first time are saying publicly that their caucus looks feckless, and some are fretting that their flimsy oversight and reliance on the courts to eventually rescue them have proved fruitless.

“We back off everything,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.). “We’ve been very weak.”

This is thoroughly transformative. Democracy isn’t what it used to be, because of Trump.

“What we’re discovering is that the Constitution is not a mechanism that runs by itself,” Galston said. “Ultimately, we are a government of men and not law. The law has no force without people who are willing to enforce it. The ball is now squarely in the court of the Republican Party, and particularly Senate Republicans. Will they ever be prepared to say enough is enough?”

Legal experts said it is extraordinary that Trump allegedly sought political assistance from a foreign government after a tortured, nearly three-year national conversation about the illegality of doing so. Asked what the president had learned from the Mueller investigation, former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman said, “Nothing. Zero.”

“I think he thinks it’s perfectly okay,” Akerman said. “This guy has got no scruples whatsoever. I don’t think he would stop for a second.”

He won’t. Because there is nothing to stop him.

Right now, Trump has the Justice Department and the PR manpower. What do Democrats have? A willingness to complain on TV?

The next couple weeks are going to determine whether the Democrats have any fight in them.

And here we go….