EDITORIAL: Trump protection program must end

York Dispatch Editorial Board

The allegations are serious, even for a president who routinely skirts the moral, ethical and legal boundaries of his office.

An Aug. 12 whistleblower complaint by an intelligence official outlines concerns over President Donald Trump’s contacts with a foreign leader, including allegations that he offered some sort of promise in exchange for what would amount to political assistance.

Various reports say the foreign power in question is Ukraine and that Trump urged its president to open an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who previously served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. Trump made this request eight times, according to the Wall Street Journal. There are also questions surrounding the White House’s subsequent delay in providing a congressionally approved $250 million in military aid to Ukraine.

If true, the charges would amount to unparalleled abuses of power. Pressuring a foreign government to undermine a political candidate — possibly in exchange for some sort of reward or the release of financial aid — is the kind of high crime the Constitution was constructed to guard against.

Indeed, the inspector general for the director of national intelligence found the complaint so credible and of such “urgent concern,” he advised it be reported immediately to Congress.

FILE - In this March 2, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump listens during a briefing on nuclear aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport, Va. Trump’s vision of America’s tomorrows looks much like its yesterdays. He loves “beautiful” coal. “Beautiful” warships. And “those four beautiful words: MADE IN THE USA!” He speaks of the country’s might as measured by its steel mills, farms and cars rolling off Detroit assembly lines. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

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While the law requires just that, the Trump administration seldom troubles itself with pesky obstacles like the law.

Instead, Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire blocked the inspector general from releasing the complaint, offering laughably ridiculous arguments like the matter not meeting the legal definition of “urgent concern.”

He’s joined by White House lawyers and Attorney General William Barr in circling the wagons to keep the complaint from Congress, thus shielding the power-abusing president.

This despite the president’s private lawyer, Rudy Giuilani, admitting in a rambling CNN interview that he asked the president of Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

This despite the president himself insisting “it doesn’t matter” what he asked Ukraine’s president.

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The corruption has become so deeply rooted and habitual, it is barely concealed — until there is actual documentation, like Robert Mueller’s report on 2016 election meddling by Russia or the current whistleblower report. Then the Trump Protection Program kicks into high gear, complete with stonewalling, obfuscation and counter-charges.

This isn’t just about Trump.

In protecting the president, his guardians are tearing at the very fabric of the Constitution.

“The president is essentially saying that Congress has no right to investigate the executive branch, which is a direct attack on the separation of powers,” is how Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat, put it. “Oversight is a constitutional function of Congress.”

The president has been saying this all along, of course. His claims of universal immunity and his insistence that administration officials — and even private citizens — ignore congressional subpoenas have eroded the norms of constitutional oversight.

Congressional Democrats have been far too timid in fighting back against these abuses.

But Republicans — largely through their quiet complacency — have abetted this most self-serving of presidents. And his active defenders — Barr, Giuilani, a conservative congressional contingent and a host of far-right TV minions — have insulated him from, respectively, legitimate oversight and negative reaction from his hard-core base.

Their playbook is being opened anew.

Giuilani is trying to tar the Bidens (who, without going into detail, have done absolutely nothing questionable in their Ukraine dealings). Administration officials like Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin are following suit.

Congressional defenders are claiming the whistleblower charges are politically motivated, with Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley dismissing them as “another deep state attack.” (The whistleblower's identity is still unknown, but the inspector general is a Trump appointee.) 

And Trump himself has blamed the media, Democrats, a partisan whistleblower (though he claims not to know the identity of the individual – who nonetheless came from within his own intelligence department), “an American spy within one of our intelligence agencies,” and the Bidens, among others.

There is, of course, a simple way to get to the bottom of the allegations: Forward them to Congress and begin a legitimate investigation.

In other words, dismantle the Trump Protection Program.