The Zombies Must Be Killed Once And For All
Now that the Democrats have finally opened up an impeachment inquiry, the question the party faces is whether to move swiftly with an impeachment of Trump alone that focuses on Ukraine or whether to take on an expansive investigation that will expose the whole cabal of corrupt and sycophantic cronies that Trump has installed in virtually every federal agency as well as a congressional Republican party that is equally complicit in the President’s crimes.
Even when strictly limited to Ukraine, the grounds for impeachment are quite clear. Trump used taxpayer money as part of an extortion scheme in order to get the new Ukrainian government to investigate his domestic political opponents in an attempt to influence the 2020 election. In addition, Trump openly asked China to also investigate his domestic political opponent, and, less openly, tried to get the UK and Italy to do the same. When the founders wrote the impeachment process into the Constitution, the primary concerns that drove that decision was the fear that foreigners would interfere US domestic politics and the fear that a president would work with foreign interests to advance his own personal interests. In essence, Trump’s actions are the archetypical example of the need for impeachment.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, was the point man for the effort to get the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens, meeting with various Ukrainian officials in that effort. Vice President Mike Pence’s aide was on the phone call where Trump made the extortion claim clear to the Ukrainian President and Pence himself personally delivered the message that US aid would not be provided until the Ukrainians stepped up their efforts to combat corruption which both Pence and the Ukrainians understood to mean an investigation of the Bidens. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also on the infamous extortion phone call and is actively preventing State Department employees from cooperating with the impeachment inquiry. In addition, he is overseeing an internal State Department investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails yet again.
Attorney General Bill Barr is also implicated in the extortion call as Trump referenced him as a contact for Ukraine in the Biden investigation. When the intelligence community Inspector General forwarded the whistleblower complaint to the DOJ as an “urgent concern”, Barr’s DOJ declined to treat it as an urgent matter and refused to investigate it by treating it as a campaign finance issue and laughably determining it could not ascertain any value to the Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens. Barr himself, while mentioned directly in the call by the President, again refused to recuse himself. Instead, Barr, like Pompeo, has been globetrotting, bypassing diplomatic conventions to travel to Italy and pressuring the UK and Australia in the associated effort to validate a bizarre conspiracy theory that would discredit the entire premise of the Russia investigation and presumably find a pretext for pardoning Paul Manafort.
Mick Mulvaney is not only Trump’s chief-of-staff (COS) but also the budget director. Presumably, as COS, he too would have been on Trump’s extortion call, although I have not seen that confirmed anywhere. In addition, it was Mulvaney, acting in his role as budget director and at the direction of the President, who directed that the aid to Ukraine be withheld, putting forth the bogus cover story that an interagency process was looking at whether the money needed to be spent. One also has to wonder what role Mulvaney had as COS in deciding to improperly classify Trump’s call in order to move it to a system reserved for highly classified communications in order to reduce the likelihood that the contents of the conversation would be revealed.
Even lowly Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy, has managed to get involved in Trump’s extortion plot. Perry was sent to the new Ukrainian President’s inauguration instead of Mike Pence as a snub to that President and as a message, whether Perry was aware of it or not, that the President needed to play ball with Trump. In addition, Perry apparently was pressuring the Ukrainians to replace members of the board of the state-run gas company with personal friends and cronies of Trump. This effort may have been part of a project to deliver US liquified natural gas to Ukraine that was being spearheaded by two Ukrainian-American businessman who apparently are paying clients of Giuliani, as opposed to Trump for whom Rudy is working pro bono.
In Congress, GOP Senator Ron Johnson admitted he was told by EU Ambassador Sondland that the aid to Ukraine was being withheld as part of a quid pro quo to get the Ukrainians to investigate issues and people related to US elections. Johnson apparently confronted Trump about the report who vehemently denied it but nevertheless still withheld the aid from Ukraine. Johnson, who is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, then went on national TV to state he does not trust the FBI and CIA. Senator Lindsey Graham has one-upped Trump, demanding that Australia, Italy, and the UK cooperate in Barr’s wild goose chase to discredit the Russia investigation.
The point of this quick recitation is that they are all guilty. All of them. Every last one. They are all participating in the impeachable crime that our founders most feared and are now covering for the President that has perpetrated that crime. And they know it. And there are perhaps dozens and dozens of lesser figures like Ambassadors Sondland, Volker, and Taylor who are also aware of Trump’s extortion. All of which is why the Democrats’ impeachment probe must be broad enough to include all the players in Trump’s orbit, even if that investigation is limited to Trump’s Ukrainian extortion and excludes other straightforward corruption involving emoluments and other quid pro quos.
Paul Krugman has talked about the concept of “zombie economics”, where thoroughly discredited economic theories just keep on rearing their head no matter how many times they have been proved wrong. Supply side economics, the idea that tax cuts will actually increase government revenues, is the classic example.
Similarly, the refusal to go after bad actors means that those “zombies” will keep reappearing later on to commit even more crimes. Over the last half century, our ability to neutralize these political bad actors has been increasingly diminished. The Watergate special prosecutor and Nixon impeachment process was probably the most successful effort. Top Nixon aides Haldeman and Ehrlichman, Attorney General John Mitchell, and legal counsel John Dean were all tried and convicted of crimes. Nixon himself was forced to resign. Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Mitchell were basically never heard from again. Dean regained some influence because, in the end, he was the whistleblower. Nixon was relegated to being a lonely foreign policy commentator. As Alex Sammon notes, the one man who should have also gone down with Nixon and his crew was the criminal Henry Kissinger, who is still sabotaging Democratic interests to this day and recently met with Pompeo, presumably to discuss the possibility of the current Secretary of State (SoS) reprising Kissinger’s role as both SoS and National Security Adviser.
Compared to Watergate, the aftermath of the Iran-Contra investigation looks much less successful. The list of officials involved that were indicted and convicted is initially impressive. Secretary of State Weinberger was indicted; National Security Advisers McFarlane and Poindexter were indicted and convicted; senior CIA officers Fiers, George, and Clarridge were indicted and convicted; Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams was indicted and convicted, as was NSC member Oliver North. Unfortunately, Weinberger was preemptively pardoned by G.H.W. Bush before he could be tried. Bush also pardoned McFarlane, Fiers, George, Clarridge, and Abrams and North’s and Poindexter’s convictions were later overturned on technicalities. Those pardons, which Bush provided just days before Clinton’s inauguration, also effectively ended the investigation by Lawrence Walsh which was gathering evidence of Bush’s direct complicity in the Iran-Contra scandal. Those pardons also effectively gave a free pass to every senior official who had been indicted or convicted with the exception of Poindexter.
Incredibly, three of the Iran-Contra players have managed to return like zombies to plague us today. Oliver North’s involvement with the NRA and the reports that the Russians had funneled millions to support Trump’s election through that organization has yet to be fully explored and explained. Rex Tillerson wanted to bring Elliot Abrams back to be special envoy to Venezuela but was subsequently blocked in that endeavor reportedly because Trump confused Abrams with a more vehement anti-Trumper during the 2016 election. And, most importantly, current Attorney General Bill Barr, who is essentially working as Trump’s personal attorney, was the AG who recommended to Bush that he pardon all those involved in Iran Contra.
If holding those responsible for Iran-Contra ended in failure, then holding the war criminals in the G.W. Bush administration to account was never even attempted. The Obama administration’s decision in the wake of the financial crisis to let bygones be bygones when it came to the Bush administration has left us with even more destructive zombies who still plague us today. While Americans looked forward, or at least the other way, a court in Malaysia convicted eight members of the Bush administration of war crimes in absentia because of the use of torture and cruel and inhumane treatment. Those eight included Bush himself, Cheney and Rumsfeld, of course, and four legal advisers who provided cover for torture, AG Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, William Haynes, Jay Bybee and John Yoo. Yoo has moved on to become a professor of law at Berkeley and is worried that any impeachment of Trump may restrict future presidents’ ability to conduct foreign policy.
Other members of the failed Bush administration who participated in illegal torture and lied to the American people in order to begin the war in Iraq include Gina Haspel and John Bolton. Haspel oversaw a CIA black-site torture facility in Thailand and supported the CIA’s illegal decision to destroy tapes of that torture. Under Trump, she now runs the CIA. Bolton was one of many propagandists in the bush administration that pushed the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons mass destruction as an excuse to go to war in Iraq, with Bolton’s ultimate goal of overthrowing the regime in Iran. Under Trump, Bolton became National Security Adviser until he was recently fired. During his tenure, he argued for an preemptive first strike against North Korea and his negative impact is still being felt as he was the one pushing for the US to pull out of the Open Skies agreement.
The lesson from all this is that exposing every one who is associated and knowledgeable of Trump’s impeachable extortion of Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election needs to be subpoenaed and exposed if we want to ensure they can never return to a respectable public life without contrition. That means a much wider inquiry than just simply focusing on Trump and letting Pence, Pompeo, Barr, and so many others off the hook. Make no mistake, if Trump loses in 2020, he will take a page right our of Barr’s and G.H.W. Bush’s playbook and pardon Manafort, Flynn, Cohen, Gates, and everyone else who has been already convicted in the Russia investigation, and, without a broad indictment of the entire Trump administration via impeachment, we will have a reprise of Iran-Contra. And a decade or more from now, a bunch of Trump zombies will once again resurface to commit more crimes against America.