President Trump, We Can Handle the Truth

Last night, the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani had his own Col. Nathan Jessup moment on primetime TV. Fired-up and angry enough, like Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie A Few Good Men, Giuliani was ready to blurt out the whole damn thing. 

Here he is speaking to CNN’s Chris Cumo:

GIULIANI: You want to cover some ridiculous charge that I urged the Ukrainian government to investigate corruption. Well I did and I’m proud of it. And you should encourage it–

CUOMO: Well then it’s not a ridiculous allegation. You just admitted it.

GIULIANI: It’s a ridiculous allegation.

CUOMO: You just admitted it.

GIULIANI: It’s a ridiculous allegation.

CUOMO: Rudy, you just admitted–

Giuliani was on TV defending against things he (and the president) might have done in Ukraine, trying to get ahead of the Intelligence Community whistleblower story, but in regular Giuliani fashion, he seemed to be painting a picture of guilt rather than innocence for his boss, the president. 

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the whistleblower’s complaint centers on Ukraine and communications President Donald Trump had with a foreign leader, including a “promise” that he made, which set off so many alarm bells for the intelligence official that he filed a formal whistleblowing complaint with the Intelligence Community (IC) inspector general. 

It has yet to be reported that the communications in question were definitely between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Although, as the Post reported, the two did speak two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed. And, that July 25 call is already under enormous scrutiny by House Democrats because it is suspected that Trump told the Ukrainian president to reopen an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden if Ukraine wanted to improve relations with the United States, the British newspaper The Independent reported earlier this week. The Trump administration had been withholding millions of dollars in military assistance to Ukraine but released it last week under pressure from Congress. 

In the meantime, Trump tweeted Friday that his phone call (with whoever it was) was “pitch perfect.” Later in the day, he had his own “I ordered the code red” moment, telling reporters asking about Ukraine that “it doesn’t matter what I discussed,” adding “someone ought to look into Joe Biden.” He also described the phone call as “a beautiful conversation.”

Of course, if that were the case, the Trump administration wouldn’t be blocking the whistleblower from speaking to Congress. 

The thing is, whether it’s Hope Hicks or the IC whistleblower, the White House doesn’t want anyone who knows anything to speak out. 

The difference is the whistleblower has the courage to do so, while Hicks does not, choosing instead to dodge questions from lawmakers about what she witnessed while working for Trump. 

But the tactics the administration is using to silence the whistleblower, Hicks and others are the same: purposeful misreadings of the law, stonewalling investigators and dragging out its showdown with Congress in the courts long enough that November 2020 will have come and gone before the truth has a chance to be heard. 

With the whistleblower, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has decided that it’s somehow legal for the acting director of national intelligence to overrule the IC inspector general’s finding that the complaint is credible and meets the legal definition of an “urgent concern,” although nowhere in the law does it say that’s allowed. 

With Hicks, as with so many other witnesses of Trump’s attempts to obstruct the investigation carried out by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the White House is not formally exerting executive privilege but still arguing she is somehow “immune” from answering questions about her time working in the White House. 

The White House tried something similar with Annie Donaldson, the former chief of staff to Don McGahn, Trump’s first White House counsel. According to the Mueller report, Donaldson had a front row seat for Trump’s many attempts at obstructing justice. But, when she appeared before the House Judiciary Committee, White House lawyers stopped her from answering questions 212 times. 

Her stated reason for why she couldn’t respond was legal gobbledygook. “The White House has directed that I not respond to this question because of the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated.”

And earlier this week, we saw the White House try to claim executive privilege for Corey Lewandowski, who never even worked in the White House, so that he too could avoid being truthful with Congress. You could imagine the administration pulling a similar stunt with Giuliani, who has also never worked in the White House, when he is inevitably called in to answer questions about his conversations with the president regarding Ukraine. 

Why is the White House so fearful of the truth getting out? Because Trump engages in abuses of power, corruption and flirts with criminality on a regular basis. 

For example, the whistleblower’s story, which appears to be about Trump using the full weight of the U.S. government to coerce a foreign government into criminally investigating his political opponent, would be ample fodder for impeachment. 

No wonder Trump’s lawyers need to argue that as president he cannot only avoid criminal indictment, but he cannot even be criminally investigated. Not only that, Trump’s lawyers have also argued that Congress cannot even investigate him, except under impeachment proceedings. Their inventive reading of the Constitution is that the president is untouchable by the law while in Office. This would mean the Founders, trying to create a democracy and escape the tyranny of the King of England, created a position so powerful that the person who inhabited it could do whatever he wanted with zero accountability. That doesn’t sound very American. 

Someone who’s following the law would never be so fearful of it. 

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

 

About the Author(s)

Kate Brannen

Editorial Director of Just Security; nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council. Follow her on Twitter (@K8brannen).