Our capacity for shock in response to events surrounding Trump has died the death of a thousand cuts. But we should still be shaken to the core that the President of the United States is currently being blackmailed by his personal lawyer to avoid being thrown under the bus in a conspiracy to commit bribery and extortion against a domestic political opponent and on behalf a hostile power. Giuliani’s scheme so closely resembles a mafia movie that he has even threatened the release of a dead man’s drop “if anything happens to him.”
“I do not discuss conversations with my client. You can assume that I talk to him early and often and have a very very good relationship with him,” Giuliani said of Trump.
“And all of these comments – which are totally insulting – I’ve seen things written like, ‘he’s gonna throw me under the bus.’ When they say that, I say, ‘he isn’t, but I have insurance.’”
The former New York City mayor added that such allegations were “ridiculous,” stating that he and the President remain “very good friends” before claiming the existence of a conspiracy to frame Trump that dated back to President Barack Obama’s White House.
This has now moved beyond partisan politics, rule of law or the guardrails of democracy. It’s a clear and grave matter of national security.
Even if you’re a conservative who believes that Trump should be defended for opportunistic political reasons; even if you wrongly believe that the President should have the legal authority to push a foreign government to dig up dirt on a domestic political opponent; even if you are disengaged from reality enough to believe in conspiracy theories about Crowdstrike, the Bidens and the origins of the Russia investigation; even beyond all of that, the implications of Giuliani’s behavior are such that the President is too hopelessly compromised in his position to serve in office.
If Rudy Giuliani believes he has damaging enough information on the president to make it impossible for the president to push off blame for the Ukraine extortion conspiracy onto him, then functionally the entire Executive Branch of the American Government is subject to Giuliani’s whims. If the Republican Senate majority is so terrified of Donald Trump that they refuse to convict him despite the airtight case against him and despite the fact that his own personal lawyer at the center of the case feels he has enough dirt on Trump in the affair to blackmail him, then the blackmailer also has extraordinary power over the Senate as well.
It’s structurally intolerable for our system of government no matter what your politics may be. One of the biggest reasons impeachment exists for presidents is also one of the biggest reasons we normatively expect candidates for the highest office to release their tax returns: to ensure that the president is capable of making their own decisions without a puppetmaster operating in the background. Our Constitution gives the president extraordinary powers far greater than those of most other heads of state in constitutional democracies. If the president’s decision-making capacity is compromised through blackmail, then by extension so is the entire country. So too the entire world, insofar as the president determines global foreign policy.
Rumors of Putin holding the cards to control Trump have swirled around him ever since came down that fateful escalator, but so far there has only been smoke without a proven fire. Now, however, we know definitively that Rudy Giuliani does have that power over the president and is prepared to use it.
That functionally makes Rudy Giuliani, not Donald Trump, the unelected president of the United States. And keep in mind that Giuliani himself is in very hot legal water as his associates are arrested and threaten to testify against him.
Even Republicans motivated purely by political survival and unconcerned about rule of law or moral fairness around the Ukraine extortion issue itself, should at least be asking themselves if they’re willing to allow an open victim of blackmail to serve another year as president, much less five years. Do they run this country, or does Rudy Giuliani?