Sullivan's silence on Trump and Ukraine speaks volumes

Sen. Dan Sullivan, who is running for re-election, will do whatever he can to keep on the good side of President Donald Trump, as he has for almost three years.

After the release of the Access Hollywood tape on Oct. 7, 2016, Sullivan and Sen. Lisa Murkowski were among those who said Trump should not be president. Sullivan said the “reprehensible revelations about Donald Trump have shown that he can't” lead on the issue of sexual assault and domestic violence.

“Donald Trump should step aside. I will support Governor Mike Pence for president,” Sullivan said.

After Trump was elected, Sullivan and nearly every other Republican no longer found “reprehensible revelations” to be a concern.

When he is not imagining that Trump is focused on infrastructure or pretending that Trump has demonstrated an ability to make the world a less dangerous place, Sullivan strives to avoid saying anything that might rub Trump the wrong way.

In his recent speech to Republicans in Fairbanks, Gov. Mike Dunleavy quoted Trump as saying, “Mike, I really like you and I really like Dan Sullivan,” a statement that is probably as true as anything Trump has said as president. You only qualify for such praise from Trump when you genuflect and never question his judgment.

Trump failed to mention whether he really likes Murkowski, probably because she has called out Trump on occasion, something that Sullivan won’t do, and Trump demands loyalty.

Earlier this year, Trump hinted that he wanted to punish Murkowski and might have opposed oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but didn’t take that step. He was lying about his role in getting ANWR inserted into the tax bill.

Sullivan knows that Trump enjoys the backing of Republican voters in Alaska, so it is not surprising that Sullivan wants to stay on the good side of the president, regardless of what Trump does.

The whistleblower complaint about Trump trying to trade foreign assistance for help in his re-election campaign may be the most serious transgression of all. Sullivan should have something to say on it.

But when asked by public radio reporter Liz Ruskin, “Whether you thought it was OK for the president be discussing. . .”, Sullivan didn’t wait to hear the rest of the question about Trump and the president of Ukraine.

“I have no comment on that until I see what the facts are,” he said. “I’m not going to learn the facts from reading it in the press.”

Sullivan and every other politician in history has been known to comment on issues before the facts are in. He does this all the time when it suits him.

On March 29, for instance, nearly three weeks before a redacted version of the Mueller report was made public, Sullivan declared, “Now that the Mueller investigation is over, we can put to bed the persistent and erroneous allegations that President Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians to get him elected.”

Whenever it is a contentious issue about Trump wrongdoing, Sullivan’s standard move is to play it safe by saying as little as possible for as long as possible.

So far, the only way to learn any of the facts about the Ukraine caper is from the press. Sullivan could have made a comment that the American people deserve the truth from Trump, but he didn’t.

To her credit, Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the news reports about Trump are “very concerning,” a weak phrase, but one that she fell into because a reporter asked the question that way.

In August, 2018, Sullivan was asked about the campaign finance allegations made against Trump by his former attorney, Michael Cohen, and whether the Senate should investigate.

Look, the process is playing out, I’m going to be engaged on this on the judiciary side, but there’s a lot of investigations going on right now. I’ll get back to you on whether I think that’s a good idea, but my initial reaction is the Senate is pretty engaged right now on these issues, with Mueller.”

Perhaps the most telling example of Sullivan’s consistency in defending Trump is found in the form letters his office sends to constituents who ask him to counteract something the president has done or failed to do.

“As you know, President Trump is an unconventional president, who communicates in unconventional ways,” Sullivan wrote in a Sept. 19, 2017 form letter to Ben Muse of Juneau. “However, the communication coming from the White House must remain factual and accurate.”

Muse wrote to Sullivan last week to express alarm about what Trump did regarding Ukraine and the 2020 election.

The Sullivan form letter sent him as a reply contains much of the same language as two years ago: “As you know, President Trump is an unconventional president, who communicates in unconventional ways. However, the communication coming from the White House must remain factual and accurate.”

Muse responded to Sullivan Monday that “the giveaway or ‘tell’ in your letter is really your use of the word ‘unconventional’ as a euphemism for lawless.”

On Tuesday, after House Democrats announced plans for an impeachment inquiry, Sullivan released a statement of opposition, saying “the rush to being impeachment proceedings—even before the most basic information is has been released—is consistent with a pattern by the national Democrats and national media since President Trump was first elected.”

Sullivan’s statement said nothing about Trump’s pressure on Ukraine.

On Wednesday, the White House released a statement about the text of the phone call. In this version, which is probably incomplete, Trump clearly pressures the president of Ukraine for help in digging up information about former Vice President Joe Biden. The reasonable interpretation is that Trump was using his position and aid to Ukraine as a means to advance his re-election campaign.

Sullivan may be right that not all of the facts are in. But there are enough for Congress to start an impeachment inquiry.

Dermot Cole11 Comments