Facing the very real threat of impeachment, Donald Trump still hasn't quite settled on a defense. In fact, in a pair of tweets this morning, the president suggested the conversation at the center of the scandal -- his July phone meeting in which he sought campaign assistance from Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky -- was completely innocuous.
"I had a simple and very nice call with with [sic] the new President of Ukraine, it could not have been better or more honorable," Trump insisted, adding, "It wasn't bad, it was very legal and very good."
Part of the problem with this clumsy effort at gaslighting is that his White House has already released a rough transcript of the call, and we've all seen its devastating contents. Another part of the problem is that even Trump's own aides disagreed with his ridiculous assertions.
In the aftermath of Trump pressing his Ukrainian counterpart to help with his political scheme, "the red flags began to go up" at the White House. As the New York Times added overnight, "The alarm among officials who heard the exchange led to an extraordinary effort to keep too many more people from learning about it."
That included, as the Wall Street Journal reported, the use of a computer server reserved for highly classified and sensitive secrets.
A highly secure computer system where aides to President Trump reportedly stashed the details of his call with Ukraine's leader is so secretive that even top White House national-security aides don't have regular access, according to former officials familiar with its operation.It is the most tightly controlled of at least four different computer systems used by the National Security Council staff, they said, and contains the most precious of American secrets: U.S. covert actions in other countries and counterintelligence probes aimed at finding spies within.The former officials -- some of whom worked for Democratic President Obama and some for Republican Mr. Trump -- expressed surprise and dismay at reports that White House aides used the system to try to "lock down" details of Mr. Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky.
It's worth pausing to appreciate the irony of the circumstances: three years after the political world's obsession with a separate Hillary Clinton computer server helped put Donald Trump in power, the White House is confronting a scandal over a separate computer server.
A Washington Post report added overnight:
The system where the transcript was reportedly stored is for transcripts in which leaders discuss highly classified information, such as covert operations. They can only be accessed with a code word, and a senior White House official must request the transfer of the document to this system, according to current and former administration officials.To transfer a call from the normal storage system to the National Security Council's code-word-protected network, a senior White House official -- someone as high as the chief of staff or the national security adviser -- must make a formal written request to do so, according to two people who worked with memos of calls with foreign leaders.
Let's pause to take stock. Trump pressured a foreign leader to assist in a political scheme intended to keep the Republican in power. It wasn't long before White House officials realized the president had gone way over the line. To cover-up Trump's abuse, they misused a tightly controlled computer system to hide the details of the Republican's conversation.
It's against this backdrop that Trump claims to have no idea why anyone would see the phone meeting as anything but "nice," "honorable," "legal," and "good."
The absurdity of such assertions notwithstanding, there are all kinds of relevant questions in need of answers. For example, who, specifically, directed officials to hide the conversation on the code-word-protected server? Who had that authority?
According to the intelligence community whistleblower, this wasn't an isolated incident. How many other transcripts were improperly buried on the server?
And as Rachel asked on the show last night, who has the authority to check that server for related abuses?