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Opinion

Column: Your lawless president, Mafia Don

Joseph Maguire
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank)., center, makes an opening statement Thursday before testimony by Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

You know what they say — it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup.

And now, finally, we have the coverup.

It was bad enough that President Trump decided to hold up American aid to beleaguered Ukraine, then told that country’s president he wanted help digging up dirt on his political opponent Joe Biden.

Turns out, the request was so outrageous, so alarming that White House officials apparently decided they had to find a way to hide it.

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According to the now celebrated but still anonymous whistleblower, a transcript of the phone call was placed into a super-duper-secret computer system used only for “codeword-level intelligence information, such as covert action.”

(Let’s call this one Operation Quid Pro Quo.)

Furthermore, the whistleblower alleged in a complaint made public Thursday that White House officials told him this was not the first time a Trump transcript had been placed in the electronic vault “solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive — rather than national security sensitive — information.” (Also Thursday, the New York Times reported that the whistleblower was a male CIA officer who was detailed to the White House and had since returned to the CIA.)

Knowing what we know about the White House occupant’s lack of morals, ethics and integrity, do we really have to stretch our imaginations to believe that he was willing to hold American funds hostage while importuning a dependent foreign ally to do his domestic political dirty work?

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It’s really a shame a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime.

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Counting this one, I’ve lived through three of the country’s four impeachment traumas.

That’s not a large enough number from which to draw meaningful lessons, but we can say this: Republican presidents who face impeachment are accused of selling out the office for political gain; Democrats who face impeachment are accused of lying about sex. Which kind of president would you prefer?

Even as a teenager, I had no trouble understanding why President Nixon had to go. His henchmen ordered a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate apartments in June 1972, and Nixon helped orchestrate a coverup of the crime. Nixon smartly preempted his own impeachment; he resigned at the urging of Republicans, who by then had turned on their president.

By 1998, I was certainly old enough to be outraged that then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich put the country through another impeachment trauma because President Clinton lied under oath about having an extramarital affair. (That was the coverup.) Clinton was impeached by the House and acquitted after a trial in the Senate.

Funny, though. Puritanical Republicans who whipped themselves into hysteria about Clinton’s personal behavior just don’t seem to care anymore about whether a president lies.

The American people, as it turned out, never really got on board the Clinton impeachment train. Clinton’s popularity ratings soared after the impeachment. Maybe partly that was because he was finishing up his second term and would never run for office again.

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Trump, on the other hand, is facing a daunting reelection campaign. He seems to be trying to persuade himself that an impeachment ordeal will whip up his supporters and help him win a second term.

I think it will have the opposite effect. Who wants to live in this chaos for another four years?

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On Thursday morning, the House Intelligence Committee invited Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to testify about the whistleblower who filed the complaint about Trump’s July 25 phone conversation with newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In his opening statement, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, did something that was risky but smart.

He decided to offer a parody of Trump’s call with Zelensky, which, he said “reads like a classic, organized-crime shakedown.”

Schiff is not the first person to compare Trump’s speaking style to that of a Mafia boss. And though it’s hard to parody something that already reads like parody, he pulled it off:

“We’ve been very good to your country,” Schiff paraphrased. “No other country has done as much as we have. But you know what, I don’t see much reciprocity. You know what I mean? I hear what you want. I have a favor I want from you, though, and I am going to say this only seven times, so you better listen good. I want you to make up political dirt on my opponent, understand? ... You know what I am asking so I am only gonna say this a few more times, in a few more ways. And by the way, don’t call me again. I’ll call you when you’ve done what I asked.”

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This was Schiff’s way of saying, Hey President Trump, we got your number. It doesn’t take a trained spy to break your code.

Republicans were in no mood for parody.

Committee member Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) condemned Schiff. “It is disturbing and outrageous that ... Schiff opens up a hearing of this importance with improvised fake dialogue between President Trump and President Zelensky. We should focus on the facts.”

I doubt she’s serious. After all, the unpalatable facts for Republicans are that the American president implicitly threatened to withhold millions of dollars in foreign aid to an allied country under invasion from a major American foe if it didn’t help his reelection campaign.

His minions tried to hide it.

This is Nixon-level lawlessness. Trump’s impeachment trauma is well deserved.


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