When pressuring foreign leader, Trump pursued his interests, not ours

Updated

It was one week ago today that Donald Trump published a pair of tweets, offering his first real defense against the scandal that’s likely to lead to his impeachment. Now that we have quite a bit more information about the controversy, it’s worth taking a few moments to revisit his initial pushback.

“Another Fake News story out there - It never ends! Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem!

“Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially ‘heavily populated’ call.

“I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!”

The president’s defense, such as it was, seemed rather laughable at the time, but it’s quite a bit worse seven days later. We were supposed to believe only “dumb” people would be so foolish as to think Trump would say “inappropriate” things to a foreign leader with so many people listening.

Now, of course, we know Trump said inappropriate things anyway – and plenty of White House officials knew it.

But of particular interest was the final line of the president’s tweets: Trump, he assured the public, would “only do good for the USA!”

And to a very real extent, this touches on one of the most offensive elements of the larger scandal.

Tim Carney, an editor at the Washington Examiner, a conservative outlet, posed a thoughtful question yesterday: “Can anyone argue that Trump was pursuing the national interest in this phone call?”

In theory, it shouldn’t be necessary to ask a question like this. A sitting American president, speaking with a foreign leader, should obviously focus on the interests of the United States. It’s part of the job.

Except in the Trump era, Americans are led by someone with a very different sense of what the job entails. Reading over the rough transcript released by the White House yesterday, practically everything the Republican told his Ukrainian counterpart was part of a duplicitous agenda, pushed by Trump to get a foreign country to help his re-election campaign.

That wasn’t part of a larger conversation; for the American leader, it was the point of the conversation.

When it comes to balancing our interests and his, Trump doesn’t see it as much of a contest.