Former secretary of state John F. Kerry said Thursday that President Trump clearly abused the power of his office by prodding the leader of Ukraine to investigate one of Trump’s political rivals, calling it a “continuing conspiracy defined by the president himself.”
“I don’t think this is going to be particularly complicated. I don’t think we have to wait for John Dean in this one,” Kerry said, referencing President Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, who would later turn on him, accusing Nixon of direct involvement in the Watergate scandal.
“The president is his own John Dean,” Kerry said.
In a wide-ranging discussion at the UMass Club in Boston, Kerry homed in for several minutes on Congress’s impeachment inquiry into Trump, which is focused, in part, on a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump encouraged Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, the former vice president and a 2020 presidential candidate.
A cascade of developments quickly followed, first on Wednesday, when the White House released a memo of the call. Then a copy of a nine-page complaint filed by a government whistle-blower was made public Thursday, alleging that Trump abused the power of his office to “solicit interference from a foreign country.”
It also alleges the White House tried to “lock down” all of the records about the phone call, including an “official word-for-word transcript.”
The rapid-fire developments surprised even Kerry, who called it rare for “as much hard . . . real evidence” to surface publicly in the span of 48 hours during a scandal.
“Asking him to be the opposition research arm of his campaign to destroy the candidacy of the person that was perceived as most capable of beating him, that’s what this is all about,” Kerry said.
The impeachment inquiry has roiled Capitol Hill, drawing in Democrats who had resisted launching one, such as Representative Richard Neal.
Kerry said that he, too, had not favored “moving forward rapidly” toward impeachment, but framed the revelations about Trump’s call as an abuse that can’t be ignored.
“The whole world is watching us right now,” Kerry said. “This is a moment, and I beg those senators who have their wits still about them, and are not the prisoners of party and president and ideology, to stand up for the Constitution, which is the oath they took.”
Kerry, who was President Obama’s secretary of state for four years after serving as one of Massachusetts’ US senators, bounced between topics throughout the two-hour discussion with CNN anchor John Berman and former Globe reporter and Kerry aide Glen Johnson, from promoting his new climate change initiative, World War Zero, to lamenting sagging voter turnouts.
He also criticized the push by some Democrats for Medicare for All, calling the concept of a national single-payer system “too expensive” and contradictory to giving people freedom of choice, saying it “doesn’t sound very American to me.”
Kerry also said he planned to endorse someone in the Democratic primary for president, though whom — and when — he wouldn’t say.
“I’ve never been satisfied with neutrality,” he said.
But he also continually trained his fire on Trump.
Last year, Kerry watched Trump withdraw the United States from one of his crowning accomplishments — the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — despite his own quiet but unsuccessful efforts to preserve it.
“The very thing we were trying to avoid, war, is now being offered as the very thing we need to do in order to restore deterrence,” he said at one point. “Are you kidding me?”