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  1. Opinion

I could be a whistleblower. So could anyone with a TV.

Flagrant violations are still wrong, even if made in public. | Catherine Rampell
On Oct. 17, 2019, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney arrives to a news conference, in Washington. On Sunday, Oct. 20, on "Fox News Sunday," after acknowledging the Trump administration held up aid to Ukraine in part to prod the nation to investigate the 2016 elections, Mulvaney defended Trump’s decision to hold an international meeting at his own golf club, although the president has now dropped that plan. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File) [EVAN VUCCI | AP]
Published Oct. 22
Catherine Rampell, Washington Post columnist

I would like to file a whistleblower complaint. With whom, I don’t know exactly. But the information I have demands to be heard.

It will document how President Donald Trump has set policy for his own personal gain and how senior White House aides have been in on the scam all along.

Not that it really matters, but my complaint isn't based on "hearsay." I have witnessed these actions firsthand. You might wonder how. After all, I don't work in the White House or on Trump's legal team; in fact, I've never met some of the people involved.

I haven’t been bugging presidential phone calls or meetings. I likewise don’t work at the Internal Revenue Service or for Trump’s accounting firm. But I’m a direct witness nonetheless, and I have the goods. You know why? Because I, uh, own a TV.

Repeatedly and often in real time, Trump has told me -- as well as any other members of the public who happened to have left the television on while cooking dinner or jogging on the treadmill -- that he's been pushing foreign leaders to take actions for his own private benefit.

I first witnessed this in 2016, when, during a live-televised news conference, then-candidate Trump asked "Russia, if you're listening," to hack into his political rival Hillary Clinton's emails.

I then witnessed another solicitation this month. It happened when the president told the cameras that he wanted the Ukrainian government to help smear a 2020 political rival, former vice president Joe Biden.

Yes he also did this in a now-infamous July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and his diplomats confessed as much in now-released text messages. But more importantly, and incontrovertibly, Trump made the exact same request in public, from the White House lawn.

"They should investigate the Bidens," Trump told assembled journalists -- as well as those of us watching at home.

In fact, during that same appearance, he also said he wanted another country -- in this case, China -- to conduct its own investigation into Biden.

These comments didn’t amount to a rumor of solicited foreign interference in our elections; this was the live commission of the act itself. As with the Ukraine “favor,” this was a request Trump had initially made during a private phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to leaked reports.

But anonymous leaks about private phone calls aren't necessary to prove that he's selling out U.S. democracy. Not when he's doing it in public, too.

The president's senior staffers have also confirmed -- again, live, in my living room -- that they're helping Trump rig policy for his private gain. They've even declared that these are unremarkable, everyday happenstances.

Take last week's White House news briefing. Asked whether the administration's decision to withhold aid from Ukraine was part of a "quid pro quo" in exchange for a Ukrainian commitment to look into a debunked conspiracy theory, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney replied: "We do that all the time with foreign policy."

During that same news conference, Mulvaney announced that the president had awarded himself a highly lucrative government contract for next year's Group of Seven summit -- in blatant contravention of norms, government ethics and possibly federal procurement law. After pushback from members of his own party, Trump reversed the decision. But the next morning, Mulvaney defended this attempted self-dealing by declaring on Fox News that, "At the end of the day, [Trump] still considers himself to be in the hospitality business."

Which is, you know, the problem here, and what all who tuned in should now be ratting him out for.

What I describe is neither entrapment nor deep-state surveillance. Administration officials are fully aware that they're accruing legions of witnesses and would-be whistleblowers. Still, they seem unconcerned; they merely suggest that the nation's laws don't apply to this presidency. Just Monday, Trump told reporters that the emoluments clause -- a constitutional provision barring federal officials from accepting things of value from a foreign state -- was "phony."

During the 2016 campaign, Trump said that he wouldn’t lose any voters even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. Most of us took this to mean he believed his fans wouldn’t abandon him despite the many witnesses who’d see such a crime. But, in retrospect, perhaps he meant that they wouldn’t abandon him because the crime would be public. The flagrancy itself would shield him.

Time to prove him wrong, fellow witnesses. You know how to whistle, don't you?

Catherine Rampell’s email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

© 2019 Washington Post Writers Group

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