If you decided that this was the week to unplug yourself from the Trump roller coaster and get the constant churn of dystopian noise out of your life (an unambiguously healthy decision), then I’m sorry to inform you that you did all that suffering and missed the payoff. Here is a quick recap of how a historic day in American history unfolded, as Trump’s impeachment formally began this week. The very next day brought us the first key piece of evidence in this process.
A whistleblower complaint centered around a July 25th phone call that Trump had with the President of Ukraine kicked off an ordeal that has already surpassed the Mueller saga in terms of consequence (this is a lesson in the importance of clear, concise writing for a mass audience, as well as the necessity of an admission and a smoking gun in any credible case against anyone with power in America).
Trump tried to keep this complaint hidden from Congress, and he ordered the Director of National Intelligence to betray his constitutional duty to report a complaint to Congress deemed credible by the intelligence community’s inspector general, and instead, try to sweep it under the rapidly expanding rug of vast presidential powers. Republicans in the Senate then joined Democrats in unanimously releasing the complaint to committee, and later that day, the complaint was declassified, getting released to the public the following day. Here are five things we learned from the whistleblower’s formal complaint filed to the Chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Richard Burr (R-NC) and Adam Schiff (D-CA).
1. Trump Is Using the Government for His Own Personal Gain
Shocking, I know. But it’s one thing to see it laid out in all-too-familiar corruption scandals in the papers, while it’s quite another to see a high-level intelligence official write something as simple and stark as this:
In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.
The official goes on to detail basically what President Trump and his personal lawyer/unofficial Secretary of State, Rudy Giuliani, have been saying Trump did all along, with additional damning details (there’s no evidence to what they’re alleging about Joe Biden, but there’s likely something there, just not what Trump and Rudy are selling).
The new revelations also point to something larger than just two mushbrained idiots playing out an Always Sunny episode on a global stage.
2. Keeping it Secret Involved Lots of People at the White House
Don’t lose sight of this fact. This has been going on since at least April when President Zelensky was elected, and we’re just finding out about it now. Sure, Trump is a cretinous immoral hobgoblin, but it takes a village to support an idiot. The whistleblower makes it clear that they were “not a direct witness to most of the events described,” and that their information largely came from “more than a half dozen U.S. officials.” The phone call in question with the Ukrainian President had “approximately a dozen White House officials” listening to the call—“as is customary.”
It’s impossible to speculate exactly how many people are involved, and what sides they all fall on (or how many sides even exist), but the whistleblower’s whistleblower range begins at half a dozen, and the call had “approximately” a dozen officials. Odds are decent that at least one of the officials on that call were part of the effort to shield the president from scrutiny, and at the very least, the whistleblower makes it clear that “White House lawyers” are complicit in this cover-up.
3. The Potentially Bigger Story Hidden In This Impeachment-Level Event
So far, the focus has been on Ukraine and this months-long saga culminating in an extremely unkosher phone call and the restricting of military aid afterwards, but this detail provided by the whistleblower in the footnotes demonstrates an organized and active plot to conceal President Trump from any kind of democratic accountability in this instance, and perhaps in others too (emphasis mine).
According to multiple White House officials I spoke with, the transcript of the President’s call with President Zelensky was placed into a computer system managed directly by the National Security Council (NSC) Directorate for Intelligence Programs. This is a standalone computer system reserved for codeword-level intelligence information, such as covert action. According to information I received from White House officials, some officials voiced concerns internally that this would be an abuse of the system and was not consistent with the responsibilities of the Directorate for Intelligence Programs. According to White House officials I spoke with, this was “not the first time” under this Administration that a Presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive-rather than national security sensitive-information.
Tl;dr – the presidency has a black box that it can toss all kinds of super-duper classified information into for reference and safe-keeping. The whistleblower was told that Trump uses this system to hide politically sensitive information for himself—information like what we are just learning right now as it pertains to his call with Ukraine’s President.
We may have stumbled upon a Trump-themed edition of Pandora’s Box.
4. Rudy Giuliani Staged a Coup in the State Department
The president’s personal lawyer effectively is the State Department when it comes to Ukraine’s new president. This passage is proof that Rudy Giuliani was pursuing policy on behalf of Trump that ran counter to U.S. interests, and is acting as Trump’s de facto Secretary of State (perhaps that is why Trump was so comfortable having Mike Pompeo serve as both Secretary of State and National Security Adviser):
Starting in mid-May, I heard from multiple U.S. officials that they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decisionmaking processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President. These officials also told me:
—that State Department officials, including Ambassadors Volker and Sondland, had spoken with Mr. Giuliani in an attempt to “contain the damage” to U.S. national security; and
—that Ambassadors Volker and Sondland during this time period met with members of the new Ukrainian administration and, in addition to discussing policy matters, sought to help Ukrainian leaders understand and respond to the differing messages they were receiving from official U.S. channels on the one hand, and from Mr. Giuliani on the other.
Giuliani went on Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News, asserting that he was taking orders from the State Department—obviously realizing that he was veering into high crimes territory when doing things on behalf of a department staffed by congressional confirmation—but given who State takes their orders from (they don’t call it the “Imperial Presidency” for nothing), pointing the finger in that direction is not exactly a positive development for the president’s legal case either.
5. “I didn’t do it. I’m innocent. All the witnesses should die.”
Credit to MotherJones’s Tim Murphy for capturing Trump’s rebuttal better than anyone. Not long after the whistleblower’s complaint was released to the public, Trump was caught on tape by the Los Angeles Times, saying that someone needs to kill the whistleblower.
”You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”
That laughter you hear at the end of the death threat made by a man holding the nuclear codes is another helpful reminder that the GOP is Trump and Trump is the GOP, and there is no “fever” to break (talking to you, Uncle Joe). This is who this party is, and this is why impeachment is an imperative. If we were to let Trump walk away from this complaint without any consequences, it would be a declaration to all future presidents that if Donald Trump is above the law, then they surely are as well.
Jacob Weindling is a writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.