In the era of Trump, commentators regularly draw on a chess metaphor to describe the tactics employed by the Trumpists and those eager to end this national nightmare. How many times, following one of Donald Trump’s self-inflicted wounds, do we hear, “The Democrats are playing chess, while Trump is playing checkers.” I wish it were that simply. Especially when Trump claims Article II of the Constitution allows him to ANYTHING he wants. Is that not the checkers equivalent of reaching the opponent’s side of the board and demanding, “King ME!”
However, now that the formal impeachment process is underway, there is no question both sides are playing chess. So, let me set up the game before examining the two sides’ strategies. On one side we have Trump who begins the game with a king (Trump) and 15 pawns, and I need not tell you these are the WHITE pieces. On the opposing side is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (the queen) and Adam Schiff (the king), and at the moment, a traditional array of players (bishops, knights, etc.) with one exception. The rooks are yet to be identified.
The match began with a classic move by one of the black knights, an anonymous whistleblower, who foreshadowed every subsequent move. As expected, several of Trump’s pawns countered this opening claiming “deep state” and “hearsay.” Yet one move and response does not a chess match make as the game is now in its fifth week.
To demonstrate how complex and tense play has become we need only look at the moves of Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman and just retired National Security Advisor Tim Morrison. Vindman is the second black knight, coming to the rescue by quashing Trumps’ first defensive move that every account of the July 25 phone call was hearsay. Plus he provided the seemingly damaging testimony that the publicly released “transcript” of the July 25 conversation with Ukraine President Zelensky is less than exhaustive.
Three days later, Trumpists on the Intelligence Committee claimed Morrison had testified the phone summary was more complete than Vindman avowed, and while he questioned Trump’s ethics, he did not believe the withholding of arms for dirt on the Bidens was illegal. By calling this witness, had the black king Schiff fallen into a trap set by Trump’s pawns? Did he not see this coming?
Or, was this the move that sets up mate and checkmate? Did Schiff know Morrison would contradict Vindman, and welcomed his testimony? Here is one possibility. Trumpists are using Morrison’s testimony to again call for a halt to further impeachment proceedings. Have Schiff and Pelosi set a trap and are preparing to call their bluff? Imagine Pelosi now challenging the Trumpists to either stand up or shut up.
Regardless of which side you may be on, the worst possible outcome is a draw. The white king must either be exonerated or vanquished. And here we now sit with two versions of the same story: one that the released summary of the July 25 call with Zelensky is incomplete and the other claiming it is substantially accurate. Both cannot be true. There is only one way to discover the truth. Demand the white king release the actual transcript, the one we now know was inappropriately remanded to a code-word secured server.
If Morrison is correct we will agree to drop the impeachment inquiry. If, however, the transcript goes beyond the summary, and further documents a quid pro quo, House and Senate Trumpists must agree to support an article of impeachment charging obstruction of justice. even if you do not agree Trump violated his oath of office or abused his power.
Now one might find this a bit risky. I do not. Vindman had no doubt the summary omitted key information. He even detailed to whom and when he made the case to re-insert the deleted material. In contrast, Morrison cloaked his testimony concerning the validity of the summary with the phrase, “I do not recall…” As any defense lawyer will tell you, “I do not recall…” is a time-tested means to avoid a perjury charge, the equivalent of a get out of jail free card in Monopoly. Remember, Trump’s shill Gordon Sondland used the same language during his original congressional deposition. Until every subsequent witness contradicted his testimony. And yesterday Sondland informed the intelligence committee his recollection of the events surrounding the Ukraine quid pro quo have magically improved with the aid of the statements by Vindman and others.
Which brings us back to the case of the missing black rooks. These pieces have a unique role in chess through a move called “castling,” during which the king moves to the corner of the board and is protected on his flank by one of the rooks. In the coming days, expect a rook to emerge in the form of a Trump insider who forever dispels the narrative that impeachment is a left-wing conspiracy which Schiff has choreographed.
To some extent, Sondland’s amending his previous testimony serves this purpose. But we should not be surprised if more people audition for the part as the legal jeopardy in which Trump operatives find themselves becomes apparent. In other words, in this 2019 version of chess, white pawns can easily be transformed into black rooks.
Forget Fischer versus Spassky. Or IBM’s Big Blue versus Kasparov. By the end of the year, there may be a new grand master. And as any chess expert will tell you, it is hard to win a match when all you have left are pawns.
For what it’s worth.