Will Trump Be Removed From Office?
As the evidence mounted that President Trump abused the power of his office in order to aid his reelection prospects, the White House shifted its defense strategy to an all-out attack on the credibility of the whistleblower who shed light on these acts. Trump himself tweeted the following on Saturday night:
Indeed, this has been the mantra from Trump since the impeachment inquiry began. He has described his phone call with Zelensky as “perfect” and “largely congratulatory,” decrying the investigation as a politically-motivated “witch hunt.” The whistleblower’s complaint relied on “2ND HAND [sic]” information, Trump claims, and therefore cannot be trusted.
There are, of course, several problems with these arguments. First, the White House has not released a “transcript” of the conversation with Zelensky but rather a memorandum — a document which contains an explicit warning not to mistake it for a transcript on the first page. Second, it is only partially true that the whistleblower relied on secondhand information. While they admit that they did not witness the phone call firsthand, they did have “direct knowledge of certain alleged conduct,” according to the Inspector General.
Despite all of the evidence that the whistleblower is not a non-credible source, Trump has opted to impugn their integrity as his main defense. The one who filed the complaint never heard the call, and so they cannot be trusted to render judgements on it, says this line of reasoning.
However, new developments may render this strategy ineffective.
The lawyer representing the first whistleblower announced on Sunday that he is now representing a second whistleblower with “more direct information” about the call. In fact, the this person was one of the individuals the Inspector General interviewed to corroborate the claims made by the first whistleblower.
This information could be very damaging for Trump. So far, his tactic has been largely the same as it has been with his other scandals: disparage the accuser who broke the story as well as the media who cover it. Sprinkle reasonable on the claims made by dissidents — after all, their corruption and conflicts of interest make them wholly unbelievable. A second whistleblower whose experience was more direct, however, makes the position of reasonable deniability completely untenable.
It’s worth noting that, even if the second whistleblower reveals nothing new, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the initial complaint is credible. First, its central claim — that Trump asked Ukrainian President Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden — has been confirmed by both Trump himself and the memorandum released by the White House.
Second, the White House also verified the alleged cover-up of the records of the call with Zelensky. As CNN reports:
Officials familiar with the matter say Trump and others at the White House sought to restrict access to phone calls with foreign leaders after embarrassing leaks early in the administration…the move to place the transcript in the system came at the direction of National Security Council attorneys.
Third, a chain of text messages released by House Democrats show that Trump was not the only one who pressured The Ukraine to conduct an investigation into his political rivals. Rather, several diplomats were involved in an effort to
…persuade Ukraine to publicly commit to investigating President Donald Trump’s political opponents and explicitly [link] the inquiry to whether Ukraine’s president would be granted an official White House visit.
And as if that weren’t enough, among those texts is one from diplomat William B. Taylor Jr., who stated that he found it “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Critics can argue all they like about whether or not this indicates that Trump directed a quid-pro-quo, but it certainly doesn’t help the White House’s case to know that his own administration was under the impression that such a deal is what Trump wanted.
Ultimately, a second whistleblower may not have any new information on the President. But even if they merely corroborate the claims made by the first, Trump is beginning to look less and less innocent. In fact, once news of the second whistleblower broke, the White House didn’t even attempt to label that individual dishonest and instead shifted their defense to one predicated on the idea that Trump did nothing wrong. In the words of White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham,
“It doesn’t matter how many people decide to call themselves whistleblowers about the same phone call — a call the president already made public — it doesn’t change the fact that [Trump] has done nothing wrong.”
The goalpost-shifting has gone even further as Trump recently attempted to blame the call on Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. It’s hardly worth saying, but rarely do the innocent change their story from “I didn’t do it” to “I did it, but it wasn’t wrong” and then finally to “Someone else made me do it.”
It’s still early to tell if the House will eventually recommend articles of impeachment. And it’s even harder to tell whether or not Mitch McConnell would actually hold a trial in the Senate if they did. But if I had to make a guess, I’d say Vice President Pence better start learning to look more presidential, and maybe take a few trips to Iowa.