WASHINGTON — This was supposed to be the week President Trump stopped his administration, completely, from cooperating with the impeachment inquiry.
Instead, the dam burst.
A number of key top Trump officials all but stampeded forward to deliver a barrage of stunning admissions that tied the president ever more closely to the central allegation against him: That he pressured Ukraine to launch politically helpful investigations while withholding hundreds of millions in military aid.
Most spoke out in defiance of Trump, ignoring his blanket ban on aiding the impeachment inquiry. But perhaps the heaviest blow came from friendly fire, when Trump’s own chief of staff went on television and brazenly admitted to pushing for an aid-for-investigation swap with Ukraine, acknowledging the quid-pro-quo Trump’s White House had just spent weeks denying, with the words: “Get over it.”
“Past and current Trump administration officials are singing like canaries,” said Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters on Friday evening. “Donald Trump has spun a web of corruption so wide that it has now implicated the White House, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of Energy, and the Office of Management and Budget.”
Waters may be a fierce critic of Trump begin with, but there was little denying the widening sprawl of Trump’s Ukraine scandal this week. And each day the impeachment inquiry rolled on, new explosive details came to light.
The “Hand Grenade”
Trump’s rough week started with closed-door testimony from his former top Russia advisor Fiona Hill, who said Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani ran a shadow foreign policy to politically benefit Trump outside the normal channels of government.
She also passed on some choice criticisms of Rudy from Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Bolton reportedly called Giuliani “a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” and slammed the pressure tactics on Ukraine as a “drug deal” he wanted no part of.
Meanwhile, Giuliani’s own legal troubles mounted, amid signs that a federal investigation into his Ukraine-related activities has been underway since the beginning of this year. The probe reportedly includes a “counterintelligence” aspect, CNN reported Wednesday.
Yet another Giuliani associate, David Correia, was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly helping to orchestrate illegal campaign donations to GOP causes in order to buy political influence — the third of Rudy’s associates to get booked by the feds in two weeks. The two others, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested the week before, trying to flee the country.
On Thursday, Trump’s own EU Ambassador, Gordon Sondland, joined the pile-on, testifying that Trump ordered top officials to work with Giuliani, in a reversal of Sondland’s earlier refusal to cooperate.
Sondland told Congress that Trump made top officials uncomfortable by putting Giuliani — a private citizen — in the center of his Ukraine policy.
Giuliani told Sondland that Trump wanted investigations relating to both 2020 Democratic rival, Joe Biden, and Ukraine’s supposed role in the 2016 election, Sondland testified.
“The only obvious reason Mr. Trump would send a private lawyer to meet foreign officials is because that private lawyer would do things public officials wouldn’t,” said Frank Bowman, a former federal prosecutor and author of a history of impeachment.
But Sondland’s damning testimony was quickly one-upped by Trump’s own chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who held a rare press conference on a totally unrelated subject, only to end up confirming the direct link between the aid money and pressure campaign that the White House denied for weeks.
He later tried to walk it back, but the damage was done.
Democrats hit the roof.
“We don’t go around the world extorting people for a partisan political endeavor,” said Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly. “That’s somebody who does not understand our form of government, or what it means to be a democracy.”
That same afternoon, Trump’s Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who is also embroiled in the Ukraine controversy, told Trump he was quitting, raising questions about what fresh revelations might soon emerge about Perry’s role in the Ukraine affair.
Perry was one of the so-called “three amigos” tasked with running Ukraine policy — along with Sondland and special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker — who were “disappointed” at Giuliani’s involvement, according to Sondland.
As this frantic week drew to a close, Republicans seemed to be on the back foot. Some even ducked VICE News reporters asking for comment in the halls of Capitol Hill.
On Friday, John Kasich, former GOP governor of Ohio, came out swinging in favor of impeachment.
“This behavior, in my opinion, cannot be tolerated, and action is going to have to be taken,” he said.
Democrats running the impeachment inquiry appeared buoyed by the momentum. Despite earlier talk about voting out articles of impeachment by Thanksgiving, many appeared, increasingly, in no rush to wrap up the show.
“I’m not constrained by an artificial deadline,” said Rep. Connolly, a Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.
Rising poll numbers favoring their inquiry show the Americans haven’t yet begun to show signs of impeachment fatigue, despite the flurry of news and activity, he said.
“Not only is there not fatigue — there is more interest,” Connolly said.
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks during an event where he congratulated astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch as they conduct the first all-female spacewalk, from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)