No, Everybody Doesn't Abuse the Presidency

By Joe Conason

November 15, 2019 5 min read

The testimonies of State Department official George Kent and acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor confirmed the elements of the Ukraine scandal that have led to impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, specifically that the president and his associates, especially Rudy Giuliani and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, sought to instigate and publicize a phony "investigation" of Joe Biden by withholding military aid from Ukraine.

None of the chaff thrown up by the Republicans during those hearings effectively contradicted the narrative outlining this abuse of power. Sooner or later, as the hearings continue, the majority of Americans will understand fully what Trump did and why his misconduct was so dangerous.

The Republicans will continue to object that the testimony given by Taylor and Kent, and the witnesses who follow, is only "hearsay." Trump himself whines that the whistleblower's complaint, approved by his own inspector general, is "second- and third-hand."

But that complaint ignores three things: the July 25 phone call when Trump clearly demanded a "favor" from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky; Trump's admission on the White House lawn that he had demanded an investigation of the Bidens on that call; and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's admission that Trump had leveraged a political "quid pro quo" from Zelensky (which we should all "get over").

If the Republicans really want firsthand, documentary evidence, their complaints should be directed to the White House, which has ordered every potential witness with direct knowledge not to testify and to withhold all relevant documents. If they are seeking facts, not just excuses to avoid the truth, they ought to join Democrats in demanding that Mulvaney and Giuliani step up to testify under oath, along with Sondland, former national security adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House lawyer John Eisenberg, to name a few.

Then we can finally stop worrying about the whistleblower. That brave individual has completed his or her work anyway — by filing a complaint that led to the White House's release of security assistance funding to Ukraine in September. Trump should thank that anonymous public servant — someone he has slandered as a traitor — for saving him from withholding the aid even longer and committing an even worse offense.

Yet after all the facts are all set forth, we will still hear the ultimate galling excuse uttered by every eager nimrod in this nation who believes Trump's bluster. It is the same excuse offered by Trump and his apologists for each crime and misdemeanor he perpetrates, big or small: Everybody does it!

Is that cynical dismissal supposed to be taken literally? Those who say so should be required to name names. They won't be able to come up with a single example, let alone "everybody."

When asked whether, in a half-century of public service, he had ever seen a chief executive misuse foreign policy to serve personal or political interest, Bill Taylor gave a simple answer: no.

Unless and until someone provides a historical example to justify that repellent Trumpian claim, Taylor's answer will stand. No previous president has exercised his authority in the style of a mob boss when guiding the foreign relations of the United States. Neither the Iran-contra scandal nor the Iraq weapons-of-mass-destruction fraud, destructive as they were, resembles such a breach of trust. Had former Presidents Barack Obama or Bill Clinton ever attempted to misuse the power of the presidency for personal gain, the Capitol would have exploded with bipartisan calls for impeachment.

The extortion of Ukraine is perfect, as Trump might say, in exemplifying an impeachable offense. If it isn't treason, it is an act that advanced the interests of a foreign adversary against our own security and our alliances. And the plot's failure does not erase the offense.

No, not everybody does it, and the man who did it must be sanctioned by Congress to ensure that nobody does it again.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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