Impeachment, Trump, Watergate

Country or Party?

Two old-school Republicans from Washington state have been in the news recently. And the political careers of William Ruckelshaus and Slade Gorton offer a stark reminder of just how far the modern GOP has descended into a culture of lies, corruption, conspiracy theories and general incompetence.

Ruckelshaus, who died last week at age 87, is rightly remembered, as the Seattle Times said in an editorial, “as the upright Cabinet figure who served under two Republican presidents as an effective Environmental Protection Agency leader, and resigned when President Richard Nixon asked him to sign off on firings to block the Watergate investigation.”

William Ruckelshaus sworn in 1970 as Nixon’s EPA director. He later quit rather than carry out Nixon’s order to fire the special counsel investigating the president.

As the current Congress grapples with the immensity of President Donald Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors, it’s worth remembering that in another time with another corrupt Republican president, Ruckelshaus, a lifelong Republican, stood for principle and honor. He refused to be a part of Nixon’s efforts to cover up the Watergate affair and discredit those investigating the wrongdoing. Ruckelshaus quit rather than be an enabling toady. We know it today as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”

It is little surprise that Ruckelshaus’s courage in 1973, when he defied a president of his own party, ended up being the first paragraph of his universally praiseworthy obituaries.

Ruckelshaus was also a Republican conservationist, a species now as rare as a Snake River salmon. His tenure as EPA director was marked by pragmatic, balanced approaches to protecting the environment. He was neither an apologist for industry nor the Sierra Club, but a professional who understood that you could protect the environment and still engage with care in the business of a modern economy.

Just days before Ruckelshaus’s death, the last Republican senator from Washington state, Slade Gorton, a very conservative guy, published an op-ed in the New York Times. In typical Gorton no-nonsense language, he wrote: “To my fellow Republicans, I give this grave and genuine warning: It’s not enough merely to dismiss the Ukraine investigation as a partisan witch hunt or to hide behind attacks against the ‘deep state,’ or to try to find some reason to denounce every witness who steps forward, from decorated veterans to Trump megadonors.

Former Republican Senator Slade Gorton: Impeachment is justified.

“History demands that we all wrestle with the facts at hand. They are unavoidable. Fifty years from now, history will not accept the position that impeachment was a referendum on the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. It must be a verdict reached on the facts.”

Gorton’s conclusion: “There are multiple actions on this president’s part that warrant a vote of impeachment.” He urged fellow Republicans to use the House process and a Senate trial to find and act on the facts. And as Ruckelshaus did nearly 50 years ago, Gorton said it was time for Republicans to “put country above party.”

Yet, instead we see a blizzard of obfuscation, a storm of conspiracy theory-spinning, a downpour of misinformation and a near total willingness on the part of Republicans to absolve Trump of the most impeachable conduct since Nixon ordered Ruckelshaus to fire a special prosecutor.

And Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation is quietly poised to go all the way with their corrupt leader. No amount of evidence and plainly observable conduct will deter the Idaho four from ignoring their oath of office in support of their personal political standing. Indeed, Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch along with Congressmen Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson have gone beyond merely ignoring presidential misconduct to actively abetting it.

Risch is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the committee that produced a bipartisan report identifying Russia operatives as the guilty parties exploiting state-level election systems and engaging in a vast disinformation campaign in 2016.

“Masquerading as Americans,” the committee’s report says, “these operatives used targeted advertisements, intentionally falsified news articles, self-generated content, and social media platform tools to interact with and attempt to deceive tens of millions of social media users in the United States. This campaign sought to polarize Americans on the basis of societal, ideological, and racial differences, provoked real world events, and was part of a foreign government’s covert support of Russia’s favored candidate in the U.S. presidential election.”

And, of course, it was done at Vladimir Putin’s direction to assist Trump’s election. Based upon Trump’s public statements — “Russia, if you’re listening” — and the conduct of his son and chief advisers, Trump clearly welcomed the foreign interference.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference in 2016. Republicans endorsed the finding and then ignored them.

Have you seen any member of the Idaho congressional delegation talking about this? Quite the contrary.

Risch said in February he wasn’t worried about Putin, calling Russia “the most overrated country on the face of the planet.” Meanwhile, Russia, with Trump’s assistance, has strengthened its position in the Middle East, meddled in the Brexit process in the United Kingdom, continued its war against Ukraine and furthered its ambition to weaken NATO.

Or has any Idaho member pushed back when House Republicans, and at least one GOP senator, invoked a debunked conspiracy theory promoted by the president and his most fevered supporters that Ukraine is actually the bad actor here?

Again, quite the contrary. Fulcher has been actively trafficking in the Ukraine smokescreen that Trump really cared about investigating corruption in Ukraine, even though the only “corruption” he’s ever concerned himself with involves Joe Biden and his son. Not a single piece of evidence has emerged regarding the Bidens, but that hasn’t stopped Fulcher from spinning the testimony of Ambassador Gordon Sondland to suggest it exonerated Trump when it did precisely the opposite.

“Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’ ” Sondland said before the House Intelligence Committee. “With regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.”

Fulcher, on his Twitter feed and echoing Trump, seized upon Sondland’s reported phone call with the president where, according to Sondland, Trump denied any quid pro quo in withholding aid to Ukraine in exchange for doing “a little favor” by announcing an investigation of a political rival. Fulcher is content to take the word of a fabulist president against a mountain of evidence to the contrary, and in fact new reporting indicates there is ample reason to believe that Sondland’s call with Trump never happened.

The Idaho four have really only two options: Conclude that all the evidence — the record of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president, phone records, every single witness, the obstruction on testimony and documents and what there is to see with our own eyes — is incorrect, or they can conclude that the engineers of the Ukraine shakedown are lying.

Actually, there is a third option: Pull a Slade Gorton and a Bill Ruckelshaus and really search for the truth. But to do that you would have to put the country first.

Thanksgiving

My Aunt Vera…

My Aunt Vera was a genuinely nice person. She could have been the All-American model for a Norman Rockwell painting and she always looked, as my Dad might have said, “neat as a pin.” 

Aunt Vera favored tight little curls in her grey hair. Most would consider that an “old fashioned” look now days, but it seemed to fit her perfectly. And no pants or slacks for Vera, always a dress even when laboring in the kitchen as she did one memorable Thanksgiving more than a half century ago. That celebration with all its sounds and smells lives on in the half-light of memory of a November long ago.

Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want" painting first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in 1943.

Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want” first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in 1943. It has come to symbolize the American holiday.

My Dad had two half brothers and while they had different last names, they were in every other respect as close as any three men – three brothers – could be. Growing up I lived near one of my Dad’s brothers and his wife, my Aunt Mae. They became second and very indulgent parents to me. What a blessing for any kid. 

We didn’t often see the other brother, my uncle, since Hisel and Aunt Vera lived some distance away. With a name like Hisel you can understand why everyone called my uncle by his nickname, Smut, which is another story for another Thanksgiving. But, I digress.

It was suggested during that long ago autumn that the family should establish a new tradition and annually rotate Thanksgiving dinner with first one brother (and wife) hosting and then another. The idea was immediately embraced as providing a happy excuse for a get together and a big, enjoyable dinner.

Everything went swimmingly when my mother hosted the first Thanksgiving dinner under this new arrangement. My mother was both a lovely person and a fine cook of the old school. She lavished attention on her gravy, her turkey was never overdone and her pumpkin pie was a thing of beauty. We didn’t see the good china very often at our house and the “real” silver was stored away for only the most special of occasions. That Thanksgiving Mom set the table as if John F. Kennedy were stopping by for lunch. Even I got a long stemmed goblet and a fancy white napkin.

Aunt Mae also knew her way around the kitchen and when she hosted the second Thanksgiving gathering the following year the food was good and the laughs even better. My Aunt Mae was a sassy, funny, outspoken woman. She was an outstanding amateur golfer in her younger days. She could smash a golf ball and as a kid she gifted me some old clubs and joyfully coached my swing. And she could cook, too. 

I still remember my father and his brothers telling stories on one another during these Thanksgiving gatherings, engaging in the good natured banter than passes for intimacy among a certain generation of men. The brothers loved each other dearly, but tended to express affection with what amounted to verbal towel snapping and warm handshakes. Hugs were for the women doing all the real work in the kitchen, while the men exchanged teasing jokes in the living room over a splash of Canadian Club and frequent glances at a football game. Naturally I hung with Dad and my uncles.

The Thanksgiving tradition seemed fully established until it was Aunt Vera’s turn to prepare the feast. For years afterward it was a guilty pleasure to watch my Mother and Dad challenge each other to say something positive about the food at that dinner. As they struggled to remember anything that went well, often while we enjoyed another of Mom’s outstanding meals, the table would be engulfed in laughter at the memory of the turkey that never quite got done and the side dishes that never quite worked. And, yes, there is a reason I never developed a taste for mince pie.

Happy Thanksgiving…

Finally Mom would say something generous about the rolls and butter or marvel at where Vera got those fresh flowers, but inevitably my Dad would smile and say that his brother obviously hadn’t married Aunt Vera because of her cooking.

Thanksgiving, the essential American holiday, is my favorite holiday, a time for family, food, football and fun. Hold the politics. Even in a world that at the moment seems seriously off the rails, Thanksgiving is a refuge, a place of memory and warmth, a place to reflect on life’s many, many wonders and blessings.

As I think, as I always do this time of year, of those long ago gatherings with parents, aunts and uncles, it is the laughter and the love that sits most lightly on my mind. I’ve tried to resist the urge this week to think too much about our controversial president, our polarized politics or a changing climate and instead let my mind drift back to the Nebraska of my youth where turkey and cranberry relish mix with the sweet memories of people I loved and still love.

“Society is consumed by negative partisanship,” Charles Lane wrote recently in the Washington Post. “Restoring the right balance is the key to stabilizing the republic.”

He’s right. And balance begins with giving thanks. This is a great – not perfect – but great country. Give thanks for that. We’re stronger and happier when we reflect on our shared good fortune and our shared values. We’ve been through a lot and somehow keep moving. Give thanks for that. When we focus on what each of us might do to make this fleeting and limited life as full and decent as it can be for family, friends, folks down the block and, yes, even those Americans who come from other places with other traditions we are truly living out our creed. Give thanks for that.   

Aunt Vera’s undercooked turkey wasn’t the point. The togetherness was the point and gratefulness was the side dish. We’ll not be happy without a sense of thanksgiving. It’s a path to a better life and a better world. 

—–0—–

GOP, Impeachment, Trump

Vichy Republicans…

You might have thought the modern Republican Party had reached its nadir back in 2016 when the party’s presidential candidate attacked an American Muslim family whose military officer son had died during a car bombing in Iraq.

It was widely reported at the time that Donald Trump’s attack, particularly on the Gold Star mother of a dead American military officer, “drew quick and widespread condemnation and amplified calls for Republican leaders to distance themselves from their presidential nominee.” Hardly any Republican leader did so.

Khizr Khan, who’s son Humayun was killed serving in the U.S. Army ten years after September 11, 2001, was attacked by Donald Trump.

The assault on the Khan family came, of course, after Trump had vilified John McCain, the Navy veteran, Vietnam POW, Republican senator and presidential candidate. It’s been downhill ever since.

Not only have Republican elected officials refused to “distance themselves” from the president, they have, as the ongoing House impeachment inquiry makes crystal clear, joined Trump in his fever swamp of threats, lies, political vilification, gas lighting and hatred directed at various groups and individuals.

In real time last week, the president himself bashed a nonpartisan, career Foreign Service officer. And earlier this week, the White House and many congressional Republicans openly questioned the loyalty of a decorated career military officer. Earlier the president had publicly slammed a foreign policy aide to his own vice president.

Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, attacked by Republicans for pointing out Trump’s impeachable behavior. Vindman is an immigrant, Jewish and a combat veteran

“This White House appears to be cannibalizing itself,” William C. Inboden, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush told the New York Times. “While many previous White House staffs have feuded with each other and leaked against each other, this is the first time in history I am aware of a White House openly attacking its own staff — especially for merely upholding their constitutional duties.”

The ghost of Joe McCarthy — and McCarthy’s loathsome henchman Roy Cohn, once Trump’s personal attorney — inhabits the modern GOP. When the president slanders people in his own administration or those who dare to differ with him, the attacks bring only deafening silence from cowed conservatives. This servility brings to mind nothing so much as the craven acquiesce of Vichy collaborators in France after the 1940 French surrender to Nazi Germany.

The stains on the character of these cowardly opportunists, like the shame that continues to cling to long-dead French politicians who dishonored their country for personal advantage, will be remembered long after their petty political careers are a footnote to history.

At the ultimate moment of reckoning, the collaborators accepted personal dishonor rather than courageous principle. That is the bottom line on the modern Republican Party.

Scholars who study the rise of authoritarian leaders have identified a “playbook” that defines how politicians with dictatorial aspirations behave. As Shelley Inglis, the executive director of the human rights center at Dayton University, wrote recently, “Democracy is in trouble.” And in fact, the upward arc of democratic governments around the world may well have peaked in 2008 and is now surely in decline.

“The mainstay of today’s authoritarianism,” Inglis says, “is strengthening your power while simultaneously weakening government institutions, such as parliaments and judiciaries, that provide checks and balances.

Trump has repeatedly embraced authoritarians like Turkey’s Erdogan and Russia’s Putin

“The key is to use legal means that ultimately give democratic legitimacy to the power grab. Extreme forms of this include abolishing presidential term limits, which was done in China, and regressive constitutional reforms to expand presidential power, like in Turkey.”

During his chaotic presidency, Donald Trump has repeatedly denigrated the pillars of American democracy. He’s vilified judges who rule against him. He labels a free press that attempts to hold him accountable “the enemy of the people.” He has hammered the intelligence community because it hasn’t agreed with Vladimir Putin.

While Trump once proudly proclaimed that “my generals” surrounded him, they are now all gone. James Mattis, the Marine four-star Trump called “just a brilliant, wonderful man” became, after he quit over a disagreement with the president on the Syria cut and run policy, “the world’s most overrated general.

Trump’s capture of the Republican Party is total and the moral and intellectual rot behind that takeover is complete.

Trump this week pardoned three men deemed criminals by the military justice system, a move that horrified believers in a system that holds Americans accountable for war crimes, including senior officers who put their careers on the line to voice their disapproval. Not a single Republican uttered a peep of protest.

The case being made in lame defense of the president on charges that he obstructed justice and abused his authority in the Ukraine affair is truly the height of Vichy Republicanism. The evidence is clear, confirmed by people inside the White House, that Trump employed, indeed ordered, an extortion scheme involving his personal lawyer to try and force a foreign government to investigate a domestic political opponent. Yet the president’s collaborators, including the entire Idaho congressional delegation, twist themselves into knots; debasing the truth and themselves in service of this would-be despot.

Devin Nunes, a leader of the fever swamp, conspiracy theory embracing GOP
(Credit Image: © Ron Sachs/CNP via ZUMA Wire)

This is how democracy comes apart: party over principle, personal interest ahead of national interest and collaboration before common sense.

In order to believe that the president of the United States did nothing wrong in soliciting foreign help in an attempt to smear a political rival, Vichy Republicans have to ignore the clear public comments and unmistakable actions of our emerging despot.

In an interview with ABC last summer, Trump said: “If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent’— oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” During his campaign he called on Russia to continue its attack against his opponent by finding her emails. His actions in Ukraine are just clear.

The president has no trouble seeking any political advantage, no matter how odious and he has completely co-opted Vichy Republicans — or sufficiently neutered them — so that most all of them think all this is just fine.

Many of them know it is not just fine, but collaboration is more convenient than the cold, clear truth. Their dishonor will remain even as a functioning democracy is diminished. What a legacy.

2020 Election, Carter, Trump

Political Crazy…

The cowboy humorist Will Rogers famously said, “I’m not a member of any organized political party . . . I’m a Democrat.”

I celebrated Will’s 140th birthday recently by remembering that my dad like to quote him saying things like: “A politician is not as narrow-minded as he forces himself to be.” Or this classic: “Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously, and the politicians as a joke, when it used to be vice versa.”

The humorist and social commentator Will Rogers

Which brings us to the absurdity of modern American politics, an unprecedentedly divisive president and those who would replace him. 

Donald Trump has, as one-time GOP strategist and John McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt said recently, “completely remade the American presidency through his debasements of its traditions.” Trump is the first president in any of our lifetimes who has consistently sought “to incite and divide as opposed to unifying around core principles.” 

Yet, Trump is betting that he can avoid, despite ever mounting evidence of abuse of power, being forced from office and that he can again thread the Electoral College needle next year, while losing the popular vote. Trump’s only path to victory is to become ever more shrill and demagogic in bashing his opponents. “Our radical Democrat opponents,” Trump said recently, “are driven by hatred, prejudice, and rage. They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.” 

That is palpable nonsense, but it’s all he has. Donald Trump wants the coming election to be about anything but him and Democrats will make a historic – hopefully not also tragic – mistake if they allow the election to be anything but a referendum on Trump and his presidency. 

Yet, Democrats like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are playing directly into Trump’s small hands with their own crazy divisiveness. It comes in a vastly expensive and vastly controversial “Medicare for All” plan. Trump will re-brand this as “socialism” in a New York minute. 

Every American with the possible exception of a few hospital administrators, medical device manufactures, insurance company CEOs or orthopedic surgeons knows that our “system” of health care is an ultra-expensive joke. We spend more money for worse outcomes than almost any other developed country. Yet our political leaders go into partisan lock down mode to prevent sensible efforts that could make things better. Mitt Romney once proudly embraced – you can look it up – what essentially became Obamacare, but when Romney’s reforms became identified with a Democrat open political warfare ensued. And Republicans effectively conceded the entire issue to Democrats. 

Remember Trump promised, “I am going to take care of everybody … Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.” Right. The only policy the GOP has is repeal of Obamacare and they haven’t done that. 

So with all this running room to maneuver on a fundamentally important issue for millions of Americans Democrats are debating who can raise taxes the most to fund “Medicare for All.” The plan is not only unrealistic because it can’t been enacted, but also because it cedes the health care issue to a president who can’t remotely articulate a true policy but can say “socialism.” 

It turns out that the worst president in modern times, even one who is a narcissistic sociopath, will beat a socialist every time. 

Meanwhile, Democrats are focused on macro contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, two of the least representative states in the nation, as the means of winnowing their gang of potential candidates. 

Jimmy Carter, who most Americans now regard as a not particularly skillful president, but a remarkable former president, needs to share some of the blame for why we place such outsized importance on Iowa. Democratic presidential candidates who couldn’t find Dubuque on a map two years ago can now not only locate the river town on the Mississippi but also name the local party chair in Osceola County, population 6,040. 

Jimmy Carter made the Iowa caucus what it is today.

Former vice president Walter Mondale once disavowed any presidential ambitions – it was fake news – when he said, “Life is too short to be spent in Holiday Inns,” but that’s what you do in Iowa. 

Until Carter in 1976 made the curious, which is say insane Iowa caucus process central to selecting presidential nominees the quaint local tradition was, well, a quaint local tradition. Now the political universe turns on the latest Iowa Poll and whether Biden is slipping or Mayor Pete surging. 

I like Iowa. I worked there years ago at a small radio station where I interviewed Rosalyn Carter late in 1975. But I’m still not sure a few thousand people gathered at a school gymnasium in Waukon or at a Lutheran Church in Corning is the best method to select the next Democratic candidate who has a minor charge: save the country. 

For one thing the logistics of getting people out from in front of the television on a Monday night in February in Iowa is a daunting challenge. As one organizer recently told the Des Moines Register, “It’s like … trying to plan a wedding reception at the same time at 86 locations and you don’t know who’s going to show up.” 

No sane political party – at least no organized one – would select candidates this way. And no organized party confronted with one overriding objective in less than a year would flirt with let alone adopt some of the positions Democrats are espousing. 

“Medicare for All” may be the undoing of some Democratic primary candidates and, if so, they deserve the undoing. Come on, Iowa! 

Democrats, at least some of them, seem to have forgotten that they don’t need a policy prescription for every single issue confronting the world. They just need to not scare a lot of Americans who are dog-tired of Trumpian nonsense and incompetence and are looking for a change, but not a scary change. 

Democrats need to remember their task is to defeat a historically unpopular president by realistic appeals to women, young people and Latino and African-American voters who are repulsed by Trump’s chaos, lying and corruption. The old white guy crowd is lost to Democrats, but the right Democrat can appeal to the remaining genuine swing voters who will take a dim view of a plan that eradicates 150 million private health insurance plans and raises taxes to do it.  

Idaho Politics, Impeachment, Trump

It Will Get Harder…

The Trump defending Idaho congressional delegation was reminded yet again this week of the dangers involved in shielding a president who can’t tell the truth and won’t let most of his subordinates even try. 

Spoiler alert: Defending the president is only going to get more difficult; more difficult by the minute. 

An unlikely villain with Pacific Northwest roots emerged fully this week to vastly complicate the calculus for Trump defenders and expand the abuse of power allegations that ensnarl the White House. A widening cast of characters ranging from the Secretary of State to Rudy Giuliani to Roger Stone, a guy who went on trial this week for lying the Congress about interactions with WikiLeaks and Russians in 2016, is now involved in scandal and cover-up. 

Gordon Sondland, the Northwestern at the center of the Ukraine extortion scheme

The old Sopranos television series offered a no less motley collection of mountebanks, grifters, crooks and sycophants. 

A star witness this week turned out to be a guy named Gordon Sondland, owner of a chain of boutique hotels in Portland and Seattle, who, clearly afraid that he was starring down a perjury charge, told House investigators that he had “refreshed my memory” since first testifying in the Trump impeachment inquiry in October. Sondland is the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

As Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss wrote, Sondland’s “recollection needed help: The transcript of his initial, October 17 testimony shows Sondland used the phrase ‘I don’t remember’ 36 times and ‘I don’t recall’ another nine times.” 

On November 4 Sondland’s memory recovered and he produced revised testimony confirming there was a quid pro quo – better descriptions might include the word extortion – that connected Ukrainian aid to Donald Trump’s desire to see a political opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, investigated by a foreign government. What’s more Sondland admitted he personally delivered the extortion promise.

Ukraine: So much trouble for Trump, the GOP … and Ukraine.

Republicans will continue to use the “angels on the head of pin” approach to all this by saying Sondland did not specifically connect the quid pro quo to Trump personally. Stay tuned others will make the connection. And make no mistake this is the very definition of abuse of power.

It turns out Sondland is a classic character in Trump World, a transactional namedropper with a fondness for the gaudy and grandiose. Mostly a financial supporter of Republicans, Sondland has also made significant contributions to Democrats, including the Portland mayor who just decided to hand over the $16,000 Sondland gave him to non-profit groups, including ironically one pushing for impeachment.

Sondland originally supported Jeb Bush for president in 2016, but when Trump won the Republican nomination he scrambled to get on the right side. Sondland was scheduled to host a Trump fundraiser in Seattle during the campaign but abruptly pulled out when Trump trashed the family of a Muslim soldier who died in Iraq. It was a momentary speed bump in his plans. 

After Trump won Sondland donated a cool $1 million to the inaugural committee and angled for an ambassadorial job and finally landed the plush position at the European Union. The job comes with a nice house in Brussels that Sondland immediately began to redecorate using $1 million of U.S. taxpayer money. 

Sondland had, of course, no previous government or diplomatic experience and is demonstrably unqualified for the post he holds. Nevertheless, the Senate confirmed him on a voice vote after a pro forma hearing. It turns out $1 million buys a lot in politics, both prestige and, in Sondland’s case, big trouble. 

Since Ukraine is not part of the EU, Sondland’s involvement in the Ukraine affair is almost certainly due to his having expressed undying loyalty to Trump and a willingness to implement the president’s basest desires.

“His behavior in all this tracks perfectly with his personality,” an Oregonian who knows Sondland told me. “He wanted to be relevant to Trump so he made himself useful to Trump and Rudy. He is 100% transactional with no scruples. This all fits.”

Now that Sondland his rolled his quid pro quo hand grenade into the middle of the impeachment investigation, Politico reports that, “Republicans are starting to turn on him.” After speaking to a host of Republican lawmakers about Sondland, Politico said he was variously described as “a lackey, a chest-thumper and a rube. Of course, perhaps that’s because he turned on the president.” 

Of course none of this will move the most loyal of Trump defenders, the faction of the Republican Party that former Florida GOP congressman David Jolly calls “spineless politicians rotten to the core without virtue, without any level of human integrity, devoid of self respect … Without courage and without the moral compass to recognize their own malevolence.” 

Still the Sondland memory refresh this week vastly complicates the Republican defense of Trump. They’ve tried the argument that the process is unfair, they’ve tried smearing career foreign service officers and career military people, but to defend the president now they must admit that demanding a quid pro quo from a foreign leader in order to influence domestic politics does not constitute corruption and abuse of power. Trouble is it does.

It will get harder to defend Trump.

Some Republicans – I’m thinking of Sen. Jim Risch and Rep. Russ Fulcher – will have little trouble justifying such presidential behavior, but what of Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson? Are they really willing to go there? Are they willing to sanction presidential behavior they would completely reject if the other party had done it? 

Crapo, after all, voted to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about consensual sex. Simpson is a pragmatic institutionalist who you know in your heart of hearts loathes Donald Trump for a host of reasons. Simpson serves in Congress because he wants to do important things not because he enjoys covering for a charlatan who looks more and more like a common crook. 

And there will be more, including public testimony soon from William Taylor, a career foreign service officer who has been the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and whose earlier testimony (under oath) confirmed the quid pro quo. 

The day is fast approaching when Idaho’s members of Congress will need to reflect profoundly on the oath they took, hand on the Bible. That oath was to protect and defend the Constitution, not to protect and defend Donald Trump. 

—–0—–

Iraq, Politics, Trump

Thank You For Your Service

For decades the national Republican Party literally owned the political debate over national security issues. Polls repeatedly indicated that American voters trusted Republicans more to properly handle military and foreign policy.Republicans ruthlessly — and occasionally shamelessly — exploited this advantage.

In his 1976 vice presidential debate with Walter Mondale, Republican Bob Dole infamously referred to “Democrat wars” and then he denied he had said it. “I figured up the other day,” Dole really did say. “If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit.”

Walter Mondale and Bob Dole debate in 1976.

The implication was clear, if altogether sleazy: Democrats caused wars and Republicans prevented them. That logic mostly held until George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 on what turned out to be false pretenses. We still have troops there, but they long ago gave up searching for weapons of mass destruction.

Polls now show that Americans are tired of what the president calls “endless wars,” which predicated his slipshod decisions of the last month to abandoned longtime Kurdish allies and create a foreign policy in the Middle East that changes hour-by-hour, based on the latest Twitter messages from the White House.

Republicans once owned the “we support the troops” trope as well, even if they occasionally slimed an opponent with a service record. You could at this point Google “swiftboating” or just remember a U.S. senator from Georgia by the name of Max Cleland.

Cleland was a wheelchair-confined Vietnam veteran who was elected to the Senate in 1996. He lost an arm and both legs at age 25 when another soldier’s hand grenade exploded near him. He was awarded a Bronze Star and a Silver Star and spent much of his Senate career working on veterans and security issues. When Cleland ran for reelection in 2002 his Republican opponent, a nonentity named Saxby Chambliss, broadcast one of the sleaziest attack ads in recent political history.

Georgia Democrat Max Cleland lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam. Republicans attacked him for being soft on national defense.

Cleland, the veteran without legs and missing one arm thanks to his service to the nation, was depicted in the ad along with photos of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. The message: The Democrat was “soft” on national security. John McCain was one of the few Republicans to condemn the slander, calling it “worse than disgraceful. It’s reprehensible.”

Cleland lost.

Still, Republicans continued to claim the mantle of support for veterans, at least until Donald Trump shredded all pretense of trying to uphold that fiction.It was a remarkable moment this week when a combat veteran of five deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, a career military officer with a master’s degree from Harvard who has also served abroad in three different U.S. embassies and on the staff of the Joint Chiefs, came to Capitol Hill.

By now everyone knows that Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, who at age 3 emigrated from Ukraine with his parents, actually listened to the now infamous telephone call Trump held in July with the president of Ukraine.

Vindman confirmed, according to his written testimony, that Trump sought help from a foreign government to collect dirt on a U.S. citizen and political opponent. Vindman also confirmed what many suspected, the public version of the White House “transcript” of the call was incomplete.

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman arrives on Capitol Hill to offer testimony about “the call” with the president of Ukraine.

Trump signaled in his very stable genius Twitter account that the military officer assigned to his National Security Council staff, who is the council’s Ukraine expert, was a nonentity who the president had never met, but was nonetheless branded “Never Trump.”

The Trumpian universe of apologists, enablers and sycophants took the cue and within minutes Vindman, who was wounded in Iraq, was trashed as an unworthy immigrant, a man with, as former GOP Congressman Sean Duffy said on CNN, “an affinity for the Ukraine, he speaks Ukrainian, and he came from the country, and he wants to make sure they’re safe and free.”

Or put another way, a guy who has chosen to make his career one of service to the United States, who has a twin brother who is also an Army colonel, who is an expert on that volatile piece of the globe, is somehow because he’s an immigrant a suspect patriot. And because Vindman believes the president acted improperly, he’s suitable to attack.

The reprehensible Laura Ingraham, a Fox News Trump toady of the first order, went even farther and without a scintilla of evidence. “Here we have a U.S. national security official who is advising Ukraine while working inside the Ukraine, apparently against the president’s interest. … Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle to this story?”

Ingraham’s guest, a lawyer named John Yoo, who will be remembered, if at all, for authoring the memos providing legal justification for George W. Bush’s “enhanced interrogation” methods, suggested Vindman might somehow be involved in “espionage.”

In fairness to Yoo, which is more than he offered a decorated military officer, he later tried to walk back his comments, saying they had been deliberately misconstrued. (Yoo also misspelled the colonel’s name three times in his statement, but then little mistakes are inevitable when you slander on the fly.)

For Trump, the American military is just another prop, convenient for a photo op or to soak up the deference the military affords any president. It’s the individual accomplishment and sacrifice he disparages and the list of people who have served that have received his insults is as long as his own military record is short.

No one in the Idaho congressional delegation — to a man deeply concerned about due process for the president — rose this week to defend a military man slimed in the rightwing echo chamber. And we’ll almost certainly see most Republican officeholders quietly go along with these outrages because that’s what they do in the Age of Trump.

Trump is like many Americans who enjoy the little rituals that indicate we support the troops. We gladly let them board a flight first and maybe even mutter “thank you for your service.” But most of us are as removed from Americans in uniform as Trump is from the bone spurs that kept him from Vietnam.

Trump — and most of his followers — value “the troops” in the abstract; it’s the reality of the principled, ethical Gen. Jim Mattis, or Gen. H.R. McMaster, Sen. John McCain, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Ambassador William Taylor or Lt. Col. Vindman that they hate.

GOP, Trump

Corruption in Plain Sight

The ultimate danger of the Trump presidency, even beyond the potentially catastrophic consequences of the recent abandonment of northern Syria to the Turks, Russians and ISSI, has always been that Trump will completely and permanently warp the simple notion of facts and destroy the idea of acceptable political behavior. 

There was always going to be days of reckoning with the rabble-rousing, norm busting, and corruption pushing president. Those days have now surely arrived and the ultimate question has been framed for Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation. 

“It is no longer a question of whether this happened,” the veteran and very measured Dan Balz of the Washington Post wrote this week concerning he latest revelations about the Ukraine shakedown. “It is now a question of how the president explains it and how lawmakers — especially Republicans — choose to respond to it.”

That is the question for Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Congressmen Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson. Also a question for Gov. Brad Little and all the other Republicans who have shelved their sensibility about ethics, while bowing at the Trump alter.

As my friend David Parker, a political scientist at Montana State University, wrote this week on Twitter: “Imagine the following: Churchill, calling FDR: ‘We could really use some help here to stop the Nazis…’ FDR: ‘Winston, sure thing – but not until you give me some dirt on that bastard Dewey.’” David was factiously, of course, referring to the unthinkable: Franklin Roosevelt withholding critical aid to Great Britain in exchange for shaking down the prime minister for help defeating his 1944 Republican opponent. 

Unthinkable, at least until Trump created a shadow State Department, put the criminally incompetent Rudy Giuliani in charge and used a Portland hotel operator who gave a $1 million to his inaugural fund as his messenger. All this – the illegality of seeking a political campaign favor from a foreign leader, the rogue foreign policy, the fundamentally venal corruption – is right there in plain sight. 

Trump corruption was also glaringly on display with the president’s decision to award the upcoming G-7 summit of leaders of major industrial nation to his own Florida golf resort. Under intense pressure from among others Mike Simpson, who admitted it was getting a bit difficult to defend such blatant Trump corruption, the president backed down. Of course he blamed Democrats and the press and dismissed Constitutional prohibitions against his sleazy behavior as “phony.” 

Donald Trump in his element at his Doral golf course in Florida.

So, why exactly was it difficult for many Republicans to condemn such corruption? The president awarded a huge contract to himself after all, which in a simpler, more ethical time would have been the very definition of improper, self-dealing. The fact that the Constitution directly addresses such misconduct ought to have made reproaching Trump an easy call. And, of course, the president never admitted his scheme was wrong, just that it had been criticized.   

Imagine if Gov. Brad Little owned a hotel in downtown Boise rather than a ranch. And imagine that he ordered all visiting Republicans or traveling state employees to stay at his hotel. Would that be improper? 

Or imagine that House Speaker Scott Bedke owned a printing business rather than a ranch. And then imagine that he ordered all state agencies to do their printing with his business. Would that be corrupt? 

That type of scandal would be spread across every front page in Idaho. There would be demands for investigations and calls for resignation. Yet, some Republicans actually defended Trump’s corruption before he cut off the limb they crawled out on. 

“It may seem careless politically,” said North Dakota Republican Senator Kevin Cramer, “but on the other hand there’s tremendous integrity in his boldness and his transparency.”

Forehead hit table. 

And there was Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s “economic development defense” of Trump corruption. “Anything that draws a major event like that to Florida is not something I would discourage,” Rubio said. 

That’s a far cry from the Rubio of 2016 when he was warning fellow Republicans about Trump. “On issue after issue, what he’s saying to people isn’t true,” Rubio said then. “It’s called a con job. And we’re not going to allow a con artist to take control of the party of Lincoln and Reagan.” 

Yes, yes we are. In fact, we have. 

I would never have imagined that Mitt Romney would have become the keeper of the Republican soul, but that is precisely what has happened. Virtually alone among major GOP officeholders, Romney clearly has a conscious and clearly knows that character must still count in public life. 

The Atlantic’s profile of Mitt Romney positions the former presidential candidate as the “ethical hall monitor” of the modern GOP

“Berating another person, or calling them names, or demeaning a class of people, not telling the truth—those are not private things,” Romney told journalist McKay Coppins who wrote about the Utah Mormon recently in The Atlantic. “If during the campaign you pay a porn star $130,000, that now comes into the public domain.” 

Romney told another interviewer this week, “We certainly can’t have presidents asking foreign countries to provide something of political value. That is, after all, against the law.”

The House impeachment investigation will grind on and there will certainly be more – perhaps many more – revelations of corruption, illegal activity, dishonesty and debasement of the truth. The Giuliani cesspool alone will provide enough content for two new seasons of “Law and Order.”  

The question is this: what do we do about it? Do members of the Idaho delegation continue to accept this profound level of corruption at the very top of the American government? Will they continue to be party to resetting the ethical sideboards for future presidential behavior? Will they uphold their oath to “protect and defend” the Constitution? Will they finally realizing that defending the indefensible is just too hard? 

The days of reckoning are here. And, if irony had not died when Donald Trump moved into the White House, we could shake our heads at the fact that the president proclaimed this week “National Character Counts Week.” 

“May we never forget that our Nation is only as strong as the virtue and character of our citizenry,” Trump’s proclamation read. He obviously forgot the line about the “virtue and character” of the president. 

Middle East, Russia, Trump, U.S. Senate

Blood on the Floor…

On April 6, 2017 President Donald Trump ordered a cruise missile strike on airfields in Syria in response to Syrian dictator Basher al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Idaho Senator Jim Risch immediately praised Trump’s action as “a game changer” that signaled a new American approach to the entire Middle East and would impress the international community. 

“The airstrikes of April 6 were a good first step,” Risch wrote the next day in piece in TIME, “but the United States must go further to push back against Assad and his allies, Russia and Iran. This will require a more comprehensive strategy toward Syria.” 

A buffer zone has been put in place in the wake of President Trump’s appeasement of Turkey’s invasion of Syria

Risch went on: “We also need to build and support a coalition that can effectively ensure the safety of Syrians at home and ensure neither Assad nor the Islamic State can destabilize the country. This would include working with our Turkish allies and Syrian opposition, and supporting Kurdish forces fighting on the ground against both the Islamic State and Assad’s forces.” 

The senator, now the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, assured us that the “Trump Administration has proven to the people of Syria, and the world, that the United States is once again willing to confront growing instability and inhumanity.” 

Of course, Risch could not have been more wrong as events of the last week gruesomely prove. In fact Risch has displayed a stunning combination of ignorance and arrogance over the last two and half years in his unconditional support for the administration’s persistently failing foreign policy. 

Not only has Risch been wrong about Syria, but also about Iran, North Korea, China and a dozen other places where the chaotic and feckless Trump foreign policy has produced one disaster after another, fracturing what is left of U.S. global leadership, strengthening Russia, creating the opening for a revived ISSI, weakening NATO and leaving America increasingly without dependable friends in the world. 

Idaho Senator Jim Risch, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee

Perhaps never before in Idaho political history has one member of the state’s congressional delegation been in such a position of potential power and influence at such a perilous time and squandered it all in subservience to a failed president. It is simply a shocking display of political and moral misconduct.  

Risch has made much of his access to the president, regularly bragging about his phone calls, briefings and ability to influence Trump. As Risch told the Idaho Press’s Betsy Russell recently he intends to maintain influence with Trump by never uttering a public criticism. Well, if Risch’s logic is correct and he is only able to exert influence over U.S. foreign policy by not exercising independent leadership then he also owns the outcome of Trump’s disastrous policy. 

We should assume that Risch is in the group that David Sanger, the New York Times national security correspondent, wrote about this week. “Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America’s longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave.”

Among the many Trumpian disasters arising from the precipitous decision to cut a run on the Kurds in Syria is the opportunity it affords Vladimir Putin to obtain what every Russian leader since Stalin has desired – a lead role in the Middle East

“Putin continues to get whatever he wants and generally doesn’t even have to do much,” said a NATO official quoted by the Washington Post. “He got to sit back and watch the Turks and the Americans unravel five years of success and not only did it not cost him anything, he didn’t even have to try to make it happen. Small wonder he’d interfere on Trump’s side in an election.”

And here is Martin Indyk, a two-time U.S. ambassador to Israel, writing this week in Foreign Policy: “The Trump administration likes to see itself as clear-eyed and tough-minded, a confronter of the hard truths others refuse to acknowledge. In fact, it understands so little about how the Middle East actually works that its bungling efforts have been a failure across the board. As so often in the past, the cynical locals are manipulating a clueless outsider, advancing their personal agendas at the naive Americans’ expense.” 

“So, Turkey and the Kurds have been fighting for hundreds of years,” Trump said this week. “We are out of there.” That may well turn out to be “the Trump Doctrine.” 

For days the junior senator from Idaho said exactly nothing beyond an innocuous, boilerplate statement of “serious concern” about Turkey’s invasion of Syria in the wake of U.S. troop departures. By week’s end he was promising to introduce “soon” legislation to sanction Turkey, but without acknowledgment that the president himself had made such legislation necessary. 

BBC image of Kurdish position being shelled by Turkey’s forces in Syria

Meanwhile, daily revelations about Ukraine continue, a scandal that one commentator reduced to its essence: “The president’s personal lawyer was paid by crooked businessmen from a foreign country, and then the president gave him authority over American policy toward that country. This is precisely what the founders meant by ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’” Risch has not answered a demand from Democratic members of his committee that he hold hearings on this debacle and he dodges questions about his views.

When Boise State Public Radio reporter Heath Druzin attempted last week to ask Risch about the appropriateness of an American president asking a foreign leader to gin up dirt on a political opponent, Risch refused to engage. “I’m not going there,” he said before walking away and then adding “Don’t do that again.” 

In a subsequent interview with KBOI Radio’s Nate Shelman, a venue where conservatives comfortably expect to be offered up softballs, Risch fell back on the oldest and most discredited line in American politics. Shelman asked Risch if pulling U.S. troops and green lighting Turkish attacks on the Kurds was correct. “I’m not in the position right now to criticize,” Risch said, “what I want to do is get behind our troops and get behind our commander, and where we are right now and get us to a better place.”

Trump has facilitated a wholesale disaster in Syria that will ripple and roll across the region for years. American credibility has never been lower or our security so abruptly and catastrophically threatened. 

But politically Jim Risch relies up on the same thing Donald Trump counts on – the credulity and partisanship of supporters, each man hoping they can get away with fomenting a catastrophe because, well, in the name of Trump they can do anything. 

Little wonder Risch wants to avoid answering legitimate questions about the president. He’s like a guy caught at the scene of a crime that wants you to believe he’s had nothing to do with all the blood on the floor.

—–0—–

(Note: Since this piece was written a “cease fire” was agreed to by the Turkish government. Senator Risch applauded that move – without referring to the president – and said the situation remains “very fluid.” But as Eric Schmidt and David Sanger wrote in the Times: “The cease-fire agreement reached with Turkey by Vice President Mike Pence amounts to a near-total victory for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gains territory, pays little in penalties and appears to have outmaneuvered President Trump.”)

Nixon, Trump, Watergate

Tricky Dick and Dissembling Donald

In his masterful biography of Richard Nixon the journalist John A. Farrell recounts the last days – it was the summer of 1974 – of Nixon’s presidency with a variety of anecdotes that are chilling in their relevance to the drama currently unfolding in Washington, D.C. 

Richard Nixon in 1968

Most who remember their history will recall that it fell to two Arizona Republicans, Barry Goldwater and John Rhodes, and Senate minority leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania to troop to the White House in early August and tell Nixon that his support on Capitol Hill had evaporated. He was sure to be impeached and convicted. 

It’s not precisely true as political legend has it that the GOP heavyweights told Nixon to resign. They didn’t need to. The master politician who based his entire career, as Garry Wills once wrote, on “mobilizing resentment against those in power” got the message. The power was against him. Nixon immediately told his family “we’re going back to California.” 

Proof, contained on an Oval Office tape recording, of Nixon ordering the cover-up of the Watergate burglary had sealed his fate. “This is it,” Rhodes said at the time. “It’s all over. There was the smokin’ gun. He had it in his hand.” 

Nixon had refused to turn over the tapes, of course, and only did so when compelled by a unanimous order from the Supreme Court

In his book Farrell recounts one phenomenal earlier conversation – it occurred in July 1974 – involving former chief justice Earl Warren, like Nixon a Californian and a Republican, and two sitting justices of the high court, William O. Douglas and William Brennan. Douglas and Brennan visited Warren in the hospital where he was recovering from a heart attack and before it was certain that the Court would force release of Nixon’s smokin’ gun. 

From his hospital bed former Chief Justice Earl Warren knew that the president could not be above the law

Warren, however, was certain of what must happen. “If Nixon is not forced to turn over tapes of his conversations,” the former chief justice said, “with the ring of men who were conversing on their violations of the law, then liberty will soon be dead in this nation.” 

* * *

A famous line is attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme.” So it is with Tricky Dick and Dissembling Donald. As it was in 1974, so it is in 2019. 

I got to wondering what the political mood was in Idaho when Nixon’s crimes were the dominate theme in the country, when Democrats in Congress struggled mightily to investigate a stonewalling White House and when another president attempted to obstruct justice by among other acts firing the special counsel investigating the Watergate affairs. 

Idaho Republicans almost to a person supported Nixon until the absolute end. The precise dynamic is playing out now with GOP support for Trump.

Idaho Republican Senator James A. McClure, a Nixon supporter to the very end

In May 1973, after Nixon’s two top White House aides had resigned and after White House counsel John Dean had been fired, then-Idaho Republican Senator James A. McClure gave what Associated Press reporter David Espo called a “tough and disturbing” speech in Twin Falls. In the speech to a Republican audience, McClure lashed out at journalists for what he termed “stealing records of grand juries” – syndicated columnist Jack Anderson had reported on leaked grand jury testimony pertaining to Watergate – and blasted federal judges acting out of what McClure called “rather self-righteous motives.” That was a clear reference to Judge John Sirica, who by that point had sentenced two of the Watergate burglars to stiff prison sentences. 

Espo wrote that McClure specifically exonerated Nixon for not taking the Watergate burglary more seriously since the senator contended Nixon was preoccupied with his re-election and affairs of state. 

In October 1973, a few days after Nixon fired special counsel Archibald Cox – the infamous Saturday Night MassacreDon Todd, then the executive director of the Idaho Republican Party, defended Nixon and sounded eerily like Trump defenders today. 

House and Senate members who talk of impeachment, Todd said, would “disgrace themselves” with their overreaching. There was nothing wrong with Nixon’s handling of the Oval Office tapes, Todd contended, and said the president was justified in firing the special counsel. 

John Farrell wrote that Nixon’s decision to fire Cox was the real beginning of the end for the president. The Washington establishment, he recounts, had reached a consensus – Nixon was trying to put himself above the law, but the Idaho delegation with the exception of Democrat Frank Church continued to passionately defend Nixon.

After Cox was fired McClure said the former solicitor general was a ”stubborn, willful man” and that it was inevitable that Nixon would sack him. And sounding like a Trump defender today, McClure discounted Cox as nothing more than a liberal Democrat who made no secret of “his partisan views.” For his part, First District Congressman Steve Symms said Nixon had every right to fire anyone in the executive branch “from the secretary of defense to a janitor at HEW.” But, Symms did allow that it was a legitimate question as to whether Nixon should have fired the man investigating his actions. 

Elliot L. Richardson resigned rather than carry out Nixon’s order to fire special counsel Archibald Cox, right.

As the long course of the events that we now collectively call Watergate, from the arrest of the men who broke into Democratic Party headquarters in June 1972 to Nixon’s resignation in August 1974, Idaho Republicans stood by Richard Nixon.  

McClure never admitted that Nixon’s actions related to Watergate constituted grounds for impeachment, but did tell his biographer that had he still been in the Senate he would have voted to convict Bill Clinton for lying to a grand jury about his relationship with a White House intern. No one is above the law, McClure said, obviously missing the hypocrisy. 

When Nixon did resign, McClure said there were “literally no words to express the compassion” he felt for Nixon. And as for any punishment for the former president, McClure declared, “enough is enough … you don’t kick a man when he’s down.”  

Orval Hansen, the Republican congressman from Idaho’s Second District, was more measured. Nixon had done the right thing by resigning, Hansen said, since his ability to continue in office had been destroyed by the revelation that he had ordered a cover-up and lied about it. Ironically, Hansen lost in a primary in 1974 in part, many Idaho observers concluded, because Nixon’s taint rubbed off on him. 

The rhyming will continue. 

—–0—–

Idaho Politics, Trump

Where Will They Find Their Souls

Idaho has had its share of political scandals and usually they involve money or sex — or, not infrequently, stupidity. The state’s politicians have gone to jail for various money capers related to wrongly reported campaign finances, kiting checks or misusing public funds. Others have been publicly shamed for activities in airport bathrooms and various bedrooms. But those scandals have generally been personal, related to an individual failing or a purely human transgression.

Now we have entered a land where a new type of scandal will test the American system, a challenge to moral, ethical and political decency that confronts the four men who represent Idaho in Congress with decisions that few of the state’s politicians have ever handled before.

The initial signs of how the leaders will respond are not gratifying, but hope for political redemption springs eternal, particularly as the impeachable behavior of the man in the White House finally becomes obvious to most Americans.

Trump and the president of Ukraine

In a little more than a week, we have learned that the president of the United States pressured a foreign leader to manufacture dirt on his principal political opponent and then took extraordinary steps to conceal his conversation from others in the government. When a government whistleblower revealed the unprecedented action, the president attacked the whistleblower and said a member of Congress should be locked up for treason for investigating the matter.

We subsequently learned that the secretary of state and attorney general were involved in various ways in soliciting foreign political help from Italy, Austria, Great Britain and Australia; that the president’s personal lawyer has been subpoenaed to produce documents related to his unprecedented role in fanning conspiracy theories and operating a one-man State Department and that other whistleblowers — one relating to the president’s tax returns — are bubbling to the surface.

The essential charge against the president is pretty simple: He pressured a foreign leader from a country known both for its corruption and for needing U.S. military assistance to help him win reelection. If irony were not dead, we might marvel that the Ukrainian telephone call in question was placed by Donald Trump exactly one day after Robert Mueller testified before Congress about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The president’s defense in the face of this avalanche of malfeasance has been to take to Twitter to attack members of Congress and news organizations, while spinning a steadily more bizarre collection of conspiracy theories, personal grievances and genuine craziness. If a president using the awesome power of his office to advance his own political fortunes at the expense of American foreign policy isn’t impeachment worthy, nothing is.

The entire Republican Party, morally and ethically rotten as a result of the Trump takeover, is poised to tumble. The only question for members of Idaho’s Republican congressional delegation is whether they will muster the courage and integrity to separate themselves from the cancer that grows on this presidency. So far they have chosen to blindly follow a mendacious, incompetent, self-possessed, ethically devoid character whose capture of their party was broadly, if ineffectively resisted. Now they are left clinging to the wreckage as the price of avoiding a primary.

Take it to the bank — all this will get worse.

The most interesting response so far to the president’s behavior has come from Sen. Mike Crapo, a veteran of the Clinton impeachment in 1999 who perhaps understands the current stakes. Crapo, of course, voted to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about sex with a White House intern. Now he has adopted the most measured approach of anyone in the Idaho delegation; in essence saying, wait and see what the evidence produces.

Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, who voted to impeach Bill Clinton

It’s illustrative to review what Crapo said about Clinton two decades ago. “Our entire legal system is dependent on our ability to find the truth,” Crapo said. “That is why perjury and obstruction of justice are crimes. The offenses are even worse when committed against the poor or powerless by the wealthy and the powerful.”

“Perjury and obstruction of justice are public crimes that strike at the heart of the rule of law — and therefore our freedom — in America,” Crapo said. “I concluded that these acts do constitute high crimes and misdemeanors under the impeachment provisions of the U.S. Constitution.”

The special counsel, of course, found substantial evidence that Trump had obstructed justice during the Russian investigation, but was precluded by Justice Department regulations from charging him.

But so far, Crapo has been alone in assuming a measured tone in light of the daily — even hourly — revelations of presidential misconduct. Sen. Jim Risch and Congressman Russ Fulcher reacted with tried and true White House talking points, blaming “liberal” Democrats and a hostile news media rather than focusing on the substance of Trump’s trolling for a political lifeline from Ukraine. From them, you heard not a word of concern about the loose cannon Rudy Giuliani or the secretary of state stonewalling a legitimate congressional investigation.

And Congressman Mike Simpson, usually the sane and sober member of the delegation, actually sent out a Trumpian fundraising appeal seeking cash for himself, while blasting “leftist Democrats in Congress” for engaging in “a witch hunt against the President.” He knows better and he knows that he knows better.

The urgent business of the Congress of the United States is simply to get to the bottom of what the president has done and the damage it has caused to the country. Risch, Fulcher, Crapo and Simpson have a simple choice: They can conduct themselves as patriots and affirm the strength of American democracy or they can remain fractured, frightened, fevered partisans. Either way history will judge them and the judgment will, pardon the expression, trump everything else they have ever done.

“Tampering with the truth-seeking functions of the law undermines our justice system and the foundations on which our freedoms lie,” Crapo said in 1999 when a Democratic president was in the dock answering serious charges that nonetheless pale in comparison to the transgressions of Trump.

As former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake wrote to fellow Republicans this week in the Washington Post: “Trust me when I say that you can go elsewhere for a job. But you cannot go elsewhere for a soul.”

These are surely times that try men’s souls. We’ll find out soon enough who among the state’s congressional delegation is willing to go all the way with this president — all the way over the cliff.