Wednesday, November 6, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to have it both ways on the whistleblower.

The timeline of the Ukraine scandal is now fairly clear. On July 25, Trump called Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and demanded that Ukraine launch an investigation into Joe Biden's son, who was on the board of a company thad did business there. Trump also wanted Ukraine to validate a conspiracy theory saying, in effect, that Ukraine had framed Russia for interference in the 2016 election. Trump had made clear that $400 million in military assistance was being delayed until Zelensky agreed to publicly announce these "investigations."

Immediately afterwards, staff from the diplomatic, intelligence, and military communities each raised internal alarms about what Trump had done. Some of these reached a member of the intelligence community, who followed the established procedures to inform Congress. After a failed attempt on the part of the Trump administration to prevent the whistleblower's report from reaching Congress, it was eventually released. This then formed the basis of the investigation that now looks likely to result in Trump's impeachment.

Trump has demanded the release of the whistleblower's name, which would defeat the purpose of the law that protects the identity of people who bring government wrongdoing to light. This appears to be an attempt to prevent other witnesses from coming forward, since the whistleblower and their attorneys have received death threats. Russian state media has identified a person they claim is the whistleblower, and that name was retweeted today by Trump's son Donald Jr., who works as a political surrogate for his father. 

But Trump Sr., who probably knows the actual identity of the whistleblower, has so far danced around speaking any names himself—including in attacks at a campaign rally today. This is because whistleblower protections were, at least until Trump took office, a cornerstone of conservative efforts to keep government in check. Many Republican senators—who will vote on whether Trump can stay in office at any impeachment trial—have expressed anger at Trump's attempts to undermine whistleblower protections.

Why does this matter?

  • Innocent people don't try to scare witnesses from coming forward.
  • The purpose of the United States government is to govern, not to serve as Donald Trump's personal legal defense team.