The curious timeline for taking down Trump
It’s three full years since President TrumpDonald John TrumpKey impeachment witnesses to know as public hearings begin Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren’s agenda Nunes demands Schiff testify behind closed doors in Trump impeachment inquiry MORE was elected.
Among those who predicted he could never win the election — or that he might have been conspiring with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCentrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren’s agenda NSC official testified there was ‘no doubt’ Trump pushed quid pro quo Bannon testifies that Trump campaign saw Stone as link to WikiLeaks MORE all along, worked for Russia’s President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinHarris swipes at Trump on Russia: ‘Always nice to spend time with supporters on the campaign trail’ Trump says he’s considering attending Russia’s May Day parade The curious timeline for taking down Trump MORE, would crash the U.S. stock market his first week in office, would ban all Muslims, would send illegal immigrants home en masse on buses and trains, and would start a nuclear war — there have been real concerns.
But to others, there are different concerns that have borne out. We continue to get evidence of an orchestrated effort among government insiders and the well-connected to take down President Trump at all costs. The public evidence indicates that the effort was hatched even before he took office.
Trump critics would argue that there was good reason to devise plots against him before he was inaugurated. His supporters would argue that the opposition has crossed the line into unlawful actions involving wiretapping and attempts to frame Trump and his associates.
In any event, we can build an oversimplified timeline to make the point:
Aug. 15, 2016: After FBI counterespionage chief Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page met with Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeThe curious timeline for taking down Trump Federal prosecutors interviewed multiple FBI officials for Russia probe review: report Brendan Gleeson lands Trump role in CBS miniseries based on Comey memoir MORE, Strzok texts Page that they couldn’t take the risk of Trump getting elected without having “an insurance policy” in place.
October 2016: Benjamin Wittes, founder of a left-wing liberal blog called “Lawfare” — as in the “use of law as a weapon of conflict” — writes, “What if Trump wins? We need an insurance policy against the unthinkable: Donald Trump’s actually winning the Presidency.” Wittes writes that his vision of an “insurance policy” would rely on a “Coalition of All Democratic Forces” to challenge and obstruct Trump, using the courts as a “tool” and Congress as “a partner or tool.” He even mentions impeachment — two weeks before Trump is elected.
Wittes has acknowledged being a good friend of fired FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyDeep engagement is a two-way street The curious timeline for taking down Trump Pence team denies anonymous author’s claim that he would have backed removal of Trump MORE. He spoke to a New York Times reporter about Comey’s interactions with President Trump right after Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerGowdy: I ‘100 percent’ still believe public congressional hearings are ‘a circus’ Comey: Mueller ‘didn’t succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency’ Fox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be ‘more serious’ than what Mueller ‘dragged up’ MORE‘s appointment as special counsel.
October 2016: The FBI begins a yearlong secret wiretap on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, which would have allowed intel officials access to information and conversations involving other Trump associates and possibly Trump himself. Page was never charged with any offense. The FBI never apologized for the unwarranted privacy intrusions. The lawfulness of the wiretap has been questioned.
Jan. 3, 2017: Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTop Senate Dem: Officials timed immigration policy around 2020 election Senate fight derails bipartisan drug pricing bills Trump has officially appointed one in four circuit court judges MORE (D-N.Y.) publicly warns Trump that if he took on the intelligence community, it has “six ways from Sunday to get back at you.”
Jan. 11, 2017: A Politico investigation concludes that Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump in the 2016 election with help from a Ukrainian American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee.
Jan. 30, 2017: Days after President Trump takes office, attorney Mark Zaid tweets that a “coup has started” and “impeachment will follow ultimately.” Zaid often deals with government investigations and clients in the intelligence community.
A few months later, still in 2017, Zaid tweets: “I predict @CNN will play a key role in @realDonaldTrump not finishing out his full term as president” and “We will get rid of him, and this country is strong enough to survive even him and his supporters.” Zaid also tweets that “as one falls, two more will take their place” and the “coup” would occur in “many steps.”
Zaid went on to represent the alleged whistleblower in the Trump impeachment effort. (Zaid has stated, in his own defense, that his mention of a “coup” simply referred to what he saw as a lawful attempt by attorneys to remove an unlawful president from office.)
May 17, 2017: Special counsel Robert Mueller begins investigating Trump.
August 2017: Trump critic and former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperThe curious timeline for taking down Trump Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the ‘whistleblower’ step forward Schiff: Barr ‘weaponizing’ DOJ ‘to go after the president’s enemies’ MORE is hired as an analyst at CNN. He attacks Trump regularly, at times with incorrect information.
Jan. 23, 2018: Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCentrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren’s agenda Nunes demands Schiff testify behind closed doors in Trump impeachment inquiry Chris Hayes and his audience troll Trump: ‘Yes, Read the Transcript!’ MORE publicly brags that he got Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor by threatening to withhold U.S. aid. The prosecutor was investigating Burisma, an energy company where Biden’s son had served on the board since 2014, when his father was vice president.
Feb. 1, 2018: Trump critic and former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanThe curious timeline for taking down Trump Brennan: Russian election interference ‘changed the mind of at least one voter’ Brennan responds to Trump tweet with advice for diplomats, intelligence agents and ‘other courageous patriots’ MORE is hired as an analyst for NBC and MSNBC, where he attacks Trump regularly, at times with incorrect information.
March 22, 2019: The special counsel’s probe ends without concluding that Trump or his associates conspired with Russia, despite what critics such as Brennan and Clapper long had claimed. Democrats are unable to unite on an impeachment push over the findings.
April 2019: Ukraine elects a new president. Former Vice President Biden’s son Hunter Biden steps down from the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
July 25, 2019: President Trump calls the newly elected president of Ukraine and asks for cooperation in a probe involving long-standing corruption in Ukraine along with alleged ties to U.S. Democrats and the 2016 campaign.
Aug. 12, 2019: Someone alleging to be a whistleblower files a complaint about the phone call with the intelligence community’s inspector general. The anonymous person alleges President Trump sought political dirt to use against Biden in 2020 as part of a “quid pro quo.” Quids pro quo aren’t inherently illegal or improper and are, in fact, a key component of most foreign aid. However, the whistleblower claims Trump is improperly withholding military aid from Ukraine for his own political purposes.
Sept. 9, 2019: The inspector general notifies the House Intelligence Committee about the complaint. Although Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffNunes demands Schiff testify behind closed doors in Trump impeachment inquiry Democrats aim to impeach Trump by Christmas Schiff told Gaetz to ‘absent yourself’ in fiery exchange: impeachment transcript MORE (D-Calif.) initially denies doing so, it turns out that he and his staff already had met with — or conspired with, depending on your view — the alleged whistleblower.
Sept. 24, 2019: House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP senator defends calling Pelosi ‘dumb’: ‘What I said was accurate’ Overnight Health Care: CDC links vitamin E oil to vaping illnesses | White House calls Pelosi drug price plan ‘unworkable’ | Dem offers bill for state-based ‘Medicare for All’ Democrats aim to impeach Trump by Christmas MORE (D-Calif.) announces an impeachment inquiry based on the alleged whistleblower’s claims.
On the same date, President Trump releases the transcript of his call with Ukraine’s president. There is no mention of a quid pro quo, political dirt, withholding aid or campaign 2020. Trump’s critics counter that these things were implicit. There is no evidence, however, that Ukraine provided Trump with “dirt” on Biden — a necessary component of an alleged quid pro quo.
Sept. 25, 2019: The president of Ukraine says he did not feel pushed by President Trump to investigate Biden or to take other action.
Oct. 31, 2019: The House approves impeachment process rules. The vote is largely along party lines, with two Democrats siding with Republicans.
It could be a coincidence that so many key names in this timeline — from John Brennan and James Comey, to Ukraine and CNN — factor into the Trump impeachment push. And, further, it could be a coincidence that we have ended up where some Trump critics said they hoped to be, even before he was sworn in.
On the other hand, in retrospect, the biggest surprise might be that, all things considered, it took them so long to get to this point.
Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times best-sellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program, “Full Measure.”