What once seemed improbable now seems inevitable: America suddenly appears to be hurtling inexorably toward the impeachment of our 45th president. It is happening with the speed of light, right before our disbelieving eyes. But it is real.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump's chroniclers and critics looked up from their keyboards and saw on their news screens that reality was changing even faster than they could type. They saw a fighting-mad Trump, performing as the White House's one-man impeachment war room, now-brazenly saying and doing precisely what he'd long denied he ever did. They heard him pressuring Ukraine and China's presidents to dig up political dirt on his leading 2020 Democratic campaign opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter.
Soon our news screens were filled with legal experts explaining why that was an impeachable crime. Even if there was no openly stated quid pro quo of what Trump will give these countries if they help him win re-election. Quid pro quos are rarely explicit and obvious, mostly implied and understood by all.
And -- faster than you can say "Mueller who?" -- House Democratic leaders seemed to be determined to act upon the new reality that was delivered to them, live on their news screens, by the president.
What we saw Thursday was hardly comparable to what we had witnessed back in the sweltering summer of 1974. President Richard Nixon's political demise had seemed to play out in stunning slow-motion on our television screens: The Supreme Court unanimously ordered Nixon to release his secretly recorded and transcribed conversations. Experts took forever, poring over the transcripts -- until finally they discovered the meeting where we read Nixon's own words as he planned the Watergate cover-up he had long denied even knowing about. Nixon was forced to resign in the face of certain House impeachment and Senate conviction.
But if that was Nixon's impeachment smoking gun, what we just saw on our news screens Thursday seemed more like a fiery president who was morphing into his own impeachment flamethrower.
Trump was putting it all out there, in his own words -- and he damn well wanted us all to hear what he was saying!
Just days earlier, Trump had ducked a question about what he really wanted Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to do about the Bidens. But, when asked again on Thursday, Trump surprisingly stopped ducking and answered:
"Well, I would think that if they were honest about it, they would start a major investigation into the Bidens. It's a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens."
Then Trump escalated his global quest for campaign help: "China should start an investigation into the Bidens. Because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine." Minutes earlier, when asked about his trade-and-tariff war with China, Trump had said: "I have lots of options on China, but if they don't do what we want, we have tremendous power."
Trump seemed proud to be showcasing his quid pro quo diplomacy. Also on Thursday, Trump's newly resigned special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, told House impeachment investigators that he had warned Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani that he couldn't trust info from Ukraine politicians about the Bidens or anything else. And House Democrats revealed a trove of texts in which mid-level Trump officials discussed their understanding that Trump made Ukraine probing of the Bidens a quid pro quo for receiving military aid to fight Russian-aided rebels.
In a Sept. 1 text, U.S. Charge d'Affairs to Ukraine Bill Taylor asks U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland: "Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting (between Trump and Zelenskiy) are conditioned on investigations (of the Bidens)?
Sondland, not wanting to text about such things, replies: "Call me." And apparently they talked; because, on Sept. 9, Taylor again texted Sondland: "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."
Sondland, a Trump loyalist, protects his patootie and texts for the record that "The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo of any kind." And of course he adds: "I suggest we stop the back and forth by text."
Got it. But Thursday, The Boss made the need for such text silence certifiably moot. Trump fired up his inner flamethrower and blasted it all out there, for all the world to see. No doubt there are a lot of singed eyebrows in Trump's White House press corps, as my colleagues await their next enlightening newsbreak.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive.