The Ukraine call wasn’t a bug of this administration. It was a feature.
President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate debunked allegations of corruption against former Vice President Joe Biden were part of a pattern of behavior. As CNN reported Thursday night:
“During a phone call with [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping] on June 18, Trump raised Biden’s political prospects as well as those of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who by then had started rising in the polls, according to two people familiar with the discussion. In that call, Trump also told Xi he would remain quiet on Hong Kong protests as trade talks progressed.”
That call was then put into a special, secure electronic system – the same one where the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky was placed.
So, within five weeks this summer, we have Trump on the phone with a foreign leader discussing, at a minimum, his potential 2020 opponents. And at least in the Ukraine call, making clear that he wanted a “favor” for all of the things the US was doing – and could do – for the country.
All of which means that, almost certainly, these are not the only two calls of this sort that Trump has placed. If Trump is willing to talk about Biden and Warren with the Chinese – not exactly an ally – or to float an unspoken quid pro quo with Ukraine, who would he not be willing to talk to or use American power as a lever against?
The answer is, of course, no one. Don’t believe me? Just listen to Trump.
“Well I would think that if they were honest about it, they’d start a major investigation into the Bidens,” Trump said of the Ukrainians on Thursday. “It’s a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens.” He added: “Likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine. So, I would say that President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens.”
He said the quiet part out loud! Why? Because Trump sees nothing wrong with using his perch as the President of the United States to strong-arm world leaders into doing his political bidding. He’s President! He can do what he wants! And who is pro-corruption anyway?
“As the President of the United States, I have an absolute right, perhaps even a duty, to investigate, or have investigated, CORRUPTION, and that would include asking, or suggesting, other Countries to help us out!,” tweeted Trump Thursday night. He later added this on top of that tweet: “This isn’t about a Campaign, this is about Corruption on a massive scale!”
On Friday morning, Trump was at it again. “As President I have an obligation to end CORRUPTION, even if that means requesting the help of a foreign country or countries,” he tweeted. “It is done all the time. This has NOTHING to do with politics or a political campaign against the Bidens. This does have to do with their corruption!”
What Trump doesn’t get – or chooses not to get – is that there’s a big difference between rooting out corruption and using (and abusing) the power of America to pressure foreign countries to dig dirt on your two main political opponents in the 2020 election. Especially when, in the case of Biden and Ukraine, there is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.
That fundamental misunderstanding of how a president should – and should not – use the power of his office is the only explanation for why Trump would release the rough transcript of his call with Zelensky, which, if not a smoking gun, is pretty close.
This sort of behavior isn’t aberrant to, or for, Trump. In fact, it’s entirely consistent with who he has been his whole life – always looking for leverage to be used to personal advantage. Being elected president didn’t change that worldview. It just gave Trump more power to play with.
Add it all up and you get this: There will very likely be more calls and conversations like the ones we’ve learned about of late between Trump and foreign leaders. This is who Trump is. This is what he does.