Preview of Sunday’s episode: James Rickards is a renowned lawyer, economist, and finance expert. Jim is also the author of Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis and five other books.
WASHINGTON—President Trump defended a conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart as “totally appropriate” and reiterated his call for Kiev to investigate his potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden, as lawmakers look into the president’s and his lawyer’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to undertake such a probe.
Mr. Trump declined to say whether in a July conversation he had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to have his government investigate Mr. Biden, the former vice president and now Democratic presidential candidate. But, Mr. Trump told reporters Friday: “Somebody ought to look into that,” referring to Mr. Biden.
Any probe of Mr. Biden centers on the then-vice president’s efforts to seek the ouster of former Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin, who had investigated a private Ukrainian gas company, Burisma Group, of which Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was a board member.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has accused Mr. Biden of acting to protect his son, even though Mr. Shokin had already completed his investigation of Burisma Group before he left office. Mr. Biden has said he sought Mr. Shokin’s ouster because he wasn’t doing enough to investigate corruption.
Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s current prosecutor general, told Bloomberg News in May he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Biden or his son.
Mr. Trump, during an event at the White House with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, said he didn’t know the identity of the whistleblower. But he also accused the whistleblower of partisan motivations and said his conversation with Mr. Zelensky “couldn’t have been better.”
Asked whether the whistleblower complaint involved the July call with Mr. Zelensky, the president said: “I really don’t know.”
Michael Atkinson, the Trump-appointed inspector general of the intelligence community, met Thursday morning with the House Intelligence Committee in a closed-session. Mr. Atkinson declined to tell lawmakers the substance of the complaint or if it involves the president, but he did say it involves more than one episode and is based on a series of events, according to multiple people who attended or were briefed on the meeting.
Trump had got himself into a major jam. One problem was that he hadn’t expected to win the election, which meant that he could promise anything without worrying about whether he could deliver. In early January, The New York Times reported that Trump’s longtime former adviser, the now-indicted Roger Stone, suggested using the idea of constructing the wall to help the professional builder remember to bring up immigration, which was to be a major issue for him, at his campaign rallies.
The trick worked too well. Trump came to rely on the wall to bring rally audiences alive. “And who will pay for the wall?” he would shout to his audience. “Mexico!” the crowds would respond in unison. Of course, Mexico had no intention of paying for such a wall.
.. Pelosi clearly flummoxes Trump. He has never had to deal with a woman as smart, dignified, and tough as she is. She is his only known political rival for whom he has not been able to devise a withering nickname (as in “crooked Hillary”): “Nancy, as I call her,” he said, as he began to weaken against her, eliciting mockery in much of Washington (and on Twitter).
.. Trump’s immaturity and abysmal judgment were on display when, in his December meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, he blurted out, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.” He added: “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.” Schumer visibly struggled not to laugh at Trump’s monumental blunder. Anyone minimally well informed knows that the person recognized as causing a shutdown loses in the opinion polls. Trump had trapped himself.
Every time there’s a government shutdown, Americans learn the same three things: that federal workers – derisively called “bureaucrats” – are human beings with families, illnesses, and other issues; that most don’t live in the Washington area, but are spread around the country; and that government contractors get hit, too – not Boeing and the like, but building cleaners, cafeteria workers, and so forth. So, in addition to the 800,000 or so government workers – some furloughed, some required to work without pay – an estimated one million others were also directly affected. Moreover, restaurants and other small businesses in the vicinity of government facilities were hurt by a lack of business. Stories of the shutdown’s harsh impact quickly began to dominate the news.
As the shutdown dragged on, politicians from both parties became increasingly restive. Republicans from areas with numerous government workers, many of them part of Trump’s base, became impatient. Many Democrats worried that though Trump was getting most of the blame for the shutdown, Pelosi’s intransigence would begin to backfire on them. But Pelosi held firm, counseling patience and explaining that as soon as Democrats offered Trump money for his wall, they would be playing his game and would lose their argument that the government must not be shut down because of a policy disagreement.
After government workers went without their first paycheck, the politically harmful anecdotes started rolling in: a woman who would have to decide between chemotherapy and paying the rent; a guard at the Smithsonian Institution threatened with eviction; parents who couldn’t explain to their children why they weren’t working and had no money.
Administration billionaires, like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, said lunkheaded things (such as, Why can’t they get a loan?). Some employees who were forced to work without pay, in particular air traffic controllers, called in sick. FBI employees, among others, were lining up at food banks. Trump’s approval ratings dropped. Airline delays became the norm. Finally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who above all wants to keep the Senate in Republican hands, warned Trump that their side was losing the public-relations war.
As is his wont, Trump tried to camouflage his retreat. In a Rose Garden speech, he rambled on with familiar misleading statistics about alleged crimes committed by illegal immigrants and lied about how drugs enter the country – omitting that most come through legal ports of entry in cars, trucks, and trains rather than through openings along the southern border.
Pelosi had outmaneuvered Trump. Suddenly, the president didn’t seem so dangerous; he had tried various stratagems:
- a nationally broadcast speech from the Oval Office that even he knew was leaden;
- a visit to the southern border that even he didn’t think would change any minds; threats to build his “wall” – which by now had become steel slats –
- by decreeing a national emergency (which would probably land in the courts), though virtually no one agreed that there was an emergency. In fact, entries into the US through the southern border are lower than they have been in years.
As it happens, on that Friday night when Trump buckled, I was at a restaurant where Pelosi and her husband, Paul, were dining with another couple. When the House Speaker left her table, customers and staff alike applauded her. A waitress standing beside me was nearly in tears. She choked out, “We need someone who will fight for us.”
Republican politicians throughout the age of Trump, and again and again they have chosen to die in the dark.
This was true of Trump’s strongest primary-season rivals, who fought him directly and concertedly during exactly one of the umpteen debates and then, finding open war hard going, chose to lose and bow out as though Trump were a normal rival rather than the fundamentally unfit figure they had described just a few short weeks before.
It was true of the party functionaries, the hapless Reince Priebus above all, who denied the residual Republican forces resisting Trump the chance to fight him one last time in the light of the convention floor.
.. It was true of Paul Ryan; it was true even of John McCain... It was not true of everyone. Mitt Romney and John Kasich declined to fall on the sword of party unity; so did George W. Bush and his father; so did some governors and a few junior senators, Mike Lee and Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake... while they refused to make the quietus, to strangle their own convictions in Trump’s ample shadow, they declined many chances to keep up the fight openly as well... The nomination of a figure like Trump, a clear threat to both the professed beliefs of his party’s leaders and to basic competence in presidential government, is the sort of shattering event that in the past would have prompted a real schism or independent candidacy... But Romney couldn’t talk Kasich into being that independent candidate, all the other possibilities demurred.. Now, almost a year into the Trump presidency, a similar dynamic is playing out. There is a small but significant Republican opposition to Trump, but its leading figures still don’t want to go to war with him directly, preferring philosophical attacks and tactical withdrawal to confrontation and probable defeat... To the extent that there’s a plausible theory behind all of these halfhearted efforts, it’s that resisting Trump too vigorously only strengthens his hold on the party’s base, by vindicating his claim to have all the establishment arrayed against him... In the end, if you want Republican voters to reject Trumpism, you need to give them clear electoral opportunities to do so — even if you expect defeat.. an anti-Trump movement that gives high-minded speeches but never mounts candidates confirms Trump’s claim to face establishment opposition while also confirming his judgment of the establishment’s guts and stamina — proving that they’re all low-energy, all “liddle” men, all unwilling to fight him man to man... If Corker really means what he keeps saying about the danger posed by Trump’s effective incapacity, he should call openly for impeachment or for 25th Amendment proceedings.. If Flake really means what he said in his impassioned speech, and he doesn’t want to waste time and energy on a foredoomed Senate primary campaign, then he should choose a different hopeless-seeming cause and primary Trump in 2020. George W. Bush should endorse him. So should McCain, and Corker, and Romney, and Kasich, and Sasse, and the rest of the anti-Trump list... They should expect to lose, and badly, but they should make Trump actually defeat them, instead of just clearing the field for his second nomination... And not only for the sake of their honor. The president’s G.O.P. critics should engage in electoral battle because the act of campaigning, the work of actually trying to persuade voters, is the only way anti-Trump Republicans will come to grips with the legitimate reasons that their ideas had become so unpopular that voters opted for demagoguery instead... A speechifying anti-Trumpism, distant from the fray, will always be self-regarding and self-deceiving — unwilling to see how the Iraq War discredited both the Bushist and McCainian styles of right-wing internationalism, incapable of addressing the economic disappointments that turned voters against Flake’s Goldwaterite libertarianism and Romney’s “trust me, I’m a businessman” promises... Only in actual political competition can the Republican elite reckon with why it lost its party, and how it might win again.. I think the G.O.P. is more likely to be renewed by someone who currently supports Trump or someone not yet active in politics than it is by the men resisting the president today.
In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has achieved at least three things that few presidents ever have.
- His approval rating is in the 30s.
- His former aides — and reportedly the president himself — are under federal investigation.
- And members of Mr. Trump’s own party are running what has been described as a shadow campaign to replace him in 2020.
.. The more Mr. Trump’s candidacy was said to flatline, the more life I saw in his crowds.
.. In August 2015, a month after a high-ranking Republican National Committee operative promised me that America would never tolerate a man with no military service disparaging an American military hero, I was standing on a football field in Mobile, Ala., surrounded by 30,000 screaming Trump fans, an unheard-of turnout six months before a primary. Were they mad about the candidates words on Mr. McCain? No. The opposite. “He’s not afraid of anybody,” one woman told me.
.. But then, as now, the view from armchairs in Washington and newsrooms around the country missed something that it was impossible to miss out on the trail. Mr. Trump’s supporters were tired — of Washington, of the media, of waiting. And that fatigue allowed them to overlook a lot. They knew he was flawed but at least, they thought, he was on their side.
.. “Why do people fighting for a raise relate to all of this?” I asked a man in a tuxedo. “Because deep down, they know he’s one of them,” he said.
“Trump sees us,” his supporters would tell me, everywhere we stopped. “You don’t.”
.. Sure, they liked a lot of his policies and ideas, but they weren’t married to any of them. They wanted the man above all. And if he said it, they’d find a way to support it, even if he reversed himself the next day.
.. I once asked a man heading into a rally why he supported Donald Trump.
“Because he is going to build a wall,” the man said.
“What if he doesn’t?” I countered.
“I trust his judgment,” the man said.
.. The building blocks of political life are too complex to predict, too unstable to rely on. But I do know what political devotion looks like, and I do know what happens when you choose to discount it.