Dispatch October 9, 2019

The Crime, Then the Cover-Up


Every new piece of information that has come out about the Ukraine scandal has confirmed that President Donald Trump tried to extort the new, reformist Ukrainian government to undermine the 2020 U.S. election. The facts of the case—and the president’s own admission—speak for themselves, and they are damning.

Instead of trying to contest these facts, the White House has engaged in a cover-up designed to prevent more evidence from coming out. Yesterday, the White House sent a letter to House Democratic leaders declaring that it will refuse to cooperate with the House impeachment effort. The obstruction is now in plain sight. But yesterday’s letter is simply the latest in a string of efforts by the Trump administration to hide damning information, obstruct proper congressional oversight, and undermine legal protections provided to whistleblowers—all in an effort to cover up Trump’s actions.

  • The White House abused the national security classification process to conceal the contents of the call. In a highly unusual move, the call transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was immediately moved to a highly classified “code word” server. The whistleblower complaint stated that “one White House official described this act as an abuse … because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.” Trump has denied all wrongdoing.
  • The Trump administration is blocking key witnesses from testifying before Congress. Just this week, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, received a midnight call the night before he was set to be deposed before the House, ordering him not to show up. Sondland has now been subpoenaed. Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, who oversees Ukraine, did not appear at a deposition before Congress. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has sought to prevent additional State Department employees from going before Congress.
  • The Trump administration tried to block the whistleblower complaint from reaching Congress. The intelligence community inspector general deemed the complaint credible, and Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire was required to send the complaint to Congress. But Trump’s Department of Justice (DOJ) said that no such requirement applied.
  • Trump has engaged in blatant witness tampering and intimidation, publicly saying that he wants to “find out about” the whistleblower and making a “veiled reference to execution.”
  • The DOJ didn’t fully investigate the crimes alleged by the whistleblower. It reportedly only looked at “potential campaign finance violations” and didn’t consider other “potential legal violations” stemming from Trump’s decision to hold the military aid.
  • The DOJ also didn’t tell the Federal Election Commission about the complaint, even though it was required to do so.
  • U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr hasn’t recused himself, even though he is inextricably linked to the scandal, as Trump offered up Barr’s assistance to Zelensky multiple times during the call.
  • Trump is likely concealing a more detailed call transcript. The letter claims that “Trump took the unprecedented step of providing the public transparency by declassifying and releasing the record.” But the transcript that has been released is partial, with clear gaps, leading to informed speculation that there is a more complete transcript.

The White House is not trying to contest the known facts; it is just trying to prevent more damning facts from coming to light and hinder the work of Congress. This has been the administration’s playbook time and time again. Its problem now is that it is hard to cover up a crime that it already confirmed in its own White House transcript—and that the president himself has confessed to.