The impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump received a stunning jolt on Monday afternoon when the New York Times revealed that Ukraine’s President Zelensky was not the only world leader that Trump has asked inappropriate favors of.
It appears that Trump recently tried to convince Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison to investigate his own intelligence community to help Attorney General William Barr gather information for a Justice Department inquiry that would discredit the Mueller investigation.
The Trump team’s efforts stem from the fact that it was an Australian official that met with ex-Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos in London, who bragged that he had heard that Russia had “thousands” of Clinton’s emails. Naturally, Australia shared that information with the FBI, which then began the counterintelligence investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign.
Trump and his cronies appear to believe and will push the narrative that Obama administration had ordered the Australian official to “spy” on the Trump campaign, which they believe will somehow delegitimize the findings of the Mueller investigation and give them the evidence of the “witch hunt” that the president claims he is a victim of.
But like so much about the pre-election period, the episode has been the subject of a counternarrative marbled with conspiracy: that the Obama administration had dispatched the Australian official, Alexander Downer, to spy on the Trump campaign as part of a broader effort to help Mrs. Clinton get elected. There is no evidence to support this, but the conspiracy has been advanced by some of the president’s allies in congress, by some Fox News commentators, and in frequent tweets by Mr. Papadopoulos.
The idea that the Obama administration was spying on the Trump campaign with the assistance of foreign governments is a prominent piece of Trumpworld canon; Trump himself infamously accused the British government of helping President Obama spy on him and maintains that the Obama administration wiretapped his Trump Tower HQ.
There is no evidence to support any of this.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reluctantly opened an impeachment hearing into the president after it was revealed President Trump asked Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelensky about opening a possible investigation into the Biden family over Hunter Biden’s entirely legal if questionably ethical position on a Ukranian natural gas company and Joe Biden’s campaign to pressure Ukraine into firing their prosecutor-general over his failure to effectively fight corruption. The president is also accused of having withheld several hundred million dollars worth of military aid to Ukraine in order to bully them into cooperating with his Attorney General and personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
That call is believed to be the subject of a whistleblower complaint that the Trump administration is desperately trying to bury. The transcript of this phone call, like the one to Zelensky in which Trump demanded that Ukraine cooperate with Barr to drum up dirt on presidential candidate Joe Biden, was restricted to only a small group of aides.
The president’s wounded complaints about the disloyalty of former attorney general Jeff Sessions and his rare contentment with Bill Barr’s enabling behavior made it clear that he expects the Attorney General to use his powers to defend the president rather than uphold the law — and it’s clear that Barr, who reportedly urged Trump to make this request of the Australians, is more than willing to abuse his power to protect the President from any consequences from his actions.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.