'A Blatant Effort to Intimidate a Witness'

Photo: Chip Somodevilla (Getty)

Every day, we are witnessing the complete breakdown of an American president in real time. This is a surreal thing to think about and experience, but it’s worth pointing out that, even as Trump is finally being forced to grapple with something resembling consequences for his actions, there’s still so much shit he’s getting away with.

To his credit, Rep. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chair who’s becoming a leading figure on impeachment, pointed this out today during a press conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Last week, Trump told a room full of friends that the Ukraine whistleblower was a “spy” who had committed treason, and implied that the whistleblower thus deserved to be executed. On Monday, Trump told a room full of reporters that the administration was “trying to find out about a whistleblower.”

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Schiff pointed out exactly what this in his press conference with Pelosi: “A blatant effort to intimidate a witness,” and an “incitement of violence.” Schiff also said that “any effort” by Trump or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “to interfere with Congress’s ability to call relevant witnesses will be considered evidence of obstruction of the lawful functions of Congress.”

Schiff is right: Trump is very publicly threatening a potential witness—perhaps the most important witness in the impeachment inquiry—and attempting to silence them. Last week, the whistleblower’s lawyer sent a letter to acting DNI Joseph Maguire expressing concern for his or her safety, specifically citing Trump’s aforementioned comments, as well as a $50,000 bounty on the whistleblower’s identity placed by right-wing grifters Jacob Wohl and Jack Burman.

Carelessly putting his political opponents in danger is nothing new for Trump, as we’ve seen with his continued attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar, and it’s quite possible that Trump believes this whistleblower is a political opponent he has to grapple with in a similar fashion. But for you, I, and anyone else, witness tampering is a criminal ass crime. (Ironically, this was one of the big themes of Trump rallies in 2016, that Hillary Clinton was getting away with things normal people would never be able to.)

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On a larger scale, this is just more evidence that we have two completely separate justice systems in America—one for the powerful and those who protect them and another for pretty much everyone else, with diminishing returns on justice for people of color. That Trump’s corrupt, senile, dipshit of a lawyer also happens to be one of the central villains of overpolicing and mass incarceration is a cruel joke.

It remains to be seen whether Schiff and the Democrats are actually willing to back this up in a way that they so far have been reluctant to, even as Trump’s allies ignore their subpoenas and refuse to testify and generally turn the whole thing into a circus when they do bother to show up. For now, though, it’s refreshing to see Democrats finally begin to talk about Trump and his sycophants in the administration as if they would anyone else who’s committed a serious crime and is unrepentant for it.

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