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Psychiatrist explains Trump’s actions on Ukraine

Trump: It was just a perfect conversation
President Trump defended his phone call with Ukraine’s president at a press conference on Wednesday.

As the Ukraine revelations continue to rock Washington, D.C., a prominent forensic psychiatrist who teaches at the Yale School of Medicine said Wednesday that President Trump is stuck in a “might makes right” stage of moral development.

Dr. Bandy X. Lee, an assistant clinical professor who serves on the faculty of the med school’s Law and Psychiatry Division, shared her thoughts in an e-mail to the Globe, with a high-stakes House impeachment inquiry looming over allegations Trump leaned on Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden, his possible Democratic opponent in 2020, and his son.

“Donald Trump was given the powerful signal that asking for and accepting Russia’s help for the 2016 election was not an impeachable offense, and obstructing justice wasn’t one, either,” wrote Lee, author of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.”

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Lee added, “We should not be surprised, then, that he does not see anything wrong with asking for Ukraine’s help in the next election. Stuck in a ‘might makes right’ stage of moral development, what is permissible to him will be that which he can get away with. He has actually been begging for containment, pushing his boundaries like a child to see if anyone cared enough to contain him. Since we have done the opposite by granting his ‘wishes’ of greater power or allowing him to remove all barriers to it, we are now in a very dangerous state.”

Her comments came amid the continuing firestorm over the Ukraine matter.

In 2014, then-Vice President Joe Biden was spearheading American diplomatic efforts to support Ukraine’s democratic government as it sought to fend off Russian aggression and root out corruption. Eyebrows were raised when Biden’s son Hunter was hired by the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, whose board the younger Biden remained on through early 2019.

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Trump and his allies have pointed to Joe Biden’s move in March 2016 to pressure the Ukrainian government to fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who had previously led an investigation into Burisma’s owner.

Now the matter’s back in the spotlight following revelations that Trump recently prodded Ukraine’s current president to help him investigate any corruption related to Hunter Biden and his father.

“There is an obsession with holding onto power at all costs, since this is all [Trump] knows,” Lee told the Globe. “Merit, correctness, or ethics will make no sense to him outside the paradigm of power. This has to do with a state commonly seen in pathology: one is ‘regressed’ in an earlier stage of development because of pressures or arrested growth.”

Lee said impeachment proceedings “could lead to greater danger in the form of reckless incitement of his followers, vengeful use of his presidential authority, or the desire to eliminate all possibility of humiliation.. Or it could just as easily take away his legitimacy with expedience so that he has no time to cause real damage. All depends on how we handle the situation psychologically, but I fear that politicians will again assume that this is a purely political issue and fall into counterproductive responses.”

Also Wednesday, the White House released what it said was a memorandum of a July 2019 telephone conversation between Trump and Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy.

The document quoted Trump as telling his Ukranian counterpart at one point, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me.”

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The White House included a footnote in the document that said in part, “A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion.”

Lee, meanwhile, also maintains a visible presence on Twitter.

On Sunday she highlighted a Republican congressman’s tweet lamenting what the congressman said was a “Friday FOIAdump” that “confirms coup planned to take down @RealDonaldTrump.”

“This, retweeted by Donald Trump, shows clear signs of paranoia,” Lee tweeted. “Paranoia is the most reliable risk factor for violence. In other words, fearing that you will be attacked is the greatest cause of attacking in the first place.”


Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.