The US media are being way too protective of President Donald Trump in reporting on his Ukraine scandal.
The Don(ald) grew up in New York City and is known to have had his share of dealings with mobsters there in the course of his scandal-plagued real estate career, thanks to well-documented Mafia control over key parts of the construction industry in the city, to his affinity for the casino business (another mob-infested industry), and to Trump’s willingness to deal with them. And it appears he has adopted Cosa Nostra lingo along the way.
In a video/audio tape of a conversation the president had with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and two of Giuliani’s business associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, concerning the US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, recorded during a dinner event, Trump, who was trying to have Yovanovitch ousted and replaced as ambassador, can be heard yelling to Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman, “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it!”
Now, it’s easy for the president (who against all evidence claims not to know Parnas and Furman) to say, “Oh, I was just telling them I wanted her fired,” but there is a problem with that benign explanation. Guiiani has no government position. He cannot fire an ambassador. Neither could either Fruman or Parnas. Only the State Department and Secretary Mike Pompeo would have the power to do that, on the president’s orders. So telling them to “get rid of” the ambassador is pointless…unless he meant he wanted her removal done in a different, more direct and more permanent, way.
What we know Trump was doing, from a series of witnesses’ testimony at the impeachment hearings in the House Intelligence and House Judiciary Committees, was running a private operation under Giuliani’s direction, to try and dig up dirt on and to kick-start a Ukraine government investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his Ukrainian energy company paid-consultant son Hunter. As part of that defamation project, Trump wanted Yovanovitch (a career diplomat who over 33 years had worked in the State Department under six presidents), removed as ambassador because she was deemed insufficiently supportive of that effort.
The problem is that it certainly could sound to the ear of one familiar with both Hollywood crime movies, and also with New York mob lingo (I spent 12 years living in New York and reading the columns of the great journalist Jimmy Breslin, who personally knew plenty of local mobsters and wrote about them regularly in Daily News columns and in his novels) as if the president were not just trying to have Yovanovitch fired — something he himself could easily have ordered — but rather was asking to have her rubbed out, whacked, taken for a one-way ride.
Ya know whaddaye mean?
Now maybe the president was just playing tough guy in this conversation with his banter with pal Giuliani and friends. But those two friends both hail from Ukraine, and were operating in a county notorious for its gangs and where hits on opponents, including political opponents, are commonplace occurances. So there’s a significant risk that when Trump said something like “take her out” or “get rid of her,” such phrases could be misconstrued by others as a call to whack her and dump her body in an alley in Kiev somewhere.
No wonder Yovanovitch testified (see transcript page 128) (see transcript page 128) before the House impeachment hearing in November that she had received an alarming call back on April 24 of last year from State Department Director General Carol Perez warning her to get on the “next plane out” of Kiev for Washington and telling her, after she pressed for the reason, that it was “for my security, that this was for my well-being, people were concerned.” No wonder she testified that she still felt frightened and personally threatened by the president’s campaign to remove her as ambassador.
Let’s be clear. The US government has a sordid history of ordering that people be whacked. The CIA over the years has made plenty of political hits, both foreign and domestic. In addition to the murder of Ngo Din Diem in Vietnam, and there is reason to believe that agency and’or the FBI may have been involved in the deaths of John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, as the well as the police murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton. So it shouldn’t be that shocking for anyone to speculate about whether this president who now runs both those agencies, as well as a rogue operation in Ukraine under former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Giuliani, might have considered having a bothersome ambassador “removed” by means other than firing.
Certainly the president was, even under the most cautious and benign interpretation of his statement to Giuliani and his henchmen, careless in the extreme in his choice of language in this particular situation.
There is a story, probably apocryphal and the work of rabid anti-Communists in Russia or the US, about Vladimir Lenin, shortly after the victory of his Bolshevik revolution, being handed a list of enemies of the revolution who had been detained. Thinking he’d just been shown the list for his information, Lenin is said to have drawn a line through the list of names to show he had seen it. The people on the list, however, were in this account then taken out and summarily executed on the incorrect assumption that this was Lenin’s intention.
I don’t know if this alleged story is true, but certainly at that time and in that place, with the Bolshevik’s hold on power still tenuous and under serious threat from powerful counter-revolutionary forces, and the government itself still in a state of formation and in organizational turmoil, it’s easy to imagine its having happened.
Just so in today’s Ukraine, where a new government just having won office in a surprise landslide electoral win, and where there was intense pressure coming from Trump and his representatives — official and unofficial — in Ukraine, to “go after” the Bidens. At such a time, someone trying to curry favor with the US president could have easily taken the words “Take her out” and “Get rid of her” to mean something darkly different than “make her leave Ukraine.”
Trump is clearly obsessed with power and hanging on to it as he heads towards a November election that could see him, already disgraced by a House impeachment vote, also ousted from the White House by disgusted voters. Maybe he was hoping someone would oblige him by whacking the ambassador. I don’t have a hard time imagining that. Remember as also testified in the House impeachment hearings, Trump also said on one phone call concerning Yovanovitch, “She’s going to go through some things.”
But even if he was not that psychotic, his choice of words with his associates could have led to that result.
What a country we live in!