If this is Trump’s legal strategy, he needs new counsel. Cutting NSC staff won’t protect him from Congress’ power to call on key figures to testify about his behavior and alleged abuses of power — in fact it may motivate more officials to come forward and speak freely about what they’ve seen or heard.
One woman had a front-row seat to Trump’s romance with Russia and his posture toward Ukraine. As the former senior director for Europe and Russia at the NSC, Fiona Hill’s core responsibilities (if Trump let her fulfill them) should have included advising the President on all things Russia and Europe (including Ukraine); sitting in on all foreign meetings and engagements related to these topics; reviewing readouts; and helping run the official interagency process on her areas of responsibility.
Russia will definitely be listening to any news about what she says behind closed doors and will probably use it to continue their mission of sowing divisions in the US and undermining the credibility of our institutions, even though Trump is doing a good job of that already. All of this is an advantage to Russia.
Ambassador in name only
Giving someone the title of ambassador doesn’t mean that they’re actually implementing US foreign policy. We learned that reading Sondland’s text messages — including those with Rudy Giuliani. It appears his actual portfolio wasn’t high on his to-do list — instead he facilitated inappropriate communications between the President’s personal lawyer and Ukrainians. What we already know about his behavior undermines the credibility of the State Department, White House, and US foreign policy overall.
To top it off, the President, former national security adviser John Bolton, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — all of whom were mentioned in the text messages — were probably aware that he was freelancing on Ukraine instead of doing his actual job.
Plus, because of the official perch that Trump gave him, Sondland had access a whole host of European officials. Congress may also want to ask Sondland if he used his Rolodex for Rudy on more than one occasion in more than one location.
One of them — deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs George Kent — is also scheduled to testify next week, although the State Department may try to block his testimony like they did with Yovanovitch and Sondland.
Kent’s testimony may shine more light on Trump’s preference for using ambassadors like Sondland and Volker over seasoned professionals like Taylor, Kent, and Yovanovitch. His testimony will be key to Congress’s oversight responsibilities, and will likely cement the notion that career State Department officials were cut out of key conversations and punished just for doing their actual jobs while their boss Secretary of State Pompeo failed, and is failing to speak up for them.
Counselor of the US State Department Ulrich Brechbuhl listened in on Trump’s July 25th call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to the whistleblower complaint.
The fact that he was allowed to listen in on a POTUS call indicates his access to sensitive information; State Department officials don’t often have access to presidential calls. Any knowledge of or possible involvement in key issues like Yovanovitch’s recall, the delayed release of security assistance to Ukraine, or efforts to investigate Biden, for example, will probably be top of mind for Congress.
But because Pompeo really led two different Departments — one staffed by career officials doing their actual jobs and another in which political appointees engaged in extracurricular activities to please POTUS — whatever Brechbuhl has to say — if he’s allowed to testify — will have an impact on the State Department’s credibility. Brechbuhl will know Pompeo’s reactions to unseemly requests from the President and why Pompeo’s been so willing to let the President abuse power and potentially break the law.
The House has said that more depositions will be scheduled — and this may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to officials wanting to share their experiences with Congress. The White House and the State Department may try to block officials from speaking up, but that may only motivate them further.
Either way, the world is watching, listening, and reading about how several senior officials probably abused our system. That degrades our ability to implement credible foreign policy and for dedicated government officials to do their jobs as they are sidelined by those pursuing work on behalf of the President’s personal needs, and not US national security.