by Chris Johnson/Washington Blade
Courtesy National LGBT Media Association
Impeachment talked swirled Wednesday amid a week of bombshell news reports that President Trump revealed classified information during a meeting with Russian officials and potentially committed obstruction of justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey after he refused to drop his investigation of Michael Flynn’s Russia ties.
Although Trump’s opponents, including those in LGBT community, continued to use phrases like “special prosecutor” and “bipartisan commission,” the sense was palpable that Trump’s end was near if further information emerges confirming the media accounts and that corroboration may come very soon.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, said appropriate action against Trump “would include impeachment” if the investigation reveals malfeasance.
“That said, Donald Trump should have been disqualified as a candidate when he bragged about groping women’s crotches, mocked a disabled journalist, called for a racist, unconstitutional and xenophobic Muslim ban, and characterized black people as living only in crime-ridden, drug infested areas of the country,” Carey added. “His racism and misogyny make him unfit for the office of the president. The past few days of sharing classified information with Russian diplomats and firing the FBI director in what may be an act of retaliation for refusing to drop an investigation has only put a finer point on this reality.”
On Tuesday, the Washington Post broke the first bombshell story, reporting Trump in a meeting last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov disclosed code-word level classified information on the Islamic State and intelligence agencies had to work to contain the damage. The White House denied the accuracy of the report, but the next day Trump said on Twitter he has the right to disclose classified information, seemingly corroborating the Post report.
Mike Sexton, a gay D.C.-based national security analyst for a prominent security and risk management firm, said Trump’s disclosure could disrupt U.S. relations with Israel — which was later reported as the initial source of the information — and could indicate Trump — wittingly or not — is a Russian pawn.
“This damages our trust with our closest ally in the Middle East and will make it harder to succeed in our counterterrorism efforts,” Sexton said. “I think this underscores a point Michael Hayden made during the election that Trump may be a useful idiot — polezni durak — of the Russian Federation. It is fallacious to assume that, for Trump to serve as an intelligence asset for the Russian government, he must be acting under the threat of blackmail or even witting of his status as an asset for the Russians.”
The next day, the New York Times broke the major story on a memo written by Comey prior to his termination in which he recorded Trump telling him to drop the investigation of Flynn’s ties to Russia. That account was corroborated by FBI officials aware of the conversation between Comey and Trump.
A White House official in the aftermath of the Washington Post report insisted Trump at no time asked Comey to discontinue his investigation of Flynn before terminating the FBI director.
“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” the official said. “The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
The White House official also cited congressional testimony from acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe in which he said the White House hasn’t interfered with any FBI investigation to date.
Speaking to graduating cadets Wednesday morning at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Trump lamented his treatment as president when urging them to pursue their goals, suggesting the media were unfairly targeting him.
“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media,” Trump said. “No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can’t let them get you down, you can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.”
Vocal in calling to impeach Trump after the reports was Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who called for Trump’s removal from office on the House floor on the basis the president engaged in obstruction of justice.
“I do not do this for political purposes, Mr. Speaker,” Green said. “I do this because I believe in the great ideals that this country stands for — liberty and justice for all, the nation that we should have government of the people, by the people, for the people. I do it because, Mr. Speaker, there is a belief in this country that no one is above the law, and that includes the president of the United States of America.”
The more mainstream reaction from congressional Democrats was a discharge petition on Swalwell-Cummings’ Protecting Our Democracy Act, which would establish an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate Trump-Russia ties and interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), among the leaders of that effort and top Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee, urged Democrats in an interview Wednesday on CNN not to rush to impeachment, saying that would be a “wrenching experience” for the country.
“We need to get to the bottom of what took place,” Schiff said. “What was the president’s intent of doing this? Was he trying to shut down a legitimate prosecution? Was he doing it because ultimately he was worried the trail might lead back to him?”
A Human Rights Campaign spokesperson pointed to a video the organization created a calling for a special prosecutor and said “that’s all we have at this point” when asked about the question of impeachment.
Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said an independent investigation is the right course of action at this time, but impeachment may be the appropriate action after that’s concluded.
“We strongly support an independent investigation of reported allegations that President Trump tried to interfere with FBI investigations of Flynn and possibly of the president himself,” Minter said. “If those allegations are substantiated, he should be impeached. This administration’s corruption, abuse of power, and disrespect for the rule of law have already created serious grounds for concern. The new allegations, if accurate, cross a dangerous line and threaten the integrity of our system of checks and balances to a degree that would warrant impeachment.”
Trump’s impeachment could have serious consequences for LGBT people. It would elevate to the Oval Office Vice President Mike Pence, who has had a strong relationship with social conservatives and may seek to enable anti-LGBT discrimination, such as by signing a “religious freedom” executive order, in ways thus far that Trump has declined to do.
Republicans in Congress had mixed reactions in the aftermath of the report on the Comey memo. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who’s leading the Russia investigation in Congress as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, expressed skepticism to reporters and said the onus is on the New York Times to produce the document despite his own power of subpoena.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who’d be responsible for moving forward with impeachment in the House, urged against jumping to conclusions following the Comey memo and said “we need the facts” before proceeding.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chair of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Relations, issued a letter to the FBI calling on the FBI to produce no later than May 24 notes on communications between Comey and Trump, saying on Twitter he’s ready to subpoena the information.
Also reluctant to jump to conclusions was Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, who compared media reports on the Trump wrongdoing to press accounts predicting he’d sign an executive order enabling anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of “religious freedom.”
“I’d caution on any rushes to judgment — especially by the LGBT press, which had egg all over its face twice this year after unfounded stories similarly supplied by ‘unnamed sources’ regarding a supposedly ‘confirmed’ anti-LGBT religious freedom executive order were proven to be totally false,” Angelo said. “I’m waiting to see the facts. You should, too.”
Although Trump never issued a “religious freedom” order enabling anti-LGBT discrimination, those reports arguably created public attention that dissuaded him from that action.
Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, also cautioned against making the call for impeachment at this point and said the correct path is fact-gathering to make a stronger case.
“We would like the entire Trump administration swept out of office, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Davidson said. “The focus right now needs to be on getting Congress to do its job, conduct a proper investigation of the many troubling indications of wrongdoing, follow the evidence rather than spin or ‘alternative facts, and protect the Constitution and the nation.”