Trump moves from boorish to seditious

The meeting between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart appeared normal but pressure is building for both leaders. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The meeting between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart appeared normal but pressure is building for both leaders. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Most of us probably know as much or little of the internal politics of the Ukraine as we do of Li’l Abner’s mythic Lower Slobovia. But even the casual newspaper reader knows that President Trump’s chum Vladimir Putin is stealing Ukrainian territory wholesale by armed force. And that this brazen theft has been deemed alien to U.S. interests and policy — up to now.

In his usual underhanded fashion Trump has tempted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in phone calls and a UN interview, to discover alleged “corruption” useful to his —Trump’s — 2020 campaign. Democrats in search of impeachable misbehavior should be sure that Joe Biden’s son’s work in Ukraine is above board. There is no evidence to the contrary and the tactic is typical. Trump’s hit-and-run tactics often have the side-effect of damaging and slandering the innocent.

In this instance, however, a collateral smear is a short footnote to a larger and more disturbing tale. The overshadowing scandal is Trump’s attempted bribery of Zelensky in quest of an alleged Biden scandal as a “favor” (Trump’s term). In return, Trump intimates that he will release some $391 million in U.S. military aid appropriated for Ukraine by Congress but frozen for months by him. Trump’s alibi is that the Europeans, as usual, are pinching pennies and haven’t anted up in Ukraine’s defense — which turns out, also as usual, to be just another Trump invention.

Even in Trump’s depleted and demoralized White House some loyalists are sufficiently alarmed to have shifted vital evidence (including transcripts of conversations cited by the intelligence official who blew the whistle on this shady business) to a computer account normally reserved for high national security materials, not political concealment or cover-up.

There are other intriguing details but this is the gist: Trump sowing real corruption while pretending to seek it in his political foes.

The Republican senators — most of them, with the distinguished exception of Mitt Romney and one or two others — pretend to believe that the Liar-in-Chief is telling the truth while his wicked Democratic assailants and their press allies are mounting another “witch hunt” to reverse the 2016 election. It must be conceded that the 24-hour chatterboxes on cable TV often fail to distinguish clearly between Trump’s boorishness and his seditious assaults on custom, law and constitutional regularity when the two can be separated. In this negligence they have created such a din of noise as to fog the distinction between bad manners and gross constitutional mischief. So far as we know now the Ukraine maneuver is emphatically the latter.

This time the evidence of presidential misbehavior is too obvious to be misinterpreted. The president of the United States willingly jeopardizes the military security of a small client state and in that errand misuses both the U.S. Attorney General and his personal lawyer. The latter violates the Logan Act of 1799 which forbids a citizen who is not an authorized official to confer with foreign governments against the interests of the United States or negotiate on behalf of the United States. And bribery, which is attempted here, is along with treason one of two explicit grounds of impeachment.

Impeachment may result and probably should. If it does, we will find out where the loyalties of Senate Republicans and their leader really lie. Are they, as usual, protecting Trump’s political interests or are they duly concerned with the security and constitutional integrity of the United States? If the former, we must wonder what forms of misbehavior would finally offend their sense of constitutional propriety. It has been a long wait.

Contributing columnist Edwin M. Yoder Jr. of Chapel Hill is retired after a career as an editor and writer in Washington, D.C.