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When lawlessness becomes the norm

Somewhere, Roy Cohn is smiling.

What has essentially been proved to be at least part of a high-ranking intelligence official’s  whistleblower complaint — that an American president telephoned a newly-elected president of Ukraine (there is no “the” in the country’s name) to get him to investigate the son of one of his political rivals has everybody and his sister Sue’s panties in a wad, as well it should.

After all, the purpose of that call is nothing less than a mob-quality shakedown, complete with about $400 million in promised military aide carrots and  sticks, just the sort of tactic that the late infamous attorney for Joseph McCarthy, Donald Trump and various underworld figures was wont to favor highly.

And while it may well rise to the level of wrongdoing required for the drafting of an article of impeachment (which I still do not favor but suspect  may now be inevitable), it is by no means the worst aspect of this latest episode in the scandal in mini-series form that his been the Trump presidency.

Not even close.

Just when was it, exactly, that obedience to subpoenas and longstanding statutes became optional in this country? When did willfully ignoring the Rule of Law stop accruing consequences? When did the very underpinnings of the constitutional republic that is, or at least has been the United States of America begin to erode?

In this case, federal law passed in the wake  of the Nixon lawlessness mandates that if any whistleblower complaint is deemed credible and ‘urgent,” then the Director of National Intelligence “shall” confidentially deliver that complaint to the chairman of the House and Senate intelligence committees for their review and possible investigations.

That law has no caveats. It doesn’t say “might,” or “ought to,” or “should;” it says “shall,” and as a legal friend of mine points out, “there is no wiggle room in shall.”

But that law has not been obeyed. And the failure to do so lies at the heart of the disassembling of the doctrine of separation of powers that is taking place right in front of our eyes every day.

It seems that when what has to be at least a fairly high-ranking defense official (think Joint Chiefs of Staff level) became so alarmed at what he or she heard on a phone call between  the president of this country and that of Ukraine’s as to be moved to go through channels to file a whistleblower complaint, the intelligence agencies’ chief watchdog, an inspector general named Michael Atkinson, whose job it is to do such, judged that complaint serious enough to trigger the actions prescribed under the federal law.

And so he reported it to his boss, President Trump’s newly-appointed acting Director of National Intelligence, one Joseph McGuire—the fourth fellow in three years to get the job and the fourth to ostensibly try to get along with him enough to keep it.

And perhaps it was for that  reason alone that instead of doing what the statute tells him he “shall” do, instead of obeying the law, McGuire did not report the complaint to the congressional intelligence committees but instead reported it to Attorney General William Barr, apparently attempting to be the manifested answer to Trump’s famous rhetorical question: “Where  is my Roy Cohn?”

And Barr, the chief law enforcement official in the country, naturally told McGuire to break the law and stonewall Congress, while he and his lackeys created some alternative universe legal excuse for his doing so in which “shall” doesn’t mean what it does in what has been the operative one in the United States for 240 years.

It is the Trumpian juris prudence equivalent of the longstanding playground response: “Oh, yeah? Make me.”

So, what exactly do we have here?

What we have here is a sitting American president asking (again?) the president of a foreign country to dig up dirt on a political opponent with an implied threat of withholding millions in defense monies he desperately needs. Both Trump and his personal lawyer have effectively admitted doing it, which is to say confessing to having done it.

That’s bad enough.

But then when some patriot in the defense community catches him doing that and tries to sound the alarm, his would-be warning is squashed, the administration stonewalls and a feckless Congress wrings its hands and issues more of what heretofore have been empty threats to do this, that, or the other.

And, of course, the Constitution suffers one more body blow.

Just how many more can that great ole gal stand?

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.