Intelligence community strikes back — an impeachment game-changer
President Donald J. Trump will be impeached — maybe not convicted by the Senate but impeached by the House. That’s my prediction, given the rapidly unfolding events in Ukrainegate. The catalyst for impeachment is the alleged CIA whistleblower and the team of intelligence community officials he is going to bat for. Trump picked a fight with the wrong crowd. Now, they’re fighting back, with the Constitution in one hand and evidence of Trump’s corruption in the other. Game on.
You might call this team, collectively, “Deep State Throat.” They’re a deep state, all right, but not like Trump thinks. They’re not rogues. They’re patriots. Let’s just buckle up and watch how this plays out over the coming weeks and months.
I read the White House “transcript” between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. I read the whistleblower complaint. And I read the inspector general cover letter. By background, I spent 34 years dealing intimately with whistleblowers and protecting them. I spent 19 years in the United States Senate deeply involved in writing every prominent whistleblower law from 1983 to 2000. I then spent five years as executive director of the National Whistleblower Center, which helped write post-Enron corporate whistleblower laws, and defended numerous national security and other whistleblowers.
I have never seen a more buttoned-up set of whistleblower allegations than these.
To me, the whistleblower appears to have taken a leadership role, sticking his neck out to protect subordinates in the intelligence community while conveying their information to appropriate authorities through appropriate channels. It’s easy to see how the intelligence community inspector general steered it to the Congressional Intelligence Committees, under the cover of great credibility, through a gauntlet of resisters.
In this one brief complaint, the whistleblower managed to do what former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation could not: ensnare the president of the United States himself in a shameful abuse of his power. Trump held back military aid to Ukraine then asked Ukraine for “a favor” — to dig up or create dirt on a political rival for the forthcoming election.
The complaint, once it was made public, has upended the impeachment chessboard in the House. That was made apparent by the inartful and weak arguments made by Republicans at Thursday’s House hearing with Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. Their go-to argument was that the whistleblower’s information was “secondhand.” They couldn’t have read the report, which reads like a well-crafted indictment.
Prior to the complaint, House Dems were divided on impeachment. They didn’t have a cogent message or strategy for articulating the significance of the Mueller report. For months, Republicans waged a low-intensity conflict, armed with more sound bites than facts: No collusion! No obstruction! Witch hunt! Hoax! Fake news!
Even though the Mueller report gave ample ammunition for impeachment, the Dems didn’t know how to sound-bite their case. Attorney General William Barr, who had control of the information before the Mueller report’s release, defused any Dem attempt to fight back.
MSNBC’s Ari Melber had the perfect description of the Mueller battle scene. He said, the Dems brought “a book to a Twitter fight.”
Now, with this whistleblower complaint, the Dems are beginning to get unified behind a singular, narrow purpose — uncovering Ukrainegate. The president, unlike in the Mueller probe, was caught red-handed self-dealing with a foreign country. He obviously knows he was caught, given his irrational public tirade upon his arrival Thursday at Andrews Air Force Base and his attack on whistleblowers whom he equated with “spies.”
Suddenly, the Dems have the means in their quiver to bring tweets to a twitter fight. Self-dealing! Corruption! Sellout! Violation of oath of office! Breach of public trust! Betrayal!
On Thursday, former CIA officer Robert Baer suggested on CNN that the whistleblower’s efforts, together with others cited in his complaint, might reflect “a palace coup” against the president. I believe he said that before The New York Times reported that the whistleblower was allegedly a CIA officer.
Baer’s allusion was neither sinister nor fanciful. It was a well-grounded hypothesis.
I not only had a long career of dealing with whistleblowers; I also had the intelligence and national security portfolios while working in the Senate. After reading the whistleblower’s complaint, I reached a similar conclusion before I heard Baer’s remarks but with a slightly different twist.
In every major scandal I investigated in my career, there was always a common phenomenon: Whenever the scandals broke, all the good guys in government with knowledge of the issue came out of the woodwork, and we found each other. We formed an investigative network to assist each other and root out the corruption. That happened in the defense scandals of the 1980s, the Iran-Contra scandal, the John Tower investigation, the FBI scandals under Louis Freeh — such as Waco and Ruby Ridge — the FBI crime lab scandal of the late 1990s, and many others.
These sources and contacts became lifelong collaborators. Many of us have had a major, ongoing impact on fighting government corruption for decades, behind the scenes and with no recognition. We dubbed ourselves the “Shit Disturbers.” It’s a loosely knit group of watchdogs.
I view this whistleblower group as of the same ilk. Trump would refer to them as deep staters who ratted him out. I would call them national treasures who pulled down his knickers for, literally, all the world to see.
What that group of nameless, faceless patriots have now given to the intelligence committees is a big, sweet ol’ Vidalia onion in the form of a whistleblower roadmap to expose Trump’s self-dealing. They’ve provided enough fodder in the complaint for the committees to spend countless months of peeling back the layers of that onion. There are more leads and potential witnesses in that complaint than they could have ever dreamed of. Many will come forward and defend the oath they swore to uphold.
If the House Dems play their cards right, impeachment is doable.
What’s more — given these new developments and following a thorough and narrow investigation into the president’s conduct — it’s also possible that a Senate conviction is not out of the question, thanks to a formidable band of patriots.
Kris Kolesnik is a 34-year veteran of federal government oversight. He spent 19 years as senior counselor and director of investigations for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Kolesnik then became executive director of the National Whistleblower Center. Finally, he spent 10 years working with the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General as the associate inspector general for external affairs.