The facts are only go­ing to get worse for the pres­i­dent

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - OPINION - Eu­gene Robin­son Colum­nist Eu­gene Robin­son’s email ad­dress is eu­gen­er­obin­[email protected]­

Repub­li­cans said they wanted process, so now they have it. The ques­tion is whether Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­fend­ers are will­ing, fi­nally, to ad­dress the sub­stance of the al­le­ga­tions against him.

Thurs­day’s his­toric vote by the House set out pro­ce­dures for the in­quiry into Trump’s con­duct that give the pres­i­dent every op­por­tu­nity to de­fend him­self. Be­fore and af­ter the vote, GOP lead­ers com­plained that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was run­ning a “Sovi­et­style” im­peach­ment process, which must be one of the dumb­est things ever said on the House floor.

The old So­viet Union didn’t do im­peach­ments, with ac­cu­sa­tion by one leg­isla­tive cham­ber, judg­ment by the other, the na­tion’s high­est ju­di­cial of­fi­cer pre­sid­ing and the ul­ti­mate sanc­tion be­ing re­moval from of­fice. It did purges, fol­lowed by a one-way trip to the gu­lag.

It sounded as if Mi­nor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and his col­leagues were grasp­ing at the wispi­est of straws, and they were. Odds are that they will con­tinue to do so as long as they can. Mean­while, how­ever, the process they clam­ored for will roll on and gather mo­men­tum, with or with­out them.

Trump has groused that his al­lies should in­stead be de­fend­ing him on sub­stance. But how can they? His phone call with Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­sky was “per­fect” only as an illustrati­on of im­peach­able be­hav­ior. And we know that what Trump called a “word-for-word” tran­script of the call omit­ted key el­e­ments of the call, ac­cord­ing to one wit­ness. How can any­one de­fend the pres­i­dent with­out know­ing what’s miss­ing?

More­over, the phone call was just part of a much larger scheme. The ev­i­dence that has sur­faced thus far in­di­cates that Trump or­ches­trated a mob-style shake­down, with­hold­ing nearly $400 mil­lion in mil­i­tary aid and a promised White House meet­ing in an at­tempt to co­erce Ze­len­sky into in­ves­ti­gat­ing — and pub­licly smear­ing — Bi­den and his son Hunter. The play-ball-with-us mes­sage was ap­par­ently de­liv­ered not just by the pres­i­dent him­self but also by var­i­ous emis­saries.

At the time, Joe Bi­den was shown by polls to be Trump’s most for­mi­da­ble po­ten­tial Demo­cratic op­po­nent in Novem­ber 2020.

In other words, Trump was ac­tively and per­son­ally col­lud­ing with a for­eign gov­ern­ment to in­ter­fere in our com­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. No won­der Repub­li­cans pre­fer to pound the ta­ble about process.

Soon the de­po­si­tions that the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee has been tak­ing be­hind closed doors will be made pub­lic. What we have learned of them so far is heart­en­ing. Pa­tri­otic civil ser­vants re­al­ized what Trump was try­ing to do and were aghast. They saw him putting per­sonal po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests ahead of the na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­ests he had sworn an oath to pro­tect, and they tried their best to do the right thing within the chain of com­mand.

Am­bas­sador Wil­liam Tay­lor, named en­voy to Ukraine by Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, kept co­pi­ous notes and was able to pro­duce a de­tailed time­line of events. He also made sure that his qualms and ob­jec­tions were recorded in text mes­sages, which he surely knew would some­day come to light. These are not the ac­tions of some “spy” from the myth­i­cal “deep state.”

These are the ac­tions of a ded­i­cated and ex­pe­ri­enced diplo­mat who loves his coun­try.

Lt. Col. Alexan­der Vind­man, a dec­o­rated Iraq War vet­eran who works at the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil as an ex­pert on Ukraine, was as­signed to lis­ten in on Trump’s phone call with Ve­len­sky — and was so hor­ri­fied he re­ported the pres­i­dent’s ex­tor­tion at­tempt to a top NSC lawyer. The lawyer’s re­ac­tion was to make sure that the rough tran­script of the call was buried in a su­per-se­cret com­puter sys­tem usu­ally re­served for the most highly clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion, such as on­go­ing covert op­er­a­tions.

For rec­og­niz­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween right and wrong, and for vol­un­teer­ing to ap­pear be­fore the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee de­spite al­most cer­tainly be­ing pres­sured by his bosses at the White House not to do so, Vind­man has had his pa­tri­o­tism im­pugned. I won­der how many of his spine­less Repub­li­can crit­ics were awarded the Purple Heart af­ter be­ing in­jured by a bomb in Iraq.

More wit­nesses are com­ing out of the wood­work. When the pub­lic hear­ings be­gin, Trump’s de­fend­ers will have to de­cide what tack to take. Keep harp­ing on process? Tak­ing the route of char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion? Pulling more sopho­moric stunts to dis­rupt the pro­ceed­ings?

How­ever Repub­li­cans choose to pro­ceed, there’s one thing they must re­al­ize, even if they are afraid to say it out loud: The facts are only go­ing to get worse for the pres­i­dent. If they can’t bring them­selves to de­fend Trump on the mer­its, they’re go­ing to have to ex­plain why not. Process is now just a dodge.

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