WASHINGTON — Forget that drain-the-swamp nonsense. Now President Trump wants to fill the moat.
Over at the failing New York Times, Michael D. Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis composed one of the most delightfully revealing paragraphs of the Trump era:
"Privately, the president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate. He wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh. After publicly suggesting that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal. But later in a meeting, aides recalled, he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. That's not allowed either, they told him."
I picture Trump explaining to baffled aides how migrants, bleeding from gunshot wounds to their legs, could still crawl across the border, as if they weren't impoverished humans but the first wave of the Zombie Apocalypse. I picture, too, the unlucky procurement officer, tasked with producing the moat's "cost estimate," calling reptile farms for bulk pricing on alligators and water moccasins:
"Do your alligators eat migrants?"
"Errr. I'm not sure I -- "
"Never mind. We'll take 1 million."
Trump denied the report, perhaps because it made him sound like Dr. Evil proposing to mount lasers on sharks. But the alligators-and-snakes report had a ring of truth.
This is because Trump specializes in similarly clumsy strategies, most recently in battling the impeachment inquiry. Moats, alligators, snakes, flesh-piercing spikes and below-the-belt shots: It's an apt metaphor for the administration's defense as it tries to block the probe with all the subtlety and nuance of medieval siege warfare.
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Watch as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo builds the moat, Attorney General William Barr plays the alligator, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani acts the snake, Trump launches flesh-piercing spikes from his trebuchet — and the four of them fire shots indiscriminately at whistleblowers, civil servants and investigators.
The belligerent Pompeo, digging a trench between Trump and his inquisitors, ordered State Department officials not to provide testimony or documents to the congressional inquiry. Pompeo misled the public by implying that he knew nothing about the call between Trump and the Ukrainian president, finally admitting on Wednesday that he was on the call. At the same time, Pompeo has presided over a revival of the probe of Hillary Clinton's emails, as The Washington Post reported, this time ensnaring more people by retroactively relabeling old emails as classified.
Playing the alligator, Barr offers a (crocodilian) smile by day. But by night he submerges himself in the muck, stalking foreign officials — the Italians, the British, the Australians, the Ukrainians — for dirt that would hurt Trump's political opponents. At the heart of Barr's probe is a conspiracy theory that Trump's former homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, says he long ago warned Trump had been "completely debunked."
Reprising his role of snake in Trump's impeachment defense is Giuliani, who in Trump's name has given endless media interviews making the false allegation that Joe Biden bribed Ukrainian officials to get his son out of legal jeopardy. Now, The Post reports, House investigators are examining whether Giuliani has been using his work for Trump to advance his clients' interest.
Trump produces the flesh-piercing barbs himself — in great quantity. He shared a warning that impeachment would "cause a Civil War." On Wednesday, he told his 65 million Twitter followers that the investigation is "BULL****" and "nothing short of a coup." In the Oval Office with the Finnish president, Sauli Niinisto, Trump sounded off about the "corrupt" Biden, "crazy" Nancy Pelosi and "Shifty Schiff," a "lowlife" who "couldn't carry his blank-strap" -- apparently referring to a jockstrap. Officials, Trump said, "should look at him for treason," a capital offense.
Responded Niinisto: "Finland is the happiest country in the world."
Finally, there's the shoot-out-their-legs technique. Trump and his team have already mowed down the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, a well-regarded civil servant, who was recalled after Giuliani publicly criticized her; she apparently raised concerns about Giuliani's shadow agenda in Ukraine. Kurt Volker, the former U.S. representative for Ukraine negotiations, was reportedly forced by Pompeo to resign, serving as scapegoat for Giuliani's mischief. Trump now hopes to inflict worse injuries on the whistleblower, a "spy" who has committed "treason" worthy of execution. He claims that he is "entitled" to "learn everything about" the whistleblower — dubbed by the White House a "saboteur" of democracy.
Shots fired. The snakes are slithering out of the moat. See you later, alligator.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post.