Joseph Sabino Mistick: Trump wields power to get his way
Traditionally, there is a fine art to going after political opponents, but Donald Trump is not that kind of an artist.
Last June, when Trump was asked if he would accept political dirt about his opponents from a foreign government, he said, “I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening.”
He quickly backpedaled in the days that followed.
In the 2016 presidential race, Trump publicly asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email account. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press,” he said.
Trump fudged about that for the rest of the campaign.
Last week, thanks to a whistleblower, we learned that Trump may have finally overplayed his hand by withholding foreign aid appropriated for Ukraine in order to coerce its president to provide dirt on Joe Biden. And this time there is an inspector general’s report.
As reported in The Wall Street Journal, Trump called the president of Ukraine in July and pressured him to investigate Joe Biden’s son, “urging Volodymyr Zelensky about eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani on a probe that could hamper Mr. Trump’s potential 2020 opponent.”
Before that call, the White House put nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine on hold. Trump has admitted this, but it takes no genius to make the connection.
Still, some die-hard Trumpers believe that this is part of Trump’s master plan, that he wants the Democrats to impeach him and that he is luring them into a trap. Impeachment could be a loser for everyone, but no president wants to carry the stain of impeachment into history.
Instead of the handiwork of a careful political genius, this is more likely the instinctive behavior of a politician who wants to win at any cost and who casually wields great power to get his way. We have seen this before.
In John A. Farrell’s 2017 Politico Magazine article “The Year Nixon Fell Apart,” he described the time before Watergate, when the pressures of the White House were building.
According to Farrell, Nixon was “finding enemies everywhere: among liberals, the bureaucracy, on Capitol Hill and in the press.” With the country facing foreign and domestic crises, Nixon “started going after his enemies.”
Presidential adviser Leonard Garment called Nixon’s behavior a “paradox.” As Farrell described it, “When wounded, Nixon was both strengthened — in that he drew renewed confidence from surviving — and weakened, in that he just could not forgive, or forget, or bring a halt to his self-destructive gnashing.”
Another aide, Monica Crowley, said, “He needed to tempt self-destruction. He courted controversy intentionally … the thrill was in those few breathtaking moments when the dice were in the air.”
After Nixon resigned, David Frost interviewed him and asked if there were situations “where the president can decide that it’s in the best interests of the nation, and do something illegal?” Nixon replied, “Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”
That sounds familiar, too.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at [email protected].