When the original whistleblower complaint emerged in early September, there were few public details. All that was known from the exchanges going on between a Congress that wanted to see the complaint, as the law required, and a White House sitting on the complaint, as the law did not allow, was that it concerned Donald Trump and a ‘promise’ made to a foreign leader. But even then it was easy to guess that the site of this promise would be Ukraine. That location had been underlined, and underlined again, over and over since even before Trump took office. And if all the times Ukraine appeared in 2016, and 2017, and 2018 were not enough, by the start of May Rudy Giuliani was heavily engaged in pushing a series of stories to the media that were meant to sabotage Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and apply pressure to the incoming government.
One thing that became clear this week is that it was that action—attempting to knock a long-time State Department official out of office for the crime of being too professional and too honest—that really put radars on high alert, and likely earned Trump and Giuliani’s scheme far more attention than it would have garnered had Yovanovitch remained in place. Whether it was NSC official Fiona Hill, or literally anyone who had been at the State Department for more than a couple of years, the efforts to demean, disparage, and dismiss “Masha” Yovanovitch upset everyone.
It wasn’t just that the former ambassador was made former only because of a series of conspiracy theories and rumors that everyone inside the State Department knew were untrue, it was that official after official went to Mike Pompeo and others in an effort to get some pushback on the attempt to kneecap Yovanovitch. What they got instead was the epidemic spinelessness that seems to set in everywhere around Trump. That singular failure of plain old integrity, was a big part of what put butts in seats when it came to State Department officials choosing to ignore Pompeo and appear before the the impeachment inquiry.
And the early dismissal Yovanovitch through character assassination is just one of the dates now decorating a calendar that starts way before Trump’s July 25 phone call and extends right up until after the point the whistleblower complaint became public.
What the transcripts released over the last week demonstrate very effectively is that the effort to strong arm Ukraine into a pair of “investigations” designed to provide Trump with political dirt started well before the phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky and extended at least until the start of the inquiry. That was already obvious from the set of phone texts that were released early in the inquiry which showed special envoy Kurt Volker and Ambassador Gordon Sondland jockeying to put words in Zelensky’s mouth to ensure his announcement met Trump’s demands. The transcripts served to fill in the gaps, provide a wealth of details, and dispel any doubts.
Donald Trump is guilty of attempting to extort a foreign government to interfere in U.S. elections. He’s also guilty of attempting to engage that same government in a conspiracy to undermine U.S. intelligence and provide a clean bill of health to Vladimir Putin. Trump’s primary on-the-ground assistant in this effort was certainly Rudy Giuliani, but the transcripts have demonstrated that Trump had plenty of help right in the White House—particularly from acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who was involved in everything from setting up alternative diplomatic teams to blocking the release of military assistance funds. The more has been learned, the bigger Mulvaney’s role appears.
Heading into the public hearing phase of the inquiry, the evidence against Trump is enormous, the consistency of the testimony is compelling, and a number of the witnesses are both figuratively and literally unimpeachable. Every appearance on Capitol Hill, every transcript released, every piece of information that has come out has only made the situation more certain, and more definitively worthy of impeachment.
Despite Republican claims, the transcripts show that there has not been a single witness whose testimony contained anything that looks like good news for Donald Trump—though there have been several witnesses, Sondland chief among them, whose testimony shows just how complicit they were in acts they believed to be illegal. Finding willing henchmen … is not a proof of innocence.
Trump would like to pretend that this entire process is restricted to a single “perfect” phone call. It’s not. Not only does that call contain every element of the unfolding scheme, it can only be understood in the context of a scandal that developed over months both before and after that call. Which is just what witness testimony has provided. All evidence. No exoneration.
Republicans have until Saturday to name any witnesses they would like to appear in the public phase of the inquiry. But unless those witnesses are Abraham Lincoln swearing to Trump’s honesty, and Hercule Poirot to unravel the plot and single out some other culprit, the Senate better start figuring out its hearing rules. Because Donald Trump is going to be impeached.