Josh Marshall begins his analysis by emphasizing the importance of the words we use to describe the situation.
Over the last two days, I’ve been trying to take stock of the quick rush of new details about this emerging Trump/Ukraine scandal. It is clear purely on the basis of what is now undisputed in the record that the President and Rudy Giuliani are guilty of a criminal abuse of power and that most or all of the President’s top national security advisors have been complicit in and quite likely participated in that criminal activity.
But before we can really understand this story in any coherent way we need to realize that many of the words and concepts are simply wrong. Indeed they pack the criminal conduct and deception into the very vocabulary we use. That makes it next to impossible to make sense of what’s actually going on.
Josh points first to the standard description of this scandal: Rudy Giuliani pressing the government of Ukraine to launch an investigation of Joe Biden and his son Hunter. That, as Josh writes, is inaccurate. There has already been a thorough investigation of these allegations, and absolutely no wrongdoing was uncovered. So what’s being demanded isn’t an investigation. Trump and Giuliani are demanding that Ukraine manufacture damaging and false information.
The U.S. government has ample resources to conduct its own investigations and little compunction about investigating bad acts that Americans commit abroad. Indeed, there’s a whole set of laws to cover corrupt acts by Americans abroad. To the extent the FBI needs assistance of local law enforcement, treaties or geo-strategic clout will make that happen. The central claim – that Biden got a Ukrainian prosecutor fired to protect his son – is preposterous on its face to anyone who followed what was happening at the time…When you demand an “investigation” when investigations have already happened and there’s demonstrably nothing to investigate, this is a mislabeling of what is happening. You’re pressuring someone to manufacture damaging information – in this case, using the existential threat of withholding great power military support.
Also misused is the frequent identification of Giuliani as “the President’s private lawyer.” Marshall explains why crazy Rudy is not acting as a lawyer– and why the appropriate designation is the President’s ambassador, and that is incredibly dangerous. It allows Giuliani to speak with the authority of and issue threats on behalf of the President of the United States, “and conduct what amounts to personal diplomacy in the President’s interest” unrestricted by the rules governing public officials.
Giuliani is President Trump’s personal ambassador and Ukraine isn’t his only stomping ground. He has continued to work for the MEK, the Iranian dissident group until recently classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, while President Trump tries to topple the government of Iran. Josh Kovensky assembled this list of nine other countrieswhere Giuliani has traveled, since becoming Trump’s “personal lawyer” for either private consulting or speaking engagements: Armenia, Ukraine, Turkey, Bahrain, Qatar, Israel, Albania, France and Poland. Giuliani has been doing foreign consulting work with regimes around the world since 2002, leveraging his reputation as Mr. 9/11. So foreign consulting isn’t new for Giuliani. But it’s impossible to imagine that his juice hasn’t been turbocharged to an infinite degree by the fact that he is now the personal emissary of the President of the United States. It also seems quite unlikely he isn’t doing business for the President too, either for the President’s businesses or for his political protection.
The U.S. Constitution gives the American President great power to conduct foreign policy and enforce the laws on behalf of the Republic. They are delegated specifically for that purpose, much as a private individual might delegate to an investment advisor or attorney the power to act on the individual’s behalf or in their interest. The President also has great latitude to decide what is in the national interest. But when he or she clearly uses those powers – which are massively inflated by the power of the American state – to profit personally or defend his personal interests they immediately become an abuse of power. When they are used to interfere with conducting a free and fair election in the U.S. they clearly constitute criminal abuse of power.
The words here matter. Giuliani is the President’s private diplomat, private ambassador. If those words are too rich for your blood call him the President’s personal representative. Whatever it is, the President has given him the power to threaten and negotiate with the full weight of presidential power for Donald Trump’s private gain. That’s not lawyering. He’s not a “personal lawyer.” And he’s asking a foreign power to manufacture evidence to tamper with a U.S. presidential election.
If this isn’t a constitutional crisis, nothing is.