james debate
james debate

Thursday 3 October 2019

Once again we find ourselves living through historic moments. Following the revelation that Donald Trump has been using his position as President to solicit (and potentially coerce) election interference from foreign leaders, the outrage in America has reached a fever pitch. At this point there can be little doubt that we are witnessing the end of the Donald Trump presidency. This latest scandal appears almost certain to result in Trump becoming only the third President ever to be impeached, leaving Senate Republicans with a clear choice to make between country and party.

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We are now in the midst of an official impeachment inquiry, triggered by a whistleblower accusation that President Trump had repeatedly pressured the President of Ukraine to open an investigation into his likely election opponent, Joe Biden, over baseless and widely debunked claims. The President admitted to the conduct, and then provided a White House call summary which appeared to confirm the accusations. Making matters worse were the apparent efforts by the White House and Department of Justice to cover up the existence of this complaint, blocking the document from reaching Congress, as would ordinarily happen under whistleblower statutes.

A few quick notes on this particular episode:

1) asking a foreign leader to interfere in a US election is clearly wrong and clearly illegal, even without any further detail. It is, at a minimum, a campaign finance violation. The Mueller investigation cleared members of the Trump 2016 campaign for this very offence on the basis that they couldn't prove specific intent, ie that they knew what they were doing was a crime. Following the Mueller Report, this defence can clearly no longer be relied on.

2) while a "quid pro quo" is not required in order for this incident to be a crime (much less, impeachable), the existence of such an arrangement could be evidence of bribery/extortion, a completely separate crime (and explicitly impeachable in the constitution). The White House's own "transcript" quite clearly contains a quid pro quo, depicting an exchange where Trump discusses providing military aid to Ukraine, followed by "I need a favour, though".

3) it probably goes without saying, given how brazenly corrupt and political this whole scheme appears prima facie, but there is no evidence whatsoever that Joe Biden has done anything wrong in this incident. The Ukrainian prosecutor on the case has described Trump's allegations as baseless and without any evidence, and there has never been any fact that has come to light which indicates that Joe Biden has done anything which would warrant investigation. Indeed many of the "facts" that Trump and his militants cite are easily disproved and have long been debunked.

4) it is often said that it is the cover up, not the crime, which matters. In this case it's both. The conduct itself is clearly illegal, and clearly impeachable. The cover up is obvious and shockingly corrupt, including ostensible collusion with Bill Barr and the Department of Justice.

So from the off this story appears devastating for the President, and that's just based on the contents of Trump's own (edited) summary of events. The actual whistleblower complaint (unsurprisingly) turned out to be even more damning, directly accusing the President of attempting to solicit election interference from foreign governments, and accusing both the President and his administration as a whole of engaging in a massive cover up of the conduct.

The story just seems to get worse every day, with more recent allegations that Trump engaged in similar conduct with other world leaders, and the revelation that potentially dozens of similar whistleblowers were out there, and had been stymied by the administration. Trump, predictably, is making matters worse, openly describing efforts to unmask and punish whistleblowers (highly illegal and anti-democratic), ostensibly endorsing execution of said whistleblower, and seeming to imply that his impeachment should trigger a civil war.

This is an unbelievable mess. It is clear that the White House has lost control of the narrative and is spinning out of control. It has reached a point where we are even seeing Republicans speak out against the President and in favour of impeachment. There is a sense of inevitability that, at this moment, we are witnessing the end of the Trump presidency.

But the truth is that this should have happened a long time ago. The corruption and amorality of this President has been a matter of public record since before he took office, and has only become more apparent with each successive crisis.

The Mueller Report should have been the final nail in the coffin, revealing a dizzying web of misconduct and a brazen disregard for both the rule of law and the integrity of American democracy. Mueller outlined some ten instances of potential criminal obstruction, even going so far as to specifically suggest that Congress take action. The release of this report was followed by the now famous letter signed by more than 1,000 Federal prosecutors asserting that, if not for the DOJ rules against indicting a sitting President, Trump would have faced criminal charges.

The report, along with numerous other instances of apparent wrongdoing, has led to months of investigation and scandal, and yet none of it appeared to reach the required critical mass to actually cause an existential crisis for this administration... until now.

And let's be clear: this is an existential crisis for the President. Ever more damning revelations seem to appear by the day. For the first time of his presidency, a majority of the country supports impeachment. That number has increased by 10% in less than a week, and is increasing by the day. The critical mass has been reached, and the point of no return has been crossed. Donald Trump will not recover from this crisis.

Even Republicans are starting to realise this fact. The comfortable Republican majority in the Senate should mean that any effort to remove Trump from office is dead on arrival, but amid a growing public outrage we are finally witnessing the first cracks in the unified front. It appears likely that there will be Republican defectors in both the House and Senate, the question is whether it will be enough to reach the two third majority required to convict and remove from office. It seems impossible, but make no mistake: if the polls continue to turn against Trump, Republicans will eventually drop their support. Their political futures may depend on it.

And so Congressional Republicans face a defining moment. Will they put country first and uphold the rule of law, or continue to debase themselves with the increasingly wild and nonsensical fantasies and conspiracy theories espoused by the President and his supporters?

Numerous prominent Republicans have stated that were the vote to be held in secret, Republicans would certainly convict Trump. So let's make no mistake, their reticence to do so is based entirely on electoral concerns, rather than the merits of Trump's defence of the indefensible. But this obsession over short term gain may well hurt them and the party as a whole in the long run.

The irony is that this mess could probably have been avoided had Republicans not given Trump a free pass on his previous transgressions. Throughout every scandal and instance of misconduct, Republicans have marched in lockstep and denied reality. The result is that Trump was emboldened to think he could get away with this brazenly corrupt act. In hindsight, I suspect Congressional Republicans wish they had taken more of a stand, and at least censured the President as a means of deterrence. They would do well to learn from this mistake before Trump drags the whole party down along with him.

This could well be the Republican Party's last chance. The party's future might depend on them doing the right thing in this moment. Otherwise, they risk being forever saddled to the legacy of a disgraced administration, consigned to the ash-heap of history's judgement.

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