THERE IS MUCH to be shocked about in an intelligence officer’s whistle-blower report that is roiling official Washington — but perhaps nothing more shocking than the fact that when it reached the Trump Justice Department, the complaint was met with a big “nothing to see here, folks.”
Not only did the DOJ make the wrong call by dismissing the report, it did so by relying on a big fat double standard that some former city officials in Boston looking at potential prison time surely must have noticed.
The allegations in the complaint, which was partially revealed Thursday morning, go way beyond just one phone call between President Trump and the new president of Ukraine, in which Trump pressured the Ukrainian leader to do him a political favor. They detail a months-long pattern of abuse and evidence that “the president of the United State is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 US election,” the whistle-blower wrote.
The memo also raises the fear that “senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records” of Trump’s July 25 call with President Volodymr Zelensky of Ukraine “especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call.” The use of that separate system to shield the conversation is itself both suspect and further evidence that “White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.”
And what exactly had transpired?
According to the whistle-blower, any number of White House officials “had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain” by pressing the Ukrainian president to launch an investigation into unfounded corruption allegations against the son of former vice president Joe Biden. The memo also says, “Attorney General [William] Barr appears to be involved as well.”
The complaint went to the inspector general for the intelligence community. He sent it to the acting Director of Intelligence Joseph Maguire. It should then have gone to the intelligence committees of Congress. It didn’t. Its references to Barr notwithstanding, Maguire sent it to the Justice Department.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said the department’s criminal division “reviewed the official record of the call and determined, based on the facts and applicable law, that there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted.”
Really? The obvious purpose of Trump’s request was to create grist to attack Biden if he became the Democratic nominee. The existence of an anti-corruption investigation in a foreign country would be a priceless cudgel to use on the campaign trail. But the DOJ determined that Trump’s demand for a Ukrainian government probe of presidential contender Biden or his son could not be quantified as a “thing of value” under the law.
There’s the key phrase — a phrase those following the Boston Calling extortion case have heard before. In that case, jurors who found one city official guilty of extortion and a second guilty of conspiracy understood what many of the city’s political leaders didn’t — that “a thing of value” doesn’t have to mean an envelope full of cash going into the pocket of an official. It can mean nine union jobs that weren’t really needed.
In prosecuting that case, the Trump Justice Department was perfectly capable of grasping that a “thing of value” could come in the form of a political favor.
Funny the way the president of the United States is held to a looser standard than a pair of lowly city officials.
(Of course, hypocrisy is a two-way street: Boston city councilors were quick to bewail the Boston Calling case, but for some reason haven’t criticized congressional Democrats for seeking to impeach Trump for his, er, anti-corruption advocacy.)
But the definition of “thing of value” (and “advocacy”) shouldn’t be dependent on whose political belief set is on the line. Corruption is real, and it is destructive of the most basic of American values. It corrodes everything and everyone it touches.
Just look at the hands already sullied in the Trump case — those who knew the allegations in the whistle-blower complaint and worked not to bring it to light but to hide it forever if they could. That too is corruption at its most basic level.
Now the matter is in the hands of Congress. It should hold Trump to the same standard Trump’s Justice Department expected of Boston officials: Yes, it’s still an abuse of power if you use your official position to pressure someone to deliver a political favor instead of a bag of cash.