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Mitt Romney was first. Will GOP stand up against a lawbreaker in the White House? | Trudy Rubin

Trump's shakedown of Ukraine and appeal to Beijing to dig up dirt on Biden are the acts of an autocrat who ignores U.S. law.

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) walks past reporters on his way to a vote before attending the weekly Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill Sept. 24, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) walks past reporters on his way to a vote before attending the weekly Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill Sept. 24, 2019 in Washington, D.C.Read moreMark Wilson / MCT

Finally, one GOP senator had the guts to tweet the obvious: “The President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.”

Thank you, Mitt Romney, but let’s get more specific.

Trump’s shakedown of Ukraine’s president and appeal to Beijing are the acts of an autocrat who disdains the law and twists foreign policy to serve his own vendettas. To hell with our once-proud image as a country where leaders are subject to the rule of law.

Because, let’s get this clear. According to U.S. election law, it is illegal for any person "to solicit, accept or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.”

And there is no question that Trump has been soliciting – like mad.

Consider what we already know. Despite the claims of the president and his minions – trumpeted in dishonest TV ads — Trump’s squeeze on Ukraine has nothing to do with “corruption” and everything to do with his political obsessions.

In the transcript of his July phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, the word corruption is never even mentioned. Instead, the president first presses Zelensky to investigate a crazy, debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked into Democratic emails in 2016 and framed Russia. Then Trump squeezes Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Biden.

Meantime, Rudy Giuliani and Trump have praised the two crooked Ukrainian prosecutors who refused to investigate the company on whose board Hunter Biden sat. Joe Biden, on the other hand, pushed for the firing of one of those corrupt prosecutors, as did the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

In other words, the truth is exactly the opposite of Trump’s claims.

Indeed, Trump has worsened the corruption problem in Ukraine. The U.S. president shook down a Ukrainian leader who desperately needed the defensive weapons Trump was withholding. And Trump is still squeezing Zelensky to investigate Biden if he wants the president’s help.

Trump is also undercutting Ukrainian reformers’ efforts to strengthen democratic norms in their country. “He asked our president to interfere in the Prosecutor General’s Office," says Daria Kaleniuk, a leading anticorruption activist in Kiev. "But law enforcement needs to be independent of political interference if we want to guarantee rule of law.”

If you doubt that Trump shook down Zelensky, just read the transcript of their phone call, along with texts from U.S. diplomats who make clear their dismay about a likely quid pro quo.

Veteran diplomat William Taylor, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, texted a senior colleague, “Are we now saying that security assistance and [a White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky] are conditioned on investigations?” Instead of just saying no, the colleague wrote, “Call me,” taking the conversation offline. Stay tuned for more details to leak.

Then there is Trump’s public appeal to China to “start an investigation into the Bidens.”

» READ MORE: Prominent NGO official in Kiev talks about Trump shakedown

» READ MORE: Trump has a bad case of autocrat envy

“When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated,” Romney also tweeted, correctly.

Trump’s solicitation to China echoes his similar plea to Russia during the 2016 campaign to “find” Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.

The president cares not. He is willing to solicit our main strategic rival to do him a favor by investigating Biden. We already know Trump told President Xi Jinping he’d stay silent on Hong Kong while trade talks continued. So what would he pay for dirt on a rival?

Yet Trump’s twisting of U.S. foreign policy for personal political gain doesn’t stop there. He has asked the leaders of Australia, Britain, and Italy to investigate whether their own intelligence services engaged in a plot against the Trump campaign in 2016 by contributing to the Mueller report.

The Sydney Morning Herald rightly responded: “The idea that Australia was somehow part of a conspiracy to help Mrs. Clinton in 2016 is nuts.” Trump’s nuttiness may make allied intelligence services less likely to cooperate with our services in the future.

Indeed, the only ones to benefit from that nuttiness are adversaries such as Vladimir Putin, who can sit back and enjoy watching Trump besmirch America’s democratic image.

“Putin wants to show the world that officials everywhere are corrupted, and that all the world runs like Russia,” says the courageous Russian journalist Yevgenia Albats. “Trump has helped Putin’s argument that the United States is no different from Russia.”

Some Americans — including many Trump supporters — don’t seem to care if Trump acts the autocrat. Indeed, a 2018 study coauthored by Stanford University’s Larry Diamond found that three in 10 Americans would prefer a more authoritarian form of government in the United States. Unchecked, that is where Trump is headed.

So the big question now is whether GOP legislators will continue to enable Trump to stiff democratic norms and laws. Romney has broken the ice. Will anyone else break the silence of the GOP lambs?