July 25 was a busy day for Donald Trump. We know that he was on the phone with Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky, jawboning him into investigating Hunter Biden. We don’t know whether there was an explicit linking of the $250 million in military aid Congress approved for Ukraine, but we do know (hey, the president has told us as much) that he was conveying to Zelensky the importance of the Bidens not “creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine."
Interesting choice of words, because, as it happens, this wasn’t the only foreign leader Trump demanded that week get involved in his nation’s judicial system in a case involving an American citizen.
Remember A$AP Rocky?
Trump personally called Sweden’s prime minister to demand (Trump doesn’t “ask”) that the rapper — a friend of Trump pals Kanye West and Kim Kardashian — be released on bail on Trump’s word after a street assault altercation a few weeks before. When told that bail wasn’t an option and that Sweden’s judicial system was independent, Trump turned to Twitter — on, oh yes, July 25! — to goad the PM:
“Very disappointed in Prime Minister Stefan Löfven for being unable to act. Sweden has let our African American Community down in the United States,” Trump tweeted. “I watched the tapes of A$AP Rocky, and he was being followed and harassed by troublemakers. Treat Americans fairly!” This was followed by, “Give A$AP Rocky his FREEDOM. We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around. Sweden should focus on its real crime problem!”
Regardless, the attacks on Löfven moved a predecessor, Carl Bildt to respond, “The rule of the law applies to everyone equally and is exercised by an independent judiciary. That’s the way it is in the U.S., and that’s certainly the way it is in Sweden. Political interference in the process is distinctly off limits. Clear?”
Not to Trump.
It may seem far-fetched to equate the Rocky and Biden situations, but there’s a strong, disturbing, common thread — a specific personal/political outcome for Trump. Rocky’s fate was significant enough that Trump dispatched his hostage affairs envoy to monitor the trial. That envoy is now Trump’s new national security adviser. Rocky, by the way, was found guilty and fined (in other circumstances, who knows what the penalty might have been absent the president’s involvement).
These episodes should make members of Congress recognize that Trump is not merely a corrupting threat to U.S. elections and government agencies — those are a given at this point. He is also a major corrupting influence to the rule of law internationally.
In Trump world, everything is subsumed to his personal loyalty. Any obeisance to either integrity or the rule of law makes one a target for destruction. James Comey refused to swear fealty to Trump and “see his way clear” on Michael Flynn? He’s fired. Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to unrecuse himself on Russia? He’s publicly humiliated on a regular basis despite otherwise following the administration agenda to a T.
We now see that this attitude doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. In the same week, one foreign leader is bullied to help a Trump friend-of-a-friend (who might help Trump get a political in with the “African American Community”; Spoiler: It didn’t quite work out exactly as planned); another foreign leader is urged to judicially go after the family of a political foe.
In this context, whether Trump explicitly linked military aid to Zelensky’s cooperation is almost irrelevant; it would merely elevate the allegation from poisonous political meddling to official extortion. The larger, more disturbing, point: A U.S. president wants foreign powers to interfere in their judicial process purely on whether an involved American is his friend or foe — and whether that person’s treatment can impact him politically. That should send chills down the spines of all Americans.
It should also move Congress to see impeachment as less of an offensive political action, but rather as a defensive one — the laying out of a bill of particulars on this president. A bill of particulars that articulates a repetitive pattern of behavior, a pattern that won’t stop until it is stopped.
Sure, the GOP Senate is unlikely to convict and remove Trump, but at least Republicans would be forced to defend the concept of a chief executive whose corruption metastasizes beyond our borders to potentially infect other governments.