For more than two centuries, America has, by and large, adhered to a system of government that respects the separation of powers, allegiance to the Constitution, checks and balances and the rule of law. All of that has been upended by a whistleblower’s complaint against President Donald Trump and ensuing allegations of a cover-up.
At the center of the controversy is Trump’s alleged attempt to steer the 2020 election by using U.S. foreign aid as a bargaining chip to get a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a political opponent. An impeachment inquiry is underway to assess whether Trump abused his power when he pressed Ukraine’s president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Most alarming is a potential cover-up. Did the White House and/or Justice Department seek to hide evidence of wrongdoing by Trump? Separately, but connected: What role did Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, play in Ukraine, where he said he was sent at the direction of the State Department? And, is the integrity of the 2020 election compromised?
Good people often see bad things and speak up, which is what a brave whistleblower did in filing a complaint about Trump. The whistleblower understood the gravity of the situation, seeing discussions around U.S. weapons being sent to another country, the potential withholding of taxpayer assistance to Ukraine, calls and deals between presidents talking about elections and investigations, and the potential mishandling of classified information.
So, where do we go from here?
Americans need to take a collective breath. Members of Congress are home in their districts this week, and will take the pulse of voters. Meanwhile, congressional staff members have used the whistleblower complaint as a road map to investigate timelines and chronologies.
Patience is paramount if we are to keep partisan political hysteria at bay and not let it lead to civil unrest or violence. This is a moment for reflection, not reflexes.
Tara D. Sonenshine, a former U.S. undersecretary of state, advises students at The George Washington University.