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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Opinion | Note to the Impeachment Investigators: Trump Rarely Acts Alone - The New York Times

"President Trump’s assaults on democracy are rarely solo endeavors. His schemes often entangle, by chance or by choice, an array of accomplices, enablers, observers and victims — many of whom will need to be heard from as House members begin investigating the Ukraine scandal as part of the impeachment inquiry announced last week.

“There is a whole host of people apparently who have knowledge of these events,” Representative Adam Schiff of California, who is spearheading the inquiry as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters on Thursday. Fortunately, said Mr. Schiff, the complaint filed by the administration whistle-blower provides “a pretty good road map of allegations that we need to investigate.”

Indeed it does. Among the many persons of interest in this investigation: whichever White House and State Department staffers were listening in on Mr. Trump’s July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky; the staffers who subsequently received a readout of that call; and those involved in the effort to “lock down” the record of it. The lines of inquiry quickly spiral. But here are a few notable figures — in addition, of course, to the whistle-blower himself — who could prove particularly useful to House investigators.

Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney/fixer. As the point person on the push to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Mr. Giuliani likely knows more about the origins, scope and details of the effort than almost anyone. Some of the more targeted mysteries he could shed light on include: When and from whom did the president first get the idea to pressure Ukraine? How did Mr. Giuliani first become involved? Was he being paid for his work, and if so, by whom?

Mr. Giuliani loudly insists that he was working at the behest of the State Department. In that case, when did he first make contact with department officials? Which officials did he work with and in what capacity? How many people knew about his freelance project for Mr. Trump?

Bill Barr, attorney general. Mr. Barr is neck-deep in this mess. He features prominently not only in the whistle-blower’s complaint but also in the readout of the July 25 call, in which Mr. Trump told Mr. Zelensky that Mr. Barr, like Mr. Giuliani, would be contacting him about the investigation into Mr. Biden. The Justice Department has denied that Mr. Barr knew anything about this promise. But Mr. Barr should be pressed on why Mr. Trump thought it was proper to offer the services of the American attorney general to help a foreign government investigate his own political opponent.

When the whistle-blower complaint citing him by name was referred to the Justice Department, Mr. Barr should have formally recused himself from any involvement with it. Why didn’t he?

Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff. In July, Mr. Trump directed Mr. Mulvaney to arrange for Ukraine’s military aid to be put on hold. What explanation did he give Mr. Mulvaney? Whom did Mr. Mulvaney contact at the Departments of Defense and State to make that happen? What explanations did he offer them?

Mike Pompeo, secretary of State. Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has already issued a raft of questions that he’d like Mr. Pompeo to address, including: Was Mr. Pompeo concerned that America’s Ukraine policy had been partially outsourced to the president’s personal lawyer? When did Mr. Pompeo first learn of Mr. Giuliani’s work? Did he approve it, and was he aware that State Department officials were involved with it? What explanation was he given for the withholding of aid to Ukraine?

Kurt Volker, former part-time special envoy to Ukraine, and Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union. Both men consulted with Mr. Giuliani about his Ukraine project. On July 26, one day after Mr. Trump’s call with Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Volker and Mr. Sondland met with Ukrainian officials and reportedly offered advice on how to “navigate” Mr. Trump’s requests. Did they, as the whistle-blower claims, at some point become concerned about Mr. Giuliani’s work and seek to “contain the damage”? Mr. Volker resigned his post on Friday. Why?

Mike Pence, vice president. In his conversations with Ukrainian officials, including his Sept. 1 meeting with Mr. Zelensky, was there any mention of Mr. Biden or of the delayed military funding package? When asked at a news conference on Sept. 2 if he could assure Ukraine that the two issues were not linked, Mr. Pence ducked the question. Mr. Pence should also explain why Mr. Trump directed him to cancel his plans to attend Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration in May.

Mr. Trump himself has suggested looking into Mr. Pence’s interactions with Ukrainian officials. “And I think you should ask for VP Pence’s conversation, because he had a couple conversations also,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

John Bolton, former national security adviser. Mr. Bolton was forced out of the White House in September. What did he know about Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign? Mr. Bolton is said to have pushed for the withheld military aid to be released. What explanation did he receive for it being withheld?

Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community. Mr. Atkinson reviewed the whistle-blower complaint, deemed it both “urgent” and “credible,” and forwarded it to Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence. After Mr. Maguire declined to pass the complaint along to Congress, as indicated by federal law, Mr. Atkinson chose to alert lawmakers to its existence himself. What explanation did Mr. Maguire give for not forwarding the complaint? How did he respond when Mr. Atkinson informed him that he would be alerting Congress?

Lawmakers will also need to hear from whoever was charged with moving the transcript of Mr. Trump’s July 25 call from the usual computer system to the special server, maintained by the National Security Council, reserved for “classified information of an especially sensitive nature.” Who directed this action? (On Friday, a White House official told CNN that National Security Council attorneys did so.) Who else knew about it? Did anyone object at the time? Have other such conversations been improperly stashed in the system, as the whistle-blower alleged? (It has been reported that reconstructed transcripts of phone calls Mr. Trump had with the Saudi royal family and with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, were stored on the server as well.) It’s worth remembering that one of the biggest bombshells of the Watergate hearings came from Alexander Butterfield, a relatively obscure administration staffer, who shared what he knew about the White House taping system.

Then there are the “multiple U.S. government officials” whom the whistle-blower cites as his sources — the ones whom Mr. Trump has compared to spies and has implied deserve to be executed for treason.

The challenge for congressional investigators will be to get as many of these people as possible to speak — especially given this White House’s expansive interpretation of executive privilege — and then make sense of the sprawling, Trumpian mess."

Opinion | Note to the Impeachment Investigators: Trump Rarely Acts Alone - The New York Times