I mentioned in a recent column that Donald Trump is forcing the corrupt culture of his lies onto the people who touch him in any way, and deep, deep into the federal government. The accelerating events of the past week have underscored and inscribed a trenchant emphasis upon those words.
The evidence appearing in the congressional impeachment process has now touched Trump’s silver-haired vice president, Mike Pence, as well as his personal mouthpiece, Rudy Giuliani, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr, and a rapidly expanding cast of other characters.
In the outrageous scandal that must lead to his impeachment — that is, Trump’s unconstitutional phone call to the president of Ukraine forcing an effort to smear Joe Biden, the most likely Democratic candidate in the 2020 election — Trump is implicating as many members of his administration as anyone could imagine. Indeed, as I predicted, Trump’s corruption has seeped down to his second- and third-level appointments. It’s as if Boss Tweed were still alive.
Despite his unconvincing denials, the evidence clearly shows that Pence was involved, up to his neck, in Trump’s plot. Trump used him as a middleman and an enforcer.
In his red hot phone call on July 25 when Trump demanded that Ukraine help him and interfere in our 2020 presidential election, he was holding off $391 million that Congress had allotted to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian invasion. That was a “quid pro quo”: if you do this, you’ll get that. And now we know that, in the wake of Trump’s call, Mike Pence went to see Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to make sure he understood Trump’s demand in full and its implications for Ukraine’s survival.
Pence and his staff are saying, “Not me!”, but we now know that one of the top people on Pence’s team actually sat in on the teletag, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a bunch of others. The vice president had an incriminating transcript of the call soon after it took place, and his daily briefing book had detailed notes, on July 26, about what was going on. All of that was before he met with Ukraine’s president to seal the deal.
People in the State Department were aware of what was going on. Bill Taylor, the top diplomat dealing with Ukraine, wrote at one point: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
More and more, it’s becoming clear that Trump worked to twist and maim America’s diplomatic apparatus for his political benefit in the next election. Three chairmen of the House of Representatives committees heading the impeachment investigation wrote Pence that they want to know about “any role you may have played” in representing Trump’s demands to Ukraine. They’ve given him until October 15 to hand over a long list of documents pertaining to his dealings with Ukraine.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the committee chairmen working on the investigation have consistently warned the White House that noncompliance with their requests will be viewed as obstruction of Congress, which itself is a potentially impeachable offense.
“We’re not fooling around,” says Congressman Adam Schiff, who’s leading the inquiry as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and he’s a tough customer.