Still need evidence that Donald Trump not only is out of his mind, but flying solo through that great right-wing echo chamber as the Ukraine scandal continues to grow new tentacles at a breathtaking rate?
If so, please note that amidst an impeachment crisis that has him cornered like a trapped animal, he set in motion a series of events over this Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week that have outraged some of the very congressional Republicans who are pretty much the only reason he’s still holding forth on the White House lawn and not the visitor’s room at a federal penitentiary.
As Turkish President Recep Erdogan was preparing to attack the U.S.’s longtime Kurdish allies in northern Syria and in jaw-dropping disregard of his defense secretary and few remaining clear-headed foreign policy advisers, Trump said that was okey-dokey and he helpfully would withdraw the American troops who have been fighting alongside the Kurds.
On Monday, Trump quickly sort of walked back this gift to one of his favorite strongmen when Republicans, including Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, blasted him for abandoning the Kurds. Even Representative Liz Cheney, a Trump sycophant if ever there was one, called the pullout a “catastrophic mistake.” The Turkish offensive duly commenced and the slaughter of Kurds duly began despite Trump’s empty 11th-hour promise that “If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits I will totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey.”
On Tuesday, the White House showed its hand in a letter to the Democratic leaders of the House impeachment investigation stating (no, it actually was more of a scream) that it still would not cooperate in any way because the investigation was an effort to undo the 2016 election (cue “deep state” Jaws music). Besides which, he can do anything he wants because he is the Chosen One and therefore immune from the actions of those two other co-equal branches of government — Congress and the Supreme Court.
The letter, devoid of any legal substance, was variously described by legal scholars as “preposterous,” “unbelievable,” “reckless” and, inevitably, “loony.” I called it “pathetic.”
Wednesday was a relatively quiet day — unless you were one of an increasing number of dead Kurds — until the president defended his troop withdrawal by noting that the Kurds “didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy as an example . . . they weren’t there.” He explained that he had learned that factoid from a “very, very powerful article,” which it turns out was written by a conservative commentator and supporter of Trump’s wingnuttery.
Then as the day wore on, another Ukraine scandal tentacle slithered into view.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, business associates and clients of Rudy Giuliani who were helping him to get non-existent dirt on Joe Biden and his son in the extortionate scheme that underlies the Ukraine scandal, which underlies the impeachment push, were arrested on charges that they schemed to funnel foreign money to U.S. politicians as they tried to flee the U.S. for Vienna.
It surely was a coincidence that earlier in the day, Parnas and Fruman had lunched with Giuliani (at the Trump International Hotel, natch) and had been ordered to turn over certain documents to House investigators. Or that Giuliani, in his quest for Biden dirt, himself has spent quality time in Vienna courting notorious Ukrainian oligarch Dmitri Firtash, an upper-echelon associate of Russian organized crime who is fighting extradition to the U.S. on bribery charges and once wheeled and dealed with Paul Manafort, Trump’s convicted and imprisoned former campaign manager.
Parnas and Fruman, who are Soviet-born and naturalized American citizens, of course are now being subpoenaed by House investigators for personal appearances, are said to have been instrumental in Trump recalling Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who objected to the Trump-Giuliani scheme to hold up $400 million in aid in return for the Ukraine president digging Biden dirt.
Fortunately for both men, neither are Kurds.
Thursday dawned bright and sunny in the Washington swamp even if the weather in the great right-wing echo chamber was turbulent. Trump got things rolling in a tweet by criticizing a Fox News poll showing that a majority of Americans now favor impeachment.
Then further dirt trickled out on Parnas and Fruman, who already were being referred to as the equivalent of the Watergate burglars who ultimately were to bring down Richard Nixon, and like them not particularly smart operators because their scheme to shower Republicans with foreign dough wasn’t exactly covert.
A federal magistrate set bail a $1 million each after prosecutors argued Parnas and Furman were flight risks. They were represented at the bail hearing by two lawyers who unsuccessfully defended Manafort. Who must have just been in the neighborhood, or something. Their regular lawyer is John Dowd, who as Trump’s onetime criminal lawyer was so convinced that the president should avoid an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller that he told him, “It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.”
Meanwhile, Trump confirmed the appointment of Trey Gowdy as an outside legal counsel in the impeachment cage match. Gowdy is the former Republican representative who beat the congressional oversight drum in holding endless hearings into the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks that sought to tar Hillary Clinton, the favorite punching bag of Trump and Vladimir Putin’s cyberwarriors in that very same 2016 election. Want to bet that congressional oversight suddenly doesn’t seem so important to him?
Over at the State Department, Michael McKinley, senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, resigned his position amid rising dissatisfaction and plummeting morale over Pompeo’s failure to support career personnel ensnared in the Ukraine scandal.
On Thursday night at a campaign rally in Minneapolis, Trump lashed out at House Democrats and Biden, whom he declared to great roars “was only a good vice president because he knew how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass.”
Then came a Friday to remember.
First Trump was snubbed for the bright, shiny object known as the Nobel Peace Prize he has so coveted. Some guy from Ethiopia got it instead for stopping a famine or something.
Then a lawyer for Gordon Sondland, the now resigned U.S. ambassador to the European Union, announced that Sondland would defy the White House and testify before three House committees next week about his neck-deep involvement in the Ukraine extortion scheme.
Then Yovanovich, in closed-door testimony before the three House committees, delivered a scathing indictment of how Trump personally saw to her removal and how his administration is using private influence and personal gain to usurp diplomats’ judgment and serve the interests of the U.S.’s adversaries, including Russia. “Today we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within,” she said.
Then multiple courts ruled against elements of Trump’s border policy, while a Washington, D.C. appeals court ruled that Trump’s accounting firm must comply with House subpoenas for eight years of his financial statements and audits. The court stayed release of the materials pending an appeal by Trump’s lawyers.
Then CNN reported that the prosecutors who brought indictments against Parnas and Fruman are now investigating Giuliani’s financial dealings with the two men.
And finally Kevin McAleenen, acting Homeland Security secretary and the fourth person to hold that post in less than three years, quit in frustration over clashes with the White House and attacks from immigration hardliners. His departure brought to nearly 50 the extraordinary number of Cabinet secretaries and other senior officials who have quit or been fired.
Giuliani’s role as Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer has never been in doubt, but it still astonishes.
He was hired to help fend off Mueller’s Russia scandal investigation, although it was Attorney General William “Whitewash Bill” Barr who did the heavy lifting in that case, only to steer the president into the Ukraine scandal. It shouldn’t take long — we’re talking days if not hours — before still other Ukraine tentacles emerge and Giuliani, the gift to House Democrats that keeps on giving, gets Trump into further trouble. As if he isn’t getting into enough trouble on his own.
Oh, and Kurds continue to die.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on October 11, 2019 on Kiko’s House, a website featuring commentary by journalist and author, Shaun Mullen. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Mullen.