When it comes to the most recent scandal in the Trump administration, naturally we focus on what the president did in his own words - enlisting the help of the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political rival with a suspected inducement of military aid from the US. But the president drug others into all the president’s mess.
Let’s start with AG William Barr. NY Times’ Michelle Goldberg asks Just How Corrupt Is Bill Barr?. She reports that Trump’s attorney general is implicated in the Ukraine scandal, but refuses to recuse. Following are excerpts.
According to Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University School of Law, any lawyers involved in hiding these transcripts might have done something illegal. “The rule is it is both unethical and a crime for a lawyer to participate in altering, destroying or concealing a document, and here the allegation is that the word-for-word transcript was moved from the place where people ordinarily would think to look for it, to a place where it would not likely be found,” said Gillers. “That’s concealing.”
Then there’s Barr’s personal involvement in the Ukraine plot. In the reconstruction of Trump’s call with Zelensky that was released by the White House, Trump repeatedly said that he wanted Ukraine’s government to work with Barr on investigating the Bidens. Barr’s office insists that the president hasn’t spoken to Barr about the subject, but given the attorney general’s record of flagrant dishonesty — including his attempts to mislead the public about the contents of the Mueller report — there’s no reason to believe him. Besides, said Representative Jamie Raskin, a former constitutional law professor who now sits on the House Judiciary Committee, “the effort to suppress the existence of the phone conversation itself is an obvious obstruction of justice.”
But Barr’s refusal to recuse creates a sort of legal cul-de-sac. It’s only the Justice Department, ultimately, that can prosecute potential federal crimes arising from this scandal. Barr’s ethical nihilism, his utter indifference to ordinary norms of professional behavior, means that he’s retaining the authority to stop investigations into crimes he may have participated in.
“The administration of justice is cornered because the ultimate executive authority for that government role includes the people whose behavior is suspect,” said Gillers.
Who else is tainted by involvement with Ukrainigate? Who are these “people whose behavior is suspect”?
For Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog), it’s A scandal featuring a striking cast of characters. Here is some of his post.
I was … glad to see Trump reference Pence, because his role is of some interest, too. The vice president recently met with Zelensky in Poland, and according to the official transcript, a reporter asked Pence whether his discussion with the Ukrainian leader focused at all on Joe Biden. Pence said no, though he added soon after, “But as President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption.”
It’s become clear that when Team Trump is talking to Ukraine about “corruption,” it’s little more than a euphemism for the American president’s conspiracy theories and political agenda.
Pence went on to say at the press conference that he told Zelensky that he would “carry back to President Trump the progress that he and his administration in Ukraine are making on dealing with corruption in their country.”
All of which serves as a reminder: Donald Trump may very well be impeached, but this is a controversy with a striking cast of characters. Indeed, Pence’s possible role in the mess is of interest, but he’s hardly alone.
There are related questions about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo… and the president’s personal attorney [Rudy Giuliani]… and the already scandalous attorney general … and the acting White House chief of staff. When Trump ordered military aid to Ukraine to be frozen, he went through his chief of staff and budget director Mick Mulvaney … and the unknown number of White House officials who told an intelligence community whistleblower that they witnessed the president “abuse his office for personal gain.”
To be sure, this is a Trump scandal, through and through. But as the political world experiences this earthquake, the president isn’t the only one wobbling,