We do not know the full details of the whistleblower complaint that appears, via reporting, to center on a “promise” Donald Trump made and on repeated efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to find compromising information on one of Trump’s potential 2020 election opponents. But we do know that Trump personally led that effort; we also know that Trump withheld, without explanation, desperately needed military aid to Ukraine until after a series of conversations with Ukrainian leaders.
Trump using the office of the presidency to apparently extort an allied power for his personal gain would be, of course, corruption on an international scale. That does not mean, however, that his staff and other top Republicans are not rushing to defend those acts.
Appearing on the Sunday shows, the sunny meadow where our nation’s ethics and dignity go to die, an increasingly smarmy Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials in his capacity as Trump’s “lawyer.” In yet another display of dubious administration coherence, Pompeo suggested the efforts were appropriate in order to determine if Vice President Joe Biden was involved in “election interference” in the 2016 elections.
Surprisingly, he did not spontaneously combust after making that argument.
Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin’s efforts to defend Trump were similarly ad-hoc and dismissive. Mnuchin, too, offered the pretense that Trump’s actions were warranted to find out “what, indeed, did Biden’s son do”—a crooked and propaganda-promoting answer, given the prior debunkings of the Trump/Giuliani claims.
Mnuchin’s main talking point, however, was that everything about the story was “details.”
Host Jake Tapper: “So it’s okay for Don Junior and Ivanka [to do foreign business] but not for Biden?”
After Tapper pointed out that not only did Trump suddenly release military aid to Ukraine after holding it up without explanation, he increased it by “an additional I think $140 million that they didn’t expect.”
An extraordinarily wooden Mnuchin, sitting as rigidly as a ventriloquist’s dummy: “You’re getting into details.”
It is not often the nation has a Treasury Secretary so uninterested in details; Mnuchin appears to have an outright hostility to them.
From the deer-in-headlights efforts of both cabinet secretaries, it seems that the White House is still scrambling to invent plausible talking points for this newest Trump foray into explicitly criminal behavior. We have the but Biden part, but little else, and it is possible that at least some of the White House defense may have been scuttled by Trump and Giuliani’s eager confirmation of their acts and by Vice President Mike Pence’s refusals to deny his own personal involvement. It also mirrors Republican lawmaker silence on the apparent Ukrainian extortion plan; the most groveling lawmakers have piped up with their usual dismissals, but much of the caucus has been slow to react.
Trump, in the meantime, is said to be “enjoying” the public drama. He evidently sees no danger, either because he does not understand that trading military aid for election dirt is a criminal act or because he is confident the Republican efforts to protect him will overwhelm any Democratic efforts to hold him to account.