By the time Democrats come around to the idea of impeaching Donald Trump, there may be nothing left of our country to fight for.
This week should have been a break-glass moment. Trump sent a signal to foreign powers around the world Wednesday that he would happily invite their help to win reelection in 2020. Friday morning, following the uproar over his attempt to auction off the presidency to the highest bidder, Trump made a half-hearted pass at walking back the remarks on a friendly Fox News show, promising he would contact the FBI if he thought any of the foreign dirt provided to him “was incorrect or badly stated.” But his hollow attempt at redemption is as worthless as every other utterance that departs from his lips. Malign actors around the globe have already gotten the message that Trump is for sale, and Mitch McConnell, the soul-selling king of dark money leading the Senate, has eagerly doing everything in his power to enable that purchase while making our elections open-season for would-be hackers worldwide.
Indeed, McConnell has blocked every election security bill that has come his way. It doesn’t matter whether these earnest attempts to shore up our elections have come from the Democratic House or his own Senate committees, whether they have bi-partisan support or are even sponsored by his GOP colleagues, the self-anointed “grim reaper” of legislation is indiscriminately killing it all. The House Democrats’ Election Security Act, the Senate Democrats’ Protecting American Votes and Elections Act (PAVE) Act, the Senate Judiciary approved Defending Elections Against Trolls from Enemy Regimes (DETER) Act and Defending The Integrity of Voting Systems Act—there’s more but none of them will see the light of day under McConnell’s Senate reign.
McConnell’s Senate also snuffed out a bill this week from Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, requiring campaigns to report to the FBI any approaches made by foreign entities to U.S. campaigns. As soon as the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act found its 15 minutes of fame following Trump’s admission, Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee stepped in to block it from advancing by unanimous consent. Trump, who had supposedly made a commitment on Fox to doing exactly what the bill would require, thrilled over Blackburn “fighting obstructionist Democrats” in a tweet Friday afternoon. In other words, yeah, he still wants FBI reporting to be strictly optional.
While the GOP-led Senate is laying out the red carpet for foreign influencers, Trump’s favorite personal lawyer, Attorney General William Barr, is leading a well-publicized interrogation of the intelligence community charged with protecting American interests at home and abroad. Specifically, Barr’s Justice Department has requested interviews with the key CIA officials and analysts who helped investigate Russia’s 2016 election interference. Just imagine for a second the chilling effect Barr’s ongoing inquiry will have as we head into 2020. Going forward, every U.S. intelligence officer will be keenly aware that their agency’s highly-sensitive work in 2016 was scrutinized, publicized, maligned as sources were lost and careers were ruined at the direction of Donald Trump. As former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe told Nicolle Wallace this week, “My colleagues and I have been under investigation since January 2017,” the moment Trump came into office. Now just imagine for another second that next year you have information or are concerned that something is awry or meddling has taken place. Do you report it to the authorities? Do you think about your career or maybe your family first. What if you’re a foreigner? Do you think about former MI6 officer Christopher Steele and his family going into hiding after the Steele dossier became public?
In the meantime, the intelligence community has gone into overdrive trying to repair the damage Trump did when he invited an election hacking free-for-all. Former FBI counterintelligence chief Frank Figliuzzi said foreign meddlers were all but certain to “come out of the woodwork like never before to try to influence the president.” In other words, Trump compounded the number of election threats the intelligence community faces while both the Senate and Justice Department are confounding their efforts to secure next year’s elections.
This is a conspiracy to game the 2020 elections that, stated clear as day for all to hear by Trump himself, runs straight up the line and into the Oval Office. Republicans may not have some sort of master plan, but they have all the pieces in place—a system of vulnerabilities that will be open to interpretation by the people in power. And guess who’s mostly in power? Trump—aided by his Attorney General, the Senate Majority Leader and a conservative Supreme Court—will be positioned to take advantage of any election mischief or perceived irregularities. Armed with his bully pulpit and cadre of henchmen, Trump will decide when to make an issue of something and when to turn the other way. As long as they are in power, there’s no limit to the number of distortions they can create, investigations they can undertake, and close calls they can manipulate to their advantage. Look at the Supreme Court seats McConnell stole. Look at the report full of damning details about Trump’s behavior that Barr managed to muddy and mostly bury. Think of how many times Trump has mused about being president forever and how strong an impetus he has to stay in power so he won’t face criminal prosecution.
House Democrats are suffering from a complete lack of imagination in their Washington bubble where they think that beating Trump in the Electoral College will be good enough to oust him from office. It may be. But it may very well not be. Frankly, their only insulation against the type of corruption and malfeasance that the Republican party is willing to engage in to stay in power is to convince 60%-plus of the American people that Trump poses an existential threat to this nation—which he does and provably so. Many Americans still do not understand the scope of the damage he has done not only to our institutions but to our safety as a nation. The way Trump has undermined and hobbled the intelligence community leaves us more vulnerable every single day to attack by a subversive foreign power. Heck, Trump has already spent his first three years in office behaving like a Russian asset.
Democrats had the opportunity to pivot this week from slow-and-steady to urgency. They could have utilized what everyone but Trump understood was an intolerable invitation of foreign influence to draw a line in the sand and say, whatever Trump’s past transgressions have been, this selling of the presidency is simply unacceptable. They also just happen to have an entire 448-report at their finger tips proving that Trump and his campaign chiefs were ready, willing, and seeking to accept exactly the type of foreign assistance Trump invited once again this week.
More than 40% of the nation already understands this despite a lack of any coherent message from Democrats. Democrats need only convince another 20% of voters (or even a little less) that Trump is a clear and present danger to our country. It is not only Democrats’ constitutional duty to hold Trump to account, it is a political necessity that they prime the American public for a worst-case scenario in which the public must flex its muscle en masse to serve as a counterbalance to public officials like Barr and McConnell who would do literally anything they could get away with to maintain power.
If not now, when? The time to act is slipping through Democrats’ fingers hour by hour, day by day.