Think Vito Corleone, but with nuclear weapons, and you’ll get a sense of what’s in the fall-out-of-your-chair-stunning five-page call summary of the July conversation between President Trump and Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky — the 30 minutes that have pushed America to the brink of its third-ever presidential impeachment.
The moment when America’s Don becomes more of a mafia don occurs roughly halfway through the phone call, right after Zelensky — whose country has been embroiled in an often bloody five-year conflict with neighbor Russia — reminds Trump that his Ukraine sure could use that promised U.S. defense help, such as Javelin antitank missiles.
“I would like you to do us a favor, though,” the 45th American president immediately shoots back, channeling that infamous Godfather wedding scene, “because our country has been through a lot, and Ukraine knows a lot about it.” Over the next few minutes, Trump explicitly asked the Ukrainian leader to investigate a chief political rival, leading 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden, as well as the business activities of Biden’s son. He enlists both his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the government’s top — supposedly apolitical — prosecutor, Attorney General William Barr, in a barely disguised scheme of political interference.
If Trump thinks the United States has been through a lot ... he ain’t seen nothing yet. There’s a cheesy radio ad for, ahem, male-enhancement pills that describes their product as “Viagra on steroids.” But Trump’s stunning abuse of power is becoming Watergate on Viagra on crack cocaine — a blatant effort to use the power of his office to gin up a scandal against a possible election foe who’s been running ahead of him in the polls, a “dirty trick” that would make Nixon’s man Donald Segretti blush.
The main White House talking point — which, in the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up department, was accidentally emailed to House Democrats — is that there was no trouble on the line with Trump and Zelensky. That’s because, they insist, there’s not a specific sentence where the $400 million-plus in military aid that the White House had mysteriously halted is specifically linked to action against Biden and his son, Hunter. “No quid pro quo” instantly became the 2019 version of “No collusion!”
But you don’t need to be an antitank rocket scientist to read into the call that Trump is making an offer that the new and inexperienced leader of a country threatened by our president’s pal Vladimir Putin could ill afford to refuse. Nor need there be an explicit quid pro quo, since the president is clearly soliciting what looks very much to be an illegal contribution to his 2020 campaign. The House may have so far fumbled its chance to deal with 2016′s illegal contribution — the hush money paid to mistress Stormy Daniels — but here’s a slam-dunk do-over.
President Trump must be impeached, if the Constitution is still worth the fading yellow parchment it’s calligraphied on. The bigger questions right now are ... when? And how?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s late Monday announcement that the House and its Democratic majority are now in full impeachment inquiry mode was met with Kool-and-the-Gang volume celebration by Trump resisters on the internet, but for now her moves raise more questions than they answer. Her decision to keep the probe in the hands of six committee chairs who, frankly, have been slow-walking their Trump investigations since January doesn’t seem to match the fierce urgency of now — not with new, shocking revelations coming out every couple of hours.
The longer that Pelosi’s House takes to act on Trump’s out-in-the-open high crimes and misdemeanors, the closer we get toward the actual 2020 election season and a full-blown constitutional crisis. Yet incredibly, Congress — which seemingly just returned from its long summer break — is scheduled to leave Washington again on Friday, for a two-week recess.
Not now, Speaker Pelosi! This won’t win you a popularity contest, but you should be telling your members that they’re not going. Impeachment hearings should start Monday, and Congress needs to hear immediately from Giuliani (who, as a private citizen, should absolutely NOT be covered by claims of executive privilege), from Barr, who has already disgraced the Justice Department by politicizing it, and from other government aides with deep knowledge of the worst presidential scandal in history.
To do this, Pelosi also needs to figure out how to both streamline the impeachment process and — while taking enough time to air the relevant issues in public hearings — accelerate it. Control of the probe needs to rest with one committee — either the House Judiciary Committee, which has traditionally done this, or a select impeachment panel if necessary. Promise the American people that the full House will vote no later than Nov. 3 — exactly one year before the 2020 general election.
The risk of proceeding with all deliberate speed — with an emphasis on the deliberate part — is far too great. President Trump may not be a lame duck, but he is already a badly wounded one — a narcissist with nukes who already seems ready to emotionally detonate over this new crisis. And we live in a world where there are far too many opportunities to screw things up — especially in the Middle East when Iran and other players seem far too eager these days to trigger a war. The man who calls himself “a stable genius” in middle-of-the-night tweets probably isn’t the man for this problem.