Many Americans remain amazed that Republican lawmakers can be so cowed by an unpopular and unhinged president. Do they really think he has the power to prevent their reelection, or do they simply fear the nasty tweets? It is hard to fathom how grown men and women are both so scared of losing an elected position (are they entirely unemployable elsewhere?) or receiving unhinged criticism from Trumpers. (Believe me, the latter is quite easily ignored.)
The irrational fear of Trump and his attack dogs only works for so long, however. As soon as one or two brave souls step out of line and live to fight another day, the spell of intimidation is lost. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has endorsed the legitimacy of the impeachment inquiry and condemned the use of foreign governments to influence our elections. Who looks worse — Romney or Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who cannot bear to state that soliciting foreign help to win an election is wrong and illegal? It is not even close.
Trump trashed Romney for a few days, but now has moved on to bigoted taunts of Somali Americans and revived his false accusations against the whistleblower (The Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler finds, “with the exception of some minor details, virtually all of the specific points of the complaint have held up and been confirmed”) and temper tantrums about the mainstream media. Last time I checked, Romney was doing fine. Indeed, if Trump is forced out or forced not to run for reelection, Romney would be an excellent choice for Republicans desperate to eradicate Trump’s stain on the party.
Trump and his White House “counsel” (whose letter declaring Trump’s refusal to comply with impeachment requests for documents will go down as a perfect example of unethical behavior by a member of the bar) have refused to “allow” members and ex-members of the administration to testify. However, on Friday, former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified. Next week, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, contrary to the orders of the president, will testify. Fiona Hill, previously Trump’s top adviser on Russia, will also testify.
Nothing will happen to these people. The administration cannot sanction them in any fashion. They have a First Amendment right to testify. They are not being whisked off to “executive privilege detention” or suffering any other career or legal penalty.
Every other current or past Trump adviser who bowed before Trump’s command not to fulfill the legal obligation to testify (e.g., Donald McGahn, Hope Hicks) should rethink their participation in an unconstitutional obstruction of Congress. Those who have been served, such as Energy Secretary Rick Perry, can secure their place in history (along with John Dean) by refusing to comply with Trump’s illegal edict. Once a few witnesses defy Trump, others are almost certain to follow.
Likewise, officials are beginning to stream out of the administration, providing themselves latitude to speak out and provide evidence. Michael McKinley, a senior State Department adviser, announced this week he is leaving. He presumably would have something to say about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s conduct. Before him, Kurt Volker, envoy to Ukraine, left and then provided testimony. Just the other day, the previously mute former national security adviser H.R. McMaster said “of course” it is wrong to solicit election help from a foreign government. Maybe former defense secretary Jim Mattis and other ex-officials will screw up the courage to say the same.
Again, it only takes a few to prompt others to reach the conclusion it is time to bail on the Trump crowd, clear their names of any taint from their association with Trump and do their civic duty.
In sum, Trump is truly the little man behind the curtain. Once you realize it’s all smoke and mirrors, and that he has no actual power to harm them, perhaps the previously cowed members of Congress and current and ex-administration officials will grow a spine and join others who have paved the way.