Un­fold­ing threat is un­like any other Trump has faced

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY JULIE PACE AND ZEKE MILLER

From the mo­ment Don­ald Trump be­came a na­tional po­lit­i­cal fig­ure, he has been shad­owed by in­ves­ti­ga­tions and con­tro­versy.

They have been lay­ered, lengthy and of­ten in­con­clu­sive, leav­ing many Amer­i­cans scan­dal-weary and numb to his be­hav­ior. And with each charge against him, Trump has per­fected the art of de­flec­tion, seem­ingly gain­ing strength by bul­ly­ing and be­lit­tling those who have dared to take him on.

Now Trump is fac­ing a high­ve­loc­ity threat like none he’s con­fronted be­fore.

It has evolved from a process fight over a whistle­blower com­plaint to an im­peach­ment in­quiry within two weeks. Much of the ev­i­dence is al­ready in pub­lic view. A rough tran­script of a phone call in which Trump asks Ukraine’s pres­i­dent to help in­ves­ti­gate Demo­cratic ri­val Joe Bi­den. The whistle­blower’s de­tailed let­ter al­leg­ing the White House tried to cover up the call, and pos­si­bly oth­ers.

Un­like spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which cir­cled an ar­ray of peo­ple in Trump’s or­bit but not al­ways the pres­i­dent him­self, Trump doesn’t have the ben­e­fit of dis­tance. His words and his ac­tions are at the cen­ter of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“The Mueller re­port, it was al­ways Manafort this and his son that. There was a cas­cade of

play­ers,” said pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian Dou­glas Brink­ley, re­fer­ring to for­mer Trump cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort and Don­ald Trump Jr. “This was just Don­ald Trump and a dis­turb­ing con­ver­sa­tion with an­other world leader.”

So, sud­denly, Wash­ing­ton is dif­fer­ent and the his­tory of Trump’s pres­i­dency has changed. By year’s end, he could be­come only the third Amer­i­can pres­i­dent im­peached by the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

That new re­al­ity caught Trump and his ad­vis­ers off guard, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple close to the pres­i­dent. If any­thing, they thought the specter of im­peach­ment had been lifted af­ter the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion ended with­out a clear de­ter­mi­na­tion that Trump had com­mit­ted a crime.

The con­tours of that in­ves­ti­ga­tion played to Trump’s strengths. Mueller spent two years in si­lence, al­low­ing the pres­i­dent to fill the vac­uum with as­ser­tions that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.” The de­tails of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that did leak out were of­ten com­pli­cated and fo­cused on peo­ple in Trump’s sphere. Even Mueller’s pointed state­ment that he had not ex­on­er­ated Trump did not seem to stick. There was ul­ti­mately plenty of smoke, but no smok­ing gun.

Numer­ous other Demo­cratic in­quiries ap­peared likely to meet a sim­i­lar fate, in­clud­ing House in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Trump’s busi­ness deal­ings, his tax re­turns and a va­ri­ety of ad­min­is­tra­tion scan­dals. For many Amer­i­cans, they were one big blur of in­ves­ti­ga­tions with­out any clar­ity of pur­pose.

Then the whistle­blower gave the Democrats what they needed: a sim­ple, eas­ily ex­plain­able charge – that the pres­i­dent sought a for­eign govern­ment’s help for per­sonal po­lit­i­cal gain – and his words to back it up.

For House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and sev­eral Demo­cratic mod­er­ates who had re­sisted calls for im­peach­ment, the cal­cu­lus shifted. It was now more of a risk to re­coil from im­peach­ment than charge ahead.

“What we’re see­ing right now is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent mo­ment in the his­tory of this coun­try,” said Rep. Deb­bie Mu­carsel-Pow­ell, D-Fla.

One thing that didn’t change – at least not im­me­di­ately – was the clear par­ti­san di­vide over Trump’s ac­tions, both in Wash­ing­ton and across the coun­try.

Ac­cord­ing to a one-day NPR/PBS NewsHour /Marist poll con­ducted Wed­nes­day, 49% of Amer­i­cans ap­prove of the House for­mally start­ing an im­peach­ment in­quiry into Trump. Among Democrats, 88% ap­prove of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, while 93% of Repub­li­cans dis­ap­prove.

On Capi­tol Hill, some Trump al­lies con­fi­dently dis­missed the im­peach­ment in­quiry as just an­other par­ti­san ef­fort to take down a pres­i­dent who is de­spised by many Democrats. That rough tran­script of a phone call in which Trump presses Ukraine’s pres­i­dent, Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy, to work with At­tor­ney Gen­eral William Barr and per­sonal lawyer Rudy Gi­u­liani on an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Bi­den? It’s just Trump be­ing Trump, ac­cord­ing to his back­ers.

“You’ve heard Pres­i­dent Trump talk. That’s Pres­i­dent Trump,” said Sen. Ron John­son, R-Wis.

Mark Upde­grove, a pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian and pres­i­dent of the LBJ Foun­da­tion in Austin, Texas, said it’s that en­dur­ing sup­port from Repub­li­can law­mak­ers that cur­rently sep­a­rates Trump from Richard Nixon, who re­signed in the midst of the Water­gate im­peach­ment in­quiry be­cause his party be­gan to aban­don him.

“The big dif­fer­ence be­tween this and Water­gate is that you had both Repub­li­cans and Democrats be­ing deeply con­cerned about the pres­i­dent be­ing in­volved in crim­i­nal wrong­do­ing,” Upde­grove said. “It was a bi­par­ti­san ef­fort and you cer­tainly don’t have that here.”

But it is early, com­pared with Water­gate. There were small signs that some Repub­li­cans were try­ing to keep some mea­sure of dis­tance from the pres­i­dent. Some GOP law­mak­ers fled Wash­ing­ton for a fall break claim­ing they hadn’t yet read the whistle­blower’s com­plaint. Oth­ers said they were open to learn­ing more about the sit­u­a­tion.

TOM BREN­NER NYT

A whistle­blower com­plaint against Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump rapidly evolved from a pro­ce­dural fight over how to han­dle the com­plaint to an im­peach­ment in­quiry. Much of the ev­i­dence is al­ready in pub­lic view.

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