Opinion | White House

Donald Trump: Unrepentant, on the attack and still playing the victim

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Poor President Trump. Once again, he was the victim of an unfair attack from those vicious, obsessed Democrats who impeached him for abuse of power and obstruction related to Ukraine.

For Trump, it is always someone else's fault. Unlike Harry Truman, the buck always stops somewhere else for Trump when things go wrong.

Refusing to take responsibility for your decisions is the mentality of an elementary school kid who gets caught misbehaving and blames the teacher. It wasn't the kid's fault. Most parents have been there at some point. We just have never had an American president consistently rely on such elementary logic to compensate for bad behavior. 

Despite the president's unprecedented refusal to release relevant documents and his blockage of testimony by knowledgeable witnesses in the impeachment inquiry, Democrats in the House publicly exposed overwhelming evidence that the president was guilty of withholding U.S. tax dollars in an attempt to coerce the government of Ukraine to help him smear a domestic political rival for personal political gain.

The heroes of Trump's impeachment were those professional government and military experts in positions of knowledge and authority who were willing to come forward and tell the truth as they saw it.

Trump attacked them as they stepped forward and retaliated against them when his first impeachment was complete.

They knew the process was unlikely to remove Trump from office and that their careers likely would be affected, but they testified anyway to defend the rule of law in the United States.

These people - Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, ambassadors Marie Yovanovitch and William Taylor, Fiona Hill and others - told the truth about Trump's corruption as they saw and heard it. Even Trump appointee Gordon Sondland mustered the courage to testify to what he saw and heard.

A flood of more senior witnesses - Rudy Giuliani, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr and others - should have come forward to validate the evidence in the investigation, but they preferred, instead, to tie their legacies to this flawed and insecure president.

Ultimately, Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) joined the professional witnesses as impeachment heroes by putting their Senate seats and reputations on the line by voting to remove Trump from the presidency. Other Republicans, fearful of losing their seats in Congress, cowered before the bully.

In the end, the Republicans in the House and Senate, other than Romney, looked like North Korean generals applauding a Kim Jong Un missile launch. Professional survival was all that mattered - truth, personal reputation and legacy be damned.

The genuine victims of impeachment certainly did not include Trump. He was caught and exposed, but he got away with it.

The real victims are those who testified or voted against Trump when it counted and were publicly trashed by the president and purged from their government positions. Some may face future damage to their professional reputations or careers. But since their impeachment testimony, they have moved beyond Trump with their integrity intact. Most will ultimately land on their feet in some professional capacity with their heads held high.

Trump's attacks on those who did their duty in impeachment are dangerous. He should worry about the security of these people - because he cannot escape responsibility for the hate-filled divisiveness he has promoted as he pursued public revenge against them. Who knows what deranged mind may be out there, armed and committed to defending Trump against his perceived enemies?

The more general consequences of Trump's impeachment victory are serious. He seems hell-bent on breaking the professional bureaucracy to his will, and he is succeeding. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice are the latest targets of his campaign to subordinate the structures of democracy to his personal whims.

Given what happened in the Ukraine investigation, what whistleblowers or professional witnesses will come forward in the future?

And so far, Trump has avoided any serious consequences. That is a sad precedent for the future of American democracy.

What now?

Politics will dominate the national agenda until November, when Americans will decide in the most important election in our collective lifetimes what kind of country we want.

Who knows what an emboldened Trump will do in the meantime, but accountability must continue. If he is caught again in another abuse of power, Congress should fulfill its constitutional responsibility and impeach him again.

At some point, Donald J. Trump must be held accountable for his decisions and actions as president of the United States.

James W. Pardew is a former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria and career Army intelligence officer. He has served as deputy assistant secretary-general of NATO and is the author of "Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans."