The president has engaged in serial corruption and law-breaking. He has abused presidential power in myriad ways, the most serious being his effort to extort the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on his political rivals. By including the Department of Justice and the State Department in his assault on democracy and the rule of law — and with the willing assistance of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr — he has added using the apparatus of the federal government to subvert the Constitution.
Now we need to include congressional Republicans in Trump’s collection of coconspirators.
With his announcement Tuesday that he is blocking Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, from testifying before Congress, the president has taken his efforts to obstruct Congress’s impeachment inquiry to troubling new depths. And he’ll keep digging deeper because he knows Republicans will have his back.
According to the president, he “would love to send Ambassador Sondland . . . to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s [sic] rights have been taken away.”
None of this is true or even makes sense.
There is no legal basis for stopping Sondland from being deposed by Congress — and the Trump administration hasn’t even bothered to offer one. Congress has a clear constitutional right to require members of the executive branch to appear before them. That’s even more ironclad in the context of an impeachment inquiry.
But Trump’s fears about Sondland testifying are not misplaced. He sits at the core of the Ukraine scandal.
According to recently released text messages, at the same time he was plotting with other US diplomats to strong-arm Kyiv into announcing an illegitimate corruption investigation of former vice president Joe Biden, Sondland was in regular contact with Trump.
There may be no government official who can more directly implicate the president in wrongdoing.
But the White House’s calculations may be even more cynical than merely protecting the president from embarrassment. Obstructing Congress from engaging in lawful oversight of the executive branch might ensure Trump’s impeachment, but he knows Senate Republicans will vote against conviction.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said as much this week. In a new campaign ad he told supporters, “The way that impeachment stops is a Senate majority with me as majority leader.” or, in layman’s terms: In other words: “I will protect our law-breaking president, no matter what.”
So why give congressional Democrats more ammunition to use against him?
Since Trump can rely on Senate Republicans to excuse his behavior and never hold him accountable for his actions, he can continue his nearly year-long refusal to obstruct congressional investigators. Heck, he can even commit new impeachable offenses.
He can call on China to interfere in the US presidential election while standing on the White House lawn and have it waved off as merely a joke, intended to get the goat of gullible reporters.
He can even abandon a key partner in the war against ISIS, threaten to “destroy and obliterate” the economy of a longstanding US and NATO ally, and refer, ironically or not, to his “great and unmatched wisdom” . . . and it will produce little more than furrowed brows and expressions of concern from Republicans.
With the GOP acting as coconspirators in the president’s efforts to obstruct Congress, ignore the Constitution, and undermine democracy, the road is wide open for Trump. And as long as they are prepared to trash their oath of office and give him a blank check, there is no end in sight to Trump’s abuse of presidential power. By doing nothing to stop him, Republicans are encouraging even more outrageous behavior from the president.
For two-and-half years, Republicans have enabled Trump’s worst excesses — too craven and cowardly to stand up to him. Now they are his willing accomplices.