I try not to cover purely political stories on this blog, but I do believe we’re watching history unfold here. Twenty minutes ago, the President posted this to his Twitter:
If you’re not following, the context is this: when the President phones a foreign leader, there are usually many others on the call to document and make permanent record of the interaction, as well as to inform policy decisions in the State Department and CIA. In July, Trump called the president of Ukraine and asked him to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son. Some of the people on the call understood the implication to be that Trump wanted Ukraine to dig up dirt on his competition for the 2020 election. The U.S. then delayed foreign aid that Congress had earmarked for the Ukraine. A CIA employee who learned of the call through his work with the people on the call created a whistleblower report and submitted it to the Intelligence Community Inspector General.
None of the above is disputed. It is not fake news. Trump’s position is not that the above did not happen, but that his request to Ukraine was simply an ask to deal with domestic corruption issues, and that it was not tied to foreign aid in any “quid pro quo” arrangement.
Notwithstanding the fact that it was the literal job of the conversation listeners to listen to his conversation and report details to others in intelligence and foreign policy positions, Trump has now called one or more of these listeners a “spy.” In the tweet above, he said they should face “Big Consequences.” In a conversation a few days ago, he noted that we should go back to treating spies like “we used to do,” implying that he wants whomever outed him here to be executed.
One who reports information to their own government does not qualify as a “spy” under any meaningful definition of the word. And, whistleblowers, in fact, are protected by federal law: 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b) protects the jobs of any federal employees who disclose what they think are illegal activities by other federal employees, so long as they do so through the proper channels (as this whistleblower indisputably did). Even if the whistleblower was mistaken about Trump’s intent, he did nothing illegal by reporting what he had heard to the IC IG.
What is not protected by federal law are death threats. Especially when directed at whistleblowers. Especially when directed at someone scheduled to testify before Congress. The tweet above is probably sufficient for a felony charge, and by itself, this tweet, from 20 minutes ago, should result in the President’s impeachment. No matter whether Trump did or did not intend a quid pro quo arrangement, he is not allowed to threaten U.S. citizens for disagreeing with him and asking higher-ups in the government to investigate. If you are a Trump supporter, now is the time to stand up and say that you diverge from the President on this one — if you enjoy having a country ruled by law rather than a dictator.