Trump’s impeachment is about much more than a phone call

Updated

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), reiterating his exceedingly narrow defense of Donald Trump, declared last night that Senate Republicans will never support impeaching the president over “this phone call.” This morning, Trump added in his latest all-caps tweet, “Read the transcript!”

At issue, of course, is Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which the Republican urged his counterpart to do him a “favor” by helping go after Trump’s domestic political opponents. Though there is no word-for-word transcript, the publicly available call summary is obviously incriminating.

We know that many Republicans said it was a “huge mistake” for the White House to release the call summary. We know that the top expert on Ukraine on the White House National Security Council believed Trump crossed a line during the phone meeting. We know at least one White House official tried to cover up details of the call. We know one of the top Senate Republicans recently conceded that the emerging picture from the impeachment inquiry “is not a good one” for the president.

And we know this scandal is about more than one phone call.

I’ve lost count of how many times Lindsey Graham has suggested the Trump/Zelensky phone meeting is the sole basis for the impeachment inquiry. It is not. NBC News had a good piece along these lines last week.

[I]n some 65 hours of testimony … along with public comments from Trump, his aides and allies, a portrait is emerging of a quid pro quo that evolved over time, with the president progressively upping the ante when his demands were not met.

What started as a bid to leverage Zelenskiy’s hopes for a White House meeting took on added dimensions….

This is not to downplay the importance of Trump’s direct pressure on Zelensky on July 25. That matters. But as recent revelations help make clear, there are a whole lot of related truths that also matter.

At issue is a months-long effort involving multiple meetings across multiples agencies, involving a sizable cast of characters. The July 25 call is a piece of an ugly mosaic, which, when seen in context, reflects a scandalous extortion scheme implicating the president in radical and legally dubious abuses.

The amateur president didn’t blurt out something foolish during a phone call, which might seem easier to defend. He participated in a much larger effort.

Putting aside questions about Trump’s limitations, I suspect Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, knows this. I also suspect that if he were to acknowledge these factual details, he’d have to abandon his current head-in-the-sand posture.

And so the senator and his cohorts continue to play a tired and partisan game.