I’m not (obviously) posting on all the twists and turns of our political descent into Hell, but I find myself with a Thing to Say about this latest storyline, what we’re probably not calling Kiev-a-Lago. Mostly, I find myself, in that way I have, of thinking that there are three separate things going on, and that the discussion I have seen is tending to elide them into a single thing or worse ignore the other two things in favor of the phone call itself. So. Here I am, your friendly neighborhood blogger, once again telling people what I think they ought to be talking about instead of what they are talking about.
So. The middle part, the part that’s getting all the attention, is the phone call itself, in which the President of the United States pressured the leader of a foreign nation to investigate a political opponent. This is, obviously, a Bad Thing and a misuse of his office, and exactly the sort of thing for which the remedy is specifically impeachment, conviction and removal from office. It’s not a criminal act, but it is a very serious misdemeanor in the Constitutional sense, that the President is in violation of the Constitution by his demeanor, behaving in a way that is destructive to the country. And it is terrific that people are responding to it as a real and significant problem. But it’s only the middle part.
The first part is this: The President of the United States has publicly and privately accused a political opponent of very serious crimes, and has not, as far as anyone can tell, pursued that accusation through any appropriate channel. And this is a thing I want people in My Party to say: if Joe Biden did, indeed, accept a bribe (to his son) in exchange for directing aid to the Ukraine, that is a very serious matter indeed, and should be prosecuted. If he obstructed an investigation into that bribery as Vice President, that is a very serious matter and should be exposed. These are major crimes, and if he is guilty of them, we should know about it!
But if there exists some evidence that Joe Biden was doing that, then it should be investigated by some actual investigatory office. If there’s a concern that the evidence for misdoing is in the Ukraine, well, there exists an international body of law enforcement in order to coordinate this sort of thing. If your concern is that the former government was complicit, and your hope is that the new one will not be, that’s a delicate matter indeed, and one that may require some fairly high-level (and possibly secret) co-operation—which is different from the President of one country pressuring the President of the other. My point is that if Joe Biden is guilty, it is blatant dereliction of duty for the President to pursue it the way he is pursuing it, rather than allowing the appropriate offices to do what they are supposed to do without political interference. In large part, this is because the head of the other country has real incentives to fake evidence against the President’s political enemies, if they think that’s what the President wants.
And the third part, after the phone call, is along the same lines. While we don’t really know exactly what happened, it appears that a ‘whistleblower’ complaint was filed with the appropriate office, was initially handled as a credible and serious allegation, and then at some point the ordinary handling was shut down. There is certainly reason to believe that the White House obstructed the proper working of the office. The President publicly called the whistleblower a ‘partisan’, implying that he had been informed of their identity. The Executive’s response to the proper legislative oversight—as required by statute—was a stonewall.
Look, the allegation may or may not be accurate. Any good system for protecting ‘whistleblowers’ takes into account that there will be false allegations and also allegations that turn out to be insignificant violations of protocol. They still need to be investigated, and the allegations cleared if they are not verified. There is no way to know if we are catching the real problems if the process isn’t followed in every case—and of course someone innocent of the allegations is much better situated to deal with the aftermath of an investigation if everyone knows that there is a formal process that has been followed just as it is always followed.
It is vitally important to the working of an accountable, law-abiding government that the procedures are followed and that the Legislature be permitted to oversee the Executive (and vice-versa). I understand that needs to be some a little leeway, and that there may well be national security situations where not everything is shared with the Legislature, but those deviations are themselves subject to procedural scrutiny. If the President obstructed the working of the whistleblower investigation, in the context of the previous incidences of obstruction that demands removal from office even if the substance of the allegation is not proven. The fact (if it is a fact) that the President can’t be prosecuted for criminal obstruction of justice means that it is up to the Legislature to defend the proper workings of the Justice system, according to the statutes the legislature has passed. And the only way to defend that against a President who continues to outrage the due process of law enforcement is to remove that President from office.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,