Thursday, September 26, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He fantasized about killing the people who ratted him out.

This morning, the partially declassified complaint lodged by the whistleblower who learned of Trump's efforts to get a foreign government to help him in the 2020 elections was released. It revealed that the whistleblower—who described Trump's phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky with perfect accuracy—had not personally heard the call. Rather, its details were shared with the whistleblower by "half a dozen" White House staffers who had heard the call, and who were part of a much larger effort to cover up the call by putting it on a secret server. Depending on how the whistleblower's report is interpreted, somewhere between 22 and 40 people all told were involved in the call and subsequent cover-up.

In other words, Trump's actions on the call were so obviously damning that his staff took extraordinary actions to hide the evidence of what he'd done—or in the case of the whistleblower and the people who talked with him or her, to reveal it.

Trump reacted by fantasizing about the execution of anyone who had talked to the whistleblower. At a closed meeting in New York, Trump was caught on audio saying this:

Basically, that person [the whistleblower] never saw the report, never saw the call, he never saw the call — heard something and decided that he or she or whoever the hell it is — they're almost a spy. I want to know who's the person who gave the whistleblower, who's the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that's close to a spy.  
You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.

The Los Angeles Times, which broke the story and released the recording, noted that there was a smattering of laughter, but that the room of government employees mostly remained silent.

This is hardly the first time Trump has talked like a mob boss threatening revenge against an informer. He repeatedly used threatening language to try to influence potential witnesses against him in the Russia investigation. He also publicly called his former fixer Michael Cohen a "rat" while attacking the FBI for raiding Cohen's office. 

It is not illegal for White House and intelligence officials to discuss calls like this amongst themselves. It is not illegal for government employees to report crimes. According to the federal witness tampering statute, it is illegal to threaten people to prevent them from reporting or testifying about a crime.

Why should I care about this?

  • Threatening political opponents with violence is what dictators do.
  • Reporting crimes of this magnitude is the opposite of treason.
  • The president is not above the law.
  • People who haven't committed serious crimes don't engage in cover-ups.