After Donald Trump’s acquittal in the Senate, Senator Susan Collins and other Top allies of the president expressed confidence that he had learned a lesson. The idea was rife with cock-eyed optimism to begin with and in the week since, he’s gone out of his way to prove he has learned nothing. Instead rather than reflect on the conduct that wrought an Impeachment Trial, Trump has doubled down on his abuse of powers and putting his own needs before the greater good.
When Congress issued subpoenas in the initial House impeachment inquiry, Trump issued a blanket edict that they were to be ignored by Executive Branch employees. A handful defied the unlawful order and provided damaging testimony against the president before the House and the American public. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was on the July 25th call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky. During the impeachment inquiry denied knowing the whistleblower but said he was deeply troubled by what he heard on the call. EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland was referenced numerous times during Vindman’s testimony. The Lt. Col. recalled several instances during meetings with Ukrainian diplomats where Sondland, unprovoked, brought up investigations into the Bidens at the expense of their stated foreign policy goals. Vindman’s testimony was hardly a smoking gun, but leant serious credibility to that accusation that the president sought politically motivated investigations from Ukraine in exchange for the release of $391 in military aid.
Sondland would take the stand several days later and shed additional light on his activities in Ukraine. He detailed that he and others were directed to work with the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to initiate investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden that would boost Trump’s 2020 reelection bid. The former ambassador described a surreptitious channel of diplomacy that ran counter to the State Department’s purposes. Most significantly he confirmed the existence of a quid pro quo between the announcement of a Ukrainian investigations into the Biden sand the release of security assistance.
Both Vindman and Sondland followed the law by truthfully testifying before the House when called. Each knew doing so placed them in an extremely unenviable position. Last week they were both fired for their efforts.
Trump’s executive overreach reared its pernicious head again in the sentencing of long-time associate, Roger Stone. Stone, ensnared by the Mueller investigation had been tried and convicted of obstruction of justice, witness tampering and lying to investigators. Prosecutors handling the case recommended a sentence of seven to nine years. When the news broke Trump took to Twitter in a barrage of tweets attacking the ‘’ridiculous and unfair sentence. “
Within 24 hours the Justice Department had revised the sentencing guidelines for Stone to a one to two-year sentence. All four prosecutors in the case resigned. One left the DOJ entirely. Attorney General William Barr, in an ABC interview, denied that the president asked him to intervene. In the case Given Barr’s previous partiality towards the president, it is difficult to hear his denial as anything other than a political appointee towing the White House’s line of deception. To believe Trump’s outrage at Stone’s sentence had nothing to with its reduction is to suspend disbelief all together.
Trump called Vindman and Sondland ‘’very insubordinate’’ because they testified before Congress in response to a subpoena., Trump’s retaliation against them creates a dangerous precedent for government employees considering speaking out on misconduct by superiors. The intimidation and discouragement of whistleblowers benefits only the corrupt in high places.
Roger Stone lied to investigators looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He obstructed the Special Counsel and when facing jail time, he physically threatened a witness and his dog. All these charges were proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. Ideally his fate should rest in the hands of the judge overseeing the case without any undue outside influence. But Stone is a friend of the president’s. Now it seems the department is taking the position that obstructing justice isn’t as serious if it’s advantageous to the president. Roger Stone isn’t Nelson Mandela or Walter Raleigh. He’s a political operative with a record of unscrupulous behavior and well-connected allies. His debt to society should not be any lighter than someone guilty of similar offenses and no friends at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Napoleon said ‘’put a gold braid on a fool and you have a tyrant.’’ The United States is staring that fate in the face. A president who acts on his worst instincts, can’t be told ‘’no’’ and can’t be held to account ceases to be a president. When laws, and checks and balances lose their consequences, they lose their effectiveness.
Maine Senator Susan Collins said Trump had learned his lesson after the Senate let him off the hook. Adam Schiff said more than once during the trial ‘’He will not change and you know it.’’ Oddly enough it seems Collins was right and Schiff was wrong. He learned that it doesn’t matter what he does, because even when his malfeasance is uncovered, his GOP allies have his back. And he likely will change. His behavior will grow more corrupt and threatening to our democracy. He’s learned he can get away with it.