EDITORIAL: Ignore Trump’s smokescreens

Staff report

It’s not about former Vice President Joe Biden’s actions regarding Ukraine.

It’s not about his son Hunter Biden’s tenure on the board of a Ukraine power company.

It’s not about Hillary Clinton’s emails.

The impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump involves solely those actions committed by the president.

And those actions appear seriously troubling — unethical, unconstitutional and very likely impeachable.

Since word of a whistleblower complaint surfaced just weeks ago, we have learned that the president has:

  • Asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens in a July 25 phone call while personally blocking nearly $400 million in congressionally approved security aid.
  • Along with other White House officials, sought to conceal records of the phone call by storing them in a highly secure system normally reserved for sensitive information regarding national security.
  • Made similarly questionable calls to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Russia that have also been ferreted into this ultra-secret system.
  • Sought help from Australia in discrediting the Mueller report and its origins.
  • Called for not only Ukraine but China to investigate the Bidens in full view of the media on the White House’s South Lawn.
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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It has also been revealed that administration officials including since-resigned U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker prepared a statement for Zelensky that would have committed Ukraine to investigating the Bidens; that Volker provided House investigators transcripts of text messages in which Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, writes “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance to help with a political campaign” (Trump’s ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland refutes the connection in a response); and that a second whistleblower is weighing whether to come forward.

In other words, there’s a lot of “there” there.

But Trump would prefer to change the subject. He’s spent a lifetime doing just that and he’s an expert at it.

When that egregious “Access Hollywood” recording surfaced and the world heard him brag about sexually accosting women, Trump’s response was to claim former President Bill Clinton said even worse things in private.

When asked about calls to remove statues of Robert E. Lee and other Confederate officers, he asked, in essence, what about the Founding Fathers? “George Washington was a slave owner,” he said. “Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson?”

When his friend and adviser Roger Stone was arrested, the president took the tactic to extreme — and extremely ridiculous — levels on Twitter: “If Roger Stone was indicted for lying to Congress, what about the lying done by Comey, Brennan, Clapper, Lisa Page & lover, Baker and soooo many others? What about Hillary to FBI and her 33,000 deleted Emails?”

It’s a schoolyard technique referred to as whataboutism, famously deployed by Soviet propagandists during the Cold War. The president has turned it into an art form and he’s painting with an especially broad brush as he faces mounting allegations.

The nation mustn’t fall for it.

Congressional investigators, the media and — especially — the public must see through the presidential smokescreen. They must dismiss the childish name-calling, ignore the false equivalencies and insist the administration cooperate in the serious and vital process of determining whether the president has abused the power of his office for political gain.

The president is an expert at changing the subject, muddying the waters and sowing doubt. He has proven far less adept at providing accountability.

As the impeachment inquiry moves forward, ignore the whataboutism and hold the president accountable.