It’s hard to maintain innocence after starting off with a confession. With the not-a-transcript of the call between Donald Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky in one hand, and the whistleblower complaint in the other, the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions in Eastern Europe began where most investigations end—with not just enough evidence to solve the crime, but a personally endorsed road map from the criminal. After that, it’s all just crossing the pleas, dotting the indictments.
Everything that Trump has done since then has only greased his slide toward what has already moved from “maybe they won’t go beyond an inquiry” to “chance of impeachment 100%.” That’s especially true of Trump’s way-after-the-horse-escaped attempts to slam the obstruction barn door.
There’s a genuine dilemma for Trump here. In past impeachment efforts, the cover-up has been worse than the crime. But in this case, the crime—extorting an allied nation for personal political gain—is worse than any cover-up. Still, that doesn’t make the cover-up any less a crime in it’s own right. Trump is damned if he does attempt to obstruct, damned if he doesn’t. Because he already damned himself. But good.
On Friday, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch provided the House impeachment inquiry with ten hours of testimony detailing how she had been hounded by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, how she had been forced to resist repeated attempts to break both protocol and law to forward Trump and Giuliani’s schemes in Ukraine, and how she was ultimately removed from her position on the basis of conspiracy theories and lies. And the best talking point the White House could generate, the best thing that Republicans had to offer, was that it was “unfair” to make Yovanovitch explain how Giuliani set her up and Trump knocked her down. It was “bullying” to have her stand up and tell Congress how Trump chopped off a 30 year career of service so he could find someone willing to go along with an international shakedown.
But far more important than any particular detail that Yovanovitch shared, was the fact that she was there and talking at all despite an order to defy Congress and stay silent. She did not. Instead she obeyed a congressional subpoena and testified. That action alone shows that the walls are down. Trump’s castle of lies … is crumbling.
Yovanovitch is only the first of what promises to be a flood of testimony, all of it serving to underline, then underline again, Trump’s abuse of power and threat to national security. Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top aide on Russia and Ukraine, it set to appear before Congress next week and explain how Guiliani worked with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland to bypass the NSA and every normal procedure in their efforts to execute the Ukraine scam.
Then Sondland himself will testify. And the fact that Sondland—a hotel magnate who bought himself a plum ambassadorship with a fat $1 million donation to Trump’s inaugural slush fund—has also declared himself willing to appear, even though he is neck deep in the underlying scheme, again speaks to just how weak Trump’s hold on the situation has become.
And when Sondland is done, Ambassador William Taylor, the man who repeatedly told Sondland that turning a military arms deal into the payoff for political dirt was “crazy,” will appear. And after that … there will be more. It’s not just a growing list. It’s a list that people are now anxious to join.
Trump’s can still try to put his stubby fingers in the dike—and he should, he really should, because there’s always room for more contempt of Congress charges on the now inevitable list of impeachment articles. But his ability to tell people not to appear before the House is over.
People see which way this is going to fall. And Trump’s ability to generate fear, outside the leadership of the Republican Party, is fading like mist under sunshine.