Trump: Im­peach­ment, war are none of our busi­ness

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Dana Mil­bank Colum­nist

In these first days of 2020, Amer­i­cans grap­ple si­mul­ta­ne­ously with two of the most con­se­quen­tial is­sues any state can face: a pos­si­ble war and the po­ten­tial re­moval of the head of gov­ern­ment.

Nat­u­rally, the pub­lic turns to the pres­i­dent and his ad­min­is­tra­tion with ques­tions about these two grave mat­ters. And the an­swer to both comes back loud and clear: None of your busi­ness.

Re­porters pressed top of­fi­cials Tues­day for an ex­pla­na­tion of the “im­mi­nent” threat that Pres­i­dent Trump claimed in or­der­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion of Ira­nian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, which sent the re­gion into chaos and the United States to the cusp of war. One of­fi­cial af­ter an­other replied with a vari­a­tion of the same re­sponse: We won’t tell you.

Democrats in the Se­nate, mean­while, de­manded that witnesses be al­lowed to tes­tify in Trump’s Se­nate trial, par­tic­u­larly for­mer Trump na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton, who just of­fered to ap­pear. But Trump made it clear he’d quash such tes­ti­mony, and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell (R-Ky.) an­nounced Tues­day af­ter­noon that he had enough Repub­li­can votes to pro­ceed to a trial without promis­ing wit­ness tes­ti­mony.

In war, as in im­peach­ment: Move along. Noth­ing to see here.

The se­crecy wouldn’t be quite so alarm­ing, per­haps, if the ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­hib­ited some mea­sure of com­pe­tence. In­stead, Trump and his aides are con­tra­dict­ing each other on whether they’ll tar­get Ira­nian cul­tural sites (a war crime), whether they’re sus­pend­ing the fight against Is­lamic State and whether they’re pulling troops out of Iraq.

In a sym­bol of the bum­bling, on Mon­day of­fi­cials re­leased a draft of a let­ter from Ma­rine Brig. Gen. Wil­liam Seely to the Iraqi de­fense min­istry an­nounc­ing a U.S. troop pull­out.

“I don’t know what that let­ter is,” De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark T. Esper told re­porters, min­utes be­fore ac­knowl­edg­ing that he had, in fact, read it.

“It’s not signed,” con­trib­uted Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair­man Gen. Mark Mil­ley.

Even­tu­ally, Mil­ley chalked the whole thing up to an “hon­est mis­take.”

Esper was still mired in the let­ter fi­asco Tues­day af­ter­noon. “There is no signed let­ter, to the best of my knowl­edge,” he told re­porters, scold­ing un­named vil­lains for “try­ing to cre­ate con­fu­sion.”

Esper says he has not heard from Iraqi PM, U.S. pol­icy in Iraq re­mains un­changed

De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark T. Esper re­it­er­ated Jan. 7 that an “un­signed” U.S. mil­i­tary let­ter to Iraqi of­fi­cials did not “con­sti­tute a pol­icy change.” (The Wash­ing­ton Post)

And these are the peo­ple telling us to trust them, no ques­tions asked, to run a war?

Dur­ing im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings in the House, Trump or­dered of­fi­cials not to tes­tify or to pro­vide doc­u­ments. Bolton was one of the many who obeyed. Now he says he’s will­ing to tes­tify to the Se­nate un­der sub­poena. But Trump retweeted a mes­sage say­ing, “The White House can as­sert ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege. It’s not Bolton’s priv­i­lege.”

McCon­nell, mean­while, an­nounced that Repub­li­cans had the votes to pro­ceed to a trial without com­mit­ting to witnesses. He said his res­o­lu­tion would be “es­sen­tially the same” as the unan­i­mously ap­proved Clin­ton im­peach­ment res­o­lu­tion in 1999. When a re­porter pointed out that the Clin­ton res­o­lu­tion had a pro­vi­sion deal­ing with witnesses, McCon­nell replied, “It may not be word-for-word the same.”

Bolton’s of­fer has a self-pro­mo­tional smell; if Bolton, who is writ­ing a book about his White House ex­pe­ri­ence, wanted to say some­thing, he could just say it rather than of­fer­ing tes­ti­mony the White House would likely block.

It’s also pos­si­ble, as Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) spec­u­lated to Fox News, “that his tes­ti­mony would be help­ful to the pres­i­dent.”

So why not let the chips fall where they may? “I’d like to hear what he has to say,” claimed Sen. Mitt Rom­ney (R-Utah) — but not so much that Rom­ney’s will­ing to defy the Trump fog ma­chine.

In fair­ness to Rom­ney, that fog is a for­mi­da­ble foe. Just try find­ing out about the “im­mi­nent” threat that led to the Soleimani as­sas­si­na­tion and now the precipice of war.

“I’m not go­ing to go into the de­tails of that,” said Mil­ley.

“Sorry, I can’t get into in­tel­li­gence,” said Esper.

Asked by Fox News on Tues­day about “new threats” from Iran, na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Robert O’Brien twice re­ferred to the Ira­nian hostage cri­sis — of 1979.

O’Brien, re­turn­ing to the White House from his Fox News in­ter­view, was asked again about the im­mi­nence. He “un­for­tu­nately” couldn’t elab­o­rate. He then again in­voked the 1979 hostage cri­sis.

White House press sec­re­tary Stephanie Gr­isham, also on the Fox News cir­cuit, was like­wise asked to “spec­ify the threats that Soleimani posed.”

“No,” she replied. “That’s — that’s some­thing — it was an intel-based de­ci­sion.”

Next came Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo. In a rare State Depart­ment news con­fer­ence, he, too, was asked for specifics about “how im­mi­nent this was.”

He re­sponded with fuzz about “con­tin­u­ing ef­forts … to build out a net­work.”

That doesn’t sound im­mi­nent. But don’t worry. “It was the right de­ci­sion — we got it right,” Pom­peo said. Just take his word for it. Fol­low Dana Mil­bank on Twit­ter, @Mil­bank.

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